Advertisements

Trump’s Tough Stretch of News

Although he got in another lucrative weekend of golfing and socializing at his warm and sunny Mar-a-Lago resort, the last few days have not been kind to President Donald Trump. The team owned by his best friend in the National Football League was upset in the Super Bowl, the release of a much ballyhooed congressional memo did not completely vindicate him in the “Russia thing,” and suddenly the stock markets are in a swoon.
Trump will probably get over the Super Bowl soon enough, and maybe even score some political points against the winning players who have already announced they’ll skip a White House visit, but the ongoing “Russia thing” and the recent woes on Wall Street are more troublesome.
The president had hoped that a four page memo penned by the staff of die-hard Trump apologist and California Rep. Devin Nunes would persuade the American people to to demand an end to all the ongoing investigations into the “Russia thing,” and he got his wish with a certain portion of the public. All the right wing talk radio talkers and the rest of the die-hard Trump apologists relished the unsurprising revelation that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had used the “salacious and unverified” dossier of evidence compiled by a foreigner with money from the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of its presidential nominee Hillary Clinton to obtain an early warrant in the investigation from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court. Sean Hannity even found that sufficient reason to demand that special counsel Robert Mueller’s snooping around cease and the indictments he’s already obtained again Trump’s campaign manager another high-ranking campaign official be dropped and the guilty pleas he’s already forced from Trump’s former national security adviser and a campaign foreign policy advisor be rescinded.
Alas, the rest of the public was more skeptical and Hannity’s demands are unlikely to be met. The more Trump-skeptical media noted the memo acknowledged that the Federal Bureau of Investigation started snooping around when an Australian official tipped them off that a drunken Trump campaign foreign policy advisor had been boasting in a London Pub about all the dirt his candidate was getting from the Russians, that still-classified material other than the information compiled by a respected former British intelligence agent was also submitted to the court, and that in any case the warrants were reauthorized by other FISA courts based on the finding they were yielding important evidence. The notion of a “deep state” conspiracy against Trump to stage a “coup” with “fake news” was always a hard sell, given that it involves Republican-appointed FBI agents seeking warrants from the Republican-appointed judges on FISA courts that the Republicans established and just last week voted to renew, and the four pages that Nunes’ staffers penned didn’t make the case.
Nunes also admits that neither he nor his staffers actually read the classified case that the FBI made for its FISA warrants, and everyone who has is saying that the memo is misleading. That includes the FBI chief that Trump appointed, and the impeccably Republican South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy, who was a right wing talk radio hero just a couple of years ago for his dogged investigation of Clinton’s embarrassing role in the deadly Benghazi debacle. Gowdy was the only House Republican who got too look at the classified warrant application because Nunes had been forced to more or less recluse himself from the whole “Russia thing” after some embarrassing antics, and he told the media that “There is a Russia investigation without a dossier.” Listing off a number of reasons to snoop into the “Russia thing,” he accurately noted “To the extent the memo deals with the dossier and the FISA process, the dossier has nothing to do with the meeting at Trump Tower. The dossier has nothing to with an email sent by Cambridge Analytica. The dossier really has nothing to do with George Papadopoulos’ meeting in Great Britain. It also doesn’t have anything to do with obstruction of justice.”
Gowdy is one of several Republicans who aren’t seeking reelection, so be’s free to be so frank, but even some of his partisan colleagues who are hoping for another term are also distancing themselves from the Nunes memo. Several Republicans have signaled the support of a rebuttal memo penned by California Rep. Adam Schiff, who has seen the classified warrant application and seems a far smarter fellow than Nunes, and the “Russia thing” will surely linger.
Meanwhile the stock market has been plummeting, and for now that’s an even bigger problem for Trump.
By the sometimes perverse logic of the stock markets, the bad news is being driven by good news and might turn out in the long run to be good news. After an historically long run to record levels the markets are apparently worried the currently low unemployment rates and slight upticks in economy activity and long-forestalled wage increases will cause the Federal Reserve Board to slightly raise the rates on the historically inexpensively obtained money that has been fueling it, lest inflation rear its ugly head, and there’s a strong case to be made that a long-forestalled and much-needed market corrections is needed to forestall the inevitable next crash until after you’re dead. Trump will be hard-pressed, though, to make such a complicated argument.
Trump will quite plausibly claim that the recent stock market downturn is not his fault, but his critics will provably point out that he was always willing to take credit for the recent record highs. He “tweeted” about it 56 times, boasted about it in public pronouncements far more often, including that long-forgotten State of the Union speech he gave just a week or so ago, and for now he’s deprived of a favorite bragging point. He could turn on a dime and make the populist claim that he’ll gladly trade a workingman’s pay hike for some fat-cat investor’s coupon-clipping, and brag about how he prescient he was back in the campaign when he claimed the record stock market highs of President Barack Obama’s administration were just a great big bubble about to burst, but after all the boasts about those Wall Street records and given Trump’s limited vocabulary it’s a very complicated argument to make.
The sorts of people who do grasp such complicated economic arguments immediately recognize the Fed’s complicated role in all of this, and are probably aware that Trump has recently appointed its new chairman. The previous chairman was chairwoman Janet Yellen, who was generally well regarded by by all the smart people with the smart money for her open spigot policies in the early stages of recovery from the 2008 recession and gradual reductions during the slower-than-usual but longer-than-ever recovery that lasted through Trump’s first year.
It’s a longstanding presidential tradition to appoint a generally well-regarded Fed chairman to a second term regardless of the party that had made the first appointment, but Trump isn’t much for longstanding presidential traditions and to replace Yellen with his own guy. Of course Trump chose a guy, Jerome Powell, but he’s a former under secretary for domestic finance at the Treasury Department and is widely expected to be the same sort of apolitical number-crunching policy wonk as Yellen, and along with all the stock holders we’ll be eager to see how he responds. Trump is probably wondering, too, as it will be hard to blame Yellen for a downturn that began shortly after she was replaced by Trump.
Our hope is that the stock markets and the broader economy both continue to fitfully prosper, and our expectation is that if it does Trump will take credit for it, and that if it doesn’t he’ll accept no blame. We wish Trump well with that whole “Russia thing,” too, but we hope that truth will prevail and expect that the special counsel will find plenty of it.

— Bud Norman

Advertisements

No Thanks for the Memo-ries

The potential public release of a four-page memo penned by California Rep. Devin Nunes about the possible abuse of American surveillance laws by the Federal Bureau of Investigation dominated the news on Thursday, and if it is released as expected this morning we’re sure it will dominate at least another 24 hour news cycle. The memo will have to be pretty darned good to justify all the fuss, however, and we don’t expect it will be.
It’s complicated enough to fill all those column inches and broadcast hours with explanations, and it’s merely a subplot in the “Russia thing” that still hasn’t been explained after nearly two years of the best media efforts, but a lot of things that are hard to explain aren’t worth the effort. This one’s worth following, though, as it is a telling subplot of that “Russia thing,” which does matter, and illustrates just how awful almost everyone involved can be.
In case you’ve lately been too happily busy to be following the subplot, Nunes is a proudly partisan Republican who wound up in charge of the House committee charged with investigating the “Russia thing.” He quickly established a reputation as a staunch defender of President Donald Trump against all the various “Russia thing” suspicions, and was so zealous about that he wound up resigning his chairmanship after an embarrassing impromptu news conference where he announced he was taking some unreleased exculpatory evidence to the White House and it turned out he’d obtained the evidence from the White House and it wasn’t very exculpatory. Despite his self-proclaimed recusal from the matter he penned a four-page memo which reportedly outlines the reasons he believed the whole “Russia thing” was cooked up by some FBI agents who used a phony-baloney Democrat-bought “dossier” to get a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act courts to spy on the Trump presidential campaign in the most scandalous case of political espionage since President Richard Nixon’s reelection campaign had those inept burglars try to bug the Democratic National Party headquarters in the Watergate building.
Meanwhile all the Trump apologists on Fox News and talk radio and the comments sections of the far right internet sites and in Congress have been insisting the real “Russia thing” is actually a Russian-aided plot by the “deep state” and the “fake news” and assorted other “globalists” loathe to make America great again, so they’ve been clamoring for a while to have the memo publicly released. They’ve finally got an authentic government document to corroborate their conspiracy theories, and “release the memo” has become a popular “hashtag” with both Russian “‘bots” and actual people, and after his overshadowed State of the Union address Trump was caught on a “hot mic” telling a congressman that there was a “100 percent” chance the memo was about to be released.
Neither Trump nor his apologists seem to realize how complicated it all is, though, and we don’t expect the long-awaited four pages will be worth the risk they’re taking. It’s an authentic government document, to be sure, but so is the unreleased memo written by the Democrats on the House’s investigative that reportedly outlines all the more plausible reasons they think Trump’s campaign cooperated with Russian efforts to affect the American presidential election, and by now no one puts much stock in anything just because it’s an authentic government document. Nunes is entitled to his opinions, but the public is entitled to regard it as nothing more than the opinions of a proudly partisan politician.
To whatever extent Nunes’ opinions are informed by the classified information he’s seen as the deposed chairman of a House investigative committee, it gives credence to the objections of the FBI and other intelligence-gathering agencies that the release will reveal sources and methods that are better left classified. That includes the Trump-appointed leaders of those bureaus and agencies, so that abandonment of longstanding Republican principles further complicates the matter, even if the Democrats opposed to release of the memo stand credibly accused of the same hypocrisy.
The accusation that FISA laws have been is also tricky for the Republicans, whose resolute anti-terrorist stand got the laws passed over the objections of those bleeding-heart Democrats and addle-brained libertarian types of Republicans  who warned the law could be too easily abused by rogue government actors for all sorts of mischief. Nunes was one of the most outspoken Republicans who supported the laws, which now requires a lot of explaining.
The more reasonable sorts of Republicans assured the public that the FISA laws were carefully written enough to require a very high standard of proof to win a warrant to surveil an American citizen, and that a highly compelling case must be made that the national security was at stake, and so far as well can tell those assurances have proved true. Nunes’ four-page memo reportedly asserts that the FISA courts handed out wiretaps on all sorts of sinless Trump campaign officials on the basis of a phony-baloney Democratic-funded dossier by some shady foreigner, but the next 24 hours of news will explain how it’s more complicated than that.
By all accounts it takes more than a four-page memo of partisan opinions to obtain a FISA warrant, what’s already been reported in the “fake news” and subsequently acknowledged by Trump would probably suffice, the rest of what the feds had to get their disputed surveillance warrants would surely reveal all sorts of sources and methods better left classified. To whatever extent the FISA courts used that phony-baloney dossier from some foreigner only demonstrates the carefully vetted and Republican-confirmed jurists gave credence to the findings of a respected former British intelligence agent.
Maybe those four pages will be so jam-packed with juicy details that it convincingly explains the whole “Russia thing” as a plot by the Democrats and the “deep state,” and we’ll be obliged to give it a fair reading. If it turns out to be just another piece of an obstruction of justice case, though, we won’t be surprised.

— Bud Norman

Showdown at High Nunes

By now there’s no avoiding the necessity of all sorts of official investigations into the widespread suspicions that the campaign of now-President Donald Trump colluded with Russian efforts to affect the past election, as well as the Trump administration’s various and variously credible counter-claims of all sorts of still-ongoing Democratic skullduggery, but at this point we think its best for everyone if they don’t involve California’s Republican Rep. Devin Nunes.
Nunes is the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which puts him squarely in the middle of this very muddy mess, but thus far he’s only the muddied the situation even further. He was an advisor to the Trump transition team, then issued a joint statement with the top Democratic committee member that they were looking for “any intelligence regarding links between Russia and individuals associated with political campaigns.” After President Trump issued a series of early-morning “tweets” alleging that President Barack Obama had ordered “wiretapping” of his home in Trump Tower Nunes told the press “I don’t think we should attack the president for ‘tweeting,'” but when the White House press secretary took care to note that “wiretapping” was said in quotes and could therefore mean just about anything from improper leaks about campaign officials’ calls to people who were being wiretapped and another White House spokeswoman suggested it might have been a spying on Trump through a microwave oven Nunes told the press that “I don’t think there was an actual tap of Trump Tower. Clearly the president was wrong,” but insisted that some of Trump’s associated might have been caught up in wiretaps of other individuals, which Trump cited as vindication of “tweets,” and Nunes was compelled to say still didn’t prove the “tweeted” allegations.
Meanwhile, it was all growing muddier even without Nunes’ involvement. The White House press secretary charged that Obama had used a British intelligence agency to do the very much in quotation marks “wire tapping,” which the British government quite indignantly denied, and Trump himself explained during a press conference with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that he was relying on the word of a Fox News commentator, so you’d have to talk to Fox about it, and when the rest of the media went to Fox to talk about it they said they couldn’t confirm its commentator’s assertion. Trump’s National Security Advisor resigned after 24 days on the job following revelations about previously-undisclosed contacts but eventually leaked contacts with Russia, Trump’s Attorney General recused himself from the Justice Department’s official investigation after his own previously denied contacts with Russian officials were leaked, and it was also leaked that there was an ongoing investigation into former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort’s business dealings with Ukrainian politicians linked the to Russian government, as well as a meeting between Trump’s son-in-law and top-advisor with the Russkies that might or might not have had something to do with the son-in-law’s own family real estate business, all of which gave some credibility to Trump’s thus-far-unsubstantied conspiracy theories about a coordinated leaking campaign against his administration.
Although assigned to the unenviable task of making sense of all of this, Nunes proceeded to make it all the more nonsensical. After inviting the FBI to testify that it had no evidence of Obama wire-tapping or otherwise surveilling Trump but was conducting an ongoing investigation about the Trump campaign and administration’s ties to Russia, Nunes told the press that “We know there was no physical wiretap of Trump Tower” but that “it’s still possible that other surveillance activities were used against President Trump and his associates.” Shortly after that he made secret visit to White House grounds to conduct what he later explained when it was inevitably found out was an effort to “confirm what I already new” about wiretapping. The next day he held a press conference where he refused to cite any sources or provide any documentation, but boldly asserted that “What I’ve read seems to be some level of surveillance activity — perhaps legal, but I don’t think that it’s right. I don’t know that the American people would be comfortable with what I’ve read,” then repeated that no, Obama didn’t literally tap Trump’s phones. He admitted that he’d brief Trump on this bombshell information he’d learned from the White before he passed it along to his House Intelligence Committee colleagues, Trump told Time Magazine in a bizzar-throughout that he felt “somewhat vindicated” by Nunes’ press conference, which he worried wasn’t getting enough attention, and by that point all the Democrats were calling on Nunes to recuse himself of the rest of this mess and so were some prominent Republicans.
For now Nunes is defying those calls, claiming his critics want him out “Because they know I am effective at getting to the bottom of things,” but for now we’ll have to join in with those prominent Republicans who are calling for his recusal from this whole mess. Even if he were to somehow stumble into the bottom of things, as Inspector Clouseau did in all those “Pink Panther” movies, we can’t imagine anyone believing the ending. Which is too bad for everyone, no matter how this convoluted plot turns out.
By now there’s no avoiding official inquiries widespread suspicions about possible collusion between the Trump campaign with Russian efforts to affect the past election, and if it’s true no true Republican should impede that conclusion, and if it’s not true that conclusively true conclusion should be untainted by any suspicion it was reached by partisan motivations. At this point pretty much everyone including Trump admits that all talk about Obama wire-tapping Trump was quotation-marked and not at all meant literally, and that all that stuff about snoopy microwave ovens was pretty much crazy-talk, but even if you’re paranoid that doesn’t mean that all those leaks haven’t been against you, and even if they were from calls monitored on some Russkie’s lines that happened to pick up some Trump associates that doesn’t necessarily prove anything worth fretting about, and if it doesn’t it would do Trump well to have someone more convincing than Nunes make that case.
Trump was reportedly infuriated after Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the ongoing Justice Department investigation into all this mess, as it violated his principle of never of apologizing, but we respect Sessions’ principled and apologetic reasons for doing so and it makes us feel somewhat vindicated for the respect we’d long had for his character. Until recently we’d never heard of Nunes, but if he were to recuse himself of any role in the congressional investigation and similarly bow out of this whole mess he might earn a similar measure of respect. By the end of it we expect that as always the truth will come out and pretty much everyone involved will be implicated, so we intend to stand far enough way enough away from it all to be unsullied by any of the inevitable mud, and at this point we advise whatever’s left of both the Republican and Democratic parties to do the same.

— Bud Norman