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After a Slow and Busy Weekend

For the next week or so the denouement of Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court nomination awaits the results of a Federal Bureau of Investigation probe of his high school days, and for now the special counsel’s ongoing investigation of the “Russia thing” seems on a traditional hold until the mid-term elections, and although those mid-term-elections are already heating up in this cool fall weather they’re still more than a month away. In the meantime, we had a pretty good weekend around here.
The highlight of our weekend was accompanying our beloved Mom to the Saturday night opening of a new exhibit at the nearby Wichita Art Museum. She very much wanted to go, but these days our our beloved Dad isn’t getting around well, so she called to ask if we were willing to accompany her instead, and of course we couldn’t refuse the offer. Our Mom is the main reason we’re such culture vultures, as she dragged us every few months to the Wichita Art Museum and subjected us to the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s young people concerts and took us on weekly visits to the Wichita Public Library,as well as occasional visits to nights at the local theater, and we were eager to partially repay the debt and re-live the precious memories of our childhood.
The new exhibit at the Wichita Art Museum features some exceptional photographs of the subtly beautiful Kansas landscape, as well as some tough-but-true accounts of the off-beat Kansas farmers who keep it going, and if you happen to be in Wichita while it’s still up we highly recommend it. Our beloved Mom seemed impressed that we were friends with most of The Haymakers, the outstanding country-jazz-folky-and-bluesy outfit that played the opening, although the usual bass player was preoccupied due to his first-chair gig with the Wichita Symphony Orchestra, and we were delighted to introduce her to several of our weird culture vulture friends, and they all seemed to enjoy meeting our beloved Mom, too.
The rest of the weekend was filled with a rousing but relatively early morning worship service at the West Douglas Church of Christ, followed by a long afternoon nap afterwards, and then some joke-swapping with a Navy veteran at Kirby’s Beer Store, and on the whole it was a pretty good weekend. All of the politics is for now unresolved, and won’t be for at least another five weeks or so, but in the meantime things seem to be working out well enough here on the south-central plains of Kansas.

— Bud Norman

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A Sunny and Relatively Mild Weekend in the Ongoing “Russia Thing”

Except for Tiger Woods’ surprisingly near miss at the British Open and a scary hostage situation at a Trader John’s store in Los Angeles there wasn’t a lot of distracting news over the weekend, which left plenty of room in the news cycle for more talking head talk about the ongoing fall-out from President Donald Trump’s most recent foreign tour and the latest developments in the “Russia thing.”
One of our brothers is in town and the weather’s been as nice as one can hope for around here, so we might not have noticed if we hadn’t stopped by Kirby’s Beer Store for a couple of Pabst Blue Ribbons on Sunday afternoon. A lawyer friend of ours, the only regular at the notorious northeast dive with a juris doctorate, was staring at his “smartphone” and chuckling gleefully as he read the written argument that the Federal Bureau of Investigation made to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to obtain various warrants to investigate a  fellow named Carter Page way back when he was a little-known Trump campaign official in final days of the race against “Crooked” Hillary Clinton.
The document was mostly black lines of predictably redacted paragraphs, and our friend is a professional Democrat who owes his current low-level judicial position to his party’s meager number of appointments, but we’ve long known him to be one of the good guys and his arguments that that the un-redacted disproved Trump’s apologists proved convincing.
If you’re been obsessively following the whole convoluted “Russia thing” from either of the two available prospectives, you by now know that the FBI first got involved in the affair when it obtained those FISA court warrants, and that the Trump-ian perspective is that it was a worse-than-Watergate attempt to spy on the Trump campaign to benefit of “Crooked” Hillary’s effort, based only a discredited dossier by a foreign intelligence agent with Russian ties and paid for by “Crook” Hillary’s effort, along with a “fake news” article in some obscure internet site, along with other “deep state” shenanigans, but that’s all the harder to explain after the FBI made the highly unusual step on Saturday of publicly releasing even a heavily-redacted FISA warrant application.
As our Democratic friend undeniably points out, the document notes that the disputed dossier was produced by an English intelligence officer who had long proved a reliable source in many counter-intelligence operations, and frankly acknowledges the partisan funding of the document that talk radio had long insisted they concealed, which is more bi-partisan than talk radio wants to admit, and clearly hints that all the redacted parts probably reveal how the FBI had reason to suspect Page was an unregistered Russian agent even before he became one of candidate Trump’s top foreign policy advisors.
All the rest of it looks bad for Trump from our third perspective here on the political sidelines. That supposedly discredited dossier alleged the Russians were waging a three-pronged cyber-attack on the American election on behalf of Trump, and by now that’s the consensus conclusion of Trump’s very own top intelligence and defense and foreign policy appointees, and all the big social media companies and most of the country’s secretaries of state have confirmed two of those prongs with sworn testimony before congressional committees. The dossier also included some salacious and still-unsubstantiated about Russian prostitutes and rather unusual sexual fetishes, but given all the news about pay-offs to a Playboy playmate and and a porn star and the rest our president’s much-bragged about sexual adventuresome nothing seems unthinkable, and the warrants were renewed by Republican appointees to the Republican-created-and-renewed FISA courts during both Democratic and Republican administrations..
Not to mention all the fallout from that foreign trip when Trump was conspicuously friendlier to Russian than he was to America’s traditional allies and his own top national intelligence and defense and foreign policy appointees.
None of this convicts Trump of any impeachable high crime or misdemeanor, of course, but we think our Democratic friend is justified in exulting that it all means the “Russia thing” investigation will continue on its ominous course.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Inevitable Descent into Helsinki

There are still a a few of President Donald Trump’s die-hard supporters and a couple more reluctant fans among our readership, mostly family members and old friends, and they occasionally let us know how weary they are of our constant criticisms. Like all Trump fans they seem to relish blunt talk, though, so we’ll just come right and out say that Trump has just concluded the most disastrous and disgraceful presidential trip in the modern history of diplomacy.
We’ve already written out our aghast objections to Trump’s behavior at the North Atlantic Treaty Organization in Belgium, where his bully boy diplomacy clearly weakened the alliance despite his parting boasts it was stronger than ever. Between slaps to the forehead we also expressed our disfavor with his behavior in Britain, where he insulted the Prime Minister and lied that he didn’t and acted like a stereotypically boorish American tourist around the Queen and annoyed the general population of both the United Kingdom as well as Ireland, and didn’t get any lucrative deals except for some much-need publicity for a struggling golf course he owns in Scotland.
Somehow, however, Trump saved the worst for the last with his much-ballyhooed meeting with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Finland. One hardly knows where to begin the describing the awfulness of the debacle, but we might as well start with Trump meeting Putin in the first place.
The appearance of the American president and the Russian dictator standing as equals on a stage with festooned with equal numbers of American and Russian flags was a needless concession to a tin-pot dictatorship that has lately been invading its neighbors, propping up brutal Middle Eastern regimes, shooting down civilian aircraft, assassinating domestic enemies on our allies’ soil, as well as launching a three-pronged cyber attack on America’s last presidential election. To compound this offense to America’s dignity, Trump also told a whole world’s media that he blamed “both sides” for the recent unpleasantness in Russo-American relations.
Trump had little to say about Putin’s invasion of his neighbors in Georgia and Ukraine except to nod as Putin said they’d agreed to disagree. Trump also had little to say about Putin’s support for those brutal Middle Eastern regimes, except to say he hoped to work out a deal that would also make Israel happy, which is a plausible but imperfect argument and one too damned complicated for Trump to make. Trump had nothing to say about Russia shooting down civilian aircraft or killing state enemies and the occasional unintended British life on British soil, and what he said about Russia’s three-pronged cyber attack on the past American presidential election was most disgusting of all.
The day Trump left on his disastrous diplomatic tour the special counsel investigation into the “Russian thing” announced a detailed and well-sourced indictment of 12 Russian officials for meddling, and laid out a convincing explanation of how they did it, and by now the only people who harbor any doubts about Russia’s role are Sean Hannity and this guy we know from Kirby’s Beer Store and Putin and Trump himself.
Trump acknowledged that all of his advisors had “said they think it’s Russia,” but added “I have President Putin — he’s just said it’s not Russia.” Trump said he couldn’t imagine any reason why Putin would have favored him in the election, although Putin later told that international press that he did indeed favor Trump, and Trump added that “I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today.” Unless you’re Sean Hannity or that guy at Kirby’s or another unusually die-hard and fact-resistant Trump fan, it was an humiliating performance, and raises all sorts of suspicions about that “Russia thing.”
Trump was conspicuously polite to the Russian dictator, especially in contrast to his characteristically rude treatment of the leaders of our democratically-elected allies, and was most harsh about his past two presidential predecessors and that “witch hunt” of a special counsel investigation that just handed down those detailed and well-sourced indictments of 12 Russian officials, and went on a rant about why the DNC’s computer server wasn’t seized and how frustrated he was that even a President of the United States couldn’t any answers. It’s hard to concoct any explanation that’s not fishy, but the die-hard fans are giving it their best.
The general gist of it seems to be that the “Russia thing” really is a “witch hunt” no matter what all those Trump appointees might say, and that the real scandal that will get the real villains shot for treason is on that DNC computer server, and that a friendship with such a puny economy and tin-pot dictatorship as Russia will do more to make America great than those freeloading Euro-trash in the European Union and United Kingdom or Great Britain or England or whatever you call it ever could. They’re also citing America’s past sins and making the “blame America first” arguments that the Democratic left once used to justify Democratic weakness in the Cold War and President Obama’s awful apology tours, and they’ve forgetten how outraged they used to be.
So far, though, neither Trump nor any of his apologists have yet been able to convincingly point to anything tangible that the great dealmaker Trump got out of this trip.

— Bud Norman

Strzok’s Star Turn

Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Peter Strzok has played a prominent and intriguing supporting role in the ongoing “Russia thing” reality show since its debut, but on Thursday he had a star turn in one of the series’ most watchable episodes when he testified before a testy and televised congressional joint committee meeting. Depending on whether you’ve been following the story through Fox News and talk radio or the other broadcast news networks and the last of the big newspapers, Strzok fared very well or very badly.
According to the Fox News hosts in the opinion hours and a full day’s worth of right wing talk radio, Strzok is the real villain of the show. He’s the high-ranking FBI agent who was involved in the end of the agency’s investigation into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices while she was Secretary of State, which infuriated the right by its failure to lock her up, and he was also one of the agents who commenced a counter-intelligence investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election on behalf of Republican nominee Donald Trump, which continues to infuriate Trump and his fans. Strzok was also carrying on an extra-marital affair at the time and “texting” profanely anti-Trump diatribes to his mistress, which included ambiguous statements about “secret societies” and “insurance policies” and a promise to his paramour that he would prevent Trump’s election, and thus Strzok became the mastermind of the “deep state” “silent coup” plot by the “globalist” “elites” against Trump’s agenda to make America great again.
The other broadcast news networks and the last of the big newspapers are hard-pressed to make Strzok a heroic character in their version of the story, but they’ve got ample evidence that he’s not a villain, and certainly not such a diabolically ingenious one who might pull off the plot that’s been alleged.
There is a strong argument to be made that Clinton should have been locked up for her careless handling of classified information, but if you want to get all letter-of-the-law about it presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner and former White House staff secretary Robert Porter and all the other administrations who have handled classified materials without the necessary security clearance should also be in legal jeopardy. As a high-ranking agent with a long record of successfully discovering and prosecuting Russian operatives and thwarting Russian plots he was also assigned to look into credible tips from longstanding allies that Russia was meddling in various ways with the American presidential election, and by now all of President Donald Trump’s FBI and intelligence community appointees and a bi-partisan group of Senators and pretty much everyone but the Russian dictator and the American agree that there was Russian meddling the needed to be investigated.
We’d also note that although Clinton didn’t get locked up her campaign was hit hard by an FBI announcement that although her e-mail practices weren’t criminal they were damned sloppy, and then again when they announced the re-opening of the investigation when some of the e-mails showed up on the computer of the perverted husband of a close aid, and that the FBI made no mention it was already winning warrants from Republican-appointed judges to investigate Trump campaign operatives’ undisclosed contacts with Russians. If Strzok and the rest of the “deep state” cabal at the FBI were conspiring to deny Trump the presidency, they did a damned clumsy job of it.
It’s true Strzok was carrying on a extramarital affair and using profane language about Trump in his “texts” to his illicit lover, which we do not approve of, but it strikes us a rather hypocritical argument to be made in defense of Trump. Strzok managed to cheat on his wife without making any six-figure payments to porn stars, which strikes us as better business sense than the president possesses, and his language is no more offensive than what Trump has used on the campaign trail and did not include any boasts about grabbing women by their expletives deleted.
Strzok’s apparent disdain for Trump doesn’t much bother us, either, as we’ve frequently voiced the same sort of opinions in more family-friendly language. A broader reading of Strzok’s “texts” and e-mails reveals that he had similarly harsh things to say about Clinton and her Democratic primary rival Sen. Bernie Sanders, just as we did in our more polite fashion, and that the only politician he seemed to like was Ohio Gov. John Kasich, one of the last centrists standing and currently among our most favorite Republicans.
According to the Fox News opinion shows and all the conservative talk radio talkers Strzok was exposed as a villain at the hearing, while the rest of the broadcast news networks and big newspapers more prominently quoted the sources who thought Strzok got the best of the it. We urge that you watch the more than two hours of hearings the the “fake news” dutifully videotaped and make up your own mind. It’s more compelling television than any other reality show on the air or web, with America’s tribal divisions fully on trash-talking display in a joint committee meeting of the House of Representatives.
In the end Strzok will probably be remembered as a foul-mouth cheating husband rather than they guy who discovered all those Russian agents thwarted all those Russian plots, but as a supporting character rather than the villain of the “Russian thing.” The “Russia thing” reality show will drag on at least through the summer, and there are a lot of plot twists yet to come. For now we can turn our attention to Trump’s international tour, where he’s upsetting relations with the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and his current hosts in the United Kingdom, with a summit with the Russian dictator coming up, and for now Strzok seems an intriguing but minor player in this weird tale.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Imperfect Storm

That whole “Russia thing” has lately merged with those porn star and Playboy playmate scandals, and it all seems to be closing in on President Donald Trump.
Trump’s longtime lawyer and sex-scandal “fixer” Michael Cohen recently had his office and home and hotel raided by the Justice Department, and is widely expected to be indicted soon, and Trump’s most longtime lawyer is advising him that Cohen is almost certain to start providing state’s evidence in whatever matters might arise from all the seized files and recordings and other potential evidence. The Federal Bureau of Investigation director that Trump fired has a best-selling book full of newsworthy allegations, with Trump offering explanations for the firing that contradict his past statements, and efforts by Trump loyalists to discredit James Comey have resulted in the leaking of some formerly classified memos he wrote after his conversations with the president that contain even more newsworthy allegations. Meanwhile, the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” that resulted from Comey’s firing, which has already secured several indictments and guilty pleas and has prominent Trump campaign and administration officials fully cooperating, plods irresistibly along.
Trump has now added former star federal prosecutor and legendary New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to a legal team that’s been depleted by defections and impending indictments, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has vowed not to allow a vote on a bipartisan bill that would prevent Trump from firing the Justice Department officials he needs to replace in order to fire the special counsel and perhaps end the investigation into the “Russia thing” altogether. According to all the opinion polls he also has the support of about four-fifths of the Republican party, as well as the fierce apologetics of prominent voices on the talk radio airwaves and other right-wing media, but he nonetheless looks outgunned on all fronts.
Giuliani was a formidable lawyer who locked up a lot of New York City mobsters back in the ’80s, and his three terms as Mayor of New York in the ’90s saw crime and tax rtes decline dramatically while employment and and tax revenues and general quality of life soared, and his response to the Sept. 11, terror attack on the World Trade Center made him a national hero and Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 2001, but since then he’s been on a long losing streak. A sex scandal ended his second marriage and commenced his third, and once upon a time in the Republican party that sort of thing combined with the Republican party’s former suspicion of smartypants New Yorkers doomed his presidential campaign in the good old days of 2008. He cashed in with some lucrative lawyering and lobbying and consulting, but he largely faded from the news until he remerged as an advocate for his fellow New Yorker and serial philanderer and far less qualified friend Trump, who by then was palatable to a plurality of the Republican party.
Giuliani told the press that he expects to negotiate a quick end to the various criminal and counter-terrorism investigations regarding the “Russia thing,” which suggests to us that his legal skills have rusted over the past few years, and that his losing streak is likely to continue.
McConnell says he’s not going allow legislation protecting special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired because he doesn’t believe Trump would ever be stupid enough to fire him, but that doesn’t do Trump much good. A credibly accused child molester that Trump campaigned for lost a seemingly safe Senate seat in Alabama, Arizona Senator and erstwhile Republican hero John McCain is busy battling brain cancer, so the Republican majority in the Senate is down to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence, and McConnell is reviled as the epitome of the “Republican establishment” by the party’s pro-Trump “burn it down” wing and quickly losing control of his fractious and increasingly Trump-averse caucus. You can call the Cable News Network “fake news” all you want, but unless you think they can produce computer generated images more convincingly than Industrial Light and Magic they taped a full dozen big-name congressional Republicans who wouldn’t say on the record that they’re on board with Trump’s reelection.
Even if McConnell does somehow allow the president to fire the people he needs to fire the special counsel and put an end to the whole “Russia thing,” McConnell is quite right that it would be a damned dumb thing to do.
That fired FBI director’s best-selling book and widely publicized book tour is getting mixed reviews, as his seeming mishandling of the undeniably difficult problem of presiding over investigations of serious allegations of criminal activity by both major party candidates during a presidential election has made him a hated figure on both ends of the spectrum, and that storm should soon pass. Those memos Comey wrote in the lead-up to his firing are likely be more troublesome when these matters enter a court of law, though, and for all his undeniable and admitted flaws we’ll find Comey a more credible witness when it inevitably comes down to that.
At this point we can’t imagine what might shake that four-fifth of the Republican party’s faith in Trump, but we notice that some of the right-wing talk radio hosts are fulminating about Trump’s betrayals of his non-interventionist promises with his missile strikes in Syria and a possible betrayals on building a border wall and deporting all the “dreamers” and waging trade wars around the globe. By now all but the most protectionist and isolationist Democrats still hate Trump as much as ever, a fifth of the Republican party and at least a dozen prominent congressional Republicans are outspokenly unenthused about him, and our view from the sidelines sees Trump taking a licking on all fronts.

— Bud Norman

A Troubled Lawyer and His Three Clients

The news was once again jam-packed on Monday, and included a blowout win by The New York Yankees and a very slight uptick in the stock markets, but the two separate but perhaps related headlines that stood out for us involved Russia and Sean Hannity.
If you’ve been following the whole “Russia thing” subplot in President Donald Trump’s latest reality show, you’re already aware that he won the Republican nomination on a platform that was conspicuously more Russia-friendly than any Democrat had ever dared, with fulsome praise for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin and disparaging comments about the North Atlantic Treaty Organization that had long thwarted Russia’s ambitions, and news of Russia’s meddling on Trump’s behalf and frequent undisclosed but since acknowledged contacts took place between the Russians and the Trump campaign have been prominent in the media ever since. Lately Trump has been boasting that no president has ever been tougher on the Russkies than Trump, including Truman and and Kennedy and Ike and Nixon and Reagan and all those wimps who temporarily won the Cold War, but the very latest news still sounds suspicious to our ears.
Trump has by now accepted his own appointees’ to the intelligence agencies consensus conclusion that Russia did indeed meddle in the last American presidential election on Trump’s behalf, and he didn’t veto a Russian sanctions bill that was passed by a veto-proof bipartisan majority in both chambers of commerce. American troops recently killed a couple hundred Russians in the Syrian civil war theater, he’s launched two retaliatory strikes against Russia’s Syrian allies after their chemical attacks on civilians, and even named Putin in a “tweet” criticizing his support for a “Gas Killing Animal.” His currently unfilled State Department and a formidably led Defense Department a remarkably sound United Nations ambassador have announced tough sanctions on Russian oligarchs and promised a extended opposition to the Syrian dictatorship.
Which sounds good  to our old fashioned neocon Republican ears, except that we don’t believe a word of it. Trump only grudgingly acknowledged Russia’s meddling in the last election, and still insists that it was Democratic nominee “Crooked” Hillary Clinton who conspired with the Russkies to hand Trump his improbable presidency, clearly regards it as no big deal. He’s been pretty darned slow in enforcing that veto-proof bill he signed imposing Russian sanctions, too. His missile strikes in Libya have carefully avoided Russian casualties, and the two hundred or so Russians he killed were not Russian soldiers but rather mercenaries opposing the Syrian dictatorship, so the Russian government has not been upset by it. The Trump administration’s recent expulsion of Russian diplomats reportedly annoyed Trump, and by Monday he was walking back his stalwart UN ambassador’s tough talk about sanctions.
Meanwhile Trump is dealing with all the legal subplots about pornographic video performers and Playboy playmates and the numerous women who claim in court filings and media interviews that Trump has groped them, and Michael Cohen, the lawyer and self-described “fixer” who long handled these sorts of problems for Trump has lately had no-knock search warrants executed at his home and office and most recent hotel room. There are also reports from the same newspaper chain which owes us a pension that the same lawyer was making contact with Russian officials in Prague during the campaign, and at this point both Trump and his longtime lawyer have some explaining to do.
As the court documents reveal, and the mainstream media have giddily disseminated, that Cohen’s main client was Trump. When he pressed in court he revealed that another client was a big Republican who had hired him to pay hush money to a big time Republican fund-raiser who had impregnated another Playboy playmate, and when pressed to name a third client he reluctantly named talk radio host and Fox News personality Hannity. The news broke while Hannity was on the radio waves, and he quickly emphasized that although he had sought Cohen’s legal advice it had nothing to do with paying off any playmates, pregnant or otherwise.
We’ll take the notoriously puritanical Hannity’s word for that, despite his apologetics for Trump’s many undenied and even boasted about adulteries, but we still got a chuckle out of it. Trump and Hannity and their hilariously incompetent lawyer are all properly embarrassed at the moment, as far as were concerned, and although there are many nits to be picked with the far more formidable legal teams arrayed against them, including that former Federal Bureau of Investigation director with the currently best-selling book, and given everything else it seems another bad cycle for Trump and his most die-hard supporters.

— Bud Norman

Tweeting Instead of Golfing

President Donald Trump didn’t play his usual round of golf at his wholly-owned Mar-a-Lago resort during his usual federally-funded weekend visit there, ostensibly out of respect for those mourning the deaths of 17 students at a nearby high school in yet another American mass shooting. Instead he spent much of the weekend sending out ten “tweets” on various subjects in the news, but we figure his time would have been better spent on the golf course.
The “tweet” that got the most attention was the one blaming the mass shooting tragedy on the Federal Bureau of Investigation, which Trump alleges was too preoccupied with that phony-baloney “Russia thing” to pay much attention to a kid in south Florida that pretty much everyone down there knew was likely to shoot up his former high school. By all accounts the the very screwed-up kid in question was quite predictably a mass school murderer, as concerned neighbors and Facebook friends and school officials had repeatedly warned both the FBI and local law enforcement officials, and both the FBI and the local law enforcement officials now freely admit that they pretty much screwed the pooch in this deadly case.
Blaming it all on the phony-baloney “Russia thing,” though, smacks of presidential desperation. The FBI has some 35,000 employees and only a relative and specifically-qualified few of them are involved in the “Russia thing,” none of whom were diverted from taking the calls from the neighbors concerned about that next mass school shooter, and we doubt that any of the local law enforcement officials who got the same concerned calls were at all distracted by the “Russia thing.” This all comes after a week when the president’s own appointees to the FBI and the Central Intelligence Agency and the rest of the national intelligence agencies testified before congress that yeah, Russia meddled in the last in the last election to Trump’s benefit and is is eager to do so again. The kids at the south Florida high school who saw 17 of their classmates gunned down by a a screwed-up former classmate aren’t buying it, and we guess that neither will the public at large.
Although we still defend the constitutional right to bear arms, no matter how tricky that seems at the moment, we have to admit that the latest mass school shooting occurred at an upper-middle class where the students are unusually well-spoken and media-savvy and quite righteously pissed off, and that so far our president’s unfounded and profanely worded “tweets” are getting the worst of it.
Other Trump “tweets” attacked his own National Security Advisor, didn’t mention the porn star and Playboy playmate that have lately figured in the presidential news, and basically did nothing to make America great again.

— Bud Norman

The Threats Keep on a -Threatening

The Senate intelligence committee held hearings Tuesday on worldwide threats, and it all sounded pretty threatening. So far as we can tell the most pressing threat is to the credibility of President Donald Trump.
The hearings opened with testimony from Federal Bureau of Investigation director Christopher Wray, which wound up dragging out the recent embarrassing storyline about the alleged wives-beater who was allowed to resign last week from his high-ranking position in the White House with fulsome praise from Trump. The president and his chief of staff both claimed to have been shocked by the allegations against staff secretary Rob Porter when they learned of them in a recent Daily Mail expose, but those pesky reporters kept pestering the White House press secretary about why the allegations hadn’t been exposed by an FBI background check, and why the agency hadn’t granted Porter the security clearance he needed to do his high-ranking job, which dragged the story through the weekend an into Monday. The answers weren’t quite clear, but they seemed to suggest that the FBI had failed in its duty to vet the White House staff.
Wray was appointed to the FBI directorship by Trump, but on Tuesday he declined to commit perjury and scapegoat his hard-working agents by sticking to the White House script. Instead he testified that his agency had given the White House a preliminary report last March that two ex-wives saidt Porter had physically abused them, and included corroborating police reports and court filings in a complete report last July. If chief of staff John Kelly is truthfully claiming that he only found out about Porter’s problem when the Daily Mail wrote about it, which seems highly unlikely, it does not speak well for the efficiency of the White House.
The hearing also heard about even scarier threats to the national security than a wives-beating staff secretary, and raised questions about how efficient the White House will deal with them.
Joining Wray at the hearings were Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and Central Intelligence Agency director Mike Pompeo, and all agreed that the Russian government meddled in the last American elections in various nefarious ways and is keenly intent on doing so again in the next one. Wray assured the senators that the FBI is undertaking “a lot of specific activities” to counter the Russian efforts, but admitted that none were “specifically directed by the president.” Coats also spoke of unspecified specific activities, but acknowledged that “no single agency is in charge.” Pompeo defended his agency’s had work countering the Russian threat and promised more specific information in the closed session that followed, and given his reputation as an efficient man he probably had plenty to tell them, but despite his reputation as a Trump loyalist he didn’t mention anything about the president’s leadership in the effort.
All of which ties into that whole “Russia thing” storyline that has loomed so large in the Trump reality show, and none of which does him much good. Trump’s apparent insouciance about Russian attacks on American democracy is one of the most compelling reasons so many people suspect there’s something to this particular “witch hunt,” and despite his apologists best efforts to blame it on a “deep state” “silent coup” of corrupt FBI agents and CIA spooks we note that Trump’s own appointees aren’t backing them up.
To make things worse, Coats also testified that the federal government’s “increasingly fractious political process, particularly with respect to federal spending, is threatening our ability to defend our nation, both in the short term and especially in the long run.” Given the budget-busting spending bill Trump recently signed, and his own contributions to the fractiousness of the political process, that was hardly a ringing endorsement of his boss.
Perhaps it will be quickly forgotten, though, as that embarrassing storyline about the porn performer who alleged a past affair with Trump and Trump’s lawyer paying her $130,000 during the election was back in the news. The latest hook is that Trump’s longtime lawyer and spokesman and valued advisor is now claiming he made the payment out of his own pocket, for some undisclosed reason we cannot imagine, which he claims clears Trump of any campaign finance disclosure problems. There’s also talk that Kelly will soon be out as chief of staff, and Trump’s longtime lawyer had been rumored as a possible replacement, so we expect more threatening storylines to come.

— Bud Norman

Stock Market Swoons, Government Shutdowns, and the Alleged Wives-Beater in the White House

Thursday saw another four-digit drop in the Dow Jones average, another government shutdown after negotiations broke down on a budget-busting compromise bill no one liked, and the news still had to find room for another scandalous exit from President Donald Trump’s administration.
White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned his post after Britain’s Daily Mail reported that his two ex-wives allege he physically abused them, various media found corroborating police reports and court orders as well as an ex-girfriend with similar tales, and the first ex-wife released a picture of herself with the black eye she alleges he gave her, which ought to be scandalous enough. Worse yet, the media also reported that White House officials had long been aware that the allegations were the reason the Federal Bureau of Investigation never gave Porter the security clearance required to deal with all the classified materials that a White House staff secretary routinely handles.
Even if you’re the sort of die-hard Trump supporter who figures that the women probably had it coming, and give credit to any administration officials who were so bravely politically incorrect as to agree, you have to be unsettled by the national security implications. Apparently there are several high-ranking White House officials who also can’t pass security clearance muster, including top presidential advisor and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, who’s still the point man for China despite FBI warnings about his personal and business ties to a Chinese operative and still in charge of negotiating Middle East despite no apparent qualifications for that tough job, so it seems to be an ongoing problem. You can still rightly point to Hillary Clinton’s undeniably sloppy mishandling of classified material when she was Secretary of State, which is one of the many valid reasons she’s not the President of the United States, but that won’t solve the more pressing national security problems.
Most people will have a problem with the White House’s apparent tolerance of wife-beating, too, and Porter’s departure won’t help with a widespread public perception that Trump is a sexist pig. There’s also talk about how it reflects on White House chief of staff John Kelly, who a couple of days ago was vouching for Porter’s “high moral character” despite being aware of the FBI warnings about why they’d denied a security clearance, and whose spokesman later explained he wasn’t fully aware of the situation until the black eye picture was published. Kelly came into the White with a pristine reputation as a four-star Marine General, but he’s been criticized on the left for comments deemed racist and sexist, and by Trump for his assurances to the congressional hispanic caucus that Trump had “evolved” in his thinking about various immigration issues, and there’s speculation he’ll be one of the next to leave the Trump administration with a more sullied reputation.
The government shutdown might yet prove as short-lived as last month’s, and the market swoon might yet prove a much-needed correction on the way back to prosperity, but another scandalous example of the Trump administration’s crudity and incompetence won’t help with either situation.

— Bud Norman

Fusion GPS Goes Public at Last

One of the main subplots of the “Russia thing” soap opera, in case you haven’t been paying attention, is a dossier of information compiled by a former British intelligence agent alleging that President Donald Trump had a long history of shady business dealings with various Russian organizations and that the Russian government worked diligently to get him elected. It also had some very salacious stories about Russian prostitutes, which delighted all the late night comics, and it’s gotten a lot of attention.
To Trump’s die-hard defenders, what was scandalous about the dossier was its very existence. Although it was first commissioned by the right-of-center Washington Free Beacon, which was hoping to stave off Trump’s insurgent campaign for the Republican party’s presidential nomination, and then funded by some unknown Republican donor who still held out faint hope in latter stages of the primary race, it was eventually funded by the Democratic National Committee and the campaign of Hillary Clinton, and that’s enough to taint it on talk radio. The former British intelligence agent relied on the sources he’d developed as the MI6 agency’s top Moscow spy, and apparently that’s what Trump means when claims that Clinton and the Democrats colluded with the Russians. There were a couple of quickly proved errors, too, and much was hard to verify.
What Trump’s defenders called the “dodgy dossier” or the “debunked dossier” and even the mainstream news is now calling the “infamous dossier” quickly became it’s own scandal. It was alleged that the dossier was the evidence presented to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to open the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s counter-intelligence probe into Russian meddling in the American presidential election, and therefore all of its findings should are the fruit of a poisoned tree. Last summer that Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee hauled in the top two people at Fusion GPS, the private investigating firm started by former Wall Street Journal investigative reporters that had hired the former British intelligent agent, and grilled them for ten straight hours of a closed hearing. Information about the testimony was leaked that allowed the talk radio hosts to paint the pair as a couple of conspirators out to smear Trump’s stellar reputation, and their dossier as “dodgy” and “debunked” and at the very least “infamous.”
On Monday the top two Republicans on the Senate intelligence committee, chairman Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Sen. Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, even referred that British intelligence agent to federal law enforcement for criminal investigation. That was apparently a step two far one of the committee’s top Democrats, Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California, who audaciously defied her Republican colleagues and longstanding tradition by releasing all 300 pages of that long ago testimony by the two guys at Fusion GPS.
The two guys at Fusion GPS had always insisted their testimony be made public, and so had a lot of other people who suspected that they’d made a better case for themselves than the talk radio talkers suggested with the selectively leaked information. As it turns out, it’s clear why they wanted the testimony made public and the Republicans didn’t.
They credibly deny any political motivations, rightly noting they offer their opposition research services to both Republicans and Democrats, testified they found reasons to believe federal law enforcement also had sources warning of Russian meddling in the election, and noted that Christopher Steele, the former British intelligence agent they’d hired, had an excellent reputation with America’s intelligence agencies. Recent reports suggest that one of those sources was the Australian ambassador to the United States, who reported to the American former Trump campaign foreign policy advisor George Popadopoulos had been drinking with him one evening and bragged that his candidate had dirt on his Democratic rival straight from the Russian government, reports indicate that others who listen in on Russian calls had passed along similar warnings, and that happened before Steele started snooping around.
We’re not clear what criminal acts Grassley and Graham think that Steele might have committed, but he doesn’t seem convincing as the bad guy in the whole “Russia thing.” Despite the aforementioned quickly proved errors in what he frankly acknowledged was raw and unfinished intelligence gathering, and even though a lot of it has not yet been verified by a subpoena-wielding special counsel probe, much of it holds up well. Steele’s early allegation that the Russians were making a concerted effort to help Trump in the election is now the consensus opinion of America’s intelligence community, Trump’s Central Intelligence director has blamed the Russians for the hacking of the DNC, his Department of Homeland Security has acknowledged Russian hacking attempts on 20 state election offices, all the social media sites have testified to Congress that the Russians used them to spread propaganda, and Trump himself begrudgingly mumbles his slightly equivocating agreement. Steele called the FBI to warn them of Russian meddling, which is more than Donald Trump Jr. did when some Russians he knew to be connected to the Kremlin offered dirt on Clinton, and even the talk radio conspiracy theories are based on the assumption that his word was good enough for the FBI and the FISA court.
There’s also been a lot of solid reporting by respected publications and broadcast programs around the world that backs up Steele’s accounts of Trump’s shady dealings with Russians, the aforementioned idiot Trump Jr. has bragged to the press about all the Russian money flowing into the family’s still wholly-owned businesses, and the special counsel team of investigators includes some lawyers famed for their past money-laundering and Russian mob prosecutions. The special counsel already has a couple of guilty pleas, including the aforementioned idiot Papadopoulos, as well Trump’s short-lived and very Russia-connected national security advisor Mike Flynn, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort is currently contesting a variety of Russia-related charges, Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner is clearly in the investigative cross-hairs, and the special counsel has reportedly requested an interview with Trump himself.
Trump’s lawyers will probably protect him from anything short of some written answers to written questions, and his defenders on “Fox & Friends” and talk radio and the Senate intelligence committee will surely come up with some spin, but from our seat on the sidelines the “Russia thing” doesn’t seem likely to end soon. We’ll not venture any predictions how it all turns out, and it may all turn out to be a grand conspiracy between the “deep state” and the “globalists” to prevent Trump from making American great again, but we don’t expect that those Fusion GPS guys and that former British intelligence agent turn out to be the bad guys.

— Bud Norman