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Kansas in the News

Kansas rarely makes the national news, which is fine by us, but on Wednesday the state landed two stories in all the big papers. One concerned a guilty verdict in a terrorism case, the other was about involved Kansas’ Secretary of State getting hit with a fine in much-watched court challenge to his his voter registration rules, and neither is the sort of publicity that our state needs.
The three men found guilty on terrorism charges weren’t radical Islamists, but rather self-described Christian “crusaders” in a self-appointed militia who were plotting to build car bombs and massacre the Somali refugees living in their hometown of Garden City. A formerly homogenous small town out in the sparsely populated western part of the state, Garden City become more ethnically diverse when a big meatpacking plant rescued the local economy back in the ’70s, refugees from Somalia were settled there shortly after the turn of the millennia, and by the beginning of this decade whites were no longer a majority in Finney County, a fact which apparently did not set well with the plotters.
During the four week trial at the federal courthouse here in Wichita, the defense argued that they were just engaging in “locker room talk” about killing Muslims with bullets soaked in pig blood, and were entrapped by a Federal Bureau of Investigation conspiracy, and perhaps it should worry President Donald Trump that a Kansas jury didn’t buy these familiar arguments. The average Kansan is just as uncomfortable with diversity and suspicious of the government as the next guy, but he won’t countenance blowing up the local mosque and massacring the local Muslims, and in the end he tends to settle on the facts rather than his suspicions.
Still, it doesn’t look good that such a trial occurred her in the first place. The deadliest domestic terror attack in American history, the 1995 bombing of a federal building just down I-35 in downtown Oklahoma City, was plotted in rural Kansas, the last murder of an abortion doctor occurred in a lovely Lutheran Church over on East 13th here in Wichita, and although the Kansas officials and witness were highly cooperative in bring justice to the bombers and a Kansas jury quickly convicted the abortion doctor’s killer, a certain craziness does seem to require our constant vigilance. We suppose that’s true everywhere, but it’s been a constant feature of the state it’s “Bleeding Kansas” days, and looks so much worse in contrast to the wholesome image we aspire to.
That story about Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach getting hit with the fine in that ongoing court isn’t great publicity for our beloved, either, and it should also worry Trump.
By now Kobach is well known far beyond Kansas for his crusade against illegal immigration and voter fraud and especially illegal immigrants voting fraudulently, and he’s successfully persuaded the past several very conservative Republican legislatures to pass new laws and grant him broader executive authority to execute them. This included requirements that voters produce certain sorts photographic identification cards to cast a ballot, provide a birth certificate or passport of certain other sorts of proof citizenship to register for the first time, and a few other measures. This outraged the left, made Kobach a hero to the right, and he wound up heading the commission Trump had created to prove his claim that votes fraudulently cast by illegal immigrants had denied him his rightful victory in the popular vote.
The federal voter fraud commission that Trump set up and Kobach headed came to a slapstick conclusion some months ago. Voting is mostly a matter left to the states and counties and localities, as it should be, and too many of them refused to cooperate, with all of the Democratic states objecting for self-interested Democratic reasons and a lot of Republican states refusing to cooperate for principled Republican reasons. One of the states that refused to hand over everything Kobach requested was Kansas, where the ever-suspicious-of-the-feds conservative Republican legislatures had passed laws against divulging such information. Trump still insists that he won the popular vote, but he gave up on Kobach’s attempts to prove it.
Since then illegal immigration and voter fraud have most given way to porn stars and the latest policy reversals in the news, but to the extent they linger they’re no longer doing either Trump or Kobach much good. The big, beautiful border went unfunded in that hated-by-everyone spending Trump signed a while back, the “dreamers” Trump promised to deport during his triumphant campaign are still here, and they’re polling better than the president, and there’s no telling where he stands on the matter at that moment, except for his continued insistence that the Democrats are to blame the executive order he signed that put their legal status in jeopardy. At the moment illegal immigration rarely appears on the front pages or at the top of the hour, and although the issue helped Trump when the presidency he should be glad of it.
Meanwhile, back in Kansas, Kobach seems to be having a hard time of it as well. We take a harder stand on immigration and voting issues than do the state’s Democrats, so didn’t mind casting our votes for Kobach in both of his races for Secretary. We found the photo ID requirement reasonable enough, as the average citizen is used to showing such papers to cash a check or buy a six-pack or board an airplane or transact many other legal activities, and although the passport and birth certificate requirements for registering seemed a bit officious we weren’t much bothered. The American Civil Liberties Union took a harsher view, however, and their lawsuit challenging the registration requirements seems to be going swimmingly.
The court has already issued an injunction against enforcement of the law, and the judge’s ruling that by “clear and convincing evidence” Kobach was in contempt of court for acting “disingenuously” to disobey that injunction, and the resulting $1000 fine, is just the latest indication that the defense is not going so well. A licensed attorney, Kobach is representing himself in the matter, and our pal Bucky Walters had an amusing satirical slapstick sketch about it in the recent Gridiron Show, with the judge reminding Kobach of the old maxim that “A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client,” and Kobach replying that “In this case it will be just the other way around,” and so far that’s how it’s played out in the news.
Kobach is also running for governor, and it’s hard to explain to an outsider what a mess that is. He’d been hoping to ride his national status as anti-illegal immigrant hard-liner and voter integrity champion to the Republican nomination, but he’s up against his incumbent Gov. Jeff Colyer, who assumed the office after Gov. Sam Brownback was tapped by Trump to be something called the ambassador at large for religious freedom, and both are vying for the Brownback vote. Brownback was wildly unpopular in the state when he left, though, as his tax-cutting agenda didn’t work out as promised, and the old-fashioned sorts of budget-balancing establishment Republicans who were overthrown by “tea party” have since been winning the primaries, and if one of them doesn’t win the Republican gubernatorial nomination we expect some centrist sort of Democrat could wind up winning the general election.
At this point, we expect that Kansas will happily settle on the least crazy candidates they can find on the ballot. The politics around here have been exhausting for a while a now, and we don’t notice any enthusiasm around here for building walls or deporting dreamers or blowing up mosques, and we’ll assure the other 49 states that for the most part we’re no crazier than the rest of you.

— Bud Norman

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Stranger, and Worse, Than Fiction

Pity the poor fool who tries to write a legal potboiler or political satire novel these days. The most fervid imagination might devise a plot that combines Russian intrigue, Playboy centerfold models and a pornographic video actresses, ruthlessly efficient prosecutors and comically inept defense attorneys, a petulant and impulsive president with plenty of other subplots, and a slew of conspiracy theories to explain it all, but the publishers will find it hackneyed.
The combined talents of John Grisham and Jonathan Swift couldn’t top the last couple of days of headlines in your local newspaper.
Acting on a tip from the special counsel investigation looking into the “Russia thing,” federal agents have lately executed an extraordinary search warrant on the president’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” who has admitted paying $130,000 to a pornographic video actress in exchange for her silence about an affair the president denies ever happened. The payment can be construed as an illegal campaign contribution, as well as a reported similar payment of hush money to a Playmate centerfold model through the National Enquirer tabloid, which no fiction writer would have ever thought of, and there are reports the lawyer was also suspected of illegally dealing once-lucrative New York City taxi medallions, but what they find in the voluminous records that were seized from Trump’s longtime lawyer and “fixer” might also shed some light on that “Russia thing.”
The petulant and impulsive president griped at length about it in front of all the network news cameras on Monday, prior to a cabinet meeting ostensibly about a response to Syria’s recent chemical attack on its own people in a Syrian civil war that Trump had earlier announced we’ll soon be pulling out off. He criticized his own Attorney General and deputy attorney general and pretty much the entirety of the Department of Justice and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, as well as the independent judiciary that had signed off even those extraordinary search warrants and indictments. He repeatedly used the words “disgrace” or “disgraceful,” hinted that people might be fired, and later “tweeted” that he was the victim of “A TOTAL WITCH HUNT!”
You don’t have to delve into the depths of right-wing conspiracy theory sites to to hear sites to hear sympathetic arguments. Several of the hosts on influential Fox News network and several prominent talk radio hosts argue that a raid on a lawyer for information about one of his clients is an egregious violation of the sacred lawyer client-relationship, and is further proof that the “deep state” of professional employees in the DOJ and FBI and elsewhere in the federal bureaucracy are conspiring are conspiring to overthrow a duly elected American president. It is highly unusual for a search warrants to be executed any old defense attorney, there is indeed a more-or-less permanent federal bureaucracy which doesn’t much like the president, and all of them have their flaws, so there’s something to it.
Being the sorts of old-fashioned conservative Kansas Republicans that we are, though, we’re not at all convinced that our duly constituted system of government’s carefully considered laws and the independent judiciary that enforces them is more a “disgrace” than our petulant and impulsive president. So far as we can tell the legal concept of lawyer-client privilege is still well respected by the system, and that the duly-appointed prosecutors had to provide some pretty damned convincing evidence to the duty appointed judges to get such a warrant on the highly unusual exception where criminal activity by the lawyer is involved, and we note that almost everyone involved in the process is a Republican of longer standing than the president.
We’ll not dare venture a guess about what comes next, but the president is conspicuously hinting he’s going to fire people, has made quite clear that his longtime lawyer and “fixer” is on his own regarding that hush money to the porn actress, and he’s short another inept lawyer against those ruthless prosecutors who have thus far won warrants and indictments and guilty pleas from the independent judiciary, and has been having trouble finding suitable replacements. There’s no telling how this stranger-than-fiction tale might turn out, but our limited imaginations can’t see how it turns out well.

— Bud Norman

“Tweeting” Against the Tide

President Donald Trump’s “tweets” are clearly intended to convey cocksureness and toughness, and that’s how the die-hard fans see them. To our eyes they always look differently, and this past weekend’s voluminous output struck us as downright anxious and weak.
The most frequent of the topics Trump “tweeted” about was the Russia thing, of course. He gloated about the firing of a career Federal Bureau of Investigation official just 48 hours away from becoming eligible for a full pension, further impugned the character of the former FBI director he previously fired, and accused the bureau itself of widespread corruption in the process. Trump repeatedly “tweeted” about the special counsel’s investigation being a witch hunt — or “WITCH HUNT!” as he prefers to call it — and for the first time mentioned the name of Robert Mueller, the formidable former FBI director in charge.
The die-hard Trump fans will be pleased that “at least he fights,” as they always say, but we doubt that Mueller, a much-decorated combat veteran who once left a cushy California law practice to take on the crack cocaine dealers of Washington, D.C., is much intimidated by “tweets.” Mueller’s hunt has already yielded numerous indictments against 13 Russians and several figures close to Trump’s campaign and transition team and administration, along with a couple of guilty pleas, including one from Trump’s former national security advisor, and by now many Americans are waking up hopeful that more indictments and guilty will show up in the news.
Mueller has reportedly subpoenaed the financial records of the Trump Organization, the oxymoronic name of the president’s still wholly-owned international business empire, and God and Mueller only know what that’s likely to turn up. Our guess, based on what we’ve learned about Trump over the past several decades, is that it’s likely — oh, what the heck, standards of discourse being what they are these days, damned near certain — that there’s something pretty damned damning in those ledgers.
There are still laws on the books and an independent judiciary to enforce them, a Congress that plays some role, as well as a free press to let the public know how that turns out, and for now all of that is on Mueller’s side, so all a president can do is “tweet” about it. At least he fights, we’ll concede, but he so often leads with his chin.
There’s a convincing case to be made that the recently fired FBI official had it coming, as an independent inspector general appointed by President Barack Obama had concluded he’d been less than forthcoming on his dealings with the media during the bureau’s investigation of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, and Trump would have done well to let the “fake news” glumly report that exculpatory fact. Instead he issued that gloating “tweet” and extrapolated that it shows widespread corruption in the FBI and a rigged system that’s out to get him and that “Crooked Hillary!” is the one who should be locked up, not him. Which only fuels the “fake news” narrative that the firing was a brazenly vindictive political ploy to discredit a career civil servant and potential witness in the “Russia thing,” and intimidate any other possible witnesses, and unless you’re a die-hard fan it makes Trump look petty and mean rather than cocksure and tough.
We don’t expect any other potential witnesses will be much intimated. A couple of congressman have already offered the fired FBI official another 48 hours of gainful government employment so that he can qualify for his full pension, and he’s bound to find other opportunities. James Comey, that fired FBI director that Trump routinely impugns “tweeted” back that “Mr. President, the American people will hear my story soon. And they can judge for themselves who is honorable and who is not.” This is an apparent reference to a book by Comey to be released in mid-April, which is already an Amazon best-seller and moving up the charts since Trump’s “tweets,” and we expect he’ll make a convincing case for himself. Say what you want about that botched investigation of “Crooked Hillary’s” e-mails, which was as badly run as Trump Airline or the Trump Taj Mahal casino-and-strip-club, Trump is at a disadvantage in a contest of character.
The “fake news” have plenty of actual facts to rebut the rest of the president’s conspiracy theorizing, too. He “tweeted” that the House investigative committee on the “Russia thing” had exonerated him, but that was just most of the for-now Republican majority, with the Democrats objecting, and the Senate and special counsel and free press investigations are still underway. Trump once again “tweeted” about the undeniable fact that most of Mueller’s team are Democrats and have donated to Clinton’s past campaigns, but federal law prohibits hiring based on party affiliation or past campaign donations, everyone on the team has stellar credentials regarding such worrisome matters as money-laundering and several are fluent in Russian, and Trump’s own lawyer and Trump himself have contributed “Crooked Hillary’s” past campaigns.
Trump could impulsively “tweet” that he’s decided to fire Mueller, which you know he really really wants to do, but by law he’d have to get the deputy attorney general to do it, as the Attorney General has had to recuse himself from the whole “Russia thing,” and he’d probably have to fire the Republican guy he appointed to be deputy general and find somebody willing to go down in infamy to do the deed. Anyone old enough to remember the “Saturday Night Massacre” episode of the Watergate scandal knows how messy that can be, however, and although it’s frighteningly plausible we don’t see it ending any better this time around.

— Bud Norman

Looking Forward to a Tricky Situation

President Donald Trump said in an impromptu news conference Wednesday night that he was looking forward to testifying under oath to special counsel Robert Mueller about the “Russia thing,” which is a perfect example of why he should be dreading such an ordeal.
Trump added that his eagerness was “subject to my lawyers and all that,” but his lawyers would have advised him not to volunteer for the grilling that they’ve surely been doing their best to avoid. They probably couldn’t find any legal grounds to spare Trump from testifying, and the political consequences for not doing so would be unavoidable in any case, but the self-proclaimed master deal-maker has just robbed his attorneys of whatever leverage they might had to negotiate any limits on the questions that can be asked. There was even talk about limiting the special counsel to written questions, which would have allowed Trump’s lawyers to vet the written answers, but that faint hope has now vanished.
Letting Trump spontaneously answer Mueller’s questions is potentially disastrous, given his well-known penchant for blurting out the most blatant and easily disproved lies, such as he did several times in that impromptu news conference. He also has an unfortunate knack for blurting out damning truths, such as when he disregarded the White House staff’s carefully worded lies about firing Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey because he had been so unfair to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the campaign and told the National Broadcasting Company’s Lester Holt that he fired the guy because of the “Russia thing.” Worse yet, Trump also a worrisome cocksureness that he doesn’t need anybody’s advice and can talk himself out of any situation.
Trump has indeed talked himself out of a lot of tricky situations over the years, and he somehow talked himself into the White House, but he’s also wound paying out of many millions of dollars settling race discrimination and divorce and fraud and a wide variety of other lawsuits. The current situation is the trickiest Trump has ever faced, with far greater potential consequences and a far more formidable foe.
All the right-wing talk radio hosts and the rests of Trump’s apologists would have you believe that Mueller and his team of lawyers and investigators are part of a “deep state” conspiracy out to destroy Trump with “fake news,” but even if you believe that you have to believe he is formidable indeed. He’s a life-long Republican and long-married Eagle Scout whose reputation for boring probity was impeccable until recently, after earning a master’s degree he volunteered to the Marines and wound up earning medals for valor a Purple Heart in Vietnam before earning his law degree, and his career in public service saw him rise through the United States Attorney’s Office and the FBI through both Republican and Democrats, culminating in his appointment to FBI director by Republican President George W. Bush and being re-appointed to an unprecedented second term by Democratic President Barack Obama.
The Trump apologists would also have you believe that Mueller’s team of lawyers and investigators are also a bunch of Clinton-loving conspiracists out to get the president for purely partisan reasons, and indeed some of them had contributed to her campaigns, just as Trump’s lawyer and family and Trump himself have done in the past, but they rarely mention that all of the staff have excellent credentials and much success in prosecuting such matters as money-laundering and Russian gangsterism and campaign law violations. The questions Trump will be giving spontaneous answers to will be carefully considered, expertly asked, and backed up by all they’ve learned from subpoenaed documents and the testimony from campaign and administration officials who have already been indicted or pleaded guilty to charges brought by the special counsel.
They won’t be so easily dodged as those less carefully considered and expertly asked questions he’s always getting from those pesky and relatively uninformed reporters, either. The Trump apologists usually respond to the most vexing questions about Trump by changing the subject to something that either Clinton or Obama had done, or ignoring it as “fake news,” or alleging that “deep state” conspiracy, but Trump will have no choice but to offer a real answer when he’s under oath. Taunting nicknames and assurances that “there was no collusion, everybody says so, that I can tell you, believe me” won’t help, either, in response to questions about a specific meeting with a specific person at a specific time.
Based on all the “fake news” stories by relatively uninformed pesky reporters that the White House has had to eventually admit are all too true, we expect some of those very specific questions are going to require a very carefully considered answer. Carefully considered answers aren’t Trump’s style, however, as he prefers to blurt out damnable lies or damning truths.
Our guess is that all the “fake news” outlets and other Trump critics are going to find something damnable or damning in the all-too-real transcripts of the testimony that will eventually be made public, and that the talk radio talkers and the other Trump apologists will dismiss what’s damnable as no big deal and and deny what’s damning as a “deep state” conspiracy. The rest of the country, by our best guess, will be skeptical of everything trump says except for the damning parts.
Which is not to say that Trump won’t eventually talk himself out of this mess. He’s talked and paid himself out of plenty of tricky situations before, and there’s a certain segment of the population that wouldn’t care if he went out and shot someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue, and a lot of the country doesn’t seem care about much anything political these days. No matter how damnable or damning Trump’s testimony under oath might be, we know a lot of people who will still be glad that at least Clinton isn’t the president.
Our old-fashioned Republican souls also shudder at the very thought of another Clinton presidency, but we still don’t think that a sometime Democrat and sometime Reform Party member and relatively recent Republican who is thrice-married and regales a Boy Scout jamboree with tales of orgies on yachts and dodged the draft and devoted his life to a ruthless pursuit of private gain and prides himself on flouting previous standards of probity is going to make America great again. We have no idea how it’s going to turn out, but we do know Trump is facing a more formidable foes than himself  in Mueller and the truth, and it’s a very tricky situation.

— Bud Norman

The Second Day of the Comey Firing

Tuesday’s big story about President Donald Trump firing Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey inevitably led to a lot more stories on Wednesday. None of them made anyone look very good, but on the whole Trump seems to have had the worst of it.
There’s a strong case to be made for the firing of Comey, whose erratic performance over the course of a crazy election year outraged Democrats and then Republicans and then Democrats again, but that was lost in the blizzard of new bulletins. The New York Times reported that Comey’s firing came shortly after he requested more resources for an ongoing investigation into Russia’s meddling in the election and its possible collusion with Trump’s campaign, The Washington Post reported that Trump was furious that Comey hadn’t corroborated his “tweeted” claim that President Barack Obama had tapped the phones at Trump Tower, and everybody was reporting that some prominent Republicans were also declining to come to Trump’s defense.
Meanwhile, the Trump administration struggled to amount a defense of its own. White House press secretary Sean Spicer was spotted hiding from reporters behind some bushes before offering a few answers that suggested he hadn’t been expecting Tuesday’s announcement or Wednesday’s revelations, deputy White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attributed Comey’s firing to the “atrocities” he’d committed while investigating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices, and occasional spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway’s first response to a montage of candidate’s Trump’s effusive campaign trail praise for how nicely Comey had handled the matter was to remind her questioner that Trump won Michigan. They all rightly noted that most Democrats were eager for Comey to be fired until Trump did it, but it’s hard to believe that Trump did it for the reasons the Democrats wanted, and at this point there seems plenty of hypocrisy to go around.
Trump himself, who only had an ill-timed meeting with a high-ranking Russian official on the daily schedule, spent much of Wednesday “tweeting” schoolyard taunts against his Democratic critics. He responded to Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer by “tweeting” that “Cryin’ Chuck Schumer stated recently, ‘I do not have confidence in him (James Comey) any longer.’ Then acts so indignant.” After Democratic Connecticut Sen. Richard Blumenthal appeared on a cable news show offering his own criticisms, Trump responded that “‘Richie’ devised one of the greatest military frauds in U.S. history. For years, as a pol in Connecticut, Blumenthal would talk of his great bravery and conquests in Vietnam — except he was never there. When caught, he cried like a baby and begged for forgiveness … and now he is judge & jury. He should be the one who is investigated for his acts.”
Trump is inarguably right about Schumer’s past criticisms of Comey, but Schumer is surely entitled to “tweet” back a taunt about Trump’s past praise, although we’d advise to him avoid any insulting nicknames. Trump’s also inarguably right that Comey was caught lying about his service record seven years ago, and although we don’t recall him “crying like a baby” he did indeed offer an apology that the voters of his state apparently accepted, and as much as we also dislike the guy we can’t see why a further investigation is now warranted. In any case, making these Democrats look bad doesn’t Trump or his decision to fire Comey look any better. The only “tweet” that made an affirmative case for firing said “Comey lost the confidence of almost everyone in Washington, Democrat and Republican alike. When things calm down, they will be thanking me.”

That’s not a bad summation of the case, which requires more characters than “tweeting” allows to be persuasively made, but it’s hard to imagine when things might calm down over the next four years or anytime in the coming millennia when everyone will be thanking Trump for anything. Trump’s most die-hard supporters will dismiss anything from “The New York Slimes,” but the paper’s report has four on-the-record congressional sources, including a Republican, hasn’t been denied by anyone at the White House, and anyone who isn’t a die-hard Trump supporters will likely find that it raises some interesting questions that Trump and his spokespeople will have trouble answering. The talk radio hosts and their listeners will dismiss anything from “The Washington Compost,” but even they won’t believe that Trump wasn’t angry about Comey not going along with wiretapping claim, or mind if that was a reason for firing, and everyone else will note that nobody has come forward to corroborate those damning “tweets.” Some of the Republicans who are distancing themselves from the matter are running for re-election in jurisdictions where Trump is not popular, and given the latest national polls more are likely to follow.
Still, Trump was inarguably within his legal rights to fire Comey, and did have reasons for doing so that all those Democrats had previously agreed with, and it might yet work out for the best, and it’s also possible that Trump or someone speaking on his behalf will effectively make those arguments. If he thought the decision would be immediately met with bipartisan praise he was clearly wrong, though, and if he thought it would put an end to all that chatter about the Russians meddling in the election and the Trump campaign being somehow involved he was even more wrong. The next news cycle is going to involve a lot of explaining, and the one after that will also be troublesome.
Up next is Trump’s nominee to replace Comey, and whoever that turns out to be is going to be subjected to such severe scrutiny he or she is unlikely to come out of it looking pristine. If he or she seems the least bit interested in revisiting Clinton’s e-mail practices or entirely dismissive of the idea that Trump’s campaign might have been involved in Russia’s role in the past election that’s going to be a public relations problem for Trump, and if they aren’t that’s yet another problem. All those questions about Russia won’t go away until they’re definitively answered, which will require answers from someone who’s somehow untainted by all of this and has been given access to all the tax returns and financial disclosures and immunity-granted testimony that might involved, and at this point we can’t imagine who that person might be.

— Bud Norman

Comey’s Firing Is So Damned Complicated

Pretty much all the news these days is reported through the prism of President Donald Trump versus the Democrats, which makes the big story about Trump firing Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey pretty damned complicated for just about everyone. Over his long and mostly distinguished career Comey has been a villain to both the right and left wings of American politics, and during the last couple of undeniably disastrous years he’s played both roles from month to month, so by the time he got fired no one seemed to like him.
As a young rising U.S. Attorney Comey was frequently promoted by the administration of Republican George W. Bush by vigorously investigating the pardon that Democratic President Bill Clinton had scandalously granted the con man and big-time Democratic campaign contributor Marc Rich and other matters dear to Republican hearts, then clashed with the Bush administration over surveillance matters and so endeared himself to the subsequent administration of Democratic President Barack Obama that he wound up running the FBI. In that capacity he wound up heading an investigation into the highly dubious e-mail practices of former Obama administration Secretary of State and sudden Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, and at that point things got even more damned complicated.
In the middle of the messiest American presidential election ever the FBI director held a press conference to announce that he was not recommending criminal charges against the Democratic nominee, which deeply disappointed all the Republicans, but he also noted that the Democratic nominee had been darned careless about national security and plausibly implied that Republican-appointed prosecutors might have found a case against her, which the Democrats could still spin as a win but didn’t fully satisfy them. As the election grew nearer Comey had another press conference to announce that the investigation was back on after some of the Democratic nominee’s classified e-mails had been found on the laptop of close aide’s notorious sex-fiend husband, who had been targeted in a separate and even tawdrier investigation, and although Comey again fell short of recommending a prosecution and the Republicans were again disappointed that no charges were filed the Democratic nominee is still plausibly able to blame her loss to the likes of Trump on Comey’s 11th hour revelations.
All of which makes Comey’s firing pretty damned complicated, for everybody involved, but it’s actually even more complicated than that. Over at The Washington Post the front page headlines explains that “Democrats hate James Comey. But they hate the fact Trump fired him even more,” and all sorts of Republicans should have similarly conflicted feelings. The deputy attorney general who joined in with several other high-ranking officials in calling for Comey’s firing wrote that “Almost everyone agrees that the director has made serious mistakes; it is one of the few issues that united people of different perspectives,” and although that’s true enough the Republicans also have plenty to worry about.
Any president is perfectly entitled by law and precedent to fire an FBI director for any old reason, although they have rarely done so, and given all the grousing that both Republicans and Democrats have lately been doing Comey it’s hard for anybody to argue that there’s insufficient reason now, which should get Trump through the next 24-hour news cycle, but of course it’s more complicated than that. Trump’s catchphrase “you’re fired” letter to Comey thanked him for his many mostly distinguished years of public service and included his personal thanks for the three separate occasions when Comey said that Trump wasn’t under FBI investigation, but the previous day’s big story was the testimony of a fired acting attorney general and a former national intelligence director that it would divulge classified intelligence to deny that there are also ongoing investigations into people closely involved in the Trump campaign regarding the Russians’ plausibly alleged meddling in the election, which also plausibly played a part in the outcome. That’s enough for the Democrats to peg a story or two on, and they’re bound to last past the next 24-hour news cycle.
Trump should weather the inevitable storm about the firing without any damage to his poll numbers, but who he hires as a replacement will be subjected to the most extreme scrutiny by almost everyone except his most loyal supporters. If the nominee seems eager to revisit the Clinton charges even after she was sentenced to the hell of losing to the likes to Trump that will invigorate most Democrats, and if he or she  seems uninterested in the ongoing investigation about Trump’s associates and their dealing with the Russians who do at this point seem have meddled in the election on Trump’s behalf, we expect Trump will suffer yet another 24-hour news cycle or more.
However it turns out, from our vantage point on the political sidelines we’ll be among the few wishing Comey a happy and blissfully boring retirement. Most of his long career was distinguished, with all of his bi-partisan offenses against both Republican and Democratic sensibilities being arguably justified, and as awful as he’s undeniably been to almost everybody over the last couple of years we can’t think of anyone who’s come out of that dreadful timespan smelling like a rose. We wish well to anyone who replaces him, too, but we’d warn him or her that after such an awful election its going to be damned complicated.

— Bud Norman

The Next Famous Director of the FBI

We’re old enough to remember a time when J. Edgar Hoover was not only every bit as famous as Johnny Carson or Spiro Agnew or Tiny Tim, but was even as legendary a character as Wyatt Earp or Gen. Douglas MacArthur or the cross-dressing Z-movie director Ed Wood. Hoover earned his renown, or notoriety, depending on which side of the vast political chasm of the time you were on, as the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and although even such politically-obsessed sorts as ourselves would be hard-pressed to name a single FBI director since then we suspect that Jim Comey is about to achieve a similar household-name status.
Comey’s FBI is so clearly and undeniably no matter what she says closing in on an investigation of possible multiple oh-my-God sorts of felonies against former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices and charitable work that even such polite media as Time Magazine acknowledges it, and Comey is quite publicly playing a leading role in the matter. Because Clinton is also the more-or-less-front-runner in the Democratic presidential nomination race, this will eventually require the attention of even the very most polite media. The whole problem could easily be resolved by a Democratic Attorney General appointed by a Democratic President and a mostly politely Democratic media all agreeing that there’s nothing to see here, and that might yet happen, but this Comey guy strikes as one of those intriguing characters that occasionally gum up the works.
The cynical assumption on both the left and the right is that eventually a Democratic Attorney General appointed by a Democratic President won’t file charges against a more-or-less-front-runner for the Democratic nomination, and that the mostly politely Democratic media and eventually the rest of the nation will agree that there’s nothing to see here, seems reasonable. This Comey fellow, though, has a long history of being admirably unreasonable. He first tangled with the Clintons as a deputy special counsel to the Senate Whitewater Committee, where he made a case that Hillary Clinton had mishandled documents and ordered others to do so constituting a “highly improper pattern of deliberate misconduct,” which endeared him to the subsequent George W. Bush administration to earn a high post there, but when he was serving as acting Attorney General during a health emergency by John Ashcroft and refused to sign on to a controversial surveillance program and later challenged other Bush policies he so endeared himself to Bush’s subsequent successor that he was named FBI director. Since then he’s been an admirable pain in the posterior to the Obama administration, offering frank testimony to Congress about Syrian refugees and policing that undercut the president, and there’s no reason to believe he won’t gum up the works yet again.
If he brings a convincing case against Clinton, or at least one as convincing as the most polite media have already been forced to acknowledge, it will surely shake up the most shaken presidential race of our long recollection. Even if the Democratic Attorney General appointed by the Democratic President with the blessings of the mostly politely Democratic media decide there’s nothing to see here, Comey seems likely to continue to his very public role in the investigation, but if he chooses to do so we wish him well in the effort. Such a quixotic quest against the Clintons would surely entail some controversy, and even the Republican security hawks would find something to dislike, but that goes with the territory. J. Edgar Hoover was a household name long before our birth, and his crazy career included something for both and liberals and conservatives to celebrate and loathe, much like MacArthur or Johnny Carson or our hometown bully-boy sheriff Wyatt Earp or any of those other childhood icons we could never quite settle on, so we hold out hope that Comey is cut from from the same crazy quilt.

— Bud Norman

As the Sands of the Hourglass, So are the Days of the Democrats

The Republican Party’s reality show is getting the bigger ratings and all the critical attention, but the Democrats’ presidential nomination race is also well worth binge-watching. In case you’ve missed the more recent gripping episodes, there’s now a tantalizing possibility that the heroine of the tale will face federal indictment on criminal charges, her husband’s past and recent sex scandals are starting to affect the plot, the lovably eccentric kook who was once a minor comic-relief character is now within striking distance of her in all the polls, and there’s enough behind-the-scenes court intrigue to fuel another few seasons of “The Tudors” and “House of Cards.”
Although the lovably eccentric kook who was originally included for only comic relief has generously declared that he’s “damned sick and tired” of hearing about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s e-mails, which viewers might recall from previous episodes were transmitted by an unsecured and seemingly illegal private server, the Federal Bureau of Investigation keeps anonymously leaking to the press and openly testifying to Congress that they remain very interested in the matter. The latest news has the FBI leaking that they’re also looking into the big-bucks donations from foreign countries that were flowing into the Bill and Hillary and Chelsea Clinton Foundation while the eponymous Hillary was dealing with those same foreign countries as Secretary of State, and a best-selling book and a large number of reports indicate there is also something of interest to be found there. No matter what is uncovered by the investigation an indictment will have to be brought by an Attorney General appointed by President Barack Obama, who still looms as large as the Darth Vader or Obi-Wan Kenobi characters from the all-important prequels, depending on your tastes, which makes for some darned intriguing court intrigue.
Almost all of our Republican friends glumly assume that no Obama appointee would ever allow even the most undeniably evidence-backed federal indictment on criminal charges against a prominent Democrat, especially the party’s presumptive presidential nominee, and even more especially one named Clinton, and the long-awaited First Woman President, at that, and most of our Democrat friends gleefully make the assumption. Their glum and gleeful cynicism might well prove justified, given the conspicuous lack of indictments in countless scandals that the press would have happily made a federal case of during Republican administrations, from Fast and Furious to Solyndra to that Obamacare web site to the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of conservatives and right up to Clinton’s e-mailing and fund-raising methods, but by now we’re cynical enough to hold out hope for one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction plot twists.
Having followed the soon-to-close but still-awaiting-that-final-cliffhanger Obama reality show over the past eight years or so, we’ve long noticed that he doesn’t much like any of the Clintons and is quite petty enough to let such personal dislikes affect his judgments. Nor does he seem to have any loyalty to his political party, which has been reduced to 1920s-levels in Congress and state legislatures and governorships even as he has seized unprecedented presidential powers, and his press spokespeople and his equally dutiful press people have strangely silent about Clinton’s legal matters. An indictment could either usher in a Republican presidency, which could be easily blamed for everything that happens in the four-year aftermath of the Obama administration, or hands the Democratic nomination to that lovable kook or any of the other Obama-approved eccentrics who have been waiting in the wings, and they somehow prevail over some equally unpopular Republican villain to institute yet another four years of left-wing craziness, and in either case Obama’s purposes are served. We’re not making any predictions, but it’s tantalizingly possible enough to keep us tuned in.
In any case, it signals more perils for the Pauline heroine of the Democrats’ reality show. We no longer cling to any boyish fantasy that the FBI is staffed by the likes of Efrem Zimbalist Jr. or Jimmy Stewart, but given the agency’s recent leakiness there is reason to hope that they’ll at least let some enterprising reporter or another know about they case they’ve built, which is sure to be unhelpful to Clinton’s candidacy. The cynics in both parties will glumly and gleefully note that Clinton’s have always gotten away with everything, and all the shrewd gamblers have always advised to never bet against a streak, but our cynicism is such that we glumly note that time changes everything. The Bill Clinton sex scandals that were easily overlooked during the cultural right scare of the ’90s aren’t so easily forgiven in the ‘teens, when Democrats believe a “culture of rape” is permeating the undeniably leftist-dominated campuses but not the town squares of European cities suddenly overrun by immigration from less feminist cultures that best go unnamed, and the Republican front-runner is a thrice-married casino mogul who can’t quote a single Bible verse, and suddenly that whole “war on women” that the distaff Clinton was supposed to win seems laughable. Besides, the masculine Clinton is best remembered for the Welfare Reform Act he was forced to sign and President Obama unraveled with executive orders, and the decrease in crime that resulted “mass incarceration” laws that are now the bane of the “Black Lives Matter” movement, and for Republican-imposed balanced budgets that Democrats no longer care about.
Throw in the fact that in the Democratic voters are now mostly concerned about income inequality and those evil bastards on Wall Street, and it’s no surprise that the lovable kook and self-described socialist and relatively penurious Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders is now catching up in the national polls and within striking distance in the first two crucial rounds of the race of the suspiciously wealthy and Wall Street-supported “front-runner.” Once the supposed front-runner is either indicted on federal criminal charges or not indicted for the most obviously suspicious reasons, you’ve got a real race going on rather than the promised coronation. Even the most polite press can’t help noticing such things, and hopefully speculating about some eccentric waiting on the wings to inherit Obama’s still on-going campaign operation, and of course that will further twist the plot.
There’s plenty of drama left on the Republican side, where another character unpopular with the broader audience seems to be winning, but these Democrats are well worth watching.

— Bud Norman