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Judgment at Nurnberg

Sam Nunberg was previously a peripheral figure in the “Russia thing” subplot of President Donald Trump’s ongoing reality show, but he had a memorable star turn on Monday. The former Trump campaign aide gave interviews to The Washington Post and the Associated Press, spoke several times to both the Cable News Network and MSNBC, and it made for compelling reading and watching. It’s not often, after all, that one gets to watch a complete nervous breakdown in public.
As a former Trump campaign aide, Nunberg was recently served a subpoena by the special counsel investigating the “Russia” which demanded both his testimony before a grand jury and several years of e-mail correspondence with other Trump campaign officials. Nunberg started his Monday by telling the Post that he intended to ignore it. “Let him arrest me,” Nunberg said of the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Nunberger also complained that both he and the man he repeatedly describes as his “mentor,” the self-described “rat fucker” for President Richard Nixon and longtime lobbyist for the world’s worst dictatorships and occasional Trump advisor Roger Stone, have been “badly mistreated” by the special counsel.
Nunberg was just as defiant in his televised interviews, and even more apparently unhinged. He complained about being fired from the Trump campaign due to the machinations of campaign Corey Lewandowski, who was also later fired but is still obviously quite disliked by Nunberg, and he also opined frequently after being fired himself he hoped that Trump would lose to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, although he also complained that Clinton should have gone to prison for her e-mails. During a call to a New York City station he described White press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders a “fat slob,” also he added that it’s “unrelevant,” and on one of the national broadcasts referred to her “big fat mouth,” which prompted his female interlocutor to scold him for his sexism, and he once again admitted it was irrelevant to his main point that she’s also an idiot.
Nunberg was similarly scathing about other past and present Trump administration officials, and blamed them for the president’s low approval ratings. He contended that if he and Stone were still calling the shots that Trump at 55 percent approval in all the polls, crediting himself for the border wall and his mentor for getting Trump past that time he scoffed at Sen. John McCain’s war heroism. He said repeatedly that the questions he was asked in an earlier interview with the special counsel’s team had led him to believe they had something on Trump, although the whole “Russia thing” couldn’t have happened because Putin would have never trusted Trump to keep it quiet, but also emphasized that any allegation he or Stone had to do with it was a “witch hunt,” and often returned to his complaints that Clinton would have been locked if she weren’t a Democrat.
Maybe it was the Trump-bashing, or some kindhearted liberal instinct to intervene in a fellow human’s public self-destruction, but even on CNN and MSNBC the interviewers and their panelists were trying to throw Nunberg a lifeline. Whenever Nunberg frequently asked his questioners why he should spend hours going through high e-mails and wasting his time with some grand jury investigation, they all tried to gently suggest it was because the law apparently required him to do. One of the shows had a panel of presumably left wing lawyers, and while they all added the requisite provisos about offering no legal advice they also cautioned that defying a special counsel subpoena can land a fellow in jail.
Nunberg scoffed at the idea of jail time, and when the lawyers and the interviewers pointed out that the last person to do was Susan McDougal, a former business associate of President Bill Clinton who defied a subpoena in that whole “Whitewater thing” and wound up doing 18 months, he shrugged and noted that was a long time ago. He also noted that several times that his lawyer was probably going to drop him for defying such sound legal advice.
It got so bad that MSNBC’s beguilingly bespectacled Katy Tur, who was an early Trump antagonist and punching bag in new newspaper days, ended her interview by warning Nunberg he might be held in contempt of court thanking him for a “remarkable” interview. Nunberg wondered aloud what was remarkable about it, and she replied “Everything.” CNN’s Erin Burnett ended her remarkable interview by noting that White House sources were already saying Nunberg was “either drunk or off his meds,” and said live and on air that she smelled alcohol on his breath. Nunberg assured her he hadn’t been drinking, and had been taking all his anti-depressants.
By the end of the day Nunberg was telling the AP that he’d probably go along with the investigations after all, and we expect he’ll wind up spilling whatever beans he has to spill before it’s all said done, even the stuff about Stone, which likely be tied to Trump..
If it turns out to be harmful to Trump he’ll be able say that Nunberg is a kook he fired a long time ago, but he wouldn’t have been able to fire Nunberg if he hadn’t hired the guy in the first place. Nunberg started working for Trump way back in 2011, when Trump first contemplated a presidential run, and was still there past the day when Trump survived his insult to McCain, and we don’t doubt that he really did come up with that kooky border wall idea. When Trump first bragged on the campaign trail about how he only hired the best people Nunberg was one of those people, and Nunberg’s criticisms of the best people Trump still has on hand do have a certain ring of truth about them.
Nunberg might yet prove a peripheral character in the whole “Russia thing,” but it really is remarkable.

— Bud Norman

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Another Grand Jury, Another Controversy

Yet another grand jury has declined to indict a white a police officer involved in the death of a black man, this time in the Staten Island borough of New York City, and the latest round of racial tensions seems likely to continue for a while.
The death of an unarmed black teenager by the gun of a white police in Ferguson, Missouri, brought devastating rioting and looting and arson to that unfortunate town, and then another round of the same after a grand jury heard testimony and evidence that clearly indicated the officer was acting in self-defense. Reaction to the grand jury decision in New York City has thus far been less destructive, despite the efforts of a mob to disrupt the city’s annual Christmas tree lighting ceremony, but it will suffice to keep the controversy about policing in black neighborhoods in the news for weeks to come. The latest case might yet prove even more volatile than the Ferguson incident, as the facts are less clear-cut.
The incident in New York City was caught on videotape, and what it reveals is at best ambiguous. Several policemen approach an extremely obese man, reportedly because he had been selling single cigarettes to passersby without paying the city’s notoriously high taxes on the product, and he is argumentative but not physically aggressive. When the officers attempt to handcuff the man he resists, but not in a way that can be construed as life-threatening given the lack of a weapon and the number of policemen involved. Several officers then bring the man down to the ground, one of them employing what the New York press has routinely called a “choke-hold” but might better be described as a “headlock,” and the officers pile on to handcuff the man as he is heard shouting that he cannot breath. As the tape ends, the officers are still piled on, the man’s head is still wrapped in a policeman’s arm, and the shouts by the man that he cannot breath continue.
The videotape leaves no doubt the decedent would still be alive had he acted more sensibly, but one can reasonably wonder if he might also have survived different procedures that could still have resulted in an arrest. There’s obviously more to the story than than what is seen on the videotape, and we assume the grand jury heard the rest of it, but there’s enough there to exacerbate the resentments of those who presume that police routinely act with disregard for the lives of black suspects. It’s at least a more compelling example for that view than what happened in Ferguson, where several black eyewitness corroborated ample physical evidence that the officer’s life was in danger and deadly force was warranted in response, but the initial reports in that case suggested a case of cold-blooded murder and weren’t effectively rebutted until the aftermath of the grand jury’s verdict.
The politicians and activists who prosper from racial strife will likely switch their attention to the New York story now that Ferguson’s rage has diminished in the cold weather and the even colder facts of that case, but they’ll have to settle for a story that is at best ambiguous. The videotape makes it harder to claim that putting cameras on America’s police will prevent such situations, but there’s still a case to be made that it could have prevented the premature judgment rendered against the Ferguson officer. What happened in New York might lead to better policies regarding arrests, but it should also continue to serve as a warning to those who would resist arrest in even the most ineffectual ways. It will also continue to distract attention from inordinate amount of criminality in black America, which kills far more black Americans than even the most reckless police departments, and we can only hope that the current controversies will soon fade enough for the country to consider that sad fact.

— Bud Norman

A Full Day of Outrageous Presidential Remarks

Even on the slowest news days an opinion writer can almost always count on President Barack Obama to provide some outrageous remark to fulminate about. On Monday, though, the president provided more than the usual fodder.
One hardly knows where to begin, but it might as well be with the official White House statement regarding the latest horrific beheading of an American by the Islamic State, the bloodthirsty terrorist gang that was once dismissed by the president as a “jayvee team” and is now in charge of much of Syria and prematurely-abandoned-by-America Iraq. The statement appropriately offers prayers and condolences to the victim’s family, and accurately describes the murder as “an act of pure evil,” but then veers into the most bizarre apologetics. Referring to the terror gang by its preferred acronym, and to the victim by the name he adopted during his captivity to them, the statement adds that “ISIL’s actions represent no faith, least of all the Muslim faith which Abdul-Rahman adopted as his own.” The dubious claim that the Islamic State’s actions have nothing to do with Islam is by now an obligatory ritual that follows every act of Islamist terrorism, but that “least of all” defies any rational explanation. There’s no avoiding an implication that Muslims are far less inclined toward beheading infidels than the adherents of Judaism or Christianity or Buddhism of Hinduism or any other religion, which is clearly contradicted by copious evidence stretching from Iraq to Oklahoma, nor the conclusion that the president regards the victim’s conversion to his captor’s supposedly anti-Islamic creed as sincere. We can well understand a desire not to rile the non-beheading Muslim population, but the president’s remarks smack of a religious favoritism that is inappropriate and downright worrisome from an American leader.
Then there’s the report of the president’s advice to the protesters in Ferguson, Missouri, to “stay the course.” The previously little-known St. Louis suburb has endured rioting and looting and arson and assorted acts of mayhem ever since a white police officer fatally shot an unarmed black teenager, and now that it appears a grand jury which has heard all the physical evidence and eyewitness testimony will conclude that the officer acted in self-defense against a violent behemoth who attacked him and was struggling for his gun there is a legitimate concern that more rioting and looting and arson and assorted mayhem will soon follow. A generous interpretation of the president’s remarks would be that he urges them to “stay on the course” of peaceful protest, rather than the course that has been taken, but even the peaceful protestors he was addressing have stated that “Rioting and looting are the tools of those without a voice.” Better advice would be for the protestors to respect the conclusion of the grand jury, and the facts that led it to its conclusion, but apparently the president who promised a post-racial America would prefer that a majority-black town be utterly destroyed.
Slightly less irksome are the president’s disavowals of Jonathan Gruber, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology economic professor who has been caught on videotape gloating about the deceptions that were used to ensure the passage of Obamacare and the stupidity of the American voters who fell for them. The president’s previous admission that he “stole liberally” from the professor is more convincing, given the $400,000 the president paid for the professor’s advice and the if-you-like-your-plan-you-can-keep-your plan deceptions that were indeed built into the law, so only the most stupid American voters are likely to be fooled once again. Given the bone-chilling weather that has arrived ahead of schedule here in Kansas we are more annoyed by the president’s boast that the Republican majorities that have been installed in both chambers of Congress by a clear majority of voters won’t be able to stop his executive orders to combat global warming, but on a day so full of outrageous remarks even that doesn’t warrant a full column.

— Bud Norman

Making Conservatism a Crime

That grand jury indictment of Texas Gov. Rick Perry is outrageous, dangerous, and unsurprising. Such blatant abuses of the judicial process are by now an all too familiar tactic of the Democratic party.

Similarly heavy-handed legal actions have been employed with varying degrees of success against former Texas Rep. Tom DeLay, who was forced to resign his post as House Majority leader during a years-long process of clearing his name, ¬†Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, whose prosecutorial investigators never came up with anything but allowed the media to report that he was being investigated by prosecutors, and New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who might or might not have had anything to do with a bridge closing that did actually occur but is getting far more media scrutiny thnt the Democratic governor suspected of equally appalling behavior over in neighboring New York. There’s a former Attorney General here in Kansas who is still trying to get his law license back after offending the state’s legal establishment with his anti-abortion stances, some past political opponents of the president who had their ballot eligibility questioned or their divorce records unsealed, a prominent conservative writer is being sued by a mad climate scientist, and we expect there are many more we haven’t heard of.
Each of them should feel honored, as such brusque treatment is usually reserved for politicians the Democratic Party regards as threatening, but we can well understand their outrage. Being subjected to the vicissitudes of the court for one’s political opinions is the sort of thing that was widely decried back in the bad old days of McCarthysim, and they’re entitled to wonder why they aren’t afford the same sympathy that Hollywood and bon pensant opinion routinely bestows on those old screenwriting commies who were dragged before the House Un-American Activities Committee. That the legal tactics are often far more effective than the blacklist ever was in keeping the movies all-American must be all the frustrating, but in Perry’s case there’s some hope for an old-fashioned happy ending.
The Perry indictment is a result of the night that the Travis County District Attorney got rip-roaring drunk and was arrested for driving while intoxicated on her way home. A dashboard camera in the arresting officer’s vehicle showed that she was staggering and surly during the arrests, tests showed she had twice the legal blood alcohol contest allowed by law, and videos that became a YouTube sensation¬†show she was abusive to the officers and attempted to use her political position during her booking. Like many other Texans, Perry thought this was conduct unbecoming the official in charge of enforcing the laws of a Texas county and demanded her resignation. As governor, Perry also threatened to exercise his constitutionally granted right to veto funding for her “Office of Public Integrity” unit if she didn’t resign, and he eventually made good on that threat. The subsequent Travis County District Attorney has now convinced a grand jury that this amounts to threatening and coercing a public official, both felony charges that entail lengthy prison sentences, and Perry is now officially indicted for the purposes of any headline writers who want to smear him and is obligated to defend in his innocence in a years-long series of appellate state and probably federal courts. This will probably play according to the Democratic script in Travis County, which is mostly Austin, which is mostly state bureaucrats and a typically progressive university and some high-tech yuppies and God only knows how many tattooed hippie freaks, and is the same Democratic bastion in that otherwise Republican state that started the ordeal of Tom DeLay, but it’s unlikely to have the same appeal in the rest of Texas or the rest of the country.
Those YouTube videos are well worth watching, as they’re the best drunken comedy since the heyday of the late Foster Brooks, and anyone familiar with the story will surely concur with Perry that the star did not deserve public funding to enforce the integrity of her fellow public officials. After so many years of Republican governors the state court system probably has enough sensible judges to ultimately conclude that it is quite legal for a governor issue a veto on such grounds, too, and Perry will prevail in both the court of public opinion and the actual court. In so doing he might he even draw the public’s attention and even its scorn on the under-handed tactic of making conservatism a crime. Already some of the more principled liberals are fretting about where this might lead if conservatives should ever decide to take up the game, and we expect even those uninformed types who are spooked by the word “indictment” in a headline will eventually grow wise.

— Bud Norman