The Problem With the Very Best People

President Donald Trump promised his enthusiastic voters he would have only “the very best people” in his administration, and he also made a lot of other extravagant promises about everyone having better and less expensive health care and the governments running on balanced budgets and such. It’s turned out that by “the very best people” Trump meant his son-in-law and his pals and anyone willing to tell Trump what he wants to hear.
Those brave messengers who dare bear bad to Trump tend to be quickly defenestrated, even though they tend to be the most credentialed people he’s got.
The latest example is Dr. Rick Bright, who earned his doctorate in immunology and molecular pathogenesis at Emory University and compiled an impressive resume in the public and private sectors and until recently was leading the federal government’s coronavirus vaccine program at the Department of Health and Human Services’ Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority. He’s now transferred to a “less impactful position,” as a White House statement put it, and he alleges in a whistleblower complaint that it’s because he didn’t share Trump’s enthusiasm for investigating the use of hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for coronavirus and wouldn’t be involved in cronyism..
Trump has told the press he doesn’t the guy and hard never heard of him but has heard bad things about him, which is his modus operandi when getting ride of people, and notes that he was on the job back when President Barack Obama was in office, which Trump and his fans find suspicious. We fine it worrisome that didn’t bother to introduce himself to the guy in charge of finding a vaccine for the coronavirus.
This sort of bureaucratic reshuffling goes on all the time and is rarely worth noting, we suppose, but in this case Bright’s complaint seems both valid and very noteworthy. Trump did indeed often tout the potentially miraculous effects of hydroxychloroquine in his daily press briefings, with much of the Trump-friendly media on Fox News and talk radio chiming in, and Bright did go on the record in government documents and press interviews to expose his more skeptical opinions. We freely admit we don’t know any more about this medical stuff than Trump or the people at Fox and on talk radio, but we’re the curious sorts who delve into what the methodically scientific studies say, so we’re inclined to believe that Bright was right and Trump was wrong, and that’s probably the reason Bright was demoted.
Christi Grimm was until recently an inspector general at the Department of Health and Human Services, but Trump decided to replace her after she wrote a report that hospitals across the country faced a short of supplies needed to deal the coronavirus problem. Trump brags about how well he’s done suddenly creating everything a medical system might need to deal with an epidemic, and doesn’t want some previously anonymous bureaucrat saying otherwise, but it seems she was right and Trump was once again wrong, and we figure that’s the most likely explanation for why she was demoted. We’d encourage her to write yet another whistleblower complaint and invite even further House oversight hearings.
Over three long years we’ve noticed that sycophancy is more important to Trump than expertise. Marine General John Kelly and Army General H.R. McMaster had distinguished careers over decades of Republican and Democratic administrations and enjoyed excellent reputations when they became Trump’s chief of staff and national security advisor, respectively, but both were shown the door for their annoying habits of saying things Trump didn’t want to hear. There are plenty of criticisms to be made of erstwhile Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ fealty to Trump’s views on immigration enforcement and state’s rights and civil rights and many other important things, but his decision to recuse himself from the Justice Department’s investigation of Russian interference in the previous presidential election was the right thing to do, and that’s what got him fired.
All of which was annoying enough back when the Stock markets were setting record highs and the unemployment rate record lows and the gross domestic product was expanding at the usual slow-but-steady rate, but given the current statistics and the more than 72 thousand deaths in a death toll throws by the thousands every day it’s downright alarming. Now is the time, as best we can tell, to listen to the people who have some credible reason to believe they know what the hell they’re talking about.
For now the smarty-pants are telling us that we’re going to be largely stuck at home and wearing masks on beer runs and will be poorer for a longer while lest we wind up killing hundreds of thousands of people, and we don’t want to hear that any more than Trump does. but we’re inclined to believe them. Trump had an uncle who was a professor of some non-medical scientific field at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, and he claims all the scientists at the Centers for Disease Control were all amazed by how how much he knew about this virology and epidemiology and scientific stuff, but he also advised the scientists to investigate the injection of disinfectants into the body as a possible cure, and we’re inclined to go with the degrees and the long records of public service.
Trump still has fans and media allies on the right who trust more in his hereditary gut instincts than any so-called “expert,” whose long and distinguished public service and bipartisan respect are proof of their role in a “deep state” conspiracy to prevent Trump from making America great again. We’ve also got a dear but loony-left friend who is saying pretty much the same thing about hydroxychlorine on Facebook, using weird right-wing sources to prove it’s same conspiracy that’s conspiring to prevent Sen. Bernie Sanders from making America great for the first time as socialist utopia.
By now Trump and his media allies have largely abandoned their advocacy of hydroxychloroquine, and they’re doing somewhat better at providing medial supplies, but no one will acknowledge ever being wrong. Events will soon push the fates of Bright and Grimm and Flynn and McMaster and all the other humble civil servants who dared question Trump off the news and into the history books, but the bigger story will be how this coronavirus problem played out. At this point, we’re betting on the establishment and its dissidents.

— Bud Norman

bright and hydroxy
grimm and ppe
jared and his pals
long history of good folks being defenestrated for doing their jobs

Putting a Name on It

As you might have noticed by now, President Donald Trump loves putting his name on things. He’s put it on buildings, airplanes, golf courses, board games, bottles of vodka he doesn’t drink, magazines and books he doesn’t read, casinos and topless bars that somehow went bankrupt, and anything else he can find to spray paint his “tag” on. Now he’s going to put his name on the thousand dollar or so stimulus checks being sent to tens of millions of Americans.
The decision by the Treasury Department to have Trump’s distinctively illegible signature on the checks is unprecedented, or “unpresidented” as Trump might put it, as government disbursement checks have long been nonpartisan documents. Trump, as you might have noticed by now, cares little about such time honored traditions and cares much about self-aggrandizement.
Other than soothing his extraordinary ego, though, we don’t see what good this will do Trump. Even if people notice the extravagantly grandiloquent scrawl on the bottom left of the check and can decipher it as Trump’s name, few will be under the misapprehension that the money is coming from Trump himself.
The die-hard fans will be grateful to Trump for signing the staggering $2.2 trillion stimulus bill, which also provides a much bigger windfall for real estate developers such as Trump and the idiot son-in-law he’s put on the panel planning the probably premature opening of the economy, but the rest of the country will understand the bill wasn’t Trump’s idea and was passed by bipartisan majorities in Congress after negotiations with Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, who was mostly interested in securing those windfalls for real estate developers. They might also read that Trump has already fired the inspector general who was to watch over how the freshly printed money was to be distributed.
Trump ran on the promise he’d eliminate the trillion dollar deficits the government had been running up for decades during Republican and Democratic administrations alike, but even in what he called the best economy ever he kept the debt at them rate as before, and his signature on all those checks will add to an unprecedented $4 trillion or so deficit.  A coronavirus Trump didn’t cause is the reason, but his illegible signature on all those checks is a reminder that despite his boastful claims he didn’t do everything right.

— Bud Norman

Dueling Conspiracy Theories

As any right wing talk radio listener well knows, there’s a “deep state” conspiracy of intelligence and law enforcement officials, along with the legacy media and the Ukrainians, that’s been out to President Donald Trump since the day he announced his campaign. So far the conspirators haven’t been successful in their efforts, but at least they haven’t been caught.
An inspector general for the Department of Justice named Michael Horowitz was dispatched to expose the conspiracy’s efforts to launch a phony investigation of Russia’s alleged election meddling and spy on his campaign with informants and phone taps, but on Monday he issued a report concluding the investigation was based on solid evidence of wrongdoing rather than political bias and that no spying occurred. That won’t satisfy the die-hard Trump fans, though, and the conspiracy theorizing will continue.
Attorney General William Barr focused on the serious mistakes investigators had made in seeking a warrant from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court, and reached his own conclusion “that the (Federal Bureau of Investigation) laughed an intrusive investigation of a U.S. presidential campaign on the thinnest of suspicions that, in my view, were insufficient to justify the steps taken.” He’s already launched another investigation led by U.S. Attorney John Durham, who took the unusual step of releasing a statement casting doubt on the inspector general’s report.
Perhaps Durham will be better luck exposing the conspiracy, but it won’t be easy. Extraordinary claims require extraordinary proof, after all, and the “deep state” conspiracy theory makes some very extraordinary claims. All of America’s intelligence heads have confirmed that Russia ran a disinformation campaign hacked into Democratic party e-mail system and selectively leaked the most embarrassing missive, even the Trump appointees have confirmed the finding, as did a special counsel investigation that won an indictment of 13 Russians allegedly involved, and a bipartisan report by the Senate Intelligence agency also agreed. So far no one’s come up with any evidence that Russia was blameless and it was Ukraine that did the meddling, or a even a reasonable explanation for why Ukraine would be hacking and leaking Democratic e-mails and planting internet pro-Trump internet trolls to get Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton elected.
Also hard to explain is why a presumably left-wing “deep state” conspiracy is still conspiring to get Vice President Mike Pence promoted. Perhaps Pence is on it, as are a number of hand-picked Trump appointees, but that’s another extraordinary claim requiring extraordinary proof.
At this point we not sure why Trump remains concerned about Russia’s meddling in the election, as it fizzled as an impeachment case and the die-hard fans don’t care if he was in on it, and it makes the Ukraine business look all the fishier, Our best guess is that Trump believes the die-hard fans will cling to the dangling possibility of Russia’s vindication also vindicating him, and neatly explain why he was heroically withholding congressional appropriated military from those nefarious Ukrainians, and that even if the House impeaches him none of the Republicans in the Senate would dare vote to remove him from office. That’s not a bad bet, as the die-hard fans have thus far proved willing to believe even Trump’s most extraordinary claims without any proof at all.
The strategy might not be sufficient by election day, however, as you have to be a pretty die-hard fan to believe any of it. If they’ve been paying any attention, all of the damned Democrats and most of those squishy independents and at least a few of us fed-up pre-Trump Republicans will conclude that Russia meddled on Trump’s behalf in the last election and intends to do so with Trump’s blessing next time around, that Trump withheld military aid from a country that is largely occupied with Russian troops, and that a president shouldn’t be doing such things.
Between the die-hard fans and all the people who aren’t paying any attention, and given the very strong possibility that the Democrats will again nominate an extraordinarily awful candidate, Trump still has a fighting chance. The unemployment rate is undeniably low despite his trade wars, even if they have hit the farming and manufacturing sectors Trump relies on particularly hard. No new wars have broken out, even if Trump has made a mess of the old ones in Iraq and Syria and Afghanistan, and he’s lately having a scary lover’s spat with North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un. If his luck holds up, and his voters are optimally spread around the electoral map, it might not matter about what happened in such faraway places with such unfamiliar people as Ukraine and Russia.
There’s always an outside chance the Democrats won’t once again nominate someone too extraordinarily awful, however, and with the manufacturing sector in a technical recession and farm foreclosures on the rise and much of the relative economic boom going on in states and suburbs where Trump does not poll well there’s no telling how the economy will play come election day. The dictator Kim has lately threatened to once again call Trump a dotard if Trump ever calls him “Rocket Man,” and is further threatening a more belligerent stance during the upcoming election, and given the state of the world and America relationships with it there’s no telling what’s likely to come up by next November.
If Trump’s luck doesn’t hold up, as it didn’t during his career as a casino mogul, his impeachment by the House and acquittal despite clear evidence in the Senate will be a problem.

— Bud Norman

What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

President Donald Trump seems to be implicated in yet another scandal, this time with with possible national security consequences, but for now only a few highly placed sources know what it is. For now, that’s the scandal.
What is known is that on Aug. 12 an unnamed intelligence official filed a “whistleblower” report, which inspector general Michael Atkinson found credible and a matter of “urgent concern,” which requires informing the congressional oversight committees. Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire has refused to share the report, however, citing “privileged communications,” setting off a legal and political spat that should be a bigger story when Atkinson is called to testify before the House intelligence committee in a closed session.
For now the rest of the story is coming from anonymous sources and mere speculation. The Washington Post has an intriguing story citing two unnamed “former U.S. officials” that the whistleblowers complaint has something to do with “Trump’s communications with a foreign leader,” and involved a “promise” that the whistleblower and the inspector general found quite troubling. Further anonymous leaks will likely follow today’s closed session with Atkinson, but the White House is declining to comment and so far that’s all the public has to go on.
One needn’t be as suspicious and obstinately Never Trump as ourselves to speculate that there’s something in the complaint which looks very bad for the president. The appearance of a coverup is so strong, and so damning, an objective observer can only wonder what more damning evidence the administration is trying to cover up. Trump has frequently been loose-lipped about national security secrets, and it’s not at all implausible that he was trying to strike some corrupt deal with a foreign leader.
Maybe not, as fairness dictates we must add, so we’ll eagerly await whatever comment the White House eventually offers.

The Much-Ballyhooed IG’s Report and the Brouhaha About the “Russia Thing”

A much-anticipated report from a Justice Department inspector general was released on Thursday, and for now President Donald Trump and his die-hard defenders are having great fun with it. The report is harshly critical of the Federal Bureau of Investigation director that Trump fired, includes some further suspicious e-mails between two outspokenly anti-Trump FBI employees briefly involved in the ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing,” and otherwise provides fodder for the “deep state” conspiracy theories that Trump and his die-hard defenders are counting on.
In the infuriatingly long run of the investigation into to the “Russia thing,” however, it doesn’t at all vindicate Trump.
The inspector general’s report is critical of fired FBI director James Comey for breaking with longstanding agency policy by publicly acknowledging an investigation of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices, and publicly chastising her for “extreme carelessness” even as he declined to recommend a prosecution on the legal standard of “gross negligence,” and then publicly announcing the investigation was once again underway after some of those e-mails turned up on the computer of former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, who was the husband of long-time Clinton aide Huma Abedin and was being investigated for sending lewd photos of his private parts to underage women. Candidate Trump praised Comey’s “courage” for breaching longstanding agency policy during the campaign, nobody believed President Trump’s short-lived explanation that he fired Comey for being so unfair to Clinton, and by that very evening he was admitting to Lester Holt’s national television audience on the National Broadcasting Company that he was thinking about Comey’s ongoing investigation into “this ‘Rusher’ thing with Trump and Russia” when he decided on the firing.
By now every talk-radio listener or Fox News viewer knows that FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who were reportedly carrying on an extra-marital affair at the time, had exchanged texts and e-mails about how awful candidate Trump was, but they probably don’t know that love-birds also had some equally harsh things to say about Clinton and her openly socialist primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders. We don’t approve of their reportedly illicit relationship, although we hate to see that redound to the benefit of the boastfully adulterous Trump, and except for the foul language we can’t say we much we disagree with any of the opinions they texted or e-mailed, There was some previously texted and e-mailed conversation about a “secret society” that would provide an “insurance policy” in the unlikely case of a Trump presidency, and the IG’s report had him assuring his lover that Trump wouldn’t win, but at this point in the Trump presidency that seems the false bravado of a petty bureaucrat, and not the stuff of a “deep state” conspiracy.
More importantly, when special counsel Robert Mueller took over the “Russia thing” investigation in the wake of Comey’s firing he immediately demoted both Strzok and Page from the matter because of their e-mails and texts, and the numerous indictments ad several guilty pleas he’s already won are untainted by any of this. The e-mail chain Donald Trump Jr. released where he responded to an offer by a Russian music publicist he knew to be a Russian operative offering that adversarial government’s help in the election by saying “I love it” still exists. The Trump campaign’s past foreign policy advisor and the Trump administration’s since-fired Trump administration national security advisor’s guilty plea to lying about his dealings with the Russkies has yet to be pardoned. The Trump campaign’s fired campaign manager is still fighting charges of illegal dealings with the Russkies, among other things, and Trump’s longtime lawyer is likely to be charged any day now about his deal to pay off a porn star on a Delaware shall company that also had some Russkie-linked company deposits on its ledger.
If there’s a “deep state” conspiracy afoot here, it seems such an inept work of petty bureaucrats that Trump and his die-hard defenders shouldn’t mind. The much-anticipated IG’s report finds that the fired Comey acknowledged and re-eacknowledged a federal investigation into Clinton’s “extreme carelessness” and then announced it was renewing the investigation after some salacious e-mail’s on a close aide’s pervert husband’s laptop, which Trump lauded as courageous at the time and surely did the awful Clinton’s candidacy no good. At no point did the fired FBI director publicly divulge there was also a ongoing investigation into the conformed-by-all-the-intelligence-agency’s conclusion about Russian meddling on in the election of Trump’s behalf and a few of his campaign’s and administrations past high-ranking officials who had previously been suspected of being too friendly with the Russkie, which did o harm at the time to Trump. It all wound up with the presidency of Trump, which no one can deny, albeit with all the lingering doubts about it.

— Bud Norman

Hooked on Phoniness

Back when the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of “tea party” and other conservative groups was said to be the work of a few rogue agents in the far-flung outpost of Cincinnati, President Barack Obama said that he was “angry” about the “inexcusable” misconduct and that “Americans are right to be angry about it.” Now that a high-level IRS employee has given testimony that brings the matter as high up as the presidentially-appointed chief counsel’s office, the official administration line is that it’s just another “phony scandal.”
The White House press secretary introduced the phrase a few times before Obama himself took it up in a speech about the economy, suggesting that anyone who cares about the IRS’ harassment of his political enemies simply doesn’t care about the unemployed, and now Treasury Secretary Jack Lew is gamely using the slogan. In an enjoyably confrontational Sunday morning interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace, which demonstrates why the administration hates that network with such a white-hot intensity, Lew stubbornly insisted that both right-wing and left-wing groups had been treated with equal “very bad judgment,” that those responsible have been removed and the need reforms instituted, and that “There’s no evidence of any political decision maker who was involved in any of those decisions.”
Wallace was admirably feisty with his follow-up questions, but time constraints apparently prevented him from noting that an Inspector General’s investigation finds that conservative groups were subjected to “very bad judgment” by the IRS far more frequently than their liberal counterparts, that the only people removed from the agency were an agency head set to retire anyway and a Fifth Amendment-pleading director of the exempt organizations division who continues to draw her sizeable paychecks. Nor was he able to ask exactly what reforms have been instituted, or why they should be any more successful than the rules already in place to prevent such abuses. Having already noted the sworn testimony by a highly-placed veteran agent that puts the scandal in the chief counsel’s office, but without noting the chief counsel’s intriguingly timed meeting at the White House just two days before a directive was issued on how to handle “tea party” applications, Wallace asked about the investigations that Lew insisted had found no evidence of political motive.
In the same speech that included his “anger” about the “inexcusable” IRS scandal the president also said he had personally directed to Lew get to the bottom of the matter, so Wallace naturally wondered if Lew’s dogged digging had included asking the chief counsel about his involvement. Following some hemming and hawing, Lew eventually conceded that he had not because “I am leaving the investigation to the proper people who do investigations, I don’t think it’s appropriate for me to do the investigation.” So the person that the president picked to investigate the matter doesn’t think he should be investigating it, but he does assure the public that he and his department will cooperate with all other investigations, although so far his department has only provided less than a percent of the documents that the Senate investigating committee has requested.
Somehow it all sounds, well, phony.

— Bud Norman