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Blind Loyalty and Its Perils

New York City attorney Michael Cohen, who once handled such sensitive legals chores as making hush money payments to pornographic video performers and Playboy models while pursuing multi-million dollar Moscow real estate deals for longtime client and then-citizen Donald Trump, was sentenced to three years in federal prison on Wednesday on various confessed federal charges. As bad as that sounds for now-President Donald Trump, the rest of the sordid details are even worse.
Some of the charges sending Cohen to prison are about some relatively small time scams involving New York City taxi medallions and routine tax evasions that have nothing to do with Trump, but he’s also pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations committed in the course of making those hush money payments to silence Trump’s alleged mistresses, and to lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings in Russia in order to be consistent with the lies Trump was telling the public. Trump’s remaining loyalists on talk radio and one of the cable news channels are spinning it as best they can, and Trump himself is claiming complete vindication, but the president won’t come out of this spin cycle smelling clean.
Trump is now claiming that his six-figures payments to the porno performer and the nudie model were a “private transaction” involving private funds, and obviously had nothing at all to do with the presidential campaign he was waging at the time, and were therefor entirely legal, but a federal prosecutor considered it a crime and a federal judge accepted a guilty plea on the charge from the very same lawyer that Trump once entrusted with such sensitive legal chores, so we have our doubts about Trump’s legal theory. Even if it was quite legal and no big deal, as Trump claims, an objective observer is left wondering why Trump chose to lie to the American public about  it while aboard Air Force One that he had nothing to do with it and was indeed entirely unaware of the payments.
Which leaves us all the more doubtful about Trump’s claims he never cheated on his third wife with either that porno performer or that nudie model, especially after his past boasting about all the fabulous babes he’s bagged in his tabloid-fodder infidelities against his first two wives, and although such hound dog behavior is not illegal it is the sort of thing that Republicans used to find objectionable.
Nor is it illegal to pursue a multi-million dollar real estate deal with an adversarial dictatorship while also pursuing the presidency of the United States, and so far as we can tell it’s legal to tell the American electorate a brazen lie that no business deals of any kind are being pursued with adversarial governments during presidential campaign, but that’s also the sort of thing that Republicans used to find objectionable. Cohen’s confession that he was pursuing a Moscow Trump Tower deal at Trump’s request while Trump insisted he wasn’t should be considered skeptically given his confessions to various perjuries, but the very fastidious prosecutor investing the “Russia thing” and the sentencing judge wouldn’t have given it credence without corroborating evidence, which we assume was obtained during raids on Cohen’s home and office and favorite hotel room. Trump is already arguing that it’s another legal and no big deal thing that he nonetheless chose to lie about, which might eventually prevail in a court of law, but it doesn’t make him look very good in the court of public opinion.
Which makes all the rest of the developments in the “Russia thing” look a lot less like a “WITCH HUNT!” and a “HOAX!” than a serious legal matter deserving thorough investigation. One of Trump’s former campaign managers is already in jail while awaiting sentencing on various charges including his work as an unregistered foreign agent for a Russian-aligned government, with Trump “tweeting” about his courage for not cooperating with the feds, and the special counsel investigating the “Russia thing” is recommending and Trump’s former campaign foreign policy advisor and his first administration’s national security advisor get off with no jail for several serious admitted felony charges because of his fuller cooperation with the investigation. Trump and his loyalists are already arguing that it’s entirely legal to pursue business deals with an adversarial foreign dictatorship while running for president and brazenly president and brazenly lying about it, and that might yet prevail in a court of law, but we’d like to think that some rump faction of the Republican party will join the rest of the court of American public opinion in taking a dimmer view of such behavior.
Cohen showed up in court for his sentencing accompanied by a pretty and youngish wife limping in a crutch and a couple of cute kids, and although we consider ourselves rock-ribbed law-and-order Republicans our occasionally bleeding hearts had some sympathy for him. Trump has “tweeted” attacks on his longtime attorney for being “weak” and “stupid” in the half-hearted cooperation with the special counsel, and Cohen even had to plead to guilty those charges. “Recently the president has tweeted a statement calling me weak, and it was correct,” Cohen told the court. “But for a much different reason than he was implying. It was because time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.” He went on to say that he had trusted Trump’s moral compass more than his own, and that the personal failing that led to to his upcoming three years of imprisonment was “blind loyalty to Donald Trump.
There are persuasive arguments to be made for many of Trump’s policies, given that the unemployment rate is unusually low and the stock markets are still ahead of when Trump won office, despite the past year’s gains being largely wiped out by his stupid trade wars and the swelling national debt and the inevitable slight rise in interest rates, and of course those damned Democrats are as bad as ever. By now only the weak and stupid will blindly trust Trump’s character, however, and although they won’t likely run afoul of the law for doing so we expect they’ll also be judged harshly by history.

— Bud Norman

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Which Lie to Believe?

Go right ahead and believe that the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing” is a “deep state” conspiracy to undermine President Donald Trump, but after Thursday’s developments you should at least admit he’s doing a damned good job of it. Even if you buy the apologists’ explanations for the latest undisputed facts, none of them make Trump look good.
The first big story of the day was that longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had entered a second guilty plea, this time for lying to a congressional committee about when Trump ceased negotiations with the Russian government to build a skyscraper in Moscow, which was long after Trump started assuring Republican primary voters that he had no business pending with Russia. Cohen’s first guilty plea involved his negotiations with a pornographic video performer and a Playboy centerfold model to buy their silence about alleged and quite credible extra-marital affairs with the candidate, which arguably involved violations of campaign finance disclosure laws, and clearly implicated Trump in the apparent conspiracy, and although Trump’s religious right supporters mostly shrugged that off the part about Trump seeking shady dealings with a hostile foreign power are more troublesome.
Trump’s apologists can rightly note that Cohen is a self-confessed liar, but that doesn’t do Trump much good. Trump’s new lawyers have already conceded that Trump was involved in the hush money payments to the porn star and the nudie model, even though Trump had previously denied it, and we expect they’ll eventually concede that Trump knew that negotiations for a Trump tower in Moscow had continued long after Trump denied it to the Republican primary electorate and general public, and the courts of law and public opinion will have to choose which liar to believe. Our guess is that the both courts will eventually side with the liar whose liberty is now dependent on telling the provable truth, and Cohen is known as the sort of lawyer who records telephone conversations and maintaining signed documents and contemporaneous notes about his shady wheeling-dealings, and the special counsel has a decades-long reputation as the meticulous sort of prosecutor who insists on such corroborating evidence before offering the testimony of a self-confessed liar.
Meanwhile, former Trump campaign chairman and self-confessed liar Paul Manafort is still in jail and has lately lost his plea bargain arrangement by reverting to his previous claims that Russia had nothing to do with Trump, who has said that a presidential pardon of Manafort is “not off the table.” Manafort’s longtime lobbying-for-dictators business partner is longtime Trump friend Roger Stone, who has a tattoo of President Richard Nixn on on his back and has been a proudly notorious dirty-trickster since the Watergate days, and he’s telling the press that he expects to be soon indicted by special counsel for being the go-between from the Trump campaign to the Russia-aligned Wikileaks operation that leaked all the embarrassing information about that awful Hillary Clinton who was Trump’s Democratic opponent in the election. Stone’s longtime associate Jerome Corsi, a Harvard-educated nutcase conspiracist who launched the claim that President Barack Obama was a Kenyan-born pretender to the presidency, which launched Trump’s political career, has lately rejected a plea-bargain deal from the special and is going on cable television without benefit of counsel and insisting on a version of events that implicates pretty much everyone.
Maybe they’re all damnable lairs telling damnable lies, even at the the risk of their liberty, but in any case we can’t see how any of it makes Trump look good. Another one of Trump’s promises to the Republican electorate and the general public was that he’d make America great again by hiring only the very best people, and at this point one of his many long time lawyers and one of his former campaign managers and a former campaign foreign policy advisor and and administration national security advisor and decades-old friend are either in jail or awaiting sentencing or have struck deals to keep them out of jail or are currently negotiating their terms on cable television. By now no one bothers to deny that Trump is also a daily liar, and if the longtime cronies he now accuses of lying are the very best people America has to offer we’re all in a sorry state.
Perhaps this “deep state” conspiracy really is so darned Hollywood good that it makes this esteem cast of characters seem somehow unsavory, but we doubt it. Our guess is that the story continues, and eventually comes to an unhappy conclusion for all.

— Bud Norman

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A Bad Day in Court

President Donald Trump’s die-hard defenders did their best to make the best on in talk radio and cable news show, but Tuesday was undeniably a bad day in court for their man. The president’s former campaign manager was convicted on eight federal charges of tax fraud and bank fraud in Virginia, while 200 miles away in New York City the president’s longtime lawyer was pleading guilty to banking, tax, and campaign finance laws. None of it proves that Trump conspired with the Russian government to win his office, as the die-hard defenders were quick to point out, but they had a harder time making any of it look good.
The former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted of hiding substantial foreign income from the tax collectors while hiding substantial foreign debts from the banks where he was applying for big-money loans, and a mistrial was declared on another 10 similar charges when the jury declared itself hung, and the trial had a lot of embarrassing details about what a sleazy fop he is. The now-proved-in-court crimes all happened before Manafort became Trump’s campaign manager, and Manafort was removed from the Trump campaign shortly after it was reported he had failed to file his lobbying business’ work with some Russian-tied entities, but that’s about the best the Trump apologists can say for it at the moment.
A clean acquittal for Manafort would have dealt a serious blow to the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into the “Russia thing,” as it was the first federal case Mueller’s team has tried, eight convictions carrying potential longterm prison sentences will surely keep the “witch hunt” going, and so far it’s achieve five other guilty pleas including from the Trump campaign’s deputy manager and a former foreign policy advisor a short lived national security advisor, and it has another Manafort trial scheduled a couple of weeks from now in the District of Columbia, where the charges will involve alleged shady dealings with various Russia-linked entities, and the judge and jury are unlikely to be any more sympathetic than the one in rural Virginia.
Perhaps none of this has anything to do with anyone named Trump, as anything is at least theoretically possible, but in any case convicted felon Manafort’s ongoing legal troubles will surely keep the “Russia thing” in the news for weeks to come and leave the president’s defenders with plenty of defending to do. Trump himself has continued to defend Manafort as a “good guy,” and always notes that Manafort also worked for such Republican icons President Ronald Reagan and Sen. Bob Dole, but he also always understates how long Manafort was involved with the campaign and what role he played, so it remains to be seen if there’s a pardon in the works, and what sort of craziness might ensue.
Trump didn’t have any similarly kind words for his former longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, whose allocution of guilt in open court clearly explained that he had indeed committed the crimes he was charged with and had done so at the explicit instruction of now President Donald Trump. He used the same language from the indictment about “individual one” and “the candidate,” but even on talk radio was there no pretending that he wasn’t talking about Trump. Perhaps it’s not a crime to pay one’s personal lawyer to commit a confessed crime, as anything seems legally possible these days, but it still involves hush money payments to porn stars and Playboy playmates and The National Enquirer, and does nothing to enhance Trump’s self-proclaimed reputation as someone who only associates with very best people.
Worse yet, Cohen also represented Trump over many years in an effort to build a skyscraper in Moscow and various other dealings with Russian-linked entities, and if he has anything bad to say about that he now has every reason to say it. Perhaps Cohen has no such information to provide, as anything is theoretically possible, but given the laws of probability we’ll be expecting more developments in the “Russia thing” from Cohen. He’s now a convicted liar, as Trump’s defenders now huffily note — right wing radio shrieker Mark Levin gave us a chuckle by rhetorically asking “Who would hire this guy?” — but it’s now in his self-interest to tell the truth and he has a reputation for recording conversations, one of which has already been released and documents Trump and his client negotiating the hush money payment that the president famously denied know anything about. If there’s anything involving the Russkies he’s probably got documentation on that, and after a pre-dawn raid on his home and office and hotel room the special counsel investigation has all of that.
You had to scroll down to the bottom of the page to have seen, but California Rep. Donald Hunt, the second Republican congressman to endorse Trump’s campaign, was indicted along with his wife in a federal court on charges of using campaign funds for personal reasons. The first Republican congressman to endorse Trump’s campaign, New York’s Rep. Chris Collins, was indicted on insider trading charges a few weeks ago and has since suspended his reelection campaign. Meanwhile, a federal judge in Kentucky allowed a lawsuit by some Mexican-American protestors who were roughed up at a Trump campaign rally to proceed, and somewhere out there are lawsuits pending by a woman who claims to have defamed when Trump accused her of lying about him groping her, and several state attorney general also have an ongoing suit somewhere about Trump’s Washington hotel and its alleged violations of the constitution’s emolument clause.
Still, the thousands of die-hard defenders at yet another campaign rally, this time in West Virginia,” were still chanting “drain the swamp” and “lock her up,” and still booing the “fake news” on cue. Trump’s performance included the usual boasts about his electoral win and talk of the “witch hunt” that’s out to get him, but to our eye he seemed a bit off his usual cocky form after such a bad in court.

— Bud Norman

On Friends, Family, and Trump

Some old friends and close family members have lately encouraged us to go easier on President Donald Trump, but none of them are obliged to publish political commentary five times a week, and thus they haven’t noticed how hard it is to find anything else to write about these days. Most of the media took time out on Wednesday to report on a near-fatal heroin overdose by a pop singer named Demi Lovato, but as sad as that is we have to admit we had not previously heard of her and have little to say about her apparently troubled life, and as usual almost all of the rest of the non-sports news was about Trump.
Also as usual, we’d be hard-pressed to come up with a convincing defense of Trump about any of it, and our old friends and close family members aren’t offering any helpful suggestions.
The story that took up the most newspaper space and cable news airtime on Wednesday was an audio recording of a telephone conversation between Trump and his longtime but now former lawyer Michael Cohen concerning a $150,000 payment made through the notorious National Enquirer tabloid to a former Playboy centerfold model named Karen McDougal who alleges she had an affair with Trump shortly after his third wife and current First Lady gave birth to his fifth child. Once upon a saner time in America such a story would have had a five-column headline and round-the-clock updates on all of the networks, but these days it’s just one column above the fold and ten minutes at the top of hour, and it’s all so damned complicated that Trump and his apologists found something slightly exculpatory in it.
Trump has already indignantly “tweeted” about “What kind of lawyer would tape a client,” which is indeed a good question, but by now many snarky columnists and all the late night television comics have rightly answered that it’s apparently the kind of lawyer that Trump hires. Due to the low-fidelity nature of the recording there’s some dispute about whether Trump said he would or wouldn’t want to pay the hush money to a Playboy centerfold model in cash, and his die-hard fans believe he insisted on paying with check and therefore demonstrated his commitment to complete transparency. Cohen is the same lawyer who set up a Delaware shell corporation to make a $130,000 payment to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to stop her from alleging a one-night-stand that allegedly occurred around the same time as the alleged affair with the Playboy centerfold, and federal search warrants have been executed on his office and home and hotel room, and some scary federal and unpardonable state indictments about all sorts of things seem likely imminent, so there’s also an argument to be made that he’s now flipped to the dark side and is complicit in the “deep state’s” and “fake news'” ongoing “witch hunt” conspiracy to make Trump look bad.
Maybe so, but by now there’s no denying that the boastfully adulterous Trump and the lawyer he now admits is sleazy made six-figure payments to a porn star and a Playboy model to hush them up about some quite credibly alleged affairs, and once upon a saner time in America during a Democratic administration all of our old friends and close family members and other fellow Republicans would have been appalled by that. Maybe Trump did insist on paying by check, even though current Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani recently told a cable news interviewer that “he’d be a fool to do that,” but that still seems a weak defense of our president’s character.
Meanwhile, the European Union has offered to negotiate an end to the trade war Trump has waged against it, which the Trump triumphalists see as another big win, but it remains to be seen if the negotiations will go as well as that free-trade treaty the EU recently negotiated with Japan that left America out of a third of the world’s economy. North Korea continues advancing its nuclear threat despite Trump’s “tweeted” assurances that we can all sleep soundly that’s there’s no longer any threat, and Trump has postponed his White House sequel to the much-panned Helsinki summit with Russian dictator until the “Russia thing” investigation in wrapped up.
Meanwhile, on the freedom of speech front, the Trump administration also barred a Cable News Network reporter from from a public event because of her pesky questions, threatened to revoke the security clearances of high-ranking officials from the administrations of Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush who have been critical of Trump administration policies, and Trump advised a cheering crowd of sycophants in Kansas City that “What you’re reading and seeing is not what’s happening.” That was at a Veterans of Foreign Wars convention, whose leadership later apologized for the members who had booed the press, as the press were invited members of the public gathering.
As much as we hate to be at odds with our old friends and close family members and other fellow Republicans, by now there’s no denying that Trump says several things a day that are obviously untrue, and that the “fake news” has a far better batting average for verifiable accuracy than our president. Our old friends and close family members and other fellow Republicans can still make a very convincing hypothetical case that a President “Crooked” Hillary Clinton’s administration would be even worse, but they can’t yet convince us that any of this is making America great again.

— Bud Norman

On the Importance of the Right Lawyer

The late and great jazz singer Blossom Dearie used to sing a song by the great and still-going songwriter Dave Frishberg called “My Attorney Bernie,” which cleverly describes the sort of almost perfect legal eagle you’d want on your side in pinch. We’d recommend that Trump call up Frishberg and get that Bernie guy’s number, because one of the lawyers he long relied on is currently needing a damned good lawyer of his own, and the President of the United States’ current legal team has lately been getting its butt kicked across all the newspapers and cable channels by the attorney for a porno performer called Stormy Daniels.
Michael Cohen, one of Trump’s many erstwhile attorneys, recently had a federal search warrant executed at his home and office and hotel room, issued by a federal court persuaded there was reason to believe it might yield evidence that Cohen had committed wire fraud and bank fraud and other possible violations of the law when paying the aforementioned porno performer to stop talking about the desultory sexual encounter she claims to have had with the future President of the United States. That was bad enough, but now the news is full of reports that Cohen also took in a very large amount of money from the Korean Aerospace Corporation and the American Telephone & Telegraph corporation and some nebulous business tied to a Russian billionaire tied to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, all through the same shell corporation he’d chartered in infamously nonchalant Delaware to pay off the poor performer.
The news comes courtesy of documents discovered by some means or another ad disseminated to the media by Michael Avanatti, the porno performer’s lawyer and at this point the second biggest reality star on television after the president. Cohen’s less-visible lawyer is for now claiming the documents are phony, but several mainstream media outlets have corroborated their authenticity, and the Korean Aerospace Corporation and AT&T and the Russkie-linked business of nebulous purpose have already sent out press releases unconvincingly explaining why they did indeed make such large payments to a shell corporation that had originally been chartered to pay off a porno performer.
In response Trump has deployed the legal and public relations services of the former legendary federal prosecutor and undeniably successful New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, but by now Giuliani seems well past his prime. He visibly upset even such a Trump sycophant as Sean Hannity by admitting that Trump’s lawyer had paid $130,000 to a porno performer and that the current President of the United States had reimbursed him for the favor, and although he was hired as a lawyer on separate “Russia thing” we notice he’s not as notable as Avanatti on the cable news to explain why a Russian-linked business might have been adding a half-million bucks to the shell corporation the former president’s lawyer had created to pay off the a porno performer who turns out to have a far better lawyer than the president.
There might well be a perfectly innocent explanation for everything Trump’s erstwhile lawyer has done, and even if there isn’t Trump’s more recent lawyers might well have a perfectly innocent explanation about how he had nothing to do with it, but we’d advise they all lawyer up with the closest they can find to Blossom Dearie’s attorney, Bernie.

— Bud Norman

Just Another Manic Tuesday

The most important story on a Tuesday full of big stories was President Donald Trump’s announcement that he’s pulling America out of the nuclear deal with Iran and reimposing the preexisting economic sanctions and threatening even more, but given all the juicier stuff it’s the one we least want to write about.
The Iran story is damned complicated, and we have decidedly mixed opinions about it. Trump’s critique of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action that President Barack Obama and his equally inept Secretary of State John Kerry and our Pollyanna-ish European allies cooked up is quite valid, and includes all the gripes we more eloquently articulated at the time the deal went down. Under the deal Iran’s crazed theocratic dictatorship is free to continue developing long-range missiles, funding the mischief of various crazed theocratic terrorist group and helping out some secular but just as troublesome dictatorships in the Middle East, there’s an expiration date that allows them to get nuclear weapons,. The notoriously tough deal-maker Trump is also right to note that these galling concessions were made at a time when strict international sanctions had brought the Iran’s economy to its knees and its crazed theocratic dictatorship to the negotiating table.
At this strange point in time, though, it’s not at all clear that pulling out of the hated JCPOA is going to result in a better deal. It took strict international sanctions to get Iran’s crazed theocratic dictatorship to agree to abandon its nuclear bomb development program, and to allow international inspections to verify their compliance, and this time around our European allies made clear they’re in no mood to reimpose sanctions and limit their oil supplies just to appease an American president who is threatening to wage trade wars with them and is quite unpopular with their constituents. Already the crazed theocratic dictatorship in Iran is rightly noting that America’s withdrawal from the deal frees them to resume their nuclear bomb development, Trump is warning that if they do so they’ll have “problems like they’ve never had before,” and carrying out any of either side’s threats will be ugly even in the best of all possible outcomes. There’s also no telling how this might affect the nuclear deal that Trump is trying to negotiate with the crazed dictatorship in North Korea, which isn’t quite so crazed that it hasn’t noticed how America keeps to to its negotiated agreements.
No matter how that all works out, there were a couple of domestic stores that Trump might eventually wish he hadn’t pushed to below the newspaper fold.
New York’s Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a hero of the Democratic party’s recent crusade against sexual harassment and a legal nemesis of Trump since his successful lawsuit against Trump University, was forced to resign shortly after The New Yorker published a report about two named women and an unnamed third one who offered medical records and other convincing evidence to back up their eerily similar accounts of Schneiderman’s shocking-even-by-current-standards sexual abuse. As he resigned Schneiderman offered the explanation that it had all been “role play,” like in that “Fifty Shades of Grey” that was a best-selling novel and hit movie in these strange times, but at this moment in the Democratic party’s righteous crusade against sexual harassment that couldn’t keep him his job.
Donald Trump Jr. spent much of Tuesday “tweeting” his schadenfreude about Schneiderman, but to borrow an old metaphor he was hurling his stones from the very glass house of Trump. Trump Jr.’s pop still has a defamation lawsuit in the courts by one of the many women he’s accused of lying about his own ungentlemanly behavior, which he was caught bragging about on that “Hollywood Access” tape, not to mention all that mess about the porno star he’s now forced to admit he paid to shut up about an alleged trysts. We’ve also noticed that these constant sex monster scandals seem to involve both left and right types, so there’s no telling which Republican moralist will be next.
Trump and every other Republican can also be glad that Don Blankenship didn’t win the Republican party’s Senate nomination in West Virginia. Blankenship is the coal mining executive who spent in a year in federal prison for worker safety violations that resulted in the deaths of 29 coal miners, called Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell “Cocaine Mitch” and disparaged his “China person” wife and her “China family,” wound up talking about “West Virginia persons” and “negroes” in his convoluted explanations, and aptly described himself as “Trumpier than Trump.” Blankenship was too Trumpy even for Trump, who “tweeted” his advice that West Virginia candidates vote against him not because of his deadly felonies or unabashed racism but rather because he “can’t win.”
West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey wound up winning with a plurality, despite being the sort of boring establishment type of Republican we used to like voting for. He spared the party the sort of embarrassment it suffered when the unabashedly theocratic and credibly accused child molester and Trump-endorsed Roy Moore somehow lost a Senate seat in Alabama of all places, but it remains to bee seen if he can knock off Democratic incumbent Sen. Joe Manchin, who’s as stalwart for coal mining as any Republican and pretty darned Trumpy himself.
There was another intriguing story that Trump is surely glad he knocked off the top of the front pages and the top of the hour on the cable news, where the hush money payment to the porno performer and that whole “Russia thing” have collided. It’s now reported that former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, who admittedly arranged the $130,000 hush money payment to the aforementioned porno performer, which yet another Trump attorney now admits the president eventually paid, and whose office and home and hotel room were recently searched the by the Department of Justice’s southern district of New York office, and shortly after the election was also paid a half-million bucks by a Russian firm run by a Russian with close ties to the Russian dictatorship. It’s also reported he had a similar payment from the American Telegraph and Telephone Company, which was hoping to get federal approval from a controversial deal that would result in its ownership of Trump’s nemeses at the Cable News Network.
There might yet be a perfectly reasonably and entirely exculpatory explanation for all this, but so far neither Trump nor any of his attorneys have provided one. We can only hope Trump’s instinct prove sounder in negotiating that North Korean nuclear deal and renegotiating the one with Iran.
And that was just Tuesday.

— Bud Norman

Doctor, Lawyer, Chief Executive

President Donald Trump likes to boast that he hires the very best people, but recent news about some of his choices of doctors and lawyers cast doubt on the claim.
For 39 years Trump’s personal physician was a gastroenterologist named Harold Bornstein, who became briefly famous during the presidential campaign after releasing a letter attesting to Trump’s good health. The letter referred to a “complete medical examination that showed only positive results,” an odd thing for a doctor to say, and contrarily insisted that “laboratory test results were astonishingly excellent,” and “if elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.” Between the doctor’s hippie-dippy appearance and the distinctly Trumpian hyperbole of the letter he provided fodder for a week’s worth of late night comedy monologues, but the die-hard fans took the doctor at his word and Trump wound up winning the electoral vote.
We’re sure Trump appreciated the overly kind of words, but eventually Bernstein fell out of the president’s favor, as so many Trump associates eventually do. He revealed to The New York Times that Trump takes finasteride, a drug that stimulates hair growth and slows balding, and complained about the way he was treated at the inauguration, and now he’s telling everybody that shortly afterwards Trump had his bodyguard and another rough-looking fellow show up at his office to seize all of the president’s medical records and warn him to take down a picture of Trump smiling next to Bornstein. The doctor also now freely admits that Trump wrote that famous letter about his excellent health, just as all those late night comedians and any sentient citizen suspected, and he doesn’t seem inclined to do the president any further favors.
Trump is entitled to be annoyed that Bornstein violated his privacy revealing the finasteride prescription, even if Bornstein  did so to explain a low presidential PSA level the Times had somehow found about, and when Trump became president he started seeing the White House doctor and it was necessary to have his medical records sent along. Still, the seizure sounds more like a “raid” as Bernstein calls it and less like the “standard operating procedure” that White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee described. In any case, Trump is going to need another doctor to attest to his astonishingly excellent health, and it’s not clear who it will be.
Trump’s last doctor was White House medical unit director Admiral Ronny Jackson, who had also served Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama and was well-regarded by both, and he so endeared himself to Trump by offering an effusive and suspicious assessment of Trump’s astonishingly excellent health that was also much ridiculed on the late night comedy shows. Trump was so impressed by the performance that he nominated Jackson to lead the 370,000 employees of the nationwide and byzantine Veterans Administration, despite what Trump admitted was a lack of any relevant experience for the job. Jackson soon withdrew his name from consideration for the post, rather than face congressional confirmation and answer the charges that he was a mean and incompetent manager of his small office and frequently drunk on the job, and shortly afterward it was announced that for undisclosed reasons he would no longer be the president’s physician.
Meanwhile, several of Trump’s past and present attorneys have their own problems. For many years Trump relied on Michael Cohen as a lawyer and “fixer,” but in those capacities Cohen arranged a $130,000 payment in the late stages of the election to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to stop talking about a sexual encounter she claimed to have had with the president shortly after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, which wound up having the Department of Justice’s southern district of New York executing a very thorough search warrant on his home, office, and hotel room, and now he looks in need of a darned good lawyer of his own. Cohen was also involved in a deal Trump was pursuing during the presidential campaign to build a skyscraper in Moscow. Trump is suddenly telling his friends at “Fox and Friends” that he actually had little to do with Cohen, although he did let slip that Cohen did represent him in that “crazy Stormy Daniels deal,” and his friends at The National Enquirer are running a front page headline about “Trump’s Fixer’s Lies & Secrets,” and it seems the White House is readying for anything Cohen might have to say about either the porn actress or that pesky “Russia thing” a special counsel is aggressively investigating.
Trump has already defenestrated a few of his “Russia thing” lawyers, the most recent being the famously mustachioed Ty Cobb, who claims to be a distant descendant of the baseball great of the same name, and he’s had trouble finding replacements up to the challenge that special counsel’s formidable team. The president has a reputation for not paying his legal bills and ignoring sound legal advice, and even the Fox News regular he claimed to have hired wound up turning down the gig. He did get Rudy Giuliani, formerly a formidable federal prosecutor and remarkably successful New York City mayor, and on Wednesday he hired Emmett Flood, described by The Washington Post as a”low-key, serious” sort who served as President Bill Clinton’s lawyer during the impeachment trial that resulted from an affair with a White House intern. Still, they have their own problems to deal with.
Giuliani sat down for an extended interview with Fox News’ Sean Hannity on Wednesday, which is seemingly the safest place for a Trump representative to be, but he wound up saying that Trump actually paid that $130,000 to the porno performer to stop talking about that alleged sexual encounter Trump has never explicitly denied. Giuliani did so to make the debatable argument that no campaign disclosure laws had been broken, just as Bornstein had disclosed the embarrassing anti-balding drug to dismiss a more serious matter, but it contradicted the president’s previous claims that it was Cohen’s crazy deal and you’d have to ask him about that, and even Hannity seemed discomfited by the disclosure, so of course the late night comics had a great time of it, and there’s no telling what Giuliani’s boss will make of it.
We’ll take the Post’s word for it that this Flood fellow is a  serious and low-key “steady hand,”and we note that Clinton’s presidency somehow survived his tawdry sex scandals and subsequent impeachment trial, even if his reputation took a hard enough hit that his harridan of a wife wound up osing a presidential election to the likes of Trump, and maybe he’ll have just as much success with his newest client. He seems to have a tough row to hoe, though, as we say here in Kansas.

— Bud Norman

Trying to Read Between the Lines and Behind the Headlines

The political news requires an extremely careful reading in the age of President Donald Trump. One must not only read between the lines, but also try to get a peek behind the story by speculating on the identity of all those unnamed sources and what their motives might be for providing the information.
Whenever the stories reflect poorly on Trump he insists that the sources simply don’t exist, which his rally crowds always cheer lustily, but after four decades in and around the news business we don’t believe the claim. Journalists do occasionally make things up, but they tend to get caught, especially when they’re on a story that other journalists are also covering, and the consequences always prove a deterrent to the rest of the profession. We’ve also noticed that an awful lot of those stories Trump dismisses as “fake news” wind up being corroborated by congressional hearing testimony and court documents and are eventually explained rather than denied by the White House press secretary.
Which makes the identity of a few of Monday’s unnamed sources a most intriguing mystery.
The National Broadcasting Company’s “Nightly News” aired a widely noted story that White House chief of staff John Kelly had a tenuous relationship with both Trump and pretty much the rest of his administration. The network reported that Kelly has called Trump “an idiot,” complained about the president’s shallow understanding of complicated policy matters, and told staffers that he was heroically preventing an impulsive president from disastrous actions. It also said that Kelly has annoyed women staffers with sexist remarks and his defense of a former top White House official who had been accused by two ex-wives and an ex-girlfriend.
Less than 45 minutes after the story aired Kelly issued a statement through the White House press office calling it “total BS,” affirming his undying loyalty to the president and his agenda, and decrying “another pathetic attempt to smear people and distract from the administration’s many successes.” Which might be true, as Kelly came into the White House as a four-star Marine general with a rock-solid reputation for integrity, but at this point he’s been there’s long enough we’re more inclined to believe the unnamed sources.
It’s not at all hard to believe that Kelly is of the many millions of Americans frequently frustrated by Trump’s study habits and impetuous temperament, after all, and pretty much everyone has at some point called his boss an “idiot.” Recently fired Secretary of State Rex Tillerson never did forthrightly deny that he’d called Trump a “moron” — which he’d reportedly emphasized with a certain gerund form curse word we’ll not repeat here — and although Trump claimed not to believe it he did feel compelled to “tweet” a challenge to Tillerson in an intelligence quotient test contest, and more unnamed White House officials than any fiction writer could create have anonymously shared similar gripes. Kelly did have some strangely nice things to say about credibly accused wife-beater, his reputation for rock-solid integrity took when his statement issued through the White House press office about the firing largely untrue, and he strikes as the sort of four-star Marine general who probably has some ideas about the differences between the sexes that are too old-fashioned even for the sort of women who work in the Trump White House.
Most of those women seem to remain loyal to Trump, though, and the unnamed sources are clearly more interested in taking down Kelly. Which has led to widespread speculation that the sources are closely associated with presidential daughter Ivanka Trump and presidential-son-in-law Jared Kushner, who were prominent figures in the administration figures when Kelly was installed as chief of staff but have since disappeared almost entirely from the news. Trump’s former campaign “chief executive officer” and White House “chief strategist,” who was ousted after Kelly became chief of staff and has since lost his media gig and billionaire backers and is now known to Trump as “Sloppy Steve,” is always considered a suspect, and there’s a chance he still has a few allies in the White House. On the other hand it could be almost any of those seemingly loyal women hanging around, as Kelly has reportedly described the fairer sex as overly emotional.
All of the unnamed sources are described as administration officials, and we doubt that NBC would run the risk of one of its many competitors more convincingly reporting otherwise, so at least we can be sure they’re not Democrats. In the mysterious case of it was who handed over to The New York Times the list of subjects that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation would like to ask Trump about in an interviews, which the investigators had turned over to Trump’s legal defense team just a short time earlier, it’s momentarily impossible to rule out anybody.
According to the document provided by the Times’ unnamed source, the special counsel intends to ask some pretty tricky questions about the Trump campaign’s previously denied or undisclosed but now thoroughly documented contacts with Russian government operatives, and the Trump administration’s actions that might be construed as obstructing the subsequent investigations into that. The Times might have made it up, unconcerned that its reputation would be unsullied by convincing denials of both the special counsel and the Trump defense team, but so far that hasn’t happened, and if the interview ever does come to pass it sounds exactly like the sort of things we’d be asking.
Maybe the special counsel dropped it off at the Times’ Washington bureau shortly visiting Trump’s legal defense team’s offices, but they’ve been a remarkably un-leaky so far, to the extent that all the search warrants and indictments and guilty pleas they’ve racked up have all taken everybody by surprise. There’s rampant speculation it was leaked by members of the Trump legal defense team who are hoping in God and pubic opinion to persuade Trump not to sit down with that ruthlessly efficient special counsel team and answer their very tricky questions in his usual impulsive style, but the Times itself has tamped that down. Someone in the White House but not on the defense team, maybe, or perhaps some “deep state” operative that probably does exist among all thousands of workaday feds.
In the checkout line at the neighborhood grocery store we noticed the headline about “Trump’s Fixer” and his sordid dealings, and although we were too stingy to pay for a copy we had no trouble discerning where that story came, and what it means. The “fixer” in the headline is Trump’s longtime attorney Michael Cohen, who has admitted making a $130,000 payment to a pornographic video performer to prevent from talking about an alleged affair with Trump, which led to the Justice Department’s southern district of New York office executing a very thorough search warrant on his home and office and hotel room, based on a tip from the special counsel. That led to widespread speculation that Cohen was going to provide some answers to those pesky special counsel questions that would reflect poorly on Trump.
Porn stars and presidents are perfect fodder for The National Enquirer, but in this case the president is a good friend and loyal supporter of the president, so to the casual supporter it might seem odd they’re screaming headlines about “Trump’s Fixer.” If you’ve been following the complicated story so far, though, you’re well aware that Trump’s even more longtime lawyer, the one who negotiated his great divorce settlements, has assured him that Cohen is going to sing like the cliched canary, so the all-out assault on the integrity of somehow Trump was recently calling a “great guy” has begun. It also undercuts any Democratic efforts to exploit the shady dealings of Trump’s longtime attorney and “fixer.”
In any case, the truth will out, somewhere down the line, maybe in some little read history book published far in the future. In any case, Kelly probably does think Trump is an idiot, and he does strike as the sort of old-fashioned sexist pig you’d want in a four-star Marine General, we sort hope he’s obsequious enough to hang around and tackle the president before he gets to the nuclear football, Trump’s eventually going to have answer those pesky questions, if not to the special counsel then surely to subsequent historians, and we can well understand why any lawyer would advise him to put the final verdict as far into the future as possible.
At this point all we know for certain is that poor Cohen fellow is in quite a fix. We know that for a fact, oddly enough, because we saw in the headline of The National Enquirer at the local grocery checkout line.

— Bud Norman

Only the Very Best People, Trump Style

President Donald Trump frequently vowed during his improbably successful campaign that he would hire only the very best people, rather than the “political hacks” that he accused the past several administrations of picking, but so far it’s a promise he’s had much trouble keeping. On Wednesday alone there were four more problematic front page stories about Trump’s old and recent hires.
The most prominent story featured Admiral Ronny Jackson, Trump’s pick to replace his previous pick to head the vast and troubled Veterans Affairs Administration. Jackson has been the non-controversial White House physician since President George W. Bush’s administration, and won Trump’s admiration with a suspiciously effusive report about the current president’s health, which anew seems to have added an inch to Trump’s height and taken off a few pounds of his weight, but critics in both parties immediately argued that’s hardly a qualification to run a complex and long screwed-up bureaucracy with 370,000 employees spread out over all 50 states.
That was before more than 20 active and retired military personnel started telling Congress that Jackson’s management style in his much, much smaller office is abusive and demoralizing, that he tends to get inebriated at inopportune times, and hands out sleeping pills and wake-up potions so freely that he’s known around the White House as “The Candy Man.” After that Trump told the press he’d told Jackson that he’d fully understand why Jackson might decide to withdraw his nomination rather than face such scurrilous accusations and “be abused by a bunch of politicians who aren’t thinking nicely about our country,” and after the press seized on that Trump insisted he was sticking his by man. After that Jackson told the inquisitive press corps he would answer all the allegations at the confirmation hearings, but the latest report from The Washington Post has him telling his friends that he might withdraw from the nomination before those postponed hearings get underway.
If he’s not at all the mean and drunk Dr. Feelgood that more than 20 current and retired military personnel describe, we’d advise the telegenic Jackson to forthrightly answer their allegations at the confirmation hearings, and then admit that there’s bound to be somebody in a nation of more than 330 million people who’s better suited to cleaning up the Augean stables sort of mess that has been piling up at the VA over the past several administrations.
Just below that headline is the ongoing tale of Trump’s longtime personal lawyer and “fixer” Michael Cohen, and after the Jackson story inevitably fades into the distance that will regain prominence. Cohen has publicly admitted that one of the “fixes” he did for Trump was making a $130,000 payment to a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels to stop talking about a sexual encounter she claims she had with Trump not long after his third wife gave birth to his fifth child, and it looks as if he made a similar arrangement with a Playboy centerfold model through Trump’s friends at The National Enquirer, which has recently settled it’s own case. Because that all happened while Trump was running for president and involved some suspicious bank transfers he recently had his office and home and hotel room raided by agents from the Justice Department’s southern New York district, which was the big story a while back. The latest update is that Cohen intends to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the ensuing investigation.
Cohen has every right to do so, and Trump and his apologists will argue he has good reason given the vast Deep State conspiracy out to get him, but back when the Federal Bureau of Investigation was investigating Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices during the campaign they had a different view of the long forgotten Clinton campaign’s information technology guys who pled the Fifth. Even erstwhile “chief strategist” for the Trump campaign and administration Steve “tweeted” Trump’s past statements about how only mobsters take the Fifth, and there’s no shortage of audiotape of Trump’s talk radio defenders saying the same thing. Invoking Fifth Amendment rights seems a sound legal move for Cohen, which we’ll ascribe to the presumably more capable lawyers he’s hired, but it doesn’t do much to help with Trump’s political problems.
Cohen was also involved with Trump’s efforts to build one of his branded Trump Towers in the Russian capital of Moscow, negotiations for which were ongoing during a campaign when Trump was promising the American electorate he had no deals in Russia, and was on board during all sorts of suspicious meetings between the Trump campaign and various Russians, so of course all the information seized from his office and home and hotel room are bound to be of interest to the special counsel investigation into that even more problematic “Russia thing.”
Meanwhile, although it’s less titillating, Trump’s Environmental Protection Agency director Scott Pruitt is headed to Congressional hearings amid criticism from both parties. The left hates Pruitt for reigning in the agency’s zealous overregulation, but although even such old-fashioned Republicans as ourselves appreciate there’s a bipartisan concern about the way Pruitt lives high on the taxpayer dollar with first class tickets and traffic-stopping motorcades and $43,000 soundproof booths straight out of “Get Smart,” and a sweetheart apartment deal he got from some lobbyists. Stalwart Republican and fellow Oklahoman Sen. James Inhofe said he has been pleased by Pruitt “rolling back regulations and restoring EPA to its proper size and scope, but these latest reports are new to me. While I have no reason to believe them, they are concerning and I think we should hear directly from Administrator Pruitt about them.”
Deeper in the news, interim head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau Mick Mulvaney boastfully told a meeting of bank executives that as a South Carolina congressman he had a strict policy of never meeting with an out-of-state lobbyist until a significant campaign contribution had been paid. The CFPB was created during President Barack Obama’s administration by Democratic Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and bunch of other far-left types to protect consumers from predatory banks, and there are sound Republican reasons for reducing its size and scope, but a guy who openly brags to bankers about he’s open for business probably isn’t the best choice for the job.
And that’s just Wednesday’s headlines. Already long forgotten are the reality star who ran the communications department, the guy who didn’t get to replace her because of a profanity-laden rant to a New Yorker writer, the national security advisor who’s since pleaded guilty to perjury charges, the former campaign chairman under indictment for a whole lot of “Russia thing” stuff, the recently little-seen son-in-law in charge of everything from the opioid crisis to Middle East peace and reinventing government, and so many others that Rachel Maddow giggles uncontrollably whenever the list of small type departures fills the screen on her MSNBC show. Not to mention all the past employees of the New Jersey General and Trump Airlines and Trump Casinos and Trump University and numerous other failed Trump enterprises who didn’t prove the very best people.
Which is not to say that Crooked Hillary would have done any better at draining the swamp, which Trump and all of his apologists will surely note, but still.

— 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