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A Mish-Mash of a Monday News Cycle

Monday was chockfull of news, most of it involving President Donald Trump, and it was a decidedly mixed bag.
Trump traveled to Utah to announce that he’s reducing the size of two national monuments in the state by a combined 1.9 million acres, which is a very big number. Some of the local Indian tribes and all of the environmental groups and a few tourism and sporting goods businesses were aghast at the reduction, but there are such sound conservatives arguments for the move that most conservatives were pleased. That’s a big chunk of Utah that was being run by the federal bureaucracy rather than Utah or Utahans, and there’s still more than an ample 1.2 million combined acres of the Bears Ears and ¬†Grand Staircase-Escalante national monuments left for the Indians and nature lovers, so we’ll give Trump a rare thumbs up.
Court challenges have already been filed, of course, but Trump’s contested restrictions on travel from some Muslim-majority countries won a victory that should cheer him. The matter is still slogging its way through the lower courts, but the Supreme Court has decided that the restrictions can be fully enforced until it eventually arrives at a final decision. For sound conservative reasons too complicated to recount here, that’s also fine with us.
The rest of the legal news, though, was more troublesome. It wouldn’t be a news day these days with some “twitter” controversy, and the latest was about Trump’s statement that he fired former national security advisor Mike Flynn because “he lied to the vice president and the FBI” about contacts with Russian officials. Flynn has recently pleaded guilty to lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and apparently because isn’t facing prosecution on several other serious charges because he’s cooperating with the special counsel investigation into Russia’s interference in the past election, but various journalists and legal analysts found the “tweet” self-incriminating for Trump. The problem is that it implies he knew Flynn had lied to the the FBI before he asked the bureau’s director to drop the investigation — according to the sworn of testimony of the director, who was fired after he declined the arrest — and therefore bolsters a case for obstruction of justice.
The arguments raged all day on all the political shows, with plausible points made on both sides, but even if Trump’s prevail it’s still another example of how “tweeting” causes unnecessary and unhelpful controversies. Any good lawyer would tell any client that it’s best to avoid “tweeting” anything about an ongoing criminal investigation, and any good client would heed that advice, but one of the lawyers Trump hired step forward to claim that he had written the “tweet” and used the president’s account to transmit it without the president’s knowledge. Either that’s a disbarment sort of lie, which is our best guess, or it’s a glaring example of the kind of legal representation you wind up with if you have a reputation for not paying your bills in full and being a bad client, and in any case it’s not helpful.
By the end of the day Trump’s legal team was arguing that “collusion” isn’t even a crime and that a president cannot obstruct justice or be indicted on any charge, which are arguments that most presidents would prefer not to have to make. It’s true enough that the word “collusion” isn’t found in any relevant statute, but the law is rife with its synonym “conspiracy,” and if it’s not illegal for a candidate to abet a hostile foreign efforts interference in an American election most Americans are likely to conclude it should be. As is so often the case with Trump’s unprecedented presidency, there are few precedents regarding a president’s obstruction of justice or indictment on some other crime, but those few precedents are not promising. Nixon wound up resigning after a bill of impeachment charged obstruction of justice, Clinton was disbarred and disgraced and barely survived an impeachment trial on the same charge, numerous high-ranking officials of other administrations wound up doing prison time, and Nixon’s famous argument to David Frost that “It’s not illegal when the President of the United States does it” has not fared well in the court of public opinion.
Trump’s one-time campaign chairman Paul Manafort was back in the news with accusations by federal prosecutors that he had violated the terms of his house arrest while awaiting trial a variety of money-laundering and tax evasion charges, which looks bad. The feds claim he was working with one of his contacts in the Russian intelligence community to pen an editorial Manafort hoped to sell defending his work on behalf of a Russia-friendly Ukrainian political party, which looks worse. Trump’s original claims that none of his people ever had anything to do with the Russians isn’t looking good these days, what with all those disclosed e-mails and revised clearance forms and corrected testimonies, and it remains to be seen if there’s a a better argument than it’s no big deal even if the worst is true.
There’s also that Southern Gothic novel of Senatorial race down in Alabama, where Republican nominee and quite credibly accused child molester Ray Moore is running against some got-durned liberal, and of course Trump was part of that story. He’s now fully in support of the Republican nominee and credibly accused child molester, whereas previously he had only been fully against the got-durned liberal, and much of the Republican establishment has meekly backed away from its previous criticisms and will even be sending some campaign ad money through the party’s congressional committee. This comes on a day when one of Moore’s accusers offered proof that Moore did at least know her, despite his denial, and another woman came forward to accuse Trump of forcing unwanted kisses on her, just as he boasted about frequently doing on that “Access Hollywood” case. All charges are open to argument, as always, but it’s not helpful.
Oh, there’s also that tax bill Trump might yet get to sign soon. All the details still have to be worked out in a conference committee, but already it’s clearly another mixed bag of news and too complicated to explain here.

— Bud Norman

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The Fall-out from Flynn’s Flip

The guy who was filling in for Sean Hannity on the radio Friday assured his audience that former national security advisor Mike Flynn’s guilty plea to a charge of lying the Federal Bureau of Investigation just goes to show how very weak is special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing,” and Harvard law school professor Alan Dershowitz was saying the same thing. Pretty much everyone else thought it spelled big trouble for President Donald Trump, though, and despite our aversion to the conventional wisdom we’re inclined to agree.
The Sean Hannity show’s full time job these days is finding that elusive silver lining in whatever dark cloud hovers over the Trump administration, Dershowitz is by now more an instinctive contrarian than a serious scholar, and at this point the conventional wisdom is far more compelling. At the very least, Trump’s apologists have to admit that the man he chose as his most trusted foreign policy advisor has now confessed to lying to the FBI, and after all his other picks that have also been defenestrated and subsequently indicted it is increasingly hard to believe is campaign boasts that he only hires the very best people. There’s also ample reason to believe that Flynn is about to dish some serious dirt about that “Russia thing.”
Flynn’s frequently revised security clearance forms and belated admissions of well-compensated dealings on behalf of Turkey and Russia while working for the Trump campaign and then the administration, along with his recent admission of lying about it to the FBI, surely could have resulted in more serious charges, not to mention some scary and all-too-credible counts against his idiot son, who was kicked off the Trump transition team for some “tweets” about the far-fetched “Pizza-gate” conspiracy theory that Democratic presidential nominee was running a satanic child sex-abuse ring in the basement of a Washington pizzeria. To the Hannity guest host and the Harvard professor the fact that the Flynns are getting off light is proof that Mueller hasn’t got anything better, but the counter-argument that they wouldn’t have got such a sweet deal from such a shrewd dealer as Mueller without offering some useful testimony on the higher-ups is far more convincing.
A three-star Army general and one-time director of the Defense Intelligence Agency in the administration of President Barack Obama, Flynn was Trump’s top foreign policy advisor during the campaign, held the same role during the transition, and was chosen as Trump’s national security advisor after the inauguration, so there aren’t a lot of higher-ups he implicate in exchange for such a seemingly sweet deal. The very short list would include Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who was somehow the most senior and trusted of all those best people Trump promised to hire, and Vice President Mike Pence, who can rightly claim that he insisted on Flynn’s resignation after Flynn had lied to him, and of course Trump himself.
By now Trump’s team is describing Flynn as a former Obama appointee, which is undeniably true, but there’s also no denying that Obama later fired the guy, and personally warned Trump not to re-hire him in any capacity, and that shortly before she was fired by Trump a holdover Obama appointee in the Justice Department warned the White House that Flynn was under investigation and susceptible to Russian blackmail, and that Trump stayed loyal to his man fore more than two weeks after that until the free press made it impossible. Trump stayed somewhat loyal to Flynn even after that, and according to the sworn testimony of fired FBI director James Comey the president even urged that the FBI give his beloved general a pass, and it wasn’t until Flynn had clearly started to cooperate with the special counsel that the Trump team started damning him as an Obama appointee. Whatever dirt Mueller might dish on Trump or his son-in-law or vice president, Trump will have have to walk back a lot of previous praise for his most trusted foreign policy advisor.
Harvard’s Dershowitz makes a plausible argument that by confessing lies to the FBI he casts any evidence he gives from now on as suspect, and when Hannity gets back on the air he’ll no doubt take up the same argument, but we and by now pretty much everyone else will be more inclined to believe whatever testimony he gives to avoid all the more serious charges against him and his idiot son. The guy Trump chose as his national security adviser once worked for the Russian propaganda network Russia Today, led a standing ovation for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin at a Moscow dinner where he gave a speech, and explained to a congressional committee that he’d been paid by his speaker’s bureau rather than the Russian government, claiming not to know if the speaker’s bureau had been recompensed by the Russian government, but he was once a three-star Army general and a high-ranking Obama appointee, so there’s no telling how his testimony will play. Trump has consistently been as complimentary as Flynn to Putin’s dictatorship, with the same affinity to the increasingly totalitarian Islamic government in Turkey that Flynn worked for during for his tenure as national security advisor, and no matter how anti-climatic Flynn’s testimony might prove it doesn’t look good.
Meanwhile, the guy Trump once chose as campaign manager and his business partner are expensively contesting the special counsel’s charges regarding their own Russian business ties, Trump’s trusted senior advisor son-in-law has legal and financial and potentially Russian-related problems that are reportedly complicated by Flynn’s testimony in exchange for that sweetheart deal, and Trump’s own idiot namesake son is also reportedly in the special counsel’s crosshairs. Trump’s team is insisting this “Russia thing” will be finished year’s end with a complete exoneration, but at this point we doubt it.

— Bud Norman

McMastering Trumpian Foreign Policy

According some segments of the conservative media, one of those “deep state” “establishment” “globalist” types threatening President Donald Trump is his own national security advisor. Highly decorated combat veteran and former three star Army general H.R. McMaster stands accused of various heresies against the “nationalist” and “populist” and “alt-right” strains of conservatism, and it’s a more consequential story that the rest of all the palace intrigue that’s been going on at the White House.
McMaster is well-regarded by some other segments of the conservative media as one of the administration grown-ups needed to restrain Trump’s worst tendencies, and enjoys the begrudging respect of the Democrats on Capitol Hill, but such establishmentarian respect is all the more reason for the burn-it-down sorts of conservatives to revile him. They’re livid that he renewed a national security clearance for President Barack Obama’s national security advisor, persuaded Trump to sign off on a statement that Iran has thus far been in compliance with a deal struck with Obama regarding its nuclear weapons program, once worked at a British think-tank partly funded by the hated progressive billionaire George Soros, and has generally been an impediment to the isolationist and Russia-friendly bomb-all-the-Muslims-and-take-their-oil foreign policy they prefer.
Worse yet, McMaster seems to have gained influence in the administration since former four-star Marine general John Kelly took over as chief staff. Kelly has a reputation as someone who doesn’t suffer fools and idiots lightly, so his first order of business was to get rid of a White House communications officer who had proved spectacularly incompetent after a week on the job, and his second was to help McMaster defenestrate three members of the national security council. Each were allies of White House chief strategist Steve Bannon, and if you’ve been binge-watching the Trump show you should already know that he’s the administration’s true keeper of the “nationalist” and “populist” and “alt-right” faith.
Bannon had already lost his seat on the council after bi-partisan complaints that he had no qualifications whatsoever for the job, and his ideological ally Mike Flynn had resigned the national security advisor post in record time after it was revealed he had lied about about his dealings with Russia and talk about all sorts of other foreign intrigues started to surface, and for the moment the Bannonite vision seems to be fading. The former four-star Marine general James Mattis is still Secretary of Defense, and despite his “Mad Dog” nickname he’s also considered one of the restraining grown-ups that the establishment Republicans praise and the Democrats begrudgingly respect.
Not that you’d notice, but Rex Tillerson is still the titular Secretary of State, and the former top Exxon boss has surprisingly proved a stalwart defender of the post-war global order. You can’t help but have noticed United Nations ambassador Nikki Halley after her fine work winning an international agreement to impose sanctions on North Korea for its recent belligerence, but you might not recall she’s also often stood in opposition to a Bannonite foreign policy. With so many foreign policy positions still unfilled, largely due to the administration;s failure to find nominees with the requisite credentials who haven’t publicly expressed previous doubts about Trump’s foreign policy campaign rhetoric, Trump is pretty much stuck with the establishment he promised to burn down.
Hence the recent assault on McMaster in certain segments of the conservative media. One of the most vociferous critics has been BreitbartNews.com, which was formerly run by Bannon as a self-described “platform for the alt-right,” and others are the internet conspiracy theorists Alex Jones and Michael Cernovich, but several of the talk radio hosts and more mainstream conservative outlets such as the Daily Caller have also been piling on, as has the Jerusalem Post’s usually reliable Caroline Glick. They all combine for a relatively small and already-on-board audience, but that audience does include Trump, so it will be interesting to see what effect they have.
Meanwhile pretty much all the mainstream press and certain segments of the conservative media will argue that McMaster is one of the much-needed grownups in the administration, and we’ll go right ahead and pile on ourselves. We’re no fans of Rice, but security clearances have always been granted as a routine courtesy to past national security advisors, and we’d like to see that tradition continue to benefit McMaster some day, and we can’t see what damage she’s likely to do at this point. That deal Obama struck with Iran was every bit as awful as Trump said it was back on the campaign trail, but if the Iranians are shrewd enough to be complying at this point then denying it would only undermine our nation’s credibility when Trump at long last gets around to his promised so-great-your-head-will-spin re-negotiation. Except for the fact some money came from the admittedly noxious Soros, there’s nothing we can find in any of the stories about that British think-tank that make us think worse of McMaster.
As much as we respect the formidable Ms. Glick there’s nothing we can find in McMaster’s history that suggests he’s insufficiently committed to America’s alliance with Israel, and even if he’s not a bomb-all-Muslims-and-take-their-oil kind of guy we figure that’s because he has better ideas about how to deal with the problems that certain segments of the Islamic world undeniably pose. According to all sorts of leaks he was one of the people who pressured Trump into belatedly affirming America’s commitment to the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, and otherwise counseled the same unfriendly posture toward Russia’s expansionist ambitions that the Republican party had maintained since the dawn of the Cold War, but that’s fine by us.
Trump has thus far publicly “tweeted” his support for McMaster, but there are leaks that he’s privately fuming to friends that he wishes Flynn was still on the job, and on the campaign trail he boasted that he knows more the generals, adding his usual “believe me,” and he hates to disappoint the loyal fans who listen to Jones and Cernovich and the radio talkers. Getting rid of McMaster would surely fuel all the mainstream media talk about the “Russia” thing, but the fans won’t believe a word of that anyway, and Trump has proved entirely unpredictable about everything, so we’ll not venture any guesses how McMaster comes out at the end of this story.
We hope he’ll come out ahead, though, and will at least get his security clearance approved by the next Democratic administration’s national security advisor. During the first Iraq War Captain McMaster led nine American tanks into battle against 28 Iraqi Revolutionary Guard tanks and won by a score of 28-to-zero, was a fellow at the Hoover Institute while rising to his three-star general rank through a series of challenging commands, and despite such establishment credentials he strikes us a very serious man. Trump’s bone spurs prevented him from serving heroically, alas, and he later said his personal Vietnam was avoiding venereal disease on the New York City dating scene of the ’70s, and all his campaign rhetoric about NATO’s obsolescence and Russia’s moral equivalence with the United States and taking the Muslim’s oil struck us as similarly unserious, so we think he could us some establishmentarian grown-ups around him.
That will disappoint the fans, but they’ll surely get over it, and we think that for now they’re outnumbered by the liberals and certain segments of the conservatives and pretty much everybody else.

— Bud Norman