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Just Another Manic Thursday

Information about the Ukraine thing was flowing fast and furious on Thursday, There was a torrent of self-serving leaks from both the White House and Congress, under oath testimony from the acting director of national intelligence, on camera pronouncements from both Republicans and Democrats, a slew of presidential “tweets,” and the belated release of the “whistler-blower’s” complaint that set it all in motion.
Various anonymous leaks indicate that the “whistleblower” is a Central Intelligence Agency official who had been assigned to duty at the White House, and his complaint alleges some serious misdeeds, including solicitation of the Ukraine’s government help in Trump’s reelection campaign, with help from the Justice Department, which a White House-released account of a presidential phone call with the Ukrainian president clearly confirms, as well as an effort to cover that up. The “whistleblower” wrote that “I am deeply concerned that the actions described constitute a ‘a serious or flagrant problem, abuse or violation of law or executive order,'” and that “I am also concerned that these actions pose risks to U.S. national security and undermine the U.S. Government’s attempts to deter and counter foreign interference in U.S. elections.”
The Democrats and their media allies were outraged, of course, and the Republicans and their media allies were left to insist that the dirt Trump was seeking on former Vice President and current Democratic primary front-runner Joe Biden is the real scandal. There was also talk of a “deep state” conspiracy to overturn the last election, and Trump was caught on a leaked audiotape telling a private audience that the “whistleblower” was “almost a spy,” and he got some nervous laughter by adding “You know what we used to do back when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little more differently than we do now.”
The expedited hanging Trump seems to either jokingly or ardently desire for his tormentor will be hard to achieve, though. Trump’s appointed acting directional of national television had earlier told a House committee that Trump’s appointed inspector general had agreed that the “whistleblower’s” complaint was “credible and urgent,” and he also told the committee that the “whistleblower” “did the right thing” and followed the law “at every step of the way.” After his initial hesitance to release the complaint, and his reliance on the White House’s legal office during two days delay, the Trump-appointed acting director of national intelligence admitted under oath that all along he’d been obliged by the law to pass it to Congress. If there is a “deep state” conspiracy afoot, it seems to pass legal and constitutional muster.
Perhaps there’s something to the Republican insistence that former Vice President and current Democratic front-runner Biden is the real villain of this convoluted tale. His son did make a lot of money in Ukraine while Biden was the point man for President Barack Obama’s strenuous efforts to influence the Ukrainian government, and we wouldn’t put anything past those damn Democrats, but so far the conspiracy theory’s timeline seems dubious, and all our other allies agreed on what Obama was seeking. In any case it doesn’t excuse what Trump has already admitted to doing, or his previous openly stated willingness to accept foreign interference in an election, and we can’t blame the damn Democrats for making political hay of it.
Even before the “whistle blower” and Ukrainian thing came along House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had cautiously given her blessing to an impeachment inquiry. Six separate committees lare now ooking into a special counsel report about Russia’s interference on Trump’s behalf during the last election and ten times that Trump attempted to hinder the investigation about it, the Trump-owned business that are making big bucks off his presidency, a hush money payment to a porn star that sent Trump’s personal lawyer to business, and a bunch of stuff we can’t quite remember on such a busy day.
Thursday’s plethora of news adds further momentum to the downhill slide toward impeachment, and makes it harder for Trump to persuade the country to lock up all the damn Democrats. The Democrats and a recent refugee from the Republican already have enough votes to impeach, and they reasonably expect to pick up after a few weeks of congressional hearings and subpoenaed documents and under oath testimony. Far less likely is that they’ll come up with a supermajority of votes in the Senate, which the Republicans hold by a razor-thin margin, but Trump has reason to be rattled, as he looks to be.
A few Republican Senators have expressed concern and cast procedural votes to force the release of documents, there are a record number of Republicans in the House who have decided to not seek reelection in their anti-Trump upscale suburban districts and have no reason to be loyal to Trump, and while most Republicans are digging in there are bound to be a few more defectors in the coming days. The “whistleblower” and the Ukrainian thing and what Trump has already confessed to are hard to defend, and those seven oversight committees might well turn up some skeletons in closets and smoking guns, and as it all ads uo it becomes wearisome to defend.
The momentum might well be to weak to remove Trump from office before the next election, and that’s probably the way to bet, but none of this can help his reelection chances. Were we the gambling sorts we’d probably bet that Biden won’t be the Democratic nominee, and that some loonier left sort of damn Democrat will be on the ticket, and for all of his or her inevitable flaws Trump will be hard pressed to get any dirt on him or her from any foreign powers.
Despite all the distractions the Senate overwhelmingly approved a stopgap spending resolution that closely remembered one passed earlier by the House, which prevents a government shutdown more easily than usual. The stock market is no longer booming but remains near its recent record highs, job growth has been slowing but the unemployment rate is still below what the economists used to call full employment, and for all the heightened tensions in the world none of them have yet brought us a new war, so Trump has that going for him. At least for now.

— Bud Norman

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“Truthful Hyperbole” vs. Truth

Late in his hour-and-a-half long speech to a rally crowd in Cincinnati on Thursday, President Donald Trump assured his adoring audience that AIDS and childhood cancer will soon be cured, which is something most presidents would have mentioned earlier. The boast probably would have gotten more attention if anyone believed it were actually true, and there weren’t another hour’s worth of similar unverifiable and untrue boasts for the fact-checkers to go over. Trump believes in what he calls “truthful hyperbole,” and apparently so does his nominee to replace Dan Coats as Director of National Intelligence.
Rep. John Ratcliffe was a controversial choice for the job from the outset, given his apparent lack of relevant qualifications for the job, but Democratic opposition has grown stronger and Republican support less solid since it’s become clear he has a Trumpian tendency to overstate his accomplishments.
Earlier Ratcliffe had been forced to admit he wasn’t as successful a prosecutor of terrorism during his brief term as an acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas as he’d earlier claimed. It turns out there weren’t a whole lot of terrorism cases to be prosecuted in east Texas during his short stint on the job, and that Ratcliffe played a more limited role that he’d bragged about in the cases that did come up. He did get a psychologically troubled Iraq war veteran to plead guilty to possession of a pipe bomb, but that seems to have been his biggest contribution to the war on terrorism.
Ratcliffe has also boasted on his congressional web site that he arrested 300 illegal immigrants in a single day, which on its face is as fanciful as boasting of curing AIDS and childhood cancer, and now he’s been forced to admit that was overstated. He was involved in a five-state sweep of poultry plants that resulted in approximately 300 arrests, but of course it was Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers who actually did the arresting, and the results were underwhelming. Only 45 of the arrestees were actually prosecuted by Ratcliffe’s office, and six of the cases were dismissed, in two instances because the defendants turned out to be American citizens, one of whom was a 19-year-old woman dragged from her bed by immigration agents in a pre-dawn raid.
Trump can hardly object to such harmless exaggerations, nor does he seem to mind the apparent lack of qualifications for the job. Coats had been a Representative and Senator with a stellar reputation for his service on the intelligence committees in both chambers, and then served four years as ambassador to Germany before taking charge of the the national intelligence agency, but he constantly annoyed Trump by agreeing with the rest of the intelligence community that Russia meddled in the last presidential election on Trump’s behalf. Ratcliffe has signaled that he’ll take the word of Trump and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin that no such thing happened, so there’s no need to do anything to prevent it from happening again, and that’s the only qualification Trump needs.
If Ratcliffe doesn’t have a traditional intelligence background, so much the better as far as Trump is concerned. “We need somebody who can really rein it in,” Trump told reporters, “because as I think you’ve all learned, the intelligence agencies have run amok. They run amok.”
Trump’s own Secretary of State and Central Intelligence Agency director and Federal Bureau of Investigation director and the rest of his intelligence appointees don’t seem to have learned the lesson, though, as they’re all running amok and agreeing with Trump’s outgoing National Intelligence Director and special counsel Robert Mueller and anyone who’s been paying attention that Russia did indeed middle in the last election. They also all agree that Russia’s gearing up to do it again, and we’re more inclined to take their word for it rather than Trump’s and Putin’s and Ratcliffe’s.
Ratcliffe never did win Senate confirmation as a U.S. Attorney, and it’s hard to say if he’ll fare better at his next confirmation hearing, as there are a few Republicans who are openly skeptical of his fitness for the job, and it’s easy to predict he won’t be getting any Democratic votes. We’ll also go out on a limb and predict that Trump won’t soon cure AIDS and childhood cancer, and cautiously hope that Ratcliffe doesn’t rein in America’s intelligence from countering Russia meddlesome plots.

— Bud Norman