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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

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Begging Trump’s Pardon

On a Wednesday full of stories about trade wars and the Environmental Protection Agency director’s latest scandals and the first public sighting of First Lady Melania Trump in several weeks, the item that caught our attention was President Donald Trump releasing 63-year-old Alice Marie Johnson from the federal prison where she was serving a life sentence on a drug-dealing rap.
Even the most anti-Trump media tended to describe Johnson as a first-offender convicted on a non-violent drug offense, but the local media who covered her trial and sentencing back in ’97 described her as the leader of a multi-million dollar drug ring that sold tons of cocaine over a three-year period. Given that Trump has touted Singapore’s policy of executing even low-level drug dealers as a model for America, even the pro-Trump “Powerlineblog” had to admit it seemed damned odd.
The best explanation all the media could find is that Johnson’s cause was championed for some unknown reason by Kim Kardashian, one of Trump’s fellow reality television stars, who was granted a widely-publicized White House visit last week to plead Johnson’s case.
That probably did have something to do with it, but we’re sure there’s more to it. Trump has recently issued a posthumous pardon for first black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, who was convicted of immorality charges while consorting with a white woman, and we suspect that Trump’s commutation of the equally-black Mary Alice Johnson is intended to burnish his otherwise questionable credentials as the least racist person you ever met. He also has reason to be confident that even the most anti-Trump media will describe Johnson as a first-time non-violent drug offender and that most of the pro-Trump media will ignore that he let loose a woman who was duly convicted of running a multi-million dollar drug ring that sold tons of cocaine.
Trump’s most die-hard defenders are noting that even President Barack Obama didn’t commute Johnson’s sentence when he was pardoning hundreds of first-time and non-violent drug crime offenders, but we think the Powerlineblog guys have a better point when they note that even Oaama didn’t let loose the ring leader a multi-million and multi-ton cocaine cartel.
Trump has previously used his presidential powers to pardon Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for flagrantly violating the fourth and ninth and 14th amendments of the Constitution in his law enforcement efforts, and former President George W. Bush appointee “Scooter” Libby for admittedly lying to federal investigators about the long forgotten and no big deal Valerie Plame-gate scandal, as well as a conservative pundit who admittedly violated federal campaign finance laws. He’s pardoning people who have been prosecuted by the same prosecutors who are now prosecuting him, which should hearten the various past Trump campaign and administration officials who have been indicted on various charges and have reason to testify truthfully about Trump in a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.” The Trump lawyer that most often appears on television has even asserted that Trump could pardon himself, even if he shot and killed a political adversary.
Any president’s powers to pardon offenders or commute their sentences are broad, but surely there are some limits to the public’s patience.

— Bud Norman

Begging His or Her Pardon

One of President Barack Obama’s final official acts was commuting the sentence of the former Army Private Bradley Manning, who was convicted of providing classified information to Wikileaks and is now known as prisoner Chelsea Manning, and it seems an appropriately complicated story to end one presidency and begin another.
Having harbored a slight fear that Obama would let his freak flag fly and go full-blown leftist crazy with his final pardons and commutations to unleash an army of angry convicts into the coming street wars, we’ve been somewhat relieved by his relative restraint. Some rather unsavory offenders have somehow been granted his mercy, but not in any numbers that are remarkable even by the standards of past Republican administrations, and we can easily see why Manning would be irresistibly sympathetic to someone of Obama’s liberal instincts. Obama has been even more aggressive in plugging leaks than Nixon and his infamous “plumbers,” but what Manning leaked was considered embarrassing to the previous Republican administration of George W. Bush, and since then he’s become a she, which is quite the fashion these days, and there’s an opportunistically recurring enthusiasm among for liberals for bold truth tellers.
There’s always an opportunistically recurring enthusiasm among conservatives for guarding state secrets by force of law, too, and all the Republicans were in one of those moods back when Manning caught, convicted, and sent off to prison. We cheered on the process along with the rest, and wondered aloud why a mere private with such obvious mental health issues had access to such sensitive information in the first place, and nothing that has since transpired has changed our minds about it. Even Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan refers to Manning as Chelsea when denouncing the pardon, and although we have our quibbles about we are adamant that has nothing to do with Manning’s culpability, and we hope it has nothing to do with his commutation. We are still steadfastly against the illegal public dissemination of classified information, except perhaps in one of those far-fetched dystopian nightmare scenarios that have occasionally occurred in some places from time to time, and hopefully will be able to remain so during the next administration.
The next administration seems to have a more opportunistic opposition to such leaks, though, along with most of its many supporters. By now even president-elect Donald Trump admits that he thinks the Russians probably hacked all those WikiLeak-ed Democratic e-mails that he gleefully admitted gleefully pointed to during the past campaign, at one point telling one of his raucous rallies “Boy, do I love Wikileaks,” and we also his recall his jocular remarks about how great it would be if the Russians or the that possible 400 pound fat guy in New Jersey would also hack the e-mails his Democratic rival sent while Secretary of State, and there is by now a widespread agreement on the right and in the Republican party that some hacking and leaking and violation of the law is acceptable so long as it embarrasses the left and the Democratic party. This double standard always offended us when it came from the left, as it so often did and still does during the latest controversies, and we find it no less offensive when coming from the right.
All those leaks will no doubt go unplugged for at least another four years, and we’ll continue to call for locking the leakers up and eagerly poring through whatever they leaked, and keep an eye out, as always, for that dystopian nightmare scenario that might justify it all. At this point Bradley or Chelsea Manning or whatever you want to call him or her has done all the damage that he or she is likely do, so we’ll not make any big deal out of his her or commutation and wish him or her the very best for the rest of his or her life, but we’ll be holding the next administration to the same grumpy standards as the past one.

— Bud Norman

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A Bittersweet Departure

Attorney General Eric Holder has announced his resignation, yet we feel no glee. Holder was by far the worst Attorney General of our lifetime, which stretches back to the days of John Mitchell, but his departure provides no vindication and little hope.
The man’s execrable record began long before he assumed the office of Attorney General, from his days taking over campus buildings as a college radical to his role in the Clinton administration’s final days pardons of a Democrat-contributing expatriate scammer and some bomb-throwing Puerto Rican terrorists, and continued into his private sector work at a law firm that provided pro bono defense for Islamist terrorists. In the euphoria that followed the hope and change election of ’08 this record was insufficient to prevent the appointment of the first black Attorney General, however, and his outrages as Attorney General began immediately with his decision to drop charges against the paramilitary-garbed and club-weilding New Black Panther members who had already been convicted of intimidating voters outside a Philadelphia polling station and an address that branded America a “nation of cowards” for declining to talk about race on his resentful terms, then continued with a disinclination to pursue hate crime charges on behalf of white victims, his insistence that school discipline be administered by racial quotas, his apparent approval of the “Fast and Furious” program that allowed gun sales to Mexican gangsters who wound up committing hundreds of murders that included the death of American law enforcement agents, his subsequent stonewalling of congressional investigations that led to a contempt charge, his refusal to appoint an independent prosecutor to investigate the Internal Revenue Service’s targeting of his party’s political opponents, his resistance to reasonable rules regarding eligibility for voting, his prejudicial statements concerning various racial contretemps playing out in the local justice systems, and other offenses so numerous that we can’t off the top of our head recall them all.
None of this was sufficient to remove the first black Attorney General from office, however, and so far as we can tell he is rather smugly leaving for a lucrative career in the private sector of his own accord. There is speculation in the conservative press that Holder is departing under duress of those still-lingering contempt of Congress charges stemming from the “Fast and Furious” scandal, but this seems wishful thinking. All those dead Mexicans and American law enforcement officers weren’t an issue in the re-election of Holder’s boss, and are now rarely mentioned in the public discourse, so we can’t imagine that Holder or his boss feel at all concerned by it now. Disturbingly enough the more plausible explanation is Holder’s statement that six years of bedeviling American justice is enough and that he’s ready to follow his wife’s advice and take on the less stressful and more remunerative life of a very well-connected private sector lawyer. He announced his resignation with a lachrymose farewell from the President of the United States and such polite press as the Politico web site admitting that his resignation is perfectly timed to allow a replacement to be confirmed by a lame duck Democratic Senate but still gushing that he is “leaving on arguably the highest point of his personal career, after a year of progress on his plan to reform sentencing laws and just after his well-received, calming-the-waters trip to Ferguson, Missouri, during the riots in August.”
That Holder is leaving as the least popular person in the Obama administration went unremarked, as was that his trip to Ferguson calmed the waters by promising the mob its preferred decision on the police shooting that prompted the riots and it wasn’t at all well-received by the vast majority of Americans who don’t write for Politico, but otherwise the article seems credible in its assertion that Holder is leaving on his own. The publication’s posterior-kissing approach to journalism has probably given it credible sources within the administration, too, so we take seriously their list of the equally-radical and racialist candidates being considered to replace Holder. One can hope that a more Republican Senate will refuse to confirm the first few put forth, but they’ll eventually have to agree to one of them and in the meantime Holder will stay on the job. We’ll be glad to be rid of Holder, but don’t expect that anything will soon get better.

— Bud Norman