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Just Another Manic Tuesday

There was no big story of the day on Tuesday, but there were more than enough small ones to fill the remaining newspapers and the cable network’s 24-hours. The partial government shutdown continues, so does the “Russia thing,” and Republican congressman has been rebuked for his long history of racist sentiments. On the pop culture front President Donald Trump served the reigning national collegiate football champs a feast of fast food, and a legend of a better era of show biz showed up in the obituary pages.
The Democrats who now comprise a majority of the House of Representatives declined Trump’s invitation to a negotiating session to end the partial government shutdown, and we can’t blame them, as Trump would have insisted on funding for his long-promised wall along the entire southern and every public opinion poll shows that majority of the public doesn’t want it. Public disapproval of the both the wall and the partial government shutdown are such that a few Republican senators up for a ’20 reelection in purplish states will vote for a spending bill to fully reopen the government with no wall funding, a few more are willing to vote for a bill with less wall funding than Trump insists on, while a few more are willing to vote for a deal that gives Trump his border wall funding but also the Democrats’ position on amnesty for the “dreamers” who were illegally brought into the country as children. At this point the Democrats can plausibly win a veto-proof number of votes in both chambers of Congress to end the shutdown on their terms, and have no reason to let Trump act tough in front of the cameras for his die-hard base of support.
Meanwhile, the “Russia thing” keeps getting worse for Trump. The special counsel investigation have made new court filings about former Trump campaign manager and already-convicted felon Paul Manafort, and although they’re heavily redacted for national security reasons they all indicate  his contacts and  financial dealings with the Russians were even more extensive than theist year’s alarming reports had already indicated. In other interesting “Russia thing” news, Trump’s Treasury Department’s attempts to lift sanctions on Russian oligarch Oleg Deripaska, whose name keeps popping up in this “Russia thing,” met with congressional opposition, and eleven — count ’em, eleven — Republican Senators joined every last one of the Democrats in voting for the resolution to stop the deal. So far as we can tell this Deripaska fellow is as crooked as a dog’s hind leg, as W.C. Fields would have put it, and we can’t blame any Republican who doesn’t want to explain why he’s siding with Trump’s Treasury Department about it. What with the recent reports about Trump’s disdain for the North Atlantic Treaty Organization and keeping his talks with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin secret, this “Russia thing” keeps looking worse.
Elsewhere in the news the House of Representatives voted to rebuke Rep. Steve King of Iowa and take away his committee assignments for his long history of outrageously racist statements, with the resolution passing by a margin of 424-to-1, which of course of included all but one of the remaining Republicans. Although King has long been over-the-top in his defense of what he calls “western civilization,” but his recent lament to The New York Times about how “white supremacy” and “white nationalism” somehow have a negative connotation these days was too much for even the most wall-building sorts of Republicans.
Trump did well with the fast food feast in the White House dining room, on the other hand. There was the predictable snooty sniping about the portrait of Abraham Lincoln looking down a White House dining table stacked with McDonald’s Quarter Pounders and Big Macs and Wendy’s double-cheeseburgers and Burger King’s Whoppers, along with some Domino’s pizza, but Trump reportedly paid the few thousand-dollar tab himself in honor of the partial government shutdown and the visiting Clemson University Tigers seemed to appreciate it, including that very promising quarterback with the hippy-dippy haircut.
Once upon a more genteel time in America President Franklin Roosevelt treated the King and Queen of England to a meal of hot dogs in the White House dining to room, an apparent attempt to reassure Great Depression America he had the common touch, but First Lady Eleanor spoiled the effort by passing the accent on the second part and asking the Queen if she’d like another “hot dog.” Trump’s affinity for fast food is obviously more authentic, the reigning champions of college football seems to share his tastes, and for whatever that says about America’s diet Trump got a rare photo opportunity with some winners.
Also on Tuesday we were saddened to note the passing of Carol Channing at the ripe old age of 97. It’s such a ripe old age that most Americans won’t remember her long career as a Broadway show-stopper, but we’re old enough to know from her occasional show-stopping and Oscar-winning movie roles and frequent variety show appearances and several hit records, and can testify that she was really something. She was a gangly six feet tall with weirdly wide eyes, yet inexplicably attractive enough to star in Broadway and Hollywood movies, and she had a raspy voice that all the nightclub comics did impressions of, yet she’s still one of our favorite singers, and Republicans and Democrats alike agreed she had one of those irresistible personalities that projected all the way to the back of any theater.
We expect that today will bring lots more news, too, and hope that some of it will be good.

— Bud Norman

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The Trump Slump Continues

You might not have noticed, what with all the attention being paid to the still ongoing partial government shutdown and all the undeniable problems it’s causing for a whole lot of Americans, but the “Russia thing” is looking even worse than ever for President Donald Trump.
The past few days have brought a New York Times report that the Federal Bureau of Investigation was looking into the possibility that Trump was acting on behalf of Russian rather than American interests shortly after he took office, reports from pretty much every news outlet that read the ineptly redacted court filings by former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort revealing Manafort had admitted to sharing polling data with the Russian operatives that all the intelligence agencies agree was engaged in a disinformation effort on behalf of Trump’s campaign, and a subsequent Washington Post report that as president Trump had sought to keep his conversations with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin a secret from not only the general public but also his diplomatic and national security staff. Trump and his dwindling number of die-hard defenders have plenty to say about it, but to the rest of the country it looks pretty damned bad
If you’re fully on board with Trump’s efforts to make America great again, you’re probably already convinced that FBI’s undenied investigation into Trump’s Russia ties is just further “smocking gun” of a “deep state” conspiracy to overthrow a duly elected American president, but if you’re not that’s a hard case to make. Unlike Trump, the FBI and its overseeing Department and Justice and the independent federal judiciary that have to sign off on everything it all operate according to longstanding rules and laws and traditions, and if this entire staid constitutional order is somehow more lawless than Trump then God help us all. Trump had already fulsomely flattered the Russian dictator and said America had no moral standing to condemn his extra-judicial killings of journalists and other dissidents, altered the Republican platform to a more Russia-friendly position regarding its annexation of Ukraine, spoke hopefully of lifting sanctions on Russia for its violation of a neighboring country’s sovereignty, disparaged the North Atlantic Treaty organization as bad as the North American Free Trade Agreement, and at that point our President Ronald Reagan-era selves can hardly blame the FBI and its overseeing Justice Department and overseeing federal courts for wondering why.
Trump now boasts that he’s been harder on Russia than any previous president, but we’re old enough to remember Reagan’s victory over the Soviet Union way back in the Cold War, and have read enough history to know that President Theodore Roosevelt won the first Nobel Peace Prize by negotiating an end to the Russo-Japanese War that acknowledged Russian had gotten its ass kicked, and we conclude that Trump’s claims for superior toughness do not much impress. Extra sanctions have indeed been imposed on Russia since Trump’s inauguration, but that’s only because bipartisan and veto-proof majorities in both chamber of Congress have insisted on, and the Trump administration has been slow to execute them, and recently the administration’s Secretary of the Treasury has has struggled to explain why a Russian oligarch who figures in the “Russia thing” has been given an exemption from the sanctions.
That was only Trump’s campaign manager whose lawyers have inadvertently admitted he handed over polling data to the Russkie’s disinformation efforts, and not Trump himself, and with the guy already in prison for probably the rest of life that will probably we expect he’ll take all the blame for that on all the talk radio shows. Even so, it looks bad.
The part about Trump keeping his conversations with the Russian dictator private even from his top advisors is his even harder to explain. There’s always the possibility that Trump’s Russophile foreign policy was an ingeniously conceived plan to make America great again, and thus he had to keep it secret from the “deep state” conspirators arrayed against him, as his exquisitely educated gut tells him more than any of the brains of the very best people he’d appointed to advise him, but we’d still like to have some public record of what Trump said to that Russian dictator. As for now, we and the foreign policy establishment and a majority of the public will assume the worst.
Meanwhile, that record-setting partial government shutdown doesn’t seem to be polling well for Trump, and a troublesome number of congressional Republicans are abandoning ship, and his last ditch option of declaring a national emergency to usurp the constitutional order of the newly-installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to appropriate funds for his campaign promise of a border wall probably won’t poll well. More sensible Republicans such as Florida Sen. Marco Rubio have argued that the next inevitable Democratic president could just as easily declare a national emergency about climate change to get all sorts of crazy liberal environmental regulations imposed, or after the next inevitable mass shooting at a school or shopping mall impose all sorts of crazy liberal gun rights restrictions.
The last time a president’s national emergency powers were challenged in the Supreme Court was when President Harry Truman tried to end a steelworkers’ strike during the Korean War, and even though all of the Supreme Court justices had been appointed by either President Franklin Roosevelt or Truman he lost that case by a 9-to-zero decision. Trump doesn’t have a war or any other extenuating circumstances to bolster his case, as Truman did, and he’s got both liberals and Federalist Society types of conservatives to persuade, so we don’t expect he’ll fare any better. Trump promised his die-hard fans they would grow weary on winning so much, but for now he seems to be losing on every front.

— Bud Norman

Some Inadvertently Un-Redacted Facts

That pesky partial government shutdown seems almost certain to soon set a new record for duration, and thus continues to dominate the news, but we still try to follow the “Russia thing.” Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the matter has been admirably if infuriatingly leak-proof, but fortunately almost everybody else involved continue to keep the story in the bottom-of-the-fold headlines.
Thanks to some sloppy computer work on a court filing by the lawyers for Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump and confessed felon who currently resides in a federal prison, we now know that Manafort stands accused of sharing polling data with a Russian named Konstantin Kilimnik who has ties to the Russian intelligence agencies. We also know, from Manafort’s lawyers accidentally un-redacted filings on his behalf, that “After being shown documents, Mr. Manafort ‘conceded’ that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan on more than one occasion” during the campaign.
This isn’t a “smocking gun,” as Trump spells it, but it does look pretty darned bad.
Trump’s defenders are already that there’s nothing illegal about sharing poll data with even a Russian operative, as poll data is readily available from the news media, but the more specific internal polling of a major party presidential campaign is usually a carefully protected secret, and in this case raises suspicions. All of America’s intelligence agencies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, backed up by all of the Trump appointees to head them, agree that the Russian government attempted to interfere in America’s last presidential election on behalf of Trump. One of the alleged efforts was an internet disinformation campaign, which all of the major social media platforms have told Congress did happen, and it seems to have been effectively targeted to the states and counties where Trump wound up winning his electoral majority, so one wonders how the Russian could have known to choose this spots on the map.
One needn’t wonder why the Russians were meddling on Trump’s behalf, as Trump was one of the very few American politicians talking about lifting the sanctions the had been imposed on Russia after its invasions of Ukraine and Georgia. Trump had even spoken about the legitimacy of Russia’s claims to the territory, and we expect that any discussions Manafort might or might not have had about a Ukraine “peace plan” were to Russia’s liking, and that Russia would surely appreciate the precinct-by-precinct sort of polling that a major American political party does during a presidential campaign. Maybe it’s not a “smocking gun” of a criminal quid pro quo, but it’s hard for Trump’s die-hard defenders to explain.
Eventually they’ll probably wind up blaming everything on Manafort, who seems likely to wind up dying in federal prison anyway, and insist that the brilliant and always in charge Trump had no idea of what his campaign manager was up to, but there’s still a lot of explaining to do. Lately Trump has been excusing Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan with some revisionist history, might or might not be pursuing a retreat from Syria that would would greatly strengthen Russia’s power in the Middle East, and is still open to lifting the sanctions on Russia for it’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Perhaps there’s some perfectly innocent explanation for all this, but for now we’re not betting on it.

— Bud Norman

Manafort’s Deal and the Rest of It

The news is quite jam-packed these days, what with the catastrophic flooding in the Carolinas and that unexpected plot twist temporarily tying up a Supreme Court nomination, but the latest development in the ongoing “Russia thing” is still worth noting. A former campaign chairman for President Donald Trump’s improbable yet winning candidacy has lately pleaded guilty to some serious charges involving his shady dealings with Russians, and in exchange for a lighter sentence on those charges and some other serious financial crimes he was recently convicted of in another trial he’s now offering cooperation with a special counsel investigation into the ongoing “Russia thing.”
This might or might not yet prove the development that brings down Trump’s presidency, but it in almost any case we can’t imagine it’s good news for Trump. Even in his pre-felon days former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort was boastfully a lobbyist for the Russia-friendly Ukrainian government that was overthrown in a pro-freedom coup, the stereotypically cruel and corrupt African warlord Jonas Savimbi, and various other authoritarian strongmen around the world. One of his partners in the lobbying firm was Roger Stone, one of the self-described “Rat Fucker” dirty tricksters in President Richard Nixon’s Watergate-era campaign, who has freely admitted to several newspapers and various cable news networks that he’s clearly “Person A” in previous indictments and the next one to be charged with various crimes. Another named partner in that notorious lobbying firm was Rick Gates, who long ago pleaded guilty to various serious charges and has since provided evidence against Manafort in that recent trial which ended so unfortunately for Manafort.
It remains to be seen what the former campaign chairman might testify about the next-higher-up in the campaign hierarchy, but at this point it’s unlikely to redound to the benefit of Trump. Manafort guided the campaign through a slightly reluctant Republican party nominating convention, which suspiciously changed its platform about arming the Ukrainian nationalists resisting Russian occupation, and he was in on the Trump Tower meeting with some shady Russians who had clearly indicated in an undisputed e-mail chain released by Donald Trump Jr. that they were offering campaign assistance on behalf of the Russian government, and we guess he potentially has all sorts of other tales to tell.
Trump had “tweeted” his profound respect for Manafort’s character back when his friend was still holding out against extreme prosecutorial pressure to “flip,” but we notice that since Manafort’s apparent “flipping” Trump’s “twitter” feed has been conspicuously silent on the subject. Trump has plenty else to “tweet” about these days, given the catastrophic flooding in the Carolinas and the unnecessarily renewed controversy about the horrific death toll in last year’s hurricane in Puerto Rico, not to mention that complicated situation with the Supreme Court nominee, and we can well understand why he’d rather not we were thinking about that ongoing “Russia thing.”
Meanwhile the unemployment rate is down and the stock markets are still up, and despite Trump’s stupid trade wars and the swelling national deficit the economy seems swell enough, but it’s hard for even all that to crowd out the rest of a jam-packed news cycle. The past and present hurricanes and a Supreme Court nominee credibly accused of sexual assault and everything we already now about the “Russia thing” make for a perform storm, even without all the hush-money payments to porn stars and Playboy playmates and all the rest of it, so we predict a few more unfavorable news cycles leading up to the mid-term elections. After that, we’ll not be at all surprised by anything that might happen.

— Bud Norman

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

Draining the Swamp, Building a New One, Then Repeat

Political corruption scandals, much like those “me too” sexual harassment and assault scandals that keep popping up, are a bi-partisan problem. Neither Republicans nor Democrats are immune to the all-too-human temptations of power, so the side with more power tends to be the one with the more scandals. For the moment the Republicans have majorities in both chambers of Congress and a putative member of the party in the White House, and they’re busily making the judicial branch Republican for the next generation, so it’s no surprise that mainly Republicans are getting pilloried in the political press these days.
The past week has seen a federal indictment of New York’s Republican Rep. Christopher Collins, who was the first congressional supporter of President Donald Trump’s candidacy and one of his most die-hard apologists, on some some pretty darned convincing insider-trading charges involving a company whose board he sat own while he also sat on congressional committees overseeing its industry. The week also saw Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Robert Gates admitting to various financial crimes during his pretty darned damning testimony against former business partner and one-time Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who will later face another federal trial regarding his alleged shady and unregistered dealings with the Russian-backed Ukrainian government he represented.
All of which comes in the aftermath of the resignations of Trump’s picks to head the Health and Human Services Department and the Environmental Protection Agency resigning in the wake of mounting ethics allegations and some undeniably lavish spending on the taxpayers’ dime. Not to mention the ongoing “Russia thing” about Trump’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager and deputy campaign manager and Trump himself, and an ongoing federal suit about violations of the constitution’s emolument clause, all of which is lately looking worse and worse by the daily developments.
There’s still a convincing argument to be made that the Democrats are at least as bad, or surely will be again just as soon as they inevitably regain power, and we well remember the satisfaction we once took in all the well-documtened outrages the Republicans once accurately pined on them. We’ll not join in the “lock ’em up” chants at the never-ending Trump campaign rallies, though, but we’ll try to be just as principled and objective in judging our putative fellow Republicans.
At this point no one in politics looks good, but we’re not chanting for any of them to locked up, and are instead holding out faint hope that America’s government will look more like it was described to us in civics class. Something in our post-lapsarian Judeo-Christian souls tells us that the temptations of power are irresistible, though, and the scandals will continue no matter which party is in power.

— Bud Norman

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

The Latest on the “Russia” Thing

The “Russia” thing was back in the news with a vengeance on Monday, with federal indictments of two officials from President Donald Trump’s campaign and the revelation that a lower-ranking third official had already pleaded guilty to charges and is cooperating with the ongoing investigation, and both sides of the matter had plenty to work with.
One of the indicted was Paul Manafort, who served for five months as Trump’s campaign manager and now stands accused of failing to disclose his lobbying efforts on behalf of the Russia-friendly parties in Ukraine, illegally laundering the huge amounts of money he made and otherwise failing to pay taxes on the lucrative business, and 11 other counts that include “conspiracy against the United States.” Most of the charges pre-date his involvement with the Trump campaign, so they don’t definitively provide proof of the collusion with Russia’s meddling in the past election that Trump’s critics have been so ardently hoping for, but he lasted long enough to get the Republican convention to remove language from its platform about arming the anti-Russian elements in Ukraine, and he was for five months the campaign’s manager, so it doesn’t look good for Trump.
Also indicted was Rick Gates, a former business partner in Manafort’s lucrative lobbying efforts on behalf of some of the world’s worst dictators and wannabe dictators. but as obsessively as we’ve been following the “Russia” thing we have to admit he never heard of him before. Another partner in the firm was longtime Trump friend and advisor Roger Stone, whose sleaziness goes back to the Nixon administration and has recently been kicked off “Twitter,” and who would be well-advised to hire some high-priced legal representation of his own, so Trump’s involvement with the whole sleazy operation does not look good.
We’d also previously never heard of George Papadapoulos, the relatively low-ranking national security advisor to the campaign who had already copped a no-jail-time plea by admitting to making false statements to investigators about his Russian contacts in an apparent exchange for dirt on the higher ups, but that also doesn’t look good for Trump. He probably wouldn’t have been able to swing such a sweet deal without some tales to tell on the higher-ups, and we expect he’ll do some damage to the Trump brand before this is all over.
None of it  yet  amounts to the smoking gun that Trump’s most strident critics have all been hoping for, as all of Trump’s most ardent defenders are rightly gloating, but they can’t deny that it all looks bad. All of the right wing talk radio hosts and the rest of the Trump-friendly made the case that there’s still no smoking gun, but spent most of their airtime minutes and column inches reviving years-old stories about Trump’s vanquished Democratic opponent “Crooked” Hillary Clinton, and although that awful woman is no doubt guilty of some of the charges none of it means that Trump’s high-ranking associates and perhaps Trump himself  isn’t guilty of something serious.
In any case, we expect the “Russia” thing will continue to be in the news for a while.

— Bud Norman

Another Twist in the “Russia” Story

President Donald Trump has had a couple of relatively good weeks of news coverage, to the point we were all set to write about his so far so good performance at the United Nations, but at the last moment we noticed The New York Times’ scoop about the office of the special counsel into “Russia” informing Paul Manafort that he’s about to be indicted. If true — and to those who have been following the “Russia” story closely it seems all too plausible — that means many bad weeks of news coverage for Trump no matter how well everything else might turn out.
Even if you haven’t been following the “Russia” story very closely you probably know that Manafort was once Trump’s presidential campaign chairman, and has long boasted of his lucrative lobbying efforts on behalf of some of the world’s worst foreign leaders, including the Ukrainians tied to their country occupying Russian government. You might also know that as campaign chairman he sat in with Trump’s son and son-in-law in a meeting with a Kremlin-tied Russian lawyer and another Russian long suspected of laundering Russian mob money through American real estate holdings and a couple of other shady Russians, a meeting Trump’s son has acknowledged he arranged with the clear understanding that it would involve the transfer of information from the Russian government’s ongoing efforts to assist the Trump campaign. It was also widely reported that the special counsel had enough dirt to convince a federal judge to issue a rare “no-knock” search warrant on Manfort’s home to seize evidence relevant to an ongoing counterintelligence investigation, so unless you haven’t been paying any attention at all an imminent indictment shouldn’t come as a surprise.
Still, it’s a significant development in the “Russia” story. Former Trump press secretary Sean Spicer once described Manafort as “someone who played a limited role in the campaign for a short time,” but Manafort’s title in that limited role was “campaign chairman” and he served in that capacity until the press revealed his undisclosed business dealings with the Russkies themselves, and Spicer was last seen at the Emmy Awards doing a comedy routine that basically admitted he outright lied about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration. Unless you’re the most strident sort of supporter of Trump, the imminent indictment of a former Trump campaign chairman on charges related to “Russia” isn’t the “nothing burger” that Trump’s most strident supporters always claim. At the very least, Trump will have to explain why he ever hired the guy as a campaign chairman in the first place, given all the bragged-about dirt already known about him.
At this point we guess Manfort’s high-priced lawyers are advising him to spill whatever beans he has on the Trump son and son-in-law who were also indisputably in on the meeting with the Kremlin-tied lawyer and suspected Russian-mob-money-laundering Russian and the other two shady Russians, and whatever he might have on the even higher-ups. Given the loyalty Trump has shown to him, we don’t expect that Manafort will go too far out of his way to be loyal Trump or any of his kinfolk.

— Bud Norman

The Other Steadily Dripping Flood

The historic and ongoing natural disaster in Texas and Louisiana has flooded almost everything else out of the news, except for a few stray reports about the nutcase regime in North Korea escalating nuclear tensions, so you might not have noticed that the steady drip, drip, drip of leaks about “Russia” is also approaching flood levels.
The past week has provided at least three new plot twists in the ongoing unnatural disaster, none of which are helpful to President Donald Trump. None are the evidence of impeachable offenses that his most strident critics have been hoping, but they all require some creative explaining from his staunchest admirers.
The Washington Post reported that the congressional investigating committees will soon have documentary evidence that in October of 2015 Trump signed a letter of intent for an ambitious skyscraper project in Moscow, which isn’t necessarily illegal but doesn’t look good. Trump was four months into his presidential campaign at the time, running on a strikingly Russia-friendly foreign policy platform and offering unusual praise for the country’s dictator and predicting on “Face the Nation” that “I think I would probably get along with him very well,” while indignantly denying any suspicion that it might be for self-interested reasons. At the time he categorically denied any business dealings with any sorts of Russians, seemed quite offended that anyone would suspect otherwise, so the skyscraper project he was pursuing with the apparent help of a Russian-mob connected associate who kept dropping the Russian dictator’s name in the ensuing e-mail chain might not be illegal but doesn’t look good.
If we know about that letter of intent it’s a safe bet that so does famously dogged special-counsel-into-the-matter Robert Mueller, who apparently already had enough reason to suspect other fishy deals between Russians and people near to Trump to obtain all sorts of extraordinary subpoenas and search warrants, and it’s another interesting plot twist that Politico reports Mueller has lately been working on the case with New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman. The more attentive fans of the long-running Trump reality show might recall Schneiderman as one of the attorneys general who brought a civil case against Trump University, which ended with Trump paying a $25 million settlement but not having to acknowledge the undeniable fact it was pretty much a scam all along, and how Trump had frequently “tweeted” about what a “lightweight” Schneiderman is, so his reintroduction into the plot does not bode well.
There’s widespread press speculation that Mueller brought Schneiderman aboard because a few people who held high levels in the Trump campaign that he clearly regards as criminal suspects can’t get a presidential pardon on state charges, a concern heightened by Trump’s controversial pardon of an Arizona sheriff for seemingly political reasons last week, and that seems reasonable to us. Anyone Trump did preemptively pardon would forfeit a Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination, though, and Mueller seems to think he has even higher-level fish to fry this in this investigation, so it also seems reasonable that Schneiderman’s longstanding scrutiny of Trump’s New York-based and still wholly-owned business empire has come up with some hard-to-explain evidence of its own.
One of the people near to Trump that Manafort clearly considers a potential criminal suspect is the former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort, who has plenty of Russian connections from his lobbying-for-dictators business that he doesn’t even deny, and Mueller has enough reason to suspect Manafort of something or another that he persuaded a federal judge to grant an extraordinary pre-dawn search warrant on Manafort’s home, so of course Manafort was also back in the news. The National Broadcasting Company reported that the notes he took on his smart phone during a meeting he took with the president’s son and son-in-law and a Kremlin-connected Russian lawyer and a couple of other fishy Russians, which are now in the hands of those pesky congressional investigations and presumably Mueller, and that they mention the word “donor.” Trump’s most staunch defenders described the meeting as meaningless, and pointed to everyone’s account that Manafort was staring at his smart phone the whole time as proof, but they’d also previously insisted that no one near Trump ever had any sort of meeting with anyone remotely Russian.
It might nor might not have anything to do with all this, but Bloomberg News also reported that Trump’s son-in-law and highest-level advisor Jared Kushner and his family’s still wholly-owned New York-based real estate empire is desperately seeking foreign financial aid to stave off bankruptcy. That happens to the best of families and isn’t illegal, we suppose, but neither does it look good.
Sooner or later the sun will shine down on the good people of Texas and Louisiana, and the hard work of recovery will commence, and we’re hopeful that politics won’t prevent the federal government from doing its part. All the drip, drip, drip from the Korean peninsula to the ongoing investigations in Washington and New York will sooner or later bob up above all the water on the front page, though, and don’t say you weren’t warned.

— Bud Norman