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A Russia to Judgment

Ever since the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” ended without any indictments of President Donald Trump, with ┬ájust his campaign manager and deputy campaign manager and and personal lawyer and national security advisor facing prison time, ┬áTrump and his allies have been gloating about complete exoneration regarding everything they’ve ever been accused of. Alas, it’s starting to look like yet another case of Trump starting his end zone celebration a few yards short of the goal line.
Even the four-page summary of the nearly 400-page report on the investigation by Trump’s own Attorney General explicitly states that “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Now several of the investigators are telling The New York Times that the summary excluded evidence of actions by Trump and his associates that might not rise to the level of a indictable crime but are pretty embarrassing nonetheless, which seems not only plausible but downright probable to us.
The Democrats in Congress are naturally calling for the public to see the report in its entirety, and even as the Republicans claim the report utterly vindicates Trump they’re trying to keep the report under wraps. Our guess is that the Democrats will eventually prevail, either through court decisions or press leaks, and even if they don’t the Republicans will look bad for withholding information from the public. Perhaps the best argument for keeping the report secret is that it includes grand jury findings regarding investigations that are now ongoing in various state and federal jurisdictions, but that’s bound to come out eventually in some court or another, so the Republicans might as well start spinning it as no big deal right now.
Meanwhile, the Democratic majority on the House Ways and Means Committee is requesting six years of Trump’s tax returns, which he kept under wraps and will surely prove interesting, the Democratic majority on the House Oversight Committee is looking into why presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner was granted a top secret security clearance despite the concerns of the national intelligence agencies about his business interests and personal conduct, and they’re both likely to get that information. Even if they don’t, Trump and the Republicans will once again be in the awkward position position of arguing that the public doesn’t have a right to know about a report they assure us exonerates them of everything..
There’s also an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department’s Southern District of New York about Trump’s hush-money payments to a pornographic video performer and and a Playboy Playmate, which is already sending Trump’s longtime lawyer to prison and clearly identifies Trump as the un-indicted co-conspirator “Individual One.” It’s also a sure bet the pesky press will continue to come up with something or another about Trump’s private businesses and presidential administration that’s hard to explain. That four-page summary of a nearly four-hundred page report clearly excludes something that Trump doesn’t want the public to know about, so a certain suspicion should linger past the 2020 elections.
At this point we don’t have any rooting interest in either the Democrats or the Republicans, but we’d advise our once-Grand Old Party to go right ahead and let it all hang out. The damned Democrats are going to believe the worst about Trump in any case, and the damned Republicans don’t much care what laws Trump might have broken so long as he cuts taxes and appoints conservative Supreme Court Justices and otherwise upholds law and order. The Democrats will probably come up with someone who’s y crazy left yet squeaky-clean on taxes and foreign-business dealings and porn star dalliances and the campaign finance laws concerning such affairs.
How that turns out is anyone’s guess, but we don’t see it working out well for anyone in any case.

— Bud Norman

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The Pros and Cohns of Protectionism

Even on a Tuesday day when a pornographic video performer called Stormy Daniels filed a lawsuit against President Donald Trump, the departure of National Economic Council director Gary Cohn was the biggest news out of the White House. The frequent comings and goings of Trump administration officials are usually newsworthy only because of the colorful characters involved and the chaotic situation they represent, but in Cohn’s case it could have serious consequences.
Cohn was one of economic advisers who tried to talk Trump out of imposing the steep steel and aluminum tariffs that were announced last week, as well as the rest of the protectionist agenda Trump has proposed, and his resignation suggests that talking Trump out of such cockamamie ideas is beyond his ability. The congressional Republican leadership also tried persuade Trump to reconsider, and although Trump is invoking national security reasons for imposing the tariffs so did his Defense Secretary and Secretary of State, as well as some of most stalwart defenders in the conservative media, so it appears that no one’s up to the task.
Cohn’s continued role in the White House gave faint hope to the free-traders, though, and his exit suggests the fight is over. His resignation wasn’t announced until the stock markets had closed for the day, but we expect the news will be met glumly when they open again today. Except for the aluminum and steel makers and a few other unionized industries hoping for similar protection from foreign competition, pretty much everyone is planning to pay more for aluminum and steel and try to pass the hit along the supply chain and down to the end consumer, steeling themselves for the inevitable retaliatory tariffs on American exports by friends and foes alike, and worrying what comes after that.
Cohn and the other sensible administration officials and the congressional Republican leadership and the conservative media defenders should have seen it coming all along, though, as well as all those steel-and-aluminum buying companies and export industries and other critics. Trump made quite clear during his seemingly quixotic campaign that he intended on waging a global trade war, and although he spouted off a lot of crazy talk that no one took seriously he was quite clearly sincere in about this particular threat. He’d been publicly critical of America’s trade with the rest of the world since President Ronald Reagan’s administration, claimed that America had been taken advantage of in every foreign relation since the Marshall Plan of President Harry Truman, and offered himself as the artful dealmaker who alone could set things right. Over the years Trump has been all over the place on abortion and immigration and “transgender rights” and almost anything else in the news — we like to joke that he’s taken more positions than Stormy Daniels — but he has never once wavered from a core conviction that he alone could renegotiate the entire world economy to America’s rightful advantage.
Although an estimable fellow, Cohn was never going to talk Trump out of this delusion. Cohn was always a controversial pick, with critics to both the left and right, and ill-suited to any role in Trump’s reality show. His only previous employer was at the too-big-to-fail Goldman-Sachs investment bank, where he rose through the ranks to a top spot, and the conspiracy theorizing sorts of liberals and conservatives have long noticed that Goldman Sachs has landed a noticeable number of former executives in both Democratic and Republican administrations for an noticeably long time, so that left him vulnerable. The stock markets and other centrist types were slightly reassured that at least Trump honored some of the time-honored presidential traditions, and held out hope Con would restrain Trump’s populist impulses, but a buttoned-down riser-through-the-corporate ranks has never prevailed in any reality show ever aired.
Cohn lasted on the reality show island longer than most of us expected, given all the anti-globalist conspiracy theorists who got a vote in each week’s cliff-hanging exile. He outlasted the defiantly nationalist chief strategist Steve Bannon, oh-so loyal and kinda cute communications director Hope Hicks, onetime establishment whipping boy and later chief of staff Reince Priebus, currently under-indictment former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, that Omarosa woman who held some job or another before returning to a lesser-rated reality, along with countless others can’t quite recall. We think he did some good along the way, too.
As an observant Jew with universal human values, Cohn reportedly considered resigning after Trump insisted there were some “very fine people” marching alongside the neo-Nazis at a deadly rally in Virginia, and although he stayed on he helped fuel the public’s indignation. By sticking around he helped he shape and shepherd trough the Congress a tax bill that so far seems one the best things the Trump administration has done, and he’s also played a role in all the deregulation that has so far worked out well enough. He couldn’t talk Trump out of his crazy trade war, but at least his resignation might spook the stock markets and fuel the public’s indignation and give those congressional Republican leaders and other critics some chance of restraining the president’s populist impulses.
We’ll hope for the best for Cohn and all the rest of us, including that unfortunate visiting Swedish Prime Minister who wound up standing next to Trump during a joint news conference where both the American and Swedish press were asking all sorts of pointed questions about potential trade wars and the ongoing “Russia thing.” The video would have fed all the snarky late comics’ monologues if not for the lawsuit by the porn star, but even those easy and smutty jokes were among the first casualties of the trade war.

— Bud Norman