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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

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Rainy Days and Mondays

Monday was a gray and rainy day here in the middle of America, with all the right lanes of Wichita’s streets flooding on our drive home from chores, and judging by the news we read in our nice dry office once we arrived home things were desultory all over.
That awful Omarosa Manigault Newman woman was still in the news cycle, which does no good for anybody. She’s the former reality star who got a high-level gig in the White House when her reality show co-star President Donald Trump was elected, but was fired by chief of staff John Kelly and is now described as a “low-life” by Trump because of the tell-book she’s about to publish. On Sunday’s “Meet the Press” she released a surreptitiously recorded tape of Kelly’s heavy-handed firing in the top-secret “Situation Room,” which made everyone involved look bad, and on Monday she released another surreptitiously recorded tape of Trump himself telling her that hated to hear about her firing, which is also embarrassing for all involved. She claims to have further surreptitiously recorded conversations with the president’s daughter and son-in-law and other high-ranking Trump administration officials, which we don’t doubt, and expect it will make all involved look bad.
Back east on Wall Street all the stock market indices were down again, and so far as we can tell that’s mostly because of the Turkish government’s fiscal irresponsibility and general craziness. Due to long-ago Cold War exigencies the increasingly Islamist Turks are full-fledged North Atlantic Treaty Organization members, and although they’re not fully-fledged European Union members they’re a big enough chunk of the western world’s economy that their impending bankruptcy is roiling the global markets. We’d happily blame it all on the once again “Sick Man of Europe,” but in this case Trump has congratulated Turkish President Recep Tayyip Edorgan on his recent promotion to de facto Islamist dictator, and is nonetheless waging war on both Erdogan and America’s democratically-elected leaders, and for now no one looks good in this stock market swoon.
Meanwhile, back in the U.S.A. Trump was meeting with the “Bikers for Trump,” and backing their improbable call for a boycott of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, which has lately been forced to shift some manufacturing to export markets as a result of Trump’s trade wars. The oh-so-polite Washington Post was shocked to notice that some of the self-proclaimed “outlaw bikers” had some pretty sexist patches on their leather and denim jackets, and showed up at the White House on their beloved Harley-Davidson “hogs,” and that also doesn’t make anyone look good.
There’s some good economic news, what with the low unemployment rate and rising wages, but if you look closer there’s a dark cloud inside that silver lining. Job creation has actually slowed since the last 16 months of the hated administration of President Barack Obama, and those long-delayed increases in wages have thus far been outpaced by a conspicuous uptick in the inflation rate, which in bi small part to do with all those tariffs Trump has imposed. The federal deficit is as high as it was when the evil Democratic triumvirate of Obama and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi were running things in the aftermath of ’08 financial meltdown, and for now only the Democrats give even a hypocritical damn about it.
Trump’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort is still on federal trial regarding tax evasion and bank fraud charges, too, with Trump’s former deputy campaign manager Roger Stone providing some of the damning testimony so far, and Manafort will soon face another federal trial regarding his failure to register as a foreign agent for a pro-Russian Ukrainian government during the campaign. Federal Bureau of Investigation agent Peter Strzok was fired for his anti-Trump “tweets” to the woman he having an affair with with during the presidential campaign, which gave the pro-Trump media plenty of reason to talk about their version of the real “Russia thing” scandal, but given all the extra-marital scandals and outraged “tweets” from the president that also looks bad for everyone involved.
Worse yet, the damned Democrats seem even crazier. They’ve got self-proclaimed socialists running in various districts, and a lesbian Native American mixed martial artist nominated up in Kansas’ third congressional district, and “antifa” terrorists making the white supremacists look placid during the ongoing race riots popping up around the country, and so far they’re still clinging to that awful Pelosi woman. There’s even talk of nominating a porn star’s lawyer for the presidency, on the grounds that he’s an audacious reality star and “at least he fights,”and that so far he’s gotten the better of  of the president who paid off his client,  and in this day and age it might well prove a winning argument. A sane and centrist Democratic party might stave off disaster long enough for a revived Republican party to set things right, as far as we’re still concerned, but on this gray and cloudy it seems a remote possibility.
The floods are reportedly far worse back in Pennsylvania, where our parents happily lived for a few decades until they returned to Kansas a couple of years ago, and as always we acknowledge that things are tough all over. The local forecast calls for another rainy day today before we get back to another hot and sunny Kansas summer day on Wednesday, and those poor kids who have to start another dreary school day on the unconscionably early next Monday will surely appreciate that. We’ll hold out hope, too, but no one comes out looking good in the end.

— Bud Norman

Judgment at Nurnberg

Sam Nunberg was previously a peripheral figure in the “Russia thing” subplot of President Donald Trump’s ongoing reality show, but he had a memorable star turn on Monday. The former Trump campaign aide gave interviews to The Washington Post and the Associated Press, spoke several times to both the Cable News Network and MSNBC, and it made for compelling reading and watching. It’s not often, after all, that one gets to watch a complete nervous breakdown in public.
As a former Trump campaign aide, Nunberg was recently served a subpoena by the special counsel investigating the “Russia” which demanded both his testimony before a grand jury and several years of e-mail correspondence with other Trump campaign officials. Nunberg started his Monday by telling the Post that he intended to ignore it. “Let him arrest me,” Nunberg said of the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Nunberger also complained that both he and the man he repeatedly describes as his “mentor,” the self-described “rat fucker” for President Richard Nixon and longtime lobbyist for the world’s worst dictatorships and occasional Trump advisor Roger Stone, have been “badly mistreated” by the special counsel.
Nunberg was just as defiant in his televised interviews, and even more apparently unhinged. He complained about being fired from the Trump campaign due to the machinations of campaign Corey Lewandowski, who was also later fired but is still obviously quite disliked by Nunberg, and he also opined frequently after being fired himself he hoped that Trump would lose to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, although he also complained that Clinton should have gone to prison for her e-mails. During a call to a New York City station he described White press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders a “fat slob,” also he added that it’s “unrelevant,” and on one of the national broadcasts referred to her “big fat mouth,” which prompted his female interlocutor to scold him for his sexism, and he once again admitted it was irrelevant to his main point that she’s also an idiot.
Nunberg was similarly scathing about other past and present Trump administration officials, and blamed them for the president’s low approval ratings. He contended that if he and Stone were still calling the shots that Trump at 55 percent approval in all the polls, crediting himself for the border wall and his mentor for getting Trump past that time he scoffed at Sen. John McCain’s war heroism. He said repeatedly that the questions he was asked in an earlier interview with the special counsel’s team had led him to believe they had something on Trump, although the whole “Russia thing” couldn’t have happened because Putin would have never trusted Trump to keep it quiet, but also emphasized that any allegation he or Stone had to do with it was a “witch hunt,” and often returned to his complaints that Clinton would have been locked if she weren’t a Democrat.
Maybe it was the Trump-bashing, or some kindhearted liberal instinct to intervene in a fellow human’s public self-destruction, but even on CNN and MSNBC the interviewers and their panelists were trying to throw Nunberg a lifeline. Whenever Nunberg frequently asked his questioners why he should spend hours going through high e-mails and wasting his time with some grand jury investigation, they all tried to gently suggest it was because the law apparently required him to do. One of the shows had a panel of presumably left wing lawyers, and while they all added the requisite provisos about offering no legal advice they also cautioned that defying a special counsel subpoena can land a fellow in jail.
Nunberg scoffed at the idea of jail time, and when the lawyers and the interviewers pointed out that the last person to do was Susan McDougal, a former business associate of President Bill Clinton who defied a subpoena in that whole “Whitewater thing” and wound up doing 18 months, he shrugged and noted that was a long time ago. He also noted that several times that his lawyer was probably going to drop him for defying such sound legal advice.
It got so bad that MSNBC’s beguilingly bespectacled Katy Tur, who was an early Trump antagonist and punching bag in new newspaper days, ended her interview by warning Nunberg he might be held in contempt of court thanking him for a “remarkable” interview. Nunberg wondered aloud what was remarkable about it, and she replied “Everything.” CNN’s Erin Burnett ended her remarkable interview by noting that White House sources were already saying Nunberg was “either drunk or off his meds,” and said live and on air that she smelled alcohol on his breath. Nunberg assured her he hadn’t been drinking, and had been taking all his anti-depressants.
By the end of the day Nunberg was telling the AP that he’d probably go along with the investigations after all, and we expect he’ll wind up spilling whatever beans he has to spill before it’s all said done, even the stuff about Stone, which likely be tied to Trump..
If it turns out to be harmful to Trump he’ll be able say that Nunberg is a kook he fired a long time ago, but he wouldn’t have been able to fire Nunberg if he hadn’t hired the guy in the first place. Nunberg started working for Trump way back in 2011, when Trump first contemplated a presidential run, and was still there past the day when Trump survived his insult to McCain, and we don’t doubt that he really did come up with that kooky border wall idea. When Trump first bragged on the campaign trail about how he only hired the best people Nunberg was one of those people, and Nunberg’s criticisms of the best people Trump still has on hand do have a certain ring of truth about them.
Nunberg might yet prove a peripheral character in the whole “Russia thing,” but it really is remarkable.

— 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

Conspiracy Theories, Old and New

With nothing else on the local AM radio except National Football League games and financial advice and The Oak Ridge Boy’s all-time lamest hit on the usually reliable country oldies station, we wound up spending some drive time on Sunday evening listening to Alex Jones’ “Infowars” program. We enjoy a good conspiracy theory the way some people enjoy a good murder mystery, which is to say the more far-fetched the better, and Jones rarely disappoints.
If you’re not familiar with Jones, he’s the lunatic who likes to scream that the Sandy Hook mass shooting was a made-for-TV movie and certain politicians are literal demons from hell who literally smell of smell of brimstone and are putting chemicals in the water that are “turning the friggin’ frogs gay,” in between commercials peddling snake oil cures for the diseases that all those refugees are spreading, but as we tuned he was talking about the assassination of President John Kennedy. That’s rather old news by now, but Jones had we journalism types call a “news hook” because President Donald Trump has announced that he’s going to de-classify a great deal of information about the assassination, and we can hardly blame Jones for his glee. As a candidate for president Trump appeared on Jones show to attest to the hosts “great reputation” and promise that “I won’t let you down,” Jones has since boasted about how the things he says on show have been repeated by the president he helped elect, and even after so many years the Kennedy hit is still grist for the conspiracy theory mill.
Jones was joined during the segment by Roger Stone, a veteran of Richard Nixon’s self-named “Rat Fuckers” dirty tricks unit, a partner of Trump’s former campaign Richard Manafort in a lucrative lobbying business that mostly catered to the world’s worst dictatorships, and a longtime friend and advisor of Trump himself. Both men were quite convinced that President Lyndon Johnson was the mastermind of an elaborate plot to kill Kennedy, citing the supposed deathbed confession of former Central Intelligence Agency operative E. Howard Hunt, who’s better known as one of the burglars who tried to wiretap the Watergate offices of the Democratic party on Nixon’s behalf, and both were giddy at the possibility that Trump had acted to vindicate their theories.
After so many years we can’t imagine any living person’s reason not to declassify almost everything regarding the Kennedy assassination, so we can’t fault Trump for doing so, but we also don’t don’t doubt that Trump was making a dirt cheap payoff to his conspiracy-theorizing fans. Any moment now we also expect the declassification of everything about the alien space craft that landed even many more years ago in Roswell, New Mexico, and although there’s no reason not to do that as well it will probably be for the sake of those Trump fans who still worry about that.
Nothing that can be declassified will at long last vindicate any of the conspiracy theories, all of which have gone stubbornly unproved over so many years, and we’ll bet whatever we’ve got left that they won’t implicate Sen. Ted Cruz’s father in the Kennedy assassination, as Trump’s good friends at The National Enquirer alleged during a heated presidential primary campaign. Still, none of it will implicate Trump, as it all happened so many so years ago, and whatever doubts it sows that there’s something sinister behind all the otherwise inexplicable news you see these days can only hearten Trump’s conspiracy-theorizing friends.
Jones first came to fame alleging that Republican President George W. Bush had conspired to kill more than 3,000 Americans in the terror attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon and unknown capital locations, then spent eight long years alleging that Democratic President Barack Obama was a Kenyan-born Muslim and godless communist who attained office through some nefarious plot or another, but he know holds forth that Trump is bravely battling the ongoing plot that has been afoot at least since Kennedy was killed. According to some accounts the plot has been ongoing since the illuminati formed at the end of the Holy Roman empire, or as far back as when those demons from hell first rebelled, but by all accounts Trump is the foretold hero who will deliver us from evil.
Meanwhile there’s not yet unclassified yet thoroughly leaked information that suggests that Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton arranged a fishy deal with the Russians to sell a fifth of America’s uranium, and that Republican nominee Donald Trump had his own fishy business arrangements with him and that key staff and family enthusiastically members met with Russian officials who were illegally acting to help his campaign. Both sides will assert that no matter what’s proved the other side was worse, neither side will likely prove blameless, and almost everybody will be glad to pin it all on the long dead Lyndon Johnson.
We have our own gripes with LBJ, as does everyone else on both the left and right, but we’ll require some pretty convincing proof to convince us that he masterminded the association of Kennedy. Even if he did that doesn’t mean that Clinton didn’t sell all that uranium in exchange for the donations to her family’s foundation, or that the Trump campaign didn’t love it when the Russians offered their assistance, and the uncertainty about it doesn’t make us feel favorably to anybody or anything. There’s a lot of “fake news” out there, too, but we suspect that The National Enquirer and Alex Jones and the latest presidential “tweets” are any more reliable.

— Bud Norman