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Robert Mueller’s Graceful Bow from the Public Stage, and Its Aftermath

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before two congressional committees on Wednesday was one of the most highly anticipated episodes in President Donald Trump’s long-running reality show, but it proved anticlimactic. No matter which side you’re rooting for in this tawdry spectacle, you probably didn’t get what you were hoping for.
Trump’s tormenters in the Democratic party were mostly disappointed that Mueller stubbornly refused to add anything juicy to what’s in the 480-page report his exhaustive investigation into the “Russia thing” provided. There’s plenty in the report that looks very, very bad for Trump, but it’s a long and tough read that most Americans haven’t perused, and much of the country is willing to go with Attorney General Robert Barr’s four-page summary that there’s nothing in it that looks at all bad for Trump, so the Democrats were hoping that Mueller would make it more vivid, which his very carefully chosen words didn’t do.
On the other hand, Trump and his die-hard supporters in the Republican party didn’t get what they wanted. They’ve been claiming that the report completely exonerates Trump of any wrongdoing, and Mueller reiterated the report’s carefully chosen and clearly stated words that it “does not exonerate the president.” Even as Trump and his die-hard supporters claim that Mueller did exonerate the president, they’re also claiming that Mueller is a “deep state” conspirator who launched a treasonous “witch hunt” into a “total hoax” about Russian interference on Trump’s behalf in the last presidential election, and they didn’t make much headway with that alternative argument.
On the whole, we’d say that Trump and his die-hard supporters got slightly the worst of it.
In his testimony before the House Intelligence Committee Mueller reiterated his investigation’s finding that Russia did indeed interfere on Trump’s behalf in various ways during the last election, a claim that all of America’s intelligence agencies confirm is not a hoax, with Trump’s Secretary of State and Central Intelligence Agency director and National Security and Director of National Security Director in agreement. Trump is still inclined to take Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s word for it that Russia would never think of doing any such thing, and has taken no action to prevent from doing so in the future, and any fair-minded American who’s still paying attention to Mueller’s carefully chosen words about this stuff should be concerned about that.
Mueller also reiterated his investigation’s conclusion that it could not charge Trump or his campaign with criminally conspiring with the Russians, which seems to be the “total exoneration” that Trump crows about, but of course it’s more complicated that. The investigation found Trump campaign officials were fully aware of Russia’s efforts and had numerous and Russian officials, proved that Trump was lying when he assured the Republican primary electorate he wasn’t pursuing any business deals in Russia, and has won indictments and guilty pleas and convictions against such high-ranking Trump associates as longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen and campaign manager Paul Manafort and national security advisor Mike Flynn. Another case against longtime Trump friend and advisor Roger Stone is currently being adjudicated, but Mueller carefully avoided commenting on that, or any of the other many criminal cases his investigation referred to other jurisdictions.
The House Judiciary Committee was naturally more interested in the part of Mueller’s report that outlined ten instances where Trump sought to thwart the investigation, but Mueller disappointed the Democrats by artfully dodging questions about whether he would have charged Trump with obstruction of justice if Trump weren’t the president of the United States. There’s a Watergate-era opinion from the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel that says you can’t charge a sitting president for a felony, which the report seems to imply is the sole reason no charges were brought, and the seasoned Mueller was craftily coy in dodging questions about whether he’d meant to imply that, but we figure any fair-minded observer still paying attention to this arcane stuff could probably read between the lines.
The Republican attacks on the character and credibility of the man they simultaneously claim has completely exonerated Trump looked ridiculous, of course. If you’ve been following this soap opera on right wing talk radio and through Trump’s “tweets” you know that Mueller and the Hillary Clinton-loving and Trump-hating “13 Angry Democrats” he assembled for his investigation were intent on a coup d’tat against a duly elected American president, but despite their best efforts the Republican interrogators failed to make a convincing case. Trump has “tweeted” that Mueller only investigated him because Mueller was “best friends” with fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, Trump didn’t appoint Mueller to a a third term as FBI director, and because of some long-ago dispute about greens fees at a Trump-owned golf course, but that was all the more ridiculous.
Mueller is a bona fide Eagle Scout, a veteran of the Vietnam War decorated with a Bronze Star and Purple Heart, a star student at three of America’s most elite universities, a longtime prosecutor against America’s most dangerous criminals whose reputation for by-the-book integrity earned him a nomination to head the FBI by a Republican president and a nomination to serve a rare second term by a Democratic president, with both appointments confirmed by landslide and bipartisan votes in the Senate. His reputation for honesty and integrity and patriotism is far better than Trump’s, by any fair-minded assessment, and it’s hard to believe he’d toss away his hard-earned fawning footnote in America’s history because of a collegial professional relationship with Comey or a third term at the FBI he swore under oath he did not apply for, much less some petty dispute over greens fees that only the likes of Trump would make a big deal about.
That Mueller disappointed by the Democrats by declining to sensationalize the more damning parts of his report makes the Republican arguments that he’s a treasonous “deep state” conspirator all the more unconvincing. So far as we can tell from our reading of Mueller’s report the Trump campaign cooperated with Russia’s interference in the election, and the Trump administration sought to prevent efforts to find out about it, and while it’s outside Mueller’s jurisdiction he stuck to rules as he reads them and he figures it’s up to Congress to decide if that amounts to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are impeachable offenses. We’re sure Mueller has some private opinion about how Congress should proceed, but he’s a stickler for the rules ,and one of those rare Washington figures who doesn’t think everything’s all about him, and is still willing to let his private opinions remain private, so as disappointed as we are our old-school Republican souls admire his old-school reticence.
Which is more than we can say for Trump. At what he surely hopes is the end of a long and distinguished career of public service Mueller has once again provided the American public with the facts of the matter at hand, as best as he could, and according to the rules he has once again humbly and wisely decided to let the rest of us sort it all out. We’ll hold out hope, as we’re sure Mueller will do, that whatever the hell the truth is it will ultimately prevail.

— Bud Norman

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Our Most Honest and Dishonest President Ever

President Donald Trump is by far the most dishonest president we’ve ever witnessed, but from time to time he’s also the most honest in American history. When he’s not telling whoppers, Trump has an uncanny knack for blurting out the most embarrassing truths.
After he and his administration told a series of obvious lies about firing former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey because he’d been so unfair to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, Trump came right out and told the National Broadcasting Company’s Lester Holt that he did it because of “this Russia thing with Trump and Russia.” Trump also claimed that neither he nor anyone on his campaign had any contact with any Russians during his presidential campaign, but that’s been exposed as a lie by his namesake son’s sworn testimony to Congress and the guilty pleas of his former campaign manager and national security advisor, and on Wednesday he blurted out to the American Broadcasting Company’s George Stephanopoulos he’d happily accept a foreign government’s assistance in his next campaign.
“If somebody called from a foreign government, Norway, ‘We have information on your opponent,’ oh, I think I’d want to hear it,” Trump said. Norway is highly unlikely to meddle in an American presidential election, especially on Trump’s behalf, as Trump surely knows, but the president made clear that he’d have no problem accepting an assist from a more adversarial power that had illegally obtained information about a rival. “It’s not an interference, they have information — I think I’d take it. If I thought there was something wrong, I’d go maybe to the FBI, if I thought there was something wrong.” Trump defended Donald Trump Jr.’s decision to take a meeting with Russian operatives promising purloined dirt on Clinton, which his admitted and self-published e-mail chains show him saying “I love it,” and gave no indiction about what level of foreign meddling by Norway or Russia would rise to the level that he’d let the Federal Bureau of Investigation know about it.
Our guess is that Trump would draw the line at any foreign meddling on behalf of his domestic political opponents.
Trump and his talk radio apologists are accusing Clinton of treason for partially funding the investigation of former British intelligence agency operative Christopher Steele that alleged Russian interference in the last election and the Russians having some salacious video of Trump during a stay in a Moscow hotel during a Miss Universe pageant, but we’re not buying any of it. As horrid a harridan as Clinton undeniably is, she never used any of Steele’s allegations during the campaign, and although the more salacious parts of his report are still yet unverified the main gist that Russia was working to elect Trump has been corroborated by all of the Trump appointees to America’s intelligence agencies. Given Trump’s much bragged about sexual history, we can’t even dismiss the more salacious claims in the Steele dossier.
The Trump fans who wouldn’t abandon him even he if shot a man on New York City’s Fifth Avenue won’t mind, of course. If it took the cooperation of the anti-American Russian dictatorship for Trump to beat that horrid harridan Clinton then so be it, they’ll figure, and they  won’t mind if he or any other Republican nominee needed their help to beat whatever fruitcake the Democrats might nominate next they also won’t mind that. Norway or some other western civilization ally might interfere on some Democrat’s behalf in the next presidential election, but that’s highly unlikely, and will be another matter.
For now we have Trump’s lies about how the Russians meddled on his behalf in the last presidential election, and his stubborn refusal to do anything about it, and his somewhat admirably upfront admission on national television that he’d welcome their help the next time around. None of the two dozen or so damned Democrats running for president in the upcoming election are at all appealing to our old-fashioned Republican sensibilities, but neither is Trump, so we’ll see how it all turns out.

— Bud Norman

The ’70s and Now, and the Big Difference Between the Two

Former White House counsel John Dean testified before the House judiciary committee on Monday, and it gave us a nostalgic feeling. The last time Dean was before the committee was way back in the early ’70s days of the Watergate scandal, and we well remember what a very big deal it was.
Although we were mere junior high school students at the time we already had a precocious interest in politics, and closely followed the Watergate story from the first day a couple of Washington Post reporters relegated to the late night crime beat reported that some burglars had broken into the Democratic party’s national headquarters in the fancy Watergate complex and attempted to place a wire-tape on the phones. That initial short story buried in the inside pages of the paper included the intriguing detail that all of the burglars and would-be wiretappers were closely associated with the Committee to Reelect President Richard Nixon, already better known as CREEP, and eventually led to Nixon’s resignation after impeachment charges had been brought by the House of Representatives.
There was an interminable two years or so before it all played out, which included Nixon winning reelection with a popular and electoral landslide, but it was a fascinating and unforgettable spectacle for an impressionable young political geek to watch. We read everything about it that ran in the local morning and afternoon newspapers — Wichita had both back then, and both were well worth the dime-a-day subscription rates our parents happily paid — and during summer vacation we’d take time out from bicycle-riding and basketball-playing and other normal boyhood pastimes to watch the congressional hearings that preempted the soap operas and game shows and old movies on the city’s three television stations.
One of the most compelling episodes of that reality show was Dean’s televised testimony to the House judiciary committee. The youthful lawyer who had already risen to the job of White House counsel freely confessed to various crimes he had committed at the behest of President Nixon to cover up the campaign’s clear connection to the break-in, spoke of various other requested crimes he had declined to carry out in service of the cover-up, and had a quotable line about a “cancer at the heart of the presidency.” After that the Watergate scandal inevitably hurtled toward Nixon’s resignation, with significant help from some conversations that Nixon had ill-advisedly recorded on audio tape, which the courts ordered released to the public and corroborated pretty much everything Dean said, including the self-incriminating parts of his testimony/
Dean wound up being disbarred and serving a short time behind bars for his confessed crimes, along with Nixon’s Attorney General and a few other high-ranking administration officials, but so far history has treated Dean more kindly. He did admit to the crimes he committed at Nixon’s behest, was provably innocent of other crimes he’d been requested by Nixon to commit, and ultimately told the verifiable truth and accept its consequences, which is more than you can say for any of the people who have been caught up in any subsequent political scandals.
Dean’s latest testimony to the House judiciary committee is far less consequential. At this point he’s an 80-year-old and graying and balding ex-lawyer and ex-felon, appearing on some very low-rated hearings televised on a few of the thousands or so television channels, and he has no more personal knowledge of President Donald Trump’s alleged scandals than we do. The Democratic majority running the committee inquiry called him to testify again for the clear purpose of getting some stories in the newspapers that mention both Watergate and Trump, which obviously have nothing to do with one another, but there are enough similarities that we can’t blame the Democrats for asking Dean’s opinions.
One of the many currently litigated spats in the current presidential scandals is whether former White House counsel Dan McGahn will testify to the various congressional committees looking into the matter. A 400-plus-page report by the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” included several pages about McGahn testifying to the investigation about diligently declining presidential orders to obstruct the investigation, so the Democratic majorities in Congress have ordered him to testify about that, while McGahn’s ex-boss is ordering him not to testify, and we’ll have to await the courts’ rulings about that. Our guess is that McGahn eventually testifies, and will reiterate the exculpatory-to-himself but damning-to-Trump testimony he gave to the special counsel investigation, but it probably won’t have the same effect as when Dean spoke out way back in the ’70s.
For one thing there are now a few hundred other reality shows to watch on television during summer vacation, and far fewer junior high political geeks tuning into the congressional hearings. For another thing, many of the new media that Nixon didn’t enjoy back in the day will be providing coverage that portrays McGahn or anyone else casting aspersions against Trump as an enemy of the people, and these days the people seem to believe whoever’s telling them what they want to hear. Back in the Watergate days the Republicans had relatively liberal members in the northeast, and the Democrats had some very conservative members in the the south and west, and politics was more a matter of facts than party affiliation, but that doesn’t seem to be the case these days.
Trump would have been well advised to ignore Dean’s inconsequential testimony on Monday, but he couldn’t help “tweeting” that Dean is a disbarred lawyer and ex-felon and yet another loser who dares criticize our dear leader, and once betrayed the Republican party’s deal leader Nixon. That’s all true enough, we suppose, but Trump’s longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen is also disbarred and in prison, and his former campaign manager is also in prison on charges that involve his dealings with hostile foreign governments, and his past national security advisor is awaiting sentencing on charges that arguably rise to the level of betraying his country, and his former White House counsel is clearly ready to testify to Congress about all the obstruction of justice order he disregarded. By comparison, Dean doesn’t look so bad.
Nixon still has his die-hard defenders, but Trump doesn’t seem to be one of them. Trump couldn’t help “tweeting” that the cowardly Nixon had resigned, something Trump boasted he would never do in the currently more favorable media and partisan political landscape, even as he blamed Dean’s betrayal for the resignation. At this point your average die-hard Trump supporter is too young to know or care about any of it, and the oldsters hanging on for the next election won’t mind that Trump’s discreetly dissing Nixon, while the young Democrats who know nothing of history seem intent on nominating the same sort of too-far-left candidate who lost by a popular and electoral landslide to the already obviously corrupt Nixon back in ’72.
Politics remains a compelling show, even to our jaded eyes, and despite our advanced age and all the tempting diversions of those hundreds of other channels we’ll remain tuned in.

— Bud Norman

The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly News

The economic news has been undeniably good lately, with the unemployment rate lower than it’s been since the height of the Vietnam War and the gross domestic product growing incrementally faster than it has in more recent history, but the rest of the stories in the papers look bad for President Donald Trump.
Although Trump has been doing a celebratory end zone dance ever since the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” ended without any indictments against him, the problem still lingers. Attorney General William Barr had a hard time answering the Senate judiciary committee’s questions about his rather rosy four-page assessment of the report’s 400-plus pages, then declined the House judiciary committee’s request to go through a more thorough grilling about the matter, and now there’s talk of a contempt of Congress citation. Barr had testified to the Senate that he had no problem with special counsel Robert Mueller’s own bad self giving his account of the report to Congress, but Trump has since declared that he won’t allow any further questions from anyone about the report that he claims completely exonerates him, and that doesn’t look good.
The damned Democrats in Congress are asking all sorts of other pesky questions, and Treasury Secretary Stephen Mnuchin is contesting a law which seemingly requires him to turn over the presidential tax records that might yield answers, which also doesn’t look good. The courts will eventually settle all of it in one way or another, but the state and federal judicial system is also pursuing 16 criminal cases that were referred to other Justice Department jurisdictions and therefore redacted from the special counsel’s report, and we expect all of those to look bad. There’s also ongoing news about the illegal immigrants Trump seems to have hired and exploited at his still wholly-owned businesses, the security clearances he granted for family and friends despite the objections of intelligence officials, a few lawsuits filed by state attorneys general alleging that Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses impeachable violate the Constitution’s emoluments clause, and a few other problems too numerous to recap here.
So far America isn’t entering any new wars, but the old low-level ones in Syria and other hotspots continue, and Trump is leaving a military option open for Venezuela’s disastrous but purely domestic problems, and he sending a carrier fleet to counter the recent bellicosity of Iran, which Trump promised would never dare challenge America so long as he was president. Trump also promised the American public it could sleep soundly at night without worrying about a North Korean nuclear threat, and although it was obviously premature he was able for a time to note that at least North Korea wasn’t doing any missile tests, but lately they’ve been once again testing missiles.
While the economy continues to chug along, Trump can only claim so much credit. Despite two years of Republican control of both chambers of Congress the only significant legislation affecting the economy that was passed and signed into law was a big tax cut, which so far resulted in the kind of budget deficits that the hated President Barack Obama sanctioned in the darkest days of the Great Recession, and at a time when Republican orthodoxy would be paying down the national debt. Trump has used his executive powers to roll back a lot of ridiculous federal regulations, but a lot of airline travelers and other consumers are likely to note he’s also reversed some reasonable ones that saved them some serious money. As orthodox Republicans we still blame Obama for the late and initially sluggish recovery that followed the Great Recession, which we still insist was caused by the Democrat’s crazy Clinton era subprime mortgage lending policies, but as objective observers we have to admit the economy has lately been more or less on the same upward trajectory that it had been during the final days of the Obama administration. Fairness compels us to admit that at least Trump hasn’t screwed that up.
Being no fans of either Obama or Trump, we give all the credit to the remarkable resilience of America’s free market economic system and the steady hand of those quasi-governmental know-it-all bards at the Federal Reserve Board. Despite our amateur advice they kept the economy going through the dark days by printing up dollars and distributing them at near-zero interest rates, which eventually started something of a boom, so we humbly admit it didn’t result in the hyperinflation we’d worried about and was possibly a good ideal. Now that Trump is bragging about the greatest economy ever, which according to both Republican orthodoxy and the left wing’s Keynesian economics is a time for higher interest rates and quantitative easing of the money supply and paying down debt, Trump is trying to get the Fed to keep the monetary pedal to the metaphorical peddle. Alas, his own chosen Fed chairman disagrees, and Trump’s two latest nominees to the Fed board have been obliged to withdraw their names from considerations because they’re both so ridiculous that even some congressional Republicans wouldn’t go along.
During his surprisingly successful presidential campaign Trump promised to make America great again by bullying the country’s trading partners into more favorable trade deals. “Trade wars are good and easily won,” Trump tweeted to the nation, with the same cocksureness as when he assured us we could sleep soundly without fear of North Korea’s nukes, but so far that’s also not turning out well.
Trump got some billion-dollar concessions for America’s dairy industry when the renegoiated the North American Free Trade Agreement, which he claimed was the difference between the worst trade deal ever and the best trade deal ever, but his rebranded US-Canada-Mexico Treaty is having a hard time getting ratified by the Senate, where the Republicans still hold a slight majority. Republicans in agricultural states, which as always are crucial to the party, are reeling from from the declining commodity prices that have resulted from the rest of the world’s inevitable retaliation against Trump’s tariffs, and other Republicans from states where their export-driven economies don’t need Trump’s protections are also restive.
Meanwhile,Trump’s trade war with the far more formidable opponent of China doesn’t seem either good nor easily won. Trump continues to play hardball with the Chinese, threatening to up the tariffs on Friday if they don’t accede to his demands, but the congressional Republicans from states and districts that used to do a lot more export business with China are balking, and of course even the Democrats from the states and districts that might benefit from Trump’s protection from China’s imports are disinclined to side with the president, and anyone paying higher prices on the Chinese-made goods at at Wax-Mart is likely to be irked.
The good news for Trump is that for now the economy seems to be chugging along well enough, and that so long as it does and nobody gets nuked a sufficient number of voters spread around the electoral map won’t care much about the rest of the news. The bad news for Trump is that the economy tends to go up and down no matter who’s in the White House, and unnecessary trade wars and military interventions in Latin America never seem to help, and if the economic news sours the rest of the stories in the papers in 2020 will suddenly be outrageous.

— Bud Norman

Another Riveting Afternoon of Television

James Holzhauer’s continued dominance of the Jeopardy! game show notwithstanding, the most compelling television show on Wednesday afternoon was Attorney General William Barr’s testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee about his handling of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on the “Russia thing.” Barr wound up taking such a beating that he’s declining to participate in today’s scheduled interrogation by the Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee, even though that’s likely to be the embarrassing big story of today.
If you’ve been following the “Russia thing” reality show you know that Mueller’s report found insufficient evidence to charge that President Donald Trump colluded with a Russian plot to interfere with the past presidential election on his behalf, despite the indictment and convictions and guilty pleas it won against Trump’s campaign manager and personal lawyer and national security for lying about their numerous contacts with Russian officials, and left it up to the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives and the slighter Republican majority in the Senate to decide if Trump’s thoroughly documented attempts to impede the investigation constituted obstruction of justice and the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are impeachable offenses.
Before releasing the redacted 400-plus-pages report Barr released a four page press release summarizing the conclusions, which he chided the press for calling a summary, and it made Trump look a lot better than the eventually released redacted report did, and the redactions are probably even more damned damning. The free if “fake” news media have reported that Mueller and his crack team of investigators thought Barr mischaracterized their findings, so naturally the damned Democrats had some tough questions about that, and for the most part Barr had trouble coming up with answers.
As old-fashioned pre-Trump Republican conservatives we have no rooting interest in these damned Democrats, but we have to admit they scored some points. One of Barr’s inquisitors was California Senator and announced Democratic presidential candidate Kamala Harris, who is far too far left for our tastes yet too centrist for the left wingers we watch Jeopardy! with at Kirby’s Beer Store, and as a former California prosecutor she’s probably sent too many young minority males to prison to win a Democratic nomination, but there’s no denying she left Barr stammering. As crazy as she is Harris can eloquently pose a tough question, which Trump’s Attorney General struggled with on Wednesday, and if the Democrats can forgive her occasional resort to common sense she’d probably make a formidable opponent for Trump in the next presidential election.
Trump had clearly hoped that Barr’s four-page summary of the the Mueller report would fully exonerate him of anything to do with the “Russia thing,” but Barr’s testimony on Wednesday and his absence on Thursday will likely keep it in the news for a while. The report confirms the consensus of the national intelligence community and Trump’s own appointees that Russia meddled in the last election on Trump’s behalf, which Trump continues to doubt and has done absolutely nothing about, and we can easily guess why Barr declines today to answer any questions from a Democratic majority on a House Judiciary Committee about that. For now, at least, the “Russia thing” seems likely to linger, and any attempts by Barr and Trump to charge “deep state” conspirators for starting it will only drag it out into the next administration, no matter what it is.
At this point, we wonder if any of it will make any difference at all. By now Trump’s opponents are disposed to believe the the worst about him, even if the Mueller report doesn’t fully oblige them, and Trump’s fans are inclined to believe that he’s making America great again, even if the Mueller report doesn’t quite back up that audacious claim. The economy’s still sluggishly chugging along at the same low-growth rate it was during the last years of the hated Obama administration, more and more brown-skinned people are showing up at our southern border but we’re treating them more harshly than ever, and there are a couple of Trump appointees on the Supreme Court who might or might not back him up in the the looming Constitutional showdowns about all of it, and that’s more likely to settle the next presidential election.
We’ll be watching all the news until then, and taking on an even livelier interest than in Holzhauer’s amazing run on Jeopardy! So far as we can tell, this is serious business.

— Bud Norman

As Bad As It Is, It Could be Worse

America seems a pretty prosperous and placid place when you read the latest news from Venezuela or most of the countries in this troubled world, but there’s still plenty of desultory domestic news to argue about.
The economy continues to chug along, although interest rates are historically low and the national debt is unprecedentedly high and no one knows how we’ll deal with the inevitable downturn, and the income inequality is such that the Democrats are waging successful class warfare about it. For now President Donald Trump seems safe from impeachment proceedings, but there are still plenty of scandals and constitutional showdowns and unsettling issues he has to deal with.
When special counsel Robert Mueller ended his investigation of the “Russia thing” without bringing any charges against Trump, and a four-age summarization of the 400-plus page report written by Trump’s Attorney General stressed that, Trump claimed not only vindication but also victimization by a “deep state” conspiracy of federal officials who attempted a treasonous coup d’tat and should presumably be hanged. The redacted 400-plus pages of Mueller’s report have proved somewhat more embarrassing to Trump, however, and although he still claims the report completely exonerates him — which the 400-plus pages plainly state on several occasions that it does not — and with his characteristic presidential eloquence Trump now calls the exonerating document “total bullshit.”
Attorney General William Barr is scheduled to testify before Congress today about the matter, and the Democrats are expected to ask some tough questions about the rather smiley-faced summation of the Mueller report that he issued. The report confirms the unanimous conclusions of the intelligence community that the Russian government meddled in the past election on Trump’s behalf, which Trump continues to deny and has done nothing about. The report documented numerous contacts between Trump campaign officials and the Russian government, and the investigation has won indictments and guilty pleas and convictions against Trump’s campaign manager and national security advisor and personal lawyer for lying about it, so we can’t blame the damned Democrats if they ask about any of that. All in all, it should be a hard day on the job for Barr and the rest of the Trump administration.
The report explicitly states that it does not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice, and makes clear to even a lay reader that the only reason the investigation didn’t charge Trump with that crime is because Justice Department policy forbids indictment of a sitting President, and because Trump’s underlings disobeyed his orders in fear of the law. The report leaves it up to the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives to decide if it constitutes the “high crimes and misdemeanors” that are constitutionally impeachable offenses, and there are a lot but probably not quite enough Democrats who find that offer tempting. Former White House counsel Don McGahn is featured prominently in the report, describing several instances when he defied Trump on orders he considered illegal, and McGahn is scheduled for upcoming testimony before Congress, and Trump is already accusing him of perjury, so that should prove interesting.
Meanwhile, all those blacked-out redactions have to do with criminal cases where the special counsel found evidence of criminal actions that it considered outside its jurisdiction, and those investigations are ongoing. We anxiously await to learn what that’s all about, and we can well understand why the damn Democrats literally can’t wait to find out, as they’re already subpoenaing everything they can about Trump’s still wholly owned businesses and surpassed tax returns and campaign and transition team and inaugural committee and administration. It’s all going to wind up in the courts, and Trump is counting on his two Supreme Court appointees to bail him out in the court of last resort, but that remains to be seen. There’s always a chance that Trump’s appointees are the principled conservative constitutionalists he said they were, and they’ve disappointed Trump on a few rulings.
Our guess is that the damned Democrats’ investigations will turn up something damned embarrassing to Trump, and that Trump and his die-hard supporters won’t be the least bit embarrassed about any of it. Our hope is that at least we don’t wind up fighting it out on the streets the way they’re doing down in Venezuela.

— Bud Norman

A Russia to Judgment

Ever since the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” ended without any indictments of President Donald Trump, with  just his campaign manager and deputy campaign manager and and personal lawyer and national security advisor facing prison time,  Trump 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

The “Russia Thing” Comes to an End

The nearly two-year-long special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing with Trump and Russia” has come to an anticlimactic conclusion, with a four page summary of its findings issued by the Attorney General stating that it did not find President Donald Trump or his campaign guilty of conspiring with the Russian government to affect the last presidential election. That’s great news for Trump and his fans, who are claiming complete exoneration, even if the four page summary of the voluminous report issued by Trump’s own Attorney General says that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, “it also does not exonerate him.”
For now Trump and his fans can plausibly claim vindication, however, and we’re sure they will. The special counsel’s investigation concluded the Russian government did meddle in the past election on Trump’s behalf, and brought an indictment against 12 specific Russians, and it won indictments and guilty pleas and convictions against Trump’s campaign manager and deputy campaign manager and campaign foreign policy advisor and other campaign operatives for lying about their numerous contacts with Russians during the campaign, among other things, but it’s still a big deal that no one named Trump was indicted at the end of the investigation. For now it’s a huge disappointment to the Trump foes who had so dearly hoped the special counsel investigation would end the Trump presidency, but we’re sure they’ll keep trying.
There’s bound to be something embarrassing to Trump in the voluminous full report that didn’t make the four-page summary issued by his Attorney General, and in the coming days the big story will be the congressional Democrats’ efforts to make it all public, and the Trump administration’s effort to keep it out of view. Some of the report will surely be redacted so that the investigation’s counter-intelligence sources and methods aren’t revealed, but we expect that eventually the president’s foes will feast on the rest of it. Press reports indicate that the special counsel handed off a number of suspected crimes outside its scope to various jurisdictions of the Justice Department, mostly to the very aggressive Southern District of New York, and there will be no way of keeping that out of the news.
Trump and his supporters will continue to insist that it’s all a “witch hunt” and a “hoax” and “witch hoax,” but the fact that the “deep state conspiracy” declined to frame them for “collusion” somehow undermines their claims. Special counsel Robert Mueller remains a decorated Vietnam war hero and former Federal Bureau of Investigation director who earned bipartisan praise and appointments over his long and distinguished career of public service, and if Mueller’s conclusions disappoint his Democratic fans they also make his Republican critics’ slurs against his character look slanderous. The rest of Mueller’s work will play out in American courts of law, and we expect that in the end Mueller’s character will fare better than Trump’s.
Nothing in the Attorney General’s four-page summary of the special counsel investigation’s report exonerates him from the already proved charges that his campaign associates repeatedly lied under oath about contacts with Russian operatives, or that he himself lied to the public during the campaign about his business dealings with Russia, or that he broke federal campaign laws to cover up alleged affairs with a pornographic video performer and a Playboy playmate, or that his foreign policy has been unaccountably friendly to Russia and other authoritarian regimes. Nor does even the four-page summary of the report indicate that Trump isn’t a vulgar and dishonest and bullying and entirely self-interested fellow.
Nothing in even the four–page summary of the special counsel’s report indicates that Trump’s trade wars and budget deficits and feuds with longstanding allies are making America great again, and the latest economic data suggest they are not, and that’s what will probably decide the next election not matter what scandals beset Trump. For now the Democrats seem intent on nominating some some suicidally socialist candidate who could easily lose to Trump not matter what scandals might accrue, so for now we will glumly await that conclusion without any expectations.

— Bud Norman

Waiting on the Robert S. Mueller

The last two years of America’s political news have sometimes seemed like an interminable performance of Samuel Beckett’s absurdist play “Waiting for Godot,” with everyone either anxiously or eagerly awaiting the conclusion of special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing.” In the play the title character never arrives, but in real life Mueller’s investigation has always been bound to conclude eventually, and there’s plausible speculation in the news that it might be sooner rather later.
The press has been reporting uninformed opinions that the investigation was soon winding up for at least the 18 months, but this time around around there seems to be something to it. The investigative team has recently been downsized according to public documents, President Donald Trump has lately ramped up his attacks on the investigation, the indictments and convictions and guilty pleas have come uncomfortably close to Trump, and there are more than the usual number of unnamed sources saying that Mueller will issue a report in two week’s time or so. Already everyone on all sides seems to be preparing for what will be reported.
Trump and his apologists are still holding out hope that Mueller has concluded we should perish the thought Trump might have had anything to do with Russia’s meddling on his behalf in the last presidential election, and that it was all the result of the Democrats being sore losers, but just in case they’re continuing their insistence that it’s all a “deep state” “witch hut” and “coup d’tat.” Given all the indictments and convictions that the special counsel has already racked up in American courts of law against Trump’s lawyer and campaign manager and national security advisor, Trump and his apologists are right not to be too hopeful.
Trump’s more numerous critics have reason to hope that long-awaited report will prove damning, but we’d advise them to admit that one never knows. By now we do know that the report will conclude the Russians meddled on Trump’s behalf in the last presidential election, based on the indictments it has already won against 13 Russians, and that Trump’s lawyer and campaign manager and national security lied about their contacts with Russian, based on the convictions and guilty pleas the investigation has won in American courts of law, but as of yet there’s no proof that Trump himself had anything to do with it. Even if he did, Trump and his apologists will be inclined to blame the conspirators who found it him out, and they might just prevail.
In any case, we’re both as anxious and eager as ever to see it finally come to some end or another.

— Bud Norman

The Competing Conspiracy Theories in the News

There are two very consequential conspiracy theories in the news these days, and being longtime conspiracy buffs we’ve been following both closely. One theory golds that the Russian hacked Democratic e-mails and spread disinformation through American social media and attempted to infiltrate America’s vote-counting computers in an effort to elect Donald Trump as president, and and that Trump’s campaign cooperated with the effort. The other theory, long popular on all sorts of conservative media and now fully embraced by the “tweets” of Trump himself, holds that the previous conspiracy theories is the product of a “deep state” coup d’tat against a duly elected president who’s just trying to make America great again.
Based on our everything we’ve read and our general understanding of how the world works, we’re inclined to believe the former theory than the latter.
The theory that the Russians meddled in the past election on Trump’s behalf has been endorsed by the heads of all of America’s intelligence agencies, including the ones appointed by Trump himself, and although Trump has publicly stated he’s more inclined to believe his good buddy andRussian dictator Vladimir Putin’s assurance that it never happened we better trust the American experts. All the e-mails that were somehow hacked during the election proved embarrassing to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, all of the big social media head honchos have testified to Congress that the Russkies did use their platforms to spread anti-Clinton disinformation, and Trump’s own Department of Homeland Security has advised many of the states that the Russians had attempted to breach their voting computers.
Meanwhile, a duly appointed special counsel investigation has racked up guilty pleas from Trump’s longtime lawyer and Trump’s former campaign foreign policy chief and Trump administration national security advisor, as well numerous convictions against a former campaign chairman, for lying about their contacts with Russian officials, and promising investigations are seemingly underway about Trump’s namesake son and son-in-law on the same suspected charges. There are damning e-mail chains that Trump Jr. has released, sworn congressional testimony by the heads of America’s intelligence agencies ad social media big-wigs, various guilty pleas accepted by duly constituted American courts of law, lots of intriguing search warrants and indictments also issued by duly constituted American courts of law. Throw in Trump’s continued friendliness toward the Russian dictator, and it looks bad to us.
On our daily drives around town, however, all the talk radio hosts assure us that it’s all “fake news.” The real story, we’re told, is that the damned Democrats and their feckless Republican allies in the hated establishment have concocted all these ostensible facts in prevent Trump from making America great again. The real collusion, they argue, was between Clinton and those nefarious yet somehow friendly Russians. While Clinton was Secretary of State the United States allowed a fifth of its uranium supplies to be sold to the Russians, and although nine separate agencies signed off on the deal Clinton is considered a Russian collaborator
Although it was a wealthy Republican who didn’t want Trump to be his party’s standard-bearer who first employed an ex-British intelligence officer named Christoper Steele to ask his former Russian contacts about Trump’s business dealings with Russia, the Clinton campaign later made payments to the effort, so Clinton is therefore guilty of colluding with Russians to get dirt on an opponent. The “Steele dossier” — or the “dirty dossier” or “dodgy dossier” or “discredited dossier,” as it’s known on conservative talk radio — reported the investigator’s “raw data” had informed him that the Russias were launching on a three-pronged cyber-attack on the American election through hacked e-mails and disinformation through social media and attempts to take over America’s vote-counting computers, all of which has since been confirmed to Trump’s own appointed intelligence chiefs, The dossier also had salacious details about Trump paying some Russian prostitutes to urinate on a bed once slept on by President Barack in a fancy Moscow hotel room, and although nobody has verified that neither has anybody definitively discredited anything about the Steele dossier.
The Steele dossier was part of the evidence submitted to the top-secret United States Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act court to start all the “Russia thing” investigations, and that’s proof enough for the talk radio hosts that that it was a “witch hunt” from the beginning. Since then, we’re told, the establishment has been out to get Trump and prevent him from fulfilling his destiny of making America.
Which sounds weird to our aging ears, as we’re old enough to remember when the it was the hippies and the Democrats and the rest of the left-wing nutcases were blaming every human failing on the establishment. These days it’s the right-wig nutcases who are donning the cloak and righteous victimhood at the rough hands of the hated establishment, ill-fitting as it always is, and we hate to see that the President of the United States is among them.
On Monday Trump “re-tweeted” one of the Fox and Friends hots that “This was a illegal coup attempt on the President of the United States,” and added “True!” After that he played his third round of golf in as many days, then “tweeted” that former high-ranking Federal Bureau of Investigation officials Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, “who was hired by Jeff Sessions (another beauty), look like they were planning a very illegal act and got caught. There is a lot of explaining to do to the millions of people who ad just elected a president who they really like and who has done a great job for them with the Military, Vets, Economy and so much more. This was the illegal and treasonous ‘insurance policy’ in full action!” Which strikes us an extraordinary broadside against the establishment by a duly elected President of the United States.
If Rosenstein truly is guilty of “illegal and treasonous acts,” as Trump has “tweeted,” we wonder why Trump still retains him as his duly appointed Deputy Attorney General. Rosenstein was recommended by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, and you can sarcastically consider him “another beauty” if you want, but we note that Sessions was also appointed to his post by Trump, who brags that he only hires the “best people.”
We’ll also note that the Steele dossier didn’t become public until after Trump’s election, which seems an odd tactic for such an undeniably diabolical woman as Clinton, and that we can’t see any reason she’d collude with what everyone other than Trump and his most die-hard defenders agree was a Russian plot to get Trump elected.
Perhaps Trump is the victim of a vast conspiracy, but at this point it’s so vast it includes not only the damned Democrats and the varied “fake news” media but also America’s duly constituted courts of law and a small but significant slice of the Republican party and its leadership, and all of Trump’s appointed intelligence chiefs and his Deputy Attorney General, as well as such disinterested sideline observers as ourselves. One can never tell how these conspiracy theories play out, and they don’t usually amount to much,  but for now one side seems to have a lot of evidence and the other side has a lot of explaining to do.

–Bud Norman