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A Pre-Dawn Twist on the Russia Story

The latest intriguing twist in the ongoing story about “Russia” — if you know what we mean, and by now we assume you do — is the revelation of a pre-dawn raid by the Federal Bureau of Investigation at the home of the one-time campaign chairman for now-President Donald Trump. It’s not clear what the G-men were looking for, and unlikely they’ll find that smoking gun Trump’s most bitter enemies are so ardently hoping for, but a pre-dawn raid is pretty darned intriguing nonetheless.
Paul Manafort was already providing plenty of intrigue in this whole “Russia” story. Long before he became the Trump campaign’s chairman Manafort was notorious for the millions he’d made lobbying on behalf of  despots such as the Philippine’s Fernando Marcos and Angola’s Jonas Savimbi, and The New York Times reported shortly before his resignation from the campaign that he’d also made an undisclosed $12.7 million secretly lobbying on behalf of the Russian-linked government in Ukraine. Since then it has also been reported that he’s somehow $17 million in debt to Russian interests, that his name kept coming up in conversations among Russian officials that various intelligence agencies here and abroad were monitoring, that he sat in on that meeting that Donald Trump Jr. arranged with a Russian lawyer on the clear understanding they would be getting help direct from the Russian government, and remained in frequent contact with the campaign even after his resignation.
Throw in a pre-dawn raid by the FBI, and it all looks pretty fishy. Some of the stories are anonymously sourced from outlets that Trump’s most faithful allies can dismiss as “The New York Slimes” and “The Washington Compost,” but the dictator-friendly lobbying business was publicly boasted about, the source for the meeting with the Russian lawyer was Trump Jr. himself, all those anonymous sources have lately been mostly confirmed by White House responses, and there’s nothing in Manafort’s biography that makes any of it at all seem implausible. The story about the pre-dawn raid is also anonymously sourced, but so far there haven’t been on-the-record denials, and if true it means that some federal judge somewhere agreed with a special counsel’s argument that there was credible reason to believe that evidence of a crime would be found at the home where the search warrant was issued. Although Manafort has provided numerous documents and sworn testimony to closed Congressional committees and various law enforcement officers, it also means a judge agreed that he could not be trusted to voluntarily preserve or hand over everything he had.
There’s nothing in any of the reporting to link Trump to anything Manafort might have done, except to the slight but nonetheless embarrassing extent that Trump did once hire the guy to be his campaign chairman, but there’s nothing in any of this that can help the president. If there is even the slightest link between Trump and anything Manafort might have done, Manafort now seems to have a compelling motive to cut a deal in exchange for any testimony he might provide about anyone higher up in the campaign he once chaired. He might yet prove completely innocent of any wrongdoing, or steadfastly loyal to the president who kicked him off a campaign, but the way things have been going for Trump lately we don’t think he can count on that. Trump’s general “Russia-schmussia-what’re-you-talkin-’bout?” defense isn’t holding up lately in the Congressional committees of special counsel investigations or public opinion polls, and there’s no way a pre-dawn raid on his former campaign chairman’s home is going to help.
Except with the hard-core fans, who will see it as further evidence that the deep state conspiracy to oust Trump is up to ever more nefarious deeds. They’re already convinced that special counsel Robert Mueller, a lifelong Republican who rose through the ranks of the Justice Department during two Republican presidents and was appointed director of the FBI by a third Republican president, is a tool of an establishment plot to destroy Trump before he can destroy it. They note the indisputable fact that Mueller’s team of highly-specialized investigators includes several who donated to campaigns of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, but they ignore the indisputable fact that so did Trump’s own lawyer in this mess and Trump’s daughter and son-in-law and Trump himself, and they seem not to have noticed that Mueller’s hires are highly-specialized in money-laundering and Russian interests and other areas that seem ripe for investigation.
None of this yet amounts to that smoking gun that Trump’s most bitter enemies are so ardently hoping for, but all of it makes it harder for his most loyal allies to argue Russia-schmussia-what’re-you-talkin’-bout.”

— Bud Norman

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A Hard-Earned Vacation

Today President Donald Trump starts a planned 17-day vacation at his swank private New Jersey golf club, and we can hardly blame him for wanting to get away from the swamps of Washington, D.C., for a while. Thursday brought fresh leaks of some embarrassing phone calls Trump had with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia, as well as the news that the special counsel investigating the matter of what Trump now calls “Russia” has convened a grand jury, and that’s despite the best efforts of tough new chief of staff who was installed after a major administration shake-up and another week of rebukes by everyone from the Boy Scouts to America’s police chiefs to the Republicans in Congress.
The ostensible reason for the time away is that the White House is replacing its 27-year-old air-conditioning and heating system, and after the couple of sultry summers we’ve spent in Washington that seems plausible enough, although we’re not sure if President Andrew Jackson would have though so, and the timing does seem suspiciously fortuitous. Trump had long criticized his predecessor for spending too much time on golf courses, just as his predecessor had even more hypocritically criticized his predecessor for the same thing, and with his own private golf course being reimbursed by the government Trump will probably take an even worse public relations hit than either of them, but by now it could be a lot worse. If Trump can keep his thumbs gripped to a golf club rather than tapping out a “tweet” on his telephone, and stay away from interviews and otherwise avoid compounding his problems while his lawyers and remaining staff do their best to sort things out, that would probably be 17 days well spent.
The leaks about those embarrassing phone calls with the heads of state of Mexico and Australia had already been partially leaked way back in Trump’s second week of the job, but despite the momentary embarrassment Trump was able to dismiss them as “fake news” with with the politely oblique help of the other countries involved, and it was quickly forgotten in all the other news that kept coming. This time around there are full transcripts of the conversations, which are even more embarrassing in full context, and the White House is neither confirming nor denying their veracity, and neither are the other two governments involved, and by now the guy embarrassing himself on those transcripts sure does sound an awful lot like Trump.
The phone call with Australian Prime Minister Malcom Turnbull reveals Trump trying to weasel out of a deal the United States had during struck his predecessor’s administration to take in 1,250 refugees, getting the numbers involved and other basic facts of the deal wrong along the way, frankly worrying how it would “It would make me look terrible,” and abruptly ending the conversation after saying that he’d had a much more pleasant telephone call that day with Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.
Worse yet, as far as Trump’s most loyal supporters might be concerned, in the phone call with Mexican President Pena Nieto he seemed to concede that he’d never really meant all that campaign rhetoric about making Mexico pay for a wall across the entire southern border, but expected the Mexican government to play along with it for the ruse for a while. Nieto bluntly said Spanish equivalent of “nyet,” so far the Republican majorities in Congress have been similarly reluctant to cough up the funding for a border wall, and this is not a good time for people to be reminded about it along with all the further “fake news” leaks that can neither be denied by confirmed by the White House.
The leaks about the special counsel convening a grand jury to issue all sorts of subpoenas in that “Russia” investigation have also been neither confirmed nor denied by the White House, so they’re also looking pretty credible, and although you can spin it so it’s not such a bad thing there’s no way of making it out to be a good thing. That special counsel has a formidable reputation as a dogged but by-the-book investigator, and according to the book the paneling of a grand jury implies some pretty darned prima facie evidence that something fishy’s going on, and for now all questions about it are being referred to the president’s and his family’s and staff’s outside legal counsel.
Given all the other leaks about “Russia” that have neither been confirmed nor denied over the past eight months or so, and instead been to referred to all the various outside counsels that are now involved, we can easily understand why Trump is wanting some rest and relaxation on a familiar golf course. Someone pretty high up in Trump’s administration  is leaking the latest leaks, too, so all the more reason to take some time off from whomever that might be. We’re sure he’ll still be in constant communication with the rest of the executive branch while he’s contemplating a chip shot, just as his predecessors claimed to do, and we hope he at least breaks par.
According to some rather embarrassing leaks to Golf Magazine and Sports Illustrated, though, Trump is also  a notorious golf cheat who routinely claims to have broken par, and so far the White House neither confirms nor denies this.

— Bud Norman

Just Another Manic Tuesday

The weather’s lately been great around here, the stock markets are up, the unemployment rate is down, and the casualties in America’s ongoing shooting wars are so low that most Americans have forgotten they’re still being waged, but pretty much everything else in the news these days is not helpful to President Donald Trump. Although leaked drip-by-drip there’s been an extraordinary amount news flooding forth lately, too, and much of it raises concerns even in the best of times.
On a by-now typical Tuesday the headlines included the revelation that Trump wrote the misleading statement his son released about the son’s and son-in-law’s and campaign manager’s already embarrassing meeting with Russian operatives during the campaign, and another one about a lawsuit alleging Trump’s involvement in a Trump-friendly media outlet’s propagation of a discredited story about how a murdered Democratic staffer rather than the Russians had hacked the Democratic party’s e-mails. There was some further fallout from a couple of speeches Trump gave way back last week, speculation about why Trump hasn’t yet signed the Russian sanctions bill that both chambers of Congress passed with veto-proof majorities, and stories about other acts of congressional Republican rebellion on issues from health care to tax reform, as well as all the latest followups about all the recent shake-up in the White House staff.
None of it will suffice to shake the faith of Trump’s most loyal supporters, but all of it requires some pretty creative explaining.
The previously-offered creative explanations for that already embarrassing meeting between Trump’s son and son-in-law and campaign and some Russian operatives already  required some especially creative re-explanation. When the broader story that the Russians were meddling in America’s election first surfaced the Trump campaign explained that it was just as likely to be some fat guy on his bed and that in any case it didn’t have anything to do with the campaign, and president-elect Trump’s transition team explained that none of them had ever had any meetings with any Russians. After that the administration’s national security advisor resigned after some Russian meetings were undeniably uncovered, the Attorney General recused himself from all Russia matters after some of his meetings were similarly disclosed, and then The New York Times reported about that confab between the president’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager, so further explanation was required.  A second consecutive daily New York Times scoop that the meeting was really about Russian government-provided dirt on the opposition wasn’t denied but was rather originally explained as a harmless few minutes in Trump Tower with some Russian lawyer or other the son didn’t know that turned out to be a boring conversation about Americans adopting Russian babies.
The offficial White House explanation to the second scoop was that it turned out to be a boring conversation about Russian adoptions anyway. Before The New York Times got a chance to unleash a third consecutive scoop with its leaked -emails, in the interests of “full disclosure” Trump’s son preemptively “tweeted” the entire e-mail chain that showed the meeting was set up by a music publicist Trump’s son knew to be a reliable lackey of a Russian oligarch he knew to be a reliable lackey of the Russian dictatorship, who was explicitly promising information that came directly from the Russian government’s efforts to support the Trump campaign.
None of that shook the faith of Trump’s most loyal supporters, who were satisfied that at least according the reporting Trump himself wasn’t tied to any of this nonsense. The Washington Postthen  won a victory in its newspaper war with the Times on Tuesday when it reported that Trump himself had drafted the son’s misleading original statement about the embarrassing meeting, though, and it was pretty much confirmed by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders and sometime spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway saying that Trump had only done “what any father would do.” We’ve been blessed with a far better father than was Donald Trump Jr., and we’re sure he would have sagely advised us admit all our embarrassing secrets before the New York Times got the chance to spill them, no matter what consequences he might endure as result, but we expect that Trump’s most loyal supporters will accept the administration’s latest explanation.
Right after The Wall Street Journal our father’s favorite source for news is Fox News, which is a defendant in that lawsuit about a story that blamed the hacking of the Democratic Party on a murdered staffer rather than the Russians. The plaintiff in the suit was one of the main sources for the story, which was quickly retracted by the network but continued to gain traction on one of its “opinion shows” and the host’s widely-heard radio show, and it also requires a lot explaining. There’s a lot of litigation to be done before it’s proved to any Trump supporter’s satisfaction that the president had anything to do with it, but we’ve heard enough of the apologetics on “Fox & Friends” and Sean Hannity to give the conspiracy theory at least  some credence. The rest of the network has pretty much piled on with the rest media atop the dung heap of recent Trump news, but all the intelligence agencies agree that it was Russia and not some 400-pound fat guy or whoever else was behind the undeniable election meddling, and The Washington Post’s latest scoop about that Fox News scandal seems to require some pretty darned creative explaining.
All the lesser blather about those weeks-old presidential speeches now pits the Boys Scouts of America and America’s police chiefs against the president, and Trump’s various feuds with the Republican congress are also out in the open, and all the Republican efforts to repeal and replace Obamacare seem deader than ever, so there’s more explaining to do than even the combined efforts of Sanders and Conway are up to. Even Trump’s most loyal supporters can’t credit him with the great weather we’ve been having around here lately, and the gains in the stock market and unemployment pale in comparison to what was achieved despite the dreadful Obama years after the Great Recession, and despite the low casualties and gains against the Islamic State there’s reason to believe we’re losing ground to the Russians and their Iranian allies in our ongoing shooting wars, so it’s hard to shake a uncertain feeling about all the news.
Trump’s climate change skepticism seems at least momentarily vindicated, his free market inclinations are working out well enough though they aren’t yet  passed into law, and for now there aren’t any brand new shooting wars with more mass casualties. Everything else in the latest flood of news, though, despite the leak-proof nature of the latest White House shake-up, seems foreboding.

— Bud Norman

Dueling Headlines

As usual in the age of President Donald Trump, there’s more in a day’s news than one can find time or space to comment on, and as always it’s hard to say what’s the biggest deal. On a typically busy Tuesday the two main contenders were the House of Representatives joining the Senate in passing a tough Russian sanctions bill that explicitly restricts Trump’s power to do anything about it, and the other was Trump’s rapidly escalating war of words with his own Attorney General, both of which are just subplots in the bigger ongoing story about what Trump now calls “Russia.”
The sanctions bill passed the House with a vote of 419 to three, which is a remarkably lopsided margin in these divisive and divided days, and a similar bill had already passed the Senate by a similar blow-out score of 98 to two, so whatever minor adjustments are made in the conference committee both the sanctions and the presidential restrictions will arrive on Trump’s desk with the same overwhelming bipartisan support. Trump can still veto it, but by now someone has probably explained to him that 419 to three and 98 to two are veto-proof margins would become law anyway, and he probably knows by instinct given all the other stories in the news lately it wouldn’t look good to be one of only six elected officials in Washington going soft on the Russkies.
On one of the Sunday morning shows newly-promoted White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was saying the president had decided to the sign the bill, while at the same the newly-appointed White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci was saying on another show that the president hadn’t yet decided, but we’ll wager a small amount that Sanders winds up being right. Signing the damned thing will probably infuriate Trump, as the bill represents an almost unanimous rebuke to the Russian-friendly foreign policy he campaigned on, and the restrictions on his presidential power will surely chafe at his neck, but not signing wouldn’t stop it from happening, and no matter how much the hard-core fans might love it the broader political consequences would be dire.
Those blow-out bi-partisan margins portend some perilous political consequences, as well. Trump’s ability to negotiate all those great deals with Russia he promised is for now and well into the foreseeable severely restricted, as all those campaign statements have not only left him isolated from our democratic western allies but also the domestic Democrats and Republicans who were elected with majorities by almost the entire country. Trump will probably “tweet” some insult at all of them, and his most hard-core fans will no doubt love it, but we doubt they’re tired of winning yet.
Which makes that escalating war of words between Trump and his Attorney General all the more portentous. Trump now regrets having hired Attorney General Jeff Sessions after he recused himself from anything having to do with that ongoing “Russia” storyline, and has not only “tweeted” about it and said so to The New York Times. He’s also “tweeted” his annoyance that Sessions hasn’t pursued criminal investigations against vanquished Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, which candidate Trump promised to do and president-elect Trump said he wouldn’t do and President Trump is once suddenly very enthusiastic about.
Sessions was the first member of Congress to endorse Trump, and we well remember how that “Make-America-Great-Again”-ball-cap-donning endorsement at a well-attended Alabama rally was touted to prove Trump’s true-blue conservatism, but on Tuesday Trump told The Wall Street Journal that “But he was a senator, and he looks at probably 40,000 people and says, ‘What do I have to lose?‘ So it’s not like a great loyal thing by that endorsement.” That 40,000 total was of course overstated by 100 percent, and there’s no telling how many of them were there to see the Senator they’d long voted for, but a president is entitled to his own conclusions. He followed that insult up with a brief news conference next to the President of Lebanon, where he declined to say if he was going to fire Sessions but added “time will tell.”
Which will probably please many of Trump’s most hard-core fans, but leaves Trump further isolated from the rest of the country. Sessions not only risked his Republican respectability with that endorsement, but he also gave up a comfortable lifelong seat in the Senate to serve in Trump’s cabinet, so the many kinds of conservatives who warmed to Trump’s candidacy only because of Session’s endorsement are not cheering his impending defenestration. Sessions was a hard-liner on illegal immigration back when Trump was hiring illegals and calling Republican nominee Mitt Romney’s mild “self-deportation” policies “mean,” and he was an unabashed Republican and conservative way back when Trump was donating to Democrats and trying to be cool, so Trump can’t count on his right flank’s loyalty in this skirmish.
Sessions has annoyed much of the libertarian and state’s rights sorts of conservatives by giving the cops wider latitude to seize your assets for whatever reason and cracking down on the states that take a lenient attitude toward marijuana use, both of which are far more annoying to us than his admirably ethical decision to recuse himself from “Russia” after giving false statements about it to the Senate. The left always hated the poor guy from get-go, caricaturing the unabashedly anti-illegal-immigration and Alabama-accented Jefferson Beuaregard Sessions III as an unrepentant Confederate racist, but in the war of words with Trump even they have his back. All those folks in the middle are probably wondering why Trump is so angry that his Attorney General isn’t on the job of squashing all the ongoing investigations in to that “Russia” thing, which leaves Trump rather isolated.
Perhaps Trump can “tweet” his way out of this mess, too, but it looks tricky. Sessions might make a final act of a obeisance by resigning, but there’s hope everywhere on both the right and left he’ll hold out to force Trump to fire him, and in any case it will be very interesting to see who Trump nominates next for such a thankless job and how that will play in Congress. The Democrats who are suddenly on board with Romney’s anti-Russian stand in the ’12 election are of course craven partisan hypocrites, which will surely be the main argument against them, but all those Republicans who are still on board enough to give that sanctions bill their vote are being quite  consistent in their convictions, so winning the argument with all of them will require more than 140 characters.

— Bud Norman

Trump, Sessions, a Son-in-Law, the Boy Scouts, and the Rest of a Very Bad Day

Monday was just another day in the era of President Donald Trump, and whatever else you might say about it at least it’s not boring.
The day began with a “tweet” blasting his own “beleagured” Attorney General for not pursuing a criminal investigation against his vanquished Democratic rival, and was shortly followed by his son-in-law having to explain to a congressional committee why he’d attended a meeting that the president’s son had set up with the clear understanding that Russians they knew to be tied to the Russian government were offering campaign help as part of that foreign adversary efforts on the Trump campaign’s behalf. Trump then finally got around to delivering a public address on behalf of his party’s longstanding but recently ailing attempt to repeal and replace Obamacare, and after that delivered a speech to the Boy Scouts’ annual Jamboree that has to be heard to be believed.
As usual one hardly knows where to begin, but we’ll follow Trump’s lead by starting with that “tweet” and saving that bizarre Boy Scout oration for last. Trump first “tweeted” that “Sleazy (Sen.) Adam Schiff, (D-Calif.), the totally biased congressman looking into ‘Russia,’ spends all his on television pushing the Dem loss excuse!” A short time later he wondered “So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleagureed A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” Putting aside the arbitrary capitalizations and missing apostrophes and deliberate rudeness, which are by now the modern presidential standard, it was a bad start to the day.
Sessions is mostly beleaguered these days by Trump, who recently fumed to The New York Times that he never would have made the pick if he’d known that Sessions would wind up recusing himself from the Justice Department’s investigation of what he now calls “Russia” after some inaccurate testimony to the Senate,  so that embarrassing story got at least another day in the news. Why Sessions isn’t pursuing various criminal investigations against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton is a valid question to ask, given her long and sordid history, and we can’t wait for some impertinent reporter to pose it to the President of the United States at some possible future news conference. Candidate Trump ran on a rallying cry of “lock her up,” president-elect Trump immediately reneged on the promise by saying that Clinton had suffered enough, but President Trump is clearly in high dudgeon about that outrage, so our only guess is that it will all turn out to be Sessions’ fault.
Sessions resigned his membership in the more respectable clubs of the Republican party when he was the first federal elected official to endorse Trump’s anti-establishment candidacy, relinquished a safe life-long sinecure in the Senate to serve as Trump’s Attorney General, and bravely defended all the indefensible things that Trump had said and done and “tweeted” along the way, but as a respectable Republican he also did his ethical duty by recusing himself from “Russia” after giving some inaccurate and under-oath testimony to the Senate during his confirmation hearings. That wound up with a special counsel who’s now looking into Trump’s previously opaque financial empire, however, so Trump and all the apologists who once cited Sessions’ endorsement as proof of Trump’s conservative bona fides seem eager to defenestrate the poor fellow.
The guy Trump nominated to be the Federal Bureau of Investigation director after the firing of the predecessor told his congressional confirmation hearing interrogators that he didn’t consider his predecessor’s investigation a “witch hunt,” as the president calls it in his “tweets,” and advised any future presidential campaigners to call the FBI if they got any e-mails from people they knew to be connected to a hostile foreign powers promising helpful information. Should Trump fire Sessions or “tweet” him into resignation we expect that any nominee for the job would also face the same questions, and at this point we don’t think anything but the same answers would win anyone confirmation even with a slight Republican majority in the Senate if they answered differently.
At this point we can’t imagine any remotely qualified candidates wanting to work for such an erratically disloyal boss, too, and we note that he’s also having trouble filling a lot of other high-level positions for similar reasons, so we think the “tweet” got Trump’s day got off a bad start.
Trump’s son-in-law didn’t have to testify in an open session about that meeting that Trump’s son set up with those Russkies they knew to be tied closely to the Kremlin and were were told was part of the Russian government’s efforts to help the campaign, so at least is was relegated lower than most people read in the day’s news. Son-in-law Jared Kushner issued an 11-page explanation of the matter to the broader public, explaining that he’d attended the meeting because his brother-in-law had asked him to and he hadn’t read the e-mails subject heading about “Confidential –Russia,” and that he’s recently revised his security clearance forms to include all the numerous Russian meetings and the hundreds of millions of dollars of business transactions that he’d previously forgotten.
Even if you believe every word of it, it doesn’t inspire much confidence that the 36-year-old wunderkind son-in-law is up to the challenges of ending America’s opioid crisis and re-inventing American government and negotiating Middle East and everything else his father-in-law president has asked him to do. Despite the closed hearings and all the rest of the distracting news, we think Kushner also had a bad day.
Trump’s long-awaited address about repealing and replacing Obamacare wasn’t bad, we have to admit, but we’ll have to see how effective it was. Trump stuck mostly to a teleprompter-ed script about how Obamacare had not fulfilled all the promises it was made, and he was surrounded by some telegenic real Americans who have been paying much higher premiums rather than the $2,500 annual savings and had lost the plans they been told they keep and been denied all the rest of that President Barack Obama had promised them, and with characteristic bluntness he called Obama a “big, fat, ugly lie.”
At this point there’s no denying any of that, but we think the same point could have been made without language that precludes any red-state Democrat from agreeing, and we can well understand why all the polls show landslide majorities of Americans are doubting all the claims being made for any of the various Republicans’ proposals, with no one  quite sure which one Trump was touting during that big speech. Candidate Trump ran on promises of coverage for everyone with the government and paying for it, at far less a cost to the average American, President Trump has previously “tweeted” that the proposals he’s now currently touting are “mean,” and we can well understand why all the polls show a public leery of the latest promises of fewer people being covered but lower costs for the rest.
Trump had the golden opportunity to end such a day with a rousing patriotic address to the 30,000 Boy Scouts and troop leaders assembled at an annual Jamboree in rural West Virginia, but in typical Trumpian fashion even that went very, very weird.
At one point in his speech to the too-young-to-vote Boy Scouts, Trump noted that “Tonight we put aside all the policy fights in Washington, D.C., you’ve been hearing about from the fake news. Who the hell wants to talk about politics when I’m front of the Boy Scouts?” He then proceeded to ramble on for 35 minutes about fake news and politics, blasting former president Barack Obama and Clinton, attributed the turn-out an the annual Jamboree to his popularity, and vowed that more people would be saying “Merry Christmas” as a result of his presidency.
Much of the speech was a guy-at-the-bar-style rambling reminiscence about real estate developer William Levitt, whose Levittown development outside New York City started the suburban development craze that transformed America in the long-ago ’50s, and although he didn’t mention that Levitt insisted on white and gentile-only sales he did reveal that Levitt came to a sad and lonely end at least he stopped short of the more sordid details about Levitt’s late night parties, but somehow it wound up as some sort of cautionary tale about grandiose ambitions of a real estate mogul who wound up friendless despite “all the hottest people” at his old age parties. We can only guess what all those Boy Scouts made of it, and we note that the Boy Scout leaders had already issued a plea for an apolitical address,and urged that the audience be respectful but not partisan,  but the kids seemed to love it.
Trump was never a Boy Scout during his childhood as the son of a big-time New York real estate developer who never quite matched Levitt’s historic significance, but he was joined by a couple of cabinet members who’d attained Eagle Scout rank, one of whom was dressed in full Boy Scout uniform, even if fellow Eagle Scout Sessions was conspicuously absent. He also he gave passing mention to the Boy Scout creed of being “Helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, brave, clean, and reverent,” none of which seem to describe Trump. He also noted that the Boy Scouts value loyalty, but it probably went over the heads of most of the Boy Scouts when he added that “We really could use some loyalty, I’ll tell you that.”
We’re not only lifelong Republicans, we’re also silver-medal-holding Eagle Scouts due to our parents’ insistence, and even from our unhappy middle-aged perspective we’d have to say that all in all it was another dreary day in the age of Trump.

— Bud Norman

The Summer of ’73, Redux

The midsummer sun has lately been exceedingly hot here on the southern plains, with the latest breaking national news even hotter yet, and it’s all somehow redolent of that long ago summer of ’73.
We were just young punks about to turn a typically surly 13 years old, but even then we were engrossed by politics, and by far the most engrossing story of the day was the unfolding Watergate scandal. The whole Watergate thing started slowly back in ’72 with a routine burglary bust, but by the summer of ’73 the only three channels on the television were all preempting the afternoon soap operas and game shows to broadcast the live congressional hearings about it, and we took time out from our long-distance bike rides and driveway basketball games and other summer vacation adventures to watch it all. We also read every word about in the morning and afternoon newspapers that our parents subscribed to, along with the newsmagazines that arrived in the mailbox, and then learned more when we’d biked all the way to downtown library’s impressive periodical shelf.
To this day we still recall E. Howard Hunt and G. Gordon Liddy and the three Cubans who were busted in the burglary, and the turncoat White House advisor Howard Dean and his crazy wife Moe and the loyal Attorney John Mitchell and his crazy wife Martha and fellow loyalist who wound up making the news in the subsequent investigations, and presidential secretary Rosemary Woods who was blamed for a suspicious gap in the White House tapes that eventually surfaced We still know the names of Judge John Sirica who ordered those tapes and made some other crucial legal rulings, and the Attorney General Elliot Richardson who was fired by President Richard Nixon for refusing to fire the special prosecutor Archibald Cox, and an obscure fellow named Robert Bork who eventually stepped up to do the firing.
We’d bet all our winnings that we can still run the Watergate category in a round of “Jeopardy!,” but even the surliest young punks of today know that it all somehow wound up with Nixon resigning in disgrace. That’s pretty much the long and short of the whole Watergate affair and all you’d need to know to pass a junior high history quiz about it, but of course there’s a lot worth noting in between.
The whole sordid saga began when a third-shift janitor at the swank Washington, D.C., hotel-and-office Watergate complex noticed some tape on the door lock to the Democratic National Committee. He was streetwise enough to know to call the local cops, who promptly showed up to arrest the aforementioned Hunt and Liddy and three Cubans who were attempting to install a wiretap in the office, and two relatively young and still on late-night duty reporters as the local Washington Post who were assigned the crime story story were astute enough to discover they were all official and fully paid employees of the Committee to Re-Elect the President.
That was a bad enough start to the story, if not so bad that a forthright acknowledgement but stern disavowal of the operation and its operatives would have ended all the hubbub, but the Nixon administration took a typically more dismissive response. They denied everything, attacked The Washington Post and The New York Times and the three television networks who were making such a big deal about one presidential campaign breaking and entering to bug the headquarters of another, and wound up on national television admitting to the hush money they paid to the burglars and all sorts of other sorts of other things that were considered scandalous at the time. An Admiral in the administration whose last name we still remember was Butterfield told a televised committee that the White House had taped everything, and Sirica got his hands on the tapes and except for that 18-and-a-half-minute gap blamed on the White House secretary it seemed all the prosecutor needed for an impeachment case. It was bad enough that Nixon fired the guy who wouldn’t fire the guy who was running the investigation, and shortly after that the impeccably conservative Sen. Barry Goldwater was leading a congressional delegation of Republicans to tell him that resignation in disgrace was the only honorable option.
Which was bad for the country in ways that the surly 13-year-old punks of today probably can’t understand. The first presidential election we’d followed was back in ’68, when Nixon edged out a plurality win over Democratic rival Hubert Humphrey and third-party candidate George Wallace, and we were for Nixon. Our grandparents were all New Deal Democrats, but our parents had rebelled against by voting for the impeccably conservative Goldwater in ’64, by ’68 all three generation were agreed that Democrats had gone crazy left. Humphrey was tied to President Lyndon Johnson’s war in Vietnam, which was a bloody big deal that hurt him with all the hippies that were suddenly popping up everywhere, and although Nixon was also for the war he seemed to want to win it, which was the way Americans used to end wars back then. Wallace was still an outright racist at that point, and our cosmopolitan and Christian parents had taught us better than that, so Nixon and his surprisingly pristine civil rights voting record was the one.
By ’72 the hippies had taken over the Democratic party and nominated far-left South Dakota Sen. George McGovern for president, and it was fine with us that Nixon won re-election with a popular and electoral vote margin that not even President Franklin Roosevelt had ever achieved. As bloody as the Vietnam situation was Nixon’s peace with honor platform made more sense than McGovern’s plan of complete surrender, and as much as we liked the rock ‘n’ roll music and sexual frisson of the Democratic counter-culture we had an instinctive multi-generational affinity for the Silent Majority of hard-working and tax-paying and lawn-mowing and baby-having Americans who gave Nixon his landslide win.
We were surly soon-to-be-13-year-old punks, though, and the weird sorts who were already enamored of unfettered free-market capitalism and other sorts of rugged individualism that left all those hippies in the dust, so we also had our doubts about Nixon. When the unemployment and inflation rates divulged in ways that free market theory hadn’t anticipated he embraced wage-and-price controls that not even the hippies would have dared, and despite his pristine civil rights record and reasonably tough stance against all the inner-city rioting that was going on he was the first president to institute racial quotas, and the notorious cold warrior even normalized relations with the commie Chinese and pursued “detente” with the commie Russkies. We still liked that he stood steadfast against the hippies and The Washington Post and The New York Times and those three damned channels on the television, but by that point we were wondering he might think of us.
And so we watched with a certain disinterested horror as it all slowly wound up a year or so later with Nixon flashing his “V for victory” sign as he boarded an ex-presidential helicopter to exit the White House after resigning in disgrace. He was replaced by the impeccably honorable but utterly ineffectual President Gerald Ford, who didn’t have the political clout to order the air strikes that might have maintained the peace with honor that Nixon and all those soldiers and sailors and airmen had won in Vietnam, and the best he could do about all the inflation and unemployment that defied free market theory was to print up some buttons. Despite all that he was only narrowly defeated by the Democrats’ putatively centrist Jimmy Carter, who four years later lost in a landslide to the Goldwaterite Republican nominee Ronald Reagan. That led to an inflation-choking but otherwise severe recession that shortly thereafter led to an unprecedented economic boom, which led to an even bigger re-election landslide than Nixon or Roosevelt or anyone else ever achieved, and despite that admittedly embarrassing Iran-Contra scandal and other things we mostly enjoyed those Reagan years.
The commies were pretty much gone by the end of Vice President George H.W. Bush’s third term of the Reagan age, but during a time of relatively mild economic recession that only made a plurality of the public more willing to elect the southern and putatively centrist Democrat Bill Clinton and his equally hideous wife. Despite Clinton’s efforts the economic boom continued well enough that he survived the impeachment trials of his various sex scandals and won another plurality re-election, but that wound up with eight years of Republican George W. Bush. That was mostly OK by us, but what with all the fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan that he’d been obliged by circumstances to do, and another ill-timed and far more severe recession, it led to eight straight years of President Barack Obama
We spent the entire eight Obama years griping about that unrelenting catastrophe, but at the end of it we wound up with the choice of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton or the Republican nominee Donald Trump. For the first time in our lives we wound up voting for none of the above, and resigned ourselves to watching the inevitable scandals that would play out not matter who won. Clinton had been in the public eye for all the 30 or more years that her cheating husband had been in office, and had plenty of undeniably disqualifying scandals of her own, but Trump was a political neophyte whose long and legendary career in the private sector was no more reassuring.
When we subjected Trump’s campaign to the due diligence that you’d apply to anyone else you might invest in, we found that he’d had three wives and countless bragged-about married mistresses and four bankruptcies at his casinos and strip clubs, which are hard businesses to screw up, as well as a long history of failure in steaks and vodka and football leagues and airlines and scam universities and various other enterprises, so we didn’t much cotton to him no matter how much we hated that Clinton woman. His sons had boasted to the press about how much funding their business empire had coming from the Russkies despite all the bankruptcies, and Trump himself was so pro-Russkie that he told a fan hosting a Fox News show that the the Russkies’ killings of journalists and other dissidents was no worse than what routinely happens in America, so all of that gave us pause about the guy.
We weren’t about to vote for that awful Clinton woman, but from the outset all the preliminary stories about Russia and Trump looked pretty bad. By election day it was reliably reported from all the intelligence agencies that the Russkies had launched a three-pronged cyber attack on America’s election, Trump was clearly running on the most Russia-friendly platform in the history of the United States much less its Republican Party, even more friendly than that awful Clinton woman and her ridiculous leftist “reset” button, and there was already something ominously redolent of that summer of ’73.
Since then the president’s national security advisor has resigned and his attorney general has recused himself from Russia-related matters because of Russian ties, and his son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman have been invited to testify before congressional committees about their current Russkie relations, which will likely be broadcast live on national television, and there’s something all too familiar about it. There’s another special prosecutor who’s currently looking into the president’s world-wide financial holdings, which he’s held on to in a way that no previous president ever dared to do, and we can’t shake the same old sense from ’73 that sooner or later he’s bound to come up with something pretty damning.
Which is also a damned shame, because Trump was elected by the same plurality of tax-paying and law-abiding and baby-having and lawn-mowing Americans who beat back all those dirty hippies in ’72, and we’re still rooting for them. It would be another outrage to see The Washington Post and The New York Times and those congressional committees and special prosecutors and the rest of those dirty hippies score another win, but we’ve been through this before, and on another decade’s hot midsummer’s night we’ll only hope that the truth will prevail and things work out best in the long run.
The news these days seems somehow disturbingly familiar to way back then, but also disturbingly different. As crazy a leftist loon as that McGovern guy was he’d flown more than the requisite number of bombing missions over Germany during World War II, and even then nobody questioned his patriotism. As relatively right-wing as Nixon was in the early ’70s none of his critics ever mocked the decorated military officer and historically vindicated congressional cold warrior and former Vice President as an historically illiterate and poorly-spoken buffoon, and his outreaches to communist China and Russia arguably kept the peace long enough for Reagan’s more confrontational stance to win the Cold War. In retrospect, that awful election of ’72 seems like the good old days.
The testimony of the president’s son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman will probably preempt the soap operas and games before the summer is over, and although we’re still somehow part of that still-extant silent majority we don’t expect it will go well. Already the president’s son has admitted he responded to a newfangled e-mail promising the Russkie’ commitment to til an American election by saying “I love it,’ which is a hell of a place to start, and the president is stating that anyone would have taken that meeting, so that’s also a bad starting point.
A couple of years before Nixon headed off in ignominy on that helicopter, which was was just a couple of years before the helicopters launched off the South Vietnamese embassy with a bunch of our last-ditch allies making a futile effort to cling the skids, it was already clear to us that the Watergate scandal wouldn’t end well for anybody. As much as it pains us to alarm those good tax-paying and law-abiding and lawn-mowing members of the silent majority that we still love, this time around doesn’t look to turn out any better.

— Bud Norman

Too Much News on an Otherwise Nice Summer Day

The lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer are supposed to be a slow news cycle, but in the age of President Donald Trump the stories keep coming fast and furiously. Wednesday had more big headlines than could fit on the front page of a full-sized newspaper, and none of them were helpful to Trump.
On the day after the Republicans’ seven-year effort to repeal and replace Obamacare had widely been declared dead, Trump was still applying electroshocks to the patient’s chest. After two Republican senators had joined two others in opposing the repeal-and-replacement bill, leaving it two votes short of passage, and three senators killed a backup plan to simply repeal, Trump had “tweeted” that he’d just let Obamacare fail and leave so many Americans in dire straits that the Democrats would coming begging for a fix. He seemed sure the public wouldn’t blame him for the consequences of letting the health care system fail, but just to be sure by Wednesday he was back to urging some immediate repeal and replacement.
The urging was rather heavy-handed, too. Trump didn’t mention the names of Kansas’ Sen. Jerry Moran and Utah’s Sen. Mike Lee, who had simultaneously announced their bill-killing opposition, but he did say “The other night, when I heard a couple of my friends — my friends — they really were and are. They might not be very much longer, but that’s okay.” He was seated next to Nevada’s Sen. Sean Heller, who has not announced his opposition to the bill but has expressed criticisms of it, and said in a sort-of-but-not-really joking way that  Heller would eventually come on board because “Look, he wants to remain a senator, doesn’t he?” The performance demonstrated Trump’s continued commitment to repeal and replace, which will probably satisfy his base of support, but it might not accomplish anything else.
A president with a 38 percent approval rating warning that a vote against a bill with a 12 percent approval rating will have dire political consequences isn’t likely to scare any politicians who won their jobs with solid majorities. Moran isn’t up for reelection until two years after Trump is, he’s savvy enough to know that there are going to be a lot of headlines between now and then, and Heller is probably more worried about what Nevadans think than he is about Trump. Trump’s got enough of a following in the Republican party to create primary problems for any Republicans who don’t fall in line, but even if that succeeded those challengers would be less likely to prevail in a general election than the more-popular-than-Trump incumbents.
Meanwhile, all the stories about Trump and Russia kept coming on Wednesday. The president’s son and son-in-law and former campaign chairman are all being asked to testify in congressional hearings, where there will be a lot to talk about, and some of the Republicans running the committees won’t be cowed from asking some very tough questions that need answering. Trump has assured us via “twitter” that the previously undisclosed second meeting he had with Russian President Vladimir Putin during the G-20 summit was nothing to worry about, and we’ll have to take his word for as only he and Putin and a Kremlin translator were present, but he’s nonetheless dogged by questions about why it undisclosed and why there were no other Americans present to vouch for the assurances.
Wednesday also brought the news that the Trump administration has ended a covert program to arm and train Syrian rebels opposed to the regime of dictator Bashar al-Assad, a staunch Putin ally, but that might be a coincidence and barely fit on the front page.
In the midst of all this, Trump sat down for an interview with The New York Times, of all people, and of course wound up generating another page of headlines. The biggest one was his angry rant about Attorney General Jeff Sessions recusing himself from anything to do with the justice departments investigations regarding Trump and Russia, saying “Jeff Sessions takes the job, gets into the job, recuses himself, which frankly I think is very unfair to the president. How do you take a job and then recuse yourself? If he would have recused himself before the job, I would have said, ‘Thanks Jeff, but I’m not going to take you.'”
By now Sessions is also probably regretting he didn’t forewarn Trump during the job interview that in a few months he was going to give inaccurate testimony to a congressional committee about his own meetings with the Russian government, and would feel ethically obliged to recuse himself from any Russia-related investigations as a result, but it still doesn’t make Trump look good. If Sessions does another honorable thing and resigns, and Trump replaces him with someone free and willing to end any nosiness about Russia, that probably won’t put an end to the headlines.
It was also reported on Wednesday that Arizona’s Sen. John McCain has been diagnosed with advanced brain cancer, and that the prognosis is not good. McCain is a significant historical figure, the news is a human tragedy, and he and all the rest of you will be in our prayers.

— Bud Norman

Okay Then, Lock ‘Em All Up

President Donald Trump’s most staunch defenders are lately having a hard time defending some recently released e-mails, which show the president’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager readily agreeing to what they clearly understand to be a meeting with a Russian agent working on behalf of the Russian government’s efforts to sway the presidential election in their favor, so they’ve instead gone on offense. Trump himself hasn’t yet “tweeted” anything about it, but his official and unofficial surrogates are already trying to change the subject to all the awful things done by former First Lady and Senator and Secretary of State and Democratic presidential nominee and presumptive First Woman President Hillary Clinton.
They have a point, of course. Clinton was truly godawful in every capacity she ever held, and the cumulative weight of the outrageous baggage she and her hound dog of a husband President Bill Clinton acquired over the years was no doubt a significant reason she managed to lose the electoral vote to the likes of Trump. Both Clintons have committed outrageous ethical violations since so far back that the statutes of limitation have long since run out of many of them, they’ve probably dodged double jeopardy on countless others, and there’s still plenty of fresh material for Trump’s most staunch defenders to seize on.
With Trump’s now-undeniable business ties to Russia and its oligarchy in the news, his defenders are pointing to the sale of much of America’s uranium supplies to a Russian oligarch that Secretary of State  Clinton did indeed suspiciously sign off on. As Trump’s critics note the willingness of top Trump campaign aides to meet with what they clearly thought was a Russian effort to influence the election on their behalf, his most staunch supporters note a believable report that Clinton’s campaign willingly accepted the help of Ukrainians eager to expose Trump’s ties to Russia. The most daring of Trump’s staunchest are touting a story about a Democratic opposition research firm called Fusion GPS, which is tied to that  dossier compiled by a former British intelligence official that has all sorts of salacious but unverified information about Trump, and which also has some reported ties to that presumed Russian agent that Trump’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager met with, which has of course led to all sorts of conspiracy theories.
For the most part, we’re inclined to believe every word of it. As we constantly remind our annoyed Republican friends, we were believing the worst about Clinton back when Trump was contributing to her campaigns and inviting her to his third wedding and telling all his interviewers she was the best Secretary of State ever, and even with Trump in office we’re no more favorably incline toward her now. There have been some fairly convincing articles written by her most staunch defenders about that uranium deal, but that big donation to the Clinton Foundation that followed still looks pretty suspicious to us, and after so many decades of the Clintons we’ll give some credence to almost anything nasty you might have to say about them.
From our current pox-on-both-their-houses perspective, though, the Trump offensive isn’t a convincing defense. That salacious dossier that Fusion GPS might have paid for still isn’t verified but isn’t yet “discredited,” as the Trump-friendly media always describe it, and the idea that Fusion GPS deviously lured Trump’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager into a brilliantly-planned scam that would be exposed some eight months after Clinton lost the election isn’t convincing at all. If Clinton was indeed concluding with the Ukrainians to expose Trump’s ties to the Russians who were illegally occupying Ukrainian territory, it’s hard to say whether we hate Democrats and Russians more than we usually like Republicans and Ukrainians.
Back during the campaign, Trump used to lead his enthusiastic campaign rallies in chants of “lock her up” about Clinton. At the time he was urging she be locked for her careless e-mail practices, but after the discovered e-mails that his son has lately admitted to the chant seems more on general principles. It then struck us as slightly Banana Republic-like to have a major party nominee for president to be promising his adoring crowds that their hated villainess would be imprisoned, but by now we’re getting to used it.
We also note that The New York Times was the source for that Russian uranium story, Politico broke the news about the Clinton-Ukranian connection, understand well why  the mainstream press has understandably been more concerned lately about the winner’s scandals, and admit that Trump’s most staunch defenders are as always largely dependent on the “lame stream” media they otherwise decry as “fake news.”
So go ahead, President Trump, and instruct your Justice Department to pursue a vigorous investigation of everything your staunchest defenders are saying about that undeniably godawful Clinton woman. You promised to do so on national television during the presidential debate, even if you did immediately renege on the promise shortly after your election by saying she had suffered enough, and given our longer standing animosity toward her we  won’t mind a bit. Losing to the likes of you once seemed a hellish enough fate for Clinton, but some official punishment might do the country’s rule of law some good.
Those e-mails and all the rest of the Russia scandal also look pretty damned bad for the president, however, and we hope that the congressional investigations and the special counsel investigations and the press investigations and the rest of the country’s curiosity will continue to look skeptically at all that.. If it all winds up with both of the past presidential election’s major nominees locked up, we’ll hope there’s at least a chance the rule of law might have somehow prevailed.

— Bud Norman

Another Bad News Cycle for Trump Jr.

There’s still no proof that the campaign of President Donald Trump was involved in the Russian government’s covert efforts to influence the past American presidential election, but it’s no longer possible to deny that at least three of its highest-ranking figures were willing and eager to be. The proof is contained in a chain of e-mails acquired by The New York Times, and if you don’t believe anything in “The New York Slimes” or the rest of the “lamestream media” you can read very same e-mails at the “Twitter” feed of Donald Trump Jr.
The e-mails detail the arrangement of a meeting at the Trump campaign’s headquarters in in June of 2016 between a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and campaign advisor Trump Jr., the president’s son-in-law and campaign advisor and current White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The New York Times first reported the meeting on Saturday, with Trump Jr. confirming it did happen but explaining that he had no idea who he was meeting with and understood it was all about Americans being able to adopt Russian orphans. On Sunday the paper further explained that Trump Jr. had been led to believe that the meeting was about information the Russian lawyer might provide to help the campaign, and Trump Jr. confirmed that he was disappointed it had turn out be Russian adoptions instead. On Monday the paper reported it knew of e-mails proving that Trump Jr. had been explicitly told the Russian lawyer was acting on behalf of the Russian government, and was offering information as part of the Russian government’s efforts to influence the campaign, and there was no response by Trump Jr.
After the paper called Trump Jr. for a response to an upcoming story that revealed further embarrassing details of the e-mails, which the paper now apparently possessed, Trump Jr. and his lawyer decided he might as well release them himself in advance of the story. With the special counsel investigating the Russia matter surely in possession of the e-mails he might as well have done so, but the contents still look pretty darned bad.
The first e-mail was sent a music publicist named Rob Goldstone, who represents a Russian pop star named Emin Agalorov, whose father, Aras Aragalov, is a billionaire and past business associate of the Trump family with direct ties to the Russian government that all of the Trumps were surely aware of. “Emin just called and asked to contact you with something very interesting,” Goldstone wrote. “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.”
Trump Jr.’s e-mailed response to the explicit offer of assistance from a hostile foreign power, after forwarding the missive to Kushner and Manafort, was “Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” The e-mails also make clear that Trump Jr. scheduled the meeting with the understanding that the Russian lawyer was acting on behalf of the Russian government, and would provide information acquired from the Russian government’s ongoing efforts to assist the Trump campaign, and that Kushner and Manafort were also willing to attend the meeting.
None of which looks good for the Trump campaign or presidency, even if Trump Jr. did divulge the information before The New York Times got a chance to. Even The New York Times doesn’t allege that the meeting provided any useful information to the campaign, but even Trump Jr. is admitting that he’s disappointed about that, and it’s somewhat akin to a burglar pleading that he didn’t find anything worth stealing in the house he broke into. The story also raises the pesky matter of the Trump family’s business associations with Russian billionaires with the usual ties to the Russian times, and gives snarky pundits a chance to show the Emin Aragalov music video that the President of the United States appeared in. That Russian lawyer has the name and looks of a Ian Fleming villain, too, and her interest in that obscure Russian adoption issue is mostly about the sanctions that were imposed by the United State’s Maginstky Act against human rights violations, and the president has said on Fox News that America also does lots of killing and been open to relaxing all the various sanctions against the Russians, so it’s a hard story to spin.
The president hasn’t “tweeted” anything about it except praise of namesake son’s “transparency” regarding what The New York Times was about to report, but his official and unofficial spokespeople did their best to mitigate the damage. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred most of the questions during an off-camera press briefing to Trump Jr.’s attorneys, who were unavailable for comment, but all the right-wing radio talk shows we listened in on were talking about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign’s meeting with Ukrainian officials and speculating they’d set up poor dumb Trump Jr. with that ill-fated meeting with a Russian lawyer who turned out to a double-agent for the Democrats. Trump Jr.’s only interview about it was on the Trump-friendly Fox News network with the exceedingly Trump-friendly Sean Hannity, who allowed Trump Jr. to admit that the meeting wasn’t such a great idea in retrospect, but of course Hannity also preferred to talk about Clinton.
These days anything seems plausible, and we certainly wouldn’t put anything past that awful Clinton woman, but it’s hard to believe that she was shrewd enough to arrange a false flag meeting through Trump family connections that wasn’t revealed until nine months after an election she somehow or another managed to lose. Whatever nefarious deeds the losing candidate might have contrived, and we’re quite willing to believe anything you might come up, that doesn’t explain why the winner’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager were meeting with someone they understood to be an agent of a hostile foreign policy that they were told was meddling in an American election.
It’s also still quite plausible that President Trump didn’t have the slightest idea what his son and son-in-law and campaign manager were doing on his behalf, but at this point that’s not at all reassuring.

— Bud Norman

Sometimes There Is Such a Thing as Bad Press

Donald Trump Jr. has been a big name in the news for the past few days, getting even more ink and airtime than his presidential eponym, but he’s surely not relishing the attention. All the stories have been about a meeting he had with a Russian lawyer closely linked to the Kremlin, and over the past few days they’ve become progressively worse.
It all started with a New York Times report on Saturday that Trump Jr., along with President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and his then-campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, met with the aforementioned Kremlin-linked lawyer, Natalia Veselnistkaya, at Trump Tower in the summer of 2016. The Trumps’ most staunch defenders usually dismiss anything in “The New York Slimes” as “fake news,” which is often a plausible defense, but in this case the meeting was corroborated by a statement from Trump Jr., which described the meeting as a discussion about lifting a Russian ban on its orphans being adopted by Americans, but “did not address whether the presidential campaign was discussed.” Given that Trump Jr. had previously denied any meetings with any Russians during the campaign, and that he and those two other top Trump campaign aides and that Kremlin-linked lawyer would have been the only four people talking about the Russian adoption issue at the time, it looked bad.
On Sunday The New York Times reported that the campaign was indeed discussed at the meeting, and that in fact the reason for it was to hear some promised information from the Kremlin-linked lawyer that the campaign might use against Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, which looked worse. This blast of “fake news” from “The New York Slimes” cited five unnamed sources, three of them described as White House advisors, but it was also corroborated by a more forthcoming statement by Trump Jr.. In the statement, Trump explained that the promised dirt wasn’t delivered, that the conversation somehow turned to talk about the Russian adoption issue, and at that point he ended the meeting. “It became clear to me,” he wrote, “that this was the true agenda all along and that the claims of potentially helpful information were a pretext for the meeting.”
On Sunday The Washington Post piled on with a story that the meeting had been arranged by a music publicist named Rob Goldstone, who represents a Russian pop star named Emin Agalarov, whose wealthy family is Kremlin-linked and has also done business with the Trumps. There was no statement from anyone named Trump in the story, but the deal to put the Trump name atop a Moscow tower had been publicly acknowledged by both parties. That’s not proof of anything nefarious, of course, but it also looks bad.
On Monday The New York Times was back on top of the story with a report that Goldstone had e-mailed Trump Jr. prior to the meeting to say that the promised dirt on Clinton was coming direct from the Kremlin as part of its efforts to help the Trump presidential campaign. There was no corroborating statement from Trump, whose newly-hired lawyer has probably advised him not to say anything, but if the e-mail does exist and the subpoena-powered special counsel gets his hands on it that will look even worse yet.
All the president’s spokespeople have done their best make it look better, but they’ve had a tough time of it. The original claim was that no one in the Trump campaign ever had any contacts with any Russians during the race, but since then a national security advisor has resigned and an Attorney General has recused from the whole matter and that son-in-law and past campaign chairman are both under investigation for their now-admitted meeting with Russians during the race, so that’s been abandoned. The next claim was that all the meetings were perfectly innocent, either momentary social encounters at cocktail parties or discussions by campaign associates in their other political or business capacities or high-minded talk about such non-campaign related things as Russians adoptions, but now Trump Jr. has admitted that at least on one occasion the campaign was quite willing and eager to talk with a Russian who might provide to help Trump win the election.
Trump Jr. is for now sticking to his story that he had no idea the Russian he met with had any ties to the Kremlin, and that he and two of Trump’s other closest advisors took time out of a busy campaign schedule to welcome her to Trump Tower with the hope she was getting her promised dirt from a clean source, but even if you buy that it still doesn’t make him look good. For now everyone Trump is insisting that no matter what went down the president didn’t have the slightest idea that his son and son-in-law and campaign chairman were having at a meeting a Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer, but even if that’s true it doesn’t make him look any better.
For the moment the White House and its media allies are insisting that the bigger scandal is that fired Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey, who was fired because of his investigation of all the Russia stuff, had leaked classified information along with a much more widely noted claim that Trump had implicitly tried to quash an investigation about that national security advisor who had resigned over some undisclosed contacts with Russians. The president “tweeted” about how it was “Totally illegal!,” his indefatigable spokeswoman Kellyanne Conway kept trying to bring it up during her inquisitions on the cable news, and that was what all the right-wing radio talk shows we heard on our drive around town wanted to talk about. Their source is a report in The Hill, which is an inside-the-beltway establishment paper that also relied on unnamed sources for its scoop, but if they’d read all the way through they’d have noticed it only said some of Comey’s memos were classified, did not allege that the one he long ago admitted he leaked was one of them, and even in the worst case it isn’t nearly so juicy as what The New York Times and The Washington Post have been coming up with the past few days.
White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who has been filling in for a while for the conspicuously absent White House press secretary Sean Spicer, even tried to claim in an another camera-free pressing briefing that it was more scandalous that people had leaked information about the Trump campaign’s effort to acquire leaked information from a Kremlin-linked lawyer. Three of those unnamed leakers were reportedly White House advisors, the denunciation basically confirmed the leaks, and Trump Jr.’s written statements to the press corroborated the worst of it, so it hardly seems a winning argument.
The already emerging next claim is that so what if the Trump campaign sought the help of the Russians to win the election. During the campaign Trump said he hoped the Russians would leak any of the e-mails they might have hacked from Clinton, and although he later said he was just joking it wouldn’t be at all surprising to hear him say that so what if he wasn’t joking. There’s already talk in the Trump-friendly media about past Democratic efforts to get opposition research information from foreign governments or meddle in their elections, much of it provably true and some of it unproved but plausible, and as understandably cynical a nation as ours might just buy the argument that, c’mon, everybody does it.
We hope not. Whatever nefarious scandals the Democrats might have gotten away with in the past — and we’re sure there have been damned more than just a few — that doesn’t mean a Republican should get away with working with a business-connected foreign adversary to influence an American presidential election. So far there’s no definitive proof it happened, but by now we can’t take seriously anyone’s claim that there’s no basis for suspicion, and we’re hoping that the press and the congressional investigative committees and the special counsel will eventually let us know one way or another.

— Bud Norman