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As the Son-in-Law Sets

Jared Kushner’s position as President Donald Trump’s son-in-law seems secure for the time being, so far as we can tell, but otherwise it’s hard to see how he continues doing the additional jobs of bringing about Middle East peace and reinventing the federal government and solving America’s opioid crisis and being the country’s go-to guy with China and getting Mexico to pay for a border wall.
A pesky bureaucracy has denied him top-level security clearance, what with all the meetings with foreign powers that he forgot to disclose on his forms and the recent reports by the even peskier news media that China and Mexico and a couple of other countries have tried to exploit the billion-dollar debts owed by the company he last ran and is still fully invested in. The White House press secretary assures us that Kushner can continue dealing with the Middle East and China without access to the most top-secret stuff, and has the full support of former the four-star Marine general and current White House chief of staff who doesn’t seem to like Kushner much and recently announced the street policy limiting access to the top-secret stuff to those with top-secret security clearances, but that seems suspicious.
We suppose that Kushner can reinvent America’s federal government and solve its opioid crisis and somehow convince Mexico to pay for a border wall with the same meager information available to the internet-browsing public at large, but our reading of the news suggests these are all tough tasks. All the tougher when you can’t get a security clearance and reports are swirling that foreign government have been trying to exploit the billion-dollar debt you incurred in your last job and still owe, and the father-in-law who handed you these tough jobs has his own problems dealing with eerily similar swirling reports about possible indebtedness to foreign powers.
There’s also the lingering question of why any 37-year-old without any previous public service or foreign relations experience, whose only credentials were taking over the family real estate business when his dad went to prison and driving it a billion dollars into debt and marrying a future president’s daughter, wound up in such demanding jobs. When Trump ran for president he promised that he would hire only the best people, and but it turns out he meant the best people he knew. His limited circle of acquaintances includes his son’s wedding planner who wound up in a sweet position at the Department of Urban Development, a former bit player from his “Apprentice” reality show who wound up as the only black woman in the white House but got fired and wound up on another reality and got fired again, as well too-many-to-link-to others who wound up in high-ranking jobs after serving low-level duty in Trump’s businesses or campaign.
Trump is reportedly going to appoint his former personal jet pilot to head the Federal Aviation Administration, and we marvel at how all the best people happened to be people he knew before he ran for office. Still, we hope he starts considering other job applications from outside his family and circle of friends, if any are forthcoming,

— Bud Norman

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Stock Market Swoons, Government Shutdowns, and the Alleged Wives-Beater in the White House

Thursday saw another four-digit drop in the Dow Jones average, another government shutdown after negotiations broke down on a budget-busting compromise bill no one liked, and the news still had to find room for another scandalous exit from President Donald Trump’s administration.
White House staff secretary Rob Porter resigned his post after Britain’s Daily Mail reported that his two ex-wives allege he physically abused them, various media found corroborating police reports and court orders as well as an ex-girfriend with similar tales, and the first ex-wife released a picture of herself with the black eye she alleges he gave her, which ought to be scandalous enough. Worse yet, the media also reported that White House officials had long been aware that the allegations were the reason the Federal Bureau of Investigation never gave Porter the security clearance required to deal with all the classified materials that a White House staff secretary routinely handles.
Even if you’re the sort of die-hard Trump supporter who figures that the women probably had it coming, and give credit to any administration officials who were so bravely politically incorrect as to agree, you have to be unsettled by the national security implications. Apparently there are several high-ranking White House officials who also can’t pass security clearance muster, including top presidential advisor and presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, who’s still the point man for China despite FBI warnings about his personal and business ties to a Chinese operative and still in charge of negotiating Middle East despite no apparent qualifications for that tough job, so it seems to be an ongoing problem. You can still rightly point to Hillary Clinton’s undeniably sloppy mishandling of classified material when she was Secretary of State, which is one of the many valid reasons she’s not the President of the United States, but that won’t solve the more pressing national security problems.
Most people will have a problem with the White House’s apparent tolerance of wife-beating, too, and Porter’s departure won’t help with a widespread public perception that Trump is a sexist pig. There’s also talk about how it reflects on White House chief of staff John Kelly, who a couple of days ago was vouching for Porter’s “high moral character” despite being aware of the FBI warnings about why they’d denied a security clearance, and whose spokesman later explained he wasn’t fully aware of the situation until the black eye picture was published. Kelly came into the White with a pristine reputation as a four-star Marine General, but he’s been criticized on the left for comments deemed racist and sexist, and by Trump for his assurances to the congressional hispanic caucus that Trump had “evolved” in his thinking about various immigration issues, and there’s speculation he’ll be one of the next to leave the Trump administration with a more sullied reputation.
The government shutdown might yet prove as short-lived as last month’s, and the market swoon might yet prove a much-needed correction on the way back to prosperity, but another scandalous example of the Trump administration’s crudity and incompetence won’t help with either situation.

— Bud Norman

Through Hell and High Water, “Russia” Persists

Throughout all the hurricanes and mass murders and threats of war, the “Russia” story persists. On Wednesday the Senate’s intelligence committee made clear that it’s not going away soon.
The eminently Republican chairman Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina told an unusual press conference that “There is consensus among members of staff that we trust the conclusions of the (intelligence community assessment),” which concluded that the Russian government attempted to affect the past presidential election by hacking information from the Democratic party, promulgating false propaganda through the internet, and an apparently unsuccessful effort to manipulate vote-counting in several states. He also admitted that “the issue of collusion is still open.”
President Donald Trump has expressed doubt that the Russians did anything untoward at all, argued that even if they did other countries probably did as well, and repeatedly sworn that in any case he and his campaign didn’t have anything to with any Russians. Almost all of which, alas, has lately been so thoroughly disproved that even the Republicans on the Senate intelligence agency vow to continue the investigation.
You still have to rely on those intelligence officials to believe that Russia that hacked the Democratic party’s computers and leaked all those e-mails, but Trump’s own Central Intelligence Agency director agrees and by now only Trump and his most die-hard supporters doubt it. Facebook and Twitter now acknowledge that their popular social media services were extensively used by Russian interests to spread false stories clearly intended to harm the Democratic campaign. Also, Trump’s own Homeland Security Secretary has recently and belatedly advised 21 states of Russian attempts to infiltrate their computer system, then clarified that in two of them Russians had attempted to scan other state networks. At this point the intelligence community is look pretty intelligent, and so far they aren’t mentioning any other countries that might have similarly meddled or acting as if it’s no big deal if they did.
Hurricane winds and sniper fire swept away many of the headlines, but the past weeks have also brought documented news that Trump was pursuing a business deal in Moscow during his campaign, his campaign manager was offering briefings to Kremlin-connected Russians, and Trump’s son and son-in-law and former national security advisor and various other administration officials have been updating their security clearance forms with numerous meetings with Russians that they had previously forgotten to mention. Throw in the Trump campaign’s conspicuously Russia-friendly rhetoric, the way those Russian propagandists seem to know exactly which counties and precincts to target in the states Trump narrowly won to give him an electoral majority, along with all the other news that has been piling up over the past months, and even such an eminently Republican sort of fellow as Sen. Burr has to concede that the question of collusion is still very much open.
The Senate’s investigation will continue, and there’s a special counsel on the job who has a reputation for doggedness and has already executed a no-knock warrant on that former campaign manager and seems to have some serious goods on that former national security advisor, so we’ll venture to guess that the “Russia” story will persists through the coming storms and crimes and the rest of the governmental fiascos.

— Bud Norman