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The All-Too-Familiar News Gets Worse

The latest horrific American mass shooting got most of the air time and front page headlines, as it should, but there was also plenty of intriguing news about the “Russia thing” on Thursday.
Rod Rosenstein is a life-long Republican who was appointed to his post as America’s deputy attorney general by putatively Republican President Donald Trump, but you wouldn’t have guessed that by the treatment he received from the Republicans during his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Because Trump’s pick for Attorney General was obliged to recuse himself from the “Russia thing” Rosenstein has wound up in charge of a special counsel investigation into the matter, and so far he’s letting it proceed without interference, and these days that’s a considered a betrayal of the only Republican principle that matters, which is loyalty to Trump above all else.
Rosenstein was accused of unlawfully withholding information from Congress, even though he’s handed over hundreds of thousands of pages of documents and has a strong argument that the law forbids him from turning over what has been withheld. Based on a Fox News report Rosenstein was accused of “intimidating” congressional investigators with threats of subpoenas of e-mails and phone calls, but he plausibly asserted that Fox News was wrong and got a big laugh by noting that “you can’t subpoena phone calls.” South Carolina Rep. Trey Gowdy angrily insisted that the special counsel investigation that has already numerous indictments and several guilty pleas come to a quick because it’s going for on a year, and Rosenstein was polite enough not to respond that Gowdy’s investigation of the deadly fiasco at Benghazi went on for two-and-a-half without proving anything but the obvious-from-the-outset conclusion that President Barack Obama and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton had been fatally incompetent but not at all criminal in their handling of the matter.
Fox News viewers and talk radio listeners probably enjoyed the pummeling they perceived, but we thought Rosenstein punched back quite effectively. In any case, Rosenstein is clearly defiant about allowing the special counsel investigation to proceed without interference, and if the House Republicans try to prevent that they’ll be in for an awful news cycle and a damning verdict from history. Thursday brought more proof, added to all that’s piled up over the past couple of years, that there’s something fishy about the “Russia thing” that demands a special investigation.
The American Broadcasting Company broadcast some pretty persuasive pictures of some some pretty suspicious Russians enjoying their elite access to Trump’s inauguration parties, and the news that the special counsel is scrutinizing all of them.
Buried deep in the news were the finalized details of a planned meeting between Trump and Russian dictator Vladimir Putin in Helsinki on July 16, and all the numerous reasons our nervous allies and our own skittish selves are worried about that. Trump himself “tweeted” that Russia denies it had anything to do with the last election, andhe wondered why his Justice Department is more concerned with that “Russia thing” “witch hunt” rather than all the crimes his vanquished political opponents should clearly be locked up for by now. Given that all of the intelligence agencies and the people he picked as Federal Bureau of Investigation director and Central Intelligence Agency director and Defense Secretary and Secretary of State and Attorney General agree that Russia is brazenly lying to him, this is not reassuring.
At Axios.com they have a round-up of media reports about Trump telling our most longstanding military allies and trading partners at a recent Group of Seven meeting that “(North Atlantic Treaty Organization) is as bad as (North American Free Trade Agreement)” as a rip-off of the United States, and that Russia probably should be occupying Crimea because so many people speak Russian there. Axios.com is liberal but reliably reality-based internet news publication, and given Trump’s many displeased public pronouncements about our traditional military allies and trading partners in the G-7 and all of his fulsome praise for the dictator of a traditional adversary we see no reason to doubt a word of it. Thursday also brought news from The Washington Post that Trump tried to convince French President Emmanuel Macron to leave the European Union and strike a friendly unilateral deal with America.
The summit with Russia’s dictator should prove at least as friendly as his recent summit with the even more brutal North Korean dictator, where Trump traded fulsome praise and security guarantees in exchanges for the same vague promises the third-generation dictatorship has broken countless times. It will certainly be friendlier than that last G-7 summit with our most longstanding military allies and trading partners, where Trump went out of his way to offend everyone but that wacky populist in Italy.
Trump won’t be pressing Russian dictator Vladimir Putin about that “Russia thing,” or Russia’s occupation of a significant part of a nation whose sovereignty America is obliged by treaty to respect, and he’s apparently cool with Putin’s attempts to undermine the military alliances and trading partnerships that have made the West so dominate in the post-World War II and especially the post-Cold War eras, and he’s fine with Putin’s pal and brutal dictator Bassar al-Asssad staying in power in Libya, so they should get along fine. Now that Trump’s branded vodka is long gone from the marketplace he might even negotiate a trade good deal for lower-priced Stolichnaya, which is the good stuff and will surely come in handy someday soon, but other than we can’t see what the boastful deal-maker hopes to get out of it.
Which strikes us as fishy, given what an adversarial dictatorship Russia is and the conclusions of every Trump administration official except Trump that it did play a nefarious role in our last election, and everything else about Trump’s foreign policy is similarly fishy. The special counsel has Trump’s clearly Russia-tied former campaign manager in jail, has secured a guilty plea from Trump’s clearly Russia-tied national security advisor, Trump’s son has published an e-mail chat that admitted he and his brother-in-law and the campaign manager with someone he understood to be from the Russian with an offer to interfere in the election. and there’s so much else that’s fishy about it we want a special investigation to keeping looking into it.

— Bud Norman

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The Much-Ballyhooed IG’s Report and the Brouhaha About the “Russia Thing”

A much-anticipated report from a Justice Department inspector general was released on Thursday, and for now President Donald Trump and his die-hard defenders are having great fun with it. The report is harshly critical of the Federal Bureau of Investigation director that Trump fired, includes some further suspicious e-mails between two outspokenly anti-Trump FBI employees briefly involved in the ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing,” and otherwise provides fodder for the “deep state” conspiracy theories that Trump and his die-hard defenders are counting on.
In the infuriatingly long run of the investigation into to the “Russia thing,” however, it doesn’t at all vindicate Trump.
The inspector general’s report is critical of fired FBI director James Comey for breaking with longstanding agency policy by publicly acknowledging an investigation of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s e-mail practices, and publicly chastising her for “extreme carelessness” even as he declined to recommend a prosecution on the legal standard of “gross negligence,” and then publicly announcing the investigation was once again underway after some of those e-mails turned up on the computer of former New York Rep. Anthony Weiner, who was the husband of long-time Clinton aide Huma Abedin and was being investigated for sending lewd photos of his private parts to underage women. Candidate Trump praised Comey’s “courage” for breaching longstanding agency policy during the campaign, nobody believed President Trump’s short-lived explanation that he fired Comey for being so unfair to Clinton, and by that very evening he was admitting to Lester Holt’s national television audience on the National Broadcasting Company that he was thinking about Comey’s ongoing investigation into “this ‘Rusher’ thing with Trump and Russia” when he decided on the firing.
By now every talk-radio listener or Fox News viewer knows that FBI agent Peter Strzok and FBI lawyer Lisa Page, who were reportedly carrying on an extra-marital affair at the time, had exchanged texts and e-mails about how awful candidate Trump was, but they probably don’t know that love-birds also had some equally harsh things to say about Clinton and her openly socialist primary opponent Sen. Bernie Sanders. We don’t approve of their reportedly illicit relationship, although we hate to see that redound to the benefit of the boastfully adulterous Trump, and except for the foul language we can’t say we much we disagree with any of the opinions they texted or e-mailed, There was some previously texted and e-mailed conversation about a “secret society” that would provide an “insurance policy” in the unlikely case of a Trump presidency, and the IG’s report had him assuring his lover that Trump wouldn’t win, but at this point in the Trump presidency that seems the false bravado of a petty bureaucrat, and not the stuff of a “deep state” conspiracy.
More importantly, when special counsel Robert Mueller took over the “Russia thing” investigation in the wake of Comey’s firing he immediately demoted both Strzok and Page from the matter because of their e-mails and texts, and the numerous indictments ad several guilty pleas he’s already won are untainted by any of this. The e-mail chain Donald Trump Jr. released where he responded to an offer by a Russian music publicist he knew to be a Russian operative offering that adversarial government’s help in the election by saying “I love it” still exists. The Trump campaign’s past foreign policy advisor and the Trump administration’s since-fired Trump administration national security advisor’s guilty plea to lying about his dealings with the Russkies has yet to be pardoned. The Trump campaign’s fired campaign manager is still fighting charges of illegal dealings with the Russkies, among other things, and Trump’s longtime lawyer is likely to be charged any day now about his deal to pay off a porn star on a Delaware shall company that also had some Russkie-linked company deposits on its ledger.
If there’s a “deep state” conspiracy afoot here, it seems such an inept work of petty bureaucrats that Trump and his die-hard defenders shouldn’t mind. The much-anticipated IG’s report finds that the fired Comey acknowledged and re-eacknowledged a federal investigation into Clinton’s “extreme carelessness” and then announced it was renewing the investigation after some salacious e-mail’s on a close aide’s pervert husband’s laptop, which Trump lauded as courageous at the time and surely did the awful Clinton’s candidacy no good. At no point did the fired FBI director publicly divulge there was also a ongoing investigation into the conformed-by-all-the-intelligence-agency’s conclusion about Russian meddling on in the election of Trump’s behalf and a few of his campaign’s and administrations past high-ranking officials who had previously been suspected of being too friendly with the Russkie, which did o harm at the time to Trump. It all wound up with the presidency of Trump, which no one can deny, albeit with all the lingering doubts about it.

— Bud Norman

Begging Trump’s Pardon

On a Wednesday full of stories about trade wars and the Environmental Protection Agency director’s latest scandals and the first public sighting of First Lady Melania Trump in several weeks, the item that caught our attention was President Donald Trump releasing 63-year-old Alice Marie Johnson from the federal prison where she was serving a life sentence on a drug-dealing rap.
Even the most anti-Trump media tended to describe Johnson as a first-offender convicted on a non-violent drug offense, but the local media who covered her trial and sentencing back in ’97 described her as the leader of a multi-million dollar drug ring that sold tons of cocaine over a three-year period. Given that Trump has touted Singapore’s policy of executing even low-level drug dealers as a model for America, even the pro-Trump “Powerlineblog” had to admit it seemed damned odd.
The best explanation all the media could find is that Johnson’s cause was championed for some unknown reason by Kim Kardashian, one of Trump’s fellow reality television stars, who was granted a widely-publicized White House visit last week to plead Johnson’s case.
That probably did have something to do with it, but we’re sure there’s more to it. Trump has recently issued a posthumous pardon for first black heavyweight champion Jack Johnson, who was convicted of immorality charges while consorting with a white woman, and we suspect that Trump’s commutation of the equally-black Mary Alice Johnson is intended to burnish his otherwise questionable credentials as the least racist person you ever met. He also has reason to be confident that even the most anti-Trump media will describe Johnson as a first-time non-violent drug offender and that most of the pro-Trump media will ignore that he let loose a woman who was duly convicted of running a multi-million dollar drug ring that sold tons of cocaine.
Trump’s most die-hard defenders are noting that even President Barack Obama didn’t commute Johnson’s sentence when he was pardoning hundreds of first-time and non-violent drug crime offenders, but we think the Powerlineblog guys have a better point when they note that even Oaama didn’t let loose the ring leader a multi-million and multi-ton cocaine cartel.
Trump has previously used his presidential powers to pardon Arizona’s Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio for flagrantly violating the fourth and ninth and 14th amendments of the Constitution in his law enforcement efforts, and former President George W. Bush appointee “Scooter” Libby for admittedly lying to federal investigators about the long forgotten and no big deal Valerie Plame-gate scandal, as well as a conservative pundit who admittedly violated federal campaign finance laws. He’s pardoning people who have been prosecuted by the same prosecutors who are now prosecuting him, which should hearten the various past Trump campaign and administration officials who have been indicted on various charges and have reason to testify truthfully about Trump in a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing.” The Trump lawyer that most often appears on television has even asserted that Trump could pardon himself, even if he shot and killed a political adversary.
Any president’s powers to pardon offenders or commute their sentences are broad, but surely there are some limits to the public’s patience.

— Bud Norman

“Operation Cross-Fire Hurricane” and Its Controversies and Spin-Offs

The whole “Russia thing with Trump and Russia” that has tormented President Donald Trump since even before he took office has lately become all the more complicated lately, what with the latest revelations about “Operation Crossfire Hurricane.”
Thanks to to the diligent journalism of The New York Times, we now know that the Federal Bureau of Investigation had a few agents looking into suspicions about the Russian government’s meddling in the last presidential election and the Trump campaign’s possible cooperation with that effort in a highly secretive investigation code-named “Operation Crossfire Hurricane” a full 100 days before any votes were cast in Trump’s unlikely electoral college upset. As one might expect, The New York Times’ bombshell scoop has set off a lot of spinning on both sides of the political spectrum.
in his “tweets” Trump always calls the paper the “failing New York Times,” and his die-hard defenders always sneeringly call it the “The New York Slimes,” but in this case they’re not complaining that “The Old Gray Lady” is “fake news.” In this case they think it vindicates their longstanding theory that the FBI and the broader Justice Department and thus the administration of President Barack Obama and the rest of the “deep state” were engaged in a conspiracy to overthrow Trump’s presidency with a “silent coup” even before he was so improbably elected. Meanwhile, on the left, they’re highlighting the fact that a few savvy feds were suspicious about Trump’s Russian-friendly stances and Russia Trump-friendly stances all along.
In any case both sides seem to agree that The New York Times is entirely accurate in its account of the origins of the still-ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing,” and from our recent perspective on the sidelines the left seems to be getting the best of it.
Trump and his die-hard defenders had previously theorized that the whole “Russia thing” conspiracy began with a former British intelligence officer’s shocking report about Trump and Russia that was originally commissioned by some anti-Trump Republicans but later subsidized by the Democratic Party and the campaign of its nominee Hillary Clinton, but that’s no longer operative on talk radio. For now they accept the Times’ account that it all began when a Trump campaign staffer got drunk in a London pub and bragged to an Australian diplomat about the Trump campaign’s cozy relationship, which quickly led to an FBI watch of that staffer and then a campaign foreigb policy advisor and much-higher-raking foreign policy and then the campaign manager. This is all the proof you need, to hear the talk radio talkers tell it, that your federal government’s law enforcement agencies and judiciary were in on a “deep state” “witch hunt” to unseat Trump even before he was seated.
Which seems plausible enough in these crazy times, but there are some troubling and no longer denied facts that give one pause.
The drunkenly talkative staffer who bragged to the Australian diplomat that Trump was getting dirt on Clinton is Carter Page, who was previously on the FBI’s radar as a suspected agent and has since been seriously indicted on various charges. The campaign foreign policy adviser was George Popadopolous, who has already pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI and is cooperating with a special counsel’s ongoing investigation into the “Russia thing.” The higher-ranking campaign foreign policy is retired four-star Marine general Michael Flynn, who briefly served as the Trump administration’s national security advisor, but he’s already pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his lucrative contacts with the Russians and is said to be cooperating with the “witch hunt” rather than face various other charges that have been brought. One-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort hasn’t pleaded guilty to anything yet, despite the numerous indictments he’s facing and all his previous federal filings as an agent for a Russia-friendly Ukrainian dictatorship, but his former lobbying partner Rick Gates has already entered a guilty plea for his perjury about past Russian contacts and is now cooperating the “Russia thing” investigations.
Senior member of the the Manafort, Black, Stone & Kelly lobbying-for-dictators firm Roger Stone, a scandalous figure since his days as one of President Richard Nixon’s self-proclaimed “rat fuckers,” hasn’t yet been indicted or even interviewed by the special counsel investigation, but that suggests the special counsel’s slow but steady investigation is saving him for next-to-laston its interrogation list..
At this point the left is gloating that they’ve nearly got the goods on on Trump, and what’s left of the right since Trump was elected is indignant that we only know about it because of some “deep state” conspiracy, and although for the moment they both agree on The New York Times’ version of the facts we don’t see it ending well in any case. The left is prematurely closing its case, the right is prematurely invoking Nixon’s defense that “if a president of the United States does it it isn’t illegal,” and in these times the rest of country probably won’t much give a damn in any case.
We didn’t much care for that awful Clinton woman, and were disappointed when the FBI investigations into her scandalous e-mail practices and other shady dealings didn’t yield any indictments or guilty pleas, but at least that FBI director Trump wound up firing publicly admitted to an investigation of the the matter and publicly excoriated her for her “extreme carelessness” in matters of national security, and announced a re-investigation after he longtime aide’s husband’s laptop full of selfie-sex pics was discovered. That cost that awful Clinton woman the election, as far as she’s still concerned, and as far as we’re concerned she deserved it.
Trump and his die-hard defenders are now grousing that the  Obama-era FBI was spying on the Trump campaign, but we don’t much care for them, either, and despite our longstanding doubts about the FBI and the “deep state” everyone now seems to admit they didn’t let word of their early and now well-documented suspicious become public until long after Trump had been inaugurated. If “Operation Crossfire Hurricane” was an illegal conspiracy to prevent Trump from becoming president it was an objectively spectacular failure, and it remains to be seen how the conspiracy theories on the right will save Trump’s presidency.
That awful Clinton woman is still as awful as ever, as far as we’re concerned, but she’s by now undeniably and thankfully irrelevant, while that awful Trump fellow is also currently under investigation for hush money payments to porno performers and payments from the Chinese government after concessions to a dubious Chinese telephone company and a $500 million payment by the Chinese government to a Trump-branded development in Indonesia and a whole lot else. At this point, we’re only hoping the truth will out.

— Bud Norman

Our Monday Answer to Thursday’s News

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing” will be a year old on Thursday, and we can already guess how almost everybody will mark the anniversary.
President Donald Trump’s die-hard defenders on talk radio and other right-wing media will loudly argue that if a year of dogged digging hasn’t produced a iron-clad case that the Trump campaign aided the Russian government’s efforts to meddle in the past presidential and the Trump administration then attempted to obstruct the various investigations into the matter, they might as well concede defeat and close up shop.
These are the same pundits who cheered on the special prosecutors’ investigations into President Bill Clinton as they veered from the Whitewater land deal to an affair with a White House intern and stretched out over four years and wound up with a semen-stained blue dress. They also spent three years defending congressional investigations of Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s role in the deadly fiasco at Benghazi, Libya, and it’s a sure bet that if Clinton had won the last presidential election they’d be eager to let the inevitable investigations into her e-mail practices and family foundation and various other matters take as long they required. Indeed, those same pundits are still chanting “lock her up” and don’t seem to care how long that might take.
There’s likely to be the same hypocrisy on the left, of course, as many of the same pundits and politicians who once decried the ever-widening scope and plodding pace of the many Clinton investigations will surely be insisting on Thursday that the Mueller investigation be granted wide latitude about hush money payments to porno performers and president’s personal lawyer’s receipt of big bucks from a Russian-linked firm and other matters as well as plenty of time to get the bottom of it all. Such is the nature of punditry and politics these days.
We didn’t care much for either of the Clintons, and were willing to be patient with whatever legal scrutiny they were subjected to, but neither do we care much for Trump, so without fear of accusations of hypocrisy we’re willing to grant Mueller wide latitude and as much time as he needs.
In this case, the wheels of justice seem to be grinding far faster than these political investigations usually proceed. Mueller’s investigation has already yielded 19 indictments of people and three companies associated with the Trump campaign and administration, including some high-profile guilty pleas including a campaign and administration national security advisor and jail time for some foreign lawyer you’ve never heard of, and several of the countless witnesses they’ve interviewed describe a team that already seems to know all the answers. The only people they haven’t yet interviewed are the ones a shrewd prosecutor such as Mueller would surely save for last, and someone who’s not on Mueller’s leak-proof ship has leaked an outline of 49 very hard-to-answer questions they intend to ask Trump himself in an interview they’re already negotiating with his ever-changing team of lawyers.
Which is not bad for a “witch hunt,” as Trump and his die-hard defenders continually describe Mueller’s investigation. Even without subpoena power the “fake news” media have forced the president’s namesake son to release an e-mail chain documenting his and his brother-in-law and the campaign manager’s meeting with a Russian-linked lawyer they understood to be acting on the Russian government’s behalf, the porno performer’s surprisingly shrewd lawyer has forced that Russian-linked company to admit that they did indeed make a huge payment to Trump’s surprisingly inept and defenestrated and under-investigation lawyer, and there are those high-profile indictments and guilty pleas, and by now enough of the “fake news” has been verified that only a hypocrite wouldn’t allow another few months to get the bottom of it.
In a few months a third of the Senate and all of the House of Representatives will be up for reelection, and we can already guess what a mess of hypocritical punditry and politics that will be. If the Mueller investigation comes up with an iron-clad case of conspiracy and obstruction by then the right will claim vindication for its conspiracy that it’s all a “deep state” plot to overthrow the president, and if it doesn’t the left will surely be plenty angry about it.
Although there’s no telling what time it will take, we expect that as always the truth will come out. At this point in time, we expect the truth will be embarrassing to Trump.
At the end of the long investigations of Bill he had to admit to an “improper relationship” with that White House intern, and although he escaped conviction in an impeachment trial he temporarily lost his law license and so tarnished his awful wife with her own thoroughly investigated scandals that wound up losing to the likes of Trump, but the same left that now has a zero-tolerance policy about sexual impropriety decided that it really didn’t care if the President of the United States was doing tawdry cigar tricks with a 25-year-old intern. If the end of the Trump investigations prove just as clearly that he conspired with a hostile foreign power to meddle in an American election we expect his ardent defenders and erstwhile cold warriors and champions of law and order to proclaim that’s no big deal.
Such is the state of American punditry and politics these days. We came of age during the two long years of the Watergate scandal before Nixon resigned, and have lived through similar outrages from both the left and right, so we’re resigned to a longer wait for the conclusion of this.

— Bud Norman

Trump’s Imperfect Storm

That whole “Russia thing” has lately merged with those porn star and Playboy playmate scandals, and it all seems to be closing in on President Donald Trump.
Trump’s longtime lawyer and sex-scandal “fixer” Michael Cohen recently had his office and home and hotel raided by the Justice Department, and is widely expected to be indicted soon, and Trump’s most longtime lawyer is advising him that Cohen is almost certain to start providing state’s evidence in whatever matters might arise from all the seized files and recordings and other potential evidence. The Federal Bureau of Investigation director that Trump fired has a best-selling book full of newsworthy allegations, with Trump offering explanations for the firing that contradict his past statements, and efforts by Trump loyalists to discredit James Comey have resulted in the leaking of some formerly classified memos he wrote after his conversations with the president that contain even more newsworthy allegations. Meanwhile, the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” that resulted from Comey’s firing, which has already secured several indictments and guilty pleas and has prominent Trump campaign and administration officials fully cooperating, plods irresistibly along.
Trump has now added former star federal prosecutor and legendary New York mayor Rudy Giuliani to a legal team that’s been depleted by defections and impending indictments, and Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell has vowed not to allow a vote on a bipartisan bill that would prevent Trump from firing the Justice Department officials he needs to replace in order to fire the special counsel and perhaps end the investigation into the “Russia thing” altogether. According to all the opinion polls he also has the support of about four-fifths of the Republican party, as well as the fierce apologetics of prominent voices on the talk radio airwaves and other right-wing media, but he nonetheless looks outgunned on all fronts.
Giuliani was a formidable lawyer who locked up a lot of New York City mobsters back in the ’80s, and his three terms as Mayor of New York in the ’90s saw crime and tax rtes decline dramatically while employment and and tax revenues and general quality of life soared, and his response to the Sept. 11, terror attack on the World Trade Center made him a national hero and Time Magazine’s “Man of the Year” in 2001, but since then he’s been on a long losing streak. A sex scandal ended his second marriage and commenced his third, and once upon a time in the Republican party that sort of thing combined with the Republican party’s former suspicion of smartypants New Yorkers doomed his presidential campaign in the good old days of 2008. He cashed in with some lucrative lawyering and lobbying and consulting, but he largely faded from the news until he remerged as an advocate for his fellow New Yorker and serial philanderer and far less qualified friend Trump, who by then was palatable to a plurality of the Republican party.
Giuliani told the press that he expects to negotiate a quick end to the various criminal and counter-terrorism investigations regarding the “Russia thing,” which suggests to us that his legal skills have rusted over the past few years, and that his losing streak is likely to continue.
McConnell says he’s not going allow legislation protecting special counsel Robert Mueller from being fired because he doesn’t believe Trump would ever be stupid enough to fire him, but that doesn’t do Trump much good. A credibly accused child molester that Trump campaigned for lost a seemingly safe Senate seat in Alabama, Arizona Senator and erstwhile Republican hero John McCain is busy battling brain cancer, so the Republican majority in the Senate is down to the tie-breaking vote of Vice President Mike Pence, and McConnell is reviled as the epitome of the “Republican establishment” by the party’s pro-Trump “burn it down” wing and quickly losing control of his fractious and increasingly Trump-averse caucus. You can call the Cable News Network “fake news” all you want, but unless you think they can produce computer generated images more convincingly than Industrial Light and Magic they taped a full dozen big-name congressional Republicans who wouldn’t say on the record that they’re on board with Trump’s reelection.
Even if McConnell does somehow allow the president to fire the people he needs to fire the special counsel and put an end to the whole “Russia thing,” McConnell is quite right that it would be a damned dumb thing to do.
That fired FBI director’s best-selling book and widely publicized book tour is getting mixed reviews, as his seeming mishandling of the undeniably difficult problem of presiding over investigations of serious allegations of criminal activity by both major party candidates during a presidential election has made him a hated figure on both ends of the spectrum, and that storm should soon pass. Those memos Comey wrote in the lead-up to his firing are likely be more troublesome when these matters enter a court of law, though, and for all his undeniable and admitted flaws we’ll find Comey a more credible witness when it inevitably comes down to that.
At this point we can’t imagine what might shake that four-fifth of the Republican party’s faith in Trump, but we notice that some of the right-wing talk radio hosts are fulminating about Trump’s betrayals of his non-interventionist promises with his missile strikes in Syria and a possible betrayals on building a border wall and deporting all the “dreamers” and waging trade wars around the globe. By now all but the most protectionist and isolationist Democrats still hate Trump as much as ever, a fifth of the Republican party and at least a dozen prominent congressional Republicans are outspokenly unenthused about him, and our view from the sidelines sees Trump taking a licking on all fronts.

— Bud Norman

On Finding the Right Lawyer

If you ever find yourself in serious legal jeopardy in the vicinity of Wichita, Kansas, and have deep enough pockets, we happen to know the attorney you should call.
Back in our court beat days on the local newspaper we saw him get a guy off for bilking an elderly couple out of their retirements with some phony-baloney annuities because the relevant state statute failed to mention annuities among all the phony-baloney sort of financial instruments that are prohibited here, an oversight the state legislature corrected a couple of weeks later. We heard some un-confirmable but entirely believable rumors about the big bucks he’d earned defending a nationally-known and much locally reviled late-term abortionist on 13 local misdemeanor charges that got national and international attention, and whatever the amount it proved well-spent after acquittals on all charges.
If you happen to find yourself in serious legal jeopardy in the vicinity of Washington, D.C., we can’t tell you who to call. After a couple of youthful summers in the city and all the news we’ve followed since we’re sure there’s plenty of top-notch legal talent to be had there, but you’ll have to ask the locals for their advice on which is best. Whoever that best D.C. attorney might be, President Donald Trump and his much-bragged about deep pockets seems to having trouble hiring him or her for this “Russia thing.”
One of Trump’s lawyers either recently quit or was recently fired, depending on whose account you believe, and Trump hasn’t yet announced a replacement. It was reliably reported it would be Joseph diGenova, a former Department of Justice Attorney now better-known as a Fox News contributor who alleges the whole “Russia thing” is a “fake News” “deep state” conspiracy, but then it was reported diGenova wouldn’t be joining the team due to “conflicts.” It was also reported that Trump solicited the services of Theodore Olson, a former U.S. solicitor general in the President George W. Bush administration and since then a legendary defense litigator, but his firm announced he wouldn’t accept the gig. Olson later opined to the news media that the “turmoil” and “chaos” in Trump’s White is “beyond normal.” After that it was reported that some hot-shot white collar lawyer from Chicago also turned down the gig.
Which is problematic for Trump, as the legal team he’s assembled on the other side of the “Russia thing” looks pretty darned formidable. You can call special counsel Robert Mueller a “fake news” “deep state” conspirator all you want, but he’s an Eagle Scout and decorated combat veteran and well-regarded Federal Bureau of Investigation director with a long, long history of successfully prosecuting cases, and he’s already won some notable indictments and some more notable guilty pleas in this investigation. The team of attorneys he’s assembled does indeed include some Democratic donors, as the Trump and his apologists like to note, but so does Trump’s team and Trump is a Democratic donor himself, and the prosecution team has chalked up some pretty impressive court verdicts against Russian mobsters and other money-launderers and international conspiracies,
Our long and desultory experiences of these matters suggests that it often comes down to who’s got the best lawyer, which does not bode well for Trump. He brags about his deep pockets and the fame and fortune that awaits any lawyer who takes on his case, yet he currently seems vastly out-lawyered. So far his personal lawyers have been losing in the court of public opinion battle to the shark representing an all-too-believable pornographic video performer who alleges a hilariously embarrassing sexual encounter with the future president, no matter how that might play out in a a court of law.
According to news reports this is largely because he’s regarded as a client who doesn’t heed legal advice, which is obviously true, and partly because he has a reputation for not paying his bills, which is reportedly and quite believably true. One of the better lawyers we know in town is a Democrat but otherwise a nice guy, who has helped out some people we’ve loved on a pro-bono or much-reduced rate, and on our last encounter at Kirby’s Beer Store he told us he’d take case Trump’s case only if he were paid fully in advance. That locally legendary legal shark is also a nice enough guy, too, and although we’re glad to not to have needed to run into him lately we’re sure he’d say the same thing.

— Bud Norman

Simpson vs. Trump in the Ratings War

On an otherwise nice early spring Monday, two remarkably unsurprising headlines grabbed our attention. One was about former football hero O.J. Simpson’s “hypothetical” confession to double murder in an old but only recently aired interview with the Fox News Network, and the other was about the Republicans on the House committee investigating the “Russia thing” soon releasing a report that there’s nothing to it.
At this point we won’t worry about a libel suit and will come right out and say that Simpson damned sure seemed guilty of that long-ago double murder from the start, and we never doubted that sooner or later he’d eventually get around to confessing it in some weaselly way. Still, if you were anywhere near a television or newsstand way back when the trial occurred you couldn’t escape it, as it was the runaway reality show hit of the year, even if the whodunnit part of it was obvious from the outset. It featured a handsome football hero and a gorgeous ex-wife and her hunky younger suitor, it happened in a famously ritzy Los Angeles suburb, there were colorful lawyer characters involved, so Hollywood’s best screenwriters couldn’t have written a more blockbuster script. The handsome football hero and accused murderer was black while the gorgeous ex-wife and her hunky younger suitor were white, too, and with the combination of Los Angeles’ troubled racial history and the ritzy suburban location and the domestic violence it also made for all sorts of think pieces about race class and gender in the more serious media.
The prosecution had Simpson’s blood at the crime scene, the victims’ blood at his home and on his automobile, serial numbers and credit card receipts proving Simpson owned the bloody glove found at the crime scene, and the fact that Simpson had attempted to flea justice on the a live broadcast that got bigger ratings that any Super Bowl or the series of finale of “M*A*S*H.” Simpson’s defense offered no plausible alibi and a bundle of vague conspiracy theories so crazy they wouldn’t fly on “InfoWars,” and if you were sticking to the facts it was pretty simple. At the intersection of race and class and gender it’s hard to stick to the facts, however, especially in our reality show culture, and the Simpson trial provoked all sorts of reactions.
We had several white friends — mostly women, oddly enough — who insisted that Simpson couldn’t be guilty of such a heinous crime because he seemed such a nice guy in all those post-game interviews and the movies and commercials he’d done after his playing days. Pretty much all of our black friends bought into the conspiracy theory that the racist police had pulled off an elaborate conspiracy to frame the black guy. All in all it made for a damned convoluted debate about the outcome.
Two of our better black friends are a couple of colleagues at the newspaper where we labored at the time, both of them fine journalists who usually adhered to the facts of a story, but they both believed the conspiracy theories, and it made for some strained conversation over coffee. We tried to point out that it would take one hell of a conspiracy to so quickly plant the defendant’s blood at the crime scene and the victims’ blood on his automobile at at his home, not to mention that very specific glove, and that the same racist police had let Simpson off lightly after repeated complaints of domestic abuse, but they were unconvinced. Simpson’s ex-wife’s had put pictures of her bruised and bloody face in a safe deposit box to document the repeated domestic abuse, just in case she wound up murdered, but several of our mostly women white friends still insisted he seemed too a nice guy to murder his wife.
At this point in the distant future pretty much everyone figures that yeah, O.J. did it and might as well confess, as there’s not much to do about it now, but the same sort of superficial considerations still cloud the public’s assessment of more pressing matters. The Republicans on the House committee investigating the “Russia thing” have their own obvious reasons for concluding there’s nothing to it, as do many of our white friends and fellow Republicans, and by they have own  legitimate racial grievances and are as obstinate about as their conspiracy theories as our black friends once were about Simpson’s innocence.
We try to point out that even the Trump-appointed heads of all the intelligence agencies agree that the Russian government meddled in the past presidential election on Trump’s behalf, and that various Trump campaign and administration officials have already either pleaded guilty or been indicted or recused themselves for various suspicious and undisclosed contacts with Russian officials. We note that the top-notch special counsel investigation has come up with even more circumstantial than those hapless LA County prosecutors could muster against Simpson, that the hapless Trump defenders on his legal team in the House investigating team and talk radio are offering up conspiracy theories that would have embarrassed Simpson’s lawyers, and it makes for some strained conversations over coffee.
Sooner or later the heat of the moment dissipates, though, and the cold hard facts of the matter become apparent. In retrospect we’re not at all surprised that a mostly black jury from Los Angeles would vote to acquit Simpson, and even in this moment we’re not surprised that an all white group of House Republicans would conclude that there’s nothing at all to that whole “Russia thing.”
People are like that, no matter their color nor their political persuasion.

— Bud Norman

Judgment at Nurnberg

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

— Bud Norman

Looking Forward to a Tricky Situation

President Donald Trump said in an impromptu news conference Wednesday night that he was looking forward to testifying under oath to special counsel Robert Mueller about the “Russia thing,” which is a perfect example of why he should be dreading such an ordeal.
Trump added that his eagerness was “subject to my lawyers and all that,” but his lawyers would have advised him not to volunteer for the grilling that they’ve surely been doing their best to avoid. They probably couldn’t find any legal grounds to spare Trump from testifying, and the political consequences for not doing so would be unavoidable in any case, but the self-proclaimed master deal-maker has just robbed his attorneys of whatever leverage they might had to negotiate any limits on the questions that can be asked. There was even talk about limiting the special counsel to written questions, which would have allowed Trump’s lawyers to vet the written answers, but that faint hope has now vanished.
Letting Trump spontaneously answer Mueller’s questions is potentially disastrous, given his well-known penchant for blurting out the most blatant and easily disproved lies, such as he did several times in that impromptu news conference. He also has an unfortunate knack for blurting out damning truths, such as when he disregarded the White House staff’s carefully worded lies about firing Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey because he had been so unfair to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton during the campaign and told the National Broadcasting Company’s Lester Holt that he fired the guy because of the “Russia thing.” Worse yet, Trump also a worrisome cocksureness that he doesn’t need anybody’s advice and can talk himself out of any situation.
Trump has indeed talked himself out of a lot of tricky situations over the years, and he somehow talked himself into the White House, but he’s also wound paying out of many millions of dollars settling race discrimination and divorce and fraud and a wide variety of other lawsuits. The current situation is the trickiest Trump has ever faced, with far greater potential consequences and a far more formidable foe.
All the right-wing talk radio hosts and the rests of Trump’s apologists would have you believe that Mueller and his team of lawyers and investigators are part of a “deep state” conspiracy out to destroy Trump with “fake news,” but even if you believe that you have to believe he is formidable indeed. He’s a life-long Republican and long-married Eagle Scout whose reputation for boring probity was impeccable until recently, after earning a master’s degree he volunteered to the Marines and wound up earning medals for valor a Purple Heart in Vietnam before earning his law degree, and his career in public service saw him rise through the United States Attorney’s Office and the FBI through both Republican and Democrats, culminating in his appointment to FBI director by Republican President George W. Bush and being re-appointed to an unprecedented second term by Democratic President Barack Obama.
The Trump apologists would also have you believe that Mueller’s team of lawyers and investigators are also a bunch of Clinton-loving conspiracists out to get the president for purely partisan reasons, and indeed some of them had contributed to her campaigns, just as Trump’s lawyer and family and Trump himself have done in the past, but they rarely mention that all of the staff have excellent credentials and much success in prosecuting such matters as money-laundering and Russian gangsterism and campaign law violations. The questions Trump will be giving spontaneous answers to will be carefully considered, expertly asked, and backed up by all they’ve learned from subpoenaed documents and the testimony from campaign and administration officials who have already been indicted or pleaded guilty to charges brought by the special counsel.
They won’t be so easily dodged as those less carefully considered and expertly asked questions he’s always getting from those pesky and relatively uninformed reporters, either. The Trump apologists usually respond to the most vexing questions about Trump by changing the subject to something that either Clinton or Obama had done, or ignoring it as “fake news,” or alleging that “deep state” conspiracy, but Trump will have no choice but to offer a real answer when he’s under oath. Taunting nicknames and assurances that “there was no collusion, everybody says so, that I can tell you, believe me” won’t help, either, in response to questions about a specific meeting with a specific person at a specific time.
Based on all the “fake news” stories by relatively uninformed pesky reporters that the White House has had to eventually admit are all too true, we expect some of those very specific questions are going to require a very carefully considered answer. Carefully considered answers aren’t Trump’s style, however, as he prefers to blurt out damnable lies or damning truths.
Our guess is that all the “fake news” outlets and other Trump critics are going to find something damnable or damning in the all-too-real transcripts of the testimony that will eventually be made public, and that the talk radio talkers and the other Trump apologists will dismiss what’s damnable as no big deal and and deny what’s damning as a “deep state” conspiracy. The rest of the country, by our best guess, will be skeptical of everything trump says except for the damning parts.
Which is not to say that Trump won’t eventually talk himself out of this mess. He’s talked and paid himself out of plenty of tricky situations before, and there’s a certain segment of the population that wouldn’t care if he went out and shot someone on New York’s Fifth Avenue, and a lot of the country doesn’t seem care about much anything political these days. No matter how damnable or damning Trump’s testimony under oath might be, we know a lot of people who will still be glad that at least Clinton isn’t the president.
Our old-fashioned Republican souls also shudder at the very thought of another Clinton presidency, but we still don’t think that a sometime Democrat and sometime Reform Party member and relatively recent Republican who is thrice-married and regales a Boy Scout jamboree with tales of orgies on yachts and dodged the draft and devoted his life to a ruthless pursuit of private gain and prides himself on flouting previous standards of probity is going to make America great again. We have no idea how it’s going to turn out, but we do know Trump is facing a more formidable foes than himself  in Mueller and the truth, and it’s a very tricky situation.

— Bud Norman