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Playing Tough in a Tough Game

The late and great comedian Rodney Dangerfield had a joke we liked about how tough his high school was. “I’m telling you, it was really tough,” he’d say, tugging nervously at his collar before adding, “after the football team sacked the quarterback, they would go after his family.”
That jibe somehow came to mind as we were reading about the newly installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives’ wide and widening investigations into the businesses and campaign and transition team and inaugural committee and administration of President Donald Trump. Letters of inquiry and warnings of subpoenas have been sent not only to Trump’s longtime personal secretary and senior vice president of the Trump Organization and the longtime Trump Organization chief financial operator and keeper of secrets, as well as White House associates Hope Hicks, Sean Spicer, and Steve Bannon, but also Trump’s namesake son Donald Trump Jr. and other son Eric Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner.
We’re telling you, politics is really tough — tug nervously on your collar for full effect — and that newly installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives seems ready and eager to play it tough.
Which is not to say that they’re wrong to do so, and we guess that as Trump tugs nervously at his collar he gives them some begrudging respect for it. Trump has always prided himself on his toughness, and as recently as last Saturday was describing his critics as “very sick people” who “hate America” and are “like a crazy person.” He’s alleged all sorts of criminal and downright treasonous crimes against previous presidents and other political opponents, Republican and Democratic alike, and he’s not been shy about going against their families. Back when the Republican nomination was down to him or Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, Trump “re-tweeted” an internet “meme” with an unflattering shot of Cruz’ wife juxtaposed against a gauzy glamour photo of Trump’s third trophy wife, and threatened to “spill the beans” on the relatively homely housewife. When one of Trump’s longtime lawyers started spilling the beans on Trump’s hush money payments to porno performers and other business practices, Trump “tweeted” to the Justice Department and the rest of the country that it was more important to find out about the lawyer’s father-in-law’s dirty dealings. We almost forgot, but he also directed everyone’s attention to a National Enquirer scoop that Cruz’ father might have been in on the assassination of President John Kennedy, but by now even such a rock-ribbed Republican as Cruz seems have for forgiven and forgotten and bended to Trump’s will.
Politics is indeed a tough game, with some very tough players on both sides, but for now the rules of the game seem to favor that ruthlessly tough Democratic majority in the House, as well as some well-established matters of fact. Longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen is soon headed to a three-year stay in federal prison for various crimes, so he had nothing to lose when he stopped by a congressional hearing to testify that he committed his various crimes on behalf of and at the request of Trump, and he had various documents to back him up, and he credibly named the Trump Organization’s longtime secretary and vice president and its chief financial operator as corroborating witnesses, so letters of inquiry and threats of subpoena seem reasonable. We’re not at all Democrats, even if at this point we’re not blindly Republican, and we’d also like to hear what those potential White House witnesses have to say under oath and penalty of law.
At this peculiar point in history, we don’t even mind that those damned Democrats are going after the family. Donald Trump Jr. has already coughed up an e-mail chain admitting that some Russians he knew to be tied into the Russian dictatorship had told him they had some dirt on Trump Sr.’s opponent as part of “Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump,” to which he replied “I love it!” The younger Trump took that meeting, it’s now acknowledged, and after a number of now-acknowledged lies have been told about he seems fair game for another round of congressional testimony. Eric Trump is one of the executives in charge of President Trump’s still wholly-owned businesses and a trustee of the recently ended family charity, and given that the Justice Department’s southern district and the special counsel investigation and the many media inquiries into various matters about that he also seems a fair target.
As for that son-in-law, he frankly reminds us every son-in-law joke we ever heard. As it turns out the very best person that Trump could find to bring about peace in the Middle East and end America’s opioid crisis and reinvent the federal government was his son-in-law, who according to a credible and mostly undenied New York Times report got a top level security clearance from his father-in-law despite the objections of the intelligence and national security agents who had investigated him. What with politics being such a tough game we’ll add that Kushner’s dad is a felon who was on c0nvicted on tax evasion and witness intimidation charges by Trump’s short-lived transition chief and former federal prosecutor and New Jersey governor and vanquished campaign rival Chris Christie, and that the story is even tawdrier than that. If those damned Democrats haul him before Congress to testify why those intelligence and national security investigators didn’t want to give him a top secret security clearance, we won’t mind a bit, and will be eager to hear his live-on-television and under-oath and penalty of law answers.
Politics is indeed a tough game, but with no particular dog in the fight at the moment we’ll sit back and see how it plays out. We still retain a rooting interest in America and the truth, though, and will anxiously await the outcome.

— Bud Norman

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A Slow News Day Spent Mostly Waiting for the Coming Faster News

There was the usual amount of news afoot on Monday, but most of it was about the Academy Awards and a vote in the House of Representatives about the little noticed National State of Emergency and other matters of fleeting interest. Most of the media seemed bracing for the big summit in Vietnam between American President Donald Trump and North Korean dictator Kim Jong Un, and what might follow that.
The conventional wisdom at the moment is that “Russia thing” special counsel Robert Mueller is politely withholding his report as a by-the-book courtesy to a president abroad conducting foreign affairs, and that when Trump arrives home something more important than North Korea’s ongoing nuclear program will happen. Try as we might to always be contrarians, this time the conventional wisdom seems wise to us.
Except for a whole lot of pomp and circumstance — or pomp and circumcision, as the great malaprop comic Norm Crosby might have more aptly put it — we don’t expect much earth-shaking news to come out of Trump’s summit with Kim. We mean that in the most optimistic and best way, as we don’t much worry about any mushroom clouds arising as a result, but we also don’t expect it will result in the elimination of the nuclear threat that Trump has already bragged about eliminating. Each of Trump’s national security agency chiefs have given sworn and live-on-television testimony to Congress that they believe Kim is not likely to give up his nuclear program, and submitted a 40-page written report stating the same thing, and although Trump has claimed that they were misquoted and misconstrued by the “fake news” we think they’re likely right. We hold out some hope that our former fourth district Kansas congressman and current Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is on the job, as he’s always seem grounded-in-reality fellow, but our faith was somewhat shaken when he denied to a cable news interviewer that Trump had ever said anything like what he undeniably “tweeted” about the North Korean nuclear threat already being eliminated, and assured us he was still hopeful.
We’re hopeful there at least won’t be any mushroom clouds, but Trump seems rightly worried that whenever the Mueller report lands it will be a significant bombshell. The Democrats now running the House Oversight Committee have impolitely summoned Trump’s soon-to-imprisoned longtime personal lawyer Michael Cohen to testify while the president is abroad and attending to important foreign policy matters, and that will likely steal some attention. Cohen can’t talk about the “Russia thing” due to the ongoing investigation, but he’s expected to talk about his role in arranging hush money payments to pornographic video performers and nude models so as to get around campaign finance laws, along with other ethically and legally problematic business practices he has witnessed over his many years as counsel to Trump.</div>
It will take quite a breakthrough in Vietnam to keep that out of the news,

— Bud Norman

The Competing Conspiracy Theories in the News

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

–Bud Norman

Some Inadvertently Un-Redacted Facts

That pesky partial government shutdown seems almost certain to soon set a new record for duration, and thus continues to dominate the news, but we still try to follow the “Russia thing.” Special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the matter has been admirably if infuriatingly leak-proof, but fortunately almost everybody else involved continue to keep the story in the bottom-of-the-fold headlines.
Thanks to some sloppy computer work on a court filing by the lawyers for Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for President Donald Trump and confessed felon who currently resides in a federal prison, we now know that Manafort stands accused of sharing polling data with a Russian named Konstantin Kilimnik who has ties to the Russian intelligence agencies. We also know, from Manafort’s lawyers accidentally un-redacted filings on his behalf, that “After being shown documents, Mr. Manafort ‘conceded’ that he discussed or may have discussed a Ukraine peace plan on more than one occasion” during the campaign.
This isn’t a “smocking gun,” as Trump spells it, but it does look pretty darned bad.
Trump’s defenders are already that there’s nothing illegal about sharing poll data with even a Russian operative, as poll data is readily available from the news media, but the more specific internal polling of a major party presidential campaign is usually a carefully protected secret, and in this case raises suspicions. All of America’s intelligence agencies and the Federal Bureau of Investigation, backed up by all of the Trump appointees to head them, agree that the Russian government attempted to interfere in America’s last presidential election on behalf of Trump. One of the alleged efforts was an internet disinformation campaign, which all of the major social media platforms have told Congress did happen, and it seems to have been effectively targeted to the states and counties where Trump wound up winning his electoral majority, so one wonders how the Russian could have known to choose this spots on the map.
One needn’t wonder why the Russians were meddling on Trump’s behalf, as Trump was one of the very few American politicians talking about lifting the sanctions the had been imposed on Russia after its invasions of Ukraine and Georgia. Trump had even spoken about the legitimacy of Russia’s claims to the territory, and we expect that any discussions Manafort might or might not have had about a Ukraine “peace plan” were to Russia’s liking, and that Russia would surely appreciate the precinct-by-precinct sort of polling that a major American political party does during a presidential campaign. Maybe it’s not a “smocking gun” of a criminal quid pro quo, but it’s hard for Trump’s die-hard defenders to explain.
Eventually they’ll probably wind up blaming everything on Manafort, who seems likely to wind up dying in federal prison anyway, and insist that the brilliant and always in charge Trump had no idea of what his campaign manager was up to, but there’s still a lot of explaining to do. Lately Trump has been excusing Russia’s invasion of Afghanistan with some revisionist history, might or might not be pursuing a retreat from Syria that would would greatly strengthen Russia’s power in the Middle East, and is still open to lifting the sanctions on Russia for it’s violation of Ukraine’s sovereignty.
Perhaps there’s some perfectly innocent explanation for all this, but for now we’re not betting on it.

— Bud Norman

Welcome to the Actual New Year

Today is the actual first day of the new year, no matter what the calendar says. Anyone who can takes the official if fake first of day January off from the time and space continuum, for darned good reason, and procrastinates at least until today what sooner or later needs to be done. Everyone’s back on the job of getting through another year starting today, unless you’re one of those federal employees temporarily furloughed by the latest partial government shutdown.
That’s just one of the dreary stories that civic-minded citizens will be obliged to read about in the coming days and weeks and months, although it will probably at least the next several 24-hour news cycles. President Donald Trump has vowed he won’t sign anything keeping the government fully funded that doesn’t pay billions for the big and beautiful wall running across the Mexican-American border that he promised his voters, the Democratic majority that’s to be installed in the House of Representatives tomorrow morning won’t be inclined to pass anything that includes any funding for even a small and ugly border barrier, and we expect a bad start to the new year for all those federal employees.
The stock markets reopen today, too, and we’ll not venture any guess about that how turns out. There are stock markets all over the crazy planet, each reacting to their own internal craziness as well as the craziness elsewhere, but on the other hand the American economy is still on a sluggish but upward trajectory and the unemployment rate is still low and the resulting interest rate increases are well within historic norms, but on yet another hand there are trade wars and all sorts of other populist uncertainties afoot. In any case, we’ll hope for the best and expect the worst.
Meanwhile, on the domestic political news front we civic-minded citizens are obliged to follow, there’s already enough pent-up news to fill a year. The special counsel’s investigation into the “Russia thing” surely will shortly start announcing more subpoenas and indictments and guilty pleas, the newly-installed Democratic majorities on all those House investigative committees will no doubt begin making their own trouble, and all the “fake news” will make hay of it. Along with the ongoing scandals about alleged trysts porn stars and Playboy playmates and all the resulting alleged campaign law violations, as well as the other scandals and hubbub-causing “tweets” that can be counted on, we expect this to be a busy year for for Trump’s apologists.
The rest of the world doesn’t offer much hope, either, with the Russian-Iranian-Syrian axis poised to take control of a big chunk of the Middle East, Trump-ian populist and protectionist and unabashedly nationalist movements gaining power around the globe, and the weenie sort of semi-socialistic parties resembling America’s current Democratic are faltering elsewhere. For now Trump is relying on an acting Secretary of Defense with no military experience, following the resignation of the four-star general who told the public that his four decades of immersion in foreign policy led him disagree with Trump’s gut instincts about America’s international alliances, and for now we’re inclined to worry that the four-general is right.
Even so, we’ll hope for the best and know for sure that things could be worse.
The temperatures didn’t top the low-30s today here in Kansas, by the time we dropped by Kirby’s Beer Store after sunset for a procrastinating swig before another damned year the wind chill was down in the teens, and oh how we hate this time of year. Except for a bearded and burly and very friendly bartender and a charmingly crabby old homosexual there was no one else to enjoy the cranked-up if ratchety old furnace, but we were soon joined by three rather short and squat and heavily-adorned but somehow attractive in a young hipster sort of way women and a young hipster man, who introduced themselves as the evening’s band, whose name we already forget. Hoping to show them the gracious hospitality one can expect at Kirby’s Beer Store and Wichita and Kanas in general, we asked where they were from, and they replied that they lived in North Dakota. In that case we didn’t feel obliged to apologize for the bad weather, as the wind chills are  in the minus-20s up there, and they all remarked about how balmy they found it down here.
Better to begin our new year here rather than in North Dakota, we suppose, and we certainly wouldn’t trade places with Trump.

— Bud Norman

On the Night After Christmas

Here’s hoping you all had a merry Christmas, or at least a merrier one that President Donald Trump seems to have had. For Trump, who was forced by public relations reasons to forestall a planned golfing vacation at his ritzy Mar-a-Lago resort in sunny south Florida, it wasn’t so much a Christmas as it was a “Festivus.”
Fans of the classic “Seinfeld” sit-com will recall that “Festivus” was a holiday the George Costanza character’s cranky father invented as an alternative to Christmas, and was devoted to the “airing of grievances” and “feats of strength.” Our cranky president spent most of Christmas Eve and Christmas airing a wide variety grievances via “Twitter” and a rare Christmas news conference, about everything from the damned Democrats to the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” to the alleged idiot that Trump appointed to chair the Federal Reserve, and trying his best to convince the public the he’s far stronger than any of them.
Although we try our best to ignore the news on Christmas Eve and Christmas, we read and watched enough that we were not convinced.
The third partial government shutdown of Trump’s first two years in office looks bad enough that Trump felt compelled to remain in frigid Washington rather than enjoy the sunny climes and opulent golf course at Mar-a-Lago, and the Democratic majority that’s soon to be installed in the House of Representatives has no apparent incentive to cave to the unpopular president’s demand for five billion dollars of funding for his unpopular campaign promise of a big and beautiful wall along the entirety of America’s border with Mexico. Partial government shutdowns are also unpopular, and although Trump is now blaming this one on the Democrats the “fake news” networks can gleefully replay the very real video of Trump recently bragging to the Democratic leaders in Congress that he’ll take all the credit for this one. Trump is already saying that he doesn’t need a wall across the entire Mexican border, and is talking about “steel slats” rather than the 30-foot-tall concrete and rebar structure he once envisions, and concedes that the Democrats can call it a mere fence if they want, and he’s pretty much given up on the campaign promise that Mexico will happily pay for it,
The former Federal Bureau of Investigation director and decorated Marine combat veteran in charge of the “Russia thing” probably isn’t much intimidated by Trump’s “tweets,” either, so we expect that will continue to vex Trump well into the next year. Trump’s remaining Republican allies in Congress are increasingly disinclined to protect Trump from that, too, and have increasingly little incentive to do so.
Our best guess is that the stock markets will continue their recent swoon when the reopen today, and that the Fed chairman Trump appointed and can’t fire without causing a political and economic crisis probably won’t be budged by any presidential “tweets.” The Fed has recently nudged the prime interest rate toward historical norms, but the markets are also spooked by the Trump trade wars that have raised the cost of a steel-slat border barrier by 25 percent, and the inevitable cyclical slowing of the global economy that won’t be helped if the central bank of the all-important American economy is perceived as acting in the short term political interests of an unpopular president, so once again Trump doesn’t seem to be negotiating or “tweeting” from a position of strength.
Starting today Trump will be dealing with all this with an acting Attorney General, an acting defense secretary, an acting secretary of the interior, an acting chief of staff who’s moonlighting on the job while running the Office of Management and Budget that’s overseeing the partial shutdown of the government, no ambassador to the the United Nations or South Korea at all, and an understaffed White House legal team responding to all the subpoenas that the “Russia thing” investigation and the incoming Democratic House majority will surely be serving in the coming weeks.. This isn’t likely to reassure the markets or Trump’s already skeptical international and domestic allies, but Trump’s die-hard fans can still reassure themselves that at least he fights.

— Bud Norman

Blind Loyalty and Its Perils

New York City attorney Michael Cohen, who once handled such sensitive legals chores as making hush money payments to pornographic video performers and Playboy models while pursuing multi-million dollar Moscow real estate deals for longtime client and then-citizen Donald Trump, was sentenced to three years in federal prison on Wednesday on various confessed federal charges. As bad as that sounds for now-President Donald Trump, the rest of the sordid details are even worse.
Some of the charges sending Cohen to prison are about some relatively small time scams involving New York City taxi medallions and routine tax evasions that have nothing to do with Trump, but he’s also pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations committed in the course of making those hush money payments to silence Trump’s alleged mistresses, and to lying to Congress about Trump’s business dealings in Russia in order to be consistent with the lies Trump was telling the public. Trump’s remaining loyalists on talk radio and one of the cable news channels are spinning it as best they can, and Trump himself is claiming complete vindication, but the president won’t come out of this spin cycle smelling clean.
Trump is now claiming that his six-figures payments to the porno performer and the nudie model were a “private transaction” involving private funds, and obviously had nothing at all to do with the presidential campaign he was waging at the time, and were therefor entirely legal, but a federal prosecutor considered it a crime and a federal judge accepted a guilty plea on the charge from the very same lawyer that Trump once entrusted with such sensitive legal chores, so we have our doubts about Trump’s legal theory. Even if it was quite legal and no big deal, as Trump claims, an objective observer is left wondering why Trump chose to lie to the American public about  it while aboard Air Force One that he had nothing to do with it and was indeed entirely unaware of the payments.
Which leaves us all the more doubtful about Trump’s claims he never cheated on his third wife with either that porno performer or that nudie model, especially after his past boasting about all the fabulous babes he’s bagged in his tabloid-fodder infidelities against his first two wives, and although such hound dog behavior is not illegal it is the sort of thing that Republicans used to find objectionable.
Nor is it illegal to pursue a multi-million dollar real estate deal with an adversarial dictatorship while also pursuing the presidency of the United States, and so far as we can tell it’s legal to tell the American electorate a brazen lie that no business deals of any kind are being pursued with adversarial governments during presidential campaign, but that’s also the sort of thing that Republicans used to find objectionable. Cohen’s confession that he was pursuing a Moscow Trump Tower deal at Trump’s request while Trump insisted he wasn’t should be considered skeptically given his confessions to various perjuries, but the very fastidious prosecutor investing the “Russia thing” and the sentencing judge wouldn’t have given it credence without corroborating evidence, which we assume was obtained during raids on Cohen’s home and office and favorite hotel room. Trump is already arguing that it’s another legal and no big deal thing that he nonetheless chose to lie about, which might eventually prevail in a court of law, but it doesn’t make him look very good in the court of public opinion.
Which makes all the rest of the developments in the “Russia thing” look a lot less like a “WITCH HUNT!” and a “HOAX!” than a serious legal matter deserving thorough investigation. One of Trump’s former campaign managers is already in jail while awaiting sentencing on various charges including his work as an unregistered foreign agent for a Russian-aligned government, with Trump “tweeting” about his courage for not cooperating with the feds, and the special counsel investigating the “Russia thing” is recommending and Trump’s former campaign foreign policy advisor and his first administration’s national security advisor get off with no jail for several serious admitted felony charges because of his fuller cooperation with the investigation. Trump and his loyalists are already arguing that it’s entirely legal to pursue business deals with an adversarial foreign dictatorship while running for president and brazenly president and brazenly lying about it, and that might yet prevail in a court of law, but we’d like to think that some rump faction of the Republican party will join the rest of the court of American public opinion in taking a dimmer view of such behavior.
Cohen showed up in court for his sentencing accompanied by a pretty and youngish wife limping in a crutch and a couple of cute kids, and although we consider ourselves rock-ribbed law-and-order Republicans our occasionally bleeding hearts had some sympathy for him. Trump has “tweeted” attacks on his longtime attorney for being “weak” and “stupid” in the half-hearted cooperation with the special counsel, and Cohen even had to plead to guilty those charges. “Recently the president has tweeted a statement calling me weak, and it was correct,” Cohen told the court. “But for a much different reason than he was implying. It was because time and time again I felt it was my duty to cover up his dirty deeds.” He went on to say that he had trusted Trump’s moral compass more than his own, and that the personal failing that led to to his upcoming three years of imprisonment was “blind loyalty to Donald Trump.
There are persuasive arguments to be made for many of Trump’s policies, given that the unemployment rate is unusually low and the stock markets are still ahead of when Trump won office, despite the past year’s gains being largely wiped out by his stupid trade wars and the swelling national debt and the inevitable slight rise in interest rates, and of course those damned Democrats are as bad as ever. By now only the weak and stupid will blindly trust Trump’s character, however, and although they won’t likely run afoul of the law for doing so we expect they’ll also be judged harshly by history.

— Bud Norman

The Day After the Funeral

The stock markets and the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” and the rest of the news took a day off on Wednesday for the funeral of former President George H.W. Bush, but the pause offered little respite for current President Donald Trump.
In keeping with its classy ways the Bush family invited Trump to attend the state funeral at the National Cathedral, although they didn’t grant him the traditional eulogy that sitting presidents give for past presidents, and to his credit Trump was on his best behavior. He was clearly uncomfortable, though, sitting next to the former president he had falsely accused of being unqualified by virtue of a foreign birth, and the former president he had falsely accused of lying America into a war, and the former First Lady he has long vowed to lock up, as well another former president he has called the second-worst ever. Worse yet, Trump had to sit through several speakers praising Bush’s war heroism and expert statesmanship and gentlemanly demeanor and and genuine compassion for others and self-effacing sense of humor, and perhaps contemplate how even his most die-hard fans won’t be able to say the same at his own inevitable funeral.
Worst of all, Trump surely knew that the stock markets and the special counsel investigation and the rest of the news all resume today, and that it’s not likely to make him look good.
The rest of the world’s stock markets were open for business on Wednesday, and were just as panicked about Trump’s trade war with China as the American markets were on Tuesday, and today probably won’t bring that greatest-ever deal that Trump has promised with China. Trump might yet bully the all-powerful Chinese government and its formidable economy into submission, but for now the stock markets aren’t betting on it.
The mainstream media that used torment Bush for his mostly forgotten missteps spent most of Wednesday heaping praise on his war heroism and expert statesmanship and gentlemanly demeanor and everything else they suddenly miss about a bygone era of compassionate Republican conservatism, but they also found some time to speculate about some scary developments in the special counsel investigation of the “Russia thing.” Trump’s former campaign foreign policy advisor and short-lived administration national security advisor, the former three-starArmy Gen. Michael Flynn, has pleaded guilty to some serious felonies and stands credibly accused of several more, and on Tuesday it was revealed in open court that the special counsel is recommending no jail time partly because of the defendant’s long and distinguished military record but mostly because he’d been a genuinely repentant and very helpful witness in three ongoing criminal investigations. Special counsel Robert Mueller is a decorated Marine veteran of the Vietnam War himself and is no doubt taking Flynn’s undeniably distinguished pre-Trump career into account, but we doubt that Flynn would have gotten such a sweet deal without providing some pretty damning testimony along with documentation to back it up, so it will be interesting to see what Trump “tweets” about it today.
Trump is already “tweeting” some controversial “tweets” about his longtime lawyer and former campaign manager and a longtime pal with a very unsavory reputation dating back to the Nixon days, and his namesake son and favorite daughter and son-in-law are also caught up in “Russia thing” stories, and it’s getting harder for all but the most die-hard Trump fans to dismiss it all as “fake news.” The rest of the news, from the Korean peninsula to the soon-to-be-installed Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, is similarly foreboding. Trump might yet strike that artful deal that makes America great again, but for now both ourselves and the smart money aren’t betting on it.

— Bud Norman

Lock ‘Em All Up, If That’s What It Takes

President Donald Trump on Wednesday “re-tweeted” a “photo-shopped” internet “meme” that depicts 11 of his political adversaries locked behind iron bars, beneath the heading “Now that Russia collusion is a proven lie, when do the trials for treason begin?” The hard-core fans probably found it hilarious, and further that proof that at least their champion fights, but we we found it further frightening evidence of a slow slide toward banana republic authoritarianism.
The “re-tweet” came just eight days after The New York Times reported that Trump had once directed the Justice Department to commence criminal investigations of former Federal Bureau of Investigation director James Comey and his Democratic presidential opponent Hillary Clinton, both of whom are featured in the “meme.” Trump’s apologists insisted he never did any such thing, and that even if he did it never came to pass, but the “re-tweeted” “meme” suggests he probably did give the order, and that it didn’t actually happen only because wiser heads somehow prevailed.
We have no affection for Comey, although we can muster some sympathy for an FBI director who had the bad luck to be in office during a presidential campaign with both major party candidates being the subjects of criminal investigations, and we have as much antipathy to that awful Clinton woman as the next guy, even if we think the everlasting ignominy of having lost to the likes of Trump should be sufficient punishment for anyone. Even so, all those campaign rally chants of “lock ’em up,” and Trump’s campaign promises to do just that, strike us a damned un-American way to make America great again. Locking up vanquished political opponents hasn’t made any of the South American or Eastern European or Middle Eastern or sub-Saharan African nations that do that sort of thing remotely great, and we can’t imagine it working any better here.
Meanwhile a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” has indeed locked up one of Trump’s former campaign managers and a former campaign national security advisor, and Trump’s former administrational national security advisor has pleaded guilty to felonies and awaits sentencing, with more campaign and administration officials and perhaps some Trump family members seemingly awaiting indictment, and that surely has something to with Trump’s angry “re-tweets.” Trump has frequently called the investigation a “witch hunt” and part of a “deep state” conspiracy to overthrow him, and often complained that it’s not investigating itself and his other enemies instead. The hard-core fans find this quite compelling, and more reason to resume their “lock ’em up” chants at the ongoing rallies, but it’s proving a hard sell to the rest of the country.
All the intelligence agencies agree that the Russians meddled in America’s past campaign to get Trump elected, so the talk radio theory that it was Clinton and the Democrats who colluded with the effort seems downright counter-intuitive, and so far there’s none of extraordinary proof few require or such an extraordinary claim. So far as we can tell both Comey and Clinton are by now every bit as politically powerless as ourselves, so we don’t think all the indictments and guilty pleas the special counsel has racked up are their ingenious revenge. Nor can we see how the allegations of Russian collusion on the part of the Trump campaign have been disproved, as the “meme” claims, and we eagerly await what the special counsel has to report.
In the meantime, and as always, we don’t find any satisfaction in watching anybody get locked up. With no rooting interest in either party at this point, as always we’ll be hoping that eventually the truth will prevail. That will probably involve locking somebody up, as it usually does, but for most of this sorry cast of characters we’ll gladly settle for them suffering ignominy throughout history for their deeds, and hope  the next government starts over with a clean slate.

— Bud Norman

Now Is the Winter of Trump’s Discontent

You might have already noticed, along with most of the country, that President Donald Trump has been in a foul mood lately. He’s never been a sunny sort of fellow, which seems to endear him to his most die-hard fans, but he’s somehow ratcheted up the surliness since the mid-term elections. One unnamed administration official reportedly the Cable News Network that “he’s pissed at damned near everyone,” and judging by Trump’s “tweets” and interactions with reporters and behind-the-scenes diplomacy with the French and English heads of state and general public demeanor that doesn’t sound like fake news.
Those midterm elections surely have something to do with it. In a day-after news conference Trump claimed “almost a total victory” even though the Democrats had won control of the House of Representatives and only slightly padded a thin majority in the Senate, but he was already lashing out at the reporters with more than his usual vituperation, and since the late votes have padded that Democratic House majority and whittled away at the slight Republican Senate majority. It was surely a blow to Trump’s ego, as a Kansas gubernatorial candidate and Montana Senate and an Arizona Senate candidate and several other Republican contenders that Trump had worked hard for went down to defeat in states Trump won, but henceforth it’s an even bigger problem for him than that. A Democratic majority in the House will not only deny him a border wall or mass deportations or armed school teachers or any other big legislative wins to brag about to his die-hard fans, and except for a big tax cut bill that’s not polling well with everyone else he didn’t rack up many wins even with two years of Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress.
Worse yet, the Democratic majorities in all those pesky oversight committees can now commence hearings on all sorts of Trump matters, from potentially illegal payoffs to porn stars and Playboy models to the profits Trump’s businesses are making from his presidency to quite a few apparent ethics violations by several of his cabinet members, among other things, and we expect they’ll come up with something that sticks. Trump still has that slim majority in the Senate, but some of those Republican Senators will be running for reelection in two years in states that Trump lost in ’16 and looks likely to lose again in ’12, and party loyalty is a rare commodity in the Republican party at either end of Pennsylvania Avenue these days.
There’s already a bipartisan consensus to protect a special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” too, and that can’t help lighten Trump’s mood. The investigation took a couple of months off from issuing subpoenas and indictments and forcing guilty pleas for a couple of months leading up to the midterms, but now that most of the races have been settled the investigators will soon be back to making infuriating headlines. Trump is already back to furiously “tweeting” about it, and at length.
“The inner workings of the Mueller investigation are a total mess,” one “tweet” said. “They have found no collusion and have gone absolutely nuts. They are screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening them to come up with the answers they want. They are a disgrace to our Nation and don’t … care how many lives the ruin” That capital N on nation and “the ruin” rather than “they ruin” are his mistakes and not ours, by the way. Trump continued that “These are Angry People, including the highly conflicted Bob Mueller, worked for Obama for 8 years. They won’t even look at all of the bad acts on crimes on the other side. A TOTAL WITCH HUNT LIKE NO OTHER IN AMERICAN HISTORY!”
Which suggests to us that the president is in an especially ill temper, and thus might not be thinking quite so calmly and clearly as a President of the United States probably should.
By all appearances the inner workings of the special counsel investigation are far more effluence than those of the Trump White House, and although Trump has direct knowledge of what the investigation has learned about collusion he sure seems worried about it. He seems to offer no evidence that the investigation is extorting false testimony from its witnesses, nor any evidence that the duly appointed Justice Department officials overseeing the investigation and the duly appointed federal judges signing off on the subpoenas and accepting the guilty pleas are in on what would surely be the most extraordinary conspiracy ever. Special Counsel Robert Mueller did indeed serve as director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation under Democratic President Barack Obama, but he was first appointed to the job by Republican President George W. Bush, and the fact that he had bipartisan support to extend his tenure into a Democratic administration used to be considered a testament to his character and ability.
As for all that about the special counsel investigators being “Angry People” and “going absolutely nuts” and “screaming and shouting at people, horribly threatening people until they get the answer they want,” this strikes us as a classic example of what the pop psychologists call “projection.” You might have noticed that Mueller and his crew are a very calm low-key bunch, not at all prone to CAPITAL LETTERS AND EXCLAMATION MARKS, who let their guilty verdicts and guilty pleas speak for themselves, and we suspect that probably just further infuriates Trump.
Perhaps the whole “Russia thing” will ultimately prove a witch hunt, but that seems all the more reason for Trump to be calm about it, rather than appoint a political hack to run the Justice Department and give the Democrats something else to investigate. Perhaps Trump and the congressional Democrats will come up with some criminal justice reform and campaign-promised infrastructure spending that at long last proves Trump’s claim to be a master deal-maker, but that’s all the more reason for Trump to stop insulting their intelligence. He’ll need a unified Republican party along the way, too, which is all the more reason to stop feuding with those poor congressional Republicans who will be running next time around in states and districts that Trump lost last time and probably lose next time around.
Not to mention the nuclear threat on the Korean peninsula that Trump prematurely claimed to have solved, the ongoing Russian meddling in American politics that Trump still downplays, those trade wars that haven’t yet proved good and easily won as promised, a swelling national debt, and various other national problems. All of these issues require a presidential level of calm and clear deliberation, and none can be solved without an angry outburst no matter how many capital letters and exclamation marks one might use.

— Bud Norman