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

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

— Bud Norman

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The Mueller Report and Its Thus Far Inconclusive Findings

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on his investigation into the “Russia thing” has proved disappointing to President Donald Trump’s critics, as it didn’t recommend any criminal charges be filed against Trump. On the other hand, Trump and his die-hard supporters have some explaining to do.
The 448-page report confirms the findings of all of America’s intelligence agencies that the Russian government tried to tilt the last presidential election in Trump’s favor, which is no surprise given that it won an indictment of 13 specific Russian operatives. Trump continues to take Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s word that it must have been some other country — or perhaps some 400-pound guy sitting in his bed — who hacked the Democratic National Committee’s e-mails and coordinated an internet disinformation campaign and attempted to sabotage state voting systems, and that requires some explanation. A nation also anxiously awaits Trump’s explanation for why his administration has taken no measures whatsoever to prevent foreign interference in an American presidential election from happening again.
Mueller did not find sufficient evidence to charge Trump or his campaign with conspiring with those Russian efforts, so Trump and his supporters are entitled to gloat about that, but the report also cites convincing evidence that the Trump and his top campaign officials knew about the Russian effort, welcomed the assistance, repeatedly lied about its contacts with Russian officials, which has already resulted in guilty pleas and guilty verdicts against Trump’s campaign chairman and national security advisor personal lawyer, and that Trump himself lied to the American public during the Republican primary race about his business dealings in Russia.
This might not amount to a federal conspiracy case, as the special counsel’s “witch hunt” seems to have reluctantly concluded, but it doesn’t look good.
The report also declined to charge Trump with obstructing justice during the special counsel investigation, but as Trump’s carefully chosen Attorney General William Bar admitted in his four-page version of the 448-page report “it also does not exonerate him.” Mueller was a well-regarded director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation during both Republican and Democratic administrations, and he’s the sort of stickler for the rules who followed a Justice Department guideline against indicting sitting presidents, his report notes that the Congress is constitutionally allowed to decide what constitutes an impeachable high crime or misdemeanor, and it also documents several instances when Trump wanted to obstruct justice but his administration underlings prevented him from doing so. Most of those administration underlings are now long gone, but there’s a Democratic majority in the House of Representatives these days, and they’ll surely be holding hearings and demanding explanations.
Much of the 448-pages of the report are blacked out, as they involve the 14 ongoing criminal cases that were referred to various jurisdictions of the Justice Department, and when they eventually come to light they’ll surely requiring some explaining.
Mueller’s punctiliously by-the-book report notes that it’s up to Congress to decide what constitutes impeachable “high crimes and misdemeanors,” and seems to suggest that’s an open question requiring Congressional consideration. Our guess is that the feisty Democratic majority in the House will see it one way, but despite a few defections the slim Republican majority the Senate won’t agree by the needed super-majority to remove Trump from office.
By the time Trump runs for reelection in ’20 it probably won’t matter much. Trump’s foes already believe the worst  about him, and Trump’s fans don’t care about anything he might have done to defeat that awful “Crooked” Hillary Clinton last time around. There’s still something to be said for punctiliously sticking the rules, but these days it’s a matter of situational ethics.

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— Bud Norman

Fasten Your Seatbelts, as Today’s News Will Be a Bumpy Ride

Wednesday was a pretty slow news day by recent standards, but today will almost certainly be different. Attorney General William Barr has announced a news conference to discuss the special counsel investigation’s report about the “Russia thing,” a few hours later a reportedly “lightly redacted” version of the 400-page-or-so is scheduled to be revealed, and the resulting arguments about it will surely dominate the conversations on television and newspapers and in bars and dinner tables across the country.
Barr has already released a four-page summary of the report — he doesn’t want anyone to call it a summary, but we can’t think of a suitable synonym — which revealed that the investigation found no proof a conspiracy between the Russian government and the campaign of President Donald Trump, and did not reach a conclusion about obstruction of justice. Ever since Trump has repeatedly claimed complete exoneration by the report, even though Barr’s brief account of the report explicitly said “it also does not exonerate him,” but he’s stepped up up his attacks on the investigators and clearly seems worried about the public getting to read a lightly redacted version of what they came up with.
Some of the investigators have anonymously told The New York Times that Barr’s condensed version painted a too rosy picture of their work, and we expect that despite the light redactions the full 400 pages will give Trump’s critics something to bite into. Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani has said he’s preparing a counter-report to the report that supposedly exonerates his client, Attorney General Barr is eager to tell the public what to think about the report before it gets a chance to read it, and Trump and his most strident media allies are openly talking about charging the investigators for treason for writing the report they claim completely vindicates them.
The investigation has already won indictments against 13 Russian nationals for for interfering with the past American presidential in various ways, and indictments and guilty verdicts guilty pleas against Trump’s campaign chairman and co-campaign chairman National Security Advisor and longtime personal lawyer, and various other administration officials have had to revise their security clearance forms to include numerous contacts with Russian officials, but we already know no charges are currently pending against Trump himself. That’s a huge disappointment to to large segment of the population that would prefer to see Trump out of office, but we expect that some congressional Democrats will find some of those vaguely-defined high crimes and misdemeanors that are impeccable.
Trump and his talk radio apologists and other die fans, as well as a few congressional Republicans, will likely find some reason to charge those dastardly investigators with treason, and have them hanged by the neck until they are dead, even if they did completely exonerate The president by declining  to charge Trump himself. The Trumpian right remains enraged by the investigation that they swear exonerates Trump, and it might yet get is revenge.
We’ll see how it  turns out, as Trump likes to say, and for now we haven’t the foggiest idea. The only prediction we can make with any certainty is that he matter won’t be settled  by the end of this day, and that today will nonetheless prove interesting.

— Bud Norman

A Russia to Judgment

Ever since the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing” ended without any indictments of President Donald Trump, with  just his campaign manager and deputy campaign manager and and personal lawyer and national security advisor facing prison time,  Trump and his allies have been gloating about complete exoneration regarding everything they’ve ever been accused of. Alas, it’s starting to look like yet another case of Trump starting his end zone celebration a few yards short of the goal line.
Even the four-page summary of the nearly 400-page report on the investigation by Trump’s own Attorney General explicitly states that “While this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Now several of the investigators are telling The New York Times that the summary excluded evidence of actions by Trump and his associates that might not rise to the level of a indictable crime but are pretty embarrassing nonetheless, which seems not only plausible but downright probable to us.
The Democrats in Congress are naturally calling for the public to see the report in its entirety, and even as the Republicans claim the report utterly vindicates Trump they’re trying to keep the report under wraps. Our guess is that the Democrats will eventually prevail, either through court decisions or press leaks, and even if they don’t the Republicans will look bad for withholding information from the public. Perhaps the best argument for keeping the report secret is that it includes grand jury findings regarding investigations that are now ongoing in various state and federal jurisdictions, but that’s bound to come out eventually in some court or another, so the Republicans might as well start spinning it as no big deal right now.
Meanwhile, the Democratic majority on the House Ways and Means Committee is requesting six years of Trump’s tax returns, which he kept under wraps and will surely prove interesting, the Democratic majority on the House Oversight Committee is looking into why presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner was granted a top secret security clearance despite the concerns of the national intelligence agencies about his business interests and personal conduct, and they’re both likely to get that information. Even if they don’t, Trump and the Republicans will once again be in the awkward position position of arguing that the public doesn’t have a right to know about a report they assure us exonerates them of everything..
There’s also an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department’s Southern District of New York about Trump’s hush-money payments to a pornographic video performer and and a Playboy Playmate, which is already sending Trump’s longtime lawyer to prison and clearly identifies Trump as the un-indicted co-conspirator “Individual One.” It’s also a sure bet the pesky press will continue to come up with something or another about Trump’s private businesses and presidential administration that’s hard to explain. That four-page summary of a nearly four-hundred page report clearly excludes something that Trump doesn’t want the public to know about, so a certain suspicion should linger past the 2020 elections.
At this point we don’t have any rooting interest in either the Democrats or the Republicans, but we’d advise our once-Grand Old Party to go right ahead and let it all hang out. The damned Democrats are going to believe the worst about Trump in any case, and the damned Republicans don’t much care what laws Trump might have broken so long as he cuts taxes and appoints conservative Supreme Court Justices and otherwise upholds law and order. The Democrats will probably come up with someone who’s y crazy left yet squeaky-clean on taxes and foreign-business dealings and porn star dalliances and the campaign finance laws concerning such affairs.
How that turns out is anyone’s guess, but we don’t see it working out well for anyone in any case.

— Bud Norman

The “Russia Thing” Comes to an End

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

— Bud Norman

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

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