What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

President Donald Trump seems to be implicated in yet another scandal, this time with with possible national security consequences, but for now only a few highly placed sources know what it is. For now, that’s the scandal.
What is known is that on Aug. 12 an unnamed intelligence official filed a “whistleblower” report, which inspector general Michael Atkinson found credible and a matter of “urgent concern,” which requires informing the congressional oversight committees. Acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire has refused to share the report, however, citing “privileged communications,” setting off a legal and political spat that should be a bigger story when Atkinson is called to testify before the House intelligence committee in a closed session.
For now the rest of the story is coming from anonymous sources and mere speculation. The Washington Post has an intriguing story citing two unnamed “former U.S. officials” that the whistleblowers complaint has something to do with “Trump’s communications with a foreign leader,” and involved a “promise” that the whistleblower and the inspector general found quite troubling. Further anonymous leaks will likely follow today’s closed session with Atkinson, but the White House is declining to comment and so far that’s all the public has to go on.
One needn’t be as suspicious and obstinately Never Trump as ourselves to speculate that there’s something in the complaint which looks very bad for the president. The appearance of a coverup is so strong, and so damning, an objective observer can only wonder what more damning evidence the administration is trying to cover up. Trump has frequently been loose-lipped about national security secrets, and it’s not at all implausible that he was trying to strike some corrupt deal with a foreign leader.
Maybe not, as fairness dictates we must add, so we’ll eagerly await whatever comment the White House eventually offers.

How to Fill a Fully-Funded Government News Cycle

Way back when last weekend’s latest partial government shutdown began, President Donald Trump said the Democrats had caused it just to change the discussion from that fabulous tax bill he had signed. By Monday morning the Democrats had admitted defeat and fully funded the government way up until Feb. 8, however, and by Tuesday morning the discussion had shifted to the “Russia thing” and other topics that Trump would rather not talk about.
All of the mainstream “fake news” media were reporting that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the “Russia thing” had conducted an interview with Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which the Department of Justice officially confirmed was entirely true, and without all the file copy and stock footage about furloughed government workers and disgruntled national park visitors all the front pages and 24-hour news cycles had plenty of room for speculation about that.
If you haven’t been following the complicated and downright convoluted “Russia thing” subplot in Trump’s latest reality show, Sessions once felt obliged to recuse himself from any investigation of the whole affair after offering a Senate committee’s confirmation hearing inaccurate information about his own proved contacts with Russians, which so infuriated Trump that he both “tweeted” and gave taped press interviews to both press and television “fake news” media about how he wanted his Attorney General to be running interference on the whole “Russia thing,” like past attorneys general had done for presidents John Kennedy and Barack Obama during their more tawdry scandals. Of course all the “fake news” media and all the snarky ate night comedians had a gleeful time with that, and although it’s not yet known if he admitted anything harmful to the Trump administration during the interview it seems unlikely Sessions had anything very exculpatory to say on its behalf.
One of the many sidebar stories in the “fake news” about the “Russia thing” subplot was that the investigation had already secured guilty pleas from past Trump campaign and administration officials and won scary-sounding indictments against a former Trump campaign chairman and his longtime business associate, and was now reportedly negotiating some form testimony from the president himself. This administration didn’t clearly deny a word of it, and of course that led to much speculation. There was a lot of speculation about whether a sitting president could be compelled to give any written or oral testimony, several precedents from the Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton presidencies cited, and further speculation about the political ramifications of testifying or not testifying. On one or another of the “fake news” cable channels we heard a panel of purported experts speculating that such an instinctively narcissistic and dishonest with such a cocksure certainty he talk himself out of anything as Trump will imperil himself testifying to the seasoned likes of this particular special counsel, and that sounded real enough to us.
Meanwhile the idiot son-in-law Trump picked to solve everything from Middle East peace to the opioid crisis is also the crosshairs of the the special counsel for his role in the “Russia thing,” and such diverse “fake news” outlets as The Wall Street Journal and The New Yorker are also reporting that Jared Kushner has his own “China thing” to go along with it. There’s also fresh news about the story The Wall Street journal broke about Trump’s tryst with a porn star and the six-figure hush-money she received, with all the “fake news” reporting on the very real court filing by some left-wing do-gooder group alleging it the pay-off amounted to a illegal campaign contribution, and of course all those snarky late comics were having great fun with that.
The more Trump-friendly voices in the media are trying to change the conversation to talk about the “deep state” conspiracy that’s trying to concoct all this “fake news,” but Russian “internet bots” are reportedly perpetuating the same talking points about some memo that a Republican congressman who had to recuse himself from his committee’s investigation has written about the “deep state” conspiracy, and at least we can be sure that Trump would rather everyone be talking about that fabulous tax bill.

— Bud Norman

A British Sex Scandal Hops Across the Pond

Fleet Street is once again in an uproar over yet another one of those fancy-schmantzy British sex scandals they get over there, this one involving a billionaire investor and convicted sex criminal who hosted orgies full of nubile teenaged girls on his yacht and at his Caribbean mansion, and allegations that Prince Andrew was among the participants, but the American press has thus been far more restrained about the possible political ramifications back here.
Fleet Street has also gone over the flight logs and other libel-proof evidence and gleefully reported that former President Bill Clinton, who is the husband of president-in-waiting Hillary Clinton, was also a frequent flyer on the billionaire investor and convicted sex criminal’s private jet and a frequent guest at that scandalous Caribbean mansion. The young woman making the allegations against Prince Andrew has not alleged that Clinton was involved in any sexual escapades while the guest of his billionaire investor and convicted sex criminal friend, but it’s enough to put fresh material on “Bill Clinton” and “sex scandal” on your search engine results, and to remind the public of all the previous sordid tales that will also pop up, and to prompt a few think pieces about a lingering problem for Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions.
During a post-holiday and pre-congressional session news lull this should be enough generate some speculation. There are private jets and Caribbean mansions and underage girls involved, all of them rather attractive judging by the photos that Fleet Street has unearthed, and one can only imagine the media feeding frenzy that would ensue if a Republican’s various phone numbers and e-mail addresses had been found among documents seized from a billionaire investor and convicted criminal uncovered during a lawsuit with his former attorneys which has lately become the talk of the British press. The Clintons can count on more circumspect coverage, as they always have, but whatever does seep through will have no upside for the anticipated Hillary Clinton campaign. The part about billionaire investors and private jets and Caribbean mansions and private access to the former president won’t play well with a Democratic party that likes to think itself at war with the One Percent, and the part about underage girls won’t work well with the “Republican war on women” theme that the presumptive first woman presidential nominee no doubt hopes to revive, and almost everyone is unsettled when the word “pedophile” starts showing up in the search engine results along with a candidate’s last name. Fleet Street prefers the more elegantly Romanesque original English spelling of “paedophile,” and the girls involved are all post-pubescent so the more accrued accurate term would be “ephebophile,” but in any terms it is not good politics.
One would prefer to believe that neither a British prince nor a past American president is guilty of any scandalous doings with underaged girls, but neither have reputations that preclude any thought of the possibility, at least on Fleet Street. The woman making the allegations against Prince Andrew, who it should be noted will soon be cashing in with a tell-all book, says she only met Clinton twice and reports nothing more than that, but is quoted as saying the circumstances of the meeting were such that she was surprised someone in his position wouldn’t be more careful.

Voters considering a Hillary Clinton candidacy, even Democrats, might consider the possibility that further such surprises will be a feature of her presidency. When the ancient Romans weren’t wasting time putting an “a” and an “e” together for no particular reason they were fond of saying Caesar’s wife must be above suspicion, and that’s still practical advice regarding a president’s husband.

— Bud Norman

Sorrow and Speculation

As we write this little can be said with any certainty about the bombings at the Boston Marathon on Monday. Generally reliable sources report that at least three people were killed and as many as 130 more suffered injuries as serious as the loss of limbs, everything about the bombings points to an act of terrorism, and otherwise all that can be said without fear of eventual contradiction is that it is a horrible tragedy.
The lack of information has not stopped the usual speculation, of course, even though such tragedies are now common enough to have demonstrated that the early news reports are almost always proved wrong. Those inclined to suspect Islamist motives in these sorts of incidents did so again, but except for early and unconfirmed reports of a Saudi national being questioned there was no basis for the suspicion except its plausibility. Those inclined to suspect right-wing domestic terrorism also followed their inclinations, although there is no basis for the suspicion except that the bombings occurred on the day income taxes are due and the fact that there have been occasional cases of right-wing terrorism in the past. A few have suggested left-wing terrorism or the work of a murderous psychopath motivated by hatreds that have nothing to do with any political ideology, and a paranoid late-night radio program is currently considering conspiracy theories about a false flag operation, but there is nothing to be said for any of these notions except that they are all within the realm of possibility.
Such speculation is a normal reaction to tragedy, but it serves no purpose except for the false comfort offered by an explanation that aligns with a long-held belief. It is also a distraction from the sorrowful sympathy for the victims that is a more human reaction, and can exacerbate our usual political divisions and cloud an objective assessment of the facts as they gradually become known. Whatever the reasons for Monday’s horrible events, they will require a carefully considered response.

— Bud Norman