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A Bad Day in Court

President Donald Trump’s die-hard defenders did their best to make the best on in talk radio and cable news show, but Tuesday was undeniably a bad day in court for their man. The president’s former campaign manager was convicted on eight federal charges of tax fraud and bank fraud in Virginia, while 200 miles away in New York City the president’s longtime lawyer was pleading guilty to banking, tax, and campaign finance laws. None of it proves that Trump conspired with the Russian government to win his office, as the die-hard defenders were quick to point out, but they had a harder time making any of it look good.
The former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted of hiding substantial foreign income from the tax collectors while hiding substantial foreign debts from the banks where he was applying for big-money loans, and a mistrial was declared on another 10 similar charges when the jury declared itself hung, and the trial had a lot of embarrassing details about what a sleazy fop he is. The now-proved-in-court crimes all happened before Manafort became Trump’s campaign manager, and Manafort was removed from the Trump campaign shortly after it was reported he had failed to file his lobbying business’ work with some Russian-tied entities, but that’s about the best the Trump apologists can say for it at the moment.
A clean acquittal for Manafort would have dealt a serious blow to the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller into the “Russia thing,” as it was the first federal case Mueller’s team has tried, eight convictions carrying potential longterm prison sentences will surely keep the “witch hunt” going, and so far it’s achieve five other guilty pleas including from the Trump campaign’s deputy manager and a former foreign policy advisor a short lived national security advisor, and it has another Manafort trial scheduled a couple of weeks from now in the District of Columbia, where the charges will involve alleged shady dealings with various Russia-linked entities, and the judge and jury are unlikely to be any more sympathetic than the one in rural Virginia.
Perhaps none of this has anything to do with anyone named Trump, as anything is at least theoretically possible, but in any case convicted felon Manafort’s ongoing legal troubles will surely keep the “Russia thing” in the news for weeks to come and leave the president’s defenders with plenty of defending to do. Trump himself has continued to defend Manafort as a “good guy,” and always notes that Manafort also worked for such Republican icons President Ronald Reagan and Sen. Bob Dole, but he also always understates how long Manafort was involved with the campaign and what role he played, so it remains to be seen if there’s a pardon in the works, and what sort of craziness might ensue.
Trump didn’t have any similarly kind words for his former longtime lawyer, Michael Cohen, whose allocution of guilt in open court clearly explained that he had indeed committed the crimes he was charged with and had done so at the explicit instruction of now President Donald Trump. He used the same language from the indictment about “individual one” and “the candidate,” but even on talk radio was there no pretending that he wasn’t talking about Trump. Perhaps it’s not a crime to pay one’s personal lawyer to commit a confessed crime, as anything seems legally possible these days, but it still involves hush money payments to porn stars and Playboy playmates and The National Enquirer, and does nothing to enhance Trump’s self-proclaimed reputation as someone who only associates with very best people.
Worse yet, Cohen also represented Trump over many years in an effort to build a skyscraper in Moscow and various other dealings with Russian-linked entities, and if he has anything bad to say about that he now has every reason to say it. Perhaps Cohen has no such information to provide, as anything is theoretically possible, but given the laws of probability we’ll be expecting more developments in the “Russia thing” from Cohen. He’s now a convicted liar, as Trump’s defenders now huffily note — right wing radio shrieker Mark Levin gave us a chuckle by rhetorically asking “Who would hire this guy?” — but it’s now in his self-interest to tell the truth and he has a reputation for recording conversations, one of which has already been released and documents Trump and his client negotiating the hush money payment that the president famously denied know anything about. If there’s anything involving the Russkies he’s probably got documentation on that, and after a pre-dawn raid on his home and office and hotel room the special counsel investigation has all of that.
You had to scroll down to the bottom of the page to have seen, but California Rep. Donald Hunt, the second Republican congressman to endorse Trump’s campaign, was indicted along with his wife in a federal court on charges of using campaign funds for personal reasons. The first Republican congressman to endorse Trump’s campaign, New York’s Rep. Chris Collins, was indicted on insider trading charges a few weeks ago and has since suspended his reelection campaign. Meanwhile, a federal judge in Kentucky allowed a lawsuit by some Mexican-American protestors who were roughed up at a Trump campaign rally to proceed, and somewhere out there are lawsuits pending by a woman who claims to have defamed when Trump accused her of lying about him groping her, and several state attorney general also have an ongoing suit somewhere about Trump’s Washington hotel and its alleged violations of the constitution’s emolument clause.
Still, the thousands of die-hard defenders at yet another campaign rally, this time in West Virginia,” were still chanting “drain the swamp” and “lock her up,” and still booing the “fake news” on cue. Trump’s performance included the usual boasts about his electoral win and talk of the “witch hunt” that’s out to get him, but to our eye he seemed a bit off his usual cocky form after such a bad in court.

— Bud Norman

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The Son-in-Law Also Rises

Most of the chatter on Monday seemed to be about president-elect Donald Trump’s latest “twitter” tantrum, this one provoked by actress Meryl Streep’s obligatory liberal rant at yet another one of those show biz awards shows, but it was the stories about Trump’s appointment of Jared Kushner as a “senior advisor” that caught our eye.
If you’re still unfamiliar with his far less famous name, Kushner is a 35-year-old real estate mogul, having run his family’s sizable business ever since his father went to jail about decade ago for tax evasion, illegal campaign contributions and witness intimidation, and he’s also Trump’s son-in-law. Unless the mainstream media and Trump’s “Tweets” have left anything out, that’s about the extent of his resume for a senior advisory position with a presidential administration. We don’t find any aspect of it reassuring, and are troubled for reasons.
Kushner reportedly played a senior role in his father-in-law’s presidential campaign, which thus far seems to have worked out well for the entire family, so we’ll give him that. He’s also played a reportedly big role in the post-election transition, and so far that seems a mixed bag for all involved. Kushner was quite plausibly reported to have been behind the ouster from the transition team of the oh-so-obsequious New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who had put Kushner’s dad in jail back in his heroic days as a tough and incorruptible prosecutor, and although that firing might have been a good call by this point in Christie’s decline it does continue a pattern of petty score-settling that doesn’t befit a presidential administration.
Our eyes were also caught by the stories just a couple of column inches below about Kushner’s family business’ ongoing negotiations with one of the biggest banks in China, a country that Kushner’s father-in-law has famously threatened 45 percent tariffs against, and it will be interesting to see how that plays out. A couple of column inches the mainstream press acknowledges that Kushner has offered to relinquish his executive role in his family’s business, but so far we as we can tell and without any reassuring information via Trump’s “tweets” it will still be his family’s business, so that doesn’t allay any concerns. The president-elect has enough ongoing international deals raising conflict-of-interest questions without adding all the scandals of another family of real estate moguls to the daily budget of the last of the newspapers. Trump has been delighted to “tweet” the pretty much inarguable fact that he’s exempt from the conflict of interest laws that apply to almost all federal employees, except for that pesky “emoluments clause” in the Constitution, which we’ll deal with later, and his son-in-law’s “senior advisor” post won’t be subject to congressional approval and will apparently go unpaid and thus also fall into some legal category that Trump’s suddenly huge payroll of lawyers will find, so we expect that for at least a while it go as well as everything else that has been lately happening for the family.
That whole in-law nepotism thing bothers us, too. We’re from old-fashioned Republican stock that once groused about President John Kennedy appointing his brother Bobby to be Attorney General, and in all fairness we have to admit that at least the young punk had once served on Sen. Joe McCarthy’s commie-hunting crusade, and that this Kushner fellow seems to have no record of public service at all on his resume except for chasing Christie away, and even that seems to motivated by petty score-settling. Our experience of fathers-in-law is that sons-in-law are reluctant to offer them any criticism, and ours was a much nicer and less thin-skinned guy than Kushner’s, so we’d much prefer a “senior advisor” to Trump who would likely be more willing to advise some restraint. Something on the resume that indicates Kushner has any familiarity with geo-politics and macro-economics and all those crazy social issues would be reassuring, but these days that’s too much to expect.

— Bud Norman

Foul Ball

Although we keep abreast of the sporting scene, and even take a rooting interest in certain teams, we usually prefer to comment on matters of greater political or cultural significance. It is well worth noting, however, that no players will be inducted into baseball’s hall of fame this year.
At least two players whose statistical achievements would ordinarily earn them the honor were eligible, so the baseball writers who are charged with the responsibility of choosing the hall’s members apparently decided that mere numbers are not enough to confer sports immortality. Barry Bonds out-slugged every other batter of his era during a long career with the Pittsburgh Pirates and San Francisco Giants, and no one was more successful on the mound than Roger Clemens during his days with the Boston Red Sox, Toronto Blues Jays, Houston Astros, and New York Yankees, but both men achieved at least some of that success by using banned drugs, and both men lied about it under oath when their sport finally got around to dealing with its widespread problem of pharmaceutical cheating.
Baseball fans will long argue about the fairness of the slight, with some insisting that the cheating was so very widespread that it would be unrealistic to expect that such competitive personalities would accepted the handicap of fair play, but we were pleased with the stand taken by those writers who voted against Bonds and Clemens. An epidemic of cheating has spread far beyond the realm of sports, and it is good to see somebody expressing disapproval.
An astounding number of students now cheat on tests or plagiarize homework, and several recent scandals suggest the practice is also becoming common among their teachers. Many of the politicians who impose higher taxes on their fellow citizens routinely cheat on their own obligations, either through outright fraud or the kinds of clever manipulations of the tax code that they would surely condemn their political opponents for using, and such hypocrisy makes it all the harder to condemn the untold thousands of ordinary Americans who do the same. Much of the bankrupting cost of America’s entitlement programs is due to cheating. Corporations are often caught cheating in a variety of ways, and it is likely that more ingenious methods routinely go undetected. Countless automobile accidents are caused by motorists trying to cheat others out of a favorable spot on the road, and daily life is filled with similar examples of cheating on the unwritten rules of society. Cheating on spouses and significant others is rampant, and ever since the Clinton administration it is considered prudish to have any objection to it.
Our society has gradually developed a dangerous tolerance for all sorts of cheating, to a point that today’s sports talk radio shows will no doubt be filled with callers demanding that Bonds’ and Clemens’ cheating should be ignored, but the moral rot of this epidemic will continue to spread. Keeping these two talented men out of the hall of fame is only a small step toward solving the problem, but it’s a step in the right direction.

— Bud Norman

Taking Politics Personally

Many of life’s important lessons, and almost everything one needs to know about politics, can be learned from the “Godfather” films. An especially good bit of advice is that when dispatching an enemy one should always keep in mind that “It’s not personal, it’s just business.”

This valuable lesson has apparently been lost on President Barack Obama, who has lately been trying to do in his Republican rival by any means short of the Corleone family methods. According to a forthcoming book by Politico reporter Glenn Thrush, which has already been widely excerpted in other media, Obama has developed a very personal dislike of Mitt Romney. Thrush’s book quotes unnamed White House aides as saying that they “picked up a level of anger (Obama) had never had for Clinton or McCain, even after Sarah Palin was picked as his running mate.”

The claim seems quite plausible, given the level of vitriol that the president’s re-election campaign has directed at Romney. Thus far the campaign and its various surrogates have accused Romney of animal cruelty, tax evasion on an epic level, felonious filings with the Securities Exchange Commission, and most recently, in an ad run by a supportive “super PAC,” the cold-blooded murder of a laid-off factory worker’s wife. It’s rough stuff even by the degraded standards of 21st Century American politics, and suggests a level of visceral animosity that even Palin her did not inspire in the bleeding hearts of liberals.

Various pundits have already started speculating about why Obama should have such a strong dislike for the affable and mild-mannered Romney, who has been widely criticized in Republican circles for being far too nice a guy. Some say it’s because Romney so completely personifies the capitalist and traditional style of Americanism that Obama has learned to loathe, while others suggest it’s an envy of Romney’s apparently happy and healthy relationship with his wildly successful father, and the most popular explanation is that Romney has the lese majeste to run against Obama. We have no special insight into Obama’s psychology, but suspect that each of these motives contribute to the president’s antipathy for Romney.

Romney supporters are eagerly anticipating the mistakes that such an emotional response will inevitably cause, and we believe they will not be disappointed. The president’s famously thin skin has caused some unattractive moments even in the best of times, so it shold be even easier for the hated Romney to provoke a churlish response worthy of weeks of attack ads.

That super PAC ad blaming Romney for the tragic death of the factory worker’s wife should prove the first of those mistakes. The charge is so utterly baseless that even such media allies as The Washington Post are admitting its factual flaws, and so wildly hyperbolic that even the most jaded television viewers are likely to notice. Such an intense dislike for one’s rivals isn’t very likeable, and likeability was supposed to the be the president’s saving quality.

Then again, the president never was known for being businesslike.

— Bud Norman