What is Truth, After All?

Every other decade or so, some public official blurts out something that pithily and memorably sums the absurdity of our times. We’re old enough to recall President Richard Nixon telling a press conference that “I am not a crook,” and President Bill Clinton saying under oath and on videotape that “It depends on what the meaning of ‘is” is,” and his harridan of a wife and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton telling a congressional committee investigating her deadly Benghazi debacle “What, at this this point, does it matter?” President Donald Trump has already had several such outbursts, but his lead television lawyer Rudy Giuliani topped them all on Sunday when he appeared on the National Broadcasting Company’s decades-old “Meet the Press” program and declared that “Truth isn’t truth.”
Put in its proper context, it sounds even worse. Giuliani was of course being asked about the “Russia thing,” which is looking increasingly bad for his client these days, and the once formidable federal prosecutor and legendarily successful New York City mayor was making yet another recent mess of it. Asked to respond to the day’s New York Times report that White House Don McGhan counsel had provided some 30 hours of of testimony to the special counsel investigation into the “Russia thing,” Giuliani unconvincingly argued that was a good thing. Asked about the meeting that the president’s namesake son and son-in-law and now-on-trial campaign manager had with some Russian operatives in Trump’s namesake Trump Tower, Giuliani insisted that none knew in advance they were meeting with Russians, even though the e-mail chain that Trump Jr. was forced to release made it plainly clear they not only knew they were meeting with Russians but Russians they had been credibly assured were agents of a Russian government effort to help the Trump campaign, with Trump Jr. infamously proclaiming “I love it!”
Asked the by-now inevitable questions about whether Trump would testify to the special counsel, Giuliani replied that “I am not going to be rushed into having testify so that he gets trapped into perjury.” He further explained that “When you tell me (Trump) should testify because he’s going to tell the truth and that he shouldn’t worry, that’s so silly — because it’s somebody’s version of the truth. Not the truth.”

div style=”text-indent:29px;”>At this point “Meet the Press” host Chuck Todd — or that “sleepy-eyed son-of-a-bitch,” as Trump has called him — interjected the perfectly tautological comment that “Truth is truth.” At that point, Giuliani uttered his soon-to-be-in-“Bartlett’s-Famous-Quotations” response that “No, it isn’t truth. Truth isn’t truth.”

Meanwhile, Trump spent much of the Lord’s Day “tweeting” about the “Russia thing,” blasting the hated New York Times for failing to emphasize that Trump had allowed Mcgann’s testimony, and comparing the special counsel’s investigation into the whole “Russia thing” to McCarthyism. Trump couldn’t have prevented the testimony of McGhan in any case, as he represents the office of the presidency rather than the president of the moment and currently has more incentive to protect it rather than it’s current occupant, and the ridiculous comparison to commie-baiting Sen. Joseph just invited all the Trum-bashing media to note that both McCarthy and Trump had the same lawyer, and that the silently rigorous special counsel investigation isn’t really analogous to McCarthyism at all.”.
At this point the two extant theories are that the Trump campaign conspired with Russian government efforts to influence the past presidential election, or that a seemingly failed “deep state” conspiracy with Russia and that awful Clinton woman and all those damned Democrats to prevent Trump’s presidency is now coming to its perfectly diabolical conclusion. Both scenarios are admittedly far-fetched, so we’ll leave it to the reader to choose between them. It’s perfectly tautological that only one of them can be true, but these days truth isn’t truth, and at risk to your security clearance status you can take your pick.

— Bud Norman

And That Was Only Sunday

Our Sunday followed a frustratingly sleepless Saturday night, and entailed getting an old punk rock buddy down the street to help us jump-start our automobile, followed by a long drive into the countryside to visit an even older friend and re-charge the battery, so it was hard to keep up with a surprisingly busy news day.
When we got home and turned on the internet The Washington Post was reporting that President Donald Trump has “tweeted” an admission that yeah, that infamous meeting that this eldest son and son-in-law and currently-on-trial campaign manager had with a couple of Russians purporting to be representatives of the Russian government was, in fact, all about getting dirt on Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Of course, Trump’s “Tweet” found nothing wrong with that.
“Fake News reporting, a complete fabrication, that I am concerned about the meeting my wonderful son, Donald, had in Trump Tower This was a meeting to get information my opponent, totally legal and done all the time in politics — and it went nowhere,” Trump “tweeted,” then adding that “I did not know about it.”
Which might or more probably might not prove a winning legal or political argument, but it’s yet another shift in Trump’s narrative about the “Russia thing,” and clearly indicates the direction that’s moving. The original Trump line was that no one in his campaign had any contacts with anyone from Russia, but after a couple of campaign officials pleaded guilty to lying about their contacts and the presidential son and son-in-law and campaign manager and various others started amending their security clearance forms to avoid similar charges the new story was they did have contacts with Russians but perish the thought they had anything to do with the campaign. When The New York Times forced Trump Jr. to disclose an e-mail chain about that Trump Tower meeting they insisted it was simply a courtesy meeting to talk about policies concerning American adoptions of Russian children, and even though the e-mail chain clearly showed the meeting had been proposed by Russians the Trump family new from past business associations were closely linked to the Russian government, and the meeting would be with Russian operatives who were working to help elect Trump, Trump has stuck to that adoption story up until now.
By now the story is that the Trump campaign did indeed have frequent contacts with Russians, and that some were with Russians they understood to be representatives of a Russian government effort to assist the campaign with opposition research, but that it’s no big deal, and in any case no one ever bothered to tell Trump about any of these perfectly legal and done-all-the-time meetings. Which is a tough place for Trump to be.
It is not legal for an American presidential campaign to accept a contribution of anything valuable from a foreign government, however, and in our long experience of presidential campaigns it is not done all the time. Even if the efforts came to naught, at this point a questionable assertion, Trump now acknowledges an earnest effort on his behalf to bring them to fruition, and sticklers for the law will note that a conspiracy to rob a bank is still illegal even if the vault proves empty. As for the questionable claim that Trump himself knew nothing of these legal and routing meetings, and that it’s all his son’s and son-in-law’s and former campaign manager’s fault  for such shenanigans, his longtime lawyer is now in serious legal jeopardy and reportedly telling the special counsel that Trump knew about the meeting before it happened, and there might be some corroborating evidence among the millions of documents and tape recordings that were seized by the feds in a raid on his home, office, and hotel room.
Meanwhile, Trump was also “tweeting” his displeasure with LeBron James, the supremely talented professional basketball player, who had some critical things to say about Trump during an interview with the Cable News Network’s Don Lemon. As usual Trump called tLemon as “the dumbest man on television,” and said that “He made Lebron look smart, which isn’t easy to do. I like Mike!” Which made Trump look further ridiculous. As if the President of the United States engaging in a “tweet” war with a professional hipster isn’t embarrassing enough, James seemed to win in a rout. The current Los Angeles Laker is as arrogant as any other elite athlete, but Trump isn’t exactly a model of modesty himself, and James is widely admired for comporting himself as a dignified role model for the American youth who idolize him, and when he abandoned the Cleveland Cavaliers franchise he gave several million dollars of his earnings to establish a state-of-the-art school for at-risk children in his nearby hometown of Akron, Ohio, and Trump can’t make the same sort of claims.
The “I like Mike” part was apparently a reference to an ongoing debate among many basketball fans about whether James or Chicago Bulls legend Michael Jordan is the best player in the game’s history, but Jordan quickly issued “tweet” made clear he took James’ side in the debate with Trump. James had complained to Lemon that Trump has used sports to divide Americans, and the black athlete implied to his black interviewer that it was usually directed to black critics, and pretty much every black athlete and a whole lot of white and hispanic and Asian ones quickly “tweeted” their agreement. Worse yet, the spokeswoman for Melania Trump issued a more formal statement that the First Lady much appreciated James’ philanthropic works and would be open to visiting his newly-opened school in Akron.
Which is one of several stories we’ve noticed that lead us to believe that the First Lady is not a happily married woman, but we’ll leave that theory to a less stressful and slower news day.
There were also further escalations in Trump’s war with the press, with his daughter and counselor both disagreeing that they’re the “the enemy of the people,” and a bunch of far-left and far-right idiots brawled it out on the famously mellow streets of Portland, Oregon, and that great deal Trump struck with the nuclear nutcase dictatorship in South Korea is looking less and less promising. Throw in the ongoing trade wars and a sleepless night and automotive trouble, and it left us with a worrisome feeling.
It was good to see our friends, though, and we hold out hope that the battery’s got enough charge to get us to a replacement, and if it doesn’t we have a retired hippie friend around the block who can give us a charge, and if he’s not there the neighbors are very nice people. Given all the enemies Trump is assiduously acquiring, we hope he has such loyal and un-indicted friends to help out when he needs a hand.

— Bud Norman

Another Bad News Cycle for Trump Jr.

There’s still no proof that the campaign of President Donald Trump was involved in the Russian government’s covert efforts to influence the past American presidential election, but it’s no longer possible to deny that at least three of its highest-ranking figures were willing and eager to be. The proof is contained in a chain of e-mails acquired by The New York Times, and if you don’t believe anything in “The New York Slimes” or the rest of the “lamestream media” you can read very same e-mails at the “Twitter” feed of Donald Trump Jr.
The e-mails detail the arrangement of a meeting at the Trump campaign’s headquarters in in June of 2016 between a Russian lawyer, Natalia Veselnitskaya, and campaign advisor Trump Jr., the president’s son-in-law and campaign advisor and current White House senior advisor Jared Kushner, and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort. The New York Times first reported the meeting on Saturday, with Trump Jr. confirming it did happen but explaining that he had no idea who he was meeting with and understood it was all about Americans being able to adopt Russian orphans. On Sunday the paper further explained that Trump Jr. had been led to believe that the meeting was about information the Russian lawyer might provide to help the campaign, and Trump Jr. confirmed that he was disappointed it had turn out be Russian adoptions instead. On Monday the paper reported it knew of e-mails proving that Trump Jr. had been explicitly told the Russian lawyer was acting on behalf of the Russian government, and was offering information as part of the Russian government’s efforts to influence the campaign, and there was no response by Trump Jr.
After the paper called Trump Jr. for a response to an upcoming story that revealed further embarrassing details of the e-mails, which the paper now apparently possessed, Trump Jr. and his lawyer decided he might as well release them himself in advance of the story. With the special counsel investigating the Russia matter surely in possession of the e-mails he might as well have done so, but the contents still look pretty darned bad.
The first e-mail was sent a music publicist named Rob Goldstone, who represents a Russian pop star named Emin Agalorov, whose father, Aras Aragalov, is a billionaire and past business associate of the Trump family with direct ties to the Russian government that all of the Trumps were surely aware of. “Emin just called and asked to contact you with something very interesting,” Goldstone wrote. “The Crown prosecutor of Russia met with his father Aras this morning and in their meeting offered to provide the Trump campaign with some official documents and information that would incriminate Hillary and her dealings with Russia and would be very useful to your father. This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government support for Mr. Trump — helped along by Aras and Emin.”
Trump Jr.’s e-mailed response to the explicit offer of assistance from a hostile foreign power, after forwarding the missive to Kushner and Manafort, was “Seems we have some time and if it’s what you say I love it especially later in the summer.” The e-mails also make clear that Trump Jr. scheduled the meeting with the understanding that the Russian lawyer was acting on behalf of the Russian government, and would provide information acquired from the Russian government’s ongoing efforts to assist the Trump campaign, and that Kushner and Manafort were also willing to attend the meeting.
None of which looks good for the Trump campaign or presidency, even if Trump Jr. did divulge the information before The New York Times got a chance to. Even The New York Times doesn’t allege that the meeting provided any useful information to the campaign, but even Trump Jr. is admitting that he’s disappointed about that, and it’s somewhat akin to a burglar pleading that he didn’t find anything worth stealing in the house he broke into. The story also raises the pesky matter of the Trump family’s business associations with Russian billionaires with the usual ties to the Russian times, and gives snarky pundits a chance to show the Emin Aragalov music video that the President of the United States appeared in. That Russian lawyer has the name and looks of a Ian Fleming villain, too, and her interest in that obscure Russian adoption issue is mostly about the sanctions that were imposed by the United State’s Maginstky Act against human rights violations, and the president has said on Fox News that America also does lots of killing and been open to relaxing all the various sanctions against the Russians, so it’s a hard story to spin.
The president hasn’t “tweeted” anything about it except praise of namesake son’s “transparency” regarding what The New York Times was about to report, but his official and unofficial spokespeople did their best to mitigate the damage. White House spokeswoman Sarah Huckabee Sanders referred most of the questions during an off-camera press briefing to Trump Jr.’s attorneys, who were unavailable for comment, but all the right-wing radio talk shows we listened in on were talking about Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s campaign’s meeting with Ukrainian officials and speculating they’d set up poor dumb Trump Jr. with that ill-fated meeting with a Russian lawyer who turned out to a double-agent for the Democrats. Trump Jr.’s only interview about it was on the Trump-friendly Fox News network with the exceedingly Trump-friendly Sean Hannity, who allowed Trump Jr. to admit that the meeting wasn’t such a great idea in retrospect, but of course Hannity also preferred to talk about Clinton.
These days anything seems plausible, and we certainly wouldn’t put anything past that awful Clinton woman, but it’s hard to believe that she was shrewd enough to arrange a false flag meeting through Trump family connections that wasn’t revealed until nine months after an election she somehow or another managed to lose. Whatever nefarious deeds the losing candidate might have contrived, and we’re quite willing to believe anything you might come up, that doesn’t explain why the winner’s son and son-in-law and campaign manager were meeting with someone they understood to be an agent of a hostile foreign policy that they were told was meddling in an American election.
It’s also still quite plausible that President Trump didn’t have the slightest idea what his son and son-in-law and campaign manager were doing on his behalf, but at this point that’s not at all reassuring.

— Bud Norman

Just West of Reality

In a more perfect world we’d pay no attention to the comings and going of garish reality television stars, but as things now stand Donald Trump is the president-elect and his high level meeting on Tuesday with Kanye West was unavoidably in the news.
West first came to fame as a performer of rap music, and those with a studied appreciation of the genre than ours tell he is quite adept at it, but he’s lately best known for such attention grabbing behavior as crashing a stage to interrupt another entertainer’s speech at a show biz awards show and she she wouldn’t have won, using another awards show to go on a rant about how President George W. Bush doesn’t care about black people, more generally ranting like a crazy person on afternoon talk shows, and being married into the famously dysfunctional Kardashian family of reality television renown. Such antics led President Barack Obama to describe West as a “jackass,” but have apparently long endeared West to Trump. Hence the invitation to Trump’s transition headquarters in New York City, where the president-elect told reporters afterwards that “We discussed life.”
West later tweeted that two also talked about “bullying, supporting teachers, modernizing curriculums, and violence in Chicago.” We assume that the conversation about bullying concerned how to stop it, although it’s possible they shared favorite techniques, and we also allow them the benefit of the doubt about their earnestness regarding teachers and curriculums and Chicago, but given their public personas we’re skeptical there wasn’t also some talk about various women’s derrières and grabbing them by their wherevers. “I feel it is important to have a direct line of communication with our future president if we truly want change,” West further “tweeted,” but what’s more direct than a little locker room banter between a couple of stars who can get away with it?
“I’ll never say anything bad about him,” Trump said of West during a 2015 campaign rally, apropos of some West brouhaha or another that was popping up at the time, and which Trump apparently felt needed to be addressed in a presidential campaign speech. “You want to know why? Because he loves Trump. He goes around saying Trump is my all-time hero. He says it to everybody.” The very same method of character assessment also explains Trump’s apparent affinity for Russian dictator Vladimir Putin, as well as several other friendships with flattering but unsavory people ranging from Steve Bannon to Mike Tyson to Roger Stone to Dennis Rodman to Jeffrey Epstein, so it’s a convincing explanation for his friendship with West.
Harder to explain is West’s affinity for Trump. Rappers have long shared Trump’s penchant for gold-plated “bling” and shameless self-aggrandizement and constantly upgraded models, and have even acknowledged his knack for it on numerous songs, but they don’t usually like registered Republicans. So far as we glean from the snippets we’ve heard of his songs and rants West’s politics have been of the usual peace and freedom and kill whitey variety found in rap music, and although he has some pretty idiosyncratic ideas about being God and the nefarious forces arrayed against him he’s always seemed an show biz orthodox liberal in most of his political pronouncements, and it’s hard to see where he agrees with Trump on such matters as the violence in Chicago. Even so, West was telling a stunned concert audience during a prolonged rant that if he’d have bothered to vote he would have voted for Trump.
That rant also included something about a feud with a fellow rapper and something vaguely sinister about the show business industry and how he was risking his life by talking about it, and immediately afterwards West was reportedly admitted to the psychiatric wing of a hospital, forcing the cancellation of a remaining tour. The official explanation was exhaustion, which is plausible given that he has such a grueling schedule and is married to the most callipygian of the Kardashians, but the conspiracy theorists on the lunatic fringes of internet were theorizing better explanations.
One holds that West was about to expose Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton’s satanic pedophile in the back room of a D.C. pizzeria, and that The Illuminati swooped in at the last minute to silence him and make it look like he’s crazy. Another theory holds that the entire entertainment industry, as well as the Democratic party and entrenched establishment of the Republican party, are controlled by the same Illuminati conspiracy, which is plausible to extent that there’s really no other accounting for the wealth and fame of Kanye West or Donald Trump being president, but the same theory holds that they’re two of the last remaining good guys fighting the dark forces, and that’s just too hard to believe.
We’ll not begrudge Trump his friendships, at least the ones that don’t re-align the more or less stable global order, but we do hope he’ll seek advice elsewhere about modernizing curriculums and other pressing matters. There might be some conspiracy afoot in that Trump Tower summit of the reality show stars, and we’re sure it will be coming to a YouTube video soon, but rappers have been dropping by the White House for eight years already, some of them arguably even more unsavory than West, and show biz and politics and all the craziness they entail have long been intertwined, so the more likely explanation is that we all just let it get to this point.

— Bud Norman

Oh Yeah, That Conflict-of-Interest Thing

One of the many peculiar things we noticed about this past crazy election year was the conspicuous lack of serious discussion about the potential conflicts of interest that Republican nominee Donald Trump and his vast business empire might face if he became president. Now that he’s the president-elect it’s suddenly a hot topic in all the big papers, and we suppose better late than never.
The question did come up in one of the early Republican primary debates moderated by Fox News’ business section, and Trump answered that if he became president “I couldn’t care less about my business,” which he described as “peanuts,” promised that he only cared about making America great again, then explained that he would turn over control of his various holdings to his adult children. “Is that a blind trust?” he asked, adding that ain’t-I-a-rascal smirk his fans seem to love, then answering his question by saying “I don’t know.” Of course the crowd went nuts for it, awed that Trump would make such a selfless and patriotic gesture as turning over control of his businesses to his children, but as we watched at home and slapped our old-school Republican forehead we fully expected that at some point somebody would effectively make the glaringly obviously argument that no, what Trump describes is not at all a blind trust, and it invites all sorts of serious problems.
Some of the media did take note of the issue, but by that point Trump’s growing number of fans were able to dismiss it as something the hated media was making an issue of, and the news quickly moved on to coverage of Trump’s latest “Tweet” or insult or some old locker room talk he shared with the shock jock Howard Stern’s nationally-broadcast radio show. We kept waiting for one of the Republican rivals to bring up the conflict of interests inherent in Trump’s proposal, but they were too afraid of offending Trump’s fans or just reluctant to remind them that he was a semi-successful business who was thumbing his nose on their behalf at all those old-fashioned rules of political propriety that everyone suddenly hated. Surely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton would make hay of it, we thought, but given her phony-baloney and scandal-plagued family foundation and all the various conflicts of interest that entailed she apparently decided to steer the conversation elsewhere.
Now that the Clinton family no longer has any influence to peddle, and their voluminous scandals can be left to the historians, the press is free to focus on Trump’s peculiar situation, and so far they’re having a grand old time of it. They’re noting a wide range of Trump family interests that might well be at odds with the broader public interest, and belatedly wondering if Trump is truly so patriotically disinterested as he promised. There’s that fancy new hotel Trump built in the Old Post Office in Washington, D.C., where business hasn’t been great since its grand opening and a grand re-opening during a much publicized campaign stop, and since the building was leased from the federal government the co-author of “The Art of the Deal” is now both the landlord and lessee, and it will be interesting to see how those negotiations turn out. Should the unions representing the workers at Trump’s many other hotels find themselves before the National Labor Relations Board, an executive agency overseen by the president, and that will also prove interesting. Trump is also scheduled to be deposed in a class action lawsuit against his phony-baloney and scandal-plagued Trump University, presided over by a judge Trump has publicly denounced as a Mexican, and we expect that much attention will be paid to that.
The proudly nationalist and anti-globalist president-elect has a proudly globalist business empire, so there’s also concern how that might affect foreign policy. Although Trump has refused to release his tax records so that the public might know just how entangled he is with foreign entities, he has been forced to release enough financial information to reveal that he owes hundreds of million of dollars to Germany’s Deutsche Bank, which is currently haggling with the the executive branch Justice Department over how many billions they will pay for promoting dubious mortgage-backed securities in the run-up to the 2008 recession. One of the biggest tenants at his Trump Tower is the Bank of China, which has also complicated dealings with the federal government. During a campaign stop in Scotland to get some free publicity for a golf course he’s built there, where business also hasn’t been great lately, Trump told the assembled media that a devalued British pound would draw more tourists there, which was widely noted by the already-hostile Fleet Street press. Donald Trump Jr. has publicly admitted that the family business is also indebted to Russian interests, and his father’s campaign has been strikingly Russia-friendly for a Republican nominee, and any conspiracy theories about that will be at least as plausible as the ones Trump promoted about Sen. Ted Cruz’s dad killing JFK or President Barack Obama being born in Kenya.
There are numerous other examples that the press has already seized on, with more surely to come, and the only way for Trump to avert the problem is to put all his holdings into an actual, honest-to-God, not-run-by-his-children blind trust. That’s what every other president in the history of the Republic has done, even the ones you couldn’t stand, and every ethics expert from either party agrees it is the only way to assure the public of honest governance. Trump has thus far stuck with his campaign position, which we must admit didn’t keep him from winning, and he apparently figures that his fans will see any personal enrichment he might derive as further proof of that brilliant business acumen the country needs. Former New York City mayor and prominent Trump spokesman Rudy Giuliani argues that it would be unfair to Trump’s children to “put them out of work,” promises that Trump would never discuss business with his children, and argues that people will just have to trust their president.
Giuliani was a darned good mayor at one point but now has his own conflicts of interest to worry about, and we can’t remember him saying much about how people should trust their president over the past eight years or so, and we’re sure he wouldn’t be talking that nonsense if Clinton had won and her own conflict-of-interest problems were the story of the moment. Trump’s so-loyal-he-could-shoot-someone supporters will probably always trust he’s only concerned with making America great again, and won’t mind if the Trump family profits as well, but a lot of the people who reluctantly voted for him and the vast majority that didn’t will be more skeptical. Let us hope that Trump proves as patriotic he claims to be, and that his kids find something do while he’s making America great again.

— Bud Norman