Monday, August 6, 2018

“Totally Legal”

The Washington Post:

Trump on Sunday offered his most definitive and clear public acknowledgment that his oldest son met with a Kremlin-aligned lawyer at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign to “get information on an opponent,” defending the meeting as “totally legal and done all the time in politics.”

So, if it was “totally legal,” why has he and his minions spent the last year making up fake news — and probably obstructing justice in the process — to cover up something that’s “done all the time in politics”?

Adam Davidson in The New Yorker:

The tweet contains several crucial pieces of information. First, it is a clear admission that Donald Trump, Jr.,’s original statement about the case was inaccurate enough to be considered a lie. He had said the meeting was with an unknown person who “might have information helpful to the campaign,” and that this person “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.” This false statement was, according to his legal team, dictated by the President himself. There was good reason to mislead the American people about that meeting. Based on reporting—at the time and now—of the President’s admission, it was a conscious effort by the President’s son and two of his closest advisers to work with affiliates of the Russian government to obtain information that might sway the U.S. election in Trump’s favor. In short, it was, at minimum, a case of attempted collusion. The tweet indicates that Trump’s defense will continue to be that this attempt at collusion failed—“it went nowhere”—and that, even if it had succeeded, it would have been “totally legal and done all the time.” It is unclear why, if the meeting was entirely proper, it was important for the President to declare “I did not know about it!” or to tell the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, to “stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now.”

The President’s Sunday-morning tweet should be seen as a turning point. It doesn’t teach us anything new—most students of the case already understand what Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner knew about that Trump Tower meeting. But it ends any possibility of an alternative explanation.

I’m not sure Mr. Mueller needs to interview Trump.  All he needs to do is download his Twitter feed.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Something’s Coming

I think Josh Marshall is on to something when he says that Trump’s tweet tantrum yesterday telling Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to fire Mueller and end the investigation now suggests that there’s something big happening behind the scenes.

I think we should assume that the President’s perception of the threat which the Mueller probe poses to him and his family has ratcheted up dramatically and very recently. He is mobilizing new threats to end it now. We can speculate on what that change might be. It might be connected to Michael Cohen. It might be connected to fears Paul Manafort will become a cooperating witness. It could be something happening in the background which we know nothing about. I’d say the last possibility is the most likely since we’ve seen so many times that we know very, very little about what is happening in the Mueller probe.

My clearly speculative guess is that Mueller told Trump’s legal team that they plan to subpoena Trump about obstruction, not collusion.  And that’s what it all comes down to.

Twelve People

I heard a commenter on NPR last night say that if Paul Manafort is acquitted, it will be a big setback for the Mueller investigation.  Trump and his minions will crow that it proves the whole thing is a rigged witch hunt and that if the prosecution can’t make the case against the former campaign manager, they won’t be able to prove anything against anybody else.  Trump will go on with his rallies and his bloviation, Fox News will carry on as if he’s been totally vindicated, and the imagination shies away from speculating as to what comes next.  And it’s all up to twelve people on a jury.

I have no doubt whatsoever that no matter what the outcome of the Manafort trial, Mr. Mueller and his team will press on.  The case against Manafort has nothing to do with the election of 2016 other than he was the campaign manager when the Russians came calling, and Trump’s obstruction of justice has been solely about keeping Mueller and law enforcement away from him and his activities.  But the optics of a Manafort acquittal mean that the next trial — either in court or in front of the cameras on the courthouse steps — will be that much harder to win.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

Excited Utterance

I really haven’t paid a whole lot of attention to Kellyanne Conway since she’s basically a drag version of Trump (have you ever seen the two of them together?  It’s like the restaurant scene in “Mrs. Doubtfire”), but yesterday morning on Fox, when asked about the opening of the trial of Paul Manafort, the former campaign manager for Trump, she offered an interesting insight to the thinking of both her and the White House inner circle.

Bill Hemmer, co-host of American’s Newsroom began his interview with Conway by asking “Paul Manafort, how closely is the president watching this trial that begins today?”

This is a valid question since Manafort was Trump’s campaign chairman for almost six months.

After Conway told Hemmer that it had nothing to do with the Trump campaign, she then launched into a defense of her own behavior that was never asked by the Fox News host.

Conway said, “Obviously, I was the campaign manager for the winning part of the campaign. I can assure you I will not be brought up on any federal criminal charges of any type.”

She continued, “And I certainly wasn’t making money in Ukraine or talking to anyone in Moscow, that’s very clear.” [Emphasis in the original.]

Okay, no one asked if you have any criminal exposure, Ms. Conway, so why bring it up?

My many years of studying law under John J. McCoy taught me that when someone comes up with an “excited utterance,” it’s admissible as evidence.  Or at least makes you wonder why they suddenly offer it.  Something on your mind, Ms. Conway?  Or are you interested in auditioning for a cameo on “Orange is the New Black”?

Tuesday, July 31, 2018

“It’s Icky” But Is It A Crime?

This sounds to me like the Mueller team is getting some people rattled.

How do you know when the seriousness of the Russia scandal has intensified? When Donald Trump’s allies discover it’s time to move the goal posts again.

Take, for example, National Review’s Andrew McCarthy arguing on Fox News last week that there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the president’s political operation possibly having turned to a foreign adversary to help win an American election.

“Look, I don’t think that it’s bad if campaigns are turning to foreign governments for dirt. It’s not collusion, it’s not something that’s impeachable, it’s icky. But that’s what this is.”

A day later, The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway wrote, “I don’t have a problem [with] getting dirt on election opponents from foreigners.” She added that relying on the Steele dossier is effectively the same thing.

Fox News’ Tucker Carlson quickly endorsed the line, telling his viewers, “Nobody is claiming that any information changed hands, though, even if it did, so what?”

And Rudy Giuliani is now saying that collusion with a foreign power to win an election isn’t against the law.

The only reason Trump has been so adamant in denying that Russia had any role whatsoever in the election is because he cannot allow anyone to think he didn’t win it on his own.  That’s it.

I am hoping that we find out that not only is it against a variety of laws but that the attempt to cover it up is also more criminal than the actual collusion itself.

Thursday, July 12, 2018

Time To Wake Up

David Corn in Mother Jones on how Trump and Putin basically stole America while we slept through it.

In 1938, Winston Churchill published a collection of his speeches warning that his homeland was not adequately contending with the threat posed by Nazi Germany. The title: “While England Slept.” Eighty years later, a similar observation can be rendered concerning the United States. Much of the political and media elite and the citizenry seem to be sleepwalking past a horrific and fundamental fact: The current president of the United States has helped to cover up a serious attack on the nation. This profound act of betrayal has gone unpunished and, in many quarters, unnoticed, even as it continues. With Donald Trump about to meet Vladimir Putin on Monday—rewarding the thuggish authoritarian Russian leader with a grand summit in Helsinki—this is an appropriate moment to remember that their dark bromance involves a mutual stonewalling of wrongdoing.

Apparently if it doesn’t involve a missing white woman or a kitten down a well, the attention of America cannot be drawn. It’s no surprise that the Russians figured this out; they’ve had that number for a very long time.  Far longer than Trump’s been on the scene; even far longer than the time of the Red Scare, which I think they must have come up with on their own just to see how easy it was to provoke us into doing truly horrific things to ourselves.

The goal isn’t, as we were warned in the 1950’s by McCarthy and his commie-hunters, to take over America.  This isn’t some kind of “Red Dawn” invasion plan.  That’s way too expensive and besides, once they’ve conquered us, they’d have to run the place and that’s just too much trouble.  What they want — what any adversary would want — is to get us to be compliant, or at least uninterested, in what they want.  I’m pretty sure they don’t want global domination; again, too much responsibility.  They just want to be able to do whatever they want without interference from the U.S. or NATO or any other collection of busybodies.  And they know they have to be subtle about it, using methods that appear harmless but actually get their mark to play along until they have them locked up.  It’s like e-mail scams; it all seems perfectly innocent: click on this link to update your banking information; click here to see free porn; “I’m a widow of a Nigerian general; help me hide my millions$.”  Those things work; if they didn’t we still wouldn’t be getting them.

So Trump is probably right when he claims there was NO COLLUSION between the Russians and his campaign.  At least none that he was aware of.  The Russians, just like the guy betting you $20 for a friendly game of three-card monte, aren’t going to walk up and say, “Hey, I’ll get you elected president.”  They already know how to work this pigeon: make him look elsewhere.

Trump with the rest of NATO leaders, 7/11/18

Corn concludes:

So as Trump prepares (yeah, right) for his sit-down with Putin—which is expected to include a private one-on-one with no aides present—much of the nation has lost sight of the big story. With Trump’s repeated cries of “witch hunt” and his lapdog Republicans slavishly concocting false narratives to cover for the boss, they have managed to convince Trump’s tribalized Fox-fed followers there is nothing to see here. And for many others, the scandal is not presented or viewed as the original sin and paramount controversy of the scandal-ridden Trump presidency.

It may be ineffective or counterproductive to shout out each day, “Where’s the outrage?” Yet the public record remains: Trump and Putin have jointly worked to disappear perhaps the greatest crime ever committed against American democracy and their respective complicity in this villainy. And it is crucial for the Republic that they not succeed.

We can’t hit the snooze button on this.

Friday, July 6, 2018

Only Room For One

I’m glad Scott Pruitt is out as the head of the EPA, but I’m fully aware that his replacement will be just as hostile to the environment and in the pocket of the energy and coal companies as befits a member of the Trump administration.  So it’s a zero sum game.

Pruitt’s problem wasn’t that he was arrogant and excessive in his spending and administered the EPA like he was running a fiefdom like Trump; it was because he was really clumsy at it.   Trump’s had his entire life to hone his robber baron conspicuous consumption skills; Mr. Pruitt’s only had 18 months of it.  No wonder he screwed it up.

Besides, in the world of Trump, there can only be one gross toad, and that’s Trump.

Thursday, June 21, 2018

Time To Sing

Michael Cohen, formerly Trump’s lawyer and the guy who paid off the adult film star who had a tryst with Trump, looks like he’s about to turn state’s evidence on his former client.

According to sources close to the RNC and a copy of the letter obtained by ABC, Cohen said special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe and the investigation into his financial dealings were preventing him from doing the work he needed to do as deputy finance chair of the finance committee.

“This important role requires the full time attention and dedication of each member. Given the ongoing Mueller and SDNY investigations, that simply is impossible for me to do,” he reportedly wrote in the letter addressed to RNC chair Ronna McDaniel.

In the letter, Cohen also attempted to detach himself from Trump for the first time, reportedly calling the separation of families at the U.S. border “heart wrenching.”‘

“As the son of a Polish holocaust survivor, the images and sounds of this family separation policy is heart wrenching,” Cohen wrote, according to ABC.  “While I strongly support measures that will secure our porous borders, children should never be used as bargaining chips.”

Throwing in the comment about the family separation policy is the clue to his intentions, or at the least a signal that he could be persuaded to tell the Mueller team what he knows.  He’s breaking away from the pack.

Why now?  It wasn’t the pictures of crying children, was it?  More likely it was that Mr. Mueller has enough on him to land him in prison for a while and Mr. Cohen is letting him and the world know that he is open to negotiation.  He’s also sending a signal to anyone else in the Trump orbit that now’s the time to make a deal and get what you can before the grand jury hands down indictments.

Monday, June 4, 2018

It’s Not Good To Be The King

When the Constitution was written, the folks who wrote it did everything they possibly could to get away from a monarchic form of government.  They made all the people with power subject to election and to the rule of law, and they split the powers of the government between three branches: executive, legislative, and judicial.  That seemed like a good way to do it; no one branch could overtake the other, and there was accountability so that if one got out of hand, the others could deal with them until order was restored.  The few executive powers that resembled those held by a monarch were limited to benign or even restorative abilities, such as the power of the pardon.  The Founders probably thought this would be sufficient; they had the optimistic yet cautionary view that we were inherently good but that firm control via common sense and the ballot box would be enough.

They didn’t take into account the possibility that we would get Trump.

The 20-page memo from Trump’s lawyers to Robert Mueller, written in January and leaked by the New York Times on Saturday asserts that the president has the power to do whatever he wants in terms of controlling the Department of Justice; fire the director of the FBI, terminate an investigation, pardon himself for anything he might have done while in office, and basically assume the powers of an authoritarian without worrying that anyone in the executive branch can stop him.

Indeed, the President not only has unfettered statutory and Constitutional authority to terminate the FBI Director, he also has Constitutional authority to direct the Justice Department to open or close an investigation, and, of course, the power to pardon any person before, during, or after an investigation and/or conviction. Put simply, the Constitution leaves no question that the President has exclusive authority over the ultimate conduct and disposition of all criminal investigations and over those executive branch officials responsible for conducting those investigations.

People who have been to law school and have read this memo say that it is deeply flawed in both legal and logical terms.  The attorneys cite outdated statutes and take positions that stretch reason beyond the absurd.  But it is an insight into the defense strategy that will be mounted on behalf of Trump and sold to the GOP base at rallies as black-letter law: Trump is above the law and it’s good to be the Trump.

The only people who can bring an action against the president for violating the law or the Constitution is Congress.  They have done so twice in living memory: the articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon and the actual impeachment of Bill Clinton.  At those times — 1974 and 1998 — the Congress was held by the opposition party to the president, which means that their desire to prosecute the president was inherently a political one.  This time it’s different.  Trump is nominally a Republican, as is the House and Senate.  So the question then becomes do the people who have the power over the term of the current president believe more in the rule of law than they do in the integrity of their own party, their re-election, and their conscience that speaks to them when they’re outside of the glare of TV cameras and soundbites.

We decided over 200 years ago that we didn’t want a monarch any more (even if we do watch their royal weddings on TV) and gave ourselves and our elected representatives the power to control those who assume they have powers beyond those granted by law.  Whether or not Congress decides to do anything about that tells us more about the future of this country and our path forward as a constitutional democracy than the results of an election.

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Sunday Reading

Kids These Days — In The New Yorker, Charles Bethea profiles a young inventor.

Audrey Larson’s mother is an accountant, and her father is a teacher. A grandfather, who died before she was born, was an inventor of sorts, she told me on Thursday. Audrey is also an inventor: she has been entering invention contests since the fourth grade. She’s now in ninth grade, at a public school in Wallingford, Connecticut. This weekend, she will compete in the National Invention Convention & Entrepreneurship Expo, in Dearborn, Michigan, where she’ll début her latest idea: a wall-mounted shield designed to protect students from active shooters invading their classrooms.

“I always try to address a problem I can personally connect to,” Audrey told me. She listed some of her “old inventions,” including light-bulb-equipped “glow-jamas,” which she conceived of in fourth grade (“You could turn them on when you needed to use the bathroom at night”), and an “automatic dog scratcher,” called the Scratch-O-Matic 4000, which she created in fifth grade. In sixth grade, she dreamed up an underarm I.V. fluid-warmer, called PIT, for Pre-heated I.V. Technology, which warmed I.V. fluid to body temperature using a tube-encased copper wire inserted under an arm. That one signalled the beginning of Larson’s love for acronyms, as well as inventions geared toward health and safety. In seventh grade, she created Safe Emergency Assistance Technology, or SEAT: “crutches that fold out into a chair for fatigued crutch-users.” Last year, she came up with Carbon Abatement Naturally Over Paved Environments, or CANOPE: “a canopy of plants that go over the highway, filtering out CO2 emissions from cars, naturally, using photosynthesis.”

Until recently, CANOPE was her “proudest invention.” (She’s in the process of obtaining a preliminary patent for it.) Then, a few months ago, she thought of something she liked even better: Safe KIDS, which, in her words, is “a foldable bulletproof panel designed to protect students and teachers from an active shooter.” The acronym stands for Kevlar-cellulose-nano-crystal-AR500-steel Instant Defense System.

The Larsons live about forty minutes from Sandy Hook Elementary, where, in 2012, a twenty-year-old killed twenty children and six adults using multiple semiautomatic firearms. Audrey was eight years old at the time. “I didn’t have a cell phone and I wasn’t really on the Internet. But I heard about it at school,” she told me. “My teacher didn’t want to scare the students. I remember her not being able to completely tell us we’d be O.K. And I remember feeling a weird energy in the room—of just, you know, fear amongst all of us, even though, at that age, I didn’t completely understand what was going on. I recognized the same feeling this year when more and more school shootings were happening.”

“I’ve personally never even seen somebody carry a gun,” she went on. “I know people who hunt and shoot for sport. But not everybody in my community has a gun, and I wouldn’t say they are a big part of my life.” The gun-control debate has been a constant, however. “It’s been going on my entire life and it hasn’t really gotten anywhere, and I don’t feel like Democrats or Republicans will ever come to a consensus,” she said. “I think we can’t wait around anymore. We have to do something that looks at kids’ safety before opinions on guns.”

In late January, Audrey and a group of friends “were getting emotional about the shootings,” she said. They’d been keeping track of the growing number of them around the country. “I talked to my parents about our safety. I thought, Maybe I can invent a partial solution.” After the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Florida, in February, her brainstorming intensified. “Movements had started,” she said. “I wanted to look at the problem differently, in a non-political way. That’s when the idea really sprouted. I started doing drawings.” At school, people were discussing lockdown procedures, and how to improve them. “Normally, you hide in the corner away from windows and doors, where you’re least likely to be spotted,” she told me. “I didn’t think that was really effective. There had to be a better way.”

What Audrey envisioned was a virtually impenetrable, easy-to-use barrier, a half-inch thick, manufactured from Kevlar, steel, and other materials, which, she told me, “have been studied by scientists. You can get the numbers on what bullets, guns, ammo they can withstand. I chose a combination of the stronger materials.” The floor-to-ceiling panels, which create a bulletproof space once unfurled, are folded against the wall when not in use. “It doesn’t take up any space, because most schools don’t have the biggest classrooms,” Audrey said.

“The idea is that, in the event of a school shooting, if you hear shots or an alarm goes off, you’d pull it off the wall, and it locks into place, from the inside, once kids are behind it,” she explained. “The panels go from the ceiling to the floor, so there’s no place the intruder could get the gun above the panels, to hurt the students.” An electronic system is also incorporated into the design, with three functions: “It tells you when you’re properly locked inside. It sets off an alarm when other rooms have theirs locked. And it also calls 911, once activated.” She added, “Maybe it could also ultimately have a camera system or phone, so you can communicate with the outside. But the main idea is to create a safe zone in a corner of every classroom, between students and a shooter.”

Building a working prototype is cost-prohibitive for Audrey, at this point. So, after perfecting her sketches and computer-aided-design models, she fashioned a scale model using materials from “a local craft store and some 3-D-printer materials.” At this weekend’s invention convention, where her model will be on display, “we have a twenty-five-dollar limit on spending for our invention, so everyone can take part,” she noted.

How much would it ultimately cost to create Safe KIDS? Audrey wasn’t sure. “But right now the government is spending millions and billions of dollars on school safety per year and that number has significantly gone up this year,” she said. “It would be expensive to implement my invention, but eventually it would pay back into the system.” She added, “If I were to get the opportunity to patent Safe KIDS, I’d do it in a heartbeat and file it as soon as possible. After that, I’d start talking to my local and state government, and the state board of education, to see if this is actually something we can get in schools. I think it’d be well worth the money, but that’s something schools and school systems would have to determine.”

Did Audrey find it sad, or frustrating, that her ingenuity is focussed on defending herself, and her fellow-students, from people trying to kill them with guns at school? “This is just our reality now,” she said.

Big Trouble for Don Jr. — David Corn in Mother Jones.

On Saturday afternoon, the New York Times revealed a 20-page private letter that President Donald Trump’s lawyers had sent special counsel Robert Mueller in January in which they contended that it was impossible for Trump to commit obstruction of justice because he, as president, has authority over all federal investigations and the power to do whatever he wants with them. The letter is a brazen declaration of executive power, and legal experts immediately challenged its premises and assertions. The missive also raised a possible problem for Donald Trump Jr.: it suggested he had not told Congress the whole truth—and might have even misled the body—regarding the cover story he put out when it was revealed that during the campaign he, Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort had met with a Russian emissary after being told she would share with them dirt on Hillary Clinton, as part of a Kremlin operation to help Trump.

At issue is the statement that Trump Jr. released, when news broke last July of that June 9, 2016, meeting in Trump Tower between the senior Trump advisers and Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian lawyer supposedly dispatched by a Kremlin official. Trump Jr.’s first statement claimed the meeting had been about Russian adoption policy. (American adoptions of Russian children had been curtailed by Moscow in response to the implementation of the Magnitsky Act, which imposed sanctions on Russian officials suspected of human rights abuses.) That statement did not mention that the meeting had been set up by the Trump campaign in the expectation it would receive from Moscow negative information on Clinton. And Mueller’s investigation has been looking at the elder Trump’s involvement in concocting that cover story. Earlier this year, the Times reported that Trump had supervised the writing of the statement and had insisted that it claim that the meeting only was about Russian adoptions.

The letter from Trump’s lawyers goes further than the Times’s account—and confirms an earlier Washington Post report pegging Trump as the author of the statement. It states, “the President dictated a short but accurate response to the New York Times article on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr.” Dictated—that means Trump devised that misleading statement. This is the first time Trump and his lawyers have conceded that he is responsible for the statement. The Times notes that previously “Trump’s advisers have tried to muddy this point, suggesting several people were involved, so the clarity of the sentence is striking.”

The sentence is also striking in that it undercuts the veracity of Trump Jr.’s testimony to Congress.

On September 7, Trump Jr. was questioned in a private session by the Senate Judiciary Committee about the Trump Tower meeting, and he was asked about the origins of the statement he put out when the meeting was revealed. First, the statement was read to Trump Jr.:

On July 8th of this year you issued a statement about the meeting: “It was a short introductory meeting. I asked Jared and Paul to stop by. We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families years ago and was since ended by the Russian government, but it was not a campaign issue at the time and there was no followup. I was asked to attend the meeting by an acquaintance but was not told the name of the person I would be meeting with beforehand.”

Then Trump Jr., according to the transcript, which was recently released, was asked about the Washington Poststory noting that his father had actually drafted that statement. This exchange ensued:

Q. The Washington Post has since reported that your father was involved in drafting your July 8th statement. Isthat correct?

A. I don’t know. I never spoke to my father about it

Q. Do you know who did draft that statement?

A. Well, there were numerous statementdrafted with counsel and other people were involved and, you know, opined.

Q. To the best of your knowledge, did the President provide any edits to the statement or other input

A. He may have commented through Hope Hicks.

Q. And do you know if his comments provided through Hope Hicks were incorporated into the final statement?

A. I believe some may have been,but this was an effort through lots of people, mostly counsel.

Q. Did you ask him to provide any assistance with the statement?

A. No. She asked if I wanted to actually speak to him, and I chose not to because I didn’want to bring him into something that he had nothing to do with.

Trump Jr. certainly did not inform the committee that his father had dictated the statement. In fact, he made it seem as if Trump was marginally involved, if at all. Yet according to the letter written by Trump’s own lawyers, Trump was in charge of the statement.

Trump Jr.’s remarks to the committee conveyed an inaccurate impression and can be seen as an attempt to provide cover for his pop. They might even be considered false statements. By the way, it’s a crime to lie to Congress. 

At least one member of Congress has tagged the letter from Trump lawyers as bad news for Trump Jr. On Saturday afternoon, Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), a member of the House intelligence committee, tweeted, “Donald Trump is lying or Donald Trump, Jr. lied during the House Intel investigation.”

Castro was referring to Trump Jr.’s testimony before his committee, not the Senate Judiciary Committee. This testimony has not been made public, but the tweet suggests that Trump Jr. took a similar line when he spoke to the House committee and distanced his father from the misleading statement about the Trump Tower meeting.

Now the question is will either committee, both led by Republicans, give a damn and examine whether Trump Jr. tried to stonewall them.

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

There’s Only One Scandal

Adam Serwer in The Atlantic posits that all the garbage we’re being treated to by Trump amounts to just one truth:

There are not many Trump scandals. There is one Trump scandal. Singular: the corruption of the American government by the president and his associates, who are using their official power for personal and financial gain rather than for the welfare of the American people, and their attempts to shield that corruption from political consequences, public scrutiny, or legal accountability.

When you put it that way, it’s not that hard to understand, and all of the links are there, from the Russians to the hush money for affairs to the pressure on the Justice Department to Middle East billionaires buying into his properties to curry favor and so on and so forth.  The details are important, but they can also be confusing and lead to a network of rabbit holes that would make the New York subway system look simple.  All you have to understand is that Trump’s goal in becoming president was to tap into the biggest license to print money for himself and his minions.  That’s it.

But her e-mails.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Take Your Time

The Mueller investigation has been going on for a year.  That may seem like a long time, but this handy chart from TPM puts it in perspective.

Every investigation is different, but just looking at the numbers, the Trump/Russia probe has barely begun.

(And I don’t remember any Republicans calling for Ken Starr to “wrap it up.”  As far as they’re concerned, it’s still going on; they just know there’s still some dirt to be had on Bill and Hillary and that airstrip in Arkansas.)

What I think is telling is that the learning curve on these types of investigations is so obvious.  In every case illustrated above, the perps thought they could get away with whatever it was that they were doing and that this time for sure they’d bamboozle both the investigators and the public.  It never works, and someone — usually a mid-level minion — ends up in jail.  (Interesting to note that in all of the investigations, at some point someone involved in the case was able to wangle their way into a presidential pardon.)

So take your time, Mr. Mueller.  Compared to Whitewater, you’ve got another seven years ahead of you.

Monday, May 7, 2018

Something’s Coming

Rudy Giuliani is all over the TV and very proud of the confusion he’s sowing.

“I’ll give you the conclusion: We all feel pretty good that we’ve got everything kind of straightened out and we’re setting the agenda,” Giuliani, the former New York mayor who recently joined Trump’s legal team, said in an interview with The Washington Post. Giuliani said he met with the president at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., to discuss developments and legal strategy.

“Everybody’s reacting to us now, and I feel good about that because that’s what I came in to do,” he said.

Yeah, everybody reacted to the Hindenburg explosion, too.

Meanwhile, the Kilauea volcano in Hawaii is opening up the earth and spewing forth lava, wiping out homes and turning a tropical paradise into something that resembles the last moments of Mordor (or Pompeii for those of you not into the Lord of the Rings).

Shortly after Kilauea erupted Thursday, the ground split open on the east side of Leilani Estates, exposing an angry red beneath the lush landscape. From the widening gash, molten rock burbled and splashed, then shot as high as 80 to 100 feet in the air.

The Hawaii County Civil Defense Agency called it “active volcanic fountaining.” Some residents insisted it was Pele, the Hawaiian volcano goddess, come to reclaim her land. Residents there were ordered to flee amid threats of fires and “extremely high levels of dangerous” sulfur dioxide gas.

Soon, another such fissure had formed less than three streets to the west. Then another, and another. From the vents, hot steam — and noxious gases — rose, before magma broke through and splattered into the air.

I’m not one of those people who believes in tying the forces of nature to the doings of humanity.  Gay marriage doesn’t cause hurricanes, and the spewing forth of lava, destroying everything in its path, isn’t a warning from Pele.  It’s just that the volume of vitriol and destruction from the Trump mouthpieces is eerily similar what’s flowing out of the ground in Hawaii.

I have nothing other than just a gut feeling that there’s something coming down the road, heading right for us.  I don’t think it’s impeachment — that can’t happen as long as the Republicans are in control of Congress — but I’m getting the very powerful feeling that the shitstorm is going to hit, hit soon, and hit hard.

Thursday, May 3, 2018

Whose Idea Was That?

From the Washington Post:

Rudolph W. Giuliani, the former New York mayor and a recent addition to President Trump’s legal team, said Wednesday night that Trump made a series of payments reimbursing his attorney, Michael Cohen, for a $130,000 settlement with an adult-film actress — despite Trump’s assertion last month that he was unaware of the payment.

This probably won’t be a large part of the historical record, but when the history of this period of time, someone is going to write a book or an article looking into the process — assuming there was one as opposed to a late-night cheeseburger nightmare — of hiring Rudy Giuliani as counsel to Trump.

Probably the same process as “Hey, let’s call it ‘New Coke.'”

Tuesday, May 1, 2018

He’s Got A Little List

The New York Times is reporting that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has a list of questions he’d like to ask Trump.

The open-ended queries appear to be an attempt to penetrate the president’s thinking, to get at the motivation behind some of his most combative Twitter posts and to examine his relationships with his family and his closest advisers. They deal chiefly with the president’s high-profile firings of the F.B.I. director and his first national security adviser, his treatment of Attorney General Jeff Sessions and a 2016 Trump Tower meeting between campaign officials and Russians offering dirt on Hillary Clinton.

But they also touch on the president’s businesses; any discussions with his longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, about a Moscow real estate deal; whether the president knew of any attempt by Mr. Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, to set up a back channel to Russia during the transition; any contacts he had with Roger J. Stone Jr., a longtime adviser who claimed to have inside information about Democratic email hackings; and what happened during Mr. Trump’s 2013 trip to Moscow for the Miss Universe pageant.

The Mueller team does not leak inadvertently, and the first rule they teach you in law school (or so I’m told) is, “Never ask a question you don’t already know the answer to.”  I’m willing to bet that this was done on purpose in order to bait the Trump team into saying something that could later be proven to be a lie and thereby get them on both obstruction and perjury.

Too bad that Mueller will probably never get a chance to ask them unless it’s in front of a grand jury.

Update:  The Hill is reporting that the leaked questions may have come from the White House.

Michael Zeldin, a CNN legal analyst and former assistant to Robert Mueller, said Tuesday he believes President Trump leaked the list of nearly 50 questions the special counsel allegedly wants to ask Trump.

“I think these are notes taken by the recipients of a conversation with Mueller’s office where he outlined broad topics and these guys wrote down questions that they thought these topics may raise,” Zeldin said on CNN’s “New Day.”

“Because of the way these questions are written… lawyers wouldn’t write questions this way, in my estimation. Some of the grammar is not even proper,” he continued. “So, I don’t see this as a list of written questions that Mueller’s office gave to the president. I think these are more notes that the White House has taken and then they have expanded upon the conversation to write out these as questions.”

Hmm.  That sounds plausible… not the leaking, but the typos.

Friday, April 13, 2018

Book Retort

I think the last Washington insider book that I bought and read was John Dean’s “Blind Ambition” that depicted this role in Watergate.  So I probably won’t read James Comey’s forthcoming tome, “A Higher Loyalty,” in which the fired FBI director recalls his brief time in the Trump administration.  But it must be a page-turner the way the right-wing media and the White House is laying into it.

The battle plan against Comey, obtained by CNN, calls for branding the nation’s former top law enforcement official as “Lyin’ Comey” through a website, digital advertising and talking points to be sent to Republicans across the country before his memoir is released next week. The White House signed off on the plan, which is being overseen by the Republican National Committee.

“Comey is a liar and a leaker and his misconduct led both Republicans and Democrats to call for his firing,” Republican chairwoman Ronna McDaniel said in a statement to CNN. “If Comey wants the spotlight back on him, we’ll make sure the American people understand why he has no one but himself to blame for his complete lack of credibility.”

While it’s an open question how successful Republicans will be in making their case against Comey, given that Trump unceremoniously dismissed him last May 9, there is no doubt that many Democrats remain furious at how the former FBI director treated Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential campaign.

If the RNC and the White House wanted to suppress book sales and discredit Mr. Comey, they would ignore it or say nothing more than “Well, he’s entitled to his opinion” and let it be.  But giving the campaign to discredit him its own website?  Sales of the book are going to go through the roof.

The biggest question now will be, where will they find an actor who’s 6’8″ to play Comey in the HBO version?

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

Island Getaway

Apparently the Seychelles, a scattering of remote islands in the Indian Ocean, is the exclusive place for rich people from other lands to get together and plan how to run the U.S. government… or at least buy it off.

Via various sites that lead to NJ.com:

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is examining a series of previously unreported meetings that took place in 2017 in the Seychelles, an archipelago in the Indian Ocean, as part of its broader investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election, according to two sources briefed on the investigation.

The sources said several of those meetings took place around the same time as another meeting in the Seychelles between Erik Prince, founder of the security company Blackwater, Kirill Dmitriev, the director of one of Russia’s sovereign wealth funds, and Crown Prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al-Nahyan, the effective ruler of the United Arab Emirates (also known as “MBZ”). Details of that earlier meeting were first reported by the Washington Post last year.

The sources requested to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak publicly about the matter.

The inquiry into the meetings in the Seychelles suggests there is growing interest on the Mueller team in whether foreign financing, specifically from Gulf states, has influenced President Trump and his administration.

Documents obtained by this reporter, and interviews with those familiar with the probe, suggest Mueller is also looking at other foreign influencers, including individuals from Russia and from Saudi Arabia.

The meetings in the Seychelles are a key component of Mueller’s investigation, sources familiar with the investigation said. The meetings connect powerful players from Russia, the U.S., the UAE and Saudi Arabia across the political, financial and defense worlds. The details of what was discussed in the meetings in January and in the following months, however, are scarce.

Flight records and financial documents obtained by this reporter over twelve months, as well as interviews with parliamentary and aviation officials in the Seychelles, paint a scene out of a Hollywood thriller.

Wealthy and politically-connected individuals from across the globe — from Russia, France, Saudi Arabia and South Africa — land in the Seychelles for meetings that take place as a part of a larger gathering hosted by MBZ, according to an individual briefed on the matter, who also requested anonymity. Many of them fly in on private jets and several do not clear customs. Some check into the Four Seasons Hotel while others arrive and stay on their yachts.

This qualifies as a “scene out of a Hollywood thriller” but only if this was a remake of “The Godfather” and Fredo was the smart one.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Raid On Cohen

Now we’re getting somewhere.

The F.B.I. raided the Rockefeller Center office and Park Avenue hotel room of President Trump’s longtime personal lawyer, Michael D. Cohen, on Monday morning, seizing business records, emails and documents related to several topics, including a payment to a pornographic film actress.

Mr. Trump, in an extraordinarily angry response, lashed out hours later at what a person briefed on the matter said was an investigation into possible bank fraud by Mr. Cohen. Mr. Trump accused his own Justice Department of perpetrating a “witch hunt” and asserted that the F.B.I. “broke in to” Mr. Cohen’s office.

The president, who spoke at the White House before meeting with senior military commanders about a potential missile strike on Syria, called the F.B.I. raid a “disgraceful situation” and an “attack on our country in a true sense.”

It is not clear how the F.B.I. entered Mr. Cohen’s office, but agents had a search warrant and typically would have presented it to office personnel to be let in. The documents identified in the warrant date back years, according to a person briefed on the search.

The prosecutors obtained the search warrant after receiving a referral from the special counsel in the Russia investigation, Robert S. Mueller III, according to Mr. Cohen’s lawyer, who called the search “completely inappropriate and unnecessary.” The search does not appear to be directly related to Mr. Mueller’s investigation, but most likely resulted from information that he had uncovered and gave to prosecutors in New York.

The louder he screams, the closer they’re getting.

Charlie Pierce:

The FBI doesn’t raid the offices of high-end lawyers unless they are absolutely sure about what they’re looking for, and absolutely sure they’re inbounds, too. Attorney-client privilege is a serious business, and that’s a good thing. It’s pretty plain that this is a serious turn in Robert Mueller’s investigation. It’s also pretty plain that his investigation is going everywhere it can possibly go.

And knowing how Trump lashes out at anything nearby when he gets riled, folks in Syria better brace for an air raid.