Monday, June 26, 2017

Perfectly Legit

I’m sure there’s nothing at all suspicious about a bank in Germany loaning the Republican candidate’s son-in-law more than a quarter of a billion dollars a month before the election.  After all, no one thought Trump would win, right?  So what’s a friendly transaction for real estate in New York going to matter?  The fact that the bank was negotiating a settlement on federal fraud and Russian money-laundering charges is just a coincidence, right?

We don’t know, but I think Special Counsel Robert Mueller is going to look into it.

Here’s the thing: the actual crime, if there is one, isn’t as big as the attempts to cover it up; that’s practically an axiom in the scandal business.  So if someone goes to jail or ends up paying a huge fine, it’s not because of that; it’s because they tried to hide it from the people who had the right to know what was going on.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Sunday Reading

Why We Must Mock Trump — Howard Jacobson in the New York Times.

Let’s look on the bright side: The spectacle of ireful Donald Trump supporters disrupting Shakespeare in the Park’s production of “Julius Caesar” and the subsequent tweetstorm of abuse directed at any company with Shakespeare in its name prove that plays retain the power to shock and enrage. Who said the theater is all anodyne, feel-good musicals?

I didn’t see the production that turned Julius Caesar into a Donald Trump look-alike, so I can’t comment on the accuracy of the impersonation or the violence against the president that some people believe it meant to incite. But there are a few things about the nature of Shakespearean drama in general — its subtle shifts in sympathy, the shocks it administers to our prejudices, its suspension of the drives to definitive political action — that obviously weren’t apparent to protesters.

The first of these is that a play, however incendiary its plot, is a very different thing from a political speech. A speech asks us to go out and do, or at least to go away and believe; a play by Shakespeare moves through time, measures action against motive and shows us consequence. We might enter the theater in rash spirits, but we leave it consumed by thought.

Mr. Trump never, in so many words, promoted the assassination of Hillary Clinton when addressing an election rally about the likely effect of her tinkering with the gun laws, but he avoided incitement only by making a sort of comic drama of his words — imagining what others might think or do, playing with future and conditional tenses, painting himself as innocent of any such intention himself. This wasn’t Shakespeare, but it was a departure from the usual blunt declamations of the “Lock her up!” variety. Deep down in Mr. Trump’s ungrammatical subconscious, some ancient understanding of the nature of dramaturgical, as opposed to oratorical, discourse briefly stirred. No, he had not called for Mrs. Clinton to be shot.

Plays don’t tell you what to think, let alone how to act. A good play won’t even tell you what the playwright thinks. What did Shakespeare believe? We don’t know. Meaning emerges, in a drama, suspensefully, out of the interplay of forces, from the collision of voices. There is no such thing, in art, as non-contingent truth.

That Trumpists don’t recognize this process is not surprising. Mr. Trump’s appeal is to those who think truth comes in a capsule. But their rage at the depiction of the president as the soon-to-be-assassinated Caesar is encouraging to the satirist. Satire is less subtle than Shakespearean drama. It lowers its head and charges. The questions always asked of it — will it do any good, will it change minds, will it even be noticed by the people satirized? — are hereby answered. Yes, no and yes.

Vexation is its own reward. It is consoling to see how thin-skinned the partisans of Mr. Trump are. But in truth, we’ve always known this about people of an absolutist bent. Just before the war, Adolf Hitler tried diplomatic means to get the British cartoonist David Low barred from drawing cartoons of the Führer. It has even been suggested that Mr. Low’s name was on a list of people to be killed when the Nazis occupied Britain.

Communism’s failure of humor is the subject of Milan Kundera’s first novel, “The Joke.” For writing the words “Optimism is the opium of mankind! A healthy spirit stinks of stupidity! Long live Trotsky!” on the back of a postcard to a girlfriend, Ludvik Jahn is expelled from the Communist Party of Czechoslovakia and sent to work in the mines.

The more monocratic the regime, the less it can bear criticism. And of all criticism, satire — with its single ambition of ridiculing vanity and delusion — is the most potent.

This can be only because the boastful are thin-skinned and the intolerant are forever looking over their shoulders. Mr. Trump himself is visibly easy to wound. Should this be a reason to hold back? “Who breaks a butterfly upon a wheel?” the great satirist Alexander Pope asked. The question was rhetorical. Wounding the vainglorious is a pleasing pastime in itself and contributes to their demoralization. Fire enough salvos of comedy and their solemn edifices start to crumble. It might be a slow process, but it is at least the beginning.

Derision is a societal necessity. In an age of conformity and populist hysteria, it creates a climate of skepticism and distrust of authority. If mercy droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven, derision spurts up as though from a pantomime geyser, drenching the braggart and the fool in the foulest ordures.

[Photo by Sarah Krulwich, New York Times]

Past Is Prologue — Richard Ben-Veniste, former Watergate prosecutor, has a warning for Trump.

Watching the national controversy over the White House and Russia unfold, I’m reminded of Karl Marx’s oft-quoted observation: “History repeats itself: first as tragedy, second as farce.” I was a close witness to the national tragedy that was Richard Nixon’s self-inflicted downfall as president, and I’ve recently contemplated whether a repeat of his “Saturday Night Massacre” may already be in the offing. Given how that incident doomed one president, Trump would do well to resist repeating his predecessor’s mistakes—and avoid his presidency’s descent into a quasi-Watergate parody.

The massacre began when Nixon gave the order to fire Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox, a desperate effort to prevent him from hearing tape-recorded evidence that proved the White House’s involvement in a conspiracy to obstruct the investigation of a break-in at Democratic National Committee headquarters. Nixon’s misuse of executive power backfired, immediately costing him two highly respected members of his administration: Attorney General Elliot Richardson and his deputy William Ruckelshaus, who both resigned rather than follow Nixon’s directive. Third in command at the Justice Department was Solicitor General Robert Bork, who agreed to do the dirty deed and fired Cox.

At the time, I had been working on Cox’s team for only four months and had just been promoted to chief of the task force investigating obstruction-of-justice allegations against Nixon. It was one of five such task forces that Cox organized to carry out his broad mandate. Although Nixon ordered the special prosecutor’s office abolished and commanded the FBI to seize our office and files, we remained employed by the Justice Department. Homeless, leaderless, and dazed by our proximity to the explosion the president had detonated in our midst, we brushed ourselves off and vowed to continue our work in whatever capacity we could.

It was only a matter of days, though, until the firestorm of public and congressional outrage over Cox’s firing forced Nixon to reverse course and promise to obey court orders that compelled his release of eight tape recordings. We returned to our office and were reunited with our files, and a new special prosecutor, Leon Jaworski, was soon appointed to lead the Watergate inquiry. Amid all the furor—which didn’t end there—the public correctly asked the question “What was Nixon hiding?” The answer was not long in coming: a lot. The tapes proved Nixon was not only a liar, but also an early leader of a plot to obstruct the investigation of those who organized and financed the DNC break-in. Nixon’s choice was either to face the music—likely impeachment, conviction, and removal from office—or resign.

In Watergate’s aftermath, I thought the unique circumstances that led to Nixon’s resignation in disgrace could never be replicated. But after just six months in office, the comparisons between Presidents Trump and Nixon are mounting:

Watergate involved political espionage and electronic wiretapping by the Republican candidate’s campaign committee against the DNC. “Russiagate” involves political espionage by the Russians against the Democrats, with possible collusion by members of the GOP candidate’s campaign or advisers.

Watergate saw the president’s firing of a special prosecutor. In Russiagate, FBI Director James Comey was fired after, in the president’s own words, the bureau’s investigation had put “great pressure” on him.

Nixon called the Senate Watergate hearings a “witch hunt,” and Trump repeatedly uses the same term to criticize the ongoing special-counsel investigation.

Nixon ordered CIA Deputy Director Vernon Walters to tell Acting FBI Director Pat Gray to back off the investigation tracing cash found on the arrested burglars at the scene of the crime. According to Comey’s sworn testimony before the Senate, Trump told him to go easy on former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, who is being investigated in part for lying about his contacts with Russian officials.

Nixon aide Alexander Butterfield revealed the existence of a secret White House taping system in Senate testimony. Trump once suggested that he may have covertly taped his conversations with Comey, though on Thursday he denied doing so.

Nixon claimed the special prosecutor’s office was made up of political partisans out to get him, and Trump calls Special Counsel Robert Mueller and his staff “very bad and conflicted people.” Both presidents have also sharply criticized the press, calling it the “enemy.”

As if all these parallels are not enough, Trump’s surrogates have raised the possibility that he will fire Mueller, too. Presidential confidant and Newsmax CEO Chris Ruddy told reporters earlier this month he believed Trump was considering the dismissal. Incredibly, longtime Trump supporter Roger Stone, who himself worked on Nixon’s reelection campaign, has loudly encouraged Trump to reprise the Saturday Night Massacre by firing Mueller. This despite the fact that Mueller—tapped to lead the FBI by George W. Bush in 2001 and selected by Trump’s own deputy attorney general to lead the Russia inquiry, has been on the job for only a month and is still hiring staff.

If Trump’s actions seem like a ham-fisted imitation of Nixon’s, they are no laughing matter. Senator Dianne Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she is “increasingly concerned” that Trump will fire Mueller, and send a message that he “believes the law doesn’t apply to him, and that anyone who believes otherwise will be fired”—a perhaps unintentional allusion to Nixon himself, who once said that when a president does something, “that means that it is not illegal.” The usual limits on presidential power must apply to Trump, Feinstein argued: “The Senate should not let that happen. We’re a nation of laws that apply equally to everyone, a lesson the president would be wise to learn.”

The question is not whether Trump can fire Mueller—it is whether it would be a misuse of executive power for him to do so. Should Trump let Mueller go, it would spark a constitutional crisis the likes of which the country has not seen in four decades. The business of Congress would grind to a halt and the stock market would suffer a shock. With Comey’s dismissal as the backdrop, there could be an immediate resolution introduced in the House for Trump’s impeachment for attempting to obstruct a lawful, ongoing criminal investigation.

Rod Rosenstein, in his role as acting attorney general, followed the law in appointing Mueller to be special counsel to “ensure a full and thorough investigation of the Russian government’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 presidential election” and related matters. It should be remembered that Nixon was named by the Watergate grand jury as an unindicted co-conspirator in a conspiracy to obstruct justice, and that the House Judiciary Committee cited his interference with Cox’s investigation among the grounds for voting in favor of impeachment. And only former President Gerald Ford’s pardon precluded an indictment of citizen Nixon for obstruction.

In Watergate, there were several Republicans in both houses who are remembered for putting country above party loyalty. The die-hards who stood with Nixon until the end—not so much. If Trump were to fire Mueller to cut off a full investigation, it would fall to congressional Republicans, who control both houses of Congress, to determine whether the United States continues to be a nation of laws. Americans would see whether a new Howard Baker, Lowell Weicker, Tom Railsback, Bill Cohen, Caldwell Butler, or Hamilton Fish would step forward and join with Democrats, who would no doubt sponsor an impeachment resolution. Or would GOP lawmakers simply go along with a foolhardy reenactment of the Watergate scandal’s Saturday Night Massacre?

O Canada? — Stephen Marche on his home and native land’s inability to celebrate itself.

July 1 is Canada’s 150th anniversary, but nobody seems particularly eager to join the party. The muted attempts at celebration have so far produced either awkwardness or embarrassment. A giant rubber duck, six stories tall, is supposed to arrive in Toronto Harbor on Canada Day, but its imminent appearance has been greeted by outrage over costs and suspicions of plagiarism. In March, the CBC, Canada’s national broadcaster, began televising a documentary series called “The Story of Us” to the almost instantaneous howling of Quebec and Nova Scotia politicians at what they regarded as significant omissions in our supposedly collective narrative. Resistance 150, an indigenous political movement, is planning to disrupt the anniversary itself.

The principal excitement of our sesquicentennial so far has been the fury of national self-critique it has inspired.

The irony is that Canada, at the moment, has a lot to celebrate. Our prime minister is glamorous and internationally recognized as a celebrity of progressive politics. We are among the last societies in the West not totally consumed by loathing of others. Canada leads the Group of 7 countries in economic growth. Our cultural power is real: Drake recently had 24 songs on the Billboard Hot 100 at the same time — for one shining moment he was nearly a quarter of popular music. Frankly, it’s not going to get much better than this for little old Canada.

So why is Canada so bad at celebrating itself? The nationalism that defined the country during the last major anniversary, the centenary in 1967, has evaporated. The election of Justin Trudeau has brought a new generation to power, a generation raised on a vision of history more critical than laudatory. We dream of reconciliation with the victims of our ancestors’ crimes rather than memorialization of their triumphs.

Mr. Trudeau has described the country he leads as “the first postnational state,” with “no core identity, no mainstream.” He may be right. But if we are a postnational state, then why are we even mentioning the formation of a national state in the first place? It seems so arbitrary.

The historical moment we will commemorate next Saturday is Confederation — a bunch of old white guys signing a document that bound a loose collection of provinces controlled by the British Empire into a vague and discontented unity without the slightest consideration of or participation by the First Peoples. It doesn’t seem ideal, or even accurate, as an origin. Needless to say, native people were here for thousands of years before that. And Canada managed to reach proper independence, with the right to amend our Constitution without approval from Britain, only in 1982.

Nonetheless, I will be celebrating. The British North America Act, which I was forced to study in school and which, at the time, I considered the single most boring object ever produced by human consciousness, has grown on me. Maybe I’ve aged. But so has the world. Confederation was an attempt at compromise between peoples within a unified political framework. In this way at least, a moldy 19th-century document has, oddly, prepared Canada for the 21st century surprisingly well.

Nationally, Canada has been spared the populism that has swallowed the rest of the Western world because there is not, and has never been, such a thing as a “real Canadian.” Kevin O’Leary — Canada’s supposed answer to Donald Trump — ended his campaign for the leadership of the Conservative Party, even though he was leading in the polls, because he couldn’t speak French well enough to win an election. To lead this country, you must be able to navigate multiple languages and multiple cultures. Our longstanding identity crisis has suddenly turned to a huge advantage — we come, in a sense, pre-broken.

Pierre Trudeau, Justin’s father, articulated Canada’s difference from other countries perfectly: “There is no such thing as a model or ideal Canadian,” he said when he was prime minister in 1971. “What could be more absurd than the concept of an ‘all Canadian’ boy or girl? A society which emphasizes uniformity is one which creates intolerance and hate.” Despite this country’s manifold failures to uphold its ideals, its core vision has turned out to be much more sophisticated than America’s “E pluribus unum.”

Not that the pre-broken post-national condition is without its agonies. Colonized self-loathing seems to be a national trait we will never fully shake off. Canadian self-flagellation results always in the same warm, comfortingly smug sense of virtue. Self-righteousness is to Canada what violence is to America. It transcends the political spectrum. Whether it is Conservative insistence on frugality and small-town values or the furious outrage of identity politics on the left, everyone has the same point to make: We’re not as good as we think we are, and the government should do something about it.

The virtues of this country are mostly negative anyway, which may also make overt celebration difficult. Canada’s real glories are its hospitals and its public schools, but those, unlike the Marine Corps, cannot be paraded. Canada is, according to several international surveys, the most tolerant country in the world. But it’s absurd to celebrate not being quite as insane as the rest of the world. You don’t get a cookie because you hate people on the basis of their skin color a little less than everybody else.

None of what I have written should be taken to imply that Canadians don’t love their country, or that I don’t love my country. I do. Most Canadians do, too. They just love it quietly. They don’t want to make a big fuss. Britain made a big fuss with Brexit and look what’s happening to it. America at the moment seems full of dedicated, flag-waving patriots who love their country passionately, vociferously; they just can’t stand their fellow citizens or their government.

Canada’s reluctance to celebrate itself is actually something worth celebrating. It has become abundantly clear in 2017 that patriotism is for losers. Patriotism is for people and for countries that need to justify their existence through symbols rather than achievements. Canada is doing well enough that it doesn’t require spackled vanity. It doesn’t need six-story-high rubber ducks.

This is the most Canadian thing I will ever write, I know, but I’m proud of my country for its lack of pride.

 Doonesbury — He’s back.

Wednesday, June 21, 2017

Lawyers Hiring Lawyers

Now why would the Attorney General of the United States need to hire a lawyer?

A Washington lawyer has confirmed that he’s representing Attorney General Jeff Sessions but is not offering any more specifics.

A statement provided by the office of Chuck Cooper on Tuesday acknowledges that Cooper is representing Sessions. But the statement says Cooper won’t comment on any confidential client matters.

I suppose it’s a good idea since Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III has been investigated for his dealings with Russia.  But if the name Chuck Cooper sounds familiar (no, not the actor), it’s because he defended California’s anti-gay marriage Proposition 8 before the Supreme Court…and lost.  In a rather interesting turn, he changed his views on the subject in 2014 when his daughter married a woman.  Of course, he could have been in favor of it all along, but taking the case meant a hefty paycheck win or lose, so there’s that.

Friday, June 16, 2017

Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Trump Under Investigation For Obstruction

Via the Washington Post:

The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said.

The move by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said.

Trump had received private assurances from then-FBI Director James B. Comey starting in January that he was not personally under investigation. Officials say that changed shortly after Comey’s firing.

Five people briefed on the requests, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly, said Daniel Coats, the current director of national intelligence, Mike Rogers, head of the National Security Agency, and Rogers’s recently departed deputy, Richard Ledgett, agreed to be interviewed by Mueller’s investigators as early as this week. The investigation has been cloaked in secrecy, and it is unclear how many others have been questioned by the FBI.

The NSA said in statement that it will “fully cooperate with the special counsel” and declined to comment further. The office of the director of national intelligence and Ledgett declined to comment.

Go ahead and fire him now.  I dare you.

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Short Takes

Attorney General Sessions gets his day before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Travel ban blocked again.

Secret Service says it has no records of White House recordings.

Putin challenger arrested on the way to demonstrate against him.

Golden State wins NBA title over Cleveland.

Monday, June 12, 2017

Firing Line

The news media figured out over the weekend that Trump could fire the special counsel, Robert Mueller, if he wanted to.  From Politico:

One of President Donald Trump’s attorneys on Sunday wouldn’t rule out the possibility the president would fire the special counsel appointed to look into his campaign’s potential ties to Russia.

Robert Mueller was appointed by the Justice Department last month to investigate Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. And on Sunday, ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked Trump attorney Jay Sekulow whether the president would pledge not to interfere or order the attorney general to fire Mueller.

“Look, the president of the United States, as we all know, is a unitary executive,” Sekulow said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But the president is going to seek the advice of his counsel and inside the government as well as outside. And I’m not going to speculate on what he will, or will not, do.”

And since the Republicans don’t really care what he does and wouldn’t vote to impeach or convict him of anything, he could get away with it.  It doesn’t matter whether or not it makes him look guilty as hell; he already does and he still has a base that thinks he’s wonderful and all this Russia nonsense is Hillary people sucking on sour grapes.

Friday, June 9, 2017

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Previews Of Comey Attractions

Benjamin Wittes of the Brookings Institution took a long look at former FBI Director James Comey’s prepared opening statement for today’s Senate Intelligence Committee hearing and posted his thoughts on Lawfare.  Here’s his summation.

First, Comey is describing here conduct that a society committed to the rule of law simply cannot accept in a president. We have spent a lot of time on this site over seven years now debating the marginal exertions of presidential power and their capacity for abuse. Should the president have the authority to detain people at Guantanamo? Incinerate suspected terrorists with flying robots? Use robust intelligence authorities directed at overseas non-citizens? These questions are all important, but this document is about a far more important question to the preservation of liberty in a society based on legal norms and rules: the abuse of the core functions of the presidency. It’s about whether we can trust the President—not the President in the abstract, but the particular embodiment of the presidency in the person of Donald J. Trump—to supervise the law enforcement apparatus of the United States in fashion consistent with his oath of office. I challenge anyone to read this document and come away with a confidently affirmative answer to that question.

Second, we are about to see a full-court press against Comey. I don’t know what it will look like. But the attack instinct always kicks in when a presidency is under siege. And Trump has the attack instinct in spades even when he’s not under siege. It is important to remember what the stakes are here. They are not about whether Comey was treated fairly. They are not about whether you like him. They are not about whether he handled the Clinton email investigation in the highest traditions of the FBI or the Justice Department. They are not about leaks. The stakes here are about whether what Comey is reporting in this document are true facts and, if so, what we need as a political society to do about the reality that we have a president who behaves this way and seeks to use the FBI in this fashion. It is critical, in other words, that people not change the subject or get distracted when others try to do so.

Finally, it is also critical—though probably fruitless to say—that we eschew partisanship in the conversation. Tomorrow, this document will be the discussion text when Comey faces a committee that, warts and all, has handled the Russia matter to date in a respectable and honorably bipartisan fashion. It is not too much to ask that members put aside party and respond as patriots to the fact that the former FBI director will swear an oath that these facts are true—and was fired after these interactions allegedly took place by a man who then told Lester Holt that “when I decided to just do it [fire Comey], I said to myself … this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made up story,” and boasted to the Russians the day after dismissing Comey that “I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

The question they—and we—all face is simple: Do we care?

Forty-four years ago — June 1973 — another fired attorney, John Dean, testified before another Senate committee about private conversations he had with the president, revealing alleged criminal activity on the president’s and other White House officials behalf in pursuit of an election victory and the cover-up of that criminal activity.

Mr. Dean’s testimony, broadcast live on national TV and radio networks, broke open the Watergate scandal and took it from dirty tricks to the end of a presidency.  Whether or not the same thing will happen with Mr. Comey’s testimony today is open to speculation and hope, but at the least the parallels between what John Dean said in that committee hearing and what Mr. Comey will say today do have a certain rhyming quality.

The question Benjamin Wittes asks at the end of his summation is a good one: Do we care?  Have we come so far and become so jaded that meddling by a foreign power — one whose very mention of the name had us ducking and covering — in a presidential election gets a shrug and a rejoinder of “but her e-mails” from 32% of the voters.  Or did Watergate and the subsequent real or imagined -gates that followed immunize us against the expectation that elected officials would hold themselves to a higher standard since they were elected by the people and therefore had to represent our better angels, not the common denominator.

For my part, having arrived at advanced middle age and able to testify about living through one-quarter of the history of this nation, I can say that if we don’t care about what happened to elect this president and allow the legacy of the nation to be turned into a comment thread on an unmoderated blog, then perhaps we have invited the meddling by the Russians and the kleptocrats.  It wasn’t because they want to rule what’s left of our democracy and make it their own, but because they were bored with their own toys and found another shiny one.

So my question to you is simple: Do you care, and what are you going to do about it?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Short Takes

Huge explosion near presidential palace in Kabul; at least 49 dead.

UN: Yemen faces “total collapse.”

US tests anti-missile defense system.

Russia inquiry expands to Trump lawyer.

Cleveland officer fired in Tamir Rice shooting.

White House communications director quits after three months.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

All In The Family

The son-in-law who makes trouble for the family is an old story and rarely ends happily.

The most successful deal of Jared Kushner’s short and consequential career in real estate and politics involves one highly leveraged acquisition: a pair of adjoining offices a few penny-loafer paces from his father-in-law’s desk in the White House.

Over the past week, Mr. Kushner, who at age 36 occupies an ill-defined role somewhere between princeling and President Trump’s shadow chief of staff, has seen his foothold on that invaluable real estate shrink amid revelations he is under scrutiny in a federal investigation into whether there was collusion with Russian officials during the presidential campaign.

Mr. Kushner, an observant Jew, spent the Sabbath in fretful seclusion with his wife, Ivanka Trump, at his father-in-law’s resort in Bedminster, N.J., unplugged, per religious custom, from electronics. But he emerged defiant and eager to defend his reputation in congressional hearings, according to two of his associates.

What is less clear is how Mr. Kushner’s woes will affect his hard-won influence on a mercurial father-in-law who is eager to put distance between himself and a scandal that is swamping his agenda and, he believes, threatening his family.

[…]

In a statement Sunday night, Mr. Trump praised his son-in-law and the work he has done in the White House.

“Jared is doing a great job for the country,” he said. “I have total confidence in him. He is respected by virtually everyone and is working on programs that will save our country billions of dollars. In addition to that, and perhaps more importantly, he is a very good person.”

But in recent weeks, the Trump-Kushner relationship, the most stable partnership in an often unstable West Wing, is showing unmistakable signs of strain.

That relationship had already begun to fray a bit after Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, which Mr. Kushner had strongly advocated, and because of his repeated attempts to oust Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, as well as the president’s overburdened communications team, especially Sean Spicer, the press secretary.

It has been duly noted in the White House that Mr. Trump, who feels that he has been ill served by his staff, has increasingly included Mr. Kushner when he dresses down aides and officials, a rarity earlier in his administration and during the campaign.

When your boss and father-in-law has to tell the press he has total confidence in you, it’s time to start thinking about spending more time with the family.

Friday, May 26, 2017

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Run For Cover

I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for this.

Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials.

Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.

Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president.

[…]

White House officials say Comey’s testimony about the scope of the FBI investigation upset Trump, who has dismissed the FBI and congressional investigations as a “witch hunt.” The president has repeatedly said there was no collusion.

Current and former senior intelligence officials viewed Trump’s requests as an attempt by the president to tarnish the credibility of the agency leading the Russia investigation.

A senior intelligence official said Trump’s goal was to “muddy the waters” about the scope of the FBI probe at a time when Democrats were ramping up their calls for the Justice Department to appoint a special counsel, a step announced last week.

If you’re over fifty and were paying attention back during Watergate, this all sounds familiar: the president trying to keep the investigators off the case by discrediting them and telling anyone who would listen that the “important work” of the country is being ignored and that only his enemies care about such things as obstruction of justice.

Like most people caught up in something like this, they either don’t know much about history — a cover-up never works — or they’re so wrapped up in their own ego that they think that they’ll never get caught.  Trump excels at both.

Thursday, May 18, 2017

This Is Special

Some reactions to the appointment of Robert Mueller as the special counsel.

Charles P. Pierce:

This administration is the worst thing to happen to D.C. cocktail hours since Prohibition. The end of business is no longer the end of business. It’s like being a volunteer fireman in hell. The best news is that Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein took a good look at the dents in his reputation and appointed Robert Mueller, a former director of the FBI, to be a special counsel to oversee the DOJ in its investigation not only Russian meddling in the 2016 election, but also into “related matters.” Which means, well, everything.

If you want to know more about Mueller, then consult Dr. Google on the subject of “Stellar Wind.” That was the Bush Administration’s extra-constitutional surveillance follies. Mueller (along with James Comey, the Zelig of federal law enforcement) threatened to resign if the administration and its lawyers didn’t find a way to make Stellar Wind conform to constitutional norms. It’s important to remember that Mueller, at the time, was trying to find a way to rehabilitate the Bureau’s image after the intelligence community failed altogether on 9/11, but even Mueller found what the Bush NSA was doing was a long step over the line.

In short, if you were looking for someone with Washington street cred and a history of not being intimidated by people like presidents, even semi-competent ones, Mueller is as good as it gets. The administration’s toes just lost contact with the bottom of the pool.

Josh Marshall:

This is important and necessary but not sufficient.

There also needs to be an independent commission to investigate what happened in the 2016 election. These two options – special counsel or independent commission – are often bandied about as two separate options, one or the other, or as steps of escalation in a scandal. None of those things is true.

It is critical to understand that the most important details we need to know about the Russian disruption campaign and the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with it may not be crimes. Indeed, I would say that the crimes we’re likely to discover will likely be incidental or secondary to the broader actions and activities we’re trying to uncover. Just hypothetically, what if Russia had a disruption campaign, Trump campaign officials gave winks and nods to nudge it forward but violated no laws? That’s hard to figure but by no means impossible. (Our criminal laws are not really designed for this set of facts.) The simple point is that the most important ‘bad acts’ may well not be crimes. That means not only is no one punished but far, far more important, we would never know what happened.

People who committed crimes should be punished. Unquestionably. But the truest and deepest national interest is that the whole story be thoroughly investigated and the full story get a public airing. That is far more important to the health of the Republic and its safety than whether particular individuals spend time in prison. Again, it’s not either/or. But one is far more important than the other. A counter-intelligence probe or even a criminal investigation could wind up and the details and findings never be known. That can’t be allowed to happen. We need a fully empowered commission charged not with investigating and prosecuting criminal conduct but ascertaining, as far as possible, what happened and then bringing that information before the public.

That’s critical. This is an important step. Great that it happened. But the country can’t get past this without that full accounting.

digby:

He’s a good choice if only because he was FBI chief for a dozen years without a whole lot of drama. Presumably he’s well respected by the rank and file and both parties will be satisfied. If nothing else, the Republicans won’t be able to whine too much about it.

The best aspect of this is if Trump picks Joe Lieberman for FBI chief, as is rumored. Having a Mueller as special counsel will spare us having to put up with him using the Russia investigation to punish liberals for beating him in a primary.

Yes, he is that petty.

History has shown that when a special counsel is appointed, the investigation becomes real.  Money is going to be spent, staff is going to be hired, and there will be results.  It also means that no one knows where it will go.  The special counsel hired to look into Whitewater ended up with Monica Lewinsky, and an investigation into the money paid to the perpetrators of a third-rate burglary led to the resignation of a president.

So here we go.

Short Takes

DOJ appoints former FBI director Robert Mueller as independent counsel to run the Trump/Russia inquiry.

Wall Street tumbles over worries about Trump.

Despite calling it “worst deal ever,” Trump extends Iran deal waivers.

Tornadoes kill two in Oklahoma and Wisconsin.

Arrests of undocumented immigrants with no criminal record up 150%.