Thursday, April 11, 2019

Setting The Barr

I’m not at all surprised that Attorney General William Barr told the Senate that there may have been some “spying” during the 2016 campaign.  After all, he was hired by Trump to follow up on the right-wing nutsery claims about the Democrats doing it, and although he has no offer of proof, he basically echoed what Trump as been screaming about all along.

The fact that the FBI and other intelligence agencies may have had legitimate reasons to investigate the glaring clues that a foreign hostile power was trying to interfere with the electoral process doesn’t matter.  All these conspiracy whacks hear is “spying” and they’re over the moon.  Now the emboldened GOP will say “There should never have been an investigation of anybody at all!”  That’s tantamount to saying, “Yeah, it was fine with me if the Russians wanted to put Trump in office.”

Trump got the attorney general he really wanted in William Barr: a yes-man who does his bidding.

Friday, January 18, 2019

Tell Them Lies

Buzzfeed breaks major news.

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Special counsel Robert Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” — widely understood to be Trump — “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Now the two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.

It’s going to interesting to hear what Mr. Cohen has to tell Congress when he testifies next month.

And yes, telling someone to lie to Congress is obstruction of justice.  It’s what the House drafted articles of impeachment on for Richard Nixon.

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

No Confidence

It sounds like the British government is facing a rather sticky wicket.

Theresa May’s government faces a vote of no confidence later after MPs rejected the PM’s Brexit deal.

Labour launched the bid to trigger a general election after the deal setting out the terms of Britain’s exit from the EU was rejected by 230 votes.

However, one senior party figure has suggested it is unlikely to succeed, with Northern Ireland’s DUP and Tory rebels saying they will back the PM.

The confidence vote is expected to be held at about 19:00 GMT.

Mrs May has told MPs she will return to the Commons with an alternative plan next week, provided she survives the confidence vote.

“The House has spoken and this government will listen,” she said on Tuesday night, offering cross-party talks to determine a way forward.

My knowledge of the inside workings and ramifications of British politics wouldn’t fill a teacup, but even to the casual observer the fall of a government over such a divisive issue as Brexit, along with the turmoil in the U.S. and the abrupt changes of course in the Middle East leads me to believe that the only possible beneficiary of this whole cock-up is Vladimir Putin.

Or, to put it another way, Russian collusion and interference didn’t start with the 2016 election in the United States and is still going on.

Monday, January 14, 2019

Why Is Anyone Surprised?

Reading the BREAKING NEWS banners on cable news and banner headlines in the New York Times and Washington Post that Trump is a Russian asset has been, at least for those of us following the news at all since 2016, a study in foregone conclusions.

For the benefit of those who don’t get the painfully obvious or you need a typewritten list, look at any number of people who have been patiently explaining the story since the beginning of the presidential campaign and even before that.

This also explains the long list of distractions, diversions, and various other attempts to misdirect our attention from the plain truth that Trump, either passively or purposefully, has been doing the bidding of the Kremlin.  The current one is the mythical wall and the very real government shutdown.  His minions have been landing on other non-stories like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s nickname or Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s use of an epithet as true scandals.  People are dying at the border crossings but calling Trump a motherfucker is the real shame on America.

I suppose it’s in our nature to want to avoid the real hard and scary stories if we can be diverted by reality-TV-level fluff, but when the future of our democracy is at stake, I really don’t want the history books, assuming there will be any written, to say that our country went down because we were too easily distracted by YouTube videos.

Wednesday, January 9, 2019

There’s Your Collusion

The New York Times:

As a top official in President Trump’s campaign, Paul Manafort shared political polling data with a business associate tied to Russian intelligence, according to a court filing unsealed on Tuesday. The document provided the clearest evidence to date that the Trump campaign may have tried to coordinate with Russians during the 2016 presidential race.

Mr. Manafort’s lawyers made the disclosure by accident, through a formatting error in a document filed to respond to charges that he had lied to prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, after agreeing to cooperate with their investigation into Russian interference in the election.

The document also revealed that during the campaign, Mr. Manafort and his Russian associate, Konstantin V. Kilimnik, discussed a plan for peace in Ukraine. Throughout the campaign and the early days of the Trump administration, Russia and its allies were pushing various plans for Ukraine in the hope of gaining relief from American-led sanctions imposed after it annexed Crimea from Ukraine.

Prosecutors and the news media have already documented a string of encounters between Russian operatives and Trump campaign associates dating from the early months of Mr. Trump’s bid for the presidency, including the now-famous meeting at Trump Tower in Manhattan with a Russian lawyer promising damaging information on Hillary Clinton. The accidental disclosure appeared to some experts to be perhaps most damning of all.

“This is the closest thing we have seen to collusion,” Clint Watts, a senior fellow with the Foreign Policy Research Institute, said of the data-sharing. “The question now is, did the president know about it?”

The document gave no indication of whether Mr. Trump was aware of the data transfer or how Mr. Kilimnik might have used the information. But from March to August 2016, when Mr. Manafort worked for the Trump campaign, Russia was engaged in a full-fledged operation using social media, stolen emails and other tactics to boost Mr. Trump, attack Mrs. Clinton and play on divisive issues such as race and guns. Polling data could conceivably have helped Russia hone those messages and target audiences to help swing votes to Mr. Trump.

Both Mr. Manafort and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, transferred the data to Mr. Kilimnik in the spring of 2016 as Mr. Trump clinched the Republican presidential nomination, according to a person knowledgeable about the situation. Most of the data was public, but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign, according to the person.

Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to tell Mr. Kilimnik to pass the data to Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who is close to the Kremlin and who has claimed that Mr. Manafort owed him money from a failed business venture, the person said. It is unclear whether Mr. Manafort was acting at the campaign’s behest or independently, trying to gain favor with someone to whom he was deeply in debt.

Why would both Manafort and Gates be giving the polling data to the Russians if it was just a casual conversation and there was no collusion going on?

Yeah, I think we’ve got ’em.

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

All In It Together

This blockbuster report in the New York Times pretty much confirms everything that Trump and his minions have been denying about Russian interference in the elections in the U.S.

The Russian influence campaign on social media in the 2016 election made an extraordinary effort to target African-Americans, used an array of tactics to try to suppress turnout among Democratic voters and unleashed a blizzard of activity on Instagram that rivaled or exceeded its posts on Facebook, according to a report produced for the Senate Intelligence Committee.

The report adds new details to the portrait that has emerged over the last two years of the energy and imagination of the Russian effort to sway American opinion and divide the country, which the authors said continues to this day.

“Active and ongoing interference operations remain on several platforms,” says the report, produced by New Knowledge, a cybersecurity company based in Austin, Tex., along with researchers at Columbia University and Canfield Research LLC. One continuing Russian campaign, for instance, seeks to influence opinion on Syria by promoting Bashar al-Assad, the Syrian president and a Russian ally in the brutal conflict there.

The New Knowledge report is one of two commissioned by the Senate committee on a bipartisan basis. They are based largely on data about the Russian operations provided to the Senate by Facebook, Twitter and the other companies whose platforms were used.

Add to that the fact that the Republicans have been working quite openly to suppress minority voting for about fifty years, and … well, to quote that immortal sage Curly Joe, what a coinky-dink.

So either the Russians saw a massive opportunity to influence the election in 2016 because American voters are gullible and easy taken in by such simple tricks as well-engineered planted stories on social media — not a surprise given that millions of people will believe that Elvis is still alive and working at a Burger King in Grand Rapids if the National Enquirer says so — or a crafty election campaign just happened to bump into a bunch of Russian operatives who could pull an election win out of the trunk of their Buick.

Whether or not they actively sought each other out or just happened to be working for the same goal and found themselves along the same path, and whether or not that becomes a de facto conspiracy is a matter for the courts and a jury to decide.  But the result was what both of them wanted: the installation of Trump in the White House and corrosion of the American electoral system to the point that it could be manipulated by an outside force.

Monday, December 10, 2018

It Cannot Stand

The release of the sentencing memos by the Southern District of New York for Michael Cohen has launched a flurry of data and expectations about what could or will happen to the people who surround Trump, and inevitably, what will happen to Trump himself.  Trying to summarize it all is very difficult, but I think Adam Davidson at The New Yorker has a pretty good handle on it.

Even if we never learn another single fact about Trump, his business and campaign, and any collusion with Russia, it is now becoming clear that Trump’s bid for the Presidency was almost certainly designed, at least in part, to enrich Trump, and that he was willing to pursue the political interests of a hostile foreign power in order to make money. This scheme was executed ineptly and in ways that make it highly likely that the intelligence agencies of Russia, as well as several other nations, have been able to ferret out most of the details. This means that Trump and the people closest to him have been at enormous risk of compromise.

We will learn more facts, no doubt—many of them. Mueller has revealed only a few threads of the case. He has established that Cohen spent the months between September, 2015, and June, 2016, actively engaging the Russian government to exchange political favors for money, and that, throughout this period, Cohen routinely informed Trump of his efforts (and presumably, though it’s unstated, received Trump’s blessing). This was the precise period in which Trump’s candidacy shifted from humorous long shot to the nominee of the Republican Party. Mueller’s filing also contains suggestions that people connected to the White House, possibly including the President, knew of Michael Cohen’s lies to Congress and federal investigators, and, also, that White House officials stayed in contact with Manafort, who had been revealed to be in close touch with a known Russian intelligence asset.

This is a lot. But it’s not the complete narrative. It is not clear what happened after the notorious Trump Tower meeting of June 9, 2016. Cohen appears to have been pushed aside, and no longer to have played the role of intermediary. Does this mean that Trump insisted that his team shut off all contact with Russia? Or did he hand the portfolio over to a more trusted staffer?

[…]

Mueller’s filings do mark a different sort of end. We are at the end of reasonable debate about whether Trump is hopelessly compromised. As Mueller’s filings encircle the President, the special counsel surely knows he is at ever-greater risk of being fired. Presumably, he wouldn’t have released memorandums as damning as these if he weren’t prepared to make a fuller case. Each filing fills in the over-all picture in ever more granular detail. It seems reasonable to assume that we haven’t yet learned the most disturbing facts. But, even if we learn nothing more, we are already in an unbearable condition. The President of the United States knowingly and eagerly participated in a scheme with a hostile foreign leader who he knew was seeking to influence the Presidential election. Trump sought to profit politically and financially, many of his closest subordinates executed this effort, and he then was aware of and, it seems likely, encouraged an illegal effort to hide these facts. His reckless, unpatriotic actions have left him compromised by at least one but likely many foreign powers and have left his election open to reasonable questions about its legitimacy. And, every day, he sets policies and makes decisions that have an impact on the lives of all Americans and the fortunes of the very autocrats who hold sway over him. It cannot stand.

The scary part of all of this is that we as a nation haven’t faced this sort of threat to the very foundation of our democracy in our collective lifetimes.  Watergate was big and dangerous, too, but at the least the central figure in it — Richard Nixon — still bore some allegiance to the system of our government and yielded to the rule of law, ultimately abiding by the rulings of the courts and the Supreme Court.  And when he went, he went without threatening to hole up in his office, daring armed officers to drag him out by his heels.

We can’t be that assured about Trump.  For one thing, he has an embedded media operation that will back him no matter what.  Second, we’re seeing that his supporters at various state and local levels are willing to cheat — albeit clumsily — to win an election, and of course he had an entire foreign government at his disposal to win the last one.

So dreaming about the chances of Beto O’Rourke or debating the ages and merits of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are nothing compared to the fact that we are about to embark on a presidential campaign that has all the earmarks of one that kept Robert Mugabe in office for generations.

Which means that we need to win the next election or face the real possibility that it will be the last real one we have.

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.

Friday, July 27, 2018

Of Course He Knew

The big news last night was that Trump’s former attorney, Michael Cohen, is now telling us that Trump knew beforehand about the June 2016 meeting with his top campaign staff and his son and folks from Russia promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.  This is just one of the nuggets being looked at by the Mueller team as part of a broad investigation into the case of Trump obstructing justice.

I think we already had that figured out, but making the case in court versus in the court of public opinion and “Well, duh,” the bar is a bit higher.  You have to actually have evidence.

But Mr. Cohen’s testimony isn’t the only evidence.  We know that Trump bragged to the Russians in the Oval Office about firing James Comey in order to stop the investigation, and that he’s stated on numerous occasions that he would never have appointed Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III as attorney general if he knew that he was actually going to enforce the law and allow the investigation to go forward.

So what Michael Cohen says is fine, but the case has already been made.

Monday, July 23, 2018

Secret Agent Man

There’s a great article (subscription req’d) in The New Yorker by Adam Davidson on the Trump-Russia connection.  What it boils down to is that Trump isn’t an agent of the Russian government; he’s not slick enough unless you think his whole persona is an act.  It’s more likely that the Russians have something on him — in Russian it’s called kompromat — and that’s why he’s basically doing everything to keep them happy.

What is it?  Well, knowing Trump — or at least what we’ve seen of him — it’s probably financial as opposed to sexual.  He’s not afraid — he’s probably secretly proud — that stories have leaked, so to speak, about his sexual conquests, such as they are.  But he’s done everything he can to keep his finances secret to the point that he’s never revealed his tax returns or allowed anyone, including his legal team, to give up any information on where his money comes from.  (We already know where it goes; usually down the drain.)

What I and a lot of other people can’t figure out is who is really running this caper.  Certainly not Trump himself.  He’s not smart or deft enough to pull this off on his own; he can’t even lie well enough to get past the records of his own tweets.

So the question comes down to this: who’s really calling the shots?  Certainly not Putin himself; he spent too much time in the KGB to put himself out there.  There has to be someone high up enough to be able to know exactly what it is that they have on Trump, but invisible enough that they’re not seen or heard.  We may never know who it is.  But they’re there and they’ve got him.

Tuesday, July 17, 2018

Been Here Before

Forty-four years ago today — July 17, 1974 — I emerged from the wilderness of the Uintah Mountains of Utah after completing a six-week wilderness course through the National Outdoor Leadership School.  I had not heard a news broadcast or read a paper since June 10, and the first thing I read was that the Watergate scandal was reaching its peak with the House Judiciary Committee about to release its evidence against President Nixon.

My timing was exquisite.  Things had been pretty much on hold while I was in the wilderness, but within two weeks the committee would vote out the articles of impeachment, and within three weeks the smoking gun tapes would be released and Nixon would resign.  It was like they waited for me to get back to watch this moment of history.

Back then all we had were three national TV networks and dead-tree press, but events moved along swiftly, frantically, and it all coalesced into the end of one era and the wistful start of another where we all believed The System Worked and American democracy and our Constitution could withstand the assault of criminal activity on the part of the president.

Since yesterday I’ve had this sense that we’re approaching the same kind of peak in the arch of this drama.  Evidence is piling up, the outrage meter is pegged, and while there are the defenders of Trump who, by the way, are fully confident that they won’t be held accountable for defending him, the drip of the eroding facts against the wall of ignorance and denial is becoming a stream, and the stream will become a flow, and soon it will begin to take things down and wash them away, leaving little behind but exposed truths.

It’s not going to happen suddenly like it did in July and August of 1974.  For one thing, Richard Nixon had a sense of history and awareness of what his actions could do to the nation.  Not that he really cared, but at least he knew.  Trump has no such awareness.  He couldn’t name his predecessors beyond the black guy he’s trying to erase from history, and he doesn’t give a shit about what he’s done or is doing to the office he holds.  (Nixon, too, had revenge in his heart.  He was obsessed with showing up the Kennedys, who were everything he was not and fed his jealousy to Iago-like levels.  But at least he didn’t sell out to a foreign adversary to win.)  Trump’s supporters and defenders are in it purely for their own benefit and his coattails; if going on Fox and saying nice things about him improves their standing with the base, they’d do it if they are standing next to Satan himself.  (The same was true of the Republicans who finally marched to the White House in 1974 to tell Nixon to quit.  They didn’t care about him; they were staring down the barrel of the mid-terms and saw their future in peril.)  Trump is in this purely for his own gain, his own ego, his own sense of avenging for having been mocked and scorned by people he desperately wants to like him and who never will.  What we saw yesterday in Helsinki was nothing surprising.  It was the outward exposure of the inside of what really drives him.  It was raw, it was ugly, but it was real.  Finally.

What happens now is up to us.  That will be the real test.  Will we allow this to continue, letting what happened yesterday become a part of the news cycle, a remember-when moment like mass shootings that give us a momentary pause and then get back to whatever it was we were paying attention to before?  Or is this like July 1974 when, at long last, it began to come apart so we could put it back together again?

We got it right the last time.

Monday, July 16, 2018

Now THAT’S Collusion

Via the Washington Post:

Trump on Monday refused to support the collective conclusion of U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, saying that Russian President Vladi­mir Putin had given him an “extremely strong and powerful” denial during their private talks here.

Trump would not challenge Putin’s claim at their Helsinki summit that the Russian government played no role in trying to sabotage the U.S. election, even as the Justice Department indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers last Friday for hacking Democratic emails as part of a broad subterfuge operation to help Trump win the election.

Trump went on to condemn the expansive federal investigation of Russian interference as “a disaster for our country” and “a total witch hunt,” arguing that the probe, along with “foolish” America policies, had severely impaired relations between the two countries.

Putin must have the pee tape on Blu-Ray and ready to stream on YouTube.

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, June 29, 2018

Job Evaluation And Review Time

Trump is going to have a summit with Vladimir Putin on July 16 in Finland.  I’m sure he’ll do the requisite sucking up to the boss that all good and loyal employees do.

In the past few weeks alone, Mr. Trump has called for Russia to be readmitted to the Group of 7 industrial powers, suggested it has a legitimate claim to Crimea because a lot of Russian speakers live there and continued sowing doubts about whether Moscow meddled in the 2016 presidential election — or if it did, whether the sabotage actually benefited Hillary Clinton.

In Singapore, Mr. Trump emerged from a lunch of sweet and sour crispy pork with Mr. Kim to declare he had solved the nuclear crisis with North Korea, even though the North conceded nothing on its weapons and missile programs. Mr. Trump also canceled joint military exercises with South Korea, a concession long sought by Pyongyang.

It has become a recurring motif for Mr. Trump as a statesman: In November, he lavished praise on President Xi Jinping of China after a one-on-one meeting in Beijing, during which Mr. Xi offered no concrete concession on trade — an issue that matters more to Mr. Trump than almost any other.

What these three leaders have in common is that they are autocrats, whom Mr. Trump admires and believes he can win over with a brand of personal diplomacy that dispenses with briefing papers or talking points and relies instead on a combination of flattery, cajolery and improvisation.

“Trump sees a good meeting as a positive diplomatic achievement,” said Michael McFaul, a former American ambassador to Moscow. “That’s wrong. Good meetings are a means to an end.”

I wouldn’t be surprised if he showed up with a box of candy and a stripper.

Friday, April 6, 2018

Short Takes

Oklahoma teachers continue their march to the state capital.

Pruitt under pressure: EPA chief’s problems keep growing.

Yeah right: Trump says he was unaware of payment to Stormy Daniels.

Cyclist fired for flipping off Trump sues her former employer.

New Russia sanctions go after oligarchs.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

Getting Close

The Washington Post reports that the Mueller investigation has told Trump’s attorneys that he — Trump — is not currently the target of a criminal investigation.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III informed President Trump’s attorneys last month that he is continuing to investigate the president but does not consider him a criminal target at this point, according to three people familiar with the discussions.

In private negotiations in early March about a possible presidential interview, Mueller described Trump as a subject of his investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. Prosecutors view someone as a subject when that person has engaged in conduct that is under investigation but there is not sufficient evidence to bring charges.

Just because he’s not a target doesn’t mean he’s out of the woods by any means; Richard Nixon was an “unindicted co-conspirator” in Watergate and look what happened to him.

The special counsel also told Trump’s lawyers that he is preparing a report about the president’s actions while in office and potential obstruction of justice, according to two people with knowledge of the conversations.

Mueller reiterated the need to interview Trump — both to understand whether he had any corrupt intent to thwart the Russia investigation and to complete this portion of his probe, the people said.

Mueller’s description of the president’s status has sparked friction within Trump’s inner circle as his advisers have debated his legal standing. The president and some of his allies seized on the special counsel’s words as an assurance that Trump’s risk of criminal jeopardy is low. Other advisers, however, noted that subjects of investigations can easily become indicted targets — and expressed concern that the special prosecutor was baiting Trump into an interview that could put the president in legal peril.

By the time Mr. Mueller releases his report on the obstruction portion of the investigation — Robert Costa of the Washington Post reports that could happen in June or July — the interview with Trump may have already taken place.  Then once the report is released and they close in on Trump for lying to the grand jury — the guy can’t get through a take-out order without lying — he’ll fire Mueller, the shit will hit the fan, and even if Mueller is fired, the investigation will go on.

Friday, March 23, 2018

Yes, I’m Still On Facebook

I still have a page on Facebook.  I use it on a pretty regular basis to keep up with friends and family, some of whom I haven’t seen in years.  I also use it to keep up with playwriting and production opportunities.  Without it I wouldn’t have had one of my plays being produced in Sydney, Australia this week, and I’m also a part of a vibrant and interesting community of playwrights who share, teach, and commiserate.

I’m not going to link the profile here because, well, if you’re really interested in seeing it, you can make the effort to find it.  It shouldn’t be too hard, and if you do, well, okay… I might even return your “Friend” request.  (Oh, come on; you know I will.)  But I’m also not going to delete my profile.

Whether or not the social networking platform was a willing or unwitting participant in the Russian manipulation of the 2016 election is still a valid question, but one thing that some people, including good friends, have forgotten is that Facebook and Twitter and Instagram and whatever else is being used out there to share pictures of cats riding vacuum cleaners and sell condos in Aruba and perhaps mine personal data, in the end they’re just tools, and not a whole lot different than a hammer or a screwdriver.  In the right hands and with discernment, they can be useful.  In the wrong ones or misapplied, they can be dangerous.  (I hear the same argument about guns.  Yeah, but a hammer wasn’t designed for the sole purpose of killing someone or something.)  Like anything, it matters how you use it and your common sense along with it.

By now — some thirty years into it being a part of our lives — most people have learned to discriminate between spam and real stuff in their e-mails (although obviously not enough because I still get it e-mails offering V1agr@, and they wouldn’t keep doing it if they didn’t get a bite every day) and just yesterday I amused my co-workers with a short play I staged with a guy on the phone trying to get me to send money to the Criminal Division of the IRS.  It’s been that way as long as there’s been mass communication — what, you don’t think Moses didn’t have a sales pitch when he came back from Mount Sinai? — and there always will be.  The trick is knowing when to turn it off, hang up the phone, and go read a book.

Facebook didn’t elect Trump.  We did.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Friday, March 16, 2018

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Nothing To See Here

Whitewash, anyone?

House Intelligence Committee Republicans say they have found no evidence that President Trump and his affiliates colluded with Russian officials to sway the 2016 election or that the Kremlin sought to help him, a conclusion at odds with Democrats’ takeaways from the congressional panel’s year-long probe and the apparent trajectory of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation.

The findings are part of a 150-page draft report that Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.), who oversees the committee’s Russia probe, announced on Monday. It will probably be weeks before the document is made public.

“We’ve found no evidence of collusion,” Conaway told reporters Monday. He noted that the worst the panel uncovered was “perhaps some bad judgment, inappropriate meetings, inappropriate judgment at taking meetings” — such as a June 2016 gathering at Trump Tower in New York City between members of the Trump campaign and a ­Russian lawyer. Conaway said that meeting “shouldn’t have happened, no doubt about that.”

“But only Tom Clancy or Vince Flynn or someone else like that could take this series of inadvertent contacts with each other, meetings, whatever, and weave that into some sort of a fiction, page-turner spy thriller,” Conaway said. “We’re not dealing in fiction, we’re dealing in facts, and we found no evidence of any collusion.”

House Intelligence Committee Republicans completed the draft report without any input from Democrats, who will be able to see and weigh in on the document starting Tuesday, Conaway said. In a statement Monday night, the panel’s top Democrat, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), said the sight-unseen report was a “tragic milestone” and a “capitulation to the executive branch.”

What, you were expecting anything more from them?  They’re ignoring what the intelligence community has been saying all along: Putin wanted Trump in office.

What Charlie Pierce said:

Of course, in fairness, we should wait for the actual report, and do our best to ignore the symphony of triumphant crowing from the usual suspects in the media. (Sean Hannity has set the Orgasmatron to infinity and climbed inside.) But we already know enough to know that the purpose of the Republican majority on this committee was to act as a White House alibi factory.

And the idea that this announcement, by which we learn what the report will conclude without being told when the report actually will be released, is in any way coincidental in the context of everything else that’s swirling around the administration* is to ignore how Monday’s action is totally of a piece with the strategy employed by the Republican majority of the committee from the day the gavel first fell.

And, I suspect, the lights are still on in the Office of the Special Counsel, as Robert Mueller hears the news from across the room, and asks one of his lawyers to pass him another file.

The shoes haven’t even begun to drop.