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.

Friday, November 30, 2018

Seeing A Pattern Here

Josh Marshall may be on to something.

Sometimes it’s worth stepping back and stating the obvious. Over the course of these thirty months of cover-ups, every player in the Trump/Russia story has lied about their role in the conspiracy. And not hedging and spinning fibs but straight up lies about the core nature of their involvement, their overt acts. Most – though here what we know is a bit more tentative – seem to have lied under oath, whether to congressional committees or a grand jury. Not a single one of them told a story that wasn’t eventually contradicted and disproved. Not a single one.

Who? Well, let’s see. Donald Trump, Jr., Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Donald Trump, Jerome Corsi, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Carter Page, Jared Kushner. These are ones who lied, the ones we can state definitively. I’m not including the marginal players, folks like Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan. I’m not including those who just never spoke at all – at least not in public.

His inevitable conclusion is that they’re all guilty.  Perhaps not of a crime, but an innocent person doesn’t risk criminal charges by lying.

Then again, there’s Trump who lies about everything without even thinking about it.  It’s not even to cover up suspicious activity; it’s just his natural state.  Does that mean he’s guilty?  That’s a bit harder to prove, but it does mean that convicting him of a crime, whether it’s collusion with a foreign government to win an election or taking a lot of money from unsuspecting and gullible people for a fictional university degree, is a lot harder because you have to prove criminal intent.  And it’s hard to prove that for someone who lies by nature, the same way some people fart.

So I think this is how it’s all going to end: Trump will be convicted — or at least indicted — for serial lying, not for the actual thing he’s lying about.  Trump’s defenders have already come up with a way to dismiss it, but those were the same folks who went after Bill Clinton and demanded his head for lying about his affairs, so take that for what it’s worth.  It’s an old song; it’s what’s been the downfall of just about everyone else who’s had scandal or questions arise about their behavior: the lying is what does it.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Don’t Mess With Mueller

Paul Manafort is going to spend Christmas in the joint.

Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, repeatedly lied to federal investigators in breach of a plea agreement he signed two months ago, the special counsel’s office said in a court filing late on Monday.

Prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, said Mr. Manafort’s “crimes and lies” about “a variety of subject matters” relieve them of all promises they made to him in the plea agreement. But under the terms of the agreement, Mr. Manafort cannot withdraw his guilty plea.

Defense lawyers disagreed that Mr. Manafort had violated the deal. In the same filing, they said Mr. Manafort had met repeatedly with the special counsel’s office and “believes he has provided truthful information.”

But given the impasse between the two sides, they asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to set a sentencing date for Mr. Manafort, who has been in solitary confinement in a detention center in Alexandria, Va.

The 11th-hour development in Mr. Manafort’s case is a fresh sign of the special counsel’s aggressive approach in investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race and whether anyone in the Trump campaign knew about or assisted Moscow’s effort.

Mueller’s willingness to let the lawyers broadcast Manafort’s broken deal tells us that he — Mueller — doesn’t really need Manafort anymore in terms of gathering evidence and whatever happens now is beyond the scope of his usefulness.  So, so long, Paul; have fun in the general population of Club Fed.  (Why he would continue to lie even when he’s already in custody and found guilty is beyond comprehension, but then, the guy worked willingly for Trump, so go figure that into the equation.)

It also sends a very strong signal to anyone out there in Trumpland who is thinking about covering their boss or their own ass: Mueller and Co. are a force to be reckoned with and not to be trifled with.

Friday, November 9, 2018

A Good Fit

Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general, seems like a perfect fit for the Trump administration.

Before Whitaker joined the Trump administration as a political appointee, the Republican lawyer and legal commentator complained that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the election and of the Trump campaign was dangerously close to overreaching. He suggested ways it could be stopped or curtailed and urged his followers on Twitter to read a story that dubbed the investigators “Mueller’s lynch mob.”

Now — at least on an interim basis — Whitaker will assume authority over that investigation, an arrangement that has triggered calls by Democrats for him to recuse himself.

He also harbors interesting views on the role of the Supreme Court in the scheme of things, arguing that the landmark 1803 Marbury v. Madison case that affirmed the court’s role as the final arbiter of interpreting the Constitution was one of the worst decisions the court has rendered.

“There are so many,” he replied. “I would start with the idea of Marbury v. Madison. That’s probably a good place to start and the way it’s looked at the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of constitutional issues. We’ll move forward from there. All New Deal cases that were expansive of the federal government. Those would be bad. Then all the way up to the Affordable Care Act and the individual mandate.”

He also seems to think that our laws descend from a higher power.

During a 2014 Senate debate sponsored by a conservative Christian organization, he said that in helping confirm judges, “I’d like to see things like their worldview, what informs them. Are they people of faith? Do they have a biblical view of justice? — which I think is very important.”

At that point, the moderator interjected: “Levitical or New Testament?”

“New Testament,” Whitaker affirmed. “And what I know is as long as they have that worldview, that they’ll be a good judge. And if they have a secular worldview, then I’m going to be very concerned about how they judge.”

Religious tests for judges are barred by the Constitution, but I think we already know where he stands on interpreting it.

To round out the rest of the portfolio, as an attorney he’s been accused of defrauding clients.

When federal investigators were digging into an invention-promotion company accused of fraud by customers, they sought information in 2017 from a prominent member of the company’s advisory board, according to two people familiar with the probe: Matthew G. Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney in Iowa.

It is unclear how Whitaker — who was appointed acting attorney general by President Trump on Wednesday — responded to a Federal Trade Commission subpoena to his law firm.

In the end, the FTC filed a complaint against Miami-based World Patent Marketing, accusing it of misleading investors and falsely promising that it would help them patent and profit from their inventions, according to court filings.

In May of this year, a federal court in Florida ordered the company to pay a settlement of more than $25 million and close up shop, records show. The company did not admit or deny wrongdoing.

Whitaker’s sudden elevation this week to replace fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions has put new scrutiny on his involvement with the shuttered company, whose advisory board he joined in 2014, shortly after making a failed run for U.S. Senate in Iowa.

At the time, he was also running a conservative watchdog group with ties to other powerful nonprofits on the right and was beginning to develop a career as a Trump-friendly cable television commentator.

So, he’s got authoritarian-executive views of the basic laws of the country, he wants religious tests for judges, and he’s provided legal counsel to a fraudulent get-rich-quick scheme here in Florida.

My only question is why wasn’t he the first pick for Trump’s attorney general before Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III?

Bonus Track: According to two highly-respected legal scholars, Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III, Trump’s appointment of Mr. Whitaker as acting attorney general is unconstitutional.

What now seems an eternity ago, the conservative law professor Steven Calabresi published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May arguing that Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel was unconstitutional. His article got a lot of attention, and it wasn’t long before President Trump picked up the argument, tweeting that “the Appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”

Professor Calabresi’s article was based on the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2. Under that provision, so-called principal officers of the United States must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate under its “Advice and Consent” powers.

He argued that Mr. Mueller was a principal officer because he is exercising significant law enforcement authority and that since he has not been confirmed by the Senate, his appointment was unconstitutional. As one of us argued at the time, he was wrong. What makes an officer a principal officer is that he or she reports only to the president. No one else in government is that person’s boss. But Mr. Mueller reports to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. So, Mr. Mueller is what is known as an inferior officer, not a principal one, and his appointment without Senate approval was valid.

But Professor Calabresi and Mr. Trump were right about the core principle. A principal officer must be confirmed by the Senate. And that has a very significant consequence today.

It means that Mr. Trump’s installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States after forcing the resignation of Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional. It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid.

I heard one conservative commentator suggest that the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 allows such appointments in the case of a vacancy or incapacity, but it is for a relatively short period, and besides, the Constitution has supremacy.  So if Mr. Whitaker tries to fire Robert Mueller, he may face a legal challenge.

PS: Karma strikes again: George T. Conway III, the co-author of the op-ed, is married to Kellyanne Conway.

Thursday, November 1, 2018

At Your Service

Politico puts together the pieces of evidence to speculate that the Mueller investigation has subpoenaed Trump.

These months before the midterm elections are tough ones for all of us Mueller-watchers. As we expected, he has gone quiet in deference to longstanding Justice Department policy that prosecutors should not take actions that might affect pending elections. Whatever he is doing, he is doing quietly and even further from the public eye than usual.

But thanks to some careful reporting by Politico, which I have analyzed from my perspective as a former prosecutor, we might have stumbled upon How Robert Mueller Is Spending His Midterms: secretly litigating against President Donald Trump for the right to throw him in the grand jury.

Paul Campos at LGM puts together the timeline.

(1) Somebody initiated a sealed grand jury case in the DC circuit on August 16th.

(2) The judge (Beryl Howell) issued a ruling on September 19th, and one of the parties filed an appeal on the 24th.

(3) A POLITICO reporter “overheard a conversation in the clerk’s office” (I wouldn’t be shocked if this is a cover story for some sort of leak, perhaps from a judicial clerk, since Mueller’s team is extraordinarily tight-lipped) that indicated the special counsel’s office is involved.

Then things get really interesting.

(4) The litigation has since been moving at remarkable speed. Procedures that normally take weeks or months are happening in a matter of days. Obviously this is no ordinary case.

(5) Most tellingly, the party that lost at the lower level immediately petitioned for an en banc hearing — that is, a hearing involving all the judges on the circuit court. That itself is significant, but what is most significant is that, in the order disposing of that petition, Gregory Katsas recused himself. Katsas is Trump’s only appointment to the DC circuit, and was previously Trump’s deputy White House counsel. If the appealing party was Trump, Katsas would certainly recuse himself.

Briefs in the case are due soon, and oral argument has been set for December 14th.

Get the popcorn.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

What Have They Got On Him?

The Washington Post:

Trump offered embattled Saudi Arabia a suggestion of support Tuesday amid mounting pressure over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying the kingdom is being judged “guilty until proven innocent.”

The remarks, in an interview with the Associated Press, put Trump widely out of step with many world leaders amid Turkish assertions that Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit team this month after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

They also could complicate talks planned Wednesday between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish leaders on the Khashoggi case.

“Here we go again with you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Trump told the AP, comparing the situation to allegations of sexual assault leveled against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing.

He’s basically said the same thing about Russia in similar situations: Hey, don’t judge before all the facts are in.

A noble sentiment indeed were it not for the fact that A) neither Saudi Arabia nor Russia work from the idea of a presumption of innocence, and B) Trump himself has been known to jump to the “guilty until proven innocent” side — “Lock Her Up!” sound familiar?

Trump has also noted that both Saudi Arabia and Russia will be buying “billions of dollars” worth of stuff from us — it’s all about the jobs, right? — and we can’t risk losing all that money.  There’s a name for that, but it usually involves a pimp and a hotel with hourly rates.

For all that, it makes you wonder just what kind of hold Saudi Arabia and Russia have on Trump beyond the lure of money.  What do they have on him that is so devastating that he’d sell out his own country to keep dictators and autocrats both happy and silent?

Monday, September 24, 2018

Another Woman Comes Forward

From The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer report on another woman coming forward to accuse Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, this time in college.

As Senate Republicans press for a swift vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Senate Democrats are investigating a new allegation of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh. The claim dates to the 1983-84 academic school year, when Kavanaugh was a freshman at Yale University. The offices of at least four Democratic senators have received information about the allegation, and at least two have begun investigating it. Senior Republican staffers also learned of the allegation last week and, in conversations with The New Yorker, expressed concern about its potential impact on Kavanaugh’s nomination. Soon after, Senate Republicans issued renewed calls to accelerate the timing of a committee vote. The Democratic Senate offices reviewing the allegations believe that they merit further investigation. “This is another serious, credible, and disturbing allegation against Brett Kavanaugh. It should be fully investigated,” Senator Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii, said. An aide in one of the other Senate offices added, “These allegations seem credible, and we’re taking them very seriously. If established, they’re clearly disqualifying.”

The woman at the center of the story, Deborah Ramirez, who is fifty-three, attended Yale with Kavanaugh, where she studied sociology and psychology. Later, she spent years working for an organization that supports victims of domestic violence. The New Yorker contacted Ramirez after learning of her possible involvement in an incident involving Kavanaugh. The allegation was conveyed to Democratic senators by a civil-rights lawyer. For Ramirez, the sudden attention has been unwelcome, and prompted difficult choices. She was at first hesitant to speak publicly, partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident. In her initial conversations with The New Yorker, she was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty. After six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections to say that she remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away. Ramirez is now calling for the F.B.I. to investigate Kavanaugh’s role in the incident. “I would think an F.B.I. investigation would be warranted,” she said.

In a statement, Kavanaugh wrote, “This alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen. The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so. This is a smear, plain and simple. I look forward to testifying on Thursday about the truth, and defending my good name—and the reputation for character and integrity I have spent a lifetime building—against these last-minute allegations.”

The White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec said the Administration stood by Kavanaugh. “This 35-year-old, uncorroborated claim is the latest in a coordinated smear campaign by the Democrats designed to tear down a good man. This claim is denied by all who were said to be present and is wholly inconsistent with what many women and men who knew Judge Kavanaugh at the time in college say. The White House stands firmly behind Judge Kavanaugh.”

What I find interesting about both this and the first story about the high school party that started all of this is Judge Kavanaugh’s insistence that neither that nor this incident took place at all.  He’s not equivocating with lines like, “I don’t recall,” or even, “Yeah, I was there but it wasn’t me.”  He’s going full-tilt denial, which makes it a binary choice: either he’s telling the truth and a bunch of other people are lying, or he’s lying and he’s counting on a bunch of other people to back him up.  There’s no half-way on this for him or for the accusers.

If this was a court of law (and if I was a lawyer), I’d say he has the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt was on the accusers.  But it isn’t (and I’m not) so what it comes down to is who do you believe?  Women who have nothing to gain and clearly are putting their careers (and in the case of Prof. Ford, her safety) on the line are coming forward.  Judge Kavanaugh has his reputation — and that’s a valuable commodity — but his current job is not at risk unless the Senate chooses to open impeachment hearings.  Clearly the stakes are not equal.  So both Prof. Ford and Ms. Ramirez must be both sure of themselves and their recollections, while Judge Kavanaugh is not allowing for any room for error.

Which brings me back to my original point: why is he so dead-set certain that both women are lying and the incidents never happened?  After all, if his supporters can say that it happened so long ago and the women were clearly intoxicated to the point that they can’t remember it clearly, how is it that Judge Kavanaugh recalls so clearly that nothing happened at all?  Why isn’t his memory of events so long ago just as hazy?  We already have circumstantial evidence that he knew how to party in high school; how is it that he’s so sure that he wasn’t at the party in question in Maryland or at Yale?

Either he’s relying on the fact that it’s very hard to prove a negative, or he’s taking his cues from the man who nominated him to the Supreme Court.  Trump has never admitted to anything even when there’s undisputed proof.  So far it’s worked for him.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Preview Of Coming Distractions

Josh Marshall at TPM shares what he thinks will be coming up for Brett Kavanaugh and the Republicans trying to get him on the Supreme Court.

The smart people I talk to are fairly confident, or at least they were this afternoon, that in the end Senate Republicans will be able to push Kavanaugh through. I’m not sure they’re right. The situation has been changed dramatically in the 30 hours or so since the Post published Professor Ford’s account along with additional details which tend to bolster her credility [sic].

It was highly likely Kavanaugh would be confirmed before these revelations. But even then it was close. There’s very little room for error or defections. Quite simply, Kavanaugh wasn’t a terribly good witness for himself or a very good liar in his first hearing. (I mentioned earlier that I thought he should be removed from his current job as judge on the DC Circuit Court because of the pretty strong evidence he has repeatedly perjured himself about his connection to the Manny Miranda email hacking scandal from 2004.)

Based on all this, I strongly suspect that the upshot of this new hearing will be that a fair minded person, one without strong preconceived opinions, will believe that what Ford alleges likely did happen. That should allow every Democrat to vote against Kavanaugh. I don’t think it’s likely that every Republican walks that plank, even with all the conservative movement has invested in Kavanaugh. I have no secret knowledge on this. It’s just my sense. The nature of conduct, the high likelihood it’s true, the apparent fact that Kavanaugh is lying all combine with the intensity of the #metoo historical moment – I am just skeptical they can pull this off.

He worries that the backlash from the right-wing evangelical nutsery if Kavanaugh either withdraws or is not confirmed will be intense.  He’s their big shot at getting Roe v. Wade overturned, and that is all they care about.  But it would also energize women of all parties if he is confirmed; proof once again that men can do anything and get away with it.  That will have an interesting impact on the mid-terms; a record number of women are running for federal and state offices across the country, and how this sideshow of a Supreme Court nomination plays out could be crucial in the outcome of races from Rhode Island to California.

Meanwhile, you can be sure that Trump isn’t going to let this go on without his braying via his thumbs.

Trump won’t let this go. We know Trump never likes to admit he’s wrong and cannot stomach defeat. In this case we have the additional factor that as a serial sexual predator, President Trump has a deep identification with any man accused of sexual misconduct. He won’t give this up easily or quietly.

Mitch McConnell reportedly warned Trump that of the people he was considering, Kavanaugh would face the hardest time getting confirmed. I don’t think McConnell had anything like this in mind. But Trump picked Kavanaugh because he liked him.

The White House has already signaled through their press minions and Fox News that they will release the banshees, including as many blonde white women on their payroll that they can get in front of a camera, that Prof. Ford is a lying schemer who was plotting ever since high school to get even with Kavanaugh because she knew back then that he would be appointed by Trump and this is payback time.  (Just like Barack Obama’s mother planned to have him become president and faked the birth certificate.)

There will be a public hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee next Monday where both Judge Kavanaugh and Prof. Ford will testify.  Stock up on Jiffy-Pop.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Who Needs Collusion?

Trump is insistent to the point of OCD obsession on claiming that neither he nor his campaign colluded with the Russians to win the election.  Even in the flurry of news yesterday about his cohorts Manafort and Cohen ending up clapped in irons, he still insisted that there was no collusion.

Addressing reporters ahead of a campaign rally in West Virginia, Trump sought to distance himself from the Manafort case and ignored the perilous Cohen guilty pleas altogether.

“I must tell you that Paul Manafort’s a good man,” Trump said. “Doesn’t involve me, but I still feel, you know, it’s a very sad thing that happened. This has nothing to do with Russian collusion. . . . This is a witch hunt that ends in disgrace.”

Well, yeah, no one ever really claimed that Paul Manafort was in on the Russia collusion and he wasn’t on trial for it, but by bringing it up he’s showing that he’s thinking that somehow, somewhere there is a connection.

The Mueller investigation may not be able to prove in a court of law that these outcomes had anything to do with Russia interfering with the election to insure the election of Trump in 2016.  But with what’s being revealed by Michael Cohen, they may not have to.  There’s enough dirt floating to the top of the bowl to nail Trump and his minions on other charges.

There’s this:

In a guilty plea entered in a Manhattan federal courthouse, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen implicated Trump directly in some of his acts, saying he arranged to pay off two women to keep their stories of alleged affairs with Trump from becoming public before Election Day — in coordination with the then-candidate.

And this is just the chocolate sprinkles on top:

Cohen’s admission that he violated campaign finance laws by paying hush money to two women at Trump’s behest came in the form of a standard plea deal rather than a cooperation agreement requiring that he aid other investigations.

That raised the question of whether Cohen would cooperate, and, more centrally, what his cooperation would be worth.

One possible answer came into view the very same day, as Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, suggested on television — and in an interview with The Washington Post late Tuesday — that Cohen had knowledge “of interest” to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and that his client was “more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows.”

Davis told The Washington Post that Cohen’s knowledge reached beyond “the obvious possibility of a conspiracy to collude” and included also the question of Trump’s participation in a “criminal conspiracy” to hack into the emails of Democratic officials during the 2016 election.

On “The Rachel Maddow Show,” Davis, who is a veteran of the Clinton White House, said his client had “knowledge about the computer crime of hacking and whether or not Mr. Trump knew ahead of time about that crime and even cheered it on.”

As any computer-savy kid will tell you, you don’t need the Russians to hack into an e-mail server.

It also sounds like Michael Cohen, desperate to not become the Sweetheart of Cellblock C, is willing to hang Trump and anyone else he touched out there on a whole variety of charges that have nothing to do with Russia and the election.

What A Day It Was

Just to recap August 21, 2018: Paul Manafort was convicted on eight counts; Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts and in doing so implicates Trump in violating campaign finance laws; Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), a vocal supporter of Trump, was indicted on campaign finance charges, along with his wife.

And my niece gave birth to a baby boy.

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Previews Of Coming Attractions

If you think it’s crazy now, just wait until you see what’s lined up for this fall.  And we’re not just talking about what’s coming up on Netflix.

Paul Waldman:

  • Paul Manafort will either be convicted or acquitted in his first trial, presumably this week (the jury is currently deliberating). And his second trial — which will deal more directly with his work in the former Soviet Union and the ways it may have affected his actions as Trump campaign chairman — will begin in mid-September.
  • Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III could hand down more indictments, or even release a final report on all that he has learned in his investigation.
  • Trump will likely continue to revoke the security clearances of his critics in the intelligence community, which will generate more bipartisan condemnation and comparisons to Richard Nixon.
  • Omarosa Manigault Newman will release more tapes she recorded of conversations with people in the White House.
  • A lawsuit will begin in Texas in which Republican states and the administration will be arguing for the entire Affordable Care Act to be struck down, handing Democrats a priceless campaign issue.
  • Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings will take place. Even if the process ends with a win for Trump, it will also likely generate an immediate backlash, a wave of fear and opposition from Democrats as they realize the implications of an intensely partisan, intensely conservative Supreme Court.

And that’s just what we know about.  As the last couple of years have shown, there’s a lot of surprises out there, and after the mid-terms and if the Democrats win control of the House, they’ll be holding hearings and issuing subpoenas — and we’ll all be subjected to the howls of the Republicans who spent millions of dollars on Benghazi! complaining about wasting the taxpayers’ money on “rigged witch hunts” and “fake news.”  (Well, they are experts at both, so that does lend them a whiff of laughable credibility.)

And here I was getting all jazzed up about the reboot of “Murphy Brown.”

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.