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.

Monday, June 4, 2018

It’s Not Good To Be The King

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

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

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

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

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  The attorneys cite outdated statutes and take positions that stretch reason beyond the absurd.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

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

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

Sunday, June 3, 2018

Sunday Reading

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Q. Do you know who did draft that statement?

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

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

A. He may have commented through Hope Hicks.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 22, 2018

There’s Only One Scandal

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

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

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

But her e-mails.

Friday, May 18, 2018

Take Your Time

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

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

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

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

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

Monday, May 7, 2018

Something’s Coming

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

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

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

Yeah, everybody reacted to the Hindenburg explosion, too.

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

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

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

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

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

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