Tuesday, August 15, 2023

Arraigning Night In Georgia

It hits the fan.  From the Atlanta Journal-Constitution:

Former President Donald Trump orchestrated a sweeping criminal enterprise, committing more than a dozen felonies, as he tried and failed to overturn his defeat in Georgia’s 2020 election, according to an indictment handed up Monday by a Fulton County grand jury.

The indictment also lodged charges against 18 of Trump’s allies, who helped him spread false conspiracy theories and twist the arms of top state officials as he scrambled to cling to power.

The blockbuster 41-count, 98-page indictment said Trump and his co-defendants refused to accept the fact that Trump lost in Georgia. But “they knowingly and willfully joined a conspiracy to unlawfully change the outcome of the election in favor of Trump. That conspiracy contained a common plan and purpose.”

It marks the fourth time that Trump has been criminally charged ― and the second time this August the former president has been indicted for interfering in the 2020 election, which he lost to Democrat Joe Biden.

But the Georgia case is far different because it also charges a large cast of alleged accomplices – from former New York Mayor Rudolph Giuliani to then-White House chief of staff Mark Meadows and former state Republican Party chairman David Shafer.

Also charged: state Sen. Shawn Still; attorneys John Eastman, Sidney Powell, Jenna Ellis, Bob Cheeley, Ray Smith III and Kenneth Chesebro; former assistant U.S. attorney general Jeffrey Clark; former Coffee County GOP chairwoman Cathy Latham; Atlanta bail bondsman Scott Hall; former Coffee County elections director Misty Hampton; GOP strategist Michael Roman; publicist Trevian Kutti; Illinois pastor Stephen Cliffguard Lee; and Harrison Floyd, who briefly ran for a suburban Atlanta U.S. House seat before serving as director of Black Voices for Trump.

The charges are the culmination of a 2 1/2-year criminal investigation launched by Fulton County District Attorney Fani Willis shortly after Trump’s leaked Jan. 2, 2021, phone call with Brad Raffensperger, during which he asked the Georgia secretary of state to “find” him 11,780 votes.

That he’s accused of racketeering sums up the entire Trump history.

With all these people being charged, someone’s gonna turn states’ evidence; they really don’t want to find out what happens in a Georgia prison.

Sunday, July 30, 2023

Sunday Reading

The Chess Master — Charles P. Pierce.

Rules For Gracious Living: Do Not, Under Any Circumstances, Play Chess With Jack Smith. He is already five moves ahead of you while you’re looking for the board in the game cabinet.

From The New York Times:

The revised indictment added three serious charges against Mr. Trump: attempting to “alter, destroy, mutilate, or conceal evidence”; inducing someone else to do so; and a new count under the Espionage Act related to a classified national security document that he showed to visitors at his golf club in Bedminster, N.J.

The updated indictment was released on the same day that Mr. Trump’s lawyers met in Washington with prosecutors in the office of the special counsel, Jack Smith, to discuss a so-called target letter that Mr. Trump received this month suggesting that he might soon face an indictment in a case related to his efforts to overturn the results of the 2020 election. It served as a powerful reminder that the documents investigation is ongoing, and could continue to yield additional evidence, new counts and even new defendants.

In short: a) Smith is telling El Caudillo del Mar-A-Lago that all of his bellowing about how the Iran war plan he showed to civilians didn’t really exist is now, in Ron Ziegler’s immortal word, “inoperative.” Smith has the document; b) that he has first-hand evidence that the former president* wanted his security camera footage scrubbed so there would be no proof that he was moving the purloined Pool Shed Papers around the grounds (Please tell me he tried to acid-wash one of the servers), and c) Smith is also reminding the former president* that the January 6 grand-jury in Washington is the hook that comes out of nowhere behind the jab. Smith is, as the late Jimmy Breslin once wrote of John Doar, the counsel to the House Judiciary Committee hearing evidence against President Richard Nixon, a terribly fierce 15-round fighter. And his opponent in this contest has been exposed as the worst kind of mutt.

The revised indictment said that in late June of last year, shortly after the government demanded the surveillance footage as part of its inquiry, Mr. Trump called Mr. De Oliveira and they spoke for 24 minutes. Two days later, the indictment said, Mr. Nauta and Mr. De Oliveira “went to the security guard booth where surveillance video is displayed on monitors, walked with a flashlight through the tunnel where the storage room was located, and observed and pointed out surveillance cameras.”

My god, they really are the Mole People.

A few days after that, Mr. De Oliveira went to see Mr. Taveras, who is identified in the indictment as Trump Employee 4, and took him to a small room known as an “audio closet.” There, the indictment said, the two men had a conversation that was meant to “remain between the two of them.” It was then that Mr. De Oliveira told Mr. Taveras that “‘the boss’ wanted the server deleted,” the indictment said, referring to the computer server holding the security footage. Mr. Taveras objected and said he did not know how to delete the server and did not think he had the right to do so, the indictment said. At that point, the indictment said, Mr. De Oliveira insisted again that “the boss” wanted the server deleted, asking, “What are we going to do?”

Trump Employee No. 4 is going to be a helluva witness, I’m thinking. And he’s at least half-a-hero.

Consider how Smith has played this. First of all, he runs a grand jury in Florida on the Pool Shed Papers completely on the down low while the rest of us were wondering what he was up to in Washington. Then, on the day he has the Trump legal team in Washington in for a chat, his Florida grand jury drops the mother of all superseding indictments. Next he will saw Rudy Giuliani in half and make the 15th at Bedminster disappear.

I no longer have any doubt that the indictments coming out of Washington are going to be more gravely serious even than I had anticipated. After all, I’m the guy who didn’t think the whole Pool Shed Papers thing ever would amount to much of anything. I was guessing with Jack Smith, who already was 10 moves ahead of where I thought I was and vanishing over a suddenly brighter horizon.

Doonesbury —  Here comes the groom.

Friday, July 28, 2023

Happy Friday

I have a vague recollection of Trump carrying on like a banshee about Hillary Clinton’s computer server in her basement and why that’s why she should be locked up.

Well, guess what.

Prosecutors announced additional charges against Donald Trump on Thursday in his alleged hoarding and hiding of classified documents at Mar-a-Lago, accusing the former president and a newly indicted aide [Carlos De Oliveira] of trying to keep security camera footage from being reviewed by investigators and bringing the number of total federal charges against Trump to 40.

[…]

The new version of the indictment recounts an alleged exchange between De Oliveira and another Trump employee on June 27, 2022, in which De Oliveira allegedly asked to have a private discussion in an “audio closet” at Mar-a-Lago.

De Oliveira allegedly asked the other employee how long the footage from the security cameras were stored on their computer server. When the employee replied 45 days, De Oliveira told the employee “that ‘the boss’ wanted the server deleted,” the indictment alleges. The other employee is referred to only as “Employee 4” in the indictment, but a person close to the investigation, speaking on the condition of anonymity to discuss it, has said that person is an IT worker named Yuscil Taveras.

The employee replied “that he would not know how to do that, and that he did not believe that he would have the rights to do that,” according to the indictment. “De Oliveira then insisted to Trump Employee 4 that ‘the boss’ wanted the server deleted and asked, ‘What are we going to do?’”

Not only is karma Newtonian, it’s a real bitch.

Here’s something to remind us of happier times.  That’s me on the right with friends in Northport in August 1975, about a month before I moved to Minneapolis to start grad school.

Thursday, June 22, 2023

Bought And Paid For

Clarence Thomas, Samuel Alito, and Ron DeSantis don’t exactly dress like prostitutes — and Dog forbid that they should engage in sex for pay (try to unsee that image) — but as far as peddling influence and chumming up with folks who have a lot of money, they might as well be standing on Biscayne Boulevard and flagging down johns.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis’s wealthy donors and supporters lent a golf simulator to the Governor’s Mansion and provided private flights to fundraisers and other political events, according to records obtained by The Washington Post.

That’s just the latest.

Maybe the Senate will do something about it.

Scrutiny of the Supreme Court intensified Wednesday after Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. took the extraordinary step of writing an op-ed column to defend a luxury fishing trip to Alaska years ago that was partially financed by a politically active billionaire. Senate Democrats said the revelation of the trip, by the news organization ProPublica, was one more reason they would move forward on legislation to tighten ethics rules for the justices.

Although there appears to be little interest in the Republican-led House in forcing changes upon the high court, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Richard J. Durbin (D-Ill.) said his panel would consider legislation after the Senate returns from its Fourth of July recess.

“The highest court in the land should not have the lowest ethical standards. But for too long that has been the case with the United States Supreme Court. That needs to change,” Durbin said in a joint statement with Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who chairs a subcommittee with jurisdiction over the federal judiciary.

Whitehouse has pushed legislation that would require the court to adopt a code of conduct and establish clear rules dictating when justices must recuse themselves from cases. A separate bipartisan bill by Sens. Angus King (I-Maine), who caucuses with the Democrats, and Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) would force the Supreme Court to establish an ethics code and require it to appoint an official to examine potential conflicts and public complaints. Legislation introduced by Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) would require the Judicial Conference of the United States, the policymaking body for the federal courts, to issue an ethics code that would apply to the court.

It was not immediately clear which provisions might be considered in July.

The statement by Durbin and Whitehouse took direct aim at Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., saying that the Supreme Court is in the midst of “an ethical crisis of its own making” and that Roberts “could resolve this today, but he has not acted.”

ProPublica reported late Tuesday that in July 2008, hedge fund manager Paul Singer flew Alito to King Salmon Lodge, a fishing resort in a remote corner of Alaska that charged more than $1,000 a day. If the justice chartered the plane himself, the cost could have exceeded $100,000 each way, the publication reported.

Alito struck back in a column on the Wall Street Journal editorial page even before the ProPublica piece was published. The column was headlined “ProPublica Misleads Its Readers” and included Alito’s rebuttals to questions posed by the ProPublica reporters — answers the justice did not share with the reporters before publication. In the op-ed, Alito said he was neither required to report the fishing trip on his annual disclosure form nor to recuse himself from cases before the court that involved Singer.

“It was and is my judgment that these facts would not cause a reasonable and unbiased person to doubt my ability to decide the matters in question impartially,” Alito wrote.

It sounds a lot like, “Gee, officer, I only stopped to mail a letter.  I have no idea why this woman pulled my pants down.”

My cynicism meter went off a long time ago and the chances of Congress doing anything about the Supreme Court’s code of conduct are about the same as my winning the Mr. Universe contest.  That’s because what’s sauce for the goose; how many senators and representatives have their own free flights and golf simulators to account for?

In the end, nothing will be done because money talks far louder than the still small voice of doing the right thing.

Sunday, June 11, 2023

Sunday Reading

All Those Boxes Speak For Themselves — Charlie Pierce:

Jack Smith came out to speak today. (JACK SMITH SPEAKS! Special counsel as Garbo.) And he was as Jack Smithian as Jack Smith could be.

“Our nation’s commitment to the rule of law sets an example for the world. We have one set of laws in this country, and they apply to everyone.”

Simple as that, and then he was gone. Finished. Drive home safely everyone.

Clearly, Smith decided to let the indictment speak for itself and, boy howdy, it does more than that. It bellows. It snarls. It grabs you by your lapels and screams in your face, “LISTEN, IDIOTS. DO NOT EVEN THINK ABOUT ELECTING THIS DANGEROUS CROOK AGAIN. JESUS, WHAT THE HELL IS WRONG WITH YOU PEOPLE?”

Or words to that effect.

Take a look at page 16, where the former president* essentially defenestrates one of his favorite alibis. Or marinate slowly in pages 21-26, where the former president* is repeatedly telling his lawyers not to touch “my boxes.”

TRUMP: “I don’t want anybody looking, I don’t want anybody looking through my boxes, I really don’t, I don’t want you looking through my boxes,” Trump said, as recounted by the indictment, which cited how one of the attorneys had “memorialized” the conversation.

“Well what if we, what happens if we just don’t respond at all or don’t play ball with them?” Trump is alleged to have said. The indictment also quotes Trump as allegedly saying, “Wouldn’t it be better if we just told them we don’t have anything here?” and, “Well look isn’t it better if there are no documents.”

On the possibility that, upon hearing this, one of the lawyers stripped, left the room, and walked into the Atlantic, never to return, the record is silent.

Look at all the absurd and lovely pictures of the boxes of documents stored willy-nilly all over Mar-a-Lago. The ones with the chandeliers are my favorite, especially the bathroom with the chandelier.

“From January through March 15, 2021, some of Trump’s boxes were stored in the Mar-a-Lago Club’s White and Gold Ballroom, in which events and gatherings took place. Trump’s boxes were for a time stacked on the ballroom’s stage.”

“Nauta texted another Trump employee, “I opened the door and found this,” including two photographs of the spilled documents. At least one of the photographs, shown in the indictment, had classified information in it…The classified documents Trump stored in his boxes included information regarding defense and weapons capabilities of both the United States and foreign countries; United States nuclear programs; potential vulnerabilities of the United States and its allies to military attack; and plans for possible retaliation in response to a foreign attack.”

Poor Walt Nauta. He’s been hung out to dry in a hurricane. And now, some texts.

Trump Employee #2: “We can definitely make it work if we move his papers into the lake room.”

Trump Employee #1: “There is still a little room in the shower where his other stuff is. Is it only his papers he cares about?”

Trump Employee: “Anything that’s not the beautiful mind paper boxes can definitely go to storage.”

Is this Trump Employee suggesting that the former president* was similar to the disturbed John Nash, played by Russell Crowe in A Beautiful Mind, and comparing all these boxes in the ballroom and in the shower to Nash’s shack, where he filled sheets of paper with indecipherable scribbling at the behest of his imaginary cohort? We are all keen to know. And now, The Importance Of The Crime-Fraud Exception.

Trump Attorney No. 1 — He made a funny motion as though — well, okay, why don’t you take them with you to your hotel room and if there’s anything really bad in there, like, pluck it out. And that was the motion he made.

Plucking amazing.

Another development that is not funny at all is that the “wheel” apparently has handed the trial over to Judge Aileen Cannon, a Trump appointee with whom I thought we were finished after she put both thumbs and an andiron on the scale earlier in the litigation leading up to Thursday’s indictment. From The New York Times:

Ruling for Mr. Trump, Judge Cannon effectively froze a significant portion of the government’s inquiry, barring prosecutors from using the materials seized from Mar-a-Lago for any “investigative purpose” connected to the case against Mr. Trump until the work of the arbiter, known as a special master, was finished. An appeals court sitting in Atlanta ultimately overruled Judge Cannon, scrapped the special master’s review and allowed the investigation of Mr. Trump to resume unhindered. In a sharply critical decision, a three-member panel of the appeals court said Judge Cannon never had the proper jurisdiction to intervene in the case and order the review. The court also chided her for stopping federal investigators from using the files seized from Mar-a-Lago, saying there was no justification for treating Mr. Trump differently from any other target of a search warrant.

It’s hard for me to believe that Cannon will preside over the actual trial, not because she is a Trump loyalist, which she is, but because her feet clearly were not touching the bottom of the pool in the earlier proceedings. I can’t see Smith, for all his cool determination, ever allowing this to happen without a fight.

Doonesbury — Potted Plan.

Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Nuclear Storage Issue

From the Washington Post:

A document describing a foreign government’s military defenses, including its nuclear capabilities, was found by FBI agents who searched former president Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago residence and private club last month, according to people familiar with the matter, underscoring concerns among U.S. intelligence officials about classified material stashed in the Florida property.

Some of the seized documents detail top-secret U.S. operations so closely guarded that many senior national security officials are kept in the dark about them. Only the president, some members of his Cabinet or a near-Cabinet-level official could authorize other government officials to know details of these special-access programs, according to people familiar with the search, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe sensitive details of an ongoing investigation.

Documents about such highly classified operations require special clearances on a need-to-know basis, not just top-secret clearance. Some special-access programs can have as few as a couple dozen government personnel authorized to know of an operation’s existence. Records that deal with such programs are kept under lock and key, almost always in a secure compartmented information facility, with a designated control officer to keep careful tabs on their location.

But such documents were stored at Mar-a-Lago, with uncertain security, more than 18 months after Trump left the White House.

So, Trump was keeping some of the most highly classified material known to the intelligence agencies in boxes next to his souvenirs from Disney World, presumably for anyone passing by to see. Yet according to his minions like Marco Rubio, it’s no big deal. It’s a “storage issue.”

Jesus Roosevelt Christ.

Friday, February 18, 2022

Happy Friday

Hey, you made it to the end of the work-week, the Olympics are almost over — not that I watched one minute of them — and next Thursday the original “Law & Order” returns with Sam Waterston as the District Attorney.  DUN-DUN!

Meanwhile, the buzzards are circling Mar-a-Lago as we noted this week, and in New York the real Law & Order team is going to get their chance to interrogate the minions that ran the Trump mob operation.  To quote the immortal John Cole: spill, bitches.

The New York attorney general can question Donald J. Trump and two of his adult children under oath as part of a civil inquiry into his business practices, a judge ruled on Thursday, rejecting the former president’s effort to block the interviews.

The inquiry by the attorney general, Letitia James, and a parallel criminal investigation led by the Manhattan district attorney are examining whether Mr. Trump improperly inflated the value of his assets to receive favorable loans.

Lawyers for the Trump family had sought to prohibit Ms. James, a Democrat, from interviewing Mr. Trump, Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump. They had argued that she was politically biased against Mr. Trump and was inappropriately using her civil inquiry to aid the district attorney’s criminal investigation, which she is also participating in.

But the judge, Arthur F. Engoron, wrote that “this argument completely misses the mark.”

He ruled in favor of Ms. James’s lawyers, who had asked that the former president and the two adult children be interviewed in the next three weeks. The order also requires that the former president provide the attorney general with documents she sought in her subpoena.

“Today, justice prevailed,” Ms. James said in a statement, adding, “No one is above the law.” The Trump Organization did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Have a great weekend.

Sunday, February 13, 2022

Sunday Reading

Down The Crapper — Jack Holmes in Esquire.

Back when he was the world’s most powerful man, Donald Trump would sometimes lament the state of our nation’s toilets. “People are flushing toilets 10 times, 15 times,” he reported. “We have a situation where we’re looking very strongly at sinks and showers and other elements of bathrooms.” It was widely assumed that either someone had gotten Trump’s ear on this or it was a genuine personal hangup, not unlike his pathological disdain for wind turbines, a hatred so effervescent that, to drive the point home regarding this towering evil, he occasionally would pretend to care about birds. But if a new detail from New York Times reporter Maggie Haberman’s book, sampled in Axios, is anything to go on, the strength of our nation’s thrones might have been a different kind of issue for the big guy.

While President Trump was in office, staff in the White House residence periodically discovered wads of printed paper clogging a toilet — and believed the president had flushed pieces of paper…

Trump, of course, denies the flush accusations: “Another fake story, that I flushed papers and documents down a White House toilet, is categorically untrue and simply made up by a reporter in order to get publicity for a mostly fictitious book,” he said in a statement.

The allegations dovetail neatly with a report last week in the Washington Post expanding on our previous body of knowledge with regard to the former president’s document-retention habits.

President Donald Trump tore up briefings and schedules, articles and letters, memos both sensitive and mundane.

He ripped paper into quarters with two big, clean strokes — or occasionally more vigorously, into smaller scraps.

He left the detritus on his desk in the Oval Office, in the trash can of his private West Wing study and on the floor aboard Air Force One, among many other places.

And he did it all in violation of the Presidential Records Act, despite being urged by at least two chiefs of staff and the White House counsel to follow the law on preserving documents…some of the White House records the National Archives and Records Administration turned over to the [January 6] committee appeared to have been torn apart and then taped back together.

At this point, it is abundantly clear that Trump carried the same totally above-board practices he favored in his business career into his time in public office. While this kind of thing is sketchy at a privately held company like the one bearing his name, it’s definitely bad when you are in a position of the public trust, elected to do the people’s business, and there are a raft of laws concerning your obligations in that position—in this case, leaving a paper trail of your activities so other institutions of the democratic republic in which you serve can monitor what you’ve been up to. That’s the deal you make when you run for public office! The same thing is playing out with the debate over whether members of Congress should be able to trade stocks while making policy—and being party to nonpublic information—that could impact the future price of those stocks. If you don’t want these extra burdens on your behavior, pick a different line of work!

But the rules have never applied to the big guy, of course, which is why he also took a bunch of records he shouldn’t have out of the White House and down to Mar-a-Lago with him. The National Archives had to go down there to retrieve 15 boxes of stuff, and the New York Times now reports the Archives determined some of the materials therein were classified. Remember when storing classified information in a non-secure private setting was the worst thing in the world? Like, say, when Trump’s opponent in the 2016 election used a private email server and some of the emails that came across her digital desk contained classified information? It was the story that blanketed the front page of the paper of record a little over a week before Election Day, a blockbuster account focusing on the fact that emails had been re-found after the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s pernicious activities had been closed, in spectacular ass-covering style, by then-FBI Director James Comey. Never mind that it turned out there wasn’t anything new in this batch of emails.

Your mileage may vary on how big a role Anthony Weiner played in ushering in the fun few years that followed, but within the first of those years you certainly started to get the sense that perhaps people were overselling their concerns about Hillary Clinton’s email protocol. For one thing, using private email for government business became a calling card of officials in the Trump White House, led by Ivanka Trump. The first daughter-slash-presidential adviser had the inspirationally shameless excuse that she was unaware of all the rules around email protocol mere months after it was at the center of her father’s campaign, in which he led crowds in chants calling for his opponent to be thrown in prison for this grievous crime.

In fact, email was perhaps just the tip of the iceberg. Her husband, the son-in-law-in-chief Jared Kushner, allegedly had a private Whatsapp going with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman. Who knows what they discussed! Which was, maybe, the point. Rudy Giuliani was probably communicating with his Ukraine henchmen via carrier pigeon. But even if we just focus on email, then-chief White House strategist Steve Bannon was, according to a congressional inquiry led by Democrat Elijah Cummings, using a private account to communicate about a plan to hand over nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia. How does that compare to the contents of Hillary Clinton’s emails? Or should we all just admit nobody ever actually cared?

Like, really. The thrilling crescendo of Trump’s record on this, the alleged mismanagement of classified information, ought to put this thing to bed. They didn’t care about the private email or the server. They didn’t care whether there was classified information on it. They didn’t care that Clinton’s team destroyed records. Because they did all the same shit—and, considering Trump’s ethics record in office, what kind of shit was he hoping to obscure? (Why, also, did White House staff place some of his calls on a top-secret server unnecessarily, including the infamous call with the president of Ukraine?) It was just red meat to throw to the rally crowds. And the news media, eager to avoid accusations it was Only Tough On One Side, ate up Emailghazi as a superscandal, a counterweight to the awe-inspiring subsurface shitberg of Donald Trump’s public and private lives. At some point, maybe, we might grapple with all this. Or, more likely, Trump will get away with everything he slammed Clinton for doing, because it was all just a show and the show goes on.

Doonesbury — Part II

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Rats’ Nest

The Willard Hotel is a legendary place in Washington, D.C.  It has hosted royalty, past and future presidents, and the cream of society.  And, apparently, the scum.

They called it the “command center,” a set of rooms and suites in the posh Willard hotel a block from the White House where some of President Donald Trump’s most loyal lieutenants were working day and night with one goal in mind: overturning the results of the 2020 election.

The Jan. 6 rally on the Ellipse and the ensuing attack on the Capitol by a pro-Trump mob would draw the world’s attention to the quest to physically block Congress from affirming Joe Biden’s victory. But the activities at the Willard that week add to an emerging picture of a less visible effort, mapped out in memos by a conservative pro-Trump legal scholar and pursued by a team of presidential advisers and lawyers seeking to pull off what they claim was a legal strategy to reinstate Trump for a second term.

They were led by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani. Former chief White House strategist Stephen K. Bannon was an occasional presence as the effort’s senior political adviser. Former New York City police commissioner Bernard Kerik was there as an investigator. Also present was John Eastman, the scholar, who outlined scenarios for denying Biden the presidency in an Oval Office meeting on Jan. 4 with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

They sought to make the case to Pence and ramp up pressure on him to take actions on Jan. 6 that Eastman suggested were within his powers, three people familiar with the operation said, speaking on the condition of anonymity to describe private conversations. Their activities included finding and publicizing alleged evidence of fraud, urging members of state legislatures to challenge Biden’s victory and calling on the Trump-supporting public to press Republican officials in key states.

The effort underscores the extent to which Trump and a handful of true believers were working until the last possible moment to subvert the will of the voters, seeking to pressure Pence to delay or even block certification of the election, leveraging any possible constitutional loophole to test the boundaries of American democracy.

Nearly fifty years ago, the Watergate Hotel and office complex entered the lexicon as a place where the downfall of Richard Nixon began.  Future historians may not brand the entire Trump era “Willard,” coincidentally, the name of a film about a creepy guy who raised rats, but it would certainly fit.

Sunday, August 9, 2020

Sunday Reading

Investigating Trump — Jeet Heer in The Nation.

On July 21, The New York Times described a small but typical example of corruption in the Trump era. “The American ambassador to Britain, Robert Wood Johnson IV, told multiple colleagues in February 2018 that President Trump had asked him to see if the British government could help steer the world-famous and lucrative British Open golf tournament to the Trump Turnberry resort in Scotland,” the newspaper reported.

What’s striking about this report is how little of a ripple it caused. In any other administration, the use of an ambassador to further a president’s private business would be a major scandal and trigger congressional investigations and perhaps the appointment of a special counsel. At the very least, everyone implicated would have to resign. But Johnson remains the ambassador, and there is no sign that he or anyone else, especially Trump, will pay any penalty for using public offices for personal enrichment.

The singular fact about Trump’s corruption is that he has shown how much a president can get away with as long as Congress is complicit or cowed. The Republicans in Congress have from the start of the Trump presidency given him carte blanche for self-dealing. The implicit bargain has been that as long as Trump hews to the Republican agenda on substantive issues, like tax cuts and court appointments, the party will serve as his legal bodyguard.

Congressional Democrats have made a greater show of oversight but have proved ineffectual. They decided on a narrow impeachment, which left most of Trump’s crimes unpunished even by a symbolic rebuke. Trump has successfully stonewalled congressional investigations. In theory, the House of Representatives could use the power of the purse to fight Trump on this, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has shown no appetite for this sort of fight.

The sad truth is that that to date, Trump has gotten away with being a massively corrupt president. His success in evading any checks has only emboldened him, especially now that he has a compliant attorney general in William Barr. Acts that Trump might have blanched at early in his presidency—for example, commuting the sentence of his crony Roger Stone apparently in exchange for his silence—are now commonplace.

Pelosi’s argument is that any redress to Trump now is unnecessary because he’ll face punishment by voters. But would Trump’s electoral defeat bring justice?

While running for the Democratic presidential nomination last year, California Senator Kamala Harris suggested that if she became president, she would have “no choice” but to bring criminal charges against Trump.

Joe Biden, the presumed winner of the nomination that Harris lost, has been much more circumspect. On Tuesday, while speaking in a virtual interview with the National Association of Black Journalists and the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, he said that prosecuting a former president would be a “very unusual thing and probably not very…good for democracy.”

Biden qualified his remarks by saying that the matter would be out of his hands and would be dealt with by the Department of Justice. “Look, the Justice Department is not the president’s private law firm,” he noted. “The attorney general is not the president’s private lawyer. I will not interfere with the Justice Department’s judgment of whether or not they think they should pursue the prosecution of anyone that they think has violated the law.”

The political reality is that if Biden wins the election, he and his administration will be under enormous pressure to allow Trump’s wrongdoing to fade into history. Biden will be presiding over enormous problems, notably the Covid-19 pandemic and economic meltdown, that will require national unity. As Greg Sargent of The Washington Post wrote, “Having campaigned on a vow of post-Trump reconciliation—and facing the daunting task of unifying a battered country around national solutions to the coronavirus pandemic and a potential economic depression—Biden might feel disinclined from sinking too much political capital into an effort along these lines, which might feel akin to diving right back into Trump’s black hole.”

Going after Trump would be portrayed, especially by the right-wing media, as a divisive and partisan move. It would allow Trump to play the role of martyr, fueling a lost-cause mythology that would keep Trumpism alive as a political force.

Despite these good reasons for moving on, doing so would be a massive dereliction of duty, one that would damage American democracy. As Sam Berger, the vice president of Democracy and Government Reform at American Progress, observed, “Ignoring the Trump administration’s attacks on the rule of law will only invite further attacks—and likely even more brazen and threatening ones.”

In the extensive report, Berger suggested that a Biden presidency could follow a nonpartisan approach that would effectively redress corruption while minimizing the appearance of a political vendetta. Berger recommended that the attorney general “conduct a top-to-bottom review of the DOJ to identify where politicization has influenced investigations, charging decisions, sentencing recommendations, and the like. There should be a particular focus on instances in which Trump administration allies received special treatment or opponents of his administration were targeted.”

Berger added that “nonpartisan career prosecutors must be allowed to pursue evidence of wrongdoing without political interference. If officials in the Trump administration—career or political—have broken the law, they must be treated like everyone else and held to account.”

There’s much to recommend in Berger’s nonpartisan approach, but there might be more to be gained by congressional Democrats’ making corruption a political issue. As Berger noted, Congress can continue to investigate the Trump administration even after he leaves office. This will be all the easier to do with a Biden White House presumably ending stonewalling in those areas.

These investigations could be used in the service of public education, to make Americans fully aware of the extent of Trump’s corruption and to shame all those implicated in it. Documenting Trump’s corruption could be a springboard to new laws to prevent corruption. One such measure is Senator Elizabeth Warren’s proposal that all future presidential candidates be required to release their tax returns.

Moves like this might be dismissed as partisan, but they would ensure that corruption has political as well as legal consequences. To shrink from such fights would only perpetuate the normalization of Trump even after he has left the White House. As Warren told us during her candidacy, “It’s corruption, plain and simple, and we’ve got to call it out.”

Just A Reminder:

No More Free Ride, Mitch — Andy Borowitz in The New Yorker.

WASHINGTON (The Borowitz Report)—Americans are vehemently opposed to issuing more government payments to a Kentucky man who has not been working during the coronavirus crisis.

According to reports, the man has been receiving a weekly check amounting to over three thousand dollars for doing nothing, all at taxpayers’ expense.

Harland Dorrinson, the executive director of a watchdog group called Americans Against Waste and Abuse, called the payments to this non-working individual “nothing short of scandalous.”

“If you do the math, he is receiving checks that add up to $174,000 a year,” Dorrinson said. “Under those circumstances, what is his incentive to work?”

Dorrinson said that the payments the man has been receiving should be cut off “immediately” and sent to someone who is providing essential services during the pandemic, like a health-care worker or first responder.

As for the Kentucky man, Dorrinson said, “It’s time for him to stop living off the government and show some personal responsibility.”

Doonesbury — After the party’s over.

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Round One: Justice 1, Trump 0

Via the Washington Post:

Trump on Monday lost an early round of his court fight with Democrats after a federal judge ruled the president’s accounting firm must turn over his financial records to Congress as lawmakers seek to assert their oversight authority.

Trump called the 41-page ruling from U.S. District Judge Amit P. Mehta of the District of Columbia “crazy” and said he would appeal, adding: “We think it’s totally the wrong decision by, obviously, an Obama-appointed judge.”

Lawyers for the president are fighting document and witness subpoenas on multiple fronts, and Mehta’s ruling came hours after former White House counsel Donald McGahn was directed not to appear before a congressional committee seeking testimony about his conversations with Trump.

Congressional Democrats have vowed to fight for evidence of potential misconduct by Trump and those close to him, and the president’s legal team is broadly resisting those efforts. How those fights play out in court in the months ahead could impact the 2020 presidential race.

In his decision, Mehta flatly rejected arguments from the president’s lawyers that the House Oversight Committee’s demands for the records from Trump’s accounting firm, Mazars USA, were overly broad and served no legitimate legislative function.

“It is simply not fathomable,” the judge wrote, “that a Constitution that grants Congress the power to remove a President for reasons including criminal behavior would deny Congress the power to investigate him for unlawful conduct — past or present — even without formally opening an impeachment inquiry.”

Trump has argued those congressional inquiries are politically motivated attacks on the authority of the presidency, while Democrats insist the subpoenas are essential to ensuring no president is above the law.

And for an added dollop of karma, the chief judge on the circuit where all the battles between the White House and Congress will play out is Merrick Garland.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

More Equal Than You

Earlier this week the White House told a judge that the judiciary branch of the government has no right to rule on what the executive branch does.  And now they’re telling Congress what they can and cannot do.

The White House’s top lawyer told the House Judiciary Committee chairman Wednesday that Congress has no right to a “do-over” of the special counsel’s investigation of President Trump and refused a broad demand for records and testimony from dozens of current and former White House staffers.

White House counsel Pat Cipollone’s letter to Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) constitutes a sweeping rejection — not just of Nadler’s request for White House records but of Congress’s standing to investigate Trump for possible obstruction of justice. In his letter, Cipollone repeated a claim the White House and Trump’s business have begun making — that Congress is not a law enforcement body and does not have a legitimate purpose to investigate the questions it is pursuing.

But Cipollone stopped short of asserting executive privilege. Instead, he told Nadler he would consider a narrowed request if the chairman spelled out the legislative purpose and legal support for the information he is seeking.

“Congressional investigations are intended to obtain information to aid in evaluating potential legislation, not to harass political opponents or to pursue an unauthorized ‘do-over’ of exhaustive law enforcement investigations conducted by the Department of Justice,” Cipollone wrote.

In an interview, Nadler called the White House argument “preposterous.”

“The White House is making the outrageous claim that a president cannot be held accountable in any way to the American people,” he said, adding: “This is ridiculous, it would make the president above the law, and of course we totally reject it. We will subpoena whoever we have to subpoena.”

Do you remember what the “legislative purpose” was for investigating Bill Clinton’s sex life?  Or the ten investigations of Benghazi?  I must have been out that day.

Unless there’s some clause in the Constitution that’s been dormant since 1789 that says only the Republicans can investigate the peccadilloes or failed rescue missions of Democrats along with their stated duties of oversight, the law school where attorney Cipollone got his degree should have him back for his own “do-over” of federal case law study.

I get it that a lawyer has a duty to zealously defend his client in court and use every means and arguments available to ensure that he gets a fair hearing.  But even I know that you can’t either make shit up or come up with some cockamamie interpretation of the Constitution to pull it off.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019

The Preacher, The Pool Boy, and The Photos

Josh Marshall sums up the interesting story about Jerry Falwell Jr that involves a Miami Beach pool boy, a hotel, and some racy “personal” photographs with a Trump angle thrown in.

Let’s talk about this eye-popping story from Reuters which claims that back in 2015 Michael Cohen helped early Trump endorser and now-consummate supporter Jerry Falwell, Jr. make some embarrassing photos disappear. This is at least the third story Aram Roston has written on this saga (this one at Reuters, the earlier two when he was at Buzzfeed). Each has reported a series eye-popping or bizarre facts. But each has also read with the clear sense that Roston either knows more than he can write or believes there’s much more to the story than he can prove.

The news story begins in 2017 with a Politico Magazine story about the odd fact that Falwell and his family – royals of a vast Fundamentalist empire and head of Liberty University – were the owners of a tumble down, flea bag hostel in one of the seedier parts of Miami that Politico not inaptly termed a “den of vice” and later “Falwell’s gay-friendly flophouse with an on-site liquor store.” It’s a great piece, plenty of color and general WTF about how exactly the Falwell family owns this dive combined with various stuff about the financing, tax status and the legal and financial structure of Liberty University.

[…]

The gist is this.

In 2012 the Falwells travel to the Fontainebleau Miami Beach. There they strike up a “friendly relationship” with a 21 year old pool boy on staff named Giancarlo Granda. The couple is apparently very taken with Giancarlo and soon they’re flying him on private jets up to Virginia, providing him with financial assistance and eventually deciding to set him as a business partner in the new Alton Hostel business venture. Falwell, or technically his wife and son, put up a million dollars for a down payment on the property and then almost a million more on renovations. This was all because they “wanted to help Granda establish a new career and build a business.” They gave him an equity stake in the business in exchange for him managing the property even though he had no experience managing anything.

In other words, their staunch conservatism notwithstanding, the Falwells put together a kind of bespoke one-man social democracy on before of Miami millennial Giancarlo Granda for reasons that are less than clear.

Now, this all sent tongues a’wagging: morally censorious Liberty University chief poobah and his wife suddenly strike up a friendship with a pool boy on a trip to Miami and decide they like him so much that they were flying him on private jets and investing almost $2 million in giving him a start at life.

Now, the other thing Roston got into was Michael Cohen’s role. It turns out he’s the one who engineered Falwell’s endorsement of Trump in January 2016. The relationship goes all the way back to 2012, the same year Jerry and his wife met Giancarlo. In fact, not too long after the three of them meet in Miami, Trump was invited to deliver the 2012 convocation speech at Liberty University. Trump was there. Cohen was there. And Giancarlo was flown up for the event from Florida on the private jet. Giancarlo was actually introduced to Trump. Falwell and Cohen apparently stayed in touch going forward, usually checking in with Michael at Trump Tower when he was in New York.

Clearly there was a lot here already to get people wondering what was going on. But it was only in this new piece today where we got some critical new information, the first direct reference to possible extortion. In a call surreptitiously recorded by Tom Arnold, Cohen admitted that he’d helped the Falwells deal with an extortion scam. Someone was threatening to release compromising photos and Cohen made the problem go away.

There’s a lot more at the link, but suffice it to say that if you’re wanting to write a trashy steamy novel for poolside reading on your winter vacation, you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a more colorful story.

Monday, April 22, 2019

Friday, April 19, 2019

From Here On Out

Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker:

In the most memorable scene in the most anticipated government report in recent history, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, takes us inside the Oval Office on May 17, 2017. President Trump, having fired the F.B.I. director in an apparent effort to shut down the investigation of him and his 2016 campaign, was in the middle of interviewing candidates for the new vacancy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, much to the President’s fury, stepped out of the room to take a phone call. He returned with bad news: his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, had appointed Mueller to be a special counsel and conduct an independent investigation. Russiagate would live on. Trump “slumped” over in his chair, according to the report. “Oh, my God, this is the end of my Presidency,” he said. “I’m fucked.”

For now, at least, it appears that he was wrong. The appointment of Mueller did not lead to the end of Trump’s Presidency. Not yet, and probably not ever. The release of the special counsel’s report, on Thursday, showed that Mueller did not turn up conclusive evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians who interfered in the 2016 election to boost Trump’s candidacy. But the report’s belated publication, almost four weeks to the day after Mueller submitted it to Attorney General William Barr, is hardly the “complete and total exoneration” that Trump initially claimed it was and that Barr misleadingly and incompletely portrayed to the country. We knew that wasn’t the case the minute Trump said it.

What we didn’t know until Thursday, when we finally saw the four-hundred-and-forty-eight-page document, is how much evidence Mueller had amassed about the President, panicked and in crisis mode, trying to shut down and block the investigation. The report documents ten different incidents that raise questions about the President’s behavior. Was it obstruction of justice? The Mueller report concluded (albeit in legalistic and unclear language) that that is a matter for Congress to decide. And Congress, as a matter of political calculation and senatorial math, remains unlikely to pursue the question to its bitter end.

Whatever happens, and for however long the Trump regime lasts, be it until 2021 or 2025, it will be scarred, tarred, and broken by the Mueller report, redacted or not, or whether or not it winds up as a series on Netflix.  History will prove that how Trump got to office and how he dealt with the aftereffects will overshadow and skew anything he does, and just as Watergate will forever be the tagline and epitaph for Richard Nixon, not to mention the people who worked with and for him, the story of Russian meddling and how the Trump regime responded to it will be the first line in its obituary.

And it’s all his own doing.  The only reason he’s not under indictment for collusion is that his campaign couldn’t get their act together to do it right.  As for obstruction of justice, it’s certainly not for the lack of trying.

So despite all the crowing and calls to move on from the base and the Wormtongues at Fox, Trump called it: he’s fucked.

Thursday, April 11, 2019

Setting The Barr

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

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

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

Thursday, April 4, 2019

Tax Time

It took long enough.

The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee asked the IRS on Wednesday for six years of President Trump’s personal and business tax returns, a request with which the president immediately said he was not inclined to comply.

The committee chairman’s letter to the Internal Revenue Service — and Trump’s immediate and public response — set up what is likely to become an intense and drawn-out court fight as Democrats push to see tax records they think can shed light on numerous aspects of Trump’s business dealings and Trump resists their demands. The Ways and Means chairman’s request was expected but nonetheless represented a significant escalation in House Democrats’ wide-ranging probes of Trump and his administration.

The IRS was given until April 10 to respond. The panel’s chairman was able to make the request because of a 1924 law that gives the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee broad powers to request and receive the tax returns of any American.

“Congress, as a coequal branch of government, has a duty to conduct oversight of departments and officials,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) said in a statement. “The Ways and Means Committee in particular has a responsibility to conduct oversight of our voluntary federal tax system and determine how Americans — including those elected to our highest office — are complying with those laws.”

Trump broke with precedent when he refused as a presidential candidate, and then when elected, to release his tax returns, something every president since Richard M. Nixon has done. The explanation he gave was that he was being audited, although numerous experts have said that an audit would not have prevented him from releasing his returns.

I’m going to predict that this battle, more than anything about the election of 2016 and who colluded with whom, will last long after Trump has left office and will lead eventually to civil if not criminal charges.

The Republicans will carry on about a fishing expedition (as opposed to what Ken Starr did with the Clintons?) and eventually it will end up at the Supreme Court where Trumpistas will challenge the right of Congress to have the temerity to investigate the Executive branch via a law that dates back 95 years.

The House committee is casting a wide net, including in their request not just tax returns for Trump himself but for a lot of his shell corporations and shelters.  That’s probably why it took four months since taking control of Congress for Rep. Neal to gather together the support to make the request and prove in court why the House committee wants to look at the records.  They knew this was going to be a long haul.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Covering The Coverup

The New York Times is out with an analysis of how Trump and his minions have routinely tried to quash, silence, and intimidate anyone or any news organization trying to uncover the truth about whatever the hell is going in in his administration.

WASHINGTON — As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.

Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to “jump on a grenade” for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge because Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.

Trying to install a perceived loyalist atop a widening inquiry is a familiar tactic for Mr. Trump, who has been struggling to beat back the investigations that have consumed his presidency. His efforts have exposed him to accusations of obstruction of justice as Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, finishes his work investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Mr. Trump’s public war on the inquiry has gone on long enough that it is no longer shocking. Mr. Trump rages almost daily to his 58 million Twitter followers that Mr. Mueller is on a “witch hunt” and has adopted the language of Mafia bosses by calling those who cooperate with the special counsel “rats.” His lawyer talks openly about a strategy to smear and discredit the special counsel investigation. The president’s allies in Congress and the conservative news media warn of an insidious plot inside the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to subvert a democratically elected president.

An examination by The New York Times reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement. Interviews with dozens of current and former government officials and others close to Mr. Trump, as well as a review of confidential White House documents, reveal numerous unreported episodes in a two-year drama.

White House lawyers wrote a confidential memo expressing concern about the president’s staff peddling misleading information in public about the firing of Michael T. Flynn, the Trump administration’s first national security adviser. Mr. Trump had private conversations with Republican lawmakers about a campaign to attack the Mueller investigation. And there was the episode when he asked his attorney general about putting Mr. Berman in charge of the Manhattan investigation.

Mr. Whitaker, who this month told a congressional committee that Mr. Trump had never pressured him over the various investigations, is now under scrutiny by House Democrats for possible perjury.

On Tuesday, after The Times article published, Mr. Trump denied that he had asked Mr. Whitaker if Mr. Berman could be put in charge of the investigation. “No, I don’t know who gave you that, that’s more fake news,” Mr. Trump said. “There’s a lot of fake news out there. No, I didn’t.”

A Justice Department spokeswoman said Tuesday that the White House had not asked Mr. Whitaker to interfere in the investigations. “Under oath to the House Judiciary Committee, then-Acting Attorney General Whitaker stated that ‘at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation,’” said the spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec. “Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony.”

The story of Mr. Trump’s attempts to defang the investigations has been voluminously covered in the news media, to such a degree that many Americans have lost track of how unusual his behavior is. But fusing the strands reveals an extraordinary story of a president who has attacked the law enforcement apparatus of his own government like no other president in history, and who has turned the effort into an obsession. Mr. Trump has done it with the same tactics he once used in his business empire: demanding fierce loyalty from employees, applying pressure tactics to keep people in line and protecting the brand — himself — at all costs.

It should be noted that the Justice Department’s denial of Mr. Whitaker’s actions is irrelevant.  It’s that Trump tried to get an attorney that was on his side to run the investigation.  Whether or not Mr. Whitaker complied isn’t the issue; that Trump tried is.

What emerges from this story is that Trump is obsessed with putting an end to any news coverage of him that isn’t fawning.  Given his past and his personality, that’s not surprising, but where it has gotten him in trouble is that in order to win over the base and win the election, he and his minions engaged in illegal acts, and now they’re trying to cover them up and intimidate and demonize anyone who is trying to get to the truth.  Innocent people don’t act like that.  If they’ve done nothing wrong, they don’t need to.

The other element in this story is the acknowledgment that the public is basically immune to being outraged or surprised by Trump.  That’s to be expected in a time when a viral meme can come and go with the lifespan of a fruit fly — this week’s media obsession is next week’s question in bar trivia contests — but whether or not the public cares or is aware of high crimes and misdemeanors really has no bearing on whether or not he should be held accountable.  Nor should the attempts by his leather-lunged supporters to distract our attention with yet another attempt to bring up Hillary’s e-mails or Barack’s birth certificate.  Those of us who are old enough to remember Watergate know that the public was far more interested in what happened to Patty Hearst than what Richard Nixon was doing in the West Wing.  It wasn’t until the Senate hearings interrupted “The Price Is Right” and soap operas that the average voter was even aware that crimes had taken place, and their response was typical: “When will I get my stories back?”

Fortunately that doesn’t matter.   Justice and the application thereof is not based on how it trends on Twitter, and no amount of threats and cries of “Fake News!” will put an end to it.

Monday, December 31, 2018

Looking Back/Looking Forward

Time for my annual recap and predictions for this year and next.  Let’s look back at how I did a year ago.

  • There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on.  Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive.  But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.

I’ll give myself a B on that since it was pretty much that way a year ago and the gears of justice grind slowly but irresistibly.  No high-level members of the administration were indicted, but shame and scandal did bring down an impressive number of folks who had hard passes to the West Wing.

  • The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November.  This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president.  The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points.  (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)

I’ll go with a C on that since I hit the nail on the head in the first sentence; I should have just left it there.  But no; I had it backwards: the House flipped but the GOP still has the Senate, and who knew that Paul Ryan would decide to quit?

  • There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.

I’ll take an A- on that since I got the timing wrong, but I think Brett Kavanaugh did a great job of flailing (“I like beer!”) before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The predator still got on the court, though, and we all hold RBG in the Light for at least another two years.

  • There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms.  Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.

A+ Duh.

  • Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.

Another A+, but what did anyone expect?  Trump’s half-assed attempts to restrain trade with Cuba, along with Marco Rubio doing his yapping perrito act, only make it more ironic when it’s the administration’s policy to cozy up to dictators like Putin and the Saudis.  If Trump owned a hotel in Havana he’d be down there in a second sucking up to the regime with video to prove it.

  • The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill.  If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.

I’ll take a B on this since I didn’t factor in tariffs and the trade war(s) he’s launched that led to wild uncertainty in the markets, not to mention Trump’s bashing of the Fed chair that he appointed and told him to do what he’s doing.

  • This “America First” foreign policy will backfire.  All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.”  If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.

I get an A on this because it has and they are.

  • The white supremacist movement will not abate.  Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.

Sadly, a very predictable A on that.

  • A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman.  Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet.  (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend.  She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)

I get a B on this because it was rather easy to spot and I’m already getting begging e-mails from Ms. Harris.

  • On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration.  I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.

This was a great year for my playwriting with a lot of new friends and opportunities out there and more to come in 2019 (see below).

  • People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.

Yep.  I’ve already blocked them out.

Okay, on to the predictions.

  • Barring natural causes or intervention from an outside force, Trump will still be in office on December 31, 2019.  There is no way he will leave voluntarily and even with the House of Representatives in Democratic control and articles of impeachment being drafted they will not get to the Senate floor because the Republicans are either too afraid to rile up the base or they’re too enamored of their own grip on power to care about the government being headed by a poor imitation of a tin-pot banana republic authoritarian douche-canoe.
  • The Mueller Report will be released to Congress and even though it’s supposed to be classified it will be leaked with great fanfare and pundit predictions of the end of the Trump administration with calls for frog-marching him and his minions out of the West Wing.  Despite that, see above.
  • There will be no wall.  There never will be.  Immigration will still be a triggering issue as even more refugees die in U.S. custody.
  • There will be no meaningful changes to gun laws even if the NRA goes broke.  There will be more mass shootings, thoughts and prayers will be offered, and we’ll be told yet again that now is not the time to talk about it.
  • Obamacare will survive its latest challenge because the ruling by the judge in Texas declaring the entire law unconstitutional will be tossed and turned into a case study in law schools everywhere on the topic of exasperatingly stupid reasoning.
  • Roe vs. Wade will still stand.
  • With the Democrats in control of the House, the government will be in permanent gridlock even after they work out some sort of deal to end the current shutdown over the mythological wall.  House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will become the Willie Horton for the GOP base and blamed for everything from budget deficits to the toast falling butter-side down.
  • We will have a pretty good idea who the Democratic front-runner will be in 2020.  I think Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s chances are still good (she announced her exploratory committee as I was writing this), as are Sen. Kamala Harris’s, and don’t count out Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, but who knew that Beto O’Rourke, a charismatic loser in the Texas senate race, would raise a lot of hopes?  That said, fifteen years ago when I started this blog, Howard Dean looked like the guy who was going to beat George W. Bush.
  • The economy will continue with its wild gyrations, pretty much following the gyrations of the mood of Trump and his thumb-driven Twitter-fed economic exhortations.  The tax cuts and the tariffs will land on the backs of the people who provide the income to the government and the deficit will soon be out there beyond the Tesla in outer space.  But unlike that Martian-bound convertible, the economy will come crashing back to Earth (probably about the time I retire in August) and Trump will blame everyone else.
  • There will be a natural event that will convince even skeptics that climate change and sea level rise is real and happening.  Unfortunately, nothing will be done about it even if lots of lives are lost because [spoiler alert] nothing ever is done.
  • I’m going out on a limb here with foreign affairs predictions, but I have a feeling that Brexit will end up in the dustbin of history.
  • Personally, this will be a transition year.  My retirement from Miami-Dade County Public Schools occurs officially on August 31, 2019, and I’m already actively looking for something both meaningful and income-producing to do after that.  (E-mail me for a copy of my resume; nothing ventured, nothing sprained.)  My play “Can’t Live Without You” opens at the Willow Theatre in Boca Raton, Florida, for a two-week run on March 30, and I’m planning on returning to the William Inge Theatre Festival for the 28th time, either with a play or most assuredly with a scholarly paper.  I have my bid in for a variety of other theatre events and productions; I think I’m getting the hang of this playwriting thing.
  • I will do this again next year.  I hope.  As Bobby says, “Hope is my greatest weakness.”

Okay, your turn.  Meanwhile, I wish continued good health and a long life to all of you and hope you make it through 2019 none the worse for wear.

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.