Allegiance to whom or to what?

We can state as a given that we have a representative form of government; that our elected officials at every level are expected to legislate and vote in accordance with what we tell them by one means or another. Representatives who break from this long-established norm and have failed to heed messages from their constituents end up getting themselves unseated. So, there is an allegiance here and it accrues to constituents; i.e. the “whom”.

The foregoing said, consider the official version of the oath of office that is administered to every elected federal official:

“I______________________ do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United State against all enemies, foreign and domestic, that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.”

In swearing to that,  a person is vowing allegiance to the Constitution; i.e. the “what”. But, notice that nowhere in that vow is there any mention of fidelity to constituents, the president or one’s political party. The sole recipient of the commitment is the Constitution.  It is given primacy over everything else!!

Provided with this context and its’ rank-ordering of allegiances, consider the behavior of congressional Republicans in the age of Trump:  The intent of the Founding fathers’ has been flipped onto its’ head. Fidelity to the Constitution has been relegated to second or third place behind loyalty to constituents, the president and/or the GOP.

What comes out of this distortion is a fundamental weakening of the Constitution , bad policy and bad decision-making, the latter being driven by constituents’ irrational fears and baseless biases. A perfect example can be found in Trump supporters’ very vocal approval of his Muslim immigration ban even though it was plainly discriminatory and unconstitutional in its original form, a fact that has been well-established by multiple court rulings.

It is now being  widely admitted that any Republican candidate, whether an incumbent or not,  had better be on Trump’s side, because that is where their constituents are. Speak out against him and you are “toast” as Mark Sanford (R-SC) just found out, having been “primaried” by a more Trumpian conservative competitor for office.

Sanford was just one of a startlingly small number of congressional GOPers who have taken repeated issue with 45. Senator Jeff Flake (R-AZ) is the only one who has come to mind and he has decided to retire rather than run as a non-Trumpian conservative. Over 40 other Republican lawmakers have also opted to skip re-election; ostensibly for the very same reason. Rather than speaking out upon leaving office, they have chosen to remain largely silent, fearing that broad criticism of the president would “rub off” on the larger Republican brand and damage it ahead of the coming mid-term election.

End note

What we are seeing here is a failure on the part of well over 300 congressional Republicans to live up their oath of allegiance to the Constitution ahead of all else. Instead, their fidelity is being extended to the president. This is a dangerous step in the direction of supporting a style of governance that is based more on political whim than the rule of law.

That is not at all what our Framers had in mind.

 

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Finally…the bottom line

Background

It all started back in 2015 when it was discovered that then Secretary of State HRC had been using a private server to send and receive what were potentially classified and highly sensitive government information and documents. An investigation was launched headed by then FBI Director James Comey.

The probe continued apace until mid-2016 when Comey made a very public statement that in spite of “extreme carelessness”, he could  not find any criminal intent on the part of HRC. Consequently, she was found innocent of any illegality and wasn’t charged.

This judgment flew in the face of an alternative narrative that had been pushed by HRC’s political opponents who were convinced that she was indeed guilty. Unwilling to accept the Comey decision, they set themselves to the task of destroying his credibility and consequently his “HRC is innocent of wrongdoing” view. To that end, they raised all sorts of objections; e.g. the partisanship of certain members of his investigative team, about the failure to take testimony from HRC while she was under oath (1), and an impromptu meeting that ex-President Bill Clinton had with Comey’s boss, Attorney General Loretta .Lynch; i.e. had he tried to influence the outcome of the Comey investigation?

At this juncture, the presidential campaign was well underway. Candidate Trump seized on the aforementioned narrative and used it time and again at rallies during which he constantly referred to “crooked Hillary” and led crowds in chants of “Lock her up”. As a result of all this, the matter became fully politically charged.

Accordingly, in January 2017, the Justice Department’s Inspector General (IG), Michael Horowitz, was tasked with getting to the bottom of what had happened, was their wrongdoing, had the FBI failed to come to proper conclusions viz a viz the investigation of HRC.

Throughout the ensuing 18 months, there was an anti-FBI drumbeat which promised everyone that once the IG’s report was published, the Bureau would be exposed as a festering sore; a toxic mix of partisanship, incompetence and outright lying. Heads were going to roll, starting with indictments of Obama, HRC, and Comey, then reaching into the ranks of the agency. This narrative carried with it, the implicit guarantee of the credibility of the IG. He could be depended on to tell the truth.

On June 14th, the much anticipated IG report was published; a document in excess of 500-pages complete with the careful documentation of, and support for,  key findings, a topic we turn to next.

The IG Report:  A Summary

To say that certain contents of the document were highly critical of how the probe of HRC’s e-mails was handled would be an understatement. Five FBI agents were singled out (albeit not by name) as having misbehaved in one way or another (2). Ex-Director Comey was on the receiving end of the harshest of criticisms for having taken upon himself, responsibilities and decisions that were beyond his purview, even as Director, and for his departure from strict Department guidelines. (3)

But, in spite of these lapses, the IG concluded that the investigation of HRC’s e-mails had not been corrupted by partisan misbehavior, nor was Comey to be faulted for his decisions to first exonerate HRC, and then to reopen the probe of her e-mails when a previously undiscovered cache of them was discovered.

Now, if the contents of the foregoing two paragraphs seem at odds with one another, it is because they are, at least superficially. That Comey could be lambasted on the one hand, but then found to be fault-free on the other can be explained by a “dive” into the details.

As was noted early on in this blog, when Comey found HRC innocent, he accompanied that judgment with some extensive editorializing that was strictly outside the bounds of Department policy. All he was obliged to do was say “not guilty” and then shut up. That the then director chose to do otherwise was his first, significant mistake. Then, when he decided to re-open the e-mail investigation just 11 days before the 2016 election, he made the equally egregious error of making that known by means of a letter to Congress. Again, Department rules were not followed; i.e. there is to be no such disclosure in close proximity to an election when the revelation might impact voting. (4)

Finally…the bottom line

In sum and substance, the IG concluded that the FBI, Comey and his investigative team had arrived at proper, defensible outcomes even as they “stumbled” along the way. Put differently, while the process had its’ flaws, the outcomes of its execution were not. In sports parlance, the line score for a baseball team can reveal that team “A” won, even though they committed multiple errors in the field. The FBI can and should be held accountable for its’ mistakes. But the public should trust that the outcomes reached were just ones and supported by the facts.

End Notes

Sadly, the IG’s report will not bring this matter to an end. Conservatives invested so thoroughly in their “crooked HRC” narrative that they must now seek not just to save face,  but to develop a new narrative that again drives the view that the FBI and the Justice Department are not to be trusted. To the latter end, here is what has already begun:  Key pejorative words, phrases and findings in the IG document are being cherry-picked to provide the scaffolding upon which the new narrative is built. Once the narrative is in place, it will be conflated with the investigation being run by SP Robert Mueller, so as to discredit it as well. All of this is being undertaken to construct a “wall” around the president and thus protect him from impeachment. It’s basically the “OJ (Simpson) defense”; i.e. in the absence of exculpatory evidence that would clear you, make the “cops” guilty of a “frame-up”.

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  1. Anyone who testifies before the FBI is at risk of perjury, whether they have been placed under oath or not. That is the law.
  2.  At least two FBI agents were cited for using Bureau computer to transact personal business.
  3. Comey should have consulted with his higher-ups before rendering decisions and/or making public statements.
  4. It can plausibly be argued that Comey’s public disclosure that he had reopened the investigation into HRC’s e-mails helped swing the election to Trump.

 

And your favorite is…?

From the following cliches, pick the one that you think will best fit the contents of this blog.

(A) The worm is turning; (B) the walls are crumbling; (C) the ice is cracking; (D) the engine is starting to leak oil.

After a full year of defending Trump’s often outrageous behavior and serial lying, congressional Republicans have finally started to speak out and in essence tell the president “No, you have it wrong!!! Consider these examples of comeuppances:

On pardoning himself

Iowa senator Chuck Grassley (R) asked about self-pardoning said “If I had a lawyer who told me to pardon myself, I would find another lawyer”.

House Speaker Paul Ryan opined that a self-pardon would be a bad idea.

On “Spygate”

Each of the following GOP members of Congress have come forth and stated publicly that the president is off-base in claiming that the FBI planted a spy in his campaign:  Trey Gowdy, Paul Ryan, and Richard Burr. Every one of these individuals holds an influential leadership role in both the Congress and the Republican Party.

 On Trump’s imposition of tariffs

True to their belief in the conservative principle of  free markets, congressional republicans have, with almost a single voice, decried Trump’s levying of taxes against imports to the US from Canada, Mexico, China, Germany, France and England. In retaliation, those same countries have posted tariffs on US goods that they import. Our elected officials are well aware that the history of this sort of tit-for-tat shows that no one wins in a trade war, as these conflicts can reliably be predicted to create pain in all participants in the forms of job losses and higher costs. Trade wars do not have happy endings; in fact, quite the opposite.

On Trump’s authoritarian-style

Arizona senator Jeff Flake (R), who is retiring, used his Harvard Law School commencement address to deliver a pointed attack on 45; how he has debased the presidency and the rule of law while showing little regard for how the Constitution works.

End Notes

The foregoing are small but important breaks in what has, heretofore, been a predictable pattern of congressional Republicans either defending Trump, or turning mute when legitimate criticism of behavior was called for. It will be interesting to see if the speaking out continues or simply proves to be a “blip” in an otherwise steady trend.  Given that there seems to be no end to Trump’s errors in both word and deed, there should be plenty of opportunities for congressional GOP push-back.

 

 

 

Mueller-watching

As noted in at least one previous blog posted here, there is the sense that SP Mueller will first, come forward with an obstruction of justice charge against Trump. That sense has grown based on what can be gathered from the evidence and testimony that Mueller continues to collect. Using that background to provide context, let’s take a closer look at how “obstruction of justice” is define, legally and then proceed on from there.

Obstruction of justice:  “whoever….corruptly or by threat of force…influences, obstructs or impedes, or endeavors to influence, obstruct, or impede the due administration of justice” (which must be undertaken with) ‘specific intent’ “.

Now, there is no question that 45 has influenced, obstructed and impeded the FBI’s investigation into Russian meddling in our 2016 election. His course of action began with the firing of the Bureau’s Director, James Comey which Trump admitted was about “…the Russia thing”, and subsequently involved multiple other instances of the same sort of obstructionist behavior. But, was there clear evidence of specific (corrupt) intent? Here is where things get “sticky”.

The SP, can take all of 45’s obstructionist’s acts and claim, that in aggregate, they reflect “corrupt intent”. But that involves drawing an inference about Trump’s state of mind from his behavior. A good defense lawyer would counter with the justifiable assertion that lacking direct evidence of criminal intent, there must be a reasonable doubt as to its’ existence.

To deny Trump’s defense that “out”, it is reasonable to assume that a seasoned prosecutor like Mueller will do all that he can to get to Trump’s state of mind which is to say, his intention. The very best way to do that is to get the president under oath, in front of a grand jury and press him with questions that go to the heart of motive. In other words, get the witness, in his own words, to give himself away.

Thus far, Trump’s legal team has done everything they can to avoid just such a scenario, fearing that their man lacks the discipline to avoid making self-incriminating statements. In contrast, Mueller knows that any obstruction case he brings will be stronger if he can collect testimony from 45 while under oath. So, expect that sooner or later, Trump will either volunteer for such a tete a tete, or be subpoenaed into engaging in same.

Is there any sort of time-line when we might expect such things to happen? Yes, there is. Consider:  Mueller must operate under Department of Justice guidelines that dictate that any public action like the issuance of a subpoena, or the filing of a public report or the bringing of criminal charges, must occur well ahead of any election that might be impacted by such events. Given that framework, we can expect that the SP will either come forward with something by early this September, or hold off until after the coming midterm has taken place.

The view taken here is that Mueller has already built a solid obstruction case with criminal intent based on inference of the latter drawn from repeated instances of Trump’s behavior. That he has not come forward to date with that charge is likely a product of the SP’s desire to get 45’s testimony under oath, thinking that this could make his case stronger.

Given the “early September” time-frame cited above, here is what to look for within the next three months:  Somewhere near midpoint, Trump’s testimony will be collected whether voluntarily or through the force of a subpoena. Whatever the case, that would leave Mueller with approximately six weeks to incorporate 45’s testimony into a final report on the obstruction of justice case and make it public, two full months ahead of the midterms. However, as the “early September” time draws neigh, if the Trump sit-down with the SP has not taken place, don’t be surprised if the obstruction charge isn’t filled until after the election.Soooo…..

Keep you eye on both Mueller and the calendar.

 

 

 

Trump-style “Nationalism”

Nationalism:  loyalty or devotion to a nation; esp:  a sense of national consciousness exalting one nation above all others, and placing primary emphasis on its’ culture and interests as opposed to those of other nations or supranational groups. (1)

Reading that definition, it’s not hard to understand how Trump’s rhetorical promotion of it captured the imagination and devotion of a large swath of our citizens. “Make America great again” certainly resonated with folks who see globalization as a threat to US primacy. They came to despise presidents like Bill Clinton and Barack Obama who supported it, and that animus played itself out in ways that fueled our present state of polarization.

The concept of putting America first has a history that goes back to the two years that antedated our entry into World War I. (2) Putting America first was a theme that was popularized by influential publisher William Randolph Heart. So, Trump’s “Make America great again” reminds us of that old Biblical verse “There is nothing new under the sun” (3).

Given this historical context, it is worthwhile to examine how Trump’s nationalism has found expression in various policy decisions, a topic that we turn to next.

The Trans-Pacific Partnership

Negotiated and brought to fruition by President Obama, it placed the US in a set of trade relationships with eleven other countries, some in our hemisphere, others in Asia. The goal was to facilitate mutually beneficial importing and exporting between the participants.

As a candidate, Trump labelled it a “terrible deal”; one that he would tear up and then renegotiate. As president, 45 certainly did the former. But, he never got a chance to engage in the forging of a new arrangement. That is because as soon as the US had departed the pact, China swooped in and basically took our place. A belated attempt by Trump to reinsert us back into the mix got rebuffed by its constituents. That 45 made such an effort is tantamount to an implicit admission that our exit was a mistake in the first place.

The North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA)

Here is another agreement that came into existence ahead of the Trump presidency. And once again, as a candidate, he promised to shred and then renegotiate it. To date, he has managed to do the former, only. The renegotiation of NAFTA has been ongoing for nearly two years, but without success, at least to date.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement

With it significant imperfections (4) this was negotiated by President Obama in concert with England, France and Germany. Again, candidate Trump vowed to end it, even if Iran was living up to its’ end of the bargain.

Very recently, 45 followed through on his threat, much to the dismay of our negotiating partners (see above) who now are seeking to keep the agreement alive in spite of Trump’s decision which included the imposition of new and more stringent trade sanctions against Iran and any countries seeking to do business with it. Unfortunately, some of those countries are the very ones who are our closest allies and will be hurt economically by 45’s strictures.

The Paris Climate Accord

This agreement, with its multi-national participants, provided a powerful measure of support for the need to control greenhouse gases and lessen their impact on the environment. Since Trump loudly proclaimed that climate change is “a hoax”, it is hardly surprising that he extracted the US from that arrangement. Coincidentally, our domestic policy viz a viz the environment has been to seek to repeal the regulations that were put in place to keep our air and water safe to consume.

End Notes

Taking the contents of the foregoing major sections of this blog into account, it seems more appropriate to view Trump-style nationalism as more akin to isolationism. That fits the historical context provided early when, pre-World War I, many Americans wanted us to stay out of the conflict raging in Europe, a point of view that resurfaced in the run-up to World War II.

It is as if Trump is daring other friendly nations to oppose us. If they do, jettison them so the US can go it alone; i.e. we don’t really need allies, trade agreement and mutually beneficial compromises. Any conciliation must have, as an end result, a big win for us and something less for whomever is negotiating with us. If this is indeed 45’s mindset, then it is exceedingly dangerous to our interests, both economically and especially in terms of our  national security.

Globalization is a reality:  The nations on our planet, even our adversaries, are interconnected in multiple ways. That isn’t going to change, Trump’s policy-making notwithstanding. In this age of terrorism, cyber-warfare and cyber-theft, we are going to have to partner with many countries, giving and getting all the help that we can. Trump’s drift into isolationism runs counter to that present and future state of affairs.

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  1. Webster’s Ninth Collegiate Dictionary.
  2. My thanks to fellow traveler Elcy” to tweaked my memory relative to that history.
  3. See Ecclesiastes 1:19.
  4. The “imperfections” included no ban on Iran’s testing of ballistic missiles and no ban on that country’s support of terrorist organizations like Hamas and Hezbollah.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Deal or no-deal???

Having shredded the Iran nuclear agreement, and seeking to draw North Korea (NK) into something similar, we are about to find out just how good a negotiator, Trump is. What follows are separate resume’s of recent events involving each coupled with critical analyses.

The Iran Nuclear Agreement

In the interest of full disclosure, let’s first run down what we got and didn’t get in this arrangement negotiated by then-President Obama in concert with England, France and Germany.

The “gets”:  Iran agreed to stop its enrichment and production of weapons-grade uranium, and to allow on-site inspections to insure compliance. Additionally, the agreement was subject to renewal every 90-days, contingent upon favorable reports from the on-site inspectors. The agreement was to have a 10-year life. Finally, four prisoners held by Iran for different periods of time, were set free.

The “didn’t gets”:  No effort was made to prohibit Iran’s support of such terrorist organizations as Hamas and Hezbollah. Nor was there a prohibition of Iran’s desire to continue to test ballistic missiles, ostensibly only for defensive purposes. (1) Lastly, the US surrendered possession of well over a billion dollars of Iranian money (2) that we had confiscated in retaliation for their seizing our embassy and hostage-taking back in November 1979.

Trump gets involved:  When campaigning, candidate-Trump described the Iran deal as the “worst” and vowed, if elected, to re-negotiate it on terms more favorable to the US. If that proved impossible, then the agreement would be ended. As we now know, President Trump took the latter step in just the last few days, doing so in spite of pleas from the aforementioned allies to leave the deal in place while attempting to forge a better one (3). What is more, Trump is now in the process of slapping a new and harsher set of sanctions against Iran in an attempt to force that country to the (re-)negotiating table.

The aftermath:  Iran, along with our allies, seem intent on finding ways to keep the original agreement alive, though perhaps with some “tweaks” to it here and there. This plan will run headlong into 45’s commitment to apply the new, tougher sanctions, not just to Iran, but to any entity or country that does business with it. The odds are good that this broadening of the sanctions will put US policy at odds with some of our closest friends. In that case, the real  beneficiary of this clash will be Vladimir Putin who has as one of his principal goals, the widening of fissures between the US and our European allies. Such an outcome would deepen the suspicion that Trump is, for reasons presently unknown, beholden to Putin and thus, willing to make policy decisions that are in that tyrant’s nefarious interests.

The Trump – NK Summit

What has been happening on the Korean peninsula is no small matter:  The North and the South have agreed to bilateral negotiations to end the hostilities and estrangement that came out of the armistice that ended the Korean war. The leaders of the two countries have met, and in a symbolic gesture, walked back and forth across the Demilitarized Zone that has separated the two nations. Of even greater consequence, NK has agreed to a summit wherein it would be willing to negotiate denuclearization. To that end, they are already in the process of dismantling their nuclear test site. (4).

   Caveat Emptor (buyer beware):  What is to be made of this sudden agreeableness on the part of NK, after almost 70 years of belligerence and multiple broken promises to other US presidents? Is NK ready to join the community of nations, and enter the 21st century? Or, is there the belief that Trump can be “played” so that he gives up much but gets little in return? We may be starting to get the answer.

   Pulling back:  NK has now said that it will back out of the planned summit unless there is an end to joint South Korea/US airborne military exercises that are viewed as “hostile”, US claims that they are for defensive purposes only, notwithstanding.

In view of this NK “about-face”, what are Trump’s options? He can:  (1) simply say “no deal” and walk away from the summit; (2) comply and end the maneuvers; or (3) find some “middle ground”, e.g. the exercises are down-sized to NK’s satisfaction.

To the extent that anyone can accurately predict 45’s behavior, it is hard to imagine him just walking away. With his own words, he has hyped the summit and his role in making it possible. How could he possibly ever turn his back on a world-shaping outcome that has already generated talk of his being nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize?

We are definitely in “stay tuned” territory.

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  1. Iran has very recently broken with at least the spirit of the agreement by firing missiles into Israeli territory.
  2.  As stated, the money returned was Iran’s, contrary to right-wing claims that it was taken from US taxpayers.
  3. Remember your parents’ wisdom; i.e. “Don’t quit your present job until you have another one locked up”? Same logic applies here.
  4. On the face of it, NK’s announcement that it would dismantle its’ nuclear test site seems like a very positive step forward. In reality, it is far less. That is because the site, due to extensive overuse, has become so unstable as to be rendered valueless. In other words, the NK announcement is an empty gesture.

 

 

 

 

 

Past as Prologue

Preamble

Was Trump’s very recent shredding of the nuclear agreement with Iran, simply the act of a man who loves to flex his muscles and keep a campaign promise? Or, is there more to this latest development? As will be presented next, there is a lot more. In fact, one Hell of a lot more.

1997 – Post 9-11

In 1997, a neoconservative think tank called the  “Project for a New American Century”  (PNAC) was established in Washington, D.C. At its’ core was the belief that the coming 100 years should be shaped by the exercise of US power and certainly, in our best interests. This was seen as requiring an aggressive foreign policy that included diplomacy as well as military intervention whenever that was deemed necessary. By one of those means and/or the other, the result would be a Pax Americana.

In the two years that preceded the 2000 election of GW Bush, members of the PNAC began a concerted effort to make regime change in Iraq central to US foreign policy. They pressured then-President Bill Clinton to embrace such a stance which he ultimately did. So, “the table was set”, so to speak for what would eventually follow.

In 2000 the PNAC came forth with a manifesto entitled “Creating Tomorrow’s Dominant Force”. Achieving that goal would require the use of all the levers of US power, including military might. As the authors of this screed stated:

“…the process of transformation (of Iraq and the Middle East), even if it brings revolutionary change, is likely to be a long one, absent some catastrophic catalyzing event – like a new Pearl Harbor”.

This was the mindset of approximately 10 PNAC participants who found their way into the inner circle of newly elected President  GW Bush’s White House. Not only did they have the new president’s ear; they were also armed with the support of the previous president (see above) for regime change in Iraq. As Paul O’Neill, Bush’s first Secretary of the Treasury said, regime change in Iraq attained primacy right from the start.

And then came….

The attacks of 9-11

This is where you pause and go back and re-read the inserted bold-face quotation from the PNAC Manifesto. Were the attacks the “Pearl Harbor”; the “catastrophic” event that would galvanize US public support for military action? (1) Whether or not you take that view, there is no question that the pretext for force intervention was now present. To make Iraq the target of such action would require a “sales job” of what, much later, came to be understood as involving substantial lying, misdirection, and the cherry-picking of intelligence to make it work (2). But, it did and the result was a misbegotten war, the spilling of extraordinary amounts of American blood and treasure and a destabilization of Iraq and on a broader scale, the Middle East.

The here and now

The forgoing background was provided to set forth the premise that the “Past is Prologue” to what is currently going on. Trump’s decimation of the Iran Nuke agreement comes with his belief that he can, using tougher sanctions, force Iran back to the bargaining table where a better deal would be crafted. But, it also comes with the threat that Iran would feel liberated to resume its production of enriched uranium for bomb-making and full nuclearization. It requires no stretch of the imagination to see that as a potential rationale for a forceful military response by us. In that case, we would be returning to the  PNAC playbook and that comes with the recognition that some of its’ participants remain influential in directing US foreign policy. The most notable among such individuals is the new National Security Advisor, John Bolton.

End Notes

At a time when his presidency is all but consumed by the Stormy Daniels scandal and SP Mueller’s Russia meddling probe, 45 has started us down a path that is fraught with peril. Just 24 hours before the first word in this blog was typed, Iran launched a missile attack against Israel, our closest ally in the Middle East. The Israelis retaliated by bombing several Iranian installations in Syria. How Trump and our original European partners in the nuke agreement respond is going to be critical and deserving of our full attention.

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  1. The bold-face statement became so controversial that it was scrubbed from the PNAC web site.
  2.  See Frank Rich’s “The Greatest Story Ever Sold”. New York:  Penguin Books, 2006.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Calculating the costs

Etched in a limestone statue that sits outside our Department of Justice, there is this:  “Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty”. That statement has been attributed to various speakers and authors, dating all the way back to 1790. Variants of it have been generated through the decades. However, the first person to make that statement is far less important than the message it sends to us which has never been more relevant than it is today.

That our liberty and democracy are inextricably bound together isn’t even arguable. Their health and well-being  are mutually interdependent; to protect one is to protect the other; to endanger one is to compromise the other.

Just as was true back in the earliest days of the founding of our republic, citizens depended on various sources of news in the exercise of their own due diligence or should we say vigilance. Fast-forward to today and our 24/7 news cycle. It is constantly bringing us what could fairly be characterized as a blizzard of media reports that have embedded within them, facts, informed and uninformed opinions and unfortunately, outright lies. Sorting through all of this to separate the wheat from the chaff  and the credible from the incredulous is a daunting task. That is especially true if you are managing a full-time job as well as taking care of yourself and those closest to you. Where is the time? But, the truth is, we have to find it because that is the cost of our liberty. That is the cost of our practice of vigilance.

But, what if the news (broadly speaking) brings us the same message over and over again? A classic case in point is the president’s serial lying which many members of the media (1)  believe they are obligated to report. There is the danger that this repetition is generating ennui, a sort of “Oh that again” blah reaction. If you find yourself drifting in that direction, put on the brakes and recover your vigilance. All lies matter, big or small, and big ones matter a lot, whether they pertain to national policy or an extra-marital affair with or without “hush money” payments.

The maintenance of vigilance is critical when it comes to keeping track of what is happening to the twin pillars of our democracy; i.e. our civility and respect for the rule of law. Both have been under attack almost from the day that Donald J. Trump stepped into the White House. His name-calling, abrasive language, and divisive rhetoric have not just degraded civil discourse, but served as a carte blanche for folks on both the left and the right to emulate him (2). Even worse, Trump’s spurious and often fact-free based assault on the Justice Department, the FBI and the Mueller investigation has driven disrespect for the rule of law to historic lows.

What is stunning is how many people either do not see what is happening or choose to downplay it. They have directed a singular focus onto the economy, e.g. the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the level of unemployment and other key economic indicators. In simple terms, their argument is that Trump’s policies are working so nothing else really matters. Anyone who holds exclusively to that mindset has no real understanding of what has bound us together for almost 250 years and what is in danger now, their claims of patriotism and being “real Americans” to the contrary.

It hardly need be said that the Trump presidency will end no later than 2024. The pressing question is “Will Trumpism leave office with him?” It had better or his time in office may well be regarded by historians as the period when our democracy lost its’ moorings and began an inextricable drift into disintegration.

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  1. There are conservative news outlets that either gloss over Trump’s repeated lying or find some excuse for it; e.g. “it happened before he was elected”.
  2. If you dare to get a sample of the political vitriol that is present today, Google “AOL Politics” and find your way to the “Comments” section that follows each news story that has been posted at that site.

April 30, 2018: Talk about “News” !!!

Frankly, in the “Age of Trump”, it’s getting harder and harder to keep up. Where we began to settle in with a crisis a week, we are now into multiples. What follows is a recap of what went down yesterday. (1)

Item:  Michael Avenatti, attorney for porn star, Stormy Daniels, has filed a law suit against Trump, alleging that the president defamed his client, casting her as a liar. (2) This legal action arose out of a Tweet by 45, accusing Daniels of perpetrating a “con job”, referring to her attempt to identify a man who threatened her in a Las Vegas parking lot.

That Trump, who is already in legal jeopardy viz a viz Daniels, would Tweet as he did, is likely a product of his obsessive devotion to zero-sum-game playing; i.e. in an adversarial relationship, he must win every point, or at the last, deny his opponent one.

Now, being a fighter can be an admirable trait. But, at times, it has to be leavened with a recognition that some tiffs are either not worth having, or may produce unintended consequences as in the present case. Any 71 year old with a level of maturity that matches his age and some “street smarts” has learned that lesson. Which brings us to our next…

Item:  Around 3 PM EST, NBC News broke the story that multiple White House staffers had gone on the record as claiming that Chief of Staff, Gen. John Kelly (US Marine Corps, retired), had repeatedly referred to the president as “an idiot”, and to himself as the person who was “saving the US from disaster”. (3)

Certainly, a man of Kelly’s education could have found more polite terms to refer to 45’s intellect; e.g. “incurious…under-worked…lacking depth”. But, perhaps seeking to practice an economy of language, Kelley may have decided that “idiot” was not only sufficient, but covered the needed “territory”.

The Chief of Staff has denied the NBC report referring to it as “BS”. But, the reporters who are responsible for the story are standing by it, and have a solid track record when it comes to getting things right, especially in their coverage of all things Trump.

What all this foretells of Kelley’s future as 45’s major domo points to his being sent packing. The president cannot abide disloyalty and he has recently been said to chafe under Kelley’s discipline. There had already been talk of the Chief being moved laterally into the Head of the VA so as to create a “soft landing” for him. Now, the “idiot” sobriquet makes even that sort of gracious exit unlikely.

Item:  The evening’s political talk shows had to scramble to cover a late-breaking story posted by the New York Times. This article laid out a series of 49 questions that Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller intends to pose to 45. (4) Each query was surely generated by evidence and testimony that Mueller already has in his possession but that Trump can only guess at. (5) What is more, every question is broad enough to allow for a range of follow-up probing. Taken altogether, these questions, which seem focused on obstruction of justice,  are a veritable Pandora’s Box and it is not surprising that one of 45’s previous lawyers, John Dowd, warned him to avoid testifying if at all possible. Of course, in reality, it isn’t! If the Special Prosecutor chooses to, he can subpoena Trump and put him under oath. If that were to actually happen, the president would be faced with the options of repeatedly pleading his 5th Amendment rights, or claiming profound memory loss. Both choices are tantamount to committing political suicide. The only other option would be to respond fully and truthfully to every inquiry. Were that choice to be made and acted upon, it would fly in the face of Trump’s long history of serial lying, dissembling and word salad production.

End Notes:  Mueller’s four-plus dozen questions are essentially a road map to follow in what is sure to emerge as an obstruction of justice case. Is that then the be all and end all of the investigation? The bet here is that matters won’t end there. The SP has yet to conclude his probing of money laundering, bank fraud, income tax evasion and conspiracy with Russian entities to corrupt the 2016 election.

What follows on the heels of the 49 queries may prove to be an inflection point that signals our proximity to the end of this now year-long investigation. But, you better stay tuned because the chances are very good that there is a lot more – a whole lot more – to come.

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  1. The items have not been presented in their real chronological order. In actuality, the “idiot” item was followed by the defamation item, and then the item involving the 49 questions.
  2. CNN; “Stormy Daniels files defamation lawsuit against Trump”. April 30, 2018. By Sara Sidner, MJ Lee, Javier De Diego and Maeve Reston.
  3. NBC News; “Kelly thinks he’s saving U.S. from disaster, calls Trump ‘idiot’ ” April 30, 2018. By Carol E. Lee, Courtney Kube, Kristen Welker, and Stephanie Ruhle.
  4. New York Times; “Mueller Has Dozens of Inquiries for Trump in Broad Questions on Russia Ties and Obstruction”. April 30, 2018; Michael Schmidt.
  5. When interrogating a witness,  lawyers learn to never ask a question for which you don’t already know the answer.

 

 

The “overlap”

First, start with a circle that includes within it Stormy Daniels, Trump and his “fixer” Michael Cohen. There are now real questions about where the latter got the $130,000. that he used to buy the porn queen’s silence. Did it involve bank fraud, money laundering and/or a breaking of campaign finance rules? These are legitimate questions and there are qualified, credentialed people out looking for evidence-based answers.

Second,  think of another circle populated by a much larger collection of people including Trump, Cohen, Flynn, Page, Manafort, Gates, Trump, Jr. Kushner and Papadopolous. Did any of these people interact with Russian entities in illegal ways that helped to swing the election to Trump? Special Prosecutor Mueller remains steadfast in his pursuit of the answer to that critical question.

Now, imagine our two circles, side-by-side. Slide them towards one another in your mind until they partially overlap, thus creating what has long been known as a Venn Diagram. That done, ask yourself “Who ‘resides’ within the space created by the overlap?” The answer is Trump and Cohen and that isn’t even arguable.

This overlap raises the possibility that with Cohen a player in both the Daniels and Trump/Russia stories, there may eventually be a real merging where criminality in one bleeds into the other. For example, If Cohen acted illegally in both, and his crime(s) inured to Trump’s benefit, and this nexus can be proven, then that is going to leave 45 exposed to the severest of penalties, including impeachment and even jail time.

At present, Cohen has yet to be proven to have acted illegal and there is certainly no evidence that the aforementioned “nexus” exists. So, for the time being, keep those two circles separate while tracking any new developments within each one of them. And as those developments occur, watch to see if they don’t move the two circles closer together until the evidence makes their overlap a certainty. If and when that happens, the legal pressure on Cohen is going to be enormous to the point where, to save his own skin, he becomes a cooperating witness. That, along with a great deal more, would spell the end of the Trump presidency.