What’s next?

Prologue

“What’s next?” That question will be answered, at least in speculative terms, at the end of this blog. But first, it is important to examine in some detail the series of events that lead to the begging of this query. Note that no attempt has been made to put these events in chronological order. What is crucial is the recognition that all of them have taken place since Trump became the GOP’s nominee for president.

Retreat, accommodation and weakness

In June 2016, just before the Republican national convention, Paul Manafort took over as head of Trump’s campaign. At the time, little attention was being paid to the new honcho’s questionable history of work in the Ukraine for the corrupt then-pro-Russian government that was in place.

Trump accepts the nomination but only thereafter do we learn that the GOP’s election platform had been stripped of a commitment to arm the pro-Western/anti-Communist forces in the Ukraine. This must be seen as a consequential pro-Russia shift since it had troops fighting in eastern Ukraine against the new, democratically elected government of its neighboring country. Where did this retreat come from; a Manafort-Trump connection?

Trump now proceeds to campaign for election. In the process, he repeatedly heaps lavish, fawning praise on Russian president Vladimir Putin. The former’s history of murder, and tyranny against his own people seem lost on the nominee.

Trump’s election on November 9, 2016 is followed about two months’ later on January 6, 2017, by a report from our Intel community detailing how Russia, with a heavy controlling hand by Putin, meddled in our election with the intent of helping Trump win office. How does the new president react to this information and how does he move forward viz a viz Russia and Putin?

Our first inkling comes when we learn that in an Oval Office meeting with Russian diplomats Lavrov and Kislyak, 45 impulsively blurts out an Israeli state secret. This is followed up by his travel to Germany for the G-20 conference where he goes one-on-one with Putin.

In a two-hour talk with the Russian ruler, 45 refuses to aggressively confront his counterpart with the Intel community’s findings. Rather than taking an “How dare you” stance, Trump meekly asks “Did you do it?” Not only did this signal weakness; it implicitly reflected Trump’s still ongoing unwillingness to accept what our intelligence people had discovered. In turn, that fed a counter-narrative making the rounds among 45’s most rabid supporters that agencies of our government cannot be trusted.

Before the G-20 meeting ended, Trump held at least one other intimate conversation with Putin. Estimates are that this confab lasted for about an hour. 45 claims less. Initially, he writes off this tete-a-tete as about nothing but “pleasantries” only to end by saying that it was about “adoptions “. Innocent as this may sound, it needs to be understood that Putin ended American citizens’ adoption of Russian orphans as payback for our imposing on his country, sanctions within the context of the Magnitsky Act; named after a Russian anti-Putin agitator who was beaten to death. Therefore, any talk about “adoptions” is tantamount to discussing the aforementioned legislation and sanctions.

Back home, Trump’s acquiescence to Putin raises its’ head again. This time, it comes in the form of 45’s announcement that he is ending US support for the pro-Western/anti-Assad forces in Syria. This news must have caused glasses to be raised in the Kremlin since Russia has been propping up Assad for years. Trump has now made it easier for Putin to keep the Syrian dictator afloat.

End notes

Before leaving office, President Obama seized two Russian compounds in New York and Maryland as part of a broader regimen of sanctions against Russia for its interference in our election. Given the uninterrupted pattern of retreat, accommodation and weakness exhibited by Trump for what is now a full year, the prediction here is that Trump will gin up some rationale for giving those properties back to Putin. 

If that “hand-back” takes place, it will only serve to reinforce the growing belief that 45 is colluding with Russia/Putin, either as a willing partner or an unwitting one. There is also the possibility that Trump is being blackmailed into behaving as he has. We have to hope that Special Prosecutor Mueller will unravel all this for us in a way that is so credible that our nation comes together and accepts his findings.      

 

 

 

 

Some more of “This and That”

Prologue

What follows are two informative stories that have been overshadowed by all the sensationalized news related in one way or another to the Russia -> Trump emerging scandal.

He did “nothing” !

Once Russia’s meddling in our election surfaced, it was followed in short order by the suspicion that Trump had been colluding with our foreign adversary in the interest of getting himself elected. Conservatives were quick to spin this line of thinking into an “It’s Obama’s fault” narrative. Specifically, since Obama, who was president at the time, failed to take action against the Russian interference, he was the “colluder”, not Trump. This counter-story was advanced with the trope “He (Obama) did nothing”. Trump picked this up and is still using it.

To say that Obama did “nothing” is to make a categorical statement that leaves no room for contradictory facts or even a discussion of why the former president acted as he did. But, as a matter of record, here is what Obama did do. He:  (1) imposed tougher sanctions against Russia, over and above the ones previously levied because of Russian annexation of Crimea; (2) expelled 35 Russian “diplomats” from the US; and (3) confiscated two Russian compounds on Maryland’s eastern shore.

To claim that Obama did “nothing” simply does not stand up in the face of the just-cited evidence. One could make the argument that he didn’t act soon enough and/or didn’t do enough, all the way to going public with the intelligence that the Russians were working to get Trump elected. To raise these sorts of objections allows for a discussion of why the former president acted in the limited way that he did.

At the outset of any such presentation it must be remembered that Trump had already voiced his claim that the coming election was “rigged”. Had Obama gone public with the Intel  community’s assessment that the Russians were out to help Trump, that news, no matter how factual, would have played right into the charge that candidate Trump was advancing. It is no stretch to imagine that Obama feared that by going public he would have been accused of putting his “thumb” on the electoral scale in HRC’s favor. Trusting that she would win the election, he chose to remain silent about the Russian meddling, taking only the limited steps cited above. It was a calculated risk that obviously, did not pay off., but he had no good choices. That the Russians did interfere is now beyond question. We will likely never know if their conniving affected even one vote.

Time-lines matter

Earlier today on NBC’s “Meet the Press” show, Doris Kearns Godwin, a noted US historian, spoke of how time-lines matter; how real events in close proximity of one another raise legitimate questions about cause and effect, even legality.  It is then left up to investigative journalists and/or law enforcement to discover if any such linkage does exist. With that context in mind, review the time-line that follows.

On June 3, 2016, Trump, Jr. gets an e-mail from a man named Goldstone who has Russian connections. Would fils Trump be interested in a meeting during which he would be provided with “highly sensitive” information describing nefarious interactions between HRC and Russia, this coming his way owing to Russia’s interest in seeing pater Trump elected president? Jr. responds “I would love it”. A convening was arranged and did in fact take place in Jr’s. 25th floor office in Trump Tower.

On June 7, 2016, candidate Trump secures the GOP presidential nomination. In a speech that same day, he teases his audience with the promise of a “major” speech which will detail some “very interesting” information on HRC’s behavior. This expose’ would be forthcoming within the next few days he intoned.

Look at the contents of the preceding two paragraphs:  Is it implausible to speculate that Jr. told his father about the coming information damaging to HRC, and that it would be available once the scheduled meeting took place? If “no”, why would nominee Trump make such a pledge to his supporters? Was he just “riffing” as he is wont to do? Or, was there a basis grounded in previous events that led him to speak as he did?

What we are faced with here is the critical distinction between coincidence and actual cause and effect. The time-line just cited has already caught the attention of ranking members of the House and Senate Intelligence Committees, and it could not have gone unnoticed by Special Prosecutor Mueller. Sooner or later, Trump, Jr. is going to be forced to testify under oath to all three.

Stay tuned; this is going to get even more riveting.

The less obvious motive

Prologue

Why did Donald Trump, Jr. (hereafter referred to as simply Jr.) take that highly questionable meeting with a representative of the Russian government? The obvious answer is to collect some “dirt” on HRC that he could pass on to his dad for use in both the ongoing primary campaign and eventually, the general election, assuming Trump the elder won the GOP nomination. Within that context, such a motive is easily discerned.

However, if there is one thing you can bank on, it is that human behavior is rarely driven by a single force or stimulus. So, we turn next to some Trump family history to see if we can find therein, what else might have given impetus to Jr.’s Russian “hook-up” in June 2016 that has become a bombshell revelation.

Family feud (1)

In 1989, Trump, Sr., then married to Ivana, began a thinly disguised extra-marital affair with a beauty contest winner named Marla Maples. This was no one-nighter and soon became the titillating stuff of tabloid news. As best that can be gathered, Jr. was age 10 years at the time the liaison started. By 1991 when his mother finally filed for divorce he was 12.

Jr. did not take this well at all. Embittered by his father’s selfishness and callous treatment of mother Ivana, Jr. stopped talking to his dad. This estrangement lasted for about a year. This was followed by a years-long period of father and son coming back together though, at the time, there was no way of knowing if bitterness on the part of either party lingered on.

Jr. entered college, matriculating at the University of Pennsylvania. During his time there, he gained the reputation as a roaring drunk, collecting the sobriquet of “diaper Don” due to the frequency with which he passed out on someone else’s bed and soon lost control of his bladder.

At one point, father and son made a date to attend a Yankees’ baseball game together. Eager to get a glimpse of the real estate mogul, Jr.’s roommate and several cohorts clustered near the door of Jr. room. They were in plain view when the elder arrived, to be greeted by his son wearing a Yankee jersey. What then transpired was posted on Facebook by the roommate, Scott Melker (2):  Seeing Jr. so casually attired, Trump slapped him across the face so hard that he knocked his progeny to the floor, then issued the directive “Get into a suit and meet me downstairs”, and walked off (3).

So?

It would hardly be surprising to find that this sort of dysfunction has played out in any number of families. So, we ought not to chalk up elder’s decking of jr. as unusual. But, the point here is that we are looking for a second and more obscure motive for Jr.’s behavior viz-a-viz the Russians (see above). The speculation now offered  is that it had a lot to do with getting back in daddy’s good graces and elevating himself in the hierarchy of siblings. In that regard, it is interesting that in Trump Tower, the offices of the elder and daughter Ivanka are both on the 26th floor whereas Jr. has occupancy of an office on the 25th.

End note

Given all of the dark clouds that hang over the Trump presidency, the foregoing history easily qualifies as inconsequential. But, it does tell us something about how the Trump family operates, and in particular about the decided lack of impulse control exhibited by 45; something we have witnessed over and over again with his tweets.

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  1. Some of this history has been reported in various print media. Other parts were fleshed out by author Tim O’Brien in his book TrumpNation:  The Art of Being Donald Trump. Published in 2005 by Warner Books.
  2. Anyone interested in reading Melker’s account can access it by Googling “Facebook Trump Jr. Melker.”
  3.  It is well within the elder’s character to hold a grudge and to allow it to impel his behavior, even years later.

If only…

President Putin, before our attention can be focused else, there is an overriding issue that I intend to address in the most forceful way:  I have been thoroughly briefed by our Intelligence community and its members have spoken to me with one voice; you sir are directly responsible for directing your operatives to meddle in our last national election and they did so in ways that are too numerous mention. You can choose to deny all this, but it will do no good.

In response to your dangerous involvement, President Obama increased the sanctions on your country, expelled 35 so-called Russian “diplomats”, and seized back two of your enclaves in Virginia (1). As we speak, the US Senate is crafting a new and tougher set of sanctions that will be superimposed on the existing ones. None of that is going to change as a result of our meeting now, and that includes assurances you might give me about the future.

What I am sharing with you are not just my words; they are the sentiments of the vast majority of the American people. As their leader, I stand resolutely with them. If you or anyone in your employ, whether Russian or not, undertakes anything similar in the future, the sanctions against you will only get worse and we will find our own ways of retaliating.

Now, there are serious issues that need to be addressed; Syria, ISIS and North Korea to name just a few. We can seek common ground, but you have a great deal of trust that you must rebuild if we are to make any progress in solving those and other problems. We will not just be watching; we will be vigilant and ready to act should you choose to ignore what I have said to you today. 

**  If only we had a president who would have made such a statement yesterday during his meeting with President Putin. Unfortunately, no stenographer or note-taker was present as the two leaders spoke. So, we are left to make educated guesses about what Trump said, based on his past utterances and what Secretary of State Tillerson offered in his synopsis of what transpired.

+ 45 has never issued a full-throated acceptance of the major findings of our Intelligence community. Rather, he has ranged from flat-out denial (“a hoax…fake new”) to equivocation (“Maybe it was Russia…”).  There is absolutely no reason to believe that he retreated from his history of denial and/or mealy mouthing. In fact, according to Tillerson, his boss would only allow that he was bringing this matter up on behalf of “the American people”, not as something over which he too was deeply distressed.

+ Tillerson, speaking on Trump’s behalf, said that the president had “pressed” the issue of Russian interference in his dialogue with Putin. What exactly does “pressed” mean? Was there a confrontation, a stern rebuke, a demand that the meddling stop? We are unlikely to ever know. But, there is no reason to believe that anything that pointed was involved in Trump “pressing” Putin.

+ In the absence of any record to the contrary, we must leave open the possibility that 45 is prepared to put the Russian meddling in his rear view mirror and simply move on. He apparently made no concessions to Russia, but may have left them on the table.

+ Russian representative Lavrov claimed, after the meeting, that Trump had accepted Putin’s denial of any responsibility for the meddling. Trump’s spokespeople say nothing like that happened. Again, we are stuck without a record of what really transpired.

End notes

For decades through Republican and Democrat presidencies, we rarely had difficulty in choosing who to believe; our leader or an adversary?  Now, we must decide between a man with a long history of serial lying and another individual who would do us harm.

As the Commander-in-Chief of the aggrieved country and armed with the evidence from our Intelligence community, Trump could have gone into his meeting with Putin from a position of both strength and moral superiority. Instead, he gave that all away and spent over two hours in an exchange with Putin as his equal; something he and we most certainly did not owe the Russian dictator. At the moment, it is hard to decide if 45 is just feckless, or has some grandiose plan which he thinks that he and Putin can effectuate together. The latter is the stuff of geopolitical fantasies that Putin will nourish in the hope that by doing so, he can play Trump and bend him to his will.

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  1. Those actions, taken by then-President Obama fly in the face of conservatives’ claim that upon learning of the Russian meddling, he did “nothing”.

 

Erratum

In the last blog posted at this site, there were erroneous references to “Paul Manaford”. The proper reference should have been to “Paul Manafort”. The lapses were mine and cannot be dismissed as typos.

Playing Nostradamus: Trump and impeachment

If the name “Nostradamus” doesn’t evoke memories of what you might have learned studying 15th century history,  he was a French physician who, in 1555 published Les Prophesies. This book contained a number of predictions about the future, many of which were later deemed to be quite accurate. That led to the good doctor’s forecasting ability becoming legend, something that has followed him to this day even though analyses of his bon mots hundreds of years later strongly suggested that they were not as “spot on” as originally believed.  All this is offered to provide some insight into the title of this blog with emphasis added here to the word “playing”. Take what follows for whatever you think it’s worth, or alternatively, with a heavy dose of Valium.

History as prologue

In our lifetime, there have been two attempts to remove a president from office through the impeachment process. They provide an interesting and informative study in contrasts:  Bill Clinton’s travails were based on his lying under oath about an extramarital affair and then obstructing justice to prevent his paying the price for both the dalliance and deceit. Note that the affair itself did not involve treasonous behavior or “high crimes” against our nation.

Now, hold that up against what Nixon did:  He was caught lying and obstructing justice over an attempt to subvert our democratic election process, then paying off the culprits who were involved and planning to use the powers of the presidency to thwart the investigation into all this.

While Clinton’s behavior was not found to rise to a level where it was appropriate to remove him from office, Nixon’s did. Faced with that prospect and the two-thirds majority vote needed, Nixon resigned.

It is noteworthy that from the June 17, 1972 break-in at the Watergate complex to the August 8, 1974 date of Nixon’s resignation, 782 days passed!! Simply put, the case against the shamed former president did materialize overnight. It had to be built on carefully gathered evidence. That is the process that Special Prosecutor (SP) Robert Mueller is now engaged in vis-a-vis any potentially impeachable offense(s) by Trump and/or criminal behavior by a small group of his closest associates. So, while it took over two years to catch Nixon, Mueller is now barely a year into his probing of 45’s presidency. Thus, the prediction offered here is:  Do not look for this to be over any time soon; not even by the time of the 2018 midterm election. 

Trump’s alleged crimes

What started out as a possible case of Trump colluding with Russia in its’ meddling in our election, has now expanded into the potential obstruction of justice by 45 as he sought to put an end to the former by firing FBI Director James Comey, and then asking National Security Advisor Dan Coates and Director of National Security Adm. Mike Rogers to go public with a statement absolving Trump of collusion.

On superficial examination, the contents of the preceding paragraph look like obstruction on its face. But, in order to make such a charge stick, the SP has the legal burden of proving criminal intent on Trump’s part. That’s a tricky bit of business because “intent” is a synonym for “motives” which are private and thus, not patently evident to observers. You either have to catch the “obstructor” red-handed or be able to prove a clear and unambiguous pattern of obstruction.

Right now, based on what is public knowledge, the obstruction case against 45 is what a lawyer might well call a “thin beef”. The prediction here is that Mueller won’t go forward with an obstruction charge unless he has collected and is holding back more evidence that fits the aforementioned pattern.

That leaves us with the possible charge of collusion. Thus far, the evidence supporting such an allegation is meager and tissue-thin. Such being the present case, the odds are slim that Trump acted as a witting accomplice in helping Russians with their meddling. But, 45 could have been an unwitting confederate of the Russians by supporting Russian initiatives like its incursion into eastern Ukraine and/or the annexation of Crimea. The prediction here is that the SP will find it impossible to build a substantive case for witting collusion. Unwitting collusion is a prospect with better but still rather long odds.

Trump’s associates

Here we are referring to Michael Flynn, Paul Manaford, Carter Page, Roger Stone, Jared Kushner and Paul Manaford. All have been cited in at least one previous blog posted at this site. The prediction here is that one of them and possibly two (Flynn and Kushner) will be charged with the relative minor crime of failing to report contacts with foreign entities as required when they sought security clearance. As for the rest, the prediction is that Page will be cited as an unwitting Russian collaborator, but Stone a witting one. Lastly, there is Manaford who, it is predicted, will be charged with money laundering and fraud.

End notes

As noted early on in this blog, do not expect all of this to be unraveled in short order. Some of it may turn out to be a “dry hole”. But, the view held here is that there are just too many “coincidences” for there to be nothing criminal going on. That said, don’t go out and bet the ranch on any of this. Take the bucks you save to buy some popcorn so you can sit back and watch all this drama unfold as it surely will over the next many months.

 

 

 

 

 

The road to Trumpcare with a stop at Conservative hypocrisy along the way

Prologue

As has been noted at this site more than once, conservatives spent the past eight years, damning Obamacare (ACA) and vowing to repeal and replace it. No one has been more vociferous in such pronouncements than Trump who even bragged that the repeal and replace would be “easy” and therefore, something done promptly. The lot of them were going to produce a piece of  legislation that would provide better and more affordable healthcare than Obamacare ever could. So, on its face, this wasn’t about ideology; it was  all about doing better for the American people. Congressional Republicans were going to prove that they could get things done and actually govern.

And so far?

To date, what we witnessed was a sharp division among House Republicans with ideology at the heart of the split: The ultra-conservative Freedom Caucus pushed hard to make the healthcare bill being drafted more conservative with deeper cuts to Medicare/Medicaid  and a repeal of capital gains taxes that were part of the ACA. Moderate Republicans were not inclined to go along with those types of changes. In the end, Speaker Ryan and the people tasked with preparing the bill for a vote, tried to appease both sides to the real satisfaction of no one. As a result, the House bill was eventually passed by a slim, one-vote margin. 45 praised this outcome, giving the bill his blessing before several days later describing it as “mean”, probably because it would have a negative impact on 23 million people.

On to the Senate

The legislation that passed out of the House then went to the Senate where it was initially labelled dead on arrival with some Republican senators declaring they would craft their own bill. Of course, they never really did that. What did happen was that the Senate made some relatively small changes in what came over from the House. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, believed he could get it passed with minimum debate and a quick, supportive vote.

That isn’t going to happen; at least not until after the coming July 4th holiday. Why? Because the same division present in the House (see above) surfaced in the Senate:  A group of four GOP senators were, like the members of the aforementioned Freedom Caucus, pushing to make the Senate’s bill more conservative. Moderates were having none of it with the result that even a simple 51-vote majority (1) was out of reach.

What was this all about, really?

To the extent that it is possible to validly infer motive from behavior, one could easily conclude that congressional Republicans, not to mention Trump, were hellbent on keeping their repeal/replace promise. If they had ever stopped to estimate how hard that was going to be, they might have issued fewer gilt-edged guarantees. Moreover, they would have sought to do the greatest good for the greatest number rather than placating their grass-roots base that represents about 38% of the total electorate, and who salivate over having every shred of Obama’s legacy erased from the record books.

And then there is this

Remember the “individual mandate” that was part of Obamacare? Conservatives turned this into an assault on individual freedom; i.e. the government was going to force you against your will to buy health insurance. Millions of people saw things that way, viewed it as terribly unamerican, and voted accordingly.

Of course, this line of thinking and acting works only if one disregards the fact that in state after state, citizens are compelled to buy car insurance under threat of being fined if they do not do so. Republican governors and state legislatures have lived with that law for years without a murmur of discontent or talk of robbing people of their right of choice. At the most basic and fundamental level, this is no different from the particulars in Obamacare’s individual mandate; i.e. it is all about taking personal responsibility for managing your own risks, whether they involve getting into an accident or getting sick and needing care (2). Look on this as conservative hypocrisy on full display.

Endnotes

With congressional Democrats sidelined because of their minority status, it’s going to remain for their Republican counterparts to thrash this out and come up with a bill that so effectively “threads the needle” that it can be reconciled to the satisfaction of both House and Senate Republicans, and gets sent to Trump for his signature.  If that doesn’t happen, 45 and the congressional GOP leadership may just elect to drop the matter, leave Obamacare in place and hope that it collapses which could indeed happen.

Do not expect to see the end of this any time soon; certainly not until well after July 4th. In the meantime, we have news about Russiagate to occupy us. To get back on that topic, watch for “Playing Nostradamus” to appear next at this site.

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  1. Since here are 100 seats in the US Senate, a majority can be attained with the vote of 51 senators, or in the case of a 50-50 tie, having that deadlock broken by the vote of the Vice President.
  2. My thanks to fellow traveler “Zeek” whose thinking and writing I have channeled here.

 

 

 

 

 

Blog extra: Trump’s misplaced loyalty

In the last 24+ hours, the Washington Post published an expose’ dealing with when the Obama Administration first learned of the Russian meddling in our election, the problems that information posed for the president, the divisions within his closest advisors (*) about what should be done, and what finally was done.

In August 2016, the Intelligence community sent Obama a top-secret (for your eyes only) document detailing Russian hacking and meddling in our forthcoming election, all with the intention of defeating HRC and electing Trump.  In possession of this knowledge, Obama faced a number of hard choices:  (1) respond with some sort of vigorous cyber attack aimed at Russia (+) or something more restrained; (2) how much to share with the public; and (3) how to go public without creating the impression that he was putting his “thumb on the scale” in favor of HRC in the forthcoming election.?

In the end, Obama chose to go with a muted response to the Russians while eventually publicly under-playing what was going on so as to avoid the aforementioned “thumb on the scale” problem. It could be likened to dancing on the head of a pin; Obama was boxed in.

The foregoing provides only the more relevant, basic essentials of what is a very complex matter. That said, we can now turn our attention to how 45 responded to all this.

Remember, once the story of Russian interference finally broke, Trump labelled it “a hoax (and) fake news”, a position he had maintained right up until the Washington Post’s expose’. But now, not only is he “all in” with the new revelations,  he wants the news media to abandon their coverage of what role he and/or his associates might have figured in the Russian meddling in favor of blaming Obama for his failure to stop the Russian activity.

How could 45 have responded? Here are his choices:  (1) remain silent; (2) acknowledge the tough choices that Obama had to make; (3) thank Obama for the care he exercised in not tilting the electoral playing field in HRC’s favor; (4) condemn Putin and the Russians; or (5) engage in a self-serving call for the media to lay off of him.

Anyone who has watched and listened to Trump over the last many months knows that choices #1 – 3 are all simply out of character for this man. He is incapable of remaining silent, empathizing, or expressing gratitude. As for #4, we continue to await 45 saying anything even mildly derogatory about Putin and the Russian meddling even as he finally admits that it actually happened and is not a “hoax”. That leaves choice #5 which is to say a no-brainer for 45.

What we have witnessed in Trump’s words, actions and inaction, is how misplaced his loyalties are and probably always have been. Self-absorption defines this individual far better than any of his other negative personal traits which have been the subject of earlier blogs posted at this site.  Trump’s loyalty is to Trump; nothing else really matters.

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*+ Among Obama’s closest advisors that wanted a robust response, one who was interviewed for the Post expose’ said “I think we sort of choked”. Other advisors who felt differently have thus far remained silent.

This and That

Prologue

Don’t be misled by the blog’s title. What will be dealt with here, is hardly trivial as in “this and that”. Rather, as “this and that” implies, a range of topics will be covered; all part of the mishegoss (1) that has become so much a part of our current national politics.

Trumpcare

Back in 2010, as the Affordable Healthcare Act (ACA, also called Obamacare) was moving towards enactment,  Republicans vowed that if given control of the Congress, they would immediately repeal and replace it. At every election from that point forward, the same promise was repeated over and over again. As he campaigned for the presidency, Trump got into the same act. He was going to get rid of the ACA on “day-1” of his tenure. In its place, there would be a new healthcare law that provided better coverage and “at a fraction” (45’s words) of what people were paying then.

We are now more than six months removed from all that lofty rhetoric. Here’s what has happened in that interim:  The GOP-control House passed with not a single vote to spare, a repeal/replacement now identified as the American Healthcare Act (AHCA). As mandated by the Constitution, that bill got sent to the GOP-controlled Senate for anywhere from fine-tuning to major amendments to outright rejection.

What has just emerged from the Senate is a “draft” that is a “meaner” version of the House bill; that is to say, it makes deeper cuts in Medicare and Medicaid, two programs whose benefits are enjoyed by millions of our citizens.; e.g. the disabled, children and women throughout their pregnancies culminating in delivery.

Because Republicans have only a 52 – 48 majority in the Senate, they cannot afford to lose the votes of three of their number. Yet, five GOP senators have now stated publicly they cannot support the bill in its present form. Another two have hedged a bit, saying that they had significant reservations about certain contents of the draft.

What all this amounts to is a giant headache for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. After eight years of promising to repeal and replace, he can’t afford to let this bill fail to pass. That means that he’s going to have to find ways to get at least three of the five dissenters on board. Expect that to involve some amendments to the present draft along with some very forceful arm-twisting. In the end, what may finally survive is a bill that has the short-term benefit of keeping the aforementioned promise, but is so toxic that it hurts GOP candidates over a longer term, i.e. at the time of the 2018 midterm election.

Trump’s tape bluff

Just prior to fired FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to the Senate’s Intelligence Committee, 45 tweeted that the witness had better hope that there weren’t tapes of a previous conversation that he had with him. It was during that previous talk that Comey alleged that Trump had asked him for both a pledge of loyalty and a killing of the investigation into Michael Flynn, a request that Comey refused to meet, that leading to his being fired. By axing Comey, 45 invited the claim that he was obstructing justice; potentially, an impeachable offense. Eventually, that led to the appointment of Special Prosecutor (SP), Robert Mueller.

Harking back to the tapes that sank the Nixon presidency over the Watergate scandal, the possible existence of a surreptitious recording of the Comey/Trump exchange ignited a news media blitz; i.e. maybe there’s proof of who’s telling the truth. Congressional investigative committees and certainly the SP wanted those tapes, assuming they existed. Accordingly, Trump was told to produce any records he had of his meeting with Comey. The president asked for time to comply and was given until June 23rd to do so.

On June 22nd, Trump announced that he had made no recording of his tete a tete with Comey. Clearly then, his hint that he might have, was a bluff. As 45 later admitted, it was designed to affect Comey’s behavior. Turns out, this is no small matter as will be discussed next.

By definition, a bluff is a lie; a statement that hints or claims the existence of something that is, in reality, nonexistent. It is issued to shape the behavior of another person; in this case, Comey. Knowing that he had no tape, Trump could have promptly stepped forward and come clean. But, notice that by leaving the bluff out there for 41 days, 45 was able to use each one of them in his effort to impact Comey’s behavior.

Surprise, surprise, there is a law against doing this sort of thing. It goes hand-in-hand with obstruction of justice. In the case of Trump, it fits neatly within a larger pattern. Specifically, (1) he is alleged to have tried to get Comey to kill the Russia/Flynn investigation; and (2) it is now known that 45 made a similar “ask” of National Security Advisor Dan Coats and Director of National Security, Mike Rogers.

Do not expect this matter to just go away !!!

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  1. “Mishegoss” is a Yiddish word, most popularly defined as “crazy”.

 

 

State of Play: The plot thickens

Prologue

Last week’s blog (“The Plot thickens; 6-10-17) sketched out the battle lines that were then draw, pitting Trump and his administration against Special Prosecutor (SP) Robert Mueller. Today’s publication advances that narrative as more recent events begin to delineate what is at stake and who is at risk.

Trump vs. Mueller

What has started to emerge is a case for obstruction of justice with 45 at its’ center:  The allegation is that the president fired FBI Director James Comey in an effort to impede or effectively kill the investigation of collusion between Trump’s administration and Russia to affect our 2016 election. Various legal minds have opined that there is already  sufficient prima facie evidence to haul 45 before a grand jury on a charge of obstruction. But such a scenario becomes academic since no president can be charged with a crime. The point then, is that Mueller’s case has already gathered strength and may grow stronger.

For his part, 45 has declared that the investigation of collusion is over so how can there possibly be any obstructing of a concluded matter? Of course, the probe of a cozy relationship between Trump and/or members of his administration and Russia is far from over much as Trump would like it to be.

Team Trump and Russia

If there is one of 45’s associates that is key to the collusion story, it’s former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. He had at least two known meetings with Russian officials and money changed hands. Whether legally or illegally has yet to be publicly documented.

Another possible player in the collusion story is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. He has already been caught lying under oath about contacts that he had with various Russians, and there is an emerging story that those sorts of contacts may have even more numerous than had previously been known. If SP Mueller’s focus expands to take in Sessions, it will be huge “tell” if the latter hires a criminal defense attorney.

Were all this not enough, there is Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner. He has now become a subject of interest to the SP because of business dealings with a Russian bank that Kushner never reported, a fact that poses a legal problem for the young man.

Pence “lawyers up”

VP Mike Pence has decided that he also needs legal representation and so has hired a criminal defense attorney. While there is no evidence that the Veep had anything to do with alleged collusion, he got himself “dirtied up” by not only failing to vet the tarred Michael Flynn, but by turning a blind eye on warnings from the FBI that Flynn was a high risk pick as National Security Advisor. The potential problem here is one of malfeasance.

Fraud and money laundering

In all probability, any such crimes will prove to be unrelated to collusion though they may well involve at least one person who was close to the Trump campaign; i.e. Paul Manafort. Manafort had some questionable dealings with at least one member of the Ukrainian kleptocracy that was closely linked to Putin and Moscow.

End notes

Not only has “the plot thickened”, it has substantially widened in its scope. Look at the progression:  what started out as an investigation into Russia’s meddling in our election has expanded to now involve collusion (Trump? Flynn? Sessions?), malfeasance (Pence?), illegal and unreported contacts (Kushner? Sessions?), fraud and money laundering (Manafort?). Mueller has the authority to dig into all of this much to the chagrin of 45 who has already shown signs that he may try to find some indirect means of deposing the SP (1).

If Trump were to act on that impulse, he would push this entire matter into what we can call “Watergate territory”. That scandal, that brought down the Nixon presidency and sent over a dozen of his cohorts to jail, involved obstruction of justice and the firing of a SP. Trump supporters in and out of government are warning 45 to not go there. Will he listen? Time will tell. But the prediction here is that as Mueller’s case gains still more strength and looks ever more likely to damage the Trump presidency, 45 will give in to his darker and irrational side and strike out against the SP. In that event, this whole mess will take on a distinctly more noxious odor.

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  1.  The president cannot act directly to fire Mueller. He will have to find someone in government to do that for him; possibly Deputy AG Ron Rosenstein or someone else in the Justice Department.

 

 

State of Play

Prologue

Yesterday in the Rose Garden, Trump made clear that he is willing to place his version of recent events up against the one set forth by former FBI Director James Comey in his testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee. This sets up a “he said/he said” contest that pits a serial liar and adulterer against the word of a man whose entire career in government has been marked by moral rectitude, even though one can surely disagree with some decisions that Comey has made. But, those were judgment calls and conflating alleged lapses in judgment with dishonesty is deceitful.

Game on

What has now ensued is an intense back-and-forth between 45’s supporters and those arrayed against him. Conservatives, both in and out of government, have taken every opportunity to defame Comey and his character and thus paint him as an untruthful and unreliable witness. The former Director’s supporters have countered with reference to their man’s record of probity, the fact that he testified under oath, and is “guilty” of no worse than “leaking” his memo which was full of the recollections of a private citizen  that contained no classified information and that was not limited by any Trumpian claim of Executive Privilege. The goal of this game is to win for 45 (or Comey) a victory in the court of public opinion. That makes a certain amount of sense on one superficial level, but misses badly on a more fundamental one as will be described next.

All that’s really going to matter

When the dust settles all that will be significant is what House and Senate investigative committees and Special Prosecutor (SP) Robert Mueller find as they delve into this mess. Is there or is there not evidence of criminal behavior on the part of Trump and/or any number of his associates? Mueller in particular, will be guided by where the facts lead him and it won’t matter if 45 wins the fight in the court of public opinion by a score of 100 to nothing. Were laws broken? If the answer is “yes”, then by whom and what remedy is available? Since no president can be put on trial for criminal behavior, it is left to the House to draft bills of impeachment, pass them, and then send them on to the Senate. If someone other than 45 is involved, then a grand jury would be convened to judge the merit of the case against that individual.

Mueller as key figure

As the contents of the last section should have made clear, SP Mueller will play a pivotal role in what eventually transpires. He has already seen and learned enough to not only ramp up his investigation, he has made three critical hires:  James Quarles and Andrew Weisman, both lawyers will stellar reputations for their successfully pursuit of cases of fraud and money laundering, and Michael Dreeben who has a long and distinguished record of white-collar crime-busting. Their presence should send out a clear signal as to the directions that the SP thinks this case is headed.

End notes

We are in the earliest stage of what is likely to be a long and complicated process involving Mueller’s probing along with that of the House and Senate investigative committees as they all seek to help us all better understand Russia’s meddling in our election, and what role, if any, was played in that scheme by Trump and/or his associates. When Mueller makes his final decisions relative to whether to bring charges or not, we will all have to live with those outrcomes. Until that day dawns, a “cloud” will hang over 45’s presidency and it won’t be dispatched any time soon.

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Erratum

In the last blog posted here, there was an erroneous reference made to “Connor Page” an associate of 45’s. That man’s name is Carter Page. That unintended error was mine and mine alone.