Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Everything Is Going According To Plan As Khashoggi Begins To Sink From View

HUFFINGTON POST
PRESIDENTE TRUMP HAS PROVEN ME RIGHT -- AND THEN SOME 
I get things wrong on occasion, so I am relieved -- if at the same time deeply saddened -- that my prediction last month that the Jamal Khashoggi Scandal will sink into the sands of Saudi Arabia with nary a trace is playing out exactly as expected. 
As I wrote here, the dissident Saudi journalist, who was living in self-imposed exile in suburban Washington until he was inconveniently tortured, murdered and dismembered, his fingers first with a bone saw before being decapitated by a hit squad dispatched by Saudi Arabia's de facto ruler, Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (or MBS for short) at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul on October 2, is mere roadkill in the long and problematic relationship between the U.S. and oil-rich kingdom.  
Ignoring the findings of the CIA, and not for the first or last time, on Tuesday Donald Trump said in a muddled statement that, in effect, no matter how wrong the murder of Khashoggi or where responsibility lay, he would not risk losing precious Saudi oil, which after all is thicker than blood, by holding MBS accountable. 
If memory serves, that oil-rich kingdom was the home base of another hit squad -- the 19 Al Qaeda terrorists, 15 of whom were Saudis -- who hijacked four passenger jets and changed world history on September 11, 2001 at the expense of 3,000 lives.  There were no repercussions of consequence in Riyadh after 9/11.  In fact, Dubya helpfully expedited the departure of Saudi government officials and nationals in the wake of the terror attacks, so what's one filleted journalist? 
Anyhow, back to Everything Going According To Plan:  
U.S. tech, media and entertainment companies dutifully withdrew from a Saudi investment conference sponsored by MBS.   
Editorial writers have been levitating in their ivory towers.   
Trump has fled from his initial statement vowing "severe punishment" if it is found the Saudis killed Khashoggi.   
The Saudis have responded indigently that they didn't do it as incontrovertible evidence has piled up that they did, but are going to behead (nice touch) a bunch of people for their involvement anyway.   
The Turks have identifed the hit-squad ringleader as an MBS pal and other hitmen as members of MBS's security detail.   
Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, an MBS buddy who is Trump's go-to guy on the Middle East, has been struck with laryngitis.   
And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to the oil-rich kingdom kingdom to read MBS the riot act. 
Uh, check that.   
From all appearances -- and we don't need evidence from anyone's Apple Watch recording to verify this -- the purpose of Pompeo's fly-by was to discreetly kiss Saudi ass, whisper that everything would soon blow over, and perhaps get fitted for a camel hair coat.    
My cynicism is warranted. 
Yes, there is bipartisan support for leveraging U.S. arms sales to punish the oil-rich kingdom, but Trump wields the veto pen and even if legislation passes the Senate, it's difficult to imagine a veto being overridden given the skewed ratio of Trump sycophants to true Americans. 
In days of yore, say a mere three or four years ago, the U.S. would have taken the lead in condemning so barbarous an act.   But today the U.S. takes the lead in being a global laughingstock as Trump bromances MBS, who is yet another autocratic thug in the mold of two other presidential heroes -- Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong Un.  In fairness, MBS has been far more well behaved.  If you ignore his fondness for kidnaping people, including the prime minister of Lebanon, and miring the oil-rich kingdom in a catastrophic war in Yemen notable for the genocide targeting women and children.
And the Jamal Khashoggi Scandal is sinking into the sands of Saudi Arabia with nary a trace.   
ABOUT THAT MYSTERIOUS GLOWING ORB PHOTOGRAPH: It was taken in May 2017 when Trump visited Saudi King Salman in Riyadh.  The third dude is Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sissi.  The Big White Hat also briefly touched the orb, but she's off camera here.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

Do Not Conflate Freedom Of The Press With Assange's Twisted Embrace Of Putin

JON NAZCA / REUTERS
Does indicting WikiLeaks' Julian Assange set a dangerous precedent that could undermine press freedoms?  Yes it does, but no more so than yelling fire! in a crowded theater undermines freedom of speech.  Assange so clearly crossed the line from defending freedom to abetting tyranny in enthusiastically and repeatedly aiding Russian cyberwarriors in helping elect Donald Trump -- in no small part because of his twisted embrace of Vladimir Putin, own misogyny and hatred for Hillary Clinton -- that he has squandered any sympathy and forfeited any protection in driving WikiLeaks over to the dark side. 
Beyond the indictment that Special Counsel Robert Mueller has brought (and temporarily sealed) against Assange in his pursuit of the Russia scandal, Assange has betrayed the admirable founding principles of WikiLeaks by climbing into bed with the Russian leader.  His betrayal of those principles is so twisted and selfish that this deeply arrogant man, who loves being the center of attention, played a starring role in fixing the 2016 presidential election and the consequent disaster of the Trump presidency.  And must not be allowed to get away with that. 
Assange sought asylum in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London in 2012 to avoid being extradited to Sweden on since-dropped rape and sexual molestation charges and the larger fear that Sweden would then send him to the U.S. and charge him with espionage because of his role in publishing troves of secret American military and government documents during the era in which WikiLeaks played a vital role in pushing back against government secrecy and abuses of power. 
In the few recent interviews Assange has given, most notably for Raffi Khatchadourian in The New Yorkerhis trademark cockiness evaporates when asked about the by-now well documented ties between WikiLeaks and hackers working for the Kremlin, which he furiously denies as mountains of evidence render his lies increasingly fantastical.   
This despite the beyond obvious coordination between the public boasts of Assange and at least one Trump confidante in close contact with him at pivotal moments during the presidential campaign and releases of tens of thousands of emails damaging to Clinton by WikiLeaks from Russian hackers, notably Guccifer 2.0, an online persona used by two Russian intelligence agencies, and the DCLeaks website that the agencies ran and hackers and trolls repeatedly linked back to in unleashing fake news and anti-Clinton hashtags at the probable prompting of the Trump campaign's digital team.    
In particular, these fusillades targeted voters in three nominally blue swing states where the digital team found unexpected weakness in voter support for Clinton.  Trump eked out victories in those states in winning the Electoral College while losing the popular vote.   
(Never mind that the emails were rather tame and far from being the stuff of exposés. They did the trick.)  
"I love WikiLeaks," Trump exultantly declared as Clinton licked her wounds and argued correctly that WikiLeaks had played a key role in keeping her from the Oval Office.  
"It's a very sad story for us personally," says Andre Soldatov, who along with fellow Russian journalist Irina Borogan run Agentura.ru, a security watchdog website.  "We believed back in 2010 in the mission of WikiLeaks, thus transparency and holding power in check are important words for us.    
"The most important thing we found out that in the spring and summer of 2016 [when Russian election meddling was ramping up and the WikiLeaks-Russia synchronicity became apparent], WikiLeaks suddenly compromised the very principles Assange proclaimed. . . . For us it's a story of betrayal, both principles and people." 
There is a contemporaneous parallel for Assange's betrayal of the founding principles of WikiLeaks.  
Myanmar head of state Daw Aung San Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize for her decades-long campaign against that country's military junta, but has become the embodiment of evil herself as she persecutes the Rohingya, a Muslim ethnic minority, who are fleeing the country by the tens of thousands in the face of missile attacks on their burning villages that she undoubtedly ordered or, at the very least, could stop but will not.  
While goings-on in the country formerly known as Burma is an abstraction for most Americans, the fact that the Oval Office is occupied by a profoundly unqualified narcissist who has turned the national mood from cautious optimism to dread most definitely is not.  
I am a career journalist and steadfast defender of press freedoms and am among the millions of people who once hailed Assange.  He founded WikiLeaks in 2006 and began taking on the world's most powerful institutions, a crusade that fueled democratic uprisings, brought forth human-rights cases and laid bare the hypocrisies of America as superpower as revealed in the trove of classified military records from Iraq and Afghanistan and State Department diplomatic cables provided Assange by a young Army private by the name of Chelsea Manning.  
But somewhere along the way Assange wandered into a moral wilderness.   The WikiLeaks grail was to hold institutions accountable, but it is now WikiLeaks itself that is unaccountable.  
In the six years he has been holed up at the Ecuadorian embassy his methodology and his motivations have changed.  Some of the more recent WikiLeaks disclosures have caused genuine harm with no discernible benefit other than feeding Assange's immense ego. These have included revealing the identities of teenage rape victims in Saudi Arabia, dissidents in China and anti-government activists in Syria.   
Assange has not been coy about his hatred for Clinton and affection for Putin, although he would have had Assange assassinated in a heartbeat as he has many journalists if it suited his autocratic needs.  That begins to explain how WikiLeaks feasted on Democratic emails hacked by Russians in Putin's pay in what became a coordinated propaganda effort.     
When Assange was briefly jailed in England in 2010 because of British government concern that he would flee the country to avoid extradition to Sweden, Putin cast him as a symbol of Western hypocrisy.  "Why have they hidden Mr. Assange in prison?  That's what -- democracy," the Russian leader asked.    
Two years later, Assange agreed to do a talk show on RT, a Kremlin-sponsored news and propaganda outlet.  While the show folded after 12 episodes, he continued to appear on RT to promote his interests, including America bashing.  RT's U.S. affiliate, RT America, actively promoted some of the fake news stories that helped undermine Clinton's campaign.     
Assange's hate Clinton-love Putin thing also informs his passionate denials about collaborating with Putin's hackers.  By design, the WikiLeaks site nominally prevents him from knowing where submissions come from so the identities of sources can be kept secret.  So how then can Assange know that Russians were not the source of the emails?  Then there is the question of how he got them in the first place.  
Whatever one thinks of Assange's election disclosures," writes The New Yorker's Khatchadourian, "Accepting his contention that they shared no ties with the two Russian fronts [Guccifer 2.0] requires willful blindness."  
Assange, once asked what he would do if he learned that intelligence agencies were using WikiLeaks as a "laundry" for information warfare, replied: "If it's true information, we don't care where it comes from.  Let people fight with the truth, and when the bodies are cleared there will be bullets of truth everywhere."

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.  

Saturday, November 17, 2018

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

John DiGiovanni (June 19, 1952 ~ September 14, 2018)

If you're going to do something incredibly stupid, do it with a good friend, okay?   
That might seem to be an inapt way to remember my dear friend John DiGiovanni, who left this mortal coil early on the morning of September 14, but that's what happened a few minutes after I snapped this photograph of him in the Badlands of South Dakota in August of 1974.  Actually, a few minutes before I snapped this photograph, we had ingested a mind altering substance, all the better to enjoy exploring the labyrinth of layered rock formations, buttes and soaring pinnacles that give the Badlands their intimidating name.  
What we had not done was check the weather, a requisite when trekking off the beaten track, which we did repeatedly that summer on our westward-ho odyssey (which included scaling a 12,400 foot mountain in Colorado) and would have been easy to do from our sun-drenched vantage point at the edge of the Badlands, a breathtaking view of hundreds of miles of prairie grasslands stretching south and well into Nebraska.  Had we done so, we would have noticed a line of ominously dark gray cumulonimbus thunderstorm clouds barreling our way.   
Going into the endless maze of box canyons in the face of an impending storm was . . . well, incredibly stupid.  
Our incredibly stupid selves had hiked a good distance off the road and into a dry wash.  I recall wondering in my altered state if we'd turn a corner and stumble upon a stegosaurus with her young.  Or a Tyrannosaurus rex or one of the other dinosaurs that roamed the Badlands tens of millions of years ago.  That thought -- and the sunlight -- evaporated with the first crack of thunder, which was followed within seconds by raindrops.  Which was followed within a few more seconds by a torrential downpour that left us proverbially dazed and confused and the formerly red-orange sky a putrid purple.   
We were soon up to our ankles and then some in churning rainwater as the dry wash in which we found ourselves became a raging torrent.  How we found our way back to my VW bus, muddy, soaked and chastened, is a never-to-be-solved mystery, but the skies did soon clear and we were rewarded with a gorgeous double rainbow.   
SNAKEGRINDER (1974) (JONATHAN TAYLOR PHOTO)
I had known John for about a year at that point and was greatly admiring of his chops as the drummer and percussionist for Snakegrinder and the Shredded Field Mice. 
Snakegrinder, for whom I designed a poster or two and occasionally helped lug their equipment to and from gigs (damn you, Dave Bennett, your Kustom organ and Leslie cabinet!) practiced in the basement of Steve and Kathy Roberts' apartment in the house of video pioneer Ed "Stretch" Wesolowski.  This was catty corner to my rowhouse on Wilbur Street, which was working on its image as a Newark, Delaware hippie enclave as Snakegrinder was working on its image as a cult band.  (Translation: Great music but few paying gigs, although 40 years on they have becoming wildly popular among collectors of obscure vinyl psychedelia in far flung places like Norway and Japan.  Go figure.) 
John needed a place to stay and I had a spare room, and so commenced my 45-year friendship with this self effacing and enormously talented man with a 1,000-watt smile. We ended up lining my basement walls with sound absorbent egg crates and John would practice for hours -- day in and day out.  While being in the same house with a drummer with a serious woodshed ethic would seem to be as crazy as hiking into that box canyon with a storm bearing down on us, I loved hearing John run through his practice drills and freer form explorations as he broadened his palette from rock to include jazz (Weather Report and Mahavishnu Orchestra were influences) and Eastern drumming and percussion (ditto Mickey Hart's Diga Rhythm Devils and Ravi Shankar's ensembles). 
There was life after Snakegrinder, which dissolved in 1975. 
John and Dave joined a Mexican circus, John on drums and Dave on tuba.  There followed extensive gigging with, among other bands and innumerable guest appearances, the Sin City Band, Garry Cogdell and the Complainers, Old Soul, Bluestone, Live at the Fillmore, the Dinkendo Family Band, Stackabones, his own jazz band Kombu Combo, and most recently the mashup cover band Steal Your Peach. 
He also was a drum and percussion teacher and recording engineer and producer at Marsh Road Studios. 
George Wolkind, former Snakegrinder lead singer and co-founder and president of the Delaware Rock 'N' Roll Hall of Fame, presented John with a Rock Hall induction medal last month.   
COURTESY OF JEFFREY F. QUATTRO
While "Johnny Digs" spread his wings far beyond jazz, it remained his great love, and we shared and he exemplified the view that too much jazz is played for musicians and not the rest of us.  
Even though jazz is more popular than ever (the late great John Coltrane had a chart-topping record earlier this summer, an album I gifted John and he loved) and there are jazz venues, there also are a lot of empty seats. 
Very few musicians of any kind, and especially jazzos, are able to make the leap from having to work day jobs to being able to devote themselves to playing full time.  That has less to do with talent, which John had in spades, than luck.  John was no exception, and he became a master electrician -- and a damned good one -- to supplement his meager musical income. 
John had the qualities that make a great drummer and percussionist.  (Listen to his solo on "Sweet Clifford" at the 2008 Clifford Brown Jazz Festival in Wilmington, Delaware. And with Kombu Combo doing Horace Silver's "Filthy McNasty" in 2009.)   
First of all, as obvious as this may seem, John knew how to listen.  He could be athletic on the kit, but "felt" the music and had a great touch.  His sense of time and meter was impeccable, his technical vocabulary rich and deep, and he could set up wonderful rhythmic dialogues with the rest of a band.  (This helps explain why we had the same favorite Grateful Dead song -- "Eyes of the World" -- which I and many of John's friends are playing in tribute to him.)   
Most importantly to me, the spaces between the beats were as important to John as the beats themselves.  Or as Miles Davis famously put it, "It's not the notes you play, it's the notes you don't play."   
John DiGiovanni's life informed his drumming and his drumming informed his life.  He touched so many people in life and was so extraordinarily courageous as he faced the end of his own life.   
He will be missed. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Melania Is An Unsympathetic Cipher, But Could She End The Donald's Presidency?

PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
In another time, the overwhelming amount of crap and corruption that Donald Trump has brought to the Oval Office and the fear he has spread across our amber waves of grain, purple mountain majesties and enameled plain would spell the premature end to a deeply troubled presidency.  But overlooked in this festering cesspool is the one person who may be able to finally blow up the whole shebang. 
Melania Trump. 
Let's get some stuff out of the way from the jump.  Melania long ago bled out any sympathy I may have had for her as Trump's first-string sex object and more recently as First Lady.  What she has revealed is an obsession with covering up her past, which is highlighted by a murky immigration history, while floating through a Christian Dior pants-suited four-inch heels present with an incredible lightness of being devoid of original thought.  Will she ever stop plagiarizing Michelle Obama's best lines? 
Melania is an over-botoxed résumé-padding cipher glaring through life (the botox maybe?) who cried tears (not of joy) on election night 2016, who slaps away her husband's (small) hands during public appearances and does not even try to pretend that she isn't trapped in the (pussy-grabbing) hell of a misogynistic marriage.  And is now making a staggering power play that makes activist First Ladies like Eleanor Roosevelt, Nancy Reagan or Lock Her Up Hillary seem like Heidi tip-toeing through the alpine clover with Peter the goatherd. 
In a move that blindsided Chief of Staff John Kelly, propagator of lies Sarah Huckabee Sanders and the rest of the backstabbing West Wing krew, the very private Melania unsheathed her own dagger and demanded in a very public statement on Tuesday that Mira Ricardel, a deputy national security adviser and John Bolton poodle with whom she clashed, must go because she "no longer deserves the honor of serving in this White House."  And poof! Ricardel was gone on Wednesday.
Specifics are vague, but the clash reportedly included a disagreement over who sat where on the plane during the Big White Safari Hat's recent trip to visit the lovely dark-skinned people of Africa.  You know, important stuff. 
I cannot speak to the veracity of Melania's claims, although any friend of Bolton's must be viewed with deep suspicion.  Ricardel probably was just another unqualified Trumpkin on the taxpayer dole who like Bolton wants to blow up the world, but the First Lady's outburst reminds me of her unique power position. 
We can thank Stephanie Clifford for that. 
Clifford, who as the whole world now knows stars in and directs porn flicks under the name Stormy Daniels, had a fling with the future president -- but one of his many -- in a Lake Tahoe casino hotel room following a celebrity charity golf tournament in July 2006, four months after Melania gave birth to Baby Barron.   
"The sex was nothing crazy.  He wasn't like, chain me to the bed or anything.  It was one position," Stormy explained in a cringe-worthy interview, helpfully adding, "I can definitely describe his junk perfectly, if I ever had to." 
It may not come to that, but of the many scandals Trump has visited on us, this one is going to continue to haunt him because the hush money payment he and Michael Cohen, his fixer-lawyer turned rat, gave Stormy is so blatantly a campaign finance law violation.  As well as a continuing source of friction for the Shrew of the East Wing if not for Evangelical Republican voters since God, in their view, has forgiven Trump.  Or something. 
But even if the Big Guy has forgiven him, Melania has not, and overstepping her role (ie., not knowing her place) in dissing Ricardel is further confirmation that she and The Donald are deeply at odds.   
In January, Melania was "blindsided" and "furious" because of the Stormy story, reportedly spent several nights away from the presidential pad at a "posh" Washington hotel and refused to join her husband on his junket to the capitalist pig summit in Davos, the first overseas trip on which she did not accompany him.  She has seldom been at his side since, although she did brave the elements with him during his slapstickeshly disastrous Armistice Day adventure in France, which was marked by a new high (low?) for presidential petulance.   
(A brief time out to note that Melania has had one redeeming quality: She has tried to keep Barron out of the spotlight's harsh glare on Trump's otherwise dysfunctional family, 
although his odds of growing up to become a "normal" young man seem grimly long.)  
Trump's attacks on women, from Megyn Kelly having "blood coming out of her wherever" to his recent attack on black journalist April Ryan as a "loser," have come with mind-numbingly regulararity.  And so while Trump is shattering presidential norms, it might be time for Melania to do some shattering of her own beyond undermining the national security staff, which is to say our already shaky national security. 
My suggestion -- first made after the Stormy . . . uh, storm broke in January -- would be that Melania begin the process of filing for divorce, and having done so would then make an offer Trump could ill afford to refuse: She will commit to remaining at his side as First Lady for the duration of his time in office on the condition that $1 million a month be deposited for her in an offshore account.  Oh, and no showing her his junk.  A nice touch to this blackmail scheme (and Trump knows all about blackmail) would be a bank on Cyprus, where Paul Manafort, another pal turned rat, and various money-laundering Russian comrades have done considerable business.        
The upshot of this . . . er, arrangement could well be to do what hundreds of lawsuits, multiple bankruptcies, the Blue Wave and ongoing Republican Death Spiral, as well as arch enemies such as Robert Mueller and the small army of subpoena-wielding Democrats in waiting have not been able to do: Drive Trump over the edge. 
Why would this be so? 
Because Trump's ego is so pathetically fragile that he would be unable to handle not having Melania at his side if she were to leave him and could not handle losing control over her if he was to agree to being blackmailed.   This is all about power and control.
There is no private Donald Trump.  The golf obsessed, Big Mac addled, Diet Coke gulping sex addict we see in public is who he is.  Trump is unable to control his passions and would not be able to abide not being able to control Melania.  
And so it is Melania who holds the key to her future, as well as ours.

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

A Hard Rain Is Falling & That's Why The Dems' Strategy May Break Trump's Dike

JUSTIN LANE / EPA VIA SHUTTERSTOCK
The Democrats, fresh off resounding midterm election victories that validated Donald Trump's deep unpopularity, are telegraphing a plan to wield their new oversight powers on multiple fronts while going slow on impeachment.  It's a brilliant strategy. 
Those of us who had hoped that impeachment proceedings would begin when the Democrats take control of the House of Representatives on January 3 are bound to be disappointed.  But the strategy -- which entails not going hard left, as some conservatives are claiming, but going hard at Trump -- makes sense in the context of derailing his agenda, such as it is, while pressing him on his many scandals and building on the already substantial body of evidence that he is a crook and a traitor and should be impeached. 
Those multiple fronts include:
Demanding that the acting attorney general recuse himself from supervising the Russia scandal investigation and subpoenaing him if he refuses. 
Subpoenaing Trump's tax returns, which are likely to show multiple ties to Russian companies and other interests that he has long tried to keep secret. 
Investigating whether Trump has used the power of the presidency to punish companies associated with CNN, The Washington Post and other news outlets. 
Investigating Trump's involvement in hush money payments to women with whom he had affairs to silence them before the 2016 election. 
Asking questions about how Trump's son-in-law and others were working at the highest level of the White House without security clearances. 
Pressing allegations that Trump has violated the Constitution's emoluments clause by accepting payments for his businesses from foreign governments. 
Investigating the administration's draconian immigration policy and protecting Obamacare from further encroachments. 
Investigating Republican voter suppression efforts,which skewed the election outcome in Georgia, among other states. 
Smarting from Republican losses that have only grown worse in the week since the election, a furious Trump briefly mouthed platitudes about bipartisan cooperation before warning newly empowered congressional Democrats that any investigations into him and his administration would lead to a "warlike posture" that would dosh any bipartisan cooperation. 
The president does have the Senate as a stopgap.  
"They can play that [warlike] game, but we can play it better, because we have a thing called the United States Senate," Trump said.  "I could see it being extremely good for me politically because I think I'm better at that game than they are, actually, but we'll find out." 
But that Republican Senate majority remains razor thin after a pickup of only a seat or two, depending on the recount circus in Florida, and even a small number of defections from increasingly disgruntled Republican moderates, and there still are a few, could neuter that advantage. 
Josh Marshall over at Talking Points Memo effectively counters the arguments that Democrats could blow their newly gained clout:
[B]asically every time a Democratic committee chair takes any investigative action next year you'll hear a chorus of pundit opinion holding that Democrats risk "overreaching" like Republicans did in the 1990s under President Clinton. There’s really no evidence this is the case.  Indeed, this is flawed reasoning based on the elite national media's tendency to view politics in formal/structural rather than substantive terms.  Republicans in the 1990s didn’t "overreach" in the 1990s because they investigated Clinton too much.  They got bogged down and – at least in the 1998 midterms – got on the wrong side of public opinion because they pursued numerous investigations which were either trivial or based on outlandish conspiracy theories."
The biggest hammers over Trump's head are not necessarily wielded by the Democrats. 
Special Counsel Robert Mueller is said to be writing a summary report of his Russia scandal investigation, new indictments are in the pipeline in addition to the 35 he already has obtained, and it is likely that everything that Trump poodle Matthew Whitaker does in his role as acting AG is unconstitutional.  Meanwhile, we can expect that the stream of blockbuster stories from The New York Times and WaPo will continue. 
And lest we forget, House Democrats have a pretty robust mandate. 
Over 56 million Americans voted for congressional accountability — the highest House election vote total in history.  Democrats have flipped 37 seats from red to blue, at this writing, and may end up flipping as many as 40. 
The army of lawyers working for the beleaguered Trump and his Cabinet departments can slow the Democrats and Mueller with challenges over executive privilege and other legal gambits.  Trump's disdain for the rule of law -- except when he can get a court to agree with him -- is absolute, but his court successes have been very few and very far between.  I continue to believe that he'll do no better should any of his challenges reach the Supreme Court, Brett Kavanaugh notwithstanding.  
A hard rain is falling and court challenges  would not be much more than holding actions. The flood waters are rising rapidly behind the dike the president and Vichy Republicans in Congress have erected to hold together a shaky administration that lurches from crisis to crisis and a chief executive far out of his depth and perhaps only a heartbeat away from flipping out. 
That hard rain will continue to fall and that dike will eventually break.  

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Pollyanna Meets The Donald. Or, Why I'm Optimistic About Robert Succeeding.

PBS
The Pollyanna of the eponymous classic children's book is a young orphan with an outlook so hopelessly optimistic that she remembers only positive stuff and never  unpleasant stuff.   
I might be accused of that outlook following a week that even by Trumpian standards set amazing new lows: The president accused Democrats of committing non-existent election fraud after a majority of midterm voters rejected him.  He threatened to order soldiers stationed at the southern border to fire on that migrant caravan.  He singled out African-American journalists for scorn and banned a CNN correspondent from the White House because of a videotape doctored by a right-wing website.  He blamed deadly California wildfires on "gross mismanagement" by state officials.  He embarrassed America by insulting its veterans in France.  And he named an ethical timebomb as acting attorney general whom he sociopathically claimed not to know but had repeatedly relied on for advice in his blood quest to take down Hillary Clinton and other political enemies and, most importantly, jeopardizing Robert Mueller's Russia scandal investigation. 
Yet aside from the fact I'm growing a tad impatient about Mueller dropping the other shoe -- new indictments that will make the case that the Trump campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin's cyberwarriors to steal the 2016 election from Clinton -- I'm feeling rather chuff. 
In considering why that is so as you read the following rationales for my upbeatedness, note that all this stuff is occurring in tandem and not in isolation.  Each rationale in and of itself is pretty powerful.  But the cumulative effect is gigantic, and may be enough to get us through what at last week's end I called "a profoundly dangerous moment" for our democracy that only Mueller can check. 
That dangerous moment is, of course, Trump's appointment of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general because Jeff Sessions, the most loyal of his loyalists, wouldn't and couldn't shut down the Russia scandal investigation that threatens to immolate his presidency.  
Over a brief career, Whitaker has accumulated a lifetime of skeletons as a hack lawyer, Christianist weirdo, purveyor of fake ethics complaints, right-wing troll and heavy for an online business that scammed thousands of customers out of millions of dollars, any one of which should have disqualified him.  Just as the generically vile Trump has made George W. Bush seem pretty good by comparison with his never ending ability to reach amazing new lows and then outdo himself, Whitaker makes dim-witted Alberto Gonzalez, who hands down was the worst attorney general ever, seem positively dazzling. 
Anyhow, these are the reasons I've been channeling my inner Pollyanna: 
* Midterm election victories. 
When all the ballots are counted, the Democrats will have done quite well despite Republican gerrymandering in taking back the House and making statehouse gains while fighting the GOP to more or less a draw in the Senate.  This is a resounding vote of confidence for Mueller. 
* It's too late to stop now.   
Mueller has netted 35 indictments and is said to be writing a report on his overall findings.  Efforts to suppress the report, which will become public one way or the other, will only further galvanize the opposition while cracking Trump's wall of Republican resistance. 
* House Dems on the attack. 
Effective January 3, they will have the power of the subpoena.  Beyond initiating impeachment proceedings, they can push back against Whitaker and, for good measure, finally get Trump's tax returns, which will lay bare even more Russian connections. 
* You can't fire the FBI. 
When confronted with unpleasantness or a threat to his presidency, Trump fires it.  But he can't fire the FBI.  Just ask the presidents involved in the Watergate and Iran-Contra scandals, the Monica Lewinsky affair and post-9/11 domestic spying imbrogio. 
* Mueller's powerful silence. 
The special prosecutor has been circumspect to a fault.  That has been a brilliant strategy, and if Mueller determines the time has come to speak out because of Trump's interference, it will be a game changer and another crack in that Republican wall. 
The greatest self-inflicted disaster of a presidency filled with them was Trump's summary firing of FBI Director James Comey because he wouldn't get off his back over the unfolding Russia scandal.  This led to Mueller's appointment. 
Fast forward 18 months and another disaster is in the offing as America's slow-motion constitutional crisis accelerates.  This is because the more Trump tries to get Mueller off his back while insisting his investigation is a witch hunt, the more he obstructs justice.   
Right, Pollyanna?  

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.     

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Can A Compromised Trumpkin Stop Mueller's Russia Investigation? Yes, But . . .

PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY 731 / BLOOMBERG
If there is anything surprising about Donald Trump's appointment of Matthew Whitaker, a compromised conservative loyalist and crackpot who has called Robert Mueller's Russia scandal investigation a "lynch mob," it is that the president barely waited until the midterm election polls had closed to lower the boom on Jeff Sessions and accelerate the slow-motion constitutional crisis that has engulfed his presidency from the beginning.  
"So I could see a scenario where Jeff Sessions is replaced with a recess appointment and that attorney general doesn’t fire Bob Mueller, but he just reduces his budget to so low that his investigation grinds to almost a halt," Whitaker said in a revealing CNN interview in July 2017.   
On Wednesday, the former U.S. attorney from Iowa became Trump's acting attorney general. 
TALKING POINTS MEMO
The reality is that at Trump's direction, Whitaker will try to cut off Mueller's head, not starve his investigation, which seemingly would put an end to the special counsel's 18-month investigation into whether Russia interfered in the 2016 president election by cybersabotaging the Hillary Clinton campaign (which it unquestionably did) and whether the Trump campaign colluded in that effort (which it unquestionably did). 
The question is whether Trump can succeed in so blatant an extralegal effort to eliminate the greatest threat to his presidency.  The answer is that he may be able to do so at first, but not in the long run. 
Here's why:  
Whitaker -- who takes over from Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein now that recused AG Sessions is spending more time with his family -- by all rights also should recuse himself because of his outspoken opposition to Mueller's probe and friendship with Trump national campaign co-chair Sam Clovis, who has mentored Whitaker, was the handler of Mueller-indicted George Papadopoulos and has been caught up in Mueller's investigation. 
In fact, the appointment of Whitaker on an acting basis is a dodge to avoid the scrutiny he or any other nominee for AG would face during confirmation hearings.  It is a violation of the Constitution's Appointment Clause, which requires so-called principal officers of the United States to be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate, and probably is unconstitutional because a Senate-confirmed individual already was available -- Rosenstein. 
Whitaker's legal views are beyond the pale, including his opinion that Marbury, the foundational case of American constitutional law, is the worst decision in Supreme Court history, which as Ruth Marcus wrote at the WaPo, is like a physicist denouncing the laws of gravity.  
To no one's surprise, Whitaker said on Thursday that he will not recuse himself, and so he will be able to interfere at will with the investigation that threatens to topple Trump.  
"What kind of mischief could be made by someone hostile to the Mueller probe and seeking to protect the president and his allies?" asked the estimable Susan Hennessey and Benjamin Wittes at Lawfare.   "The short answer is a whole lot."  
NBC NEWS
Although the special counsel regulation under which Rosenstein appointed Mueller grants him substantial day-by-day independence, Whitaker could indeed starve the investigation or fire Mueller "for cause" such as misconduct.  But because the special prosecutor has acted with probity, that boat won't float. 
More likely is that Whitaker could tell Mueller to stop investigating a particular facet of his investigation (like the Trump family's personal finances) or refuse requests by Mueller to expand his investigation and then try to fire him for cause if he didn't accede. 
Under the regulation, if Whitaker were to block any of Mueller's actions, Congress must be notified, and this is where things could get very interesting.  
Democrats do not take over the House leadership for eight weeks, so there is little they can do beyond huffing and puffing.  While they are vowing to investigate whether Sessions's ouster was meant to interfere with the special counsel, their threats won't have any teeth -- which is to say subpoena power -- until January 3.
After that time, they have several ways to push back against Trump and his surrogate. 
Hands down the most important would be to make sure that when and if Mueller completes his investigation and, by regulation, would deliver a report about his findings to Whitaker, that report is delivered to Congress and not kept secret.  If Whitaker refuses to share the report, adding a new wrinkle to Trump's persistent efforts to obstruct justice, the now Democratic-led House Judiciary Committee could subpoena it and, it is hoped, use it as the foundation for impeachment proceedings while making it public so Americans are able to judge Trump's cozy relationship with Vladimir Putin for themselves.  
(CNN reported on Thursday that Mueller has begun writing that report.) 
Whitaker's refusal would trigger a legal battle royal if the White House fights the subpoena by asserting executive privilege, and the matter almost certainly would end up before the very Supreme Court that Whitaker has repeatedly criticized. 
AFL-CIO
Despite the deeply conservative bent of the court and even with Trump poodle Brett Kavanaugh on board, I believe there is a decent chance that Mueller would prevail there.  This is because the Supreme Court, despite a mixed record under Chief Justice John Roberts, has tended to uphold precedent. 
In any event, Mueller's work product to date -- some 35 indictments, a slew of guilty pleas and one criminal trial -- would be protected.  Paul Manafort will not be untried and unconvicted, while litigation already in progress such as the sentencing of Michael Flynn or continuing investigation of Michael Cohen and the Trump Organization by federal prosecutors in New York will continue.  Only the courts have the final say on what happens in those cases.
Meanwhile, there is a little-discussed wildcard beyond -- or before -- Democrats can really push back: Mueller could go to a federal judge and seek an injunction that would stop Trump in his tracks.  
Mueller could argue that it is in the public interest, or even a matter of national security, that he be given injunctive relief to continue his investigation.  He would be able to do so, at least temporarily, while the federal judge decides the issue on its merits.  With the lower layers of the federal judiciary being friendly to Mueller, it is probable he would get relief, dragging the matter out as appeals are filed. 
The public-interest argument is Mueller's hole card, and if this battle also ended up before the Supreme Court, I again believe there is a decent chance that he would prevail. 
But before when and if any of this happens, America finds itself at a profoundly dangerous moment.  Its democracy is under attack and arguably only Robert Mueller can check that. 

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal
and related developments.