Tuesday, October 31, 2017

Random Questions & Thoughts The Day After The Russian Scandal Dam Broke

The big questions the day after the Russia scandal dam broke with double-barreled court filings are where Robert "Maximum Bob" Mueller goes from here, and is Donald Trump in trouble? 
The answer to the second question is that Trump is in big trouble because of the answer to the first question: Flipping George Papadopoulos was right out of the white collar crime playbook.  You flip the bit players first and move up the chain of command to the big guys who can land the big fish.  And woe be to others who already have made false statements, as Papadopoulos did, in interviews with Mueller's team.
The other big stories behind Papadopoulos's  stunningly candid guilty plea to lying to the FBI about efforts to broker meetings between Russian officials and the campaign are that there were obvious efforts to cover up the collusion and that collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign began months before Papadopoulos was approached in April 2016, continued through to Election Day, and beyond. 
Oh, and was Georgie Boy fitted with a wire after his secret July 2017 arrest?  
Who else can Mueller flip? 
For openers, probably Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, who was merely a distraction in the Monday morning festivities.  I believe they were the key Russia-campaign go-betweens.  And considering that money laundering alone carries a 20-year sentence, really don't want to spend the rest of their lives in prison.  
Trump, the ultimate control freak, challenged Mueller to not cross the line to where he was snooping around in his family members' underwear.  Expect the special prosecutor to blow right past that line in ensnaring Donald Jr., Ivanka and Jared in the coming weeks.  Then things will get really interesting because at the end of the day there is nothing that the control freak can do. 
There is some collateral Democratic damage, as well.  Only hours after the indictments, leading Democratic lobbyist Tony Podesta announced that he was leaving his firm after its role in a Ukrainian lobbying campaign was described in Mueller's court filings. 
But those filings went to the heart of what Trump is all about: A career criminal who always has surrounded himself with sleazy characters for whom doing deals with oligarchs, mobsters and other bad actors is de rigueur, and laundering money from ill-gotten gains and committing tax fraud come as naturally as lying to federal agents. 
The president still doesn't really understand what hit him on Monday morning.  But do not rule out him firing Mueller and plunging the U.S. into a constitutional crisis. 

Monday, October 30, 2017

The Dam Bursts: First Guilty Plea, Criminal Charges In Russian Plot To Elect Trump

In late 2015, the National Security Agency received a disturbing communication from its British counterpart: It had become aware of suspicious interactions between individuals connected to Donald Trump and known or suspected Russian agents.  The NSA passed on the information to the FBI and CIA, among other American intelligence agencies, and the investigation into what became known as the Russia scandal quietly got underway. 
Now, two years later, the first criminal guilty plea has been revealed in the Russian plot to elect Trump by interfering in the 2016 presidential election with a multi-pronged
attack sabotaging the Hillary Clinton campaign through email hacking, disinformation and false news stories.  The  unprecedented assault from America's greatest foe on the bedrock of its democracy is the most explosive scandal since Soviet spies stole atomic bomb secrets over 70 years ago. 
George Papadopoulos (top photo), one of Trump's early foreign policy advisers, was arrested in July, indicted in October and pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about a contact with a Russian professor with close ties to Kremlin officials, the office of Special Counsel Robert Mueller said.  The plea revealed on Monday is the most explicit evidence yet connecting the Trump campaign to Russia's election interference, although more is likely to follow. 
Papadopoulos's guilty plea brings Mueller's probe squarely into actions related to the campaign.  In contrast, indictments unsealed Monday charging former campaign manager Paul Manafort and business associate Rick Gates may seem modest in comparison and are unrelated to the campaign. 
But they are only the opening salvo by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller and the beginning of a lengthy legal process that could include dozens of indictments involving multiple players on charges going to the heart of Russia's interference involving espionage that would eclipse the Watergate scandal in scope. 
Manafort and Gates, who surrendered to Mueller, were charged in a 12-count indictment with conspiracy against the U.S. involving money laundering, tax and foreign lobbying charges.  Mueller said Manafort laundered more than $18 million to buy properties and services. 
Both men entered not guilty pleas, while Manafort will be under substantial pressure to cooperate with Mueller as he digs deeper into the campaign collusion with Russia and what Trump himself knew.   
Papadopoulos said in a statement in conjunction with his plea that he was told by the unidentified professor in April 2016 that Russia had "dirt" on Clinton in the form of "thousands of emails," according to court documents.  The conversation is additionally important because it raises more questions about a June 2016 meeting at Trump Tower where Trump's eldest son, son-in-law and Manafort were similarly promised damaging information on Clinton. 
The professor introduced Papadopoulos to an unidentified woman who is a relative of Putin and to someone in the Russian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, while Papadopoulos repeatedly tried to arrange a meeting between the campaign and Russian government officials, according to court records.  "We are all very excited by the possibility of a good relationship with Mr. Trump," the woman told Papadopoulos in an email.
Manafort, meanwhile, "Used his hidden overseas wealth to enjoy a lavish lifestyle in the United States without paying taxes on that income," the indictment reads. 
Gates is accused of transferring more than $3 million from offshore accounts. The two are also charged with making false statements." 
As part of the scheme, Manafort and Gates repeatedly provided false information to financial bookkeepers, tax accountants and legal counsel, among others," the indictment reads. 
According to the indictment, Manafort and Gates arranged to hire two Washington-based lobbying firms to work on behalf of their Ukrainian clients, arranging meetings with U.S. officials and boosting their public image in the United States.  Prosecutors say, however, that Manafort and Gates arranged for a Brussels-based nonprofit to nominally hire the companies to hide the fact that their work was for Ukrainian government officials and would otherwise require registration under the Foreign Agents Registration 
In fact, prosecutors allege, Manafort was communicating directly with then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych about the effort, promising in 2012 to provide him weekly updates about the effort.   The former pro-Moscow Ukrainian president is a close Putin
Manafort, once referred to as Trump's consigliere and his presidential campaign manager for an eventful two months during the summer of 2016, has been a marked man for years because of his laissez-faire approach  to financial wheeling and dealing with shadowy Russian figures abroad and corporate shell games and money laundering at home.  His suburban Washington condominium was raided by FBI agents in July. 
Gates is a longtime protégé and junior partner of Manafort and has been linked to companies Manafort's firm set up in Cyprus to receive payments from politicians and businesspeople in Russia and Eastern Europe.  
A veteran Republican strategist, Manafort joined the Trump campaign in March 2016.   
Trump promoted Manafort to chairman and chief strategist in June 2016, a job that gave him control over day-to-day operations of the campaign.  It seemed to be an unusual choice since Manafort had no experience running a national political campaign.  What he did have was connections.  
Manafort had lobbied on behalf of a rogue's gallery of corrupt foreign leaders, including Ferdinand Marcos in the Philippines, Mobutu Sese Seiko in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Angolan guerrilla heavyweight Jonas Savimbi.   It seemed inevitable that a person with Manafort's nose for really bad people would be attracted to some of the scumbags in Putin's orbit.    
Manafort was present at the meeting at Trump Tower four days before his elevation to campaign manager, while U.S. intelligence agencies had begun collecting information revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political operatives were discussing how to influence Trump through Manafort and Michael Flynn, a campaign foreign policy adviser and later Trump's short-lived national security adviser. 
Trump fired Manafort in August 2016 in after reports that he received undisclosed payments from Yanukovych. 
Early this year, a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance (FISA) Court order allowing investigators to wiretap Manafort was renewed and included a period when he was known to talk to by-then President Trump.  While Trump is said to have severed all ties with Manafort, Gates has continued to visit the White House, coordinated behind-the-scenes inauguration planning and served on a Trump super PAC in the early months of this year. 
The charges will further complicate the White House's argument that the Russia scandal is fake news and a witch hunt to assuage Clinton's election loss and that it actually was Clinton who colluded with Moscow, while the charges deny Trump and his apologists the argument that Mueller's investigation is politically motivated since Trump is never mentioned.  
Trump's reaction to the initial indictments will be important, as well as whether he will issue pre-emptive pardons. 
If the president is not able to direct his anger in a way that does not put him in deeper legal jeopardy or anger Mueller, he is exposed to still deeper risk at a time his approval ratings have hit a new low.  There also is rampant speculation that Trump may seek to dismiss Mueller, which would trigger a constitutional crisis with echoes of Watergate.  
Democrats quickly warned Trump not to impede Mueller’s investigation. 
"The president must not, under any circumstances, interfere with the special counsel’s work in any way," said Senator Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic minority leader. "If he does so, Congress must respond swiftly, unequivocally, and in a bipartisan way to ensure that the investigation continues." 
Responding to the swirl of events, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders fell back on the usual ad hominem line that people once integral to the campaign like Manafort and Papadopoulos were merely peripheral figures.  Sanders added that Papadopoulos not telling the truth "has nothing to do with the campaign" because he never acted in an official capacity. 
"Today's announcement had nothing to do with the president's campaign or campaign activity," she said. "We've been saying from day one there's no evidence of Trump-Russia collusion, and nothing in the indictment today changes that."
Although Trump would seem to be immunized against impeachment because of the Republican-controlled Congress, that legal process could include obstruction of justice charges stemming from his multiple efforts to try to end the investigation that led to his firing of FBI Director James Comey and Mueller's appointment.  Or conceivably naming him as an unindicted co-conspirator in conjunction with charges against others.  There is a significant historic precedent for that: The Watergate grand jury thusly naming Richard Nixon, which set in motion a series of events that led to his resignation. 
A further burden on Mueller is that there is no legal meaning to the term "Russian collusion."   
Manafort and other campaign insiders would not be charged as part of a group that joined in a conspiracy.    This leaves Mueller to make the case that as individuals these players, who may also include Flynn, Donald Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, longtime Trump confidante and dirty trickster Roger Stone, business associate Felix Sater and possibly the Trump Organization as a business entity, as well, broke federal law and should be so charged.    
This could involve a range of charges, including criminal liability, breaking tax and banking laws, failure to register as an agent of a foreign government, lying on security clearance forms, and making misleading statements, which in any event seem much more likely to succeed than impeachment.
Although the Russia scandal did not come into public view until the latter stages of the 2016 campaign, its roots date back to 1980 when Manafort and Roger Stone, who were to become key members of Trump's inner circle, got together, and more recent years when Russian leader Vladimir Putin sought to consolidate power and increase his influence. 
Putin saw the Internet as a way to do both.  He also saw Trump, a billionaire New York real estate mogul and reality television star who fantasized about becoming president, as a vehicle for returning the former Soviet Union to its Cold War glory and undermining America's standing as the sole superpower, and so the seeds were planted for a clandestine collaboration.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.

Bringing Wisdom & Perspective To The Harvey Weinstein Journalistic Gangbang

As experienced investigative journalists go, there is no one with more or better chops than Steve Weinberg, who also happens to be a friend. 
Steve brings to the Harvey Weinstein journalistic gangbang a much needed perspective for non-believers and knuckle draggers alike on sexual harrassment, which in Weinstein's especially sordid case has included several rapes. 
First, read this hair-raising New Yorker essay by Ronan Farrow, who broke the story, and then this New York Times story.  Here are Steve’s thoughts, which I have paraphrased:
* Yes, individuals who report sexual assaults occasionally fabricate or exaggerate.  But not often.  How do we know that? Understanding the cost-benefit equation of the victims going public. 
* When highly responsible journalism organizations disseminate exposes such as this, 99 percent of the time they possess lots more evidence than they share. 
* Let's say you as a reader choose to believe only the least damaging charge in the article.  That would probably be the anecdote shared by Ellen Barkin. Even it, considered in isolation, shows Weinstein as an abuser. 
Over the decades, Steve has heard about,  published stories about, or personally confronted abusers in these settings: Hospitals and physicians' offices, universities and K-12 classrooms, private corporations, athletic teams, Boy Scouts-Girl Scouts, among others. 
Steve acknowledges having no experience with Hollywood.  But he correctly notes that nothing in the New Yorker account strains credulity.  That does not automatically confer infallibility on Farrow (who happens to be the son of actress Mia Farrow and filmmaker Woody Allen).   
But . . . But beyond the despicable Weinstein, it is obvious that American men from Donald Trump on down have a very big problem that only now is being acknowledged.  Addressing it is another matter.

Sunday, October 29, 2017

The Wizard Is In Yuge Trouble As Charges Loom In The Fake-News Russia Probe

Would it surprise you to know that three months after Congress slapped veto-proof sanctions on Russia, the Trump administration has yet to implement them?  That six months after three congressional committees began investigating the Trump campaign's collusion with Russia to sabotage Hillary Clinton's campaign they are hopelessly bogged down in White House-fueled partisan feuding?  That nearly one year after Trump was elected, states are moving to guard against future election hacking while Trump is sitting on his small hands?  And that he continues to aid and abet Vladimir Putin by insisting that the whole thing is fake news and a witch hunt? 
Indeed, to the casual observer, it would seem like Donald Trump has contained the greatest threat to his presidency, the so-called Russia scandal, with a propaganda-sodden pushback centering on the lie -- easily the most over the top of the scores that the Trump and his mouthpieces have told -- that it actually was Clinton who colluded with Moscow.   
This preposterous meme is being dutifully echoed by Devin Nunes, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, among other congressional lapdogs, while the pushback has been nicely helped along by confirmation that the infamous Steele dossier was bankrolled by the Clinton campaign and Democratic National Committee.  Playing conveniently to the White House's faux outrage, the lawyer who acted as a go-between had lied about who underwrote the dossier for months, as well as Clinton herself having feigned shocked over it while still on her quest to lose the presidency.
Meanwhile, up on Capitol Hill, House Republicans announced investigations into unproven allegations that the Clinton Foundation received donations in exchange for Clinton's support as secretary of state for a business deal giving Russia control over a larger share of the U.S. uranium production and another (yes, yet another investigation) into how the FBI investigated Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state.  
Putin has dutifully kept up his end of the Trump-Putin bromance by claiming that, among other things, American officials had ignored Russian tax fraud allegations against an American firm because two of the owners were major Clinton donors, while the chief Russian prosecutor asserts that the owners had illegally used Russian money to lobby for the new sanctions law the Trump administration has yet to enforce.
But Trump has not contained the threat and any public relations gains are pyrrhic.   
The dossier news is a year old, while is the dossier itself is neither "a hoax" nor means that Clinton colluded with Russia, as Trump fantastically insists.  In fact, the president, his closest associates and family members may be in substantial legal peril because of the mass of evidence gathered by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller.     
A federal grand jury in Washington on Friday approved the first charges brought by Mueller, according to CNN and The Wall Street Journal, among other media outlets. The charges are under seal on the orders of the  federal judge who approved them, while plans are being prepared for anyone charged to be taken into custody as early as Monday.  It is not known if the charges involve one or more people, but the consensus view is that former campaign manager Paul Manafort is the most likely target. 
All of this makes the use of former British spy Christopher Steele's dossier as a Trumpian cudgel seem especially ham-handed.   It requires people to focus on who paid for the dossier, which Trump's myopic base and alt-right news media is happy to do, while ignoring its explosive contents as storm clouds gather.  
Nothing in the information rich 35-page dossier save for a couple of relatively minor points of fact has been discredited.  That, of course, is different than the bulk of the dossier being validated, but the product of Steele's labors is a strikingly accurate outline of what we know -- and most importantly what Mueller appears to have independently confirmed --  about the Trump campaign's embrace of a small army of Russians with ties to Putin and his cyberassault on Clinton and voters most vulnerable to barrages of fake news. 
So what will Mueller be able to do with all this? 
In one respect, using the Clinton-DNC aspect of the Steele dossier is a deft move by Trump because it makes the possibility of impeachment even less likely. 
The president, in a series of angry tweets on Sunday morning in anticipation of the first charges in the scandal and his ongoing frustration that his campaign is receiving greater scrutiny than Clinton, alluded to the dossier revelation in demanding that she be pursued more forcefully by congressional investigators, writing "DO SOMETHING!" 
Trump's approval ratings are the lowest since he took office, according to a new NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll, and are down 5 percentage points to 38 percent from September.  Some 58 percent of respondents disapproval of his job performance. 
As it is, Congress is thoroughly paralyzed despite the Republican lock on power.  It has passed no significant legislation and has been content, beyond a few rebellious lame duck Republican voices, to let Trump kick sand in its face.  So even the most damaging bill of particulars from Mueller -- and the evidence that Trump obstructed justice is particularly strong -- probably would not rouse Congress to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities. 
A further burden on Mueller is that there no legal meaning to the term "Russian collusion."  
Manafort and Michael Flynn, the campaign operative and Trump's short lived national security director, to name two of the most likely perps, would not be charged as part of a group that joined in a big, bad conspiracy.    
This leaves Mueller to make the case that as individuals these players, who may also include Donald Trump Jr., Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, campaign foreign policy adviser Carter Page, longtime Trump confidante and dirty trickster Roger Stone, business associate Felix Sater and possibly the Trump Organization as a business entity, as well, broke federal law and should be so charged.   This could involve a range of charges, including criminal liability, breaking tax and banking laws, failure to register as an agent of a foreign government, lying on security clearance forms, and making misleading statements, which in any event seem much more likely to succeed than impeachment. 
The always classy Stone had his Twitter account suspended on Saturday after lashing out at CNN personalities with derogatory slurs, calling the news that Mueller had obtained indictments "fake." 
Mueller's mandate is broad under the order appointing him.    
Once he decides to ask for an indictment, his Washington grand jury would vote on whether to approve it (the votes of only 12 of the 16 grand jurors are required to indict) using the standard of probable cause.  He does not need Department of Justice approval, although Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who has oversight over the Russia investigation, would have been made aware of the charges brought Friday cited by CNN.
What all this could mean is that at the end of the day, Mueller may end up with indictments unrelated to Russia's election interference and the campaign's role in that interference.  In other words, a crippling but not devastating blow to the Trump presidency unless Flynn, Manafort or other indicted players can be flipped by Mueller and help him land the biggest fish of all.
There is an outside chance that the sealed indictment charges Trump himself. 
Obstruction of justice -- specifically Trump's multiple efforts to try to end the investigation that led to the firing of FBI Director James Comey and Mueller's appointment -- would be the likely charge.  But since a sitting president cannot be held to answer criminal charges in court and may only be impeached, a sealed indictment so charging him would be unsealed only on the day he leaves office.  What a drag. 
What is certain is that Mueller has only fired an opening salvo and the charges are only the beginning of a lengthy litigation process and not the end of the investigation.
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.

Thursday, October 26, 2017

Long-Awaited JFK Papers Release Is a Big Nothingburger With A Side of Mustard

There is disappointment abroad in the land today among tin-foil had aficionados and Warren Commission skeptics alike: John F. Kennedy is still dead, Lee Harvey Oswald still did it, and the shadowy roles of the CIA and FBI in his assassination are likely to remain just that. 
There may yet be nuggets in the mammoth document dump by the National Archives, parts of which President Trump delayed releasing in bowing to pressure from the CIA, FBI and other federal agencies for a 180-day review period.  But when they are released, they likely will confirm what conspiracy freaks should have anticipated -- no smoking guns. 
That is, the remaining documents are less damaging to national security than the frail egos of paper pushers in those agencies who instinctively have sought to hide evidence -- including codenames, pseudonyms and spy jargon, no matter how innocuous -- through the years. 
The November 22, 1963 assassination shocked a complacent America, spawning a conspiracy industry that went into overdrive after Oliver Stone's movie JFK was released in 1991 and a growing belief that the government was not to be trusted.  That continues to grow.  
JFK led the following year to the JFK Records Review Act, responsible for the release of millions of pages of documents in the 1990s that did not alter the official government line, which happens to be the one shared by most independent historians. 
What remained secret until the law's 25-year deadline lapsed today were the CIA, FBI and Justice documents, while it is probable that any documents casting serious doubt on the accepted Warren Commission wisdom that Oswald was a lone wolf would have been destroyed in the wake of the flurry of post-assassination investigations in the 1960s. This includes those that could have bolstered Oliver Stone's cinematic view that there was a massive cover-up of all sorts of bad people doing bad things up to and including LBJ being part of a coup d'état to kill the 35th president.
Philip Shenon, a former longtime New York Times correspondent and author of A Cruel and Shocking Act: The Secret History of the Kennedy Assassination (2013), offers these tips at Politico for armchair detectives who plan to dive into the massive document dump:
* Begin with the most secret documents, those that the CIA, FBI and Justice have withheld in full.  Does that decision now make sense? 
* Explore documents related to Oswald's trip to Mexico City two months before the assassination, where he was in touch with Soviet and Cuban spies. 
* Was the man in Mexico City claiming to be Oswald actually a CIA agent or other impersonator, a favorite twist of conspiracy freaks? 
* Does the single-bullet theory -- that one shot from Oswald's rifle hit both JFK and Texas Governor Connally -- hold up? 
* Keep in mind that the CIA has admitted to a cover-up, a "benign" effort to hide info from the Warren Commission that would unnecessarily distract it. 
* Are there nuggets of truth hiding behind the jargon in the documents that might, for example, better explain Oswald's motivations? 
* A remarkable number of operatives whose names have turned up in assassination files are Watergate scandal figures.  What to make of this? 
* Is then-CIA counterintelligence director James Jesus Angleton indeed the duplicitous assassination cover-up maestro many people believe him to be? 
Note that Shenon does not answer the question of whether Oswald acted alone or was part of a conspiracy in his own book, which is more of an evisceration of the Warren Commission, whose quest for "the truth" was flawed from the start because of bureaucratic infighting, political machinations, destruction of evidence, understaffing and tight deadlines.
Beyond the 1964 Warren Commission report, a 1979 House investigation concluded Kennedy likely was killed as a result of an unexplained conspiracy.  Senate investigations in 1975 and 1976 -- known as the Church Committee -- found evidence of CIA and FBI abuses and juicy details of plots to kill then-Cuban dictator Fidel Castro, giving him a reason to kill the American president.  
"The long anticipated release of the #JFKFiles will take place tomorrow," Trump tweeted on Wednesday. "So interesting!" 
Well, maybe. 
But then Trump is no stranger to conspiracy theories, notably clinging to Barack Obama being a Kenyan-born Muslim long after that was debunked.  And speaking of JFK, Trump has suggested that the father of primary rival Senator Ted Cruz of Texas was involved in the assassination, while longtime confidante Roger Stone has written a book blaming the assassination on LBJ. 
A decision by Trump to withhold even a small part of the documents would give conspiracy freaks more fodder because the JFK assassination occupies especially hallowed ground in the Conspiracy Theory Hall of Fame alongside many others.   
These include that there is a secret Illuminati-type group controlling the world, that the 9/11 attacks were an inside job, the Apollo 11 moon landing was faked, that the government is covering up contacts with extraterrestrials, and the mother of them all -- that the Holocaust did not happen. 
As a longtime investigator reporter and editor, I have used a simple rule of thumb in evaluating the veracity of a conspiracy theory:
The more people who were involved in a conspiracy the more difficult it is to keep secret.  
Most of the more popular conspiracy theories crash and burn on this basis alone. 
Dozens if not hundreds of people would have had to be involved in fabricating, trucking and placing high explosives into the World Trade Centers or firing a missile into the Pentagon.  Why has not one of them come forward?   Hundreds if not thousands of people would have been needed to fake a televised moon landing at a secret government hideaway.  Why has not one of them come forward?  Thousands if not tens of thousands of people would have had to have orchestrated a fake Holocaust at dozens of sites across Germany and Eastern Europe.   Why has not one of them come forward? 
The case of the alleged 9/11 cover-up is especially piquant because there was a cover up. It's just not the one the tin-foil hat brigade believes.
I happen to not rule out the ET contact cover-up conspiracy.  This is because my rule of thumb is not violated since relatively few people would have to have been involved. Besides which, why wouldn't aliens have wanted to contact us?  Just asking. 
Meanwhile, the released JFK documents have been posted here.  Have at it. 

Monday, October 23, 2017

Donald Trump Didn't Remember Sergeant La David T. Johnson's Name, But We Will

It was axiomatic long before Donald Trump became president that anyone who falls into his orbit is cheapened by the experience.  And now it is General John Kelly’s turn. 
By all accounts an exemplary career Marine, Kelly's final act of service to his country — trying to bring order to the dysfunctional West Wing of a White House run by a man as deeply unqualified to be commander in chief -- will now be best remembered by him succumbing to and then participating in the willful ignorance, lies and race baiting that characterize this awful passage in the history of a beleaguered country. 
"If you're not in the family, if you've never worn the uniform, if you've never been in combat, you can't imagine how to make that call," declared Kelly in suggesting that it was unpatriotic to criticize Trump while overlooking a few inconvenient truths.  These include that Trump failed to acknowledge for 12 days the deaths of Sergeant La David T. Johnson, 25, and three other Special Forces soldiers in an ambush by ISIS-affiliated fighters on October 4 in Niger, only called pregnant widow Myeshia Johnson after being pressured to do so, then couldn't remember the fallen soldier's name while lecturing the widow that her husband "knew what he signed up for." 
It is a trademark of Trump's presidency that he turns the merest criticism into a pity party. 
And then when the blame falls on him, he lashes out, not caring what the collateral damage may be, which in this instance includes the memory of Kelly's own son, 1st Lieutenant Robert Michael Kelly, 29, who died in Afghanistan in November 2010 when he stepped on a bomb while leading a Marine platoon.  Kelly had never sought to publicize the death and tried to discourage news coverage suggesting his son's passing was any more tragic than other American battlefield loses.  
We are all tarnished every day that Trump lives to tweet yet again, but it is Kelly — whom Trump so brazenly used for his own selfish purposes as he has repeatedly during a long and sordid life as corrupt businessman, pretend friend and unfaithful husband — who is especially diminished by his latest assault on common decency. 
But this time it is much worse.   
This is because Americans always have been able to put aside their differences and prejudices when it comes to mourning and honoring our sons and daughters at arms when they fall defending the freedoms Trump would take away.  He has sought not to honor, but to exploit and disparage. 
With Trump's latest self-inflicted crisis now entering its second very messy week and the administration predictably doubling down, two things are certain: 
The circumstances of the ambush that took the life of Johnson and his comrades will be investigated, not at Benghazi-type length, of course, but in a thoroughgoing and very public manner that otherwise would never have occurred.  As it is, the official Pentagon account differs sharply with those on the ground.  And the circumstances that led Kelly to grovel at his master's feet at a press conference where he deeply embarrassed himself by falsely attacking Democratic Congresswoman Frederica Wilson of South Florida as selfish and politically motivated will come out. It will involve the usual ham-handed coercion, and may hasten the inevitable end of Kelly's brief and unhappy White House tenure.     
Then there are the bleatings of White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, from whose mouth falsehoods tumble like so many goat turds as she disparaged Wilson for being "all hat and no cattle," a reference to Wilson's colorful hats, and asserted that no one should dare question a four-star general like Kelly.   
Trump, of course, has turned his malignant narcissism on no less than three such generals, castigating Colin Powell, John R. Allen and Martin Dempsey for what he characterized as their abject failures as commanders, as well as a bevy of lesser uniformed luminaries who also did not spend the Vietnam war polishing their golf game as did he.
The White House could have gotten out ahead of the inevitable questions about the October 4 ambush, but did not rouse itself to do so except for a fleeting comment from Sanders on October 6 that "We're continuing to review and look into this."  And so a somber duty became yet another Trumpian opéra bouffe. 
However, on October 5, National Security Council staffers had drafted and circulated a statement of condolence for Trump to make, but he never did so.
On October 7, Johnson's remains were returned to Dover Air Force Base in Delaware. Trump was golfing, as he would four more times before the ambush came up again.  
On October 16, at an impromptu news conference with Trump's new best friend Mitch McConnell, a reporter asked about the ambush.  The president was neither solemn nor contemplative in responding and yet again couldn't resist trying to one-up his predecessors, this time by claiming he was calling the families of soldiers killed on his watch although Obama and Bush had not, a lie that was quickly debunked by Dempsey and numerous aides to those presidents. 
On October 17, Trump claimed he called "virtually all" Gold Star families, but of the 20 families that The Associated Press contacted, 10 said he had not, while the father of one soldier unhelpfully noted that Trump had promised to write him a $25,000 check and set up a fundraising organization in his son's memory, neither of which had happened.  Sanders then claimed the check had been sent although it had not.
Later on October 17, Trump finally called Myeshia Johnson, unaware that longtime family friend Wilson was riding with her.  Wilson later said that Johnson's family found Trump's comments offended more than consoled, while he blindsided Kelly by claiming that Obama had not called Kelly after his own son's death.   That apparently is true, although Obama later invited Kelly and his wife to meet with he and Michelle Obama at the White House.   
On October 18, Trump asserted that Wilson "totally fabricated" what she claimed he had said, and in a time-worn Trump tactic, said that he "had proof."  That proof was simply that other people were in the room, including Kelly, when Trump called. Johnson's family then corroborated Wilson's account, which Sanders denied and Trump again denied. 
On October 19, Kelly was told to explain the process of notifying a dead soldier's family, which he did at a press briefing in the context of his son with some apparent pain.  Kelly confirmed that Wilson's account was accurate but couldn't resist taking a cheap shot -- disparaging her for what he claimed were self-serving remarks at an April 2015 dedication of a new FBI field office in Miami named in honor of two agents killed in a 1986 shootout that he happened to have attended.   
At the end of the briefing, Kelly inexplicably (or not) said he would take questions only from reporters who had a personal connection to a fallen soldier, followed by those who knew a Gold Star family, after bemoaning only minutes earlier how few Americans knew either.  In other words, he explicitly denied a majority of journalist the right to ask questions.
Trump piled on, calling Wilson "wacky" while former President Bush observed in a speech later in the day that seemed tailor-made for the moment, "We have seen our discourse degraded by casual cruelty.  Argument turns into animosity, disagreement escalates into dehumanization." 
On October 20, a Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel video of Wilson's remarks at the building dedication surfaced.  It showed that Wilson had praised other public officials, including Republican Senator Marco Rubio and then-House Speaker John Boehner, for getting funding, and remembered the fallen agents while taking no credit herself.  Sanders soon declared that Kelly "absolutely" stood by his account of Wilson's speech although it was demonstrably false, and said it was highly inappropriate for anyone to question a four-star general.  Examples quickly surfaced of Trump repeatedly doing just that. 
Meanwhile, stories in Roll Call and The Atlantic revealed that the White House was now frantically express mailing condolence letters after scrambling to get the names of Gold Star families from the Pentagon.  In one especially deplorable instance, Timothy Eckels Sr. hadn't heard anything from Trump since his son Timothy Jr. was killed after a collision involving the USS John S. McCain on August 21, but on October 20 received a UPS package dated October 18 with a condolence letter.  
On October 21, Trump tweeted that "I hope the Fake News Media keeps talking about Wacky Congresswoman Wilson in that she, as a representative, is killing the Democratic Party!" just hours before Johnson's family gathered for his burial.  Trump did not attend because he was playing golf.
On October 22, Wilson called Kelly "a puppet of the president" and said he should apologize for having made false claims about her. 
And on October 23, Myeshia Johnson broke her silence in a "Good Morning America" interview.  "He told me he had my husband’s report in front of him, and that's when he actually said "La David,' " Johnson said. "I heard him stumbling on, trying to remember my husband's name, and that's what hurt the most, because, if my husband is out there fighting for our country, why can't you remember his name?" 
Trump disputed Johnson following the show, and in a tweet effectively called a Gold Star widow a liar, yet another new low in a bottom-feeding presidency.  "I had a very respectful conversation with the widow of Sgt. La David Johnson," he tweeted, "and spoke his name from beginning, without hesitation!"
Meanwhile, Joint Chiefs Chairman General Joseph Dunford provided details of the attack amidst reports that there may have been U.S. operational and intelligence failures.  He struck a markedly different tone than Trump, saying the Pentagon owes the families of the four slain soldiers "as much information as we find out about what happened," and would respond to Myeshia Johnson's complaint that she was not allowed to see her husband's body.     
Myeshia Johnson and Frederica Wilson happen to be black, and the imbroglio predictably had racial as well as sexist undertones.  Trump, of course, reserves the "wacky" moniker for women; think Hillary Clinton, San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz and Megyn Kelly, among others.   
Johnson, of course, was ungrateful -- read uppity -- while Kelly said Wilson was speaking "in the long tradition of empty barrels making the most noise" -- again, read uppity -- who had turned a solemn ceremony into a celebration of her ability to steer tax dollars to her district.  Alas for Kelly, Wilson was not even in Congress when the money for the new field office was appropriated.  Alas alas for Kelly, Wilson had started the Role Models of Excellence Project, an exemplary mentoring program for youth pursuing military careers like his own, among other fields.  Johnson and his brothers were alumni.
Kelly's circumspection as a Marine Corps commander, Trump's director of homeland security and then chief of staff has been admirable.  And like the two other generals now holding top jobs for Trump -- Defense Secretary James Mattis and National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster -- they are said to have continued service to their country by making sure than the erratic president didn't plunge the U.S. into a world war.  Or something. 
That view is a little too God Bless America for my taste, but the larger point is that Kelly presumably made a moral calculation that working for Trump served a higher purpose outweighing any reputational loss.   If so, he made an exceedingly poor decision that does not reflect well on his supposed battlefield smarts since everyone -- whether rich man, poor man, beggar man, thief or general -- is cheapened by the experience of being in Trump's orbit.   
Kelly had been the only person in the White House with credibility.   
But those stars seem a whole lot less shiny now that Kelly has refused to stand up to Trump as did Myeshia Johnson, lied for him, helping him to dehumanize a war widow and congresswoman.  And obscenely ratchet up the political tension that Trump feasts on even when the politics are over something he presumably understands so well -- grief.