Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Toobin Comes Clean About Hillary: Thats One Apology Down & A Thousand To Go

Jeffrey Toobin, CNN's chief legal analyst, has apologized for promoting during the presidential campaign the notion that Donald Trump's thoroughly documented history as a racist, fraud, bully, sexual predator and pathological liar was somehow cancelled out by Hillary Clinton's used of a private email server while secretary of state.   
Okay, that's one apology down and a thousand or so to go. 
This is because Toobin had plenty of company in peddling the False Equivalence canard, an insidious and perhaps the most destructive way the mainstream media gave Trump a free ride -- including billions of dollars in free around-the-clock coverage of his campaign rallies -- until it was way too late to correct this deplorable imbalance and begin reporting honestly about the profound threat Trump represented to the republic as a potential president, which of course has been more than realized. 
At the end of the day, or rather on Election Day, it turned out that Clinton's worst enemies beyond Vladimir Putin, James Comey and her very own self were people like Toobin. 
His mea culpa came on Episode 26 of comedian Larry Wilmore's "Black on the Air" podcast, which listened to by a fraction of the millions of people who have watched Toobin on CNN's prime-time news programming since 2002.  
During a discussion of presidential politics, Wilmore argued that Clinton was the victim of a "coordinated attack" by Republicans.  Toobin agreed, citing "all that bogus stuff about the Clinton Foundation" and alluding to the bogus Uranium One story.
"And I hold myself somewhat responsible for that," continued Toobin.  "I think there was a lot of false equivalence in the 2016 campaign. That every time we said something, pointed out something about Donald Trump — whether it was his business interests, or grab 'em by the pussy, we felt like, 'Oh, we gotta, like, talk about — we gotta say something bad about Hillary.'  And I think it led to a sense of false equivalence that was misleading, and I regret my role in doing that." 
Yes indeedy, Jeffrey. 
As I wrote on November 7, the day before the election:
[The news media has] completely chucked its responsibility to be a truth-imparting watchdog in covering a presidential race that has been even more important than the 2008 watershed.  This, if you hadn't noticed, is because the very foundations of American democracy have been at stake.  As has the credibility of the media itself in an era of subterranean expectations, hyper-intense partisanship and seismic changes as technology has hastened the transition from print to digital and video and unfiltered social media grabs an ever large share of our already short attention spans.  . . . 
The hoary media model of giving balanced treatment to major party candidates that has been hammered into generations of reporters and editors as the holy grail of their profession collapses under the weight of sheer ludicrousness when one candidate repeatedly and unashamedly lies when not trying to play the media like a cheap violin, and succeeds at that a lot more often than not.  
Trump was the first media-created candidate and he took full and eager advantage of all the free publicity early on ("It may not be good for America, but it's damn good for CBS," chirped network CEO Leslie Moonves) until the spigot was turned off much too late in the game. 

The media had gilded Trump's celebrity credentials for years, but it never really had the power to stop him once he slithered to the nomination, let alone its belated effort to correct the record.   
Only those Vichy Republicans could have done that, and of course they never tried.   This should not be conflated with absolving the media of its responsibility to get real about a man who came into the campaign a known quantity, especially after the media had been hoodwinked for the better part of eight years by George W. Bush and his helpmates. 
A study by Harvard Kennedy School’s Shorenstein Center on Media, Politics and Public Policy cited by The Washington Post found that in the campaign’s final months, the media's overall coverage performed pretty much as Toobin described it to Wilmore. 
"When journalists can't, or won't, distinguish between allegations directed at the Trump Foundation and those directed at the Clinton Foundation, there's something seriously amiss," wrote Thomas Patterson of the Shorenstein study. "And false equivalencies are developing on a grand scale as a result of relentlessly negative news. If everything and everyone is portrayed negatively, there's a leveling effect that opens the door to charlatans."  
Perfect examples include the post-election incarnation of those Vichy Republicans who have mounted a frenzied effort to push back against Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller with a litany of phony accusations and doctored documents while giving the dead Clinton email server story a few more whacks. 
"Well, America says, 'Apology accepted,' " Wilmore joked following Toobin's bout of candor.  
To his credit, Toobin has been anything but soft on Trump over the past year, calling his firing of FBI Director James Comey a "grotesque abuse of power by the president of the United States. This is the kind of thing that goes on in non-democracies," among other things. 
But a full-throated apology on CNN has not been forthcoming, and until when and if Toobin does so, perhaps risking a big paycheck in the process, his once bright star will remain dim.

Sunday, January 28, 2018

The Dam Is Weak, But Can Mueller Make An Obstruction Of Justice Charge Stick?

The routine is, by now, numbingly familiar.  First, a newspaper breaks a deeply sourced story -- in this case the recent New York Times blockbuster on Donald Trump ordering the firing of Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller last June and backing off only after his White House counsel threatened to resign.  Second, the story is followed by a mush-mouthed non-denial by Trump's beleaguered criminal lawyers as the boss paints them into an ever-tighter corner.  And then finally the boss himself waddles in, invariably invoking the claim that the story is "fake news."
Yet as explosive as The Times story was, it was merely (my word) yet another piece of damning evidence "in the now overwhelming case of obstruction of justice that Mr. Mueller has assembled," as a former federal prosecutor and deputy attorney general put it.   
So why aren't we dancing in the streets? 
Because as formidable as the case Mueller has assembled may be and as isolated as Trump seems to have become even as his Republican congressional sycophancy dances ever more frantically around the boiling pot in which they would like to stew the special counsel like a primitive tribe making a sacrificial offering to their god with the peculiar orange hair, claims of fake news and repeatedly lying will not hasten the end of the Trump presidency. 
It is probable that Trump has never uttered a truthful word about the Russia scandal. And while two people (campaign manager Paul Manafort and foreign policy gofer George Papadopoulos) have been indicted by Mueller's grand jury for lying in what may become a flood of perjury charges that sweep up other campaign and West Wing perps, the special prosecutor will have to prove that Trump intended to obstruct justice and that intent was corrupt.     
As persuasive as the obstruction incidents may seem, they still are not conclusive proof of obstruction.  And as slopes go, this particular one could become exceedingly slippery. 
This is because the sustained pattern of lying about the Trump's campaign's numerous contacts with Russians probably was done by design, and the same inner circle (think the vulpine Kellyanne Conway for starters) that has helped the president hone the "fake news" canard to surgical acuity understands that motoring around the truth -- that Trump made a sustained effort to rein in the FBI's Russia investigation through guile and intimidation and did eventually fire James Comey -- by arguing that the president is a windbag may be a tenable, if seemingly desperate strategy.  The president, they will explain, Your Honor, blusters about everything 24/7, so what Mueller and we see as obstruction of justice is merely Trump being his bloviating self.  Besides whch, he was merely (in his own words) "fighting back." 
Call it the Loudmouth Defense, which is not dissimilar to another by-now familiar defense repeatedly offered with the straightest of faces: The campaign was so dysfunctional and its key players so inept that they could not have colluded with the Kremlin even had they wanted to.
Then there are the strange rationales Trump has pulled out of his red MAGA cap, or rather gotten from those beleaguered lawyers, to counter The Times story: Mueller had quit Trump National Golf Club in Virginia in 2011 over a dispute about fees.  Mueller could not be impartial because he worked for a law firm that represented son-in-outlaw Jared Kushner.  And Mueller had been interviewed to return as FBI director the day before Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein named him special counsel, which may be news to Mueller. 
The real reason, of course, is that Trump feared that three of his worst nightmares were coming to pass -- not receiving the loyalty he demands, losing control of events and having his and his family's problematic finances examined.    
WE CAN TAKE SMALL COMFORT in the reality that Trump can't fire Mueller like he is some contestant on "The Apprentice."  At least some of Trump's handlers -- including White House counsel Donald McGahn -- understand that. 
It was McGahn who, according to The Times, threatened to quit if Trump followed through on his demand that Mueller be fired.  Somewhat lost in the excitement over the story was that it was a twofer.  Trump also demanded that Rosenstein get the ax.  And before we get all fuzzy over McGahn's apparent altruism, remember that he's at the very apex of the obstruction efforts, could be disbarred for not having reported them, and may yet be indicted himself.  (Just ask John Dean, Richard Nixon's White House counsel, about what can happen if you allow yourself to get sucked into a president's intrigues.)  
Firing Mueller would itself constitute obstruction.  Even if those congressional Republicans continue to turn a deaf ear to Democratic demands in the wake of The Times story that two bipartisan bills to protect Mueller from Trump be resuscitated and Mueller gets the heave-ho, the long-anticipated constitutional crisis (a term I've used a bloody 13 times in the past year) finally would be upon us. 
ALL THESE CONSIDERATIONS ASIDE, the dam is weak and could break at any time.  Even those Republicans dancing around that pot in the Capitol Hill jungle know that they're running out of time, let alone outlandish conspiracy theories like the one about a secret FBI society determined to take down the Trump presidency.  Yes, the very people who because of the Clinton email investigation may have done more than anyone this side of Red Square to create the Trump presidency actually are intent on destroying it.   
Oh, and by the way, the Republican congressional leadership is complicit in Trump's obstructionism by not just refusing to do their constitutional mandated duty, but by helping build the fire under that pot because of their silence.
Never has a fool been suffered so gladly. 
My own dam-breaking hole card is that Trump will snap, crackle and pop if Mueller indicts Kushner and elder son Donald Jr., which he probably can do for a number of reasons, the juiciest being the infamous June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting of the campaign brain trust called by Donald Jr. for the expressed purpose of getting Russian government "dirt" on Hillary Clinton.  The other non-Russian players at that meeting were Kushner and Manafort, who is said to have taken contemporaneous notes of the sitdown on his cellphone, has been indicted on a slew of money laundering and tax and foreign lobbying violations, and may yet be ripe for flipping.     
Then there is the looming prospect of a presidential interview with the special prosecutor, which on odd days Trump says he is "looking forward" to, perhaps under oath, but on even days says he'll defer to his lawyers.  (Did I say they were beleaguered?)   
Amy Davidson Sorkin divinely describes the prospect of a chat with the special prosecutor in The New Yorker:
[I]f he does sit down with Mueller's team, once the first question is asked there will be an interval of silence that only the President can choose how to fill.  Will he try to turn the interview against Mueller?  If Trump thinks that Mueller can be scared off by the prospect of being fired, however, he will have misunderstood not only the laws that restrain any President but the terms of his own employment.  This time, Trump could be the one to lose his job.
We can only hope.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal. 

Friday, January 26, 2018

Movie Review: Cinematic Super Sleuth Errol Morris Blurs The Lines In 'Wormwood'

In the early morning hours of November 28, 1953, Dr. Frank Olson, a specialist in bacterias working for the Army, plunged from the upper floor of his midtown Manhattan hotel room.  The government said that he had been depressed and probably committed suicide.   
But in 1975 it was revealed that Olson had been dosed with LSD without his knowledge as part of the CIA's secret MK-Ultra mind control project and had freaked out.   Then in 2015, the probable real story -- as depicted in the magnificent, line-blurring Wormwood series now streaming on Netflix -- was revealed: Olson was murdered because he knew too much about the U.S.'s germ warfare program, including the possibility that germ warfare had been employed in the Korean War.  
Wormwood, directed by Academy Award-winning documentarian Errol Morris, is a study in doubleness. 
It explores what is truth and what passes for truth.  It is a 240-minute film (that has come and gone from your local multiplex) and a mini-series chopped into six 45-minute segments.  It is both a true-crime documentary and fictional reenactment, with Peter Sarsgaard playing Olson.   
Morris frequently employs a double screen with the director/interviewer on one screen and Olson's oldest son, Eric, on the other, with interwoven cutaways to the reenactment, old photographs, home movies, television clips and snippets of Laurence Olivier's screen adaptation of Hamlet.  Eric, of course, is the melancholy Danish prince.  
The pacing of Wormwood, especially in mini-series form, is unhurried.  That was Morris's intention, so viewers who aren't grabbed by the story early on may find themselves becoming bored.  Too bad for them.
A clock on the wall of the bare interview room is stopped between 2:30 and 2:35, the approximate time of Frank Olson's death.  Morris stops short of a definite answer to what the circumstances of that death were, but it is difficult not to believe the conclusion Eric has reached after decades of dogged research while being lied to repeatedly by the government: Frank Olson was a victim of state-sanctioned murder.  

Click HERE for the Netflix trailer of Wormwood 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

And Then There Was One: Why Sessions Has Become Trump's Worst Nightmare

And then there was one. 
Eight months after Special Counsel Robert Mueller commenced his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, he appears to be zeroing in on what will determine not just the success of his labors, but the future of a presidency: An interview with Donald Trump himself. 
The last piece in the run-up to this momentously momentous moment may have fallen into place with his seemingly belated interview with Attorney General Jeff Sessions. 
The prima facie evidence that Russia unleashed a cyber plot to sabotage the Hillary Clinton campaign is overwhelming.  This makes the devious peregrinations of the Mueller character assassination squad in Congress and its helpmates at Fox News and in the alt-right media so transparently pathetic.  There also is no question that the campaign colluded in that plot and that Trump abetted that collusion, but making a legally airtight case has been a challenge from the jump for Mueller and his team.   
But the biggest question of all -- did Trump  seek to quash the FBI investigation by firing James Comey and enlisting confederates to try to undermine Mueller -- add up to the impeachable crime of obstruction of justice? 
It turns out that little ole Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III is the key player in all three of these dramas -- interference, collusion and cover-up -- and is hoving into view as Trump's worst nightmare. 
There have been five top-tier perps from the outset of the Mueller investigation -- Paul Manafort, Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr. and Sessions.  Mueller has indicted campaign manager Manafort, cut a plea deal with disgraced national security adviser Flynn, interviewed son-in-law Kushner and conducted extensive interviews about Donald Jr.'s infamous June 2016 meeting with Russians who promised him "dirt" on Clinton although he has not interviewed the president's eldest son.  
This may explain why Mueller's several-hour-long interview with Sessions on January 17 was seemingly belated but, I believe, belated quite by design.   Having run Manafort, Flynn, Kushner and (indirectly) Trump Jr. through the prosecutorial wringer, Mueller finally could turn to Sessions, who:
As a campaign insider met at least twice with the Russian ambassador to discuss the lifting of sanctions, once with Flynn and Kushner present. 
Was present at a campaign national security meeting where also-indicted George Papadopoulos briefed the president about contacts with Russians. 
Recused himself from the Comey phase of the Russia investigation on advice of Justice Department counsel because he was so mobbed up. 
May be able to corroborate Comey's contemporaneous notes documenting Trump's insistence that he pledge his loyalty and decision to clear the Oval Office so he could talk to Comey one-on-one. 
Despite the recusal tasked an aide with getting dirt on Comey because he (read Trump) wanted a negative story on the FBI director in the press each day. 
Despite the recusal was party to the charade of Trump's firing of Comey on the specious grounds that he had mishanded the Clinton email server investigation.
Despite the recusal is involved with the counter-investigations of the FBI and renewed Clinton investigations by the character assassination squad. 
Was relentlessly bullied by Trump over recusing himself and pressured to resign so the president could name a new attorney general to do his bidding in the scandal. 
May have pressured Comey successor Christopher Wray to fire the Comey-era FBI leadership, prompting Wray to threaten to resign. 
Stonewalled congressional investigators when asked if Trump had ever asked him to hinder the investigation.
How much trouble is Sessions in?  Heaps, as they say in Alabama. 
Beyond the numerous times Sessions has perjured himself, which is small beer given the enormity of the scandal and his multiple appearances in it, the attorney general himself is at risk of an obstruction charge.  (Richard Nixon AG John Mitchell did prison time for obstruction of justice, perjury and conspiracy.)  
Would Mueller "forgive" Sessions for his violations of law, small and large, in the service of obtaining incontrovertible evidence of Trump's oathbreaking? 
While the obvious answer would seem to be "you betcha!," Mueller has proven himself to be nothing if not crafty, and there are all those second-tier perps beyond the unindicted Kushner and Donald Jr. -- and of course Sessions -- who he may hang out to dry before turning to the big fish.  These include Carter Page, Felix Sater, Roger Stone and K.T. McFarland.  And perhaps Donald McGahn, Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Michael Cohen, Sam Clovis and KellyAnne Conway, as well.  Then there is a wildcard -- Devin Nunes. 
Trump has gone from being "100 percent" willing to sit down with Mueller to vacillating  to saying on Wednesday that he would agree to an interview with the special prosecutor.  Expect him to change his mind yet again. 
"I would love to do it, and I would like to do it as soon as possible.  I would do it under oath, absolutely.
"Here's the story, just so you understand," Trump said during an impromptu question-and-answer session with reporters.  "There's been no collusion whatsoever.  There's been no obstruction whatsoever, and I'm looking forward to it."  
But hooking this big fish will be an extraordinarily difficult feat.  To prove obstruction of justice, Mueller will have to prove that Trump acted with corrupt intent.   
This although Trump has lied from the outset about everything having to do with he and his campaign and Russia.  In fact, he has never uttered a truthful word about anything to do with the scandal, which would seem to make any kind of contact with Mueller extraordinarily risky.  Or, in Stone's words, "a suicide mission." 
Taken by surprise, Ty Cobb, the president's lead criminal lawyer, responded to the Wednesday remarks by saying Trump was speaking hurriedly and had only said he intended to meet with the special counsel.  
Like I said, expect Trump to change his mind yet again. 
(The New York Times reported on Thursday  that Trump ordered Mueller to be fired in June 2017 but ultimately backed down after White House counsel McGahn threatened to resign rather than carry out the directive.  Trump, of course, called the story "fake news.") 
We can take heart that the character assassination squad's White House-orchestrated attacks are so crazy, transforming the mundane into the sinister in the long tradition of right-wing deep state conspiracy theories.  This means that Trump, Cobb and his other criminal lawyers and West Wing aides may be expecting the worst.   
And while a reminder that the first article of impeachment against Nixon was obstruction of justice will set aflutter the hearts of those of us who yearn to hasten the hallelujah end of the awful presidency of an abominable man, 1973 was not 45 years ago.  It was light years ago. 
The Democrats may wrest control of Congress from the obdurate Republicans, which hypothetically means that impeachment proceedings against Trump could begin in a year.  But in the meantime, we're stuck with a congressional majority that has gone soft on protecting Mueller while refusing to do their constitutional duty. 
In this era of unthinkables, when Trump violates his oath of office, that's okay with Congress because he can do anything he wants.  When he is party to a crime, it's not really a crime.  When he commits adultery and pays hush money to yet another woman whom he sexually appropriated, it's none of Congress's business.  And even if he fires Mueller, Congress still will support him in covering up a scandal of such historic proportions that Watergate pales in comparison.  
Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.   

Sunday, January 21, 2018

Goin' Down The Road Feeling Bad: An Analysis Of The Russia Scandal Timeline

Believe it or not, there still are people in addition to the president of the United States who claim to not believe Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election.  And there are a larger number of people who claim to still  not believe that the Trump campaign -- and possibly Donald Trump himself -- colluded with Vladimir Putin in his successful scheme to cybersabotage the Hillary Clinton campaign. 
This brings us to the Russia scandal timeline I have been piecing together over the past year, an event-by-event account, with sidelights added to help put those events into a larger historical context, of the most explosive scandal since Soviet spies stole atomic bomb secrets over 70 years ago.   
Although this timeline now has over 730 entries, an extraordinary number that continues to grow, a Trump apologist might see it as very big pile of circumstantial evidence.  To an extent, that is true.  But for those seeking the truth (and justice), hiding in plain view is compelling -- and irrefutable -- evidence of interference and collusion that is far from being circumstantial. 
This evidence includes some 20 instances in 2016 alone where there were face-to-face meetings between members of the Trump campaign team and Russians intent on insinuating the Kremlin into the campaign apparatus.  (How many times did campaign team members meet with the Brits, French, Germans, Japanese and reps from other allied nations?  Zip.  Zero.  Nada.) 
These interactions followed years of efforts by Russian oligarchs, mobsters, spies and Putin himself to soften up Trump.  Not because it was understood well before Trump announced his improbable run for president that he might do so, but because the ailing business empire of the desperately needy entrepreneur and celebrity television star was a convenient conduit for money laundering and propagandizing the Russian government brand, things of which Trump was well aware and, in some instances, for which he is criminally culpable.   
And more recently, when Trump did decide to run for president, he became a witting partner in Putin's quest to return Russia to the glory of the Cold War Soviet Union and knock the U.S. from its perch as the only superpower in return for help that was invaluable not so much in bolstering the Trump campaign, but undermining Clinton's because Trump as president was a sure bet to try to cozy up to Moscow as president. 
For this Trump also is culpable because federal law explicitly prohibits foreign entities from contributing financially or materially to federal election campaigns and those campaigns from accepting such help. 
THE TIMELINE IS VERY MUCH a work in progress.   
Recent additions include what is emerging as one of the more incendiary aspects of the scandal: The Kremlin's long courtship of the National Rifle Association, which dates back to at least 2013. 
Despite the NRA's tireless and tiresome American flag-waving, it has openly embraced the extreme political views of the post-Soviet Union government hierarchy in its overall effort to cultivate rightist-revanchist groups at home and internationally, which further cements my view that the NRA has become a domestic terrorist group and a frighteningly powerful one at that.  It is probable that Russian money was surreptitiously funneled through a secretive fundraising arm of NRA, which is not required to disclose the names of donors, to help Trump.  Thirty million bucks is the most frequently cited figure.  
Will Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller seize on the cozy relationship between the NRA's Trump sycophancy and Putin's own adulators?   
Mueller may well do so, but there are a number of other threads in the timeline that we are aware he is pursuing, including allegations of money laundering -- a factor in the Paul Manafort and Rick Gates indictments -- as well as the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting between the Trump campaign brain trust and Russians who promised "dirt" on Clinton.
In the end, however, translating that clear-cut culpability -- all that evidence of interference and collusion -- into future indictments is another matter altogether.    
THEN THERE ARE THE BACKSTORIES peeking out between entries in the timeline. 
Among these backstories are the peregrinations of FBI Director James Comey over the Clinton emails and the pushback by congressional Republicans that commenced in late 2017 as they rushed to the beleaguered Trump's defense and charged, among other things, that Mueller's investigation is biased and, for good measure, revived long completed investigations against Clinton and her family foundation.   
The most important of these backstories is the chaotic and often bumbling response of the U.S. intelligence community and Obama administration to this unprecedented assault from America's greatest foe on the bedrock of its democracy. 
The earliest warnings of Russian mischief manifested themselves in the hacking of Democratic National Committee (DNC) emails by a Kremlin cyberhacking team in June 2015, some 17 months before the election.  The FBI became aware of the hack in September 2015 but did not actively investigate it even after Britain's GCHQ, equivalent to the U.S.'s NSA, first became aware of suspicious interactions between individuals connected to Trump and Russian agents. and passed on the information to the FBI and CIA in late 2015. 
By mid-2016, the White House was getting credible warnings of Russian election interference and possible Trump campaign-Russia ties. 
Over a five-month interval beginning in late July 2016, the Obama administration secretly debated options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure or sanctions that would devastate the Russian economy.     
After several futile back channel communications with the Kremlin to cease and desist, the Obama administration publicly accused the Russian government of hacking into DNC emails in early October 2016 but stopped well short of accusing Putin of wholesale efforts to interfere in the election and the Trump campaign's involvement for fear of being accused of trying to influence the outcome.   
History will judge this muted response to be a profound error in judgment.  

Friday, January 19, 2018

Bannon Belatedly Takes His Russia Scandal Star Turn, But Can He Hurt Trump?

My big takeaway from Steve Bannon's belated appearance as a Russia scandal principal is less whether he can hurt Donald Trump or the White House will be able to defang him than a reminder that the president's former white nationalist Svengali fits hand-in-glove in the mold of virtually everyone he has surrounded himself with over the years.  These are amoral bottom feeders who believe love of country is for sissies, used Trump while Trump used them, and when push comes to shove will have no compunction turning on him to save their own sorry asses. 
That's not just what passes for loyalty in the Age of Trump.  It's a reflection of why every player tainted by the Russia scandal is pretty much cut from the same cloth as Bannon. 
We're talking Michael Flynn, Jared Kushner, Donald Trump Jr., Felix Sater, Roger Stone, Carter Page, George Papadopoulos, K.C. McFarland and Paul Manafort, which is exactly the number of players you need for a federal penitentiary softball team.  The bench would be pretty deep with Sean Spicer, Reince Priebus, Michael Cohen, Sam Clovis and KellyAnne Conway.  Bannon could be coach. 
EVEN IF BANNON IS A LATECOMER, he succeeded this week in doing something no other scandal player has been able to accomplish: Piss off the entire House Intelligence Committee.   
Over 10 hours of invoking presidential executive privilege in refusing to answer most of the questions asked him during a closed committee hearing, he riled both Democrats and Republicans.  This was a rare if fleeting moment of bipartisan agreement among the august members of a panel headed by Trump poodle Devin Nunes, whose recusal has not kept him from continuing to interfere with the committee's work on behalf of the White House.  The predictable result is that the committee's investigation is a high drama-low results mockery. 
By contrast, the Senate Intelligence Committee has dredged up a fair amount of information about the role of social media in Russia's election interference, although little about possible Trump campaign collusion. 
Anyhow, the House committee quickly drafted a subpoena to compel Bannon to return and testify, but it was one-upped by Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller, who not only already had subpoenaed Bannon to appear before his grand jury (where the long arm of executive privilege might not reach) but then cut an agreement with Bannon to come in for a chat, which is likely what the crafty Mueller had sought all along.
IF BANNON IS FEELING COOPERATIVE -- and that is not certain because the suspicion lingers that he is more of a frenemy of Trump than an outright foe -- he can be of considerable help to Mueller because he is an ultimate fly on the wall of sorts regarding several key White House events.
These include the slow response to concerns about national security director Flynn, Flynn's subsequent ouster, the lead-up to FBI Director James Comey's firing, and the cover-up letter drafted by Trump Sr. when news broke of Donald Jr.'s June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with several Russians who had "dirt" on Hillary Clinton. 
While Bannon did not attend that meeting, which Donald  Jr. convened after infamously replying with "If What You Say Is True I Love It" to the offer of dirt, he has inside knowledge of it and told Fire and Fury author Michael Wolff that "the chance Don Jr. did not walk these jumos up to his father's office on the twenty-sixth floor . . . is zero." 
There has been considerable head scratching among pundits and linguists alike over what the word jumo means.  My favorite interpretation is that Bannon was playing on the word jamoke to refer to lawyer and Vladimir Putin handmaiden Natalia Veselnetskaya and the rest of the Russian delegation attending the meeting.   
Jamoke, it appears, is street slang for a clumsy loser, which certainly would apply.  To the whole bunch of them.   
SUSPICIONS THAT RUSSIA FUNNELED MONEY through the National Rifle Association to help Trump have been rife since Alexander Torshin, a deputy governor of the Russia central bank and Putin crony, began showing an inordinate interest in America's biggest and most powerful organization of gun nuts. 
Torshin, who has documented ties to Russian organized crime, first proposed a meeting between Putin and candidate Trump in a May 2016 email to Trump son-in-outlaw Kushner.  The meeting never came off, but he did have a sitdown with Donald Jr. at a private dinner during the NRA's annual meeting later that month in Louisville, Kentucky. 
Trump was supposed to meet with Torshin two weeks after his inauguration, but the White House abruptly cancelled the meeting.  That surely had nothing to do with Spanish police having just identified Torshin as the "godfather" of a Russian mob money-laundering scheme. 
Mueller and the FBI have been watching, reports the McCatchy News Service, which says in a story this week that the special counsel is investigating whether Torshin illegally funneled money to the NRA to help Trump.  It is illegal to use foreign money to influence federal elections.   
The NRA spent a record $55 million on the 2016 elections, including $30 million to support Trump, McClatchy says.  Most of that money was spent by a secretive arm of the NRA that is not required to disclose its donors.   Natch. 

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal. 

Wednesday, January 17, 2018

How Racism Became, You Know, Just Another Ho-Hum Issue In The Age Of Trump

There is no more horrifying example of the perniciously erosive effect the Trump presidency is inflicting on American society than the Shithole Countries Comment.  That is, until yet another new low is reached.   
After working its way through the media sausage factory and what passes for public discourse since Trump used the profane phrase on January 11 during one of his patented temper tantrums, this one over immigration diluting America's whiteness, the upshot is that racism has now been dumbed down to the point where it has become just another issue along with, say, the ethicacy of  fluoridating drinking water, preserving federal wilderness areas or increasing tariffs on Chinese steel.   
Race is a central fact of America, its melting pot history and its bloodiest war, which was fought over whether people should be allowed to own and enslave other people.  Racism is not just another issue.  It has long been the most serious problem afflicting the republic.   
This dissembling of racism is a consequence of everything that gestates in Donald Trump's small mind and escapes his Diet Coke-lubricated lips inevitably cheapening discourse, triggering news media tail chasing, liberal hankie wringing and industrial strength lying and a litanies of excuses from his Republican congressional sycophancy.  In this instance, the lying has been especially egregious and the excuses especially appalling.
Trump didn't really say what he said. 
It was "shithouse" or "outhouse" and not "shithole." 
If you like "shithole countries," why don't you go live in one? 
If Trump did say what he said, it was merely what many of us say in private.  
"He's passionate about it," added press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who did not bother to deny the slur.  "He's not going to apologize for trying to fix the immigration system." 
The point, of course, is that regardless of precisely what Trump said, the words themselves don't matter.  It is beyond dispute that he derided countries, including Haiti and African nations, populated by black and brown people and lauded Norway, a country that is almost entirely white. 
And is not going to apologize for it.  Got that? 
In a perfect in-your-face coda to the whole stinking affair, Trump gushed to guests at Mar-a-Lago over Martin Luther King Day weekend that his "base" loved what he had said, while on the great civil rights activist's birthday itself, he chose to play golf instead of taking the leads of Bill Clinton, George W. Bush and Barack Obama, who always performed community service of one kind or another in tribute to the King's memory.
Racism is not the only issue that comes out of the sausage factory these days with a shrug of the societal shoulders. 
In another time (think Clinton), evidence that the president paid hush money to cover up a sexual dalliance -- let alone the $130,000 that Trump is said to have paid Stephanie Clifford, the bend-over-and-spread-'em star of "Good Will Humping" a month before the 2016 election -- would provoke outrage, calls for a special prosecutor and . . . yup, revving up the old impeachment machine. 
In another time (think . . . well, there is no antecedent), evidence that the president parlayed decades of business dealmaking with Russia oligarchs, mobsters and money laundering into a relationship with the leader of America's historic enemy so cozy that his shocking election "victory" can be attributed, in large part, to his campaign's collusion in the cyber effort to sabotage his opponent, would provoke outrage, calls for a special prosecutor and . . . yup, revving up the old impeachment machine. 
Well, we got the special prosecutor, along with a lot of collective shrugs, another fusillade of lies and excuses from the GOP sycophancy and some pernicious pushing back against said prosecutor.  Oh, and cobwebs continue to gather on the old impeachment machine. 
The Shithole Countries Comment provoked an inevitable round of "how much more are we going to take from this lunatic?" posturing from the usual suspects in the mainscream media and liberal peanut gallery.  It was, of course, the wrong question, just like whether Trump is unhinged and whether he degrades all of us also are wrong questions. 
We've known Trump has been unhinged for years.  So we voted him in.  Trump isn't degrading us, we're degrading ourselves by not kicking him out of office.  And we know but won't admit that we'll keep on "taking it" from Trump because having a uniquely dangerously ignoramus and racist in charge is, you know, just another ho-hum issue.  

Monday, January 15, 2018

Robert Mueller May Be Our Only Hope For Law & Order. And Taking Down Trump.

And so, as we approach the first anniversary of the Donald Trump presidency, there no longer is any question the man in the Oval Office is unhinged, but what are we to do about it? 
There no longer is any dispute that for Trump the Constitution is an obstacle to be squashed, but what are we to do about it?  There no longer is any doubt Trump is a racist and bigot, but what are we to do about it?  There no longer is any skepticism that Trump has become so demented that he sometimes even opposes his own bills, but what are we to do about it?  There no longer is any confusion that Trump has abdicated the leadership his office requires in ignoring the false alert in Hawaii of an incoming ballistic missile for more than three hours and then, his round of golf completed, instead tweeting about the latest "fake news" indignity.  There no longer is any uncertainty that Trump is a coward who is afraid to even step foot on the soil of America's most important ally after methodically denigrating our remaining friends in the world, not to mention all those "shithole countries," but what are we to do about it? 
The obvious answers -- impeach this Global Village Idiot or force him from office through the 25th Amendment -- are not going to be invoked so long as the Republican sycophancy controls Congress, and even a Democratic sweep in November in the face of an electoral map favoring the GOP does not guarantee Trump's ouster, only more partisan gridlock.  A government shutdown later this week, taking knees at NFL games or pretending the American Dream is merely on sabbatical and not life support also aren't going to do it. 
Which leaves only one alternative: Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  Yes, it's come to that. 
As an exercise in fighting off despondency, I began viewing the Trump presidency at some point last year as being built on a gigantic dune, with the sands slowly but inexorably trickling away with every passing month -- and every new assault on those things we most cherish about America.  You know, stuff like clean air, national parks and welcoming immigrants and refugees.    
My trickle has become a steady flow as Trump's cognitive abilities further decline and he becomes a little crazier, alienates more people and continues to find new ways to founder.  (Not to mention those nagging bone spurs that kept him out of Vietnam but thank goodness have not affected his golf game.)  And the trickle might even become a torrent after the next round of Russia scandal indictments.  Or maybe the round after that.  Or . . .   
It is dawning on the West Wing clean-up crew that the Mueller's investigation not only is not wrapping up, as Trump's criminal lawyers have tried to reassure him that it is, but has barely gotten underway and will continue at least through 2018. 
So many perps, so little time. 
Among those perps almost certainly are Trump son-in-outlaw Jared Kushner and Donald "Fredo" Jr.  The glorious sight of them frog walking into federal district court in Washington in answer to the special prosecutor's summons could trigger that hoped for torrent of eroding sand, the collapse of Trump's improbable presidency, and an end -- or at least the beginning of the end --  of our national nightmare.
The Founding Fathers got a lot right, but one thing they could not have anticipated is how some of those right things would be abused many years on. 
Until fairly recently, the classic example of this was the Second Amendment provision on "the right of the people to keep and bear Arms" not being infringed upon. 
The Founders crafted this in the context of a young republic still recovering from the aftershocks of the Revolutionary War that had no standing army.  They were not giving carte blanche to a long-mature America nearly two and a half centuries on inured to a sick subculture that encourages the purchase, possession and carrying of unlimited numbers of weapons whose sole purpose is to kill and maim.   
More to the point, the Founders also could not have anticipated that their delicate balancing act known as the Balance of Powers -- wherein one branch of government can rein in another when it wrongly uses or abuses its constitutional powers -- would be trashed 
nearly two and a half centuries on by the conservative wing of a political party that packs the Supreme Court with activist judges, controls Congress, enables a president who by any objective measure should be removed from office and views trust, comity and bipartisanship as fool's games to be quashed in the service of consolidating power. 
This brings us to the central irony of our time.   
The Supreme Court and Congress cannot be depended on to hew to the rule of law.  Our president, of all people, certainly cannot.  We can get all warm and fuzzy about voting out Republican scoundrels in November and marching toward impeachment in 2019, while Michael Wolff, author of Fire and Fury, which is working on a robust two million copies sold 10 days after it was published, believes that Washington eventually will bury Trump. 
But at this juncture, the best hope of saving what remains of the rule of law -- that is, by terminating the presidency of a uniquely dangerous man -- is a career Republican who happens to be a crackerjack prosecutor. 
Yet even if we accept the possibility that Mueller "may come to represent the highest and most binding expression of law and order in America," as Slate's Dahlia Lithwick puts it, "[that] might not matter enough, to enough people, to bring the Trump train to a stop." 
How true. 
Which brings us from the central irony of our time to its central reality. 
Politics created the Trump presidency (with ample assists, to be sure, from Vladimir Putin, James Comey and Hapless Hillary) and only politics may undo Trump.  It just may take a few more years, and considering the parlous state of these United States, we don't have the luxury of time.