Friday, August 31, 2018

Why The President Sulks While America Pays Its Respects To John McCain

Let's be very clear why Donald Trump will not be attending the memorial service for John MccCain at the Washington National Cathredral on Saturday.  He probably will be playing golf and that, of course, has much to do with the refusal of the man Barrack Obama called "the lion of the Senate" to kiss his ring.  But the biggest reason writ plain and simple is that Trump has failed to accept the responsibilities of the presidency and has become further and further untethered from those constitutionally-mandated obligations with every new outrage. 
What obligations? 
How about, for openers, protecting America against all enemies, honoring America's defenders, supporting America's intelligence agencies, respecting America's laws and defending America's press?  As big a crook as Richard Nixon was, at least he had a grudging respect for the Constitution.
On the eve of a memorial service where Obama and George W. Bush will speak and at least two other living former presidents will be welcomed and embraced for their public service, Trump's disapproval rating hit an astonishing 60 percent in one national poll and calls for his impeachment hit 50 percent in another (57 percent among women; I wonder why?) 
Those numbers will continue to climb as Trump vomits lies not just on a daily but a nearly hourly basis in a desperate effort to create an alternate reality of which Joseph Goebbels would be proud in a shambolic and increasingly frantic effort to hold onto a base for whom he still can do no wrong as no fewer than seven separate legal investigations close in on he, his family and associates, felons all. 
On Thursday, former Vice President Joe Biden, while clumsily forgetting to mention McCain's 106-year-old mother in the lead-up to his eulogy at a memorial service in Phoenix, otherwise hit just the right note. 
"My name's Joe Biden," he said.  "I'm a Democrat.  And I love John McCain." 
Biden, drawing on his own loss of his wife and children to sympathize with the McCain family, started out gently, but his voice soon rose to a shout as he praised McCain's personal code.  "You could come to a different conclusion.   But where he'd part company with you is if you lacked the basic values of decency, respect, knowing that this project is bigger than yourself."  
Trump had infamously said of McCain in life that "I like people who weren't captured," while his Machiavellian meanness in the wake of McCain's death was breathtaking.  (And he did indeed play golf on Saturday while Vice President Pence and Javanka attended the memorial service.) 
White House aides had written a statement that honored McCain’s service as a five-year prisoner of war in North Vietnam and his long career on Capitol Hill.  The statement called McCain a "hero," but Trump rejected it outright and instead punched out a sanctimonious 21-word tweet with his tiny thumbs.   
The White House flag flew at half mast on Sunday, the day after McCain's death, as protocol requires, but was back at full mast on Monday morning as flags on other federal buildings and throughout America remained lowered.   
The flag was again lowered after the predictable shitstorm of criticism, but not before former CIA director General Michael Hayden, whose security clearance Trump wants to yank because of his criticism of a man who claimed bone spurs prevented him from serving during the long years McCain moldered broken limbed in the Hanoi Hilton, tweeted "Remember this image the next time this president talks about disrespecting veterans." 
This veteran certainly will. 

Click HERE to read my John McCain remembrance.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

The Law Catches Up To Trump, His Family & Pals, But It's Not Over Until Its Over


(This post has been updated to include the Patten guilty plea on August 31.) 
Given Donald Trump's long career as a scam artist and all-around crook, there was no chance that he, his family and associates in his orbit would escape legal jeopardy once the criminal justice system got its teeth into them, although that has seemed like so much wishful thinking over the nearly two years since he stole the 2016  presidential election. But lost in the rush of Terrible Tuesday events and decision of some of his associates to cooperate with prosecutors is the fact that there are now seven (count 'em) law enforcement entities pursuing various investigations. 
"Everyone and everything he touches rots," says Peter Wehner, who served in the administrations of three Republican presidents.   
"The myth of Trump is now unraveling," adds Barbara Res, a Trump Organization executive from 1978 to 1996.  "He's becoming more obvious, and people are starting to know what he's like and what he's doing." 
What Trump is like is a pariah, even as the many Republicans for whom rank hypocrisy is a badge of honor and integrity is passé still embrace him despite his acknowledged criminality.   Disinvited from Barbara Bush's funeral, the recent royal wedding of Harry and Meghan and Kennedy Center Honors, Trump's president non grata status, as the WaPo puts it, will be on full display in the coming days as Senator John McCain is eulogized and memorialized by former presidents and world leaders as a principled war hero and Trump is left to lower and raise and lower the White House flag as he sulks on the sidelines.
The fact of the matter is, Trump already would have been charged with multiple crimes were he not president, which theoretically shields him from indictment if not impeachment.  Yes, seven long arms of the law in all are closing in, and it's a beautiful thing even if at this point Trump is "only" an unindicted co-conspiritor in a single case -- that of Michael Cohen. 
Trump's former lawyer and fixer, in entering guilty pleas on August 21 to campaign finance law violations, among other charges, compellingly and explicitly made the case that hush money payments were made to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal for the purpose of shielding Trump's candidacy from a sex scandal.  There is no question that candidate Trump broke the law.   
Evidence that candidate Trump colluded with Russia to aid his campaign is strong but still circumstantial, although the president should be extremely concerned about what the parade of cooperating witnesses, who now include Allen Weisselberg, longtime chief financial officer of the Trump Organization, are telling prosecutors, as well as signs that the special counsel is closing in on longtime Trump confidante and dirty trickster Roger Stone, whose repeated contacts with the "Guccifer 2.0" Russian hacking group and WikiLeaks are a matter of record.   
Meanwhile, there will be three publicity grabbing events in September -- the sentencings of short-lived national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign coffee boy George Papadopoulos, both of whom are cooperating to various degrees, and Paul Manafort's second trial.  (Manafort unsuccessfully tried to reach a plea deal with prosecutors to avoid that second trial, although Trump could pardon his sorry self).   
Weisselberg not only was the Fifth Avenue suit who signed off on Trump Organization reimbursements to Cohen for the hush payments, but he is intimately knowledgeable about Trump's deeply secretive finances as well as his failed efforts to build a hotel in Moscow and other contacts with Russians prior to the 2016 campaign. 
"Cohen knows where the bodies are buried," opined one pundit, "But it was Weisselberg who buried them." 
All of this and much more is being investigated by these entities:
Special Counsel Robert Mueller: Maximum Bob has bagged 32 indictments and the conviction of former Trump campaign chairman Manafort, with that second Manafort trial and more Russia scandal-related indictments to come.
U.S. Attorney, Southern District of New York: Mueller handed off the Cohen prosecution to SDNY because it was outside the scope of his inquiry, and it was these prosecutors who flipped Weisselberg. 
U.S. Attorney, Washington, D.C.: Another Mueller hand-off involving a guilty plea by Republican lobbyist W. Samuel Patten to failing to register as a foreign agent.  He admits illegally steering $50,000 to Trump's inauguration.   
Public Integrity Section, Justice Department: Republican fundraiser Elliott Broidy is being investigated for trying to sell access to Trump to several foreign interests.  Cohen set up a hush payment for Broidy, as well. 
Counterintelligence Division, Justice Department: Mariia Butina, Russian intelligence operative and NRA darling, is moldering in a lockup a few blocks from the White House as the result of yet another Mueller handoff.
Attorney General, State of New York: AG Barbara Underwood has shut down and is suing the Trump Foundation, Trump's personal piggy bank.  Trump will not be able to pardon anyone convicted as a result of state actions. 
District Attorney, Manhattan: DA Cyrus Vance Jr. has filed a parallel Trump Foundation action and is investigating Cohen's ties to the sleazy taxi medallion industry.  (Ditto on Trump pardons.)
How did Trump manage to operate with such impunity for so long? 
That's easy.  Trump, family members and associates and pals like Cohen and Broidy thought they were above the law, and after Trump became president, thought they were further immunized from it.   
This also is a clue to Trump's run-amok administration, which even 30-some firings and resignations of Flynn and other officials and ranking aides later still includes Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who not only is tainted by his association with the favorite offshore bank of Russian oligarch money launderers but allegedly has stolen a cool $120 million in various schemes.  Then there is my current favorite -- the trio of no-experience Trump cronies who have been running the Veterans Affairs Department out of the boy's clubhouse at Mar-a-Lago.   
But Andrew Sullivan suggests that despite the smell of blood in the water and the growing probability that Democrats will take back the House and we may actually get a look at Trump's tax returns, that we check our enthusiasm.  He strikes a chillingly cautionary note in his latest New York magazine essay:
What we're about to find out is if Trump can pull off all his usual tricks, and face no serious political or legal consequences for this.  I'd say that question remains nerve-rackingly open. . . . 
[T]his is the beginning, not the end. Everything we know about Trump would lead you to believe he will defend himself, like every other mafia boss, to the bitter end.  His current strategy is to dismiss the recent convictions as nothing to do with him, and nothing to do with collusion with Russia.  "NO COLLUSION."  And that may well work with his base — unless evidence does emerge of a knowing conspiracy with Russia, giving Mueller the goods without any serious doubt. Or unless we discover that Trump himself obviously used his constitutional powers to obstruct justice. 
Well, Trump obviously did obstruct justice.  As well as repeatedly perjure himself.  And who knows what he may yet do as he turns up the heat under his race war (look out, Andrew Gillum), manufactures left-wing conspiracy theories to pre-explain a Democratic victory in November, and revs up the presidential pardon machine. 
It ain't over until it's over.  Not by a long shot.  

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

Monday, August 27, 2018

Why Obama Is In The Crosshairs Of History For The Failures That Led To Trump

When House Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote to FBI Director James Comey two years ago today to complain that the FBI was foot dragging on mounting evidence "of a direct connection between the Russian government and Donald Trump's presidential campaign," it was not just the bluster of a politician grinding his partisan ax.   
It was an acknowledgment, although Reid did not begin to realize the full scope at the time, of a failure of law enforcement, intelligence gathering and government policymaking so enormous that it would result 10 weeks later in the shocking victory of an utterly unqualified billionaire real estate mogul and reality TV star who has plunged America into a nightmare that has shaken the very foundations of its democracy.  That failure was so immense that it still boggles the mind, and when all is said and done there will forever be an indelible stain on the otherwise noteworthy if occasionally fraught Barack Obama presidency because of it. 
There is plenty of blame to go around for what can be called without exaggeration the crime of the century. 
The FBI, CIA and NSA were asleep at the wheel, complacent Democrats assumed Hillary Clinton was a shoo-in, and Republicans after nearly eight years of partisan overkill were less interested in protecting the homeland than continuing to torment Obama.  There was the scruples-free Trump campaign, Facebook and Twitter executives who ranged from naïve to delusional about how Vladimir Putin's cyberwarriors were playing them and unwitting voters, and a blindered news media who never grasped the big picture.  But in the end, the buck had to stop somewhere and that was the Oval Office.   
Writes veteran New York Times national security reporter David E. Sanger in his recently published The Perfect Weapon: War, Sabotage, and Fear in the Cyber Age:
[W]ith the benefit of hindsight, the sequence of missed signals and misjudgments that allowed Russia to interfere in an American election seems incomprehensible and unforgivable -- and yet completely predictable for a nation that did not fully comprehend the many varieties of cyber conflict. 
Many of the initial mistakes were born of of bureaucratic inertia and lack of imagination.  That deadly combination allowed the Russian hackers complete freedom . . . before the [Democratic] party's leadership and the president of the United States were briefed about what was happening.  The lost time proved disastrous. 
If the Russians had struck at our election system in a more obvious way -- poisoning candidates it opposed, for example, as it has poisoned dissidents -- any president would have called them out and responded.  Only because the gray zone of cyber conflict gave the Russians cover did Obama hesitate.  By the time he responded, after the election, it was too late. 
In a story that bristles with ironies, none may be larger than the fact that despite the sophisticated Russian attacks, the U.S. had the greatest arsenal of cyber weapons in 2016 and still does today even if Trump -- in sync with his ignorance about cyber weaponry or anything else requiring a modicum of knowledge -- seems only vaguely aware of what is indisputably the future of warfare in the 21st century. 
As it was, Trump's predecessor was relying on intelligence agencies that were woefully at sea when it came to fully comprehending the slow-motion mischief Putin was working to cybersabotage the Clinton campaign, and in doing so transforming Trump from a distant long shot to a real challenger.  
Obama had received an "eyes only" report from CIA Director John Brennan in early August 2016 that was so sensitive that he kept it out of the President's Daily Brief, limiting its distribution to only a small handful of aides. 
The bombshell report was drawn from a source deep inside the Russian government that detailed Putin's direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt the presidential race.  It was followed a few days later by another report distributed to Comey, among others, that there was evidence members of the Trump campaign were collaborating with the Kremlin. Brennan had briefed Reid and a few other ranking lawmakers after alerting Obama, which prompted the majority leader's angry August 27, 2016 letter to the FBI director. 
Meanwhile, WikiLeaks was publishing a trove of tens of thousands of hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee, a flood cheered on by candidate Trump that would continue through to Election Day.
Despite the explicitness of the intelligence reports, Obama and his closest aides, and to a great extent the intelligence community itself, still failed to grasp even after three months of high-level White House meetings that the very foundation of American democracy had been assaulted.    
This failure-to-grasp continued well beyond Election Day.   
Since then, the drip-drip-drip of investigations and attendant minutiae -- What did happen at Trump Tower on June 9, 2016?  What did Michael Cohen know?  Did Rudy Giuliani really contradict himself yet again? -- have had the effect of obscuring the enormity of what Putin wrought with an informed assist from Trump and his confederates.   
Even when the success of Putin's assault had become glaringly obvious as September 2016 rolled into October, Obama and other key players, most especially Comey, still fumbled and stumbled. 
In the end, fears among several of Obama's top aides and the lame-duck president himself that the White House would be accused of trying to influence the election, which of course is exactly what Putin did with the eager approval of Trump and key campaign aides, as well as the overconfident view that Clinton would be the walk-off winner of the ferociously contested election, enabled a profoundly unqualified nut who never seriously thought he would win to wrest the keys to the national car from an eminently qualified if problematic opponent.   
Obama and his aides considered dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia in the weeks before the election.  These included cyberattacks on Russia's infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin by revealing his secret billions in stolen rubles, and sanctions so tough that officials told Obama they could "crater" the Russian economy.  
While Obama's back-channel warnings to Moscow to cease and desist as the election campaign played out may have prompted it to abandon plans to escalate its attacks even further, including sabotaging U.S. voting systems, in the end Russia got off with a laughably negligible toughening of existing Obama administration-imposed sanctions in late December that when placed in the overall context of the Russia scandal was profoundly inadequate.  
This weak-kneed response -- the expulsion of a mere 35 diplomats and closure of two Russian compounds, one of which had tapped in to vital communications channels unbeknownst to the U.S. -- was an open invitation for the Kremlin to work future mischief against the world's sole remaining superpower, which it surely will as the midterm elections approach, and advance Putin's dream of returning the former Soviet Union to its Cold War glory. 
Obama did approve the insertion of cyberweapons inside Russia's infrastructure that could be "detonated" if tensions between Washington and Moscow escalated, but that still was in the planning stages when he left office.  It should go without saying that nothing came of it after Trump assumed the presidency.     
 In another irony or two, as the Russians were doing their thing the U.S. launched super-secret cyber attacks on North Korea beginning in April 2016 and on the Islamic State only days after the election. 
The spectacular failure of seven of the eight tests of North Korea's long proven Musudan long-range missile may have been the result of a so-called "left of launch" cyber attacks by the U.S. that resulted in launch pad explosions or premature crashes into the Sea of Japan.  In Operation Glowing Symphony, the passwords of ISIS commanders were stolen, triggering chaos in the terrorists' network by sending convoys to the wrong destinations, blocking some fighters altogether and altering and deleting data.  
North Korea did suspend its Musudan program for a time and the NSA-Cyber Command operation against ISIS worked, but only briefly.  Sanger cites Obama defense secretary Ashton Carter's blistering assessment of what went wrong:
I was largely disappointed in Cyber Command's effectiveness against ISIS.  It never really produced any effective cyberweapons or techniques.  When Cybercom did produce something useful, the intelligence community tended to delay or prevent its use, claiming cyber operations would hinder intelligence collection. . . . In short, none of our intelligence agencies showed very well in the cyber fight.
An overriding lesson of the cyber age is that its weaponry is entirely different from nuclear armory. 
This lesson that has been painfully slow to sink in among defense and intelligence bureaucrats, many of whom still have a Cold War mindset just as many commanders in Iraq and Afghanistan have persisted in using failed Vietnam War era strategies, leaving our defense at home exposed and  "wildly insufficient," in Sanger's words. 
They don't fear us," Lieutenant General Paul Nakasone famously said of Iran, North Korea and Russia when speaking of the cyber threat to the U.S.'s infrastructure, computer networks and, yes, election systems during his confirmation hearing in March to run the NSA and Cyber Command.   
Meanwhile, Obama did not exactly go it alone in confronting Russian election meddling, but few of his Democratic allies in Congress --  comfortable in their own Cold War mindsets and deeply naïve about cyber warfare -- understood the gravity of the situation. 
Exceptions included Reid and Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam Schiff, three ranking Democratic members of Congress who were members of what is colloquially known Gang of Eight, which is a legacy of the George W. Bush NSA warrantless surveillance scandal who by law are to be briefed on important intelligence matters. 
Meanwhile, Republicans with exceptions hardly worthy noting remained smugly in denial, and no one more so than Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, as eminent a personification of evil to slither through the halls of the Capitol in generations.  The Soviet Union and later Russia may have been the Republican Party's go-to bogeyman for decades, but their lapel-pin patriotism hardly obscured their relentless attacks on Obama and, after the election, the shameless kissing Trump's ring no matter how outrageous his conduct in order to get their agenda passed.    
Historians will be dining out on this crime of the century for many years to come, and the defenses offered since Obama slipped into retirement are not worth the powder to blow them up. 
Social media executives, notably Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook, remain deeply in denial about their roles as Russian helpmates. 
Zuckerberg, who for supposedly being so intelligent is extraordinarily dumb, famously wrote six days after the election that "Personally I think that the idea that fake news on Facebook . . . influenced the election in any way -- I think is a pretty crazy idea." 
Nine days later, Zuckerberg essentially told Obama to buzz off when the president implored him at a summit meeting in Peru to take the threat of disinformation more seriously.  Threatened subpoenas from Senate investigators have had a somewhat clarifying effect, but counting obscene profits remains what Zuckerberg and his peers do best despite evidence that social media is again being used by Russia in the run-up to the midterms.
"It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend," a former White House official said of the months of high-level hankie wringing after Russian interference became known.  "I feel like we sort of choked." 
Former Obama chief of staff Denis McDonough offers an ad hominem excuse, saying that while the administration regarded that interference as an attack on the "heart of our system," the first priority was "to defend the integrity of the vote." 
"Importantly, we did that," McDonough adds disingenuously since no special measures were taken to safeguard voting machines, nor did Russia attempt any Election Day mischief.  
"The punishment did not fit the crime," says Michael McFaul, who served as U.S. ambassador to Russia from 2012 to 2014. "Russia violated our sovereignty, meddling in one of our most sacred acts as a democracy — electing our president. The Kremlin should have paid a much higher price for that attack."  
It speaks volumes that not only has Russia not paid that price, but Trump endorsed a proposal by Putin at the Surrender Summit in Helsinki to question American citizens, including McFaul, who Putin considers to be an arch enemy of Russia, in return for giving the U.S. access to the 12 GRU intelligence officers indicted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for their key roles in election interference.  
After a firestorm of criticism, Trump suddenly cooled to the idea.  Even if it did come from the man who had so much to do with making him president.  

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

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Rest In Peace, John McCain, But Let Us Not Forget All The Bad Stuff You Did

John McCain may have tried to do good through 34 years in Washington, but too often did bad.  In contrast to, say, Joe Biden, his longtime Senate colleague and good friend, who also tried to do good through his own 34 years in Washington and usually succeeded. 
The difference, I believe, can be found in the enigma of who John Sidney McCain III really was -- a neoconservative Republican with an untamed reckless streak and fondness for wisecracking and vodka who during his five terms in the Senate voted the party line nearly 90 percent of the time but was on rare occasions a maverick who went against the GOP grain. 
The maverick in McCain, as rare as our glimpses of that over-hyped aspect of him was, begins to explain why the carpetbagging Arizonan and two-time presidential contender was disparaged by Donald Trump repeatedly for his failure to kiss his ring and widely loathed in Trumpworld.   
So much so that when a White House aide in early May dissed McCain (he "doesn’t matter, he's dying anyway"), it triggered a firestorm beyond the West Wing but a practiced yawn from an administration that keeps coming up with new ways to mirror the shamelessness and crudity of the man in the Oval Office in their collective race to the bottom of the Washington swamp that McCain had much to do with keeping filled.   
As political leaders across the aisle and foreign dignitaries publicly mourned McCain's death on Saturday evening at age 81, Trump conspicuously avoided a national moment of tribute.  The president spent much of Sunday golfing and attacking his usual enemies on Twitter.
We -- or we liberals anyway -- best remember McCain for casting no fewer than 17 votes with Democrats to keep Obamacare alive, his support for Dreamers, his welcome and Evangelical defying intolerance of the right-wing Christianist scolds who helped elect Trump, and full-throated criticism of Trump's reprehensible fawning over Vladimir Putin at the Surrender Summit in Helsinki.  
He voted for all but two of Trump's 15 cabinet selections and eight other administration posts requiring Senate confirmation, but did oppose Gina "Bloody Gina" Haspel to head the CIA because of her embrace of government-sanctioned torture, something that he was against before he was for it but ended up being against in one of his more legendary flip flops.
McCain was quick to alert then-FBI Director James Comey when he received a copy of the Steele dossier, a wake-up call on the extent of Russian interference on Trump's behalf in the 2016 election, but in mourning him we will tend to forget that he did a lot of bad stuff. 
He supported the cancellation of the assault weapon ban and opposed bills that would have made it easier to sue gun manufacturers.  He opposed federal hate crime legislation and legislation to strengthen labor unions.  He was a homophobe and anti-choice whose positions on women's issues reflected his misogyny.  He supported privatization of Social Security, led the cheers for the Iraq War debacle to the bitter end despite having preached the sobering lessons of the Vietnam War, and was way too cosy with lobbyists and mega-donors like Charles Keating, which earned him a place of dishonor among the Keating Five. 
Oh, and he was a lousy singer.  Unless you think his singing "Bomb bomb bomb Iran" was cool. 
Yet McCain is being remembered across party lines and in the mainstream media he so assiduously courted -- the favor returned in countless articles in which he was praised by reporters for his "straight talk" -- as an exemplar of everything politics no longer is. 
"John McCain is the single greatest political leader of our time," wrote The Washington Post's Dana Milbank before he left this mortal coil.   "He is, in a way, not of our time, for his creed — country before self — is unfamiliar to many who serve in office and utterly foreign to the man in charge." 
Then there was Sarah Palin, whose selection by McCain as his 2008 running mate certainly was of our time, but not in the way Milbank meant it.  
Considering that Palin would be a heartbeat away from the presidency if McCain had defeated Barack Obama, the decision to choose a virtual unknown whose popularity already had tanked in Alaska because of a reputation for being a power abusing kook and liar has to rank as perhaps the most irresponsible in the modern history of presidential campaigns until the Republican Party got behind the man with the small hands and peculiar hair in 2016.  
Despite the lack of anything vaguely resembling a vetting process, McCain invited Palin to join the ticket after spending less than two hours with the half-term Alaska governor on the very redwood deck of his Sedona home where he said his long goodbyes after he stopped chemotherapy treatments and succumbed to the ravages of brain cancer. 
Country before self, my ass.  
Truth be known, McCain put his own advancement above all else and was willing to do anything to achieve his ultimate if unrequited ambition: To become commander in chief, the one position that would finally enable him to outrank his four-star Navy admiral father and grandfather.
McCain was capable of self-recrimination.  But his recklessness -- the same gross irresponsibility he showed as a Navy fighter pilot with multiple pilot-caused crashes before his A-4 Skyhawk was shot down over North Vietnam and he was imprisoned and tortured at the Hanoi Hilton for five and a half years, two of them while being held in solitary confinement because of his refusal of an offer of repatriation if he signed a confession -- inexorably led to the ascendancy of Trump. 
Thanks, John. 
McCain did not just plan is own funeral, he lived it, and for that he gets fulsome credit. 
How many of us get the chance to put things in order?   To lie in state in the Capitol Rotunda and receive a full dress funeral service at the Washington National Cathedral where Obama and George W. Bush will deliver eulogies, but Trump will not be welcome.  To tell family and friends how much we love them, and in turn receive the thanks from an endless procession of colleagues and acquaintances on our own redwood decks. 
"I wanted to let him know how much I love him," Biden said after his visitation, and you know the former vice president meant it.  
McCain died of an aggressive form of brain cancer known as glioblastoma as did Biden's beloved son, Beau.  A convincing if circumstantial case can be made that the cause of young Biden's death was exposure to toxic smoke from immense open-air burn pits in Iraq where he was bivouacked, while as a Navy aviator, McCain was exposed to a smorgasbord of brain cancer-causing chemicals during his Vietnam tour.   
No matter. 
McCain read to his final visitors a beautifully poignant excerpt from his last book, The Restless Wave: Good Times, Just Causes, Great Fights and Other Appreciations, which predictably includes bete noir apologia for the Palin calamity and Trump bashing along with the usual self-mythologizing.     
This excerpt is how I choose to remember him while not forgetting all the bad stuff:
Then I'd like to go back to our valley and see the creek run after the rain and hear the cottonwoods whisper in the wind.  I want to smell the rose scented breeze and feel the sun on my shoulders.  I want to watch the hawks hunt from the sycamore, and then take my leave bound for a place . . . in the cemetery on the Severn back where it began.
Rest in peace, John McCain.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

The Roof Just Fell In On The President Of The United States. What Happens Now?

Five associates of the president of the United States have either pleaded guilty to or been convicted of crimes since he took office, further cementing (as in concrete shoes) that this con man and crook has long surrounded himself with other con men and crooks.   
One of them says the president instructed him to make payments to a porn star and Playboy model with whom he had extramarital affairs to cover up a sex scandal that threatened to imperil his candidacy, while another continues to sing to Special Counsel Robert Mueller like a canary.   
Under normal circumstances, the president would be facing impeachment and removal from office. 
But as we well know, nothing is "normal" about a president that bottom crawls in an alternate universe where "truth isn't truth," the president's "best people" are trash while true patriots are demonized and punished, a legal and fastidiously conducted investigation into the president's high crimes and misdemeanors is a "witch hunt," and Congress shirks its constitutional responsibility to be a check on  the president when not away from the swamp on one of its interminable recesses.   
And so even if the figurative roof has fallen in on the Donald Trump's reality show of a presidency and it is now beyond obvious that his 2016 campaign was a get-rich vehicle for those con men and crooks, the president himself won't be going anywhere for the foreseeable future despite the mortal blow he has taken.   
Nor will America "wake up." 
If there was anything surprising about the dramatic events of Tuesday afternoon it is how unsurprising they were in the context of a presidency where aberrance is the norm and we wake up each day wondering if it's safe to get out of bed.  
In the space of an hour, there was the riveting split-screen theater of Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign chairman, being convicted of multiple crimes that could send him to prison for the rest of his life despite Trump's incessant jury tampering by Tweet, and Michael Cohen, Trump's former lawyer and fixer, pleading guilty to felonies in which the president as candidate was directly involved. 
The canary is Michael Flynn, Trump's short-lived national security advisor, who apparently still has so much dirt to share on Trump and his campaign that Mueller has again asked that his sentencing hearing be postponed.   
As it is, the sworn testimony of Cohen regarding hush payments probably will not have any legal consequences for Trump while he is in office, while the Paul Manafort convictions are based on financial crimes committed before he joined the Trump campaign. 
But that misses the larger point.   There is now a full-blown constitutional crisis the likes of which have not been seen since Watergate (and those of us who lived through Watergate now know that it was a third-rate scandal compared to what we are living through today).  Yet the immediate remedies for the crisis Trump has brought on America are political and not criminal, while the very institutions that should step in and hasten his removal are as bought as the strumpets he had Cohen pay for their silence. 
With the presidential ship taking on ever more water, what happens next?
Trump lovers continue to love him and Trump haters hate him even more, if possible.
Congressional Republicans babble pious platitudes while sitting on their hands.  
Rudy Giuliani and the Fox News sycophancy declare that the president did no wrong.  
It becomes more dangerous than ever to be friends with Trump and some abandon him.
Trump fires Jeff Sessions and redoubles his efforts to shut down the Mueller investigation. 
The Omarosa Manigault Newman Revenge Tour sells a lot of books and claims a lot of victims.
For the time being, congressional Democrats curb their impeachment enthusiasm. 
Democrats campaign for the midterms on saving Obamacare and exiling Trump. 
A blue wave on Election Day sweeps Democrats back into firm control of the House. 
That is, if Russians doesn't take advantage of Trump's blatant disinterest in stopping them. 
Republicans search for their souls in vain and ponder how Trump destroyed their party. 
The Supreme Court lurches to the farthest right, further imperiling our liberties.  
Cohen spills the beans regarding what Trump knew about Russian election interference. 
Manafort ponders whether to cut a deal with prosecutors or hold out for a pardon. 
Mueller capitalizes on his divide-and-conquer strategy by indicting Trump family members. 
Impeachment proceedings commence in January after the new Congress is sworn in. 
revivified House Judiciary Committee sends articles of impeachment to the full House. 
The full House, by the narrowest of  margins, sends the articles to the Senate for trial.  
And for only the third time in history, an impeachment trial commences in the Senate. 
By all appearances, Donald Trump is floundering now that the truth is his greatest adversary.  Insiders say he is terrified as 40 years of deceit comes home to torment him and the system he has repeatedly derided bit him with such a vengeance on Terrible Tuesday.  The karmic payback is a thing of beauty.  After all, Crooked Hillary was supposed to go to jail, but now his closest adviser and campaign manager will be. 
Can Trump survive?   
And what, you might ask, could possibly go wrong?   

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

Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Truth Is Indeed Truth As Cohen Fingers Trump & Manafort Faces Life In Prison

August 21, 2018 will long be remembered as a spectacularly huge day for truth, justice and the rule of law as the tide finally turned against Donald Trump and, one by one, all of the president's men began to go down.   
Michael Cohen, the president's longtime fixer and personal lawyer, entering a guilty plea in a Manhattan courtroom to eight violations of banking, tax and campaign finance laws in which he fingered Trump as working "in coordination" with him to make hush payments to a porn star and Playboy model with whom he had affairs as the 2016 election approached.  Then 230 miles away in an Alexandria, Virginia courtroom, the jury in the trial of former campaign manager Paul Manafort returned eight guilty verdicts on fraud charges in dual vindications of Special Counsel Robert Mueller. 
Eight, it seems, was the magic number as it turns out truth is indeed truth, defying the Trump sycophancy's latest meme that "truth isn't truth."  
Cohen's guilty pleas are part of a plea deal.  That deal does not include a promise to cooperate with investigators against the president or anyone else, but does not preclude him from providing information to Mueller, possibly in return for a reduced sentence.  
Although Cohen faces a maximum of 65 years in prison when sentenced on December 12 by U.S. District Judge William H. Pauley III , the plea agreement provides for a far more lenient sentence ranging from 51 to 63 months, according to prosecutors, and 46 to 57 months, according to the defense.
The description of the hush payments by Cohen, who will be 52 on August 25, portray Trump as scrambling to cover up a sex scandal that might imperil his candidacy, but don't expect Trump to pardon a man who has morphed from being thisclose to him to being a felon-in-waiting whom Rudy Giuliani now calls "the enemy."  
"No one knows more . . . of [Trump's] secrets and the fact that he's pleading guilty to a wide range of felonies in many different areas suggest that Trump placed his trust in someone who was a very elaborately — a very extensively credentialed criminal," said CNN legal analyst Jeffrey Toobin.  
Trump hired Cohen as his attorney in 2006 because he viewed him as a new conduit for money -- much of it laundered -- from Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union that had kept Trump's impressively mismanaged business empire from going under in the late 1990s and in subsequent years.    
This was because of Cohen's extensive "cash-intensive" business contacts, including taxi medallion businesses in New York, Chicago and elsewhere, as well as clandestine business relationships with gangsters from Russia, Ukraine and other former Soviet countries.  And because Cohen could help make Trump's "problems" evaporate, whether through legal sleight of hand, lawsuits or outright intimidation.   
Cohen and Donald Jr. and Ivanka, Trump's two eldest children, basically ran the Trump Organization while Daddy-O starred in a reality TV show and chased porn star Stormy Daniels and Playboy model Karen McDougal, among many other women with impressive bosoms and rounded heels.  
One of the two campaign finance law violations was from a $130,000 payment Cohen made to Daniels.  Prosecutors said that Trump Organization executives were involved in reimbursing Cohen for that payment, accepting his phony invoices that listed it as a legal expense.  The other violation concerned a complicated arrangement in which The National Enquirer bought the rights to the story about McDougal and Trump and then killed it.   
It was Cohen and the kids who did most of the deal making with an astonishing array of bad people from whom other businesses fled in horror. (Okay, perhaps feigned horror.) 
Because Cohen was the key intermediary between the Trump family and its sleazy global partners and presumably kept records of it all, as well as tapes he secretly recorded of he and Trump conniving and conspiring, they will provide prosecutors with a window into Trump's relationship with Cohen, including his role in arranging the hush with whom Trump continues to insist he never had affairs. 
"Guilty, your honor," Cohen said eight times as Judge Pauley read the counts.  "I participated in this conduct . . . for the principal purpose of influencing the election," he said of the campaign finance law violations.  
But the biggest prize for Mueller, who referred the Cohen case to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Manhattan and technically is separate from his Russia scandal investigation, may be Cohen's claim that Trump was aware of the infamous June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian cut-out to get dirt on Clinton beforehand and green lighted it. 
Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, declared Cohen had put his family and country ahead of his loyalty to Trump. 
"He stood up and testified under oath that Donald Trump directed him to commit a crime by making payments to two women for the principal purpose of influencing an election," Davis said.  "If those payments were a crime for Michael Cohen, then why wouldn't they be a crime for Donald Trump?" 
Three of the people closest to Trump as he ran for and won the presidency have now pleaded guilty or have been convicted of significant federal crimes: Cohen, Manafort, and Michael Flynn.  Don't expect Trump to go anywhere soon, but he will be going.   
Manafort, who like his former boss believes he is smarter than everyone else, gambled that it was better to take his chances with a jury than to find a strange substance smeared on his door handle one day.   
But Manafort wasn't smarter, and so he was found guilty of eight of the 18 fraud counts in the first of his two trials with the judge declaring a mistrial on the 10 others.  This still means he probably will spent the rest of his life in prison regardless of the outcome of a second trial on money laundering charges.  That is unless he wins on appeal (highly unlikely), becomes a cooperating witness (less likely), or is pardoned by Trump (who knows?). 
Manafort found life to be terribly difficult after the collapse of an extravagant three-home lifestyle replete with $15,000 silk-lined ostrich leather bomber jackets and $18,000 karaoke machines built on a career polishing the images of a Who's Who of the most despicable world leaders.   
Manafort believed another despicable individual who improbably would become president of the United States with a cyber assist from Vladimir Putin would be his next meal ticket.  It worked -- running interference for Putin's cut-outs and all -- until his seamy past was laid bare in the form of a newspaper story embarrassing to the campaign and then indictments courtesy of Mueller. 
Manafort was convicted of five counts of tax fraud, two counts of bank fraud and one count of failure to disclose a foreign bank account. The trial was the first as a result of Mueller's investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, but is likely not the last.   
Although the trial focused on the 69-year-old Manafort's personal finances, Trump was an unseen presence in the courtroom of U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis.  The president repeatedly telegraphed his deep concern about the trial in a reprehensible attempt at jury tampering and what it meant for his own sorry ass in a series of revealing Twitter rages harshly critical of Mueller and his prosecutors, whom he called "thugs," while calling Manafort a "good person" and his trial a "sad day." 
The jury of six men and six women deliberated over four days, which is not surprising given the complexity of many of the charges, but struggled with and was unable to reach a consensus on 10 counts.  
The trial had opened on July 31 and moved along quickly with prosecution and defense presenting closing arguments after 12 days.  The prosecution called 27 witnesses in building a powerful case that Manafort hid more than $15 million in political consulting money from the IRS, while the defense called none.  Manafort did not testify. 
Manafort is the mirror image of Trump.   
He too believed he was above the law, was seduced by the oligarch wealth of the former Soviet Union, put profit over principles, and ended up becoming entangled, entrapped, and then a witting tool of Russian interests.  If there is a difference, it is Manafort is getting his comeuppance before Trump. 
Mueller has indicted 32 individuals, including four Americans, and three Russian companies and organizations.  Manafort is alone among those four (the others being Gates, who testified against his former partner in crime; former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn and campaign gofer George Papadopoulos) in refusing to cooperate.   
This has fueled speculation that the special counsel may need Manafort to flip so he has a witness he can use in court much like he used Gates against Manafort, and that Manafort's refusal to cooperate is a play for a presidential pardon.  Everything will become perfectly obvious, as they say, but I'm betting that Mueller will hang Manafort out to dry and Trump's advisers will implore him to hold off on a pardon for the time being.
Manafort, although in dire financial straits in the spring of 2016, had offered to work for the Trump campaign for free.  No one seemed puzzled by this, let alone concerned that he had taken at least 14 trips to Moscow in connection with his image-enhancement campaign for a Ukrainian strongman and Putin pal, what was in effect a dress rehearsal for his future role as a probable intermediary between the campaign and Russian cut-outs involved in Putin's cyber-espionage of Hillary Clinton. 
He soon was promoted to campaign manager.  But that lasted barely four months as The Washington Post broke a story that he had received millions of dollars in off-the-books payments from the strongman's political party.  Which prompted the infamous if hilarious rejoinder from Trump when he read the story:  
"I've got a crook running my campaign!"   
Never has the old adage been truer that it takes a crook to know one.   

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