Thursday, March 28, 2019

The Mueller Investigation Prequel: Villains Aplenty But No Heroes To Be Found

No collusion!  No collusion!   
It is perhaps the most effective political slogan since Make the lie big, make it simple, keep saying it, and eventually they will believe it was wielded like a poison-spiked cudgel by another improbable leader who brought the world to the brink of catastrophe. 
Although Donald Trump has merely brought the United States to the brink of catastrophe (he's still working on the world), the No collusion! slogan is an all too vivid illustration of how brilliance can coexist with madness, as it did with Adolph Hitler. 
It was always going to be hard for Robert Mueller to make a prosecutable case that Trump's campaign and the candidate himself worked in tandem with Vladimir Putin's cyberwarriors, but after Trump beat the No collusion! slogan into the national consciousness anything less than the special counsel proving just that -- or criminal conspiracy in legalspeak -- would be a vindication. 
Yes, Mueller's full report and the just-as-important investigative documents, witness interviews and unredacted court records and internal Justice Department discussions, should they ever see the light of day, are likely to tell a different story.  Nothing in them will be remotely exculpatory to Trump.   
Candidate Trump and his campaign didn't need to reach out to Moscow because they already were getting help.  A link already had been established.  Then there is what went on behind the scenes as William Barr and Rod Rosenstein unilaterally opted out of charging Trump with obstruction of justice even though that bad-faith decision was not theirs to make.   
But as Trump takes a victory lap and his hand-picked attorney general foot drags on releasing the entire report to Congress, it is wise to not lose sight of the prequel to the greatest scandal in American history.        
An appropriate starting point in telling that story is August 27, 2016. 
It was on that sultry late summer day in Washington that House Majority Leader Harry Reid wrote to FBI Director James Comey 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." 
The letter 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.  That failure still boggles the mind, and when all is said and done there will forever be an indelible stain on the otherwise noteworthy if fraught Barack Obama presidency because of it. 
There is plenty of blame to go around for these events, but the honorable Obama and perfidious Mitch McConnell -- as unlikely as that pairing of two so dramatically different men may be --  are responsible for an outsized share of the responsibility for not stopping 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, with McConnell as drum major, were less interested in protecting the homeland than continuing to torment Obama after nearly eight years of partisan overkill.  Other players included the scruples-free Trump campaign, Facebook and Twitter executives who ranged from naïve to delusional about how Putin's cyberwarriors were playing them and unwitting voters, and a blinkered news media that never grasped the big picture.   
It was a kind of perfect storm, but in the end the buck had to stop somewhere and that was the Oval Office, which seemed only vaguely cognizant that the Russians had moved on to cyber warfare from more traditional means of espionage and spycraft to help elect Trump and advance Putin's dream of returning the former Soviet Union to its Cold War glory.   
In a story that bristles with ironies, none may be larger than the fact that despite the sophisticated Russian cyberattacks, the U.S. had the greatest arsenal of cyber weapons in 2016 and still does today. 
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 explosive 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 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 the 2016 debacle, the drip-drip-drip of investigations, news media blockbusters and attendant minutiae 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, 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 Obama was told 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.  And while efforts by the U.S. Cyber Command to safeguard the reporting of results from the November 2018 midterm election by briefly paralyzing the computers at an infamous Russian troll farm were successful, the jubilation and hankie wringing over the Mueller report summary, depending on one's point of view, obscures an important truth -- Trump and congressional Republicans, again led by McConnell, are deeply indifferent to preventing Russian interference in the 2020 election and beyond. 
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.  
Obama did not exactly go it alone in confronting Russian election meddling. 
But few of the president's 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, Dianne Feinstein and Representative Adam Schiff, three of the Democratic 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 McConnell, as eminent a personification of evil to slither through the halls of the Capitol in generations. 
In a lie that is extraordinarily vicious even by McConnell's own subterranean standards, he blamed Obama after the Mueller report summary was released for being responsible for a scandal he was instrumental in making much worse because of his own calculated negligence. 
(McConnell happily took a cool $2.5 million in the 2015-16 election season from Ukrainian-born billionaire Leonard "Len" Blavatnik.  The oligarch is the business partner of Oleg Deripaska, who did about $60 million worth of business with Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort and controls three companies that the Trump administration has thoughtfully relieved of Obama administration-imposed sanctions.)   
The defenses of how the White House handled the crisis since Obama slipped into a too-quiet retirement are astonishingly shallow. 
"It is the hardest thing about my entire time in government to defend," a former Obama White House official said of the months of high-level dithering 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 the administration regarded that interference as an attack on the "heart of our system," but 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 in 2016, 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."   
Would Trump have succumbed to Clinton if Obama had gone public?  Would Putin have backed off if the price had been much higher?  
In an election with a close margin overall and razor-thin margins in three key swing states where Russian social-media trolls carpet bombed voters identified -- in all likelihood by the Trump campaign -- as being vulnerable because they were soft on Clinton, the answer is probably. 
And so there would have been no nightmarish Trump presidency with nonstop shouts of No collusion!, no Mueller report and no victory lap by Putin's "useful idiot."  How different America and the world would be today.  

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

Monday, March 25, 2019

No Collusion Man Is Sure To Step Up His Reign Of Terror. Can He Be Stopped?

When the sun came up over the Washington swamp on Monday morning, the presidency of the most corrupt and inept man ever to occupy the Oval Office had entered a "new phase," according to CNN, while The New York Times solemnly stated that "the cloud over Trump's presidency" was lifted.  CNN helpfully added that this meant that Trump "could try to move on from the intrigue that has plagued him." 
Move on to what? 
Another few thousand lies?  Robbing the defense budget to build his border wall?  New trade wars?  Even more effusive praise for Vladimir Putin?   Further dismantling of the social safety net?  Further attacks on America's core values? 
Yes, the bar was too high for the scrupulous Robert Mueller to clear to bring forward a prosecutable case that Trump and his campaign colluded with Russia, but the special prosecutor was playing by the rules.  Yes, the evidence apparently was" too uneven" to make the case that Trump obstructed justice in trying to shut down the Russia investigation through intimidation and witness tampering.  More playing by the rules. 
The full playing-by-the-rules Mueller report, if it ever sees the light of a Washington dawn, may tell a different story.  As in the candidate and his campaign didn't need to reach out to Moscow because they already were getting help.  A link already had been established.  Duh!    
In addition to the full report, equally important investigative documents and witness interview records from Mueller, thousands of court records and internal Justice Department discussions must be vetted, but for the foreseable future will be the prey in the epic legal battle royale about to commence between congressional Democrats and No Collusion Man, who of course is lying when he says "it wouldn't  bother me at all" if the full report is released. 
But for the time being, righteous heads like mine and probably yours will explode over vacuously short-sighted sentiments like those of CNN and The Times, as well as that dull roar of jubilation coming from the Make America Great Again pitchfork brigade 
as their hero takes a victory lap and Republicans step up their nattering about Hillary Clinton's emails.   
The Mueller report was not going to be a game-changer.  Not in Post-Truth America, but we do know a few things about that "new phase," and they have the familiarity of the night sweats many of us have suffered over the past two-plus years.  
Nearly everything Trump has ever touched has been cheapened if not corrupted by him. That will not change, and we need to remind ourselves and those who have now lost hope that the shamelessness of the man with small hands and peculiar hair was outside of Mueller's jurisdiction.   
There were no further indictments from Mueller -- let alone one with Individual No. 1's name on it -- on top of the staggering 37 already handed up before the Sunday afternoon release by Attorney General William Barr and sidekick Rod Rosenstein of a summary of the special prosecutor's final report to lawmakers and public. 
Barr did not play by the rules, and less than 48 hours after a 22-month investigation, he had made up his mind.  Astonishing but not surprising, even if reports are true that he had advance knowledge that Mueller had not made a prosecutable collusion case, and it's difficult to not conclude that the AG is following Trump's script.  That's called a whitewash, and those of us with long memories will recall that he did the same thing as AG for George H.W. Bush after the Iran-Contra scandal.   
Barr, after all, pretty much predicted the summary in a 19-page memo to Rosenstein last June before Trump fired Jeff Sessions and appointed him.  And Barr and Rosenstein quite obviously cobbled together a summary that put the president in the best possible light, which is all the more reason to make public the full report and gigabytes of related documentation.   
Barr and Rosenstein also said that because Mueller drew no conclusion about obstruction -- which is rather shocking considering the firing of James Comey -- they wouldn't reach a conclusion, a rush to judgment they were not tasked with making.  That is shocking in itself in two respects: First, Barr had as much as said Trump obstructed justice during his Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearings.  Second, the special prosecutor did draw a conclusion.  He was not going to exonerate Trump.  
The nauseatingly triumphalist Trump, for whom seeking vengeance is second nature, will now become more brazen than ever, and on Monday angrily suggested that his critics  were "treasonous," guilty of "evil things" and should be investigated themselves.   
He will step up his attacks on the news media and a liberal punditocracy that has been agonizingly slow to recognize the enormity of the scandal, which was nothing less than an unprecedented assault on the bedrock of American democracy.  That, of course, will have a further cowing effect on all but the most determined journalists.  You know, the women and men at The Washington Post, The Times, CNN, Wall Street Journal, BuzzFeed, Daily Beast, Mother Jones, and ProPublica whose many blockbusters have been not been seriously challenged.    
And won't all the Trump associates who will be marching off to prison sooner or later, including his former campaign manager, lawyer-fixer and longest serving political adviser, feel really stupid if they're not pardoned by No Collusion Man?  Just asking. 
This leaves the people who play by the rules to deal with a man for whom the rules are mere cow pies on the road to further destruction and self-aggrandizement.  
The Times stated that "No impeachment was in view," but there are multiple Democratic-led House investigations which more than ever should lead to just that.  Even if there is no article of impeachment regarding Russia, there are ample grounds for impeachment  on Trump's other high crimes and misdemeanors, even as Republicans up the volume on their hysteria about Hillary Clinton's emails.   
There are a dozen or so ongoing criminal investigations by prosecutors in New York and Washington into a smorgasbord of evil-doing ranging from a family charitable foundation that was Trump's personal piggybank to campaign-finance crimes to cover up hush-money payments to women with whom he had affairs, his stillborn Trump Tower Moscow project, fraught relationship with money laundering-happy Deutschebank, abjectly corrupt inaugural committee, and the pay-to-play involvement of foreign governments seeking access to his administration.  Carrying out these investigations are now more urgent than ever.  Unless, of course, Barr derails them. 
And what, by the freaking way, are we going to do about future Russian interference in American elections since No Collusion Man and congressional Republicans are so deeply indifferent?  What about his obsessively deep relationship with Putin?  And that oldie but goodie: If he is innocent, why has he acted so bloody terrified of getting caught?  
The answer to the memorable question asked by the late Senate Republican Leader Howard Baker -- "What did the president know, and when did he know it?" -- amidst the turmoil of Watergate was that Richard Nixon knew just about everything, and he eventually was sent packing to San Clemente.  The same question must be asked of Trump early, often and incessantly.   
What may be most galling of all is that Trump has and will continue to brazenly operate in full view, stopping just short of committing chargeable crimes.  Still, beyond the kowtowing of the closed-minded Barr, the legal system is working.  Just ask Paul Manafort, Michael Cohen and Roger Stone, among a fair number of others who have learned the hard way that if you fall into Trump's orbit you will be diminished and then burned. 
There is not a lot of high ground left to seize in Post-Truth America.  The people who play by the rules must recommit to doing so by taking and determinedly holding that scrap of high ground if the full report is to be made public and No Collusion Man is to be expelled from the crumbling temple of democracy.   
Impeaching Donald Trump will be more difficult than ever, but that too is now more urgent than ever.

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

Saturday, March 23, 2019

That Big Test Is Finally Here: The Certain Uncertainties Of A Post-Truth America

This just in: No matter what Special Counsel Robert Mueller has concluded in his final report on the Russia scandal investigation, a large minority of voters won't believe a word of it.  That is pretty much all you really need to know as we lurch into the future of a Post-Truth America in which crap, corruption and chaos are among the very few certain uncertainties while the impeachment of a deeply corrupt and obviously insane president whose approval ratings should be far underwater but have remained steady is a no-brainer but deeply problematic. 
That big test -- you know, the one in which democracy withstands Trump's unprecedented assault on all we hold dear or fails miserably -- is finally at hand.  
The 675-day Russia investigation demonstrated beyond a prosecutorial shadow of a doubt that Trump was desperately seeking to do business in Russia even as he repeatedly claimed he had no dealings there whatsoever, and knowingly surrounded himself with crooks who repeatedly lied to investigators about anything and everything, including over 100 meetings with Russians, many of them cut-outs who were doing Vladimir Putin's bidding. 
Six former associates and advisers to Trump have been indicted or entered guilty pleas, including his 2016 campaign chairman and longtime lawyer-fixer, who will begin prison terms in the coming weeks.  Literally dozens of people associated with Trump's business dealings, campaign and presidency have been tarnished as the enormous breadth and depth of his criminality, which extends well beyond the special counsel's purview, has been laid bare. 
But there were no further indictments -- let alone one with Individual No. 1's name on it -- from Mueller (an important distinction) on top of the staggering 37 already handed up before the Friday evening release of Mueller's final report, and in the final analysis the report may not be the bombshell I and others have anticipated, especially after it is spun to shreds by a punditocracy that has been agonizingly slow to recognize the enormity of the scandal.  Watergate, the Teapot Dome and Soviet theft of atomic bomb secrets are mere also rans when compared to this unprecedented assault on the bedrock of American democracy. 
Trump has proven himself to lack even a single quality of a competent, let alone great, leader, while having shown an uncanny knack for encouraging Russian election interference.   ("Russia, if you're listening, I hope you're able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing," he infamously declared mid-campaign in reference to Hillary Clinton's emails, and by gosh by golly the Russians began doing just that a few hours later.) 
But even if Mueller's report has proof that the campaign and Trump himself conspired with Russia to get him elected but could not clear the very high bar to prove criminal conspiracy, it will be seen through the hallucinogenic prism of Post-Truth America by that large minority of followers as a vindication because of the absence of new indictments and further confirmation for the president's congressional sycophancy that the "true" scandal was an attempted deep-state coup d'état engineered by Mueller and the FBI to avenge Hillary Clinton's defeat. 
Never mind that nearly everything Trump has touched for the last decade stinks on ice. 
Beyond multiple Democratic-led House investigations, there are a dozen or so ongoing criminal investigations for a smorgasbord of evil-doing ranging from a family charitable foundation that was his personal piggybank to campaign-finance crimes to cover up hush-money payments to women with whom he had affairs.  The Evangelical so-called Christians in that large minority have forgiven Trump, so why can't we? 
The Mueller report was not going to be a game-changer.  Not in Post-Truth America.  So sorry. 
I will admit to feeling gut-punched like I did the day after Trump was"elected,"  but the rending of garments by libruls over the lack of 11th hour indictments and the ending-with-a-whimper-not-a-bang analogizing are misplaced.  No matter what the report says, it will not be exculpatory and will be a reckoning for Trump.  Mueller may be done, but prosecutors in New York and Washington and some pretty shrewd House committee chairmen are just getting started.   
Yet . . . Yet what all of this may add up to is that there is a possibility the president who ushered in the era of Post-Truth America while lowering the standards of decency to subterranean levels and thumbing his nose at the rule of law while selling out America's interests to its greatest enemy will never see the inside of a prison cell.   
May not even be impeached.   
And even when the full weight of the Russia and other scandals crash down on him -- which they will despite all the certain uncertainties -- he will cut a deal with feckless Democrats allowing him to escape Washington for his gilded Fifth Avenue penthouse with nary a scratch.  Who cares what the history books will say.  Our flag was still there.
In the meantime, that big test will begin as early as Sunday when Attorney General William Barr, to whom Mueller sent his report, briefs congressional leaders on its conclusions and, more importantly to the future of American democracy, will then have to decide whether to publicly release it amidst fevered Democratic calls for transparency in the face of yet another certain uncertainty -- that the White House is locked, loaded and ready to wage an epic battle to forestall the collapse of Trump's presidency.

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

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour


Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Robert Mueller's Final Report May Be Imminent. Prepare To Be . . . Well, We'll See

It was in the early days of November 2014 when U.S. authorities received an urgent communication from the Dutch intelligence service that it had evidence Russian computer hackers using the persona "Cozy Bear" had wormed their way into the Democratic National Committee's computer system.  The warning was pretty much ignored. 
In what seems like forever since that initial warning -- a four year and four month eternity in which the Kremlin cybersabotaged Hillary Clinton's campaign, greased the skids for a reality TV star and real-estate mogul to become president, and that president has repeatedly claimed that he is the victim of a witch hunt -- Special Counsel Robert Muller may soon deliver his breathlessly awaited final report on the greatest scandal in American history.  
It has been nearly two years since Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in a political misjudgment of mind blowing enormity and the shrewd Mueller was appointed to pick up the pieces of Comey's fledgling investigation, which it was later revealed also was a counterintelligence investigation into whether the president of the United States has been working for Russia.
As a result of Mueller's probings, Trump's former campaign manager and longtime consigliere are going to prison, his longest serving political adviser will probably end up there, and his deputy campaign manager and others are cooperating with prosecutors. The investigation has expanded to include Trump's family business, hush-money payments made to women with whom he had affairs, his stillborn Trump Tower Moscow project, his fraught relationship with money laundering-happy Deutschebank, his abjectly corrupt inaugural committee, and the pay-to-play involvement of foreign governments seeking access to his administration. 
Six former associates and advisers to Trump have been indicted or entered guilty pleas and literally dozens of people associated with his business dealings, his campaign and his presidency have been tarnished as the enormous breadth and depth of his criminality has been laid bare.   
Yet some of the biggest names in the scandal, including Trump's own children and son-in-law, all deeply entwined in major threads of the scandal, seem to have been untouched by Mueller's long reach.  And although hinted at, no Trump campaign official has been charged with colluding with Russia. 
What then can we expect from Mueller's final report? 
Much of what the report will contain has been hiding in plain sight in the form of the 37 indictments, many with detailed appendices, and 199 criminal charges involving a rogues gallery of Trump associates and over two dozen Russians brought by Mueller's prosecutors based on grand jury testimony.
Beyond that obvious if overlooked aspect, things get murky. 
The 2000 Justice Department regulation under which the special counsel serves requires him to submit a report to the attorney general "explaining [his] prosecution or declination decisions."  In plain English, this means an explanation as to why he chose not to seek indictments where individuals were investigated -- possibly including the president. 
Do not expect that report to be made public, a decision that is to be made at the discretion of AG William Barr under the Justice regulation.  What Barr is required to do is make his own report to the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House judiciary committees -- Lindsey Graham in the Senate and Jerrold Nadler in the House.  
But things are murky here, as well. 
Barr can send a brief report to those committee members and leave it at that.  Or he can provide a more thorough accounting, possibly drafted by Mueller himself, that would offer extensive details of the evidence and perhaps Mueller's assessments of that evidence. 
"It is very important that the public and Congress be informed of the results of the special counsel's work," Barr has said, while adding that " . . . my goal will be to provide as much transparency as I can consistent with the law."  
In other words, avoid sullying the reputations of people who were not charged, up to and most especially including his boss. 
This is where it is helpful to remember that the Justice Department has more or less concluded, and many legal scholars more or less agree, that a sitting president cannot be indicted for a criminal offense.  Nor should it be expected Mueller would address in his report whether Trump should be indicted after leaving office. 
What has been little remarked on in many of the stories anticipating what Mueller's report will say is the counterintelligence aspect of his mandate. 
Mueller's marching orders state that he is to ascertain "links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump."  
But the special counsel also can be expected to assess for the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate and House intelligence committees -- Richard Burr in the Senate and Adam Schiff in the House -- what threat Russia poses to the U.S. electoral system and what, if any, threat Trump poses to the U.S.
He also can be expected to ascertain whether and to what extent Trump has been compromised by Russia, which would undermine his constitutional duties as president, and this assessment may end up being the most damaging result of his labors. 
What are Trump's financial obligations to Russia?  Why does he avoid criticizing Vladimir Putin even when the Russian leader orders his agents to poison people on foreign soil? Why has he opposed sanctions against Russia?  Why is he so uninterested in addressing Russian threats to the electoral system? 
Martin Lederman, a law professor and former official in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, writes in The Washington Post: 
"The counterintelligence investigation's answers to these and similar questions . . . are of far greater current importance to the functioning of our government than determining whether Trump's deeply inappropriate conduct in 2016-2017 violated any particular criminal statutes." 
It ostensibly will be at the discretion of Burr and Schiff to assess how much of the information they can share with the rest of Congress and the public.  Typically, little or none of the nitty-gritty of a counterintelligence investigation would be shared because the information is classified and could reveal sensitive sources or methods.   
But this is anything but a typical case, and the public's need to know whether its president is compromised, let alone fit to continue in office, demands public disclosure. And, fingers crossed and prayers said, could be the trigger to begin impeachment proceedings. 
A substantial degree of public disclosure would seem to be probable. 
This is because of the leaky Washington culture, House passage of a non-binding resolution by a 420-0 vote supporting public release of Mueller's final report (Trump poodle Graham blocked a Senate vote) and Schiff 's threat to subpoena Mueller, if necessary. 
But, as you may have anticipated, there is a very big but. 
Trump said earlier last week that " . . . there should be no Mueller report."  But on Saturday, in the wake of the House resolution, he said he has told the Republican congressional leadership "to let all Republicans vote for transparency.  Makes us all look good and doesn’t matter." 
This is why Trump thinks it doesn't matter: His lawyers expect to examine and pick apart what Barr sends to Congress before Congress or the public see anything. 
That would trigger an interminable battle royale in the courts over the report because of the likelihood that those lawyers will claim executive privilege in trying to keep sealed much of the report, or at least stonewall its public dissemination.  Never mind that such a move would further confirm that Trump is still trying to shut down a witch hunt that even he understands -- despite the deepening fog of narcissism and madness enveloping him -- will destroy his presidency.

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

Monday, March 18, 2019

Of Paula & April: Why Bill Clinton's Zipper Problem Is Haunting Donald Trump

Paula Jones seemed guileless and credible, if a little rough around the edges.   
And from the moment she came forward in 1994 to say that Bill Clinton had exposed himself to her in a Little Rock hotel room -- he the governor of Arkansas and Jones a lowly Arkansas state employee -- she was kicked around like a bouffanted political football by the president's allies as a gold digging bimbo and by conservative Republicans in order to politicize the president's zipper problem.   No matter.  Jones's successful lawsuit against Clinton may soon haunt another president whose sexual indiscretions are even better known. 
A New York appeals court ruled 3-2 last Thursday that Trump, like Clinton before him, is not protected by the presidency from having to answer civil charges stemming from misconduct -- improper or illegal actions -- before the he took office.  A criminal charge is another matter as we well know from the heated Russia scandal debate over whether a sitting president can be criminally indicted. 
(Similarly arguing that Trump is not protected by the presidency for previous misconduct, a New York state judge ruled last November that a lawsuit by the state attorney general could proceed against the Donald J. Trump Foundation over misuse of charitable assets, self-dealing and campaign finance violations.  The foundation has since been shut down after disbursing its meager remaining assets.)
The New York appeals court ruled that Trump was compelled to answer a defamation lawsuit brought by April Zervos, a former contestant on Trump's reality TV show "The Apprentice," charging that the future president kissed and groped her without her consent in separate incidents in 2007 -- a job interview in Trump Tower and during a meeting in Los Angeles.  The suit, filed four days before Trump took office, states that he defamed Zervos and damaged her reputation by calling her allegation "yet another hoax."
The Constitution's supremacy clause, which prohibits states from interfering with the federal government's exercise of its powers, does not bar state courts from hearing claims over actions of a president before he took office, the New York appeals court ruled in expanding on the precedent set by Clinton v. Jones.  That unanimous 1997 Supreme Court ruling held that a federal court had jurisdiction over Jones's sexual harassment lawsuit against Clinton for the Little Rock hotel room incident, but did not address whether the same held true for lawsuits filed in state courts. 
"The supremacy clause was never intended to deprive a state court of its authority to decide cases and controversies under the state's Constitution," New York Justice Dianne T. Renwick wrote for the majority.  "Read plainly, the supremacy clause confers 'supreme' status on federal laws, not on the status of a federal official." 
After the Supreme Court ruled for Jones, Clinton was questioned under oath by her lawyers and in the process denied that he had ever had a sexual encounter with a certain White House intern.  That, of course, is when his troubles really began.
Bill Clinton's zipper problem has had extraordinary repercussions.   
The Jones encounter eventually would lead to Clinton's impeachment, and while he was a pretty good president, his adultery in the 1980s and early 90s has been gasoline for the fire conservative Republicans have kept burning under he and wife Hillary (that "vast right-wing conspiracy") up to and very much through the 2016 presidential election, where it undeniably was a factor in the unease some voters felt about a woman who defended a lying and cheating husband rather than walking out on him.   
By contrast, Trump's numerous affairs, which far outshadow Bubba's in quantity and duration, have merely been a backstory for a criminal and thoroughly awful president and a piss poor reason for Evangelical voters to forgive him.  You can ask Melania what she thinks about the 10 women who claimed during the campaign that Trump engaged in sexual misconduct, but I wouldn't bother. 
Trump's luck may be about to change if the Zervos lawsuit continues to move forward despite court challenges by Trump's lawyers, who will appeal the New York appeals court decision. 
While Bill Clinton was known to have problems with the truth ("I did not have sexual relations with that woman, Miss Lewinsky"), Trump is a pathological liar for whom the lines between fact and fiction are hopelessly blurred and whose worst nightmare is having to answer questions at a deposition.  
In one such case in 2007, Trump had admitted he lied some 30 times in previous statements he made regarding a range of subjects from sales at his condominium buildings to the depth of his past debts, and his chronic inability to be truthful is why he avoided a face-to-face interview with the Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who would have eaten him alive. 
The irony, of course, is that the harassment and assault claims against Clinton came to be politicized and nearly destroyed his presidency while Trump makes hush-money payments here and blanket denials there and so far has skated. 
At least until now.