Media (276)

 

Comforter-in-Chief

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

In the beginning of the week the White House could not get its story about Rob Porter straight.  John Kelly stuck with his lie that he had acted immediately after finding out that Porter had beaten up two ex-wives, and Sarah Sanders pontificated about ‘the process’ that had taken so long.  It got worse when FBI Director Wray testified in Congress that the Porter file had been closed in July 2017 and that the White House had been informed no later than November 2017.  Even Sarah Sanders could not stick with Kelly’s story, and there are strong rumors that she has demanded that from now on he’ll tell his own lies.  On top of this it was revealed that by November 2017 130 White House staffers did not yet have the appropriate security clearing, including 10 of 30 Assistants to the President, among them Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner and even White House Counsel McGahn.  Considering that many of these assistants handle classified material – Jared even the president’s daily security briefing that Trump doesn’t read – this situation contains high security risks and makes anything Hillary Clinton ever did with her emails pale by comparison.

The heads of all the intelligence services who testified before Congress confirmed that Russia had interfered with the 2016 election and was preparing to do so again in 2018.  Trump had not imposed the sanctions a large majority in Congress requested and did not take any other action, only strengthening the impression that he is in Putin’s pocket.  He could not remain entirely silent about Porter though, and after one week forcefully declared that he is opposed to all domestic violence.  The High School shooting in the middle of the week gave Trump an opportunity to play the comforting role that is reserved for the president in these situations, but he failed miserably by giving a speech that probably caused more nightmares for the children he addressed than they had before.  Trump did not mention the word ‘gun’ once, making clear to the NRA that he wasn’t going to do anything about gun control and instead picturing the shooting as a mental health issue.  Subsequently the main stream media did their duty and reminded us that the only gun law Trump has signed made it easier for mental patients to acquire assault weapons.

In the wake of the shooting NRA-backed Republican rhetoric reached a new low.  Paul Ryan called the requests to finally do something about gun control a ‘knee jerk reaction,’ and senator Grassley had totally forgotten that he sponsored the aforementioned bill, but both offered their thoughts and prayers like so many Republicans, including senator Rubio, who pocketed more than $3 million from the NRA.  We can only hope that the GOP’s gutless hypocrisy will be remembered in November.

Next, Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen surprised the world with the announcement that he had ‘facilitated’ a $130,000 payment to Stormy Daniels, without revealing where the money came from.  It brought Trump’s philandering back in the limelight and was followed by the bombshell revelation that concurrently with Stormy he had conducted an affair with a former Playmate.

To top it all off, Steve Bannon spent 20 hours with Mueller’s investigators, after he had promised to tell the Special Counsel everything, and former campaign adviser Rick Gates was finalizing a plea deal.  It looks like the indictment of 13 Russians that was announced today is only the beginning.

 

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Everybody loves a Parade

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

It was to be expected that becoming the most powerful man in the world would take Trump’s narcissistic personality into so far unknown territory.  Halfway another week during which things didn’t go well for the president he asked the Pentagon for a parade, remembering how watching the July 14th parade in Paris had cheered him up.  Of course there is little to celebrate for the US military these days.  They were outplayed by Russia and Iran in Syria and are at best stuck in a stalemate with the Taliban in Afghanistan that could easily last another sixteen years, but that doesn’t bother Trump.  The purpose of the parade is not to celebrate the military, one of Trump’s major loves, according to Defense Secretary Mattis, but to celebrate Trump, whom the president happens to love a little more.  So we should brace ourselves for the images of Trump, more pompous than ever, with Ted Nugent and Chuck Norris as his guests of honor, watching tanks rolling down Pennsylvania Avenue cracking the asphalt and making a unique contribution to the Swiss cheese that American roads look like because of the potholes that are no longer repaired.

Early in the week Trump declared that the Democrats had been ‘caught’ by the Nunes memo and accused them of treason for not applauding during the State of the Union.  Republicans who can read, however, realized that the timeline in the memo contradicted its conclusions, and the backlash about the president’s treason remark was such that he had to pretend that it had been a joke.  In spite of Trump’s firm commitment to testify under oath for Robert Mueller his lawyers pulled that promise back, knowing that their client cannot tell the truth and that if he could tell the truth it would incriminate him, creating a unique dilemma that probably will make the president take the 5th.  Nunes’s attack on the FBI was complemented by senators Grassley and Graham, who asked the Department of Justice to investigate Christopher Steele, in spite of the fact that a Washington Post article detailed how highly respected by American security services Steele had been throughout his MI6 career.  Senator Johnson accused Obama of having tried to influence the FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s emails, but it turned out that he had focused on Russian interference, which was actually his job.

The extent to which Trump is aiding and abetting the Russians became clear when he decided not to impose the new sanctions a large majority in Congress had requested.  Meanwhile Secretary of State Tillerson announced that the Kremlin is planning large scale interventions in the 2018 elections, and a director at the Department of Homeland Security revealed that the Russians had already hacked into election systems in 6 states, and made attempts in many more.

Trump’s treason joke was followed by another attempt at comedy, when he declared that he would ‘love a shutdown.’ The shutdown came and went while Trump was sleeping.  After waking up he had to consider making the Democratic memo that contradicts the Nunes memo public and what, if any, redactions to make.  Instead of reading the memo Trump will have it read to him.

In the White House Chief of Staff John Kelly continues to show his racist and misogynist sides.  He suggested that many Dreamers are too lazy to get off their asses and tried to hold on to a staffer who had beaten up two ex-wives.  It may not cost him his job, because that’s just how Trump likes it.

 

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State of the Union

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

The State of the United States is poor and rapidly getting poorer.  President Trump, who  according to a thorough analysis of fascism as provided in Rob Riemen’s recently published book ‘To Fight against this Age’ is a prime example of its current rise, is taking his project to the next level.  After having introduced the politics of resentment, the incitement of anger and fear and xenophobia, as well as having demonstrated his need for scapegoats and his hatred of the life of the mind, all features of modern fascism, he is now attacking the foundations of democracy, by trying to turn the FBI into his private secret police and demanding loyalty to his person, rather than to the US Constitution, of leaders of the Department of Justice and the FBI.  It already started almost a year ago, when Trump asked FBI Director Comey for his loyalty and subsequently fired him, by his own admission to thwart the Russia investigation.  Recently FBI Deputy Director McCabe was asked by Trump how he had voted in 2016 and his wife was subsequently insulted, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had to tell Trump if he was ‘on his team.’

Firing Comey backfired for Trump, because it resulted in the appointment of Special Counsel Mueller by Rosenstein.  Today, his second major attempt to derail the Russia investigation was the declassification of a memo written by Devin Nunes, the GOP Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who had been enlisted for dirty tricks earlier by the White House and therefore had to recluse himself from his committee’s own investigation.  The purpose of the memo is to discredit the Mueller investigation, and it was published in spite of the fact that both the Department of Justice and the FBI called its release ‘extraordinarily reckless’ and said that it contained ‘material omissions of fact.’ There is abundant speculation that Trump wants to use the memo to fire Rosenstein, who supervises Mueller, and possibly Mueller as well, but now that the memo is in the public sphere it turns out to be a combination of inaccurate allegations and innuendo that discredits the author more than those who are accused of violating legal procedures in the context of the Mueller probe, and it does not at all serve Trump’s purpose because it contradicts his main assertion.

Firing Rosenstein would give Trump the opportunity to appoint a different supervisor for Mueller, who could limit the scope of the investigation or even fire Mueller, which under normal circumstances would lead to a constitutional crisis.  With a few exceptions, however, the Republicans have become Trump’s silent majority in Congress, and seem to be more interested in destructive laws they may still put in front of Trump for his signature than in the continued health of American democracy.

The big winners in Trump’s and Nunes’s shady play are the enemies of the United States, first and foremost Vladimir Putin.  The memo reveals some intelligence sources, and in combination with tweets from Trump it must have a demoralizing effect on the FBI, which will weaken security in the US at a time when Russia is already preparing a massive intervention in the 2018 election.

If the whole episode shows one thing, it is that Trump is scared to death what Mueller may find or already has found, and dead set on using the full power of the presidency to obstruct justice.  This too will backfire, because a majority of US citizens is not ready to trade democracy for fascism.

 

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Dreamers and Mueller

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA) 

In the beginning of the week Trump took a victory lap because the Democrats blinked and ended the government shutdown over DACA almost before it began.  It was clear that they were losing the messaging war, being accused of putting the interests of illegal immigrants before the US military, in spite of the fact that 87% of the population wants the Dreamers to stay in the US and that Mitch McConnell shot down Claire McCaskill’s motion to keep the military paid during the shutdown.  The Democrats had to give up their leverage on the budget but the administration is not out of the woods.  Every day there is no solution for DACA the day comes closer that Dreamers will be deported to uncertain futures in countries they have never known, which will be a disgusting sight that Republicans with a minimal brain and conscience will want to avoid, but that the Freedom Caucus and White House staffers like Stephen Miller appear to be shooting for.  The White House’s latest proposal, a path to citizenship for the Dreamers in exchange for the wall and an end to chain migration and the VISA lottery, has already been rejected by the Democrats, who will remind voters that the DACA problem was created by the president and nobody else.

If Trump, who is unable to look farther ahead than the next episode of ‘Fox and Friends,’ may have felt that he did well with DACA, on the Mueller front not so much.  The news trickled out that Michael Flynn never told anybody that he was interviewed by the FBI in his White House office, and also that Jeff Sessions has recently been interviewed by Mueller.  That information, combined with Mueller’s earlier interviewing James Comey, led many pundits to the conclusion that the Special Counsel is primarily focusing on obstruction of justice, in particular the firing of Comey after Trump asked him to let go of Flynn a day after Flynn had been fired for lying to the FBI.  But it didn’t stop there.  It turned out that Trump called Andrew McCabe, the acting FBI Director after Comey’s firing, into his office to ask him who he had voted for in the presidential election, a totally unacceptable test of loyalty, after which Trump publicly attacked McCabe numerous times, making him, in his own words, a ‘star’ of his speeches.  And then the news broke that Trump had tried to fire Mueller one month after his appointment, but failed to do so because the White House Counsel threatened to resign.

In the meantime Devin Nunes, Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, was running around with a memo he had written himself that would reveal the existence of a ‘secret society’ in the FBI of anti-Trump conspirators.  Initially nobody was allowed to see the memo, but gradually it became obvious that it is based on lovers’ banter between two FBI employees and also mentions Mueller, Comey and McCabe.  Even Jeff Sessions’s Department of Justice told Nunes to cut the crap.

Before it became known that Trump had already once tried to fire Mueller he declared in a Q&A with reporters that he was looking forward to being interviewed by the Special Counsel.  He would do so under oath, an empty promise because lying to the FBI is a crime whether under oath or not.  The whole offer was soon withdrawn by one of Trump’s lawyers, clearly afraid that Trump would commit perjury.

In the same Q&A, when asked about obstruction of justice, Trump said ‘you fight back, and that’s what they call it.’ That may play well with his base, but not with Mueller, who now knows that Trump tried to fire him, but gained some job security knowing that Trump is less likely to try again.

 
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Shithouse and Chaos

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

While Trump was playing golf on Martin Luther King Day and even once raked a bunker by way of social service, the White House was preparing a defense for his ‘shithole’ remark.  The story became that Trump didn’t say shithole but ‘shithouse,’ supposedly a real estate term for a building with suspect plumbing, so Trump was just falling back on his earlier life and had no racist intentions whatsoever.  The latter was confirmed by his son Eric, who told Fox News that the only color his father sees is green.  Unfortunately the new lie had not been coordinated with the senators Perdue and Cotton, who last week declared that they had not heard the president say shithole, and who now remembered that they had not heard him say anything that even resembled shithole.  The Homeland Security Secretary did them one better by telling a senate committee that she didn’t know Norwegians are predominantly white, which is surprising for someone with the name Kirstjen Nielsen.  It goes to show how contagious lying is in the era of Trump, who proved to still be the absolute master of the craft by telling reporters that he’s the least racist person they’ll ever interview, a statement that was followed by a painful silence.

After his physical exam Trump’s doctor declared him in excellent health, even though he is an overweight 71 years old man with an LDL of 143 who doesn’t exercise and eats lots of junkfood, but from then on his week went south.  The White House had to effectively impose a gag order on Steve Bannon to keep him from testifying for a House committee, but Bannon made it clear that he would tell Robert Mueller everything he knows.  Obviously Trump has much more to fear from Mueller than from the House, especially since the FBI is following leads out of Fusion GPS’s Glenn Simpson’s House testimony about how Russian money ended up in the Trump organization and if it involved money laundering.  Another avenue that’s being explored is if Russian money was channeled to the Trump campaign via the NRA, and with all that already in Mueller’s view it doesn’t help that Don Jr., who in the past has talked about all the money Trump was making from transactions with Russians, had meetings with a Russian Mafioso who runs a bank and is close to Putin.  It seems more than likely that Moscow has enough dirt on Trump to blackmail him until his presidency is over, which is clearly the United States’ primary security risk.

In the meantime Trump created complete chaos in Washington.  With a Saturday morning budget deadline looming he has taken just about every possible position on the issues at stake, such as DACA and CHIP, confusing both Republicans and Democrats and making bi-partisan solutions all but impossible.  With Republicans in control of the House, the US Senate and the White House, even Trump cannot expect Democrats to be blamed for a government shutdown, as much as he likes to suggest otherwise.

On his signature item, the wall on the southern border, Trump felt that he had to dress down John Kelly, who had told House members that during the campaign Trump was ‘uninformed’ and that his ideas were still evolving.   In strong public statements Trump emphasized that he still wanted a wall of at least 700 miles, for which Congress would have to provide the funding because it won’t come from Mexico.

As I write this Trump is meeting with Chuck Schumer to see if a shutdown can still be prevented, so that he can leave DC for a $100,000/plate party at Mar-a-Lago.  There he may have to answer his wife’s questions about his affair with porn star Stormy Daniels four months after Melania gave birth to Barron.

 
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