Media (360)

 

The Mueller Mess

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Immediately after Attorney General Barr’s four page letter with conclusions from the Mueller report became available Trump started lying about it, claiming that he had been ‘completely exonerated.’  In fact, the letter said that no criminal conspiracy had been established, but that the Special Counsel had not been able to exonerate the president with regards to obstruction of justice.  In Mueller’s  place Barr decided to exonerate Trump, which is not surprising since the Attorney General got his job because of his conviction, expressed in an unsolicited memo last summer, that Mueller could not investigate the president for obstruction of justice, a peculiar opinion because both Nixon and Clinton were accused of obstruction of justice in impeachment procedures.  Considering that the Special Counsel was installed to prevent political appointees from making such calls Barr was way out of line, and his curveball made observers question the rest of his reporting to Congress.  We’ll have to wait at least weeks for the lengthy report that 82% of Americans want to see to become public, and as for the counter-intelligence origins of the probe we may never know how deeply compromised Trump is.

It is not surprising that Mueller didn’t conclude that there had been an organized conspiracy with the Russians, because the Trump campaign from the beginning of the probe looked like the Keystone Cops of collusion, and the Russians, who are great at hacking but not at conspiring, probably didn’t want to get too chummy with  a bundle of amateurs they didn’t need to interfere with the US elections.  Instead of continuing to be delighted with Barr’s version of Mueller’s main findings Trump got into a vicious rage, and subsequently accused his Democratic opponents of treason, asked the TV networks no longer to invite his critics on their shows, announced an investigation of the investigators, and eventually blamed the probe on Obama.  Maybe to give it to his predecessor one more time, the next day the president decided to no longer defend Obamacare in court but instead to ask for it to be totally dismantled, against the advice of his AG, his Secretary of Health and Human Services and the Minority Leader of the Republicans in the House.  At least the latter understands that without a replacement that Republicans have not been able to develop since 2010 this is a suicidal move.

Other than his need to undo everything Obama has achieved there is ample speculation about Trump’s motives here.  Some observers think that he cannot do without a fight, and that because he considers the Mueller fight over he has moved on to the next one.  According to others Trump feels invincible and believes that he can now do anything, including taking coverage away from 20 million poor Americans, scrapping protections for pre-existing conditions and taking young adults off their parents’ insurance.

Trump’s latest attack on Obamacare is a godsent for the Democrats, who were divided between those who wanted to strengthen Obamacare and those who wanted ‘Medicare for All’ immediately, and who are now united in the first position.  Since the legal fight about Obamacare will stretch well into 2020 it will be the most important election issue, and since the Democrats control the House they are in charge of health care legislation.

In spite of Trump’s trumpeting that ‘the Russia Hoax’ is over, according to recent polling 56% of Americans don’t believe that Trump has been exonerated, and his approval rating is stuck at 41.6%.  In Michigan, a state Trump desperately needs in 2020 where he held a rally last nigh, only 31% of the voters would re-elect him.  The man is not really winning.

 
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John McCain Is Dead

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

And somebody should tell Donald Trump that.  Over the last weekend the president launched a full out Twitter attack on the late senator, starting with criticizing his grades at the Naval Academy, then blaming him for having provided the Steele dossier to the FBI to affect the result of the 2016 presidential election, and finally saying that McCain had told the White House he would support the repeal of Obamacare before casting the deciding vote to uphold it.  The latter two statements were verifiable lies.  McCain gave the dossier to the FBI after the election because he felt obliged to do so, and he had been signaling that he might oppose the repeal for some time.  Disparaging a war hero who died seven months ago was a new sub-human low for Trump, but the Twitter storm didn’t end there.  Subsequently he denounced General Motors for planning to close its Lordstown, Ohio plant, Saturday Night Live that ‘should be investigated’ for making fun of him, FOX News for suspending Judge Jeanine Pirro after her questioning a Muslim congresswoman’s patriotism, Robert Mueller, and later in the week George Conway, Kellyanne’s husband.

The president was obviously scared, first of Mueller’s upcoming report and then probably even more of the Southern District of New York’s investigation.  He doesn’t know what they have on him, but he knows what he did, and that is apparently enough to get him into panic mode.  In a Q&A on the White House lawn Trump observed that nobody elected Mueller, while he had ‘the greatest election victory ever.’ He lied that he had turned down Mueller as a candidate to run the FBI, while Mueller had not been interested and only visited the White House as a courtesy, and he mentioned a ‘nasty business dispute’ he had had with Mueller, which was about the membership fee of one of his golf courses that Mueller considered too high.  Trump fears that Mueller may de-legitimize his presidency, but even more frightening must be the recent disclosure of a search warrant by the SDNY concerning the campaign finance law violations for which Michael Cohen will go to jail.  The document has eighteen completely redacted pages with information about ongoing investigations that can only be into Trump and Don Jr., who might be indicted soon.

As for indicting Trump the Department of Justice is facing a dilemma.  Per one of its policies a sitting president cannot be indicted, but if Mueller would prove that Trump committed crimes to get into the Oval Office, it is questionable if he is entitled to its protections.  Additionally, if someone is not indicted information about that person is always withheld, but if the only reason why Trump is not indicted is that he is the president, all information about his criminal behavior should be made available to Congress so that it can consider impeachment, which is a political penalty.

Almost as bizarre as the president’s attack on McCain was his Twitter altercation with George Conway, a prominent conservative lawyer who had posted a document identifying the symptoms of Trump’s Narcissistic Personality Disorder.  Trump consistently called him ‘Mr. Kellyanne Conway,’ in an obvious attempt at emasculation, and referred to Conway as a ‘spouse from hell’ and a ‘stone cold loser,’ for not getting a job at the Justice Department that Conway himself had turned down.

Friday afternoon Mueller submitted his report to Attorney General William Barr, who had to decide how much of it will be made public.  On Sunday Barr informed Congress that the Special  Counsel had concluded that the president had not committed the crime of conspiring with the Russians, but that the report also doesn’t exonerate him with regards to obstruction of justice.  There are no new indictments.


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The Long Game

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

With Robert Mueller’s main lieutenant, Andrew Weissmann, stepping down from his team, it’s obvious that the Special Counsel is wrapping up his investigation and will soon submit his final report to the Attorney General.  In spite of the fact that there is overwhelming proof, in plain sight, of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia, as Jonathan Chait laid out in last week’s New York Magazine, it is quite possible that Mueller will not hold the president directly responsible, although he might yet surprise the pundits.  A reason for a cautious report can be that a sitting president cannot be indicted, per a contentious Department of Justice policy, and that therefore information about his possible crimes cannot be aired.  But it would be too early for Trump to crow victory, because it is likely that Mueller is playing a game that won’t be finished until long after he has ended his probe.  His mandate was limited to begin with, namely to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 elections, and it’s clear that he has branched out findings of criminal behavior beyond that scope to other jurisdictions, primarily in New York.

Prime examples are the hush money payments by Michael Cohen to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal.  On the federal level they represent campaign finance law violations, but since Cohen was initially partly reimbursed by the Trump Organization a 1099 Form should have been filed but was not, Cohen’s activities were fraudulently recorded as ‘legal services,’ and the payments were most likely deducted from the organization’s taxes as a business expense.  Those are already three felonies that can be prosecuted in New York for which the president, who never formally divested himself from the Trump Organization, as well as his eldest son, who signed some of the checks, can be indicted by the State Attorney General or the Manhattan District Attorney.  With State regulators looking into insurance fraud and a subpoena from the State AG for Deutsche Bank, both to establish if fraud was committed by deliberately misrepresenting the value of properties, many more indictments could follow.  Under a local statute that was specifically designed to charge the heads of local mafia families for their crimes Trump can be prosecuted for every crime committed by his own organization.

Just like Mueller Nancy Pelosi is playing a long game.  She declared that Congress should not pursue impeachment unless in a bi-partisan fashion, because ‘Trump isn’t worth it.’  What the Speaker really means is that Trump would only benefit from an impeachment procedure at this point in time, because he can then rally his base against Congress and create a distraction during the election season.  Pelosi expects more from a slow erosion of Trump’s presidential power by timely revelations out of multiple investigations.

In the Watergate case, the gradual loss of support from Republican politicians led to Nixon’s resignation, and something similar could happen to Trump.  This week the House voted unanimously that Mueller’s findings should be made public, and twelve GOP senators voted for a resolution to block Trump’s national emergency.  As investigations by House committees yield results there will be more defections from the Trump camp.

A week that started with the news that Cindy Yang, who sold sex in her Florida business, also sold access to the Trumps at Mar-a-Lago, and with the president pronouncing that ‘Democrats hate Jews,’ went farther downhill from there, as unimaginable as that may seem.  Trump may not be winning, but he keeps setting records of moral depravity.


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Fallout

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Last week was not a happy one for Trump.  Michael Cohen’s public testimony in Congress was devastating, the Hanoi summit with Kim failed because the president wanted to go big without offering anything that had not been on the table for years, namely sanctions for nukes, and his lying about Jared’s en Ivanka’s security clearances was exposed by contemporary memos from John Kelly and Don McGahn.  At the CPAC Trump broke into the most unhinged and also the longest rant of his presidency, reminding some pundits of Fidel Castro, 122 minutes in all with 104 fact-checked lies.  He attacked the usual suspects: Comey, Sessions, whose southern accent he imitated, Mueller, who was coming after him with ‘bullshit,’ Cohen, whom he called a ‘stone cold killer,’ members of Congress who ‘hate their country,’ and the Green New Deal, by trying to ridicule wind energy.  Meanwhile it was clear that Kim had won the day in Vietnam by getting another photo-op with the US President without giving in to his demands.  Back in his country the North Korean dictator immediately started re-building testing facilities for his IBMs.

The fallout from Cohen’s testimony followed this week.   Polls showed that over 50% of American voters believe Cohen, while only 35% believe Trump, and that 64% believe that the president committed crimes before his election, while 45% believe he committed crimes when already in the Oval Office, a number that may still go up now that Michael Cohen has produced six hush money checks signed by Trump well into his presidency.  New York State regulators started an investigation into insurance fraud by the Trump Organization, something the president can be indicted for regardless what the Department of Justice guidelines say, and the House Oversight Committee asked for documents from 81 organizations and individuals in connection with Michael Cohen’s testimony.  Trump’s former fixer also handed documents over to the House Intelligence Committee that would prove that Trump’s lawyers coached him into lying to Congress about the Trump Tower project, one of the felonies he will go to jail for, and to add insult to injury Cohen is suing the Trump organization for $1.9 million in lawyers’ costs.

Via reporting in the New Yorker FOX News was exposed as the propaganda branch of the White House, although some pundits preferred to describe the White House as the political branch of FOX News.   It turns out that the network had the Stormy Daniels story well before the presidential election, but killed it ‘because Rupert wants Trump to win.’  The Democratic Party decided not to let FOX News host one of its candidates’ debates, and former FOX boss Bill Shine left the White House for the Trump campaign.

Other than messing up his meeting with Kim Trump also set some records: the US has the highest national debt and trade deficit ever, the former because of Trump’s tax cuts and the latter partly because of his tariffs.  In February there was an 11 year high in illegal border crossings in spite of the administration’s deterrence policies, and the lowest number of new jobs was created since Obama pulled the country out of  the last recession.

Border patrol agents report that almost all the migrants who cross the border illegally want to get caught immediately, so that they can file an asylum request, and more and more observers agree that Trump is only running for re-election to stay out of jail.  Since he didn’t expect to win in 2016 he never thought that his past would catch up with him.

 

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No Nobel

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

While Donald Trump was unsuccessfully pursuing the Nobel Peace Prize in Hanoi, Michael Cohen made clear in DC that Trump is an even bigger scumbag than Henry Kissinger, the last American crook who got the prize.  Cohen called Trump a racist, a con man and a cheat, and backed up that statement with plenty of evidence.  Trump’s racism has been on public display since the 1960s, but Cohen revealed details about criminal behavior by the president and his adult children, both in Washington and in New York.  On the Mueller front, Cohen stated that he had overheard Roger Stone informing Trump about upcoming releases of hacked Democratic e-mails by Wikileaks, with Trump’s secretary as a potential witness, which could mean that the president lied in his written answers to the Special Counsel’s questions.  Trump’s former fixer also testified that he regularly briefed Don Jr. and Ivanka on the progress of the Moscow Tower project, something Don Jr. probably lied about to Congress.  According to Cohen the president used a specific code to nudge him into lying to Congress about the Moscow deal Trump pursued until his election, because he never expected to win.

With regards to issues that are being investigated by the Southern District of New York Cohen brought two checks that were part of his reimbursement for hush money paid to Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal, one signed by Donald Trump while already in office and the other by Don Jr., making both of them, as well as Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg, complicit in campaign finance law violations.  Cohen also informed the congressmen that Trump had a habit of inflating the value of his properties for insurance purposes and bank loans, but deflating it on his tax returns, and brought copies of financial statements as proof.  Responding to sharp questioning by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Cohen named Weisselberg and two other Trump Organization employees as potential witnesses of these practices, which would constitute bank- and insurance fraud as well as tax evasion.  Altogether Cohen came across as very credible, not in the least because he didn’t take Republican bait and said that he had not seen evidence of collusion with the Russians and that there couldn’t possibly be a tape of Trump slapping Melania or a pee-pee tape with hookers in a Moscow hotel.

The morning after Cohen’s public testimony Trump walked away from his negotiations with Kim Jong-un without a deal, because just like Lucy did to Charlie Brown Kim pulled the ball away from right in front of Trump by demanding that all US sanctions be lifted before North Korea would start denuclearizing.  It was obviously a shock to the foreign policy community that the master of the deal didn’t see that move coming, but there was relief that the president had not given away the store without getting anything in return.

In spite of the failed negotiations Trump declared in a Q&A with the press that he still thought Kim was a great guy who could be believed at his word, in particular when the North Korean leader said that he had not known about the fate of Otto Warmbier, the American student who left one of Kim’s prisons in a coma to die a couple of days later.  Trump also said that he appreciated Cohen’s saying that he was not aware of collusion, but still considered him a rat.

Cohen gave Republican congressmen as good as he got, by telling them that he would be going to jail for doing exactly what they are doing, covering up all of Trump’s lies.  He also revealed that he is in constant contact with SDNY on behalf of its ongoing investigations, and that should worry the Trumps as much as the inevitably upcoming testimony by Weisselberg.


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