Media (329)

 

The Mueller Interview

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

While former and current Trump associates, as well as his oldest son, are being tried, indicted or investigated for bank or wire fraud, tax evasion, securities fraud, embezzlement and criminal conspiracy, most of the media’s attention is directed at the freak show the president’s legal team is putting on in its communications with the Special Counsel.  The news came in bits and pieces: first Rudy Giuliani mentioned a letter that had been sent to Robert Mueller with the offer to have Trump interviewed on the condition that there would be no questions about collusion and obstruction of justice, and no questions that could lead the president into a perjury trap.  After that generous offer apparently had been turned down by Mueller a second offer was made, to have Trump answer only ‘appropriate’ questions in writing.  With that second offer the option that Mueller would get to interview the president voluntarily is off the table, and it makes it more than likely that he will subpoena Trump, which would probably take the issue to the Supreme Court and squash Hizzoner’s bizarre demand that Mueller finishes his probe by September 1st because otherwise he would violate a Department of Justice policy that only Giuliani is familiar with.

If they had a slightly more sympathetic public face than Giuliani’s you would almost feel sorry for Trump’s lawyers.  If Mueller had the opportunity to ask the president if he asked Jim Comey to go easy on Mike Flynn Trump could deny, which would constitute perjury, as Comey’s contemporary memos would prove, or he could admit, which would be a confession to obstruction of justice.  Similarly, if Mueller asked Trump if he fired Comey because of the Russia probe the president could either deny and commit perjury, because he already admitted as much in a TV interview with Lester Holt, or he could confess once more to obstruction of justice.  The bottom line is: Trump cannot be interviewed because both if he lies and if he tells the truth he incriminates himself.  The same would happen in a Grand Jury interrogation, which is why the president’s lawyers will fight a subpoena tooth and nail.  In this context the Republicans’ rush to have Brett Kavanough confirmed as Supreme Court Justice is important, because they expect him to be the fifth vote that establishes that the US President cannot be subpoenaed.  To speed up the confirmation process GOP senators deny the Democrats information about Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush White House.

With the additional media attention spent on the Trump crime syndicate of Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Michael Cohen, Congressman Collins, Wilbur Ross and Don Jr. other events have almost been forgotten:  Trump attacked LeBron James and Don Lemon, both black, for a perceived lack of intelligence, continuing the long racist tradition of the Trump family.  The decision to disparage the most popular athlete in the country three months before elections calls Trump’s own intelligence into question.

Having Hope Hicks join him on Airforce One last weekend may be understandable in light of Trump’s apparent rift with Melania, but it also opens him up to a suspicion of witness tampering, and the president’s constant attacks on the press as ‘enemy of the people’ may have him end up with the blood of journalists on his hands, as Bret Stephens powerfully illustrated in the New York Times.

A judge ruled that a lawsuit filed by the State of Maryland alleging that Trump violates the ‘emoluments clause’ can go forward, which may produce Trump’s 2017 tax returns.  And during the campaign Trump promised to pay down the national debt, but in 2018 and 2019 it will rise with at least $1.8 trillion.


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Follow the Money

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

It’s obvious that Trump is furious, but about what?  At the beginning of the week he threatened with a government shutdown in September if he doesn’t get the money for ‘the wall,’ even arguing that it would help Republicans in the elections.  Then he claimed that Robert Mueller has a conflict of interest, because he once had a business dispute with Trump over the membership fee of a golf club and Trump didn’t make him FBI Director after he fired Comey.  About a confidential meeting with New York Times publisher A.G. Sulzberger Trump tweeted that the abundance of fake news had made the press the enemy of the people, while Sulzberger had just warned him for the use of such language.  And with Mueller already investigating Trump’s tweets to see if they constitute obstruction of justice or witness tampering the president tweeted that Jeff Sessions should end the Mueller ‘witch hunt’ right now.  Immediately after that tweet was posted Trump’s lawyers went into full damage control mode, and Rudy Giuliani told every network that would have him that the president had only expressed an opinion but not given his Attorney General an order.

There are at least three possible reasons why Trump is freaking out.  The first is Michael Cohen’s revelation that Trump knew in advance about the June 9th, 2016, meeting, which was kept in the headlines by Giuliani’s uncontrolled blabbering on CNN about a second, preparatory meeting two days earlier that was attended by Don Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and Richard Gates.  There was absolutely no need for Hizzoner to make this public and three hours later he denied that there had been another meeting.  The second is the back and forth between Trump’s lawyers and Mueller about Trump being interviewed by the Special Counsel.  Mueller insists that both collusion and obstruction of justice have to be topics, but Trump only wants to answer questions about collusion and seems to think that he can convince Mueller that his probe is a witch hunt.  However, the Washington Post reported that in 558 days in office Trump made 4,229 false public statements, an average of 7.6 per day, and his lawyers will definitely keep him away from Mueller because the president would set a world record in committing perjury.  And the third is the most intriguing reason: the subpoena for Allen Weisselberg by the Southern District of New York.

From the very beginning of Mueller’s investigation Trump has said that his business practices should be off limits, but testimony by Weisselberg, the CFO of the Trump Organization, will put them front and center.  For at least twenty years Trump has made money via shady deals with foreign investors that allowed him to operate money losing properties and pose as a successful businessman, according to reporting by Adam Davidson in the New Yorker.  Weisselberg knows everything about those arrangements and will talk.

His testimony contains two risks for Trump: combined with his tax returns, which are undoubtedly already in Mueller’s possession, it may show that the president is not nearly as rich as he pretends to be, but more importantly, it may preclude Trump from continuing to operate the more than 500 businesses of the Trump Organization, and effectively shut it down.  That will hurt him more than anything else, because money is the most important thing in Trump’s life.

Yesterday the insanity that rules in Washington, DC reached another climax.  Alledgedly under orders from the president the senior leadership of the intelligence community issued a stern warning about Russian meddling in US elections at the White House press briefing, while a totally unhinged Trump at a campaign rally last night called it all a hoax.


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Legal Matters

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

At the beginning of the week Trump was pissed off about the leaked recording made by Michael Cohen that could prove him to be an accessory to wire fraud, conspiracy and campaign finance law violation.  To create distractions he threatened Iran with the mother of all wars and former intelligence community leaders with taking away their security clearances.  But things soon got worse for him.  It turned out that there are at least 12 more and possibly over 100 Cohen tapes, many with Trump on them and all in the possession of the Southern District of New York.  On top of this the CFO of the Trump Organization, Allen Weisselberg, was subpoenaed in the Michael Cohen investigation.  It shows the foresight of Robert Mueller to have that part of his probe sourced out.  Trump’s business practices may be outside the scope of his assignment to look into Russian election meddling, collusion and obstruction of justice, but they perfectly fall within the purview of the US Attorney in lower Manhattan, and the president cannot interfere there.  Weisselberg knows exactly where all the bodies are buried by Trump and Cohen, and since there is no such thing as accountant-client privilege he’ll undoubtedly talk.

Meanwhile Mueller started investigating Trump’s tweets, especially the ones meant to intimidate James Comey and Jeff Sessions, to see if they constitute obstruction of justice or witness tampering when coupled with the president’s demanding loyalty of Comey and blasting Sessions for having recused himself.   It was almost inevitable that sooner or later Trump’s tweets would backfire and this may be that moment.  Additionally, a judge ruled that a lawsuit filed by the State of Maryland alledging that Trump violates the emoluments clause in the US Constitution by doing business with foreign governments – which yielded him a profit of $151 million last year – is allowed to go forward, and as the legal climax of the week it became known that Michael Cohen is willing to testify that Trump knew in advance about the June 2016 meeting with Russians in Trump Tower.  If this is proven, Don Jr. would have committed perjury testifying before Congress and will be prosecuted.  These developments make obstructing the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh as Supreme Court Justice by Democrats even more important, because all these cases may end up before SCOTUS.

Trump’s growing legal problems take a toll on his sanity and that of his legal team.  The president tweeted that he expects Putin to meddle in the 2018 elections on behalf of the Democrats, after last week having denied that Putin meddles at all, and Rudy Giuliani declared that Trump would agree to be interviewed by Mueller about collusion, but not about obstruction of justice.  Hizzoner was performing for an audience of one here, because everybody knows that this is not going to happen.

In the wake of the Helsinki meeting, and partly because of the damage caused by his tariffs, Trump’s approval rating is plummeting.  Of all American voters 58% now disapprove of the president’s job performance, while a majority of 51% believes Russia has compromising information about him,  which, rather than Mueller’s ‘witch hunt,’ is the reason why Putin’s visit to the White House has been delayed until after January 2019.

Finally, in one of his funniest tweets this week Donald Trump asked: ‘what kind of a lawyer makes recordings of conversations with his clients?’  MSNBC’s Lawrence O’Donnell responded with an even funnier question: ‘what kind of an idiot has a lawyer who records conversations with his clients?’


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My Grandfather and Trump

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

My paternal grandfather was a peculiar man.  During WWII in Holland he was active in the Corrie ten Boom group that saved hundreds of Jews from the extermination camps.  At some point he was arrested and taken to the Gestapo headquarters in Apeldoorn, where he was tortured.  Because he believed that his God and Maker had forbidden him to tell a lie, even to the Germans, he told my aunt, the only family member allowed to visit him, that in a couple of days he was going to break and give the Germans the names and addresses of other group members he knew.  She was able to warn them and they all went underground.   I hardly knew my grandfather because he died when I was three years old, but this week Trump made me think of him.  Trump is also a peculiar man, he simply cannot tell the truth.  When he said that he ‘didn’t see why it would be Russia’ that meddled in the 2016 election he was lying, because in January 2017 he had been shown overwhelming proof that it was Russia.  When he claimed to have misspoken and had wanted to say ‘wouldn’t’ instead of ‘would’ he lied, because that was never his intention.  He produced a similar double lie when he first – while knowing better – expressed his belief that Russia was no longer meddling, and then pretended he never said that.

There is a wide range of explanations for Trump’s latest lying.  The most popular is that acknowledging Russian meddling would question the legitimacy of his 2016 victory.  Almost as widespread is the idea that Trump is being blackmailed by Putin and is under his orders to lie.   A third and equally plausible theory is that Trump is living in a made-up universe of his own, where truths are lies and lies represent the truth.  Jeffrey Sachs, finally, believes that Trump is senile.  Combinations of all four explanations are possible.  Even worse than Trump’s lying about Russian meddling was his initial enthusiasm for Putin’s ‘incredible offer’ to have Robert Mueller’s people question the twelve Russian officers accused of hacking into American computer systems, while in return Putin’s Gestapo would ‘interrogate’ two people who have caused the Russian leader a lot of heartburn, former US Ambassador to Russia Michael McFaul and English businessman Bill Browder.  The latter is largely responsible for the Magnitsky Act, which is named for his murdered Russian lawyer and sanctions Putin and his inner circle.   One day after the Helsinki meeting the White House still called this a ‘very interesting’ proposal, while the State Department immediately called it ‘absurd,’ expressing Secretary of State Mike Pompeo’s opinion.

Almost all GOP senators supported a non-binding motion to protect McFaul and Browder, but that is about the maximum amount of courage they can muster.  Trump is very popular among 90% of the Republican base, and GOP politicians are scared to death that they will lose their next election without its support.  Their predicament is growing, however, because the more they cower to Trump and his deplorables the more likely they are to lose support from independent voters, without which they cannot win either.

The current debate in DC is about the question whether traditional Russia hawks like Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats, who contradicted Trump a couple of times this week, Mike Pompeo and even John Bolton should stay in their positions.  To everybody’s surprise Trump instructed Bolton to invite Putin to the White House, and that will be a good test case.  As an alternative the threat of Sean Hannity as Director of National Intelligence (sic) looms.

If my grandfather had lived in America today he would have been an Evangelical, and Evangelicals still deeply admire Corrie ten Boom, who became one of them after she moved to the US.   My grandfather would never have voted for a pathological liar like Trump, as many Evangelicals unfortunately did, and I don’t think Corrie ten Boom would have either.


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Putin is Fine

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

If Donald Trump had not visited Europe this week the dominant story in the news would have been that his administration failed to reunite more than 4 very young children out of 102 with their parents by a court imposed deadline.  But first Trump nominated Brett Kavanaugh for the Supreme Court, which pushed the ordeal of refugee children and parents off the front pages.  Kavanaugh’s main qualification for the job, from Trump’s perspective, is his conviction that it should not be possible to subpoena or indict a sitting president, an issue that may very well be decided by SCOTUS.  It puts him in legal left field next to Alan Dershowitz, who argues in a new book that the Supreme Court can overrule a presidential impeachment.  Then Mike Pompeo’s attempts to make North Korea live up to the deal that Trump claims he struck with Kim Jong-un, but that only exists in his imagination, were labeled ‘gangster-like’ negotiating tactics by Kim’s spokespeople.  And at a rally the night before he left for Europe Trump declared that ‘Putin is fine,’ because ‘we’re all people,’ a level of logic that will puzzle philosophers for years.

Upon arriving at the NATO headquarters Trump immediately went on the attack, blasting Germany for a natural gas deal with Russia and member states for not spending enough on their defense.  Although the president could have scored moderate points on both issues Trump squandered the opportunity by claiming that Germany gets 70% of its gas from Russia, which in reality is 9%, and by stating that NATO members’ spending on their military has consistently been going down, while the opposite is true.  To save face on the latter issue Trump demanded an ad hoc meeting where he requested that member states annually spend 4% of their GDP on defense, more than the US spends and in spite of an existing agreement that the states will spend 2% by 2024.  At a press conference Trump proclaimed that everybody agreed to the 4%, which was later politely called untrue by French president Macron.  Then it was off to England for Trump, where he backstabbed Theresa May, whose government is already on life support, by criticizing her Brexit strategy, denying her a trade deal, and praising her two-faced opponent Boris Johnson.

After tea with the Queen, who will probably have put the fear of God in Trump to delight Melania, the president was off to his golf resort in Scotland, where he will prepare for his meeting with Putin by playing 36 holes.  Trump has already essentially waved off Putin’s meddling in the US elections by saying that he can only once again ask the Russian dictator ‘if he did it,’ and, barring a firm denial by Putin that Trump will immediately accept, tell him ‘not to do it again.’  Putin will be shivering.

While Trump did Putin’s bidding in Europe Republicans in Congress did everything they could to discredit Robert Mueller’s investigation into collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign by insulting and abusing FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was involved in the probe at its beginning but removed by Mueller for messages sent to his lover.  The congressmen dehumanized themselves, with Louie Gohmert taking the deepest dive into the mud.

Nobody knows yet what gifts Trump will carry to Helsinki for his Russian handler, whom he calls a ‘competitor,’ not an enemy.  In the meantime, his lying to senator Durbin during a previous confirmation hearing creates at least the chance that Kavanaugh’s confirmation will still be derailed, but what is one lie more or less in the Trump era?


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