Media (361)

 

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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Running the Gauntlet

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Immediately after the most bizarre speech of his presidency in which he declared a national emergency followed by the words ‘I didn’t have to do this,’ undermining his position in the lawsuits that will challenge his decision, Donald Trump flew to Florida for a three day golf vacation, taking away even the semblance of an emergency on the southern border.  Judging by the president’s tweets, once back in the White House he got into a panic mode, and for good reasons.  First it was revealed that in the fall Trump had asked Acting Attorney General Whitaker to make US Attorney Berman, a former Giuliani law partner, unrecuse himself from the Southern District investigation, and then former Acting FBI Director Andrew McCabe informed the public that Trump had told intelligence people briefing him about North Korea’s ability to reach the US with its missiles that he didn’t believe them because Putin advised him otherwise, responding to their objections with the verbal gem ‘I don’t care, I believe Putin.’  Even more astounding was the information that when McCabe advised the ‘Gang of Four’ in Congress about a counterintelligence investigation into Trump no one objected.

Making the rounds of the talk show circuit McCabe came across as extremely credible, and according to legal pundits he had been smart as a whip in adding Trump to the already existing probe into Russian interference in the elections, all but guaranteeing that an investigation of the president and his inner circle could not be stopped.   In response to New York Times reporting about his attempt to interfere with the Southern District investigation into his campaign and his business Trump called the paper ‘the enemy of the people,’ and he labeled McCabe as ‘a poor man’s J. Edgar Hoover,’ but his distress didn’t end there.  On Wednesday it became known that next week Michael Cohen will testify in Congress, both in an open and in a closed session, and to wet our appetite yesterday the former fixer already called the president ‘a madman.’ Trump will be out of the country when Cohen testifies, meeting in Vietnam with Kim Jong-un in his unpromising quest to win the Nobel Peace Prize, as will Vice President Mike Pence and Jared Kushner, so that Cohen will have the news cycle all to himself, although the president is expected to fire off some derogatory all caps tweets from Hanoi.

Meanwhile rumors are flying about the Mueller probe soon coming to an end, feeding ample speculation about the format and content of the Special Counsel’s final report and the degree to which it will be made public.  The former is decided by Mueller and the latter by Attorney General Barr, but Democrats in Congress have already announced that they will subpoena the report if Barr tries to sweep in under the rug.  The ending of the Special Counsel’s probe doesn’t mean that Trump’s problems are over, because many other investigations by US Attorney’s, often initiated by Mueller, will continue.

While he was responding to the body blows he was receiving the president displayed not only a rising level of insanity but also of pettiness.  He tried to take $1 billion away from California because the state had filed a lawsuit challenging his national emergency, and installed a climate change panel of which most of the members would not even be able to earn a degree in Betsy DeVos’s scamming for-profit schools.  In one picture Trump had his fingers photo-shopped to make them look longer, for thus far unknown reasons.

When Mike Pence delivered greetings from ‘President Donald Trump’ at a security conference in Munich he generated a deafening silence from the audience, and Trump associate Roger Stone is now one misstep away from going to jail for attacking a judge and violating her orders.  Today the State of New Jersey started the process of deciding that Trump cannot be on the ballot in 2020 if he doesn’t reveal his tax returns.  Not a good week for the president.

 
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Planet Trump

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Donald Trump has moved beyond Kellyanne Conway’s alternative facts and up to a galaxy where every connection with reality is accidental.  Last Sunday America and South Korea signed an agreement that implies that South Korea will start paying $70 million per year more for the presence of the US military on its soil.  On Tuesday the president told his press pool that South Korea is now paying $500 million per year more, causing the government in Seoul to question his sanity, albeit only behind closed doors.  Something even more bizarre happened at a Trump rally in El Paso, Texas.  In one single speech the president declared ‘I have built the wall,’ followed by ‘we are building the wall’ and finally ‘I will build the wall.’  He urged his followers to adopt the slogan ‘Finish the Wall,’ while fact checkers established that during Trump’s presidency not a single new piece of border fencing has been erected and that no construction is under way.   To confuse the pundits even more Trump flashed a new version of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 campaign slogan ‘Stronger Together,’ which didn’t work then and won’t work now.

In his speech the president also made the false claim that after a local wall had been built crime in El Paso went down significantly, while in fact for decennia the city has been one of the safest in the US.  El Paso was a strange location for a Trump rally to begin with, since its population is for 80% Hispanic and it is the hometown of Beto O’Rourke, who used the opportunity to stage a counter-rally and raise his national profile.  According to the president his event attracted a crowd of 35,000 and O’Rourke’s about 300, while the police estimated both crowds to be of a similar size of about 8,000.  The strangest moment of the night occurred when Trump pretended to be walking a dog on the White House lawn, although it may be have been a sign that he realizes how badly he needs a friend in DC.  Back in the Oval Office the president made it known that he was ‘not happy’ with the final result of bi-partisan negotiations about a spending agreement, although he seemed to realize that he would have to accept it to avoid another shutdown and even called Lou Dobbs and Sean Hannity at FOX NEWS to ask for their permission.

Developments with regards to funding for the wall over the last year have showcased Trump’s total lack of negotiating skills.  A year ago, with a Republican majority in the House and support from the Democrats in exchange for a DACA arrangement, he could have gotten $25 billion for the wall but turned it down.  Last December he could have gotten $1.6 billion instead of the $5.7 billion he demanded, but decided to shut down the government, knowing that the Democratic majority in the House would not give him more and incurring serious damage.  According to the current bill he’ll get $1.3 billion.

Meanwhile in the Mueller probe all eyes are on a summer 2016 meeting between Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort, his deputy, Rick Gates, and Russian agent Konstantin Kilimnik a block away from Trump Tower at the height of the campaign.  Mueller’s team seems to think that a deal was made exchanging Russian support for Trump in the election for a promise to lift sanctions on Russia and to accept its claim on Crimea and its warfare in Ukraine.  Obviously, the $1,000 question is: did Trump know?

This morning the president signed the bi-partisan budget bill and simltaneously declared a national emergency so that he can use another $6.7 billion, mostly from Department of Defense funds, to build the wall.  His declaration can be undone by a Joint Resolution of Termination by Congress or in the courts, because it is a flagrant violation of Article 1 of the Constitution, but if all of that fails it is a big step towards totalitarianism in the US.

 
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One Sentence

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

The State of the Union address lasted eighty two minutes, but in one sentence Donald Trump captured its essence: there won’t be legislation if there are investigations.  Trump reminded some pundits of Richard Nixon, who in one of his State of the Union addresses said that it was time to bring the Watergate investigation to an end, but the president’s situation differs from Nixon’s in two important ways:  Nixon was only accused of playing a role in the cover up of the Watergate break-in and lying about it, while Trump is a potential suspect of conspiring with a foreign adversary to influence the presidential election in his favor and on top of that of money laundering, tax evasion and even being a agent of that adversary, while his violating campaign finance laws has already been proven in court.  Additionally, Nixon had at least some respect for the US Constitution, while Trump’s statement was a frontal attack on Congress’s responsibility of exercising oversight of the Executive Branch.  If anything, that sentence showed how scared Trump is of investigations not only of his election and inauguration, but probably even more of his business practices.

The president’s threat didn’t deter congressional Democrats, who immediately announced broad investigations into all of the above areas, crossing the ‘red line’ Trump had drawn where it came to investigating his business.  Other than that, the address was solely intended to solidify his base, with fact free remarks about illegal immigrants and ‘the wall’ for the racists and rants about late term abortions and mentioning the move of the US Embassy to Jerusalem for the Evangelicals.   En passant the president took full credit for the ‘economic miracle’ that started eight years ago under Obama, and mentioned that there are more women in Congress now than at any time in US history, for which in a twisted way he can also take credit, because most of them decided to run in opposition to his agenda.  The self-congratulatory foreign policy section contained  praise for Trump’s irresponsible decisions to withdraw from the Iran nuclear agreement and from the INF treaty with Russia, which might start a new nuclear arms race, while high expectations were conveyed for the next meeting with Kim Jong-un, who is ready to bamboozle Trump once again.

In a televised interview before the Superbowl the president doubled down on his disbelief in information gathered by the American intelligence services, and produced the gaffe that some troops will remain in Iraq to keep an eye on Iran, upsetting the Iraqi leadership and risking the US presence in Iraq altogether.  Subsequently it was leaked that intelligence briefers describe Trump’s attitude during the briefings as one of ‘willful ignorance,’ and are instructed not to tell the president anything he doesn’t already agree with, while mentioning his name and title as often as possible.

For a while it was expected that Trump would announce his intention to declare a national emergency and build a wall on the southern border in his State of the Union address, but Mitch McConnell made it clear to him that GOP senators would not support such a move, even though Lindsey Graham urged his colleagues to do just the opposite.  With no other option left, yesterday the president indicated that he might be willing to accept a bipartisan compromise Congress is working on.

Absent in the State of the Union address was any reference to climate change, even a denial.  Trump made up for that omission in a tweet the following day, declaring that global warming is a Chinese invention to negatively affect American economic growth and industrial effectiveness.  It only illustrated that the president’s willful ignorance stretches far beyond national security matters.


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A National Security Threat

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

On Tuesday the leaders of the US intelligence community, all appointed by Trump, testified in Congress about their annual ‘Worldwide Threat Assessment,’ and the president didn’t like it.  In summary, the testimony came down to: Iran is still in compliance with the agreement that Trump pulled out of, North Korea has no intention whatsoever to denuclearize, ISIS has not only not been defeated but has morphed into an international terrorist organization, and Russia interfered in the 2016 elections and is preparing to do it again.   Since Trump has pretty much an opposite view on all four issues he tweeted that the assessment was ‘wrong’ and that the Directors of National Intelligence, the CIA and the FBI should go ‘back to school,’ because apparently they had not been taught ‘intelligence.’  A public rift like that between a president and his intelligence professionals has never occurred before, and what was already suspected after Trump’s meeting with Putin in Helsinki became apparent:  Donald Trump is Putin’s instrument in lowering moral and integrity in the US intelligence forces, which makes his presidency America’s number one national security threat.

Adopting Putin’s worldview of course implies that sanctions on Russian enterprises should be lifted, which is why companies controlled by oligarch Oleg Deripaska are free to do business in the US again after some window dressing with the ownership, creating a windfall for Deripaska and for a Russian shareholder who had a previous business relationship with Treasury Secretary Mnuchin, the official who lifted the sanctions.  It makes Democrats wonder if Putin has ‘kompromat’ on more members of the administration than just Trump, and in that context Robert Mueller’s indictment of Roger Stone is relevant.  Stone is doing his usual song and dance routine, but the expectation is that he’ll start singing about the president when he’s looking at potentially spending the rest of his life in prison.  Acting AG Whitaker meanwhile, in one of his last acts in that position, screwed up by announcing that Mueller would soon issue his final report, violating the rule that the Department of Justice doesn’t talk about ongoing investigations.  And Chris Christie speculated that Trump has much more to fear from the investigations by the Southern District of New York than from Mueller.

In a response to Trump’s criticism of the intelligence leaders Chuck Schumer urged them to ‘educate the president,’ knowing quite well that that is an impossible mission.  Completely missing in their assessment is a reference to a crisis on the southern border and the need for a wall.  The Democrats will never give the president money for that vanity project and at least twenty GOP senators won’t tolerate another shutdown, so that declaring a national emergency becomes Trump’s only option.  He is then guaranteed to lose a legal challenge, after which everybody can move on.

Having demonstrated his profound knowledge of international affairs the president turned to the issue of climate change, and in reference to the current polar temperatures in most of the US tweeted that ‘we could use some global warming,’ redundantly making clear that he doesn’t understand the difference between ‘weather’ and ‘climate.’  We may hear more, similar wisdom from Trump when he finally delivers his State of the Union address to Congress next Tuesday.

In one of his spontaneous erratic conversations with reporters yesterday Trump said that the DNI and the CIA Director had told him they were ‘totally misquoted.’  Since their testimony was on live TV they must have misquoted themselves, but that detail eluded the president.  He also called the negotiations in Congress about border security a ‘waste of time,’ and declared that the wall is already being built.

 
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