Media (373)

 

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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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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