Media (329)

Back to the Base

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

On Monday Trump and his lawyer, Michael Cohen, filed a motion in federal court stating that Stormy Daniels had broken her non-disclosure agreement, effectively confirming that she had spoken the truth in her 60 Minutes interview.  On Friday Trump told reporters that he didn’t know about the $130,000 payment to Stormy and had had nothing to do with it, which means that he could not have been a party to the agreement and therefore there was no agreement.  It was that kind of a week for Trump.  On Tuesday it turned out that Mueller had informed Trump’s lawyers that Trump is a ‘subject’ of the Russia investigation, but not a ‘target.’  Trump expressed his profound relief by trumpeting his new status around, which shows that he doesn’t know how fast a subject, a person under investigation, can become a target, a person about to be charged.  One easy way for Trump to change his status is lying to Mueller during an interview.  The president keeps saying that he wants to sit down with Mueller and answer his questions, but since he’s been lying more than five times per day since the beginning of his presidency it’s unlikely that he’d get through an interview unscathed.

Other than dealing with Trump’s status, Mueller has been active in many other areas.  In August 2017 Rod Rosenstein had given the Special Counsel permission to look into Paul Manafort’s connections with the Russians.  Questions to be answered are how Manafort landed in the Trump campaign, why he offered to work for free, if maybe someone other than the Trump campaign paid him, and with what kind of intentions he became the campaign chairman.  This line of questioning may very well move the investigation from collusion to conspiracy.  Mueller is now also looking into business dealings by Manafort that are not yet covered by his earlier indictment, meaning that Manafort could be looking at double the prison time he’s looking at right now.  Another expansion of the investigation is into Cohen’s role in the Trump organization, which means that Trump’s own business practices are now under scrutiny.  In spite of his professed innocence of any crimes, these developments have caused erratic behavior by Trump, who probably decided that he had to shore up his base to be able to challenge future revelations from Mueller and the ‘fake news’ press.

Trump did that with two speeches.  On Easter Monday, standing between Melania and a bunny rabbit, he surprised an audience of toddlers during the White House egg roll with a tirade about DACA, strengthening the military and the dangers of ‘Democrat supported’ immigration.  In a speech later in the week Trump threw away his prepared remarks to ramble about tariffs, withdrawal from Syria and having the National Guard patrol the Mexican border, which would be a violation of the Posse Comitatus Act of 1878.

Republican commentator Steve Schmidt characterized Trump as ‘a drunk at the end of the bar in Queens.’  With regards to the tariffs on imports from China the president has been going back and forth, most recently announcing more tariffs, while his main advisors are hopelessly divided.  China’s retaliation will directly be aimed at products from states where Trump has a strong following and hurt his voters, and his trade war rhetoric has sent the stock market into a tailspin.

Scott Pruitt is setting a world record in corruption, nepotism and other abuses of his office at the EPA, but Trump is still considering him as a replacement for Jeff Sessions, while his Chief of Staff wants to fire Pruitt.  In the meantime departing National Security Advisor HR McMaster’s farewell present is a packet of strong sanctions on Russian olicharchs meant to inflict pain on Putin.

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Look Mama, without Lawyers

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

In a western I watched last night a cowboy with a quick draw was bragging about his prowess with the gun, but when he came face to face with a bank robber he froze and got himself killed. It reminded me of Trump, who made a name for himself in his reality show with ‘you’re fired,’ but cannot say those words in real life. He called VA Secretary David Shulkin but was only able to produce some small talk, to subsequently ask John Kelly to call Shulkin and tell him he’s fired. The firing was then announced by the president via a tweet. Like that cowboy, Trump is all talk and no balls. The same character trait is reflected in his deafening silence about Stormy Daniels. Her lawyer made a smart move by demanding that the non-disclosure agreement be voided because it was part of a campaign finance violation, but suffered a minor setback when a judge ruled that a motion to bring in Trump and Michael Cohen for depositions was premature. Cohen’s lawyer, David Schwartz, ‘the fixer’s fixer,’ didn’t help however, by declaring that the president knew nothing about the agreement. It opens Cohen up for disbarment for not having informed his client, and Trump for campaign finance violation charges.

Trump has more lawyers working on the Stormy Daniels case than on Robert Mueller’s investigation, for which he cannot find lawyers because he is a difficult client with a weak case who doesn’t pay his bills. In that probe collusion and obstruction of justice are now coming together. It turns out that Paul Manafort’s Kiev office was managed by a Russian secret agent, a man Rick Gates stayed in touch with throughout the campaign. Mueller is also showing renewed interest in Jeff Sessions’s contacts with Russians during the GOP convention. On top of this it became known that Trump’s former lawyer, John Dowd, in the summer of 2017 approached lawyers for Michael Flynn and Manafort to discuss the possibility of a pardon for their clients, which would have been a clear case of obstruction of justice. Meanwhile, much to the chagrin of the Trumpists, Sessions decided not to appoint a second Special Counsel to investigate the FBI’s handling of Hillary Clinton’s emails, and a group of Democratic senators sent a letter to the whole chain of command in the Department of Justice asking for guarantees that Mueller will not be fired.

Trump’s foreign policy remains a mystery even to those who are closest to him. Grudgingly he joined more than 20 countries in expelling Russian diplomats, which prompted Sarah Huckabee Sanders to tout America’s ‘leadership’ role in this matter, but simultaneously he instructed White House staffers not to speak critically of Putin. With his improvised statement that the US would soon completely withdraw from Syria he totally surprised the Pentagon and the State Department.

And the surprises didn’t end there. The president appointed the White House physician Ronnie Jackson, who has no management experience, as VA Secretary, and announced that the US military would pay for the Mexican border wall. This makes him an Indian giver, because Trump will take away part of the funding provided via the omnibus bill that he has been bragging about.

In his uninterrupted decline into the deepest depths of depravity Trump has now declared war on Amazon, because its owner also owns the Washington Post. And as the Department of Housing and Urban Development stops fighting racial discrimination, the EPA lowers emission standards.

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Drums of War

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Donald Trump must have felt that his enemies are circling the wagons, and he responded in kind.  While the White House was still dealing with the fallout of the firing of Andrew McCabe by Jeff Sessions, two days before he would be eligible for a full pension and at Trump’s urging, the president sued Stormy Daniels for $20 million, $1 million for every time she had spoken about her affair with Trump, thereby implicitly acknowledging that there had been an affair.  Simultaneously ex-Playmate Karen McDougal sued the publisher of the National Enquirer to have a ‘catch and kill’ contract that doesn’t allow her to tell the story of her relationship with Trump voided. The legal threats, and in Stormy Daniels’s case threats of physical violence, didn’t deter the ladies.  Last night Ms. McDougal was interviewed on CNN and Sunday night 60 Minutes will air an interview with Stormy.  The most dangerous development for the president, however, is the case of Summer Zervos, who was sexually harassed by Trump and filed a defamation lawsuit. After a judge’s ruling Trump can be forced to give a deposition in a New York court.

Next, a media storm broke out over Trump’s congratulating Putin with his victory in the Russian election – in spite of the fact that his briefing paper said DO NOT CONGRATULATE – while he failed to bring up the nerve gas attack on a former Russian spy in England. A pundit compared it to J. Edgar Hoover calling Al Capone to congratulate him with a successful bank robbery.  It prompted former CIA Director Brennan to wonder what Putin has on Trump, with financial leverage as the most likely answer.  This question will ultimately be answered by Robert Mueller, whose probe is now reaching into the finances of the Trump Organization, which is the reason why Trump made some panic moves on this front.  He hired Joseph DiGenova as his lead lawyer, who is better known for peddling conspiracy theories on Fox News than for courtroom prowess, indicating that the president is going to fight a publicity war with Mueller.  John Dowd concluded that Trump is primarily going to be his own lawyer and resigned, cognizant of the saying:  If you represent yourself you have a fool for a lawyer.

On the foreign policy front it became known that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had lobbied hard for the firing of Rex Tillerson, whom they considered an obstacle in their conflicts with Qatar and Iran.  After the expected ouster of H.R. McMaster as National Security Advisor Mike Pompeo gained a colleague who is even more hawkish than him in John Bolton.  Bolton’s past achievements are 4,400 American and 500,000 Iraqi deaths, and he has argued for a pre-emptive strike on North Korea.

The tariffs Trump imposed on $50 billion imports from China are an economic declaration of war, and China is already promising to retaliate.  The almost certainty of a trade war between China and the US that will completely disrupt global markets, combined with Facebook’s data being compromised by Cambridge Analytica on behalf of the Trump campaign, sent the stock market in a downward tailspin.

Trump now has a war cabinet for his legal war with Mueller, his trade war with China and his war over nuclear armament with North Korea and Iran.  Its members are not exactly the best and the brightest, and the fact that the president feels increasingly threatened brings a ‘Wag the Dog’ scenario ever closer.

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You’re Fired

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

At the beginning of the week Trump was in a good mood, because he had finally fired Rex Tillerson, who had called him a fucking moron and pissed him off by having a conscience.  It was shocking to some people that the star of ‘The Apprentice’ didn’t have the balls to look someone in the eyes and say ‘You’re Fired,’ and therefore fired his Secretary of State with a tweet, but that goes to show that reality shows are not real.  It is clear that there will be significantly more changes in Trump’s cabinet, but there are contradictory rumors as to who might be next, with an abundance of candidates: Shulkin for taking his wife on vacation on the government’s dime, Carson for ordering a $31K table, Zinke for installing a $139K door, Betsy DeVos for being dumber than a brick, Sessions for having recused himself, McMaster for not always agreeing with Trump and Kelly for trying to impose some discipline on the president.  At this point Las Vegas is betting that McMaster will go first, and that John Bolton will be his successor, although Trump seems to think that Bolton’s mustache doesn’t look good on TV.

On Tuesday the Democrat Conner Lamb won an election in Pennsylvania’s 18thdistrict that Trump had carried by 19 points, after Trump had campaigned for Lamb’s opponent, and from there on things turned sour for the President.  Robert Mueller issued a subpoena to the Trump Organization to hand over all documents pertaining to contacts with Russia, crossing a  red line Trump had drawn and increasing the chance that Trump will fire Sessions to eventually fire Mueller.  In this scenario Pruitt is rumored to replace Sessions. It already turned out that the Trump Organization had tried to build a tower in Moscow working with a bank that was under US sanctions, and unless Mueller is stopped much more similar information will ultimately be revealed.  The Trump Organization was also in the news because one of its lawyers, next to Mickey Cohen, was involved in paying the $130K hush money to Stormy Daniels, tying the Russia probe and the Daniels affaire.  Stormy, in the meantime, is not going away.  In a 60 Minutes interview she will tell how she was threatened with physical violence to stay silent.

After Trump had succeeded in avoiding criticizing Putin for the longest time the attempt to murder a former Russian agent with nerve gas in England was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the US imposed sanctions on those individuals and organizations that had already been indicted by Mueller.  Subsequently it turned out that the Russians had hacked into American energy systems, including nuclear reactors, and might very well be able to shut them down.

Trump has little to look forward to, other than surrounding himself with sycophants like Larry Kudlow, who is taking Gary Cohn’s former position.  Mueller will pursue every trace of money laundering by the Trump Organization, and Stormy Daniels is taking Trump to court to have the non-disclosure agreement voided that would allow him to demand $1 million for each violation.

As Stormy’s attorney says, it will be quite a spectacle if the US President demands $1 million from a US citizen for exercising her first amendment rights.  That might happen around the time when James Comey is gearing up for a tour promoting a book that will rip Trump to pieces.

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Little Rocket Man, I Presume

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

The White House is beginning to look like an empty nest.  Since the beginning of the Trump administration there has been a 43% turnover of its original staff, but the president maintains that he can still recruit the best people for any position.  The latest to depart is Gary Cohn, who lost his appetite to stay on Trump’s team when Trump, against his advice, announced tariffs on steel and aluminum.  That announcement was apparently triggered by Trump’s being upset by the departure of Hope Hicks, but it was also a promise he had campaigned on.  The president is apparently not aware that the rust belt, where he won big in the election, is rapidly changing, and that a city like Pittsburg is now becoming a high tech hub.  He doesn’t hear those things from his remaining economic advisors: Peter Navarro, who is generally considered a loonie by the economic profession, and Wilbur Ross, who is best known for falling asleep during meetings.  Trump’s protectionism goes against both GOP free market orthodoxy and more liberal globalism, and in spite of the fact that he promised considerable flexibility in applying the tariffs there is fear of trade wars in both camps.

In the meantime the Mueller investigation is covering new territory.  It turns out that a meeting of Trump’s representative Eric Prince with a Russian oligarch on the Seychelles was engineered by UAE officials, with the intention to set up a backchannel with Moscow.  Prince lied about it under oath while testifying to Congress and will have to account for that.  Of an entirely different caliber is the battle between porn star Stormy Daniels and Trump’s legal team about a contract that would oblige Daniels not to talk about her relationship with Trump, in exchange for $130,000 paid to her by one of Trump’s lawyers, Mickey Cohen.  For Mueller the interesting question is where the money came from, Cohen or Trump.  If it came from Cohen it was an illegal campaign contribution, since its purpose was to eliminate a potential obstacle for Trump’s election, and if it came from Trump it was a campaign expense that has not been reported.  Daniels claims that the agreement is not valid because Trump never signed it and because Cohen broke it by talking about it to the press.  Trump’s lawyers try to keep her silent via a temporary restraining order issued by an arbitrator, which Daniels is challenging in court.

Things got worse for Trump when the news broke that he had spoken with Reince Priebus and White House Counsel McGahn about their interviews by Mueller, and in particular that he had put pressure on McGahn to lie about Trump’s attempts to fire Mueller, something McGahn had to report to Mueller.  Other than that he doesn’t pay his bills this is why prominent law firms didn’t take Trump on as a client.  He doesn’t listen to his lawyers and violates too many basic rules.

To save the week and to keep the Mueller proble off the front pages Trump came with a surprise of Wag the Dog caliber. Yesterday afternoon he walked into the White House press room and announced that a South Korean delegation visiting Washington would soon have important news.  On the White House grounds the South Koreans told the press that Kim Jong-un had invited Trump for a meeting, and that Trump had accepted.

It was a message that rocked Washington. For more than twenty years North Korean leaders have tried to get a meeting with a US President on equal footing and without preconditions, and Trump just gave it to them.  He has very few experts to advise him, but apparently trusts his instincts.  DC is holding its breath.

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