Media (378)

 

Road Trip

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Even when Donald Trump does the right thing he fucks up.  On Tuesday he finally made his first visit to US troops in a war zone, having traveled to Iraq overnight with Melania.  Apparently the president was very concerned about his personal security, so he picked a  country that’s now relatively safe and never left the base.  He met with only a small number of servicemen, some dressed in full battle fatigues who turned out to be members of the Navy Seals 5 team, which raised suspicion that the whole thing was staged as a reality show.  In his speech Trump lied to the troops that he was the first president to give them a pay raise in ten years, and got into his usual rant about ‘the wall,’ shamelessly using members of the military as props to promote his domestic policies.  The president defended his decision to withdraw all troops from Syria by characterizing Americans as the ‘suckers’ of the world, who always do other countries’ fighting without getting appropriately compensated, suggesting that he’s willing to pimp out US soldiers as mercenaries if the price is right.  The fact that Trump didn’t meet with any of Iraq’s leaders made some of them demand that all US troops leave their country.

The visit followed a couple of days when Trump was home alone in the White House, after acting like a high school student whose sweetheart broke up with him by forcing Jim Mattis out per January 1st and then closing the government.  The president complained about his loneliness, pretended to sign bills that don’t exist, and claimed to have signed a contract for the construction of 115 miles of the wall, something a US President typically doesn’t do.  In the process he shortened the wall from 2,000 to 515 miles and reduced it from a concrete contraption to a metal fence.  The fact that every entity Trump was ever involved with, from the Trump organization and foundation to his campaign, inaugural committee and administration, is now under investigation is taking its toll, and in an Oval Office meeting with the press pool the president fulminated about the Mueller probe and how the Democrats are out to get him, finishing with a heartfelt ‘Merry Christmas anyway.’  Trump also claimed to have received overwhelming encouragement from furloughed government workers to keep their departments closed, which is a miracle since the White House cannot be reached because of the shutdown.

During this week the background of Trump’s decision to pull the troops out of Syria came into focus.  The president seems to think that Saudi Arabia and Turkey have leverage over the US, the former because they ‘buy lots of stuff,’ and the latter for reasons nobody understands.   Records show that a phone call with Erdogan contributed to Trump’s decision, and pundits speculate that the Turkish president told Trump US troops would be in harm’s way when Turkey goes after the Syrian Kurds, who have been America’s most reliable allies, en passant promising that Turkey would also take care of ISIS.

Yesterday Rudy Giuliani opened his Pandora’s box of confused opinions in an interview with ‘The Hill,’ basically admitting that Trump is guilty of everything he has ever been accused of but that none of it is a crime.   Meanwhile McClatchy claims that there is hard evidence that places Michael Cohen in Prague in August 2016 coordinating interference in the elections with the Russians.  If this is true Robert Mueller knows it already, despite Cohen’s understandable denials, and the collusion, or rather conspiracy, case is closed.

Because of this latest information Mueller’s report, which might come out in February, is expected to be another bombshell, and we might even get to see the pee-pee tape before all is said and done.   It is questionable if Matt Whitaker, the acting Attorney General, will still be involved in the decision whether to release the report, after the news has broken  that he listed Academic All American honors which he never earned on his resumé.


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Distractions

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Whether you are still in the Trump administration or no longer part of it, your past can always come back to haunt you.  A video of Mick Mulvaney surfaced in which he called Trump ‘a terrible human being,’ and Michael Flynn tried to make a judge believe that he didn’t know you’re not supposed to lie to the FBI.  Mulvaney salvaged his appointment as acting  Chief of Staff by saying that at the time he didn’t know Donald Trump, but Flynn was not so lucky.  The judge threatened to throw the book at him, in spite of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s recommendation that Flynn get no jail time, and eventually forced Flynn to show that he really is a good boy by having him co-operate with Mueller three more months before being sentenced.  In contrast to his unwavering support for Flynn, who already met with Mueller’s staff nineteen times and apparently provided them with useful information, Trump called Michael Cohen ‘a rat,’ using a term out of the mafia lexicon that indicates the president justifiably sees himself as a mob boss.

As Mueller’s net tightens around the president the Attorney General of New York shut down the Trump Foundation for self-dealing and tax evasion, stating that the charity basically served as a checkbook for the Trumps.  The fraud goes back to the early years of the foundation, since one of the expenditures was a $7 enrollment fee for Don Jr. in the Boy Scouts of America.  Trump and his eldest children are no longer allowed to serve on the boards of other non-profits, which means that the US President cannot serve on the board of the Staten Island Little League.  Rudy Giuliani appeared to contribute to Trump’s woes by telling an interviewer that Trump was still engaged in discussions about a Trump Tower in Moscow in November of 2016.  Giuliani often fucks up, but it’s Hizzoner’s role to throw out stuff Trump has lied about that’s going to come out anyway, so this was probably intentional.  Giuliani also said that Trump would only sit down with Mueller over his dead body, but ominously added ‘I might be dead.’

On Wednesday Trump suddenly announced the complete withdrawal of US troops from Syria via Twitter, declaring that ISIS has been defeated.  His decision took the Pentagon, the State Department, Congress and US allies by surprise, but was praised by Putin, who said ‘Donald is right.’  ISIS still holds a small enclave in Syria, but the main beneficiaries will be Russia and Iran, whose positions in Syria are strengthened, while the Turks, who put strong pressure on Trump to withdraw the 2,000 servicemen, will start slaughtering Syrian Kurds – America’s main allies – as soon as the troops are gone.   For Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis it was the straw that broke the camel’s back, and he resigned with a scathing criticism of Trump’s betrayal of allies and undermining international alliances.

Trump was not done creating distractions, and on Thursday, bullied by Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh, declared that he would not sign a Continuing Resolution that would keep the government funded without allocating $5 billion for ‘The Wall.’  The president backpeddled on an earlier, bizarre statement that Mexico would pay for the wall via the USMCA agreement, and went as far as comparing the wall with ‘the wheel.’  In an act of desperation the lame duck House passed a funding bill that included the $5 billion but is bound to die in the US Senate, after which a cruel Trump shutdown becomes a reality.

At the Department of Justice the Mueller probe, the ultimate reason for Trump’s panic moves, is endangered by both the acting and the nominated Attorney General.  Matt Whitaker refused to recuse himself, and it turned out that Bill Barr has written a memo opposing the ‘obstruction of justice’ part of the investigation.  So far Robert Mueller has always been one step ahead of his distractors, and hopefully he will keep it that way.

 

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Triple Trouble

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Donald Trump is looking for a Chief of Staff, but he really should try to find a competent team of lawyers.  The big surprise at Michael Cohen’s sentencing was not the three years the president’s former fixer is going to spend in prison, but the collaboration agreement of AMI, David Pecker’s company, which admitted participating in a ‘catch and kill’ plot, in concert with the Trump-campaign, to mislead American voters by keeping information about Trump’s affair with a playmate, Karen McDougal, out of the press.   The explicit intent was to prevent damage to the candidate, making payments to Ms. McDougal a campaign finance violation, and ‘cooperation in the future’ is mentioned, which indicates that there is more to come from AMI.  Similarly, Michael Cohen’s payment to Stormy Daniels and his reimbursement by the Trump organization spells trouble.  Only Trump, his eldest children, and Allen Weisselberg were authorized to sign checks for the Trump organization.  Since Weisselberg is cooperating with the investigation one of the others probably forked the money, fraudulently booked as a legal retainer, over to Cohen.

And while the campaign finance violations make Trump complicit in two felonies, the biggest threat to his presidency is still coming from Robert Mueller.  Cohen told investigators that in November 2015 he was already approached by a Russian who offered ‘synergy’ between his government and the Trump campaign.  Since then, there have been contacts between Michael Flynn and Putin, between Flynn and Russian Ambassador Kislyak, between Jeff Sessions and Kislyak, between Paul Manafort and Konstantin Kilimnik, between Don Jr., Jared Kushner and Manafort and Natalia Vesilnitskaya, and between George Papadopoulos and Carter Page and assorted Russians.  Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi had advance knowledge about emails the Russians stole from the DNC that were published by Wikileaks, and Kushner tried to set up a secret backchannel with the Russian government.  During most of the campaign Trump was trying to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, while the Russians were preparing a massive intervention in the elections on his behalf.  For reasons Mueller will reveal all of the above lied about their Russian contacts.

Trump’s defense against the felony and upcoming conspiracy accusations is a prime example of legal acrobatics.  Since he can no longer maintain that payments to Karen McDougal and Stormy Daniels were a simple private business transaction, and the criminal features of his campaign’s collusion with the Russians are coming more into focus, he uses the protections of the office he stole against the investigations of the theft itself, by maintaining that the president cannot be indicted and that the need to constantly deal with the Mueller probe distracts him from governing the US.

Proof of the latter was on display during a televised meeting with Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer in the Oval Office, where Trump tried to bully the Democrats into giving him $5 billion to build ‘The Wall’ and was rebuffed in a way he probably never experienced before.  Pelosi said to his face “you don’t know what you’re talking about,” and Schumer made the president assume sole responsibility for a potential government shutdown.  Later that day Pelosi didn’t hesitate to question Trump’s manhood.

Yesterday NBC broke the news that Trump was the third man in the room when Cohen and Pecker first discussed the ‘catch and kill’ scheme.  Manhattan prosecutors started a criminal investigation into Trump’s inauguration committee for selling access, and New York’s Attorney General announced a broad investigation into the Trump organization and foundation.  No wonder that Chris Christie just turned down the Chief of Staff job.

 
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Sentencing Memos

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

In Argentina world leaders witnessed the embarrassment of a compromised president, who had to cancel a meeting with Putin and forfeit the opportunity to address Russia’s aggression against Ukraine, but the embarrassment didn’t stop there.  At one event Trump left a flabbergasted Argentine president alone on a podium, and before leaving the G20 he announced a ‘great deal’ with China that turned out to be just a freeze, and that immediately was undermined by Trump’s calling himself a ‘Tariff Man.’ Wall Street took notice and the stock market has been in a tailspin ever since.  Back in DC the funeral of Poppy Bush got all the attention, and because it was common knowledge that the 41st president used to throw his shoes at the TV whenever Trump was on it #45 had to stay out of the limelight.  In his place Mike Pence spoke when the coffin arrived at the Capitol, and used the opportunity to shamelessly compare himself to Bush Sr. and Trump to Ronald Reagan, all but announcing his candidacy for 2024, if not earlier.  There are rumors that Trump is considering to replace Pence on the ticket for 2020, and this might help him make up his mind.

Unlike the McCains the Bushes didn’t keep Trump away from the funeral service, but he was not given a speaking role and every reference to ‘dignity’ and ‘respect’ could be heard as a criticism of the president, who sat in silence next to three predecessors and their wives who hate his guts.  After the service the Mueller probe was front and center in DC, because a sentencing memo in the case of Michael Flynn had to be filed that same day.  Before the filing Trump, identified as ‘Individual One’ in Michael Cohen’s confession about his involvement with the Trump Tower in Moscow, praised his old pal Roger Stone for refusing to testify and spill the beans about him, giving us the spectacle of a US President urging a potential witness not to talk to the legal authorities – arguably a case of witness tampering – while simultaneously demanding a maximum sentence for Cohen.  The sentencing memo, filed late that night, was a disappointment because large parts were redacted.  Flynn was praised for his ‘substantial’ and early cooperation with the probe and providing ‘first hand’ information about contacts with the Russians.  The recommendation was for him to serve no jail time.

Because of the redactions the memo generated plenty of expert speculation, primarily because it referred to three investigations Flynn had provided valuable information for.  It was not hard to identify the Russian collusion investigation as the first one, and Flynn’s interactions with Turkey and the plot to abduct the cleric Fethullah Gülen as the second, but nobody has so far been able to identify the third investigation.  Legal analysts agree that the many redactions indicate the high level of targets in that investigation, but are completely in the dark what it pertains to.

The uncertainty about the third criminal investigation is even more tantalizing because of the way Trump has always pampered Flynn.  Not only did he ask James Comey ‘to let Flynn go,’ and after Comey’s firing urge Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats to ask the FBI to go easy on Flynn, but the president has never talked or tweeted smack about Flynn,  not even now.  The Flynn memo inspired Rudy Giuliani to freshen up his Yiddish and declare that Mueller doesn’t have ‘bupkes,’ but that can be of little comfort to Trump.

Today sentencing memos will be made public for Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.  The former will detail Manafort’s lies and crimes after he pretended to be cooperating with the Mueller probe, and the latter will contain information about Cohen’s collaboration with the Southern District’s investigation.  Many redactions are expected, and that is bad news for Don Jr., Jared Kushner and Trump, because Mueller is far from finished.


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Bombshells

(Door Hugo Kijne te Hoboken USA)

Donald Trump has never visited a war zone, and beyond having teargas canisters fired at women and children and threatening exhausted refugees with lethal force the Commander in Chief has no record of military accomplishments, but this week there were some explosions around him.  It started relatively innocent, with Trump making the usual pompous statements on assorted topics.  About his upcoming meetings with Xi, Muhamed bin Salman and Putin at the G20 the president declared that he didn’t need preparations, because he had prepared for these things all his life.  About the climate change report his administration released on Black Friday that predicts serious damage to the US economy during the rest of this century Trump simply said: ‘I don’t believe it,’ clarifying his opinion with the remark that ‘highly intelligent people like me see that the water and the air are getting cleaner.’  Unhappy with Federal Reserve policies he blamed for a decline in stock prices the president attacked the chairman he himself appointed with the words ‘I have a gut that tells me more than someone else’s brain can.’  It’s unclear if his gut also announced the market’s speedy recovery.

But then the bombs started dropping.  The Guardian published an article saying that Paul Manafort had visited Julian Assange multiple times, most recently at the beginning of his formal involvement with the Trump campaign.  If true, this would expose a direct link between Wikileaks, the Russians Manafort used to work for and the campaign, and bolster the collusion investigation.  Next, Robert Mueller withdrew Manafort’s plea deal, because Trump’s former campaign chairman had lied to the FBI even after becoming a cooperating witness.  Things got worse when Rudi Giuliani, Trump’s TV lawyer, issued the statement that thanks to a joint defense agreement Manafort’s lawyers had shared information about their client’s interactions with Mueller with team Trump.  Hizzoner should get his law school tuition reimbursed, because since Manafort pleaded guilty to all charges he doesn’t have a defense anymore, and therefore cannot have a defense agreement.  What it comes down to is that Trump’s lawyers used a convicted felon to spy on the Mueller probe, and that Manafort participated because only a presidential pardon can keep him out of jail.   For this his lawyers can get into serious trouble.

As much as Giuliani should stop talking and pretending to be a lawyer, Trump did him one better by telling an interviewer that he had not taken a pardon for Manafort off the table.  Dangling a pardon in front of a witness is an attempt at witness tampering, which qualifies as obstruction of justice, and adds to the list of felonies Mueller can eventually charge the president with.  Even though Trump cannot be indicted charges can be filed for a trial after his presidency.  Alan Dershowitz, in spite of firmly residing in the Trump camp, predicted that Mueller’s report would be ‘devastating’ for the president.

As if to prove the professor right, on Thursday Michael Cohen pleaded guilty of  lying to Congress about his involvement, and that of Trump and his family, in the attempt to have a Trump Tower built in Moscow.  It involved interactions with the office of Putin’s closest aide, Peskov, and went on until June 2016, three months before the presidential election.  Immediately after this news broke Trump canceled his scheduled meeting with Putin, allegedly because of the Russian agression against Ukraine, but very few believe him.

On his way to Airforce One Trump called Cohen ‘weak’ and ‘a liar,’ and subsequently Giuliani said that the president’s answers to Mueller’s questions and Cohen’s confession were in sinc, which is at least confusing.  The whole affair shows that the Russians had leverage over Trump since before the elections, and opens a Pandora’s box of collusion possibilities.  The wait is now for Mueller to drop the next bomb, possibly even today.


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