The Dark Days to Come

As we approach the end of a tumultuous 2017, let me offer my wish that each of you have a joyous holiday season and that 2018 brings you all the best.  Happy Hanukkah, Merry Christmas and a fine Festivus!

While I sincerely hope that all of us have a wonderful 2018 in our own ways, I am concerned that as a country we will hit turbulent waters at best or worse, experience a Constitutional crisis.  I gave up prognosticating some years ago.  However, since it is the end of the year, I will offer up my scenario as to how the coming year will unfold as the investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller plays out.  There are certainly other very important events to come in 2018 that the administration will face, such as dealing with a bellicose North Korea, implementing a tax cut by expanding the deficit, undermining the Affordable Care Act, retooling immigration and someday passing a budget.  All of these will be overshadowed by the unfolding drama surrounding Mr. Mueller’s investigation and its final results.  It will not be pretty.

Lest we forget, as I see it there are four distinct areas of investigation for the Special Counsel.  Three have been his focus from the beginning and the fourth I surmise got added as the investigation looked into the activities of Mr. Paul Manafort and others and the resulting relationship to the original three areas of interest.  The four are concerns over Russian interference in the election, possible collusion between the campaign and the Russians, whether or not the FBI investigation into these matters was obstructed by the president or his advisers, and my fourth, money laundering and/or tax evasion by the president and/or family.  Let’s look at them one by one.

Many of us forget that the original intent of the investigation, starting with the FBI and CIA in 2016, was to determine the extent, methods, and impact of Russian interference in that year’s election.  The combined intelligence community in the United States and elsewhere concluded some time ago that the Russians did interfere.  End of discussion.  The questions of how, why, whether it mattered or not and what to do stop it in the future remain unanswered.  Reportedly, the president refuses to discuss it with his top advisers, has yet to hold any cabinet level discussions as to how to protect future elections and continues to deny that it ever happened.  This is unconscionable.  Regardless of one’s political views, all of us should be upset that there is overwhelming evidence that it occurred and there is no evidence that anyone is doing anything substantive to prevent it in the future.  There is still no federal coordinated action to stop it from happening again.  As Americans we should be appalled.  Michael V. Hayden had a lifetime of experience in the intelligence community and was CIA director under President George W. Bush.  His view of the Russian meddling?  That it is the political equivalent of the attack on September 11.  He further said,

“What the president has to say is, ‘We know the Russians did it, they know they did it, I know they did it, and we will not rest until we learn everything there is to know about how and do everything possible to prevent it from happening again. He has never said anything close to that and will never say anything close to that.”

Perhaps some in Congress will wake up to the fact that action is needed, and soon.  I won’t hold my breath for the president to initiate any action.  When Mr. Mueller’s findings come forward, we may have an impetus for action by the rest of the government.

The second area of investigation, and the one most focus on including the president, is whether or not the president’s campaign colluded with the Russians to interfere in the election and impede Secretary Hillary Clinton’s chances of victory.  This one is more complicated and takes more than a sound bite or Twitter statement to unfold.  In short, the theory is that in exchange for “dirt” on Mrs. Clinton and other “aids” during the election, the new administration, if they won, would lift sanctions on Russia imposed for a variety of reasons generated by Russian bad actors, and not just during the election.  This one is less clear as to the extent that the campaign organization knew what they were doing.  Their best defense, if one can call it that, is that they were incompetent.  That line of  reasoning is becoming less tenable as more and more instances of meetings between campaign representatives and Russian representatives become known.  In addition, both campaigns were briefed in August 2016, following the official nominations, that the Russians were trying to interfere in the election, that other bad actors might also try, and the two campaigns need to notify the FBI if they detect any Russian overtures or other activity.  The Trump campaign made no such reports to the FBI.  It is hard to claim ignorance under those circumstances.

The second area of investigation involves possible obstruction of justice.  This stems in one way from the aforementioned meetings with Russian operatives during the campaign.  Various campaign officials initially denied any such meetings.  It grew bigger after the president fired then FBI Director Jim Comey and bragged in a Lester Holt interview on NBC and later in a private conversation with the Russian (!) Foreign Minister and Ambassador that it was over the “Russia thing.”  Director Comey testified under oath that the president asked him to drop the investigation into former NSC Director Michael Flynn’s interactions with the Russians.  (The same Michael Flynn that pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about those very interactions.)  As if that is not enough, the investigation also includes the president himself pushing prevarications on Air Force One concerning his son Donald Trump Jr. and his interactions with the Russians.  They made a very weak attempt to cover it up, allegedly at the president’s direct involvement in the cover up story.

You can’t tell the players without a program.

Not on the “official” list but the area that will cause the biggest consternation, and at the same time pull everything together, is my notion that the Special Counsel and his office are looking into the Trump Organization’s and family’s financial dealings.  I think that they will find instances of money laundering and tax evasion.  Very much like what they come up with concerning Mr. Manafort and Mr. Gates — only with Russians rather than corrupt Ukrainians.

Many focus on Mr. Trump’s visit to Moscow for the Miss Universe Pageant and his subsequent attempts at creating new business opportunities in Russia.  Lost to some is the knowledge that he started visiting Russia in 1987 and has made trips off and on since then.  If his son is to be believed, lots of their investment money came from Russian sources.  U.S. banks would not underwrite his endeavors after four bankruptcies and he was desperate.  Think of it as a “Godfather” scenario.  “Donnie, don’t worry.  We’ll take care of the problem.  Relax.  But at some time in the future we may come and ask you for a favor.”  Or as Don Corleone says it much better in the original, “Someday, and that day may never come, I will call upon you to do a service for me. But until that day, accept this justice as a gift on my daughter’s wedding day.”

My opinion as to the results?

  • The Russians interfered in many, many ways in the election but the number of votes that changed because of those actions (none of which were by actual vote tampering) is unknown.
  • Aides to Mr. Trump did collude with the Russians but the president will benefit from plausible deniability as there will be no way to tie it directly to him.
  • The investigation will conclude that Mr. Trump and some of his aides did try to obstruct justice by interfering in the attempt to investigate his family and campaign ties to the Russians.
  • The Special Counsel will conclude that prior to becoming president, Mr. Trump knowingly engaged in unethical and illegal financial transactions.  These transactions helped Russian oligarchs launder money in Trump investments and real estate purchases.  His hundreds of LLCs and shell corporations were used to hide these transactions and to limit the taxes he was by law responsible for paying.

That’s when the “fun” starts.

First, prior to the Special Counsel’s findings, the House committees investigating these matters will rush out findings — possibly in early January — that will find that there is no evidence of collusion, they did not look at obstruction of justice because it is a criminal matter, and did not investigate his finances.  They will say that the Russians interfered in the election but it is unclear to what extent and in any case, the interference did not change the election.

The president will seize on this report, claim that it proves his innocence and that there was “no collusion!”

The president will try to fire Special Counsel Mueller because, he will reason, the House committees already proved that there was “no collusion!” and so there is no need for the investigation to continue.  To do so would make it a “witch hunt” based on the Democrats efforts to push a “hoax” and an attempt to disenfranchise millions of Trump voters because of a deep hatred of Mr. Trump.  Fox News and some House Republicans will cry long and loud that this is an attempted FBI “coup” to overthrow the duly elected President of the United States.  (By the way, this has already happened in the last 48 hours.  The attacks on the FBI and Department of Justice from certain Republican Members of Congress are despicable.  Please note that they are not attacking the facts, the results so far or any other substantive issue.  They only attack the people and the institution with the goal to sow doubt in advance of just this scenario.)

The Senate will try to protect the Special Counsel but at the same time expand their investigation to include the other nominees — Jill Stein and Hillary Clinton — to show that it wasn’t just Mr. Trump.  When the Special Counsel’s findings start to leak out, the Senate, caught in a bind as to how to act as the president continues to undermine, ignore and invalidate the non-partisan results, delays action.

The Special Counsel will name Mr. Trump as an un-indicted co-conspirator.

Mr. Trump will not step down  from the presidency and tries to pardon those indicted as well as himself.  This will lead to a Constitutional crisis.

The “#metoo” movement continues to build pressure against Mr. Trump as more allegations of harassment by multiple women come out and he calls them all “liars.”

To make sure that justice prevails, state prosecutors step in to bring state charges — especially on money and tax issues. Mr. Trump cannot pardon violations of state law, only federal.

The issue of pardons for whom and for what gets challenged in court and follows an expedited path to the Supreme Court.

Pressure will build for the Congress to act.  However, the House and Senate will not act to impeach the president and will cite the upcoming 2018 elections as the reason.  “Let the American people decide.”

Democrats win big in the elections.  While campaigning they will not use the word “impeach” but will insist that Mr. Trump needs to be held accountable for his actions with Congressional oversight.

Mr. Trump, Fox News, and some House Republicans continue to cry that the system was rigged and that an attempted “coup” is underway.  Mr. Trump embarks on a series of campaign rallies to build support among the minority of voters that still support him. Angry demonstrations ensue.

Most Americans are appalled at the complete story and the fact that Mr. Trump will not step down plus the fact that he is trying to pardon the wrong doers — especially close family members.  The Democratic landslide is a result of voters being fed up because Congress will not act.

Very bitter disputes break out in violence on both sides of the issue as Mr. Trump continues purposely to stir up animosity and anger.

There is very little energy left to try to tackle the big issues facing our nation.  American influence in the world continues to wane and other nations take advantage of our inward rage and lack of attention to international affairs.  The Russians continue to meddle in western European elections and to support Syria and Iran.  China consolidates its economic power and pulls other Asian nations closer to its orbit as they become the de facto leader of the region under the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).

2018 ends without resolution of the Constitutional issues surrounding Mr. Trump and his associates’ actions.  Trials begin for Mr. Manafort, Mr. Gates, and Mr. Kushner and others close to the president.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good night!

 

 

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thoughtsandprayers

A single failed 2001 shoe bombing attempt on an airliner bound for Detroit.

— We all now take our shoes off before boarding any airliner.

A single failed 2009 underwear bombing attempt on an airliner bound for Detroit.

— We all now have to go through full body scanners before boarding any airliner.

A plot to turn a lap top into a bomb was foiled.

— Laptops were banned on many airline flights.

A legal immigrant kills 8 and injures 12 in New York City.

— Close the borders to immigrants.  “Extreme vetting.”

A single terrorist shooter kills 59 and wounds 241 people in Las Vegas.

— thoughtsandprayers

A single terrorist shooter kills 26 and wounds 20 in Sutherland Springs Texas.

— thoughtsandprayers

— “It’s not a gun situation.”

378 mass shooting incidents (defined as four or more people shot) in 2017 alone.

— thoughtsandprayers

“Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.”

— thoughtsandprayers

In February 2017 the president signed a decree scrapping the regulation aimed at keeping guns out of the hands of severely mentally ill individuals.

— thoughtsandprayers

Gun homicide rates in the U.S. are 25 times higher than any other high income nation.

— thoughtsandprayers

Guns kill approximately 1300 children in the U.S. each year.

— thoughtsandprayers

The Congress refused to pass legislation preventing individuals on the terrorist no fly list from buying guns.

— thoughtsandprayers

It is not anti-gun to be for gun safety.  As the greatest nation on earth we should be able to figure out how to keep our Second Amendment right without giving up our right not to be randomly shot by a disgruntled idiot.  It is a national disgrace.  It most definitely is not “the cost of freedom.”

I don’t want to hear anymore “thoughtsandprayers.”


Dangerous Times

In the last ten to twelve days we have seen a remarkable display of something — although I am not really sure what we are seeing.  But from where I sit, it isn’t good.

In succession we have Senator John McCain (R-Ariz) (a former nominee for president), former Republican President George W. Bush, Senator Bob Corker (R-Tenn) and Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz) all directly or unmistakably reference, the leadership philosophy, character and fitness for office of our current president.  All found him seriously wanting in every imaginable category.  On top of that, former Democrat President Barack Obama and former Democrat Vice President Joe Biden made similar remarks.  But of course their remarks don’t count because of the fact that the Democrats are all “losers” and “whiners.”  So let’s just focus on the president’s own party and their criticism.

Some Republicans and some reporters and analysts use words like “feud” and “tit for tat” and “Junior High disputes” to describe the events of the last week.  Wrong.  Likewise is it wrong to think that their words have no real meaning because, in at least two cases, they have chosen not to run for re-election.  Perhaps it gave them more leeway to speak up, but it does not change the import of their words.

To brush it off as some kind of personality clash is to lose sight of what serious men of conscience are actually saying.  It is also not really a matter of policy or ideological differences either.  For goodness sake, Senators Corker and Flake vote with about a 96% consistency rate with the stated goals of the rest of their party and presumably of the president.  (Although it is difficult to know about the latter as his grasp of policy details is suspect and he can change his mind about an issue several times in the same day.  For example, with the bipartisan Alexander-Murray bill for a temporary fix of the health care system, where he was for it before he was against it — in the same afternoon.)

These proven Republicans, all of whom I respect even if I don’t agree with their every approach to solving the nation’s problems, make a compelling case that the president is manifestly unfit for office and that his tumbling tumbleweed approach to governing diminishes our place in the world and is dangerous.  It is a question of character and the current president is found to be profoundly lacking, if not completely devoid, of it.  More precisely Senator McCain said, among other things:

To fear the world we have organized and led for three-quarters of a century, to abandon the ideals we have advanced around the globe, to refuse the obligations of international leadership and our duty to remain ‘the last best hope of earth’ for the sake of some half-baked, spurious nationalism cooked up by people who would rather find scapegoats than solve problems, is as unpatriotic as an attachment to any other tired dogma of the past that Americans consigned to the ash heap of history.

We live in a land made of ideals, not blood and soil. We have a moral obligation to continue in our just cause, and we would bring more than shame on ourselves if we don’t. We will not thrive in a world where our leadership and ideals are absent. We wouldn’t deserve to.

Not to put too fine of a point on it, but the phrase “blood and soil” is the phrase used by American white supremacists, is associated with some supporters of this administration, and comes from a philosophy from Nazi Germany. “Blut und Boden.” Look it up.

Likewise Senator Flake characterizes the president’s character as a danger to our nation and to peace in the world.  The speech is worth reading as many think that in historical terms, we will look back upon it as a clarion call to action to stop the reckless behavior of the current administration.  He warns of creating a “new normal” where the most crass and personal petty attacks and lies are taken as the course of events in politics.  His condemnation of the current administration is lengthy, but the heart of the matter can be summed up in these passages:

If we simply become inured to this condition, thinking that it is just politics as usual, then heaven help us. Without fear of the consequences and without consideration of the rules of what is politically safe or palatable, we must stop pretending that the degradation of our politics and the conduct of some in our executive branch are normal. They are not normal. Reckless, outrageous and undignified behavior has become excused and countenanced as telling it like it is when it is actually just reckless, outrageous and undignified.

And when such behavior emanates from the top of our government, it is something else. It is dangerous to a democracy. Such behavior does not project strength because our strength comes from our values. It instead projects a corruption of the spirit and weakness. It is often said that children are watching. Well, they are. And what are we going to do about that? When the next generation asks us, ‘Why didn’t you do something? Why didn’t you speak up?’ What are we going to say?

Mr. President, I rise today to say: enough. We must dedicate ourselves to making sure that the anomalous never becomes the normal.

This is not a “tit for tat” or a personality conflict.  These comments, and similar ones by President Bush and even more blunt comments by Senator Corker are alarming.  Or they should be.

Politics in the United States has changed in the past year or so from differences in ideas to one where we argue over the populist slogans of the sloganeer-in-chief.  I heard it described the other day as “emotional sustenance.”  Substance from the chief executive is no longer required, all that is asked of him is that he entertain us.  Sadly, that entertainment is not even positive but geared to salve the emotional feelings surrounding perceived slights of those that just want to be mad at the establishment and he indulges them.  Substance may not be dead in the Congress, but it is on life support because the man at the top cares nothing about it.  Watch the interview from last weekend with Maria Bartiromo of Fox Business News and the president.  She served up the most soft ball type questions imaginable and tried to lead him through his own policies, but with little success.  Asked about Russia he talked about Bob Kraft (owner of the NFL New England Patriots) and the Super Bowl ring he gave (?) to Vladimir Putin.  Having already mentioned the Alexander-Murray bipartisan health care bill, here was his description of it:

Well, I’ve — I have looked at it very, very strongly. And pretty much, we can do almost what they’re getting. I — I think he is a tremendous person. I don’t know Sen. Murray. I hear very, very good things.

I know that Lamar Alexander’s a fine man, and he is really in there to do good for the people. We can do pretty much what we have to do without, you know, the secretary has tremendous leeway in the — under the Obama plans. One of the things that they did, because they were so messed up, they had no choice but to give the secretary leeway because they knew he’d have to be — he or she would have to be changing all the time.

And we can pretty much do whatever we have to do just the way it is. So this was going to be temporary, prior to repeal and replace. We’re going to repeal and replace Obamacare.

A grasp of the issue?  You be the judge.

Here is what we now have in the United States of America.  We have a chief executive who created a cult of personality, and continues to expand that cult, with no grasp of the issues, no desire to learn the issues and who thinks that bullying (“Liddle’ Bob Corker”, “Little Rocket Man”, Jeff “The Flake” Flake, and countless others) is the way to govern and accomplish something meaningful.

And it gets worse.

As late as yesterday, the Commander-in-Chief continued to argue with a Gold Star widow.  Not Congresswoman Frederica Wilson (D-Fla) who is a close family friend (you may know her better as the president does as “Wacky Congressman (sic) Wilson “).  The widow.

Most disappointing was the press conference given by Chief-of-Staff John Kelly last week.  After giving a heart wrenching, and something the country as a whole needed to understand, explanation as to how our fallen military members are returned home to grieving families, he went too far.  He too attacked Congresswoman Wilson with what was proven to be false accusations.  And he went on to show that in this White House, he is really just an admin guy and mouthpiece for the president.  Clearly, he does the president’s bidding without question and thereby refutes the idea that he is any kind of filter or brake for the president’s divisive views.

Many people, including military veterans, I’ve spoken with are profoundly disappointed in the president and John Kelly.  Many consider this the low point for this administration.

Sadly, I think that demonstrates a lack of imagination.  I don’t think we have yet realized just how low the president and many of his advisers are willing to go.  How many times in the last two years have people said “that’s it” — surely it cannot get any worse.  And then it does.

I think that is why Senators McCain, Corker, and Flake spoke out in recent days.  That is why Presidents Bush and Obama spoke out in recent days.  They realize the serious threat to our republic embodied by this administration and they cannot sit by and watch it be destroyed.

Unfortunately, too many others in Congress are willing to trade their souls for a tax cut.

All of us have a role to play.  We cannot sit idly by and watch our country careen towards ruin.


“The Apprentice: The White House Years” Needs To Be Cancelled

The past six weeks or so have been tough on a lot of people from natural and man-made disasters.  Multiple hurricanes, an earthquake, unprecedented wildfires, and a mass shooting all come to mind, to name a few of the major events since the summer.  Tough going for a lot of people who will take months or years to fully recover.  The loss of life is significant and the loss of property not only impacts people’s lives but also our national treasure.  We as a nation need to stick with the recovery efforts even as the president seemed to imply yesterday that the “ungrateful” Puerto Ricans — American citizens all — are themselves largely responsible for their condition and should not count on continued federal assistance to recover.

Amidst all of the heartache and sadness, there have been incredible scenes and stories of every day people stepping up to do incredible things.  The stories of human beings helping human beings are inspiring.  These people stepped up not for the glory or reward but because it was the right thing to do.  Many had lost their own homes or loved ones and yet they sallied forth over and over to help or rescue others even as their own lives were in danger.  Truly inspiring and a refreshing reminder that at heart we are all the same and that the vast majority of people will come through for their fellow citizens when their backs are up against the wall.

What was truly refreshing about these countless stories is that they took place against the backdrop of the continuing circus unfolding in and around the White House.  The Tumbling Tumbleweed Administration still values daily fights with the media and attacking anyone that looks at them cross-eyed.  One is either a pandering sycophant or an “enemy of the state” according to this administration.  The list of daily insults to our citizens and our nation is far too long to take on one by one and the pettiness and vindictiveness of this administration is ever more shameful when compared to the many uplifting actions taken in the wake of actual disasters, not the one’s unnecessarily created by the president.  The president continues to tumble around in the wind of his perceived need to satisfy a “base” of about 30-40% of our nation rather than to provide a vision of how to lead the entire nation to address the serious issues facing this country.

Of grave concern to me is that the leaders of the Republican Party will not stand up on their hind legs and tell the president that he is just plain wrong about many issues.  This is deeply concerning.  Apparently the hope — and so far they have demonstrated that it is only a hope — of passing their “agenda” over rides their Constitutional duty as an equal branch of government to stand up to the president when he is wrong and/or out-of-bounds.

Thankfully there are a few canaries in the coal mine (how ironic since the administration is “stopping the war on coal”) who are willing to publicly voice their concerns. The common knowledge around Washington is that nearly every Senator and Representative is privately concerned over the president’s personal behavior and the potential damage to our country.  Yet, only a few are willing to speak up.

Unfortunately, it needs to be Republicans that speak up as when Democrats do they are accused of partisanship or “playing politics” with important issues.  (One might ask if it isn’t their political job to raise questions about issues as they occur.)  This week two Republican Senators did speak up.  Senator Bob Corker (R-TN) and Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) did so.  Both were immediately personally attacked and belittled by the president.

In an interview with the New York Times Senator Corker said, among other things, that the president “concerns me.  He would have to concern anyone who cares about our nation.”  He went on to liken this administration to “a reality show” and as has been widely reported, the president is leading the country “on the path to World War III.”   Anyone that follows such things knows that Senator Corker is a well-respected, conscientious individual that takes his duties seriously.  While I do not agree with all of his ideas, he is well-versed in foreign affairs and national security and an acknowledged expert.  If he is willing to speak out against a president of his own party, I see his words as a warning to the rest of us.  We should be paying close attention.

Think of it this way.  Yesterday in a press opportunity with Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau the president was asked about any differences he might have with Secretary of State Rex Tillerson over North Korea.  In the context of his, shall we say, mercurial temperament, his words were troubling.  He opined that he might “have a little bit different attitude on North Korea than other people might have.” He acknowledged that he listens to his advisers but that “ultimately my attitude is the one that matters, isn’t it? That’s the way it works. That’s the way the system is.  I think perhaps I feel stronger and tougher on that subject than other people, but I listen to everybody.”

This from the man who threatened to “totally destroy” the North Koreans and belittled his own Secretary of State for trying to resolve the issue through diplomatic channels.

Senator Sasse spoke up yesterday following a statement and a series of tweets from the president (I still can not believe that we conduct national affairs via Twitter) where he seemed to state that he would abridge the First Amendment rights of NBC news for broadcasting “fake news.”  One sample:

“With all of the Fake News coming out of NBC and the Networks, at what point is it appropriate to challenge their License? Bad for country!”

For the moment, let’s look past the fact that NBC is not licensed by the federal government, individual local stations are, and that the president cannot take away their license.  Just another case of the president being factually challenged, or not having the intellectual curiosity to actually know what he is talking about.  But nothing new there.

Instead, let’s take it for what it is.  The first, classic step of an authoritarian regime.  Belittle institutions, question their integrity, claim that they are illegitimate, and then shut them down.  History 101.  Am I over reacting?  I used to think that there was a lot of hyperbole around the doings of this president and  that the basic nature of our Constitution and the safeguards there in would keep him in check.  Now I am not so sure (and more on that later).  In addition to the Constitution, the Founding Fathers assumed that certain norms and standards of behavior would naturally be part of the unwritten rules governing those in power.  I would opine that assumption is now being challenged in terms of the moral and ethical behavior of the man in the White House.

We need more Senators, and other, yes Republican, politicians to speak out as Senator Sasse did yesterday when he asked the president (and of course, via Twitter):

“Mr. President:
Are you recanting of the Oath you took on Jan. 20 to preserve, protect, and defend the 1st Amendment?”

It is not normal for a president of these United States to call for the shutting down of a news outlet because he is mad about their reporting.  Upset about it, sure.  Most presidents get upset about some news report about some issue.  But every day — well maybe not every day, but about 98% of the days — this president comes out with some new crazy thing that he says or does.  Again, Senator Corker was a truth teller when he said, “I don’t know why the President tweets out things that are not true. You know he does it, everyone knows he does it, but he does.”  This is not the America we know and love.

Here is where I almost fell over yesterday as analysts were discussing the state of affairs in the world vis-a-vis those in the White House.  By all accounts the president feels that he is not in control and expects the rest of the government to respond to his commands and desires as they did when he was in his gilded tower in New York City.  He is frustrated and ready to lash out.  Guess where the one power lies that no one else can countermand or dispute?  His role as Commander-in-Chief.  The hyperbole surrounding who has their “finger on the button” to launch our nuclear arsenal now sounds more real.  Throughout his campaign and now in his presidency he talks of our arsenal and its strength.   Unfortunately, he talks about it in ways that make me think that he does not understand what he is talking about (see my 21 September post on “Deterrence 101”).  Couple that with his comments about North Korea above (“my attitude is the one that matters”) and one could start to lose sleep at night.

To paraphrase Stan Oliver, “Well here’s another nice mess we’ve gotten ourselves into.”  I have no magic solution.  We need to hope that more officials in government step up and hold this president accountable.  Stop the Tumbling Tumbleweed Administration from blowing aimlessly across the national landscape.  Hold Congressional hearings to force the administration to articulate its policies and explain the strategy to implement them.  Call out the president when he makes untrue and outrageous statements.  Things have not gotten better with time and we now know that there will be no “pivot” and no learning curve.  He is who he is and we know it.  It won’t change. If only he had the empathy, understanding and feeling for his fellow citizens that those suffering in the disasters have demonstrated. But he does not. It is time to hold the Apprentice-in-Chief accountable for all of his actions.


A Soup Sandwich

With increasing frequency, nearly daily, we as a nation wake up to yet another incredible self-created crisis in the Trump Administration.  People that care that our nation’s leader is becoming something of a punch line around the world debate whether President Trump’s actions, statements, and yes, tweets are part of a larger plan or simply the reflection of a man with little to no intellectual curiosity, the attention span of a young child, and who is in way over his head.  I am increasingly falling into the latter category.

In my day the military term for his administration would be that it is a soup sandwich.  The term means exactly what the imagery suggests, something so confused and messy that it cannot be salvaged.

The litany of recent events are well-known.  Whether it is his casual revelations to the Russians of highly critical intelligence, his thinly veiled threats to former FBI Director Comey, his stated reason for firing Mr. Comey because of the “Russian thing”, or the possibility that he tried to stop the FBI investigation of the Russian meddling and specifically Lt General Michael Flynn’s possible involvement with the Russians, his actions have shown a president and an administration that have lost their way.  Put more bluntly, look in the dictionary for “soup sandwich” and you will see a picture of the president.

Note again that all of the crises that the White House staff have dealt with thus far are all self-created by the president.  This does not bode well for handling the inevitable national security crisis or domestic tragedy on the horizon that will test our ability as a nation to deal with all that comes our way.

Most legal scholars and Constitutional law experts point out that nothing that we know about thus far concerning the president’s actions is illegal.  Unethical and/or immoral, perhaps, but not illegal.  This is very troubling.  As Dana Milbank ably points out in a recent opinion piece, just because it is legal, does not mean that it is right.  Or as we used to say, just because you can do something, it doesn’t mean that it is a good idea.  The basic point is that President Trump knows no boundaries, has no self-control and therefore has the ability to do great damage to our nation, whether deliberate or out of ignorance.  As Mr. Milbank points out in his troubling piece, the president is within his rights — legally — to do all of the things that we know about.  But the assumption for all modern presidents is that a president would not do all of those things without the proper justifications and explanations.  In crafting the Constitution, the Founding Fathers assumed that the chief executive would be virtuous , guided by honor, and exhibit self-restraint.  Scholars point out that the Constitution gives many powers to the president, specifically and inherently.  The checks and balances that we rely upon cannot stop the president from wreaking havoc in the short-term.  Although the ultimate power rests with the Congress — impeachment — and the courts — ruling certain presidential actions unconstitutional — it takes time and political capital to bring those counter balancing powers to bear. In the meantime, significant and even irreparable damage can be done to our nation.  With President Trump we have a chief executive that seems to be lacking the knowledge to understand the limits and responsibilities of the presidency combined with unchecked impulsivity that can easily lead to damaging actions and decisions.

Look at President Trump’s background.  His success as a businessman by most accounts was not so much because of his personal knowledge and ability.  It was more about branding.  He sold the Trump Brand to investors and let others actually build the real property.  Recently, few of his Trump buildings were actually Trump projects, he merely sold his name and promotional abilities for use by those doing the work.  He became famous due to his time as a television reality star.  Even today he talks about “ratings” for press conferences and speeches.  The pop psychoanalysis could go on and on, but in every instance, it appears that his personality is ill-suited to lead the greatest nation on earth.  To me, for example, he related the very highly classified information to the Russian Foreign Minister (information that will probably result in lives lost, and certainly the loss of an important avenue of intelligence) not because he wanted to help the Russians. I think he did it because he was showing off and wanted to impress his visitors.  Remember this is the guy that in the midst of the ceremony “celebrating” the House passing Trumpcare, stopped his speech to turn around and ask “How am I doing? Am I doing OK? Hey, I’m president. I’m president. Can you believe it?” Well, no, I can’t believe it.  But it is true.

I hear the “I word” — impeachment — bandied about a lot recently.  From what we know now, we are not there yet.  I also worry that under the current divisive political atmosphere in our country that an impeachment act and subsequent trial would be very bad for our nation.  We might not recover from that trauma for many years.  Therefore any impeachment proceedings must be based on clear violations of the law, should there be any.

The other proposal that floats around from time to time is that the 25th Amendment can be used to remove him from office.  This amendment pertains to the succession to the presidency should the president be unable to fulfill his duties.  The relevant section of the amendment in this case is Section Four which provides a procedure for the Vice President and such other “principal officers of the executive departments” (meaning the Cabinet) to declare the president unfit for duty.  Should the president contest that declaration, it goes to a two-thirds vote in both the House and the Senate.  This too would be a long drawn out procedure that could seriously divide our country should the president resist the take-over attempt.  It seems unlikely in any event that Vice-president Pence and the Trump appointed Cabinet would invoke this avenue of removal, barring some obvious and unassailable problem with the president.

Finally, President Trump could resign.  Many pundits and others think this is the most likely scenario for the current president to leave office.  President Trump himself said that 

“I loved my previous life. I had so many things going. This is more work than in my previous life. I thought it would be easier.  I like to work, so that’s not a problem, but this is actually more work and while I had very little privacy in my old life because, you know, I’ve been famous for a long time, I really, this is – this is much less privacy than I’ve ever seen before.”

None-the-less, I doubt very much that the president has any intention of resigning.  He likes the attention and being on the “inside” — people have to pay attention to him and he likes that.

Potentially compounding President Trump’s negative impact on the nation is the dilemma many of his top advisers are facing.  It is a classic scenario.  The president continually throws good, hard-working and upright people under the bus.  They go out and defend his actions in, I hope, good faith only to have him personally provide a completely different rationale for his actions.  This can only go on for so long before people start to ponder resigning.  This is the dilemma such good people face — resign and save my reputation and integrity or stay and try to change things because they could really be a lot worse if no one of significant knowledge and competence is left to try to hold him in check?

I fear that most people consider the recent events as “typical” Washington politics.  That’s too bad. This is not typical and it is not normal. And it isn’t “sour grapes” that the Democrats lost the presidency.

Many continue to state that as a nation we should give the guy a chance.  He’s only been in office about four months.  Give him time.  I tried.  Sorry, but I do not think that anything is going to cause President Trump to change.

For the Republican majority on Capital Hill I can only say, “Clean up on aisle seven.  Soup sandwich in progress.”  The Republican agenda depends on a functioning presidency.  The deal with the devil is almost gone as more and more of the president’s actions take away from the legislature’s ability to legislate.  Clean up the soup sandwich through comprehensive and bipartisan investigations.  Find out what actually happened, or did not happen, and get it into the public domain.  Use a little Clorox on the clean up of the soup sandwich.

If it turns out there is nothing there involving the Russians or other problems then so much the better. If there is something, hold all involved accountable.  The good news/bad news may be that there is nothing there. The good news is that people will not go to jail and the integrity of the system may be restored. The bad news is that we will still be left with a soup sandwich.

 


Incompetent or Dangerous?

Yesterday, President Donald J. Trump fired James B. Comey Jr., the Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).  This came in the midst of an ever-increasing FBI investigation into known Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election and the increasing number of revelations of ties between the Trump campaign and the Russians.  Those are actually two different issues, which our president apparently cannot understand.

There is wide-spread consensus based on the truth and, you know, actual facts that the Russians interfered with the election.  Most likely they interfered because, as former Bush Administration Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice explained, Russian President Vladimir Putin is a pay-back kind of guy.  He hated Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, primarily because she called his election a sham, and sought the opportunity to work against her campaign.  According to Secretary Rice’s theory, he relished disrupting the election in and of itself, but to have Secretary Clinton as the recipient only made it sweeter.

Every American should be gravely concerned that a foreign power aggressively and with malice of forethought worked hard to disrupt the very foundation of our Republic.  Every American.  This is not a political issue.  Consequently both the Senate and the House of Representatives are conducting bi-partisan inquiries into what happened and how we can protect against it in the future.

However, President Trump seems to believe this is unnecessary.  If one pays only the mildest of attention to the news, you know that he is constantly calling the fact of the interference a “hoax” and the investigations “a waste of taxpayer money.”  He won and that’s all he cares about.  In his mind, end of story.

Secondarily, as the investigation of the Russian interference deepened, it became apparent that there may have been some interaction between members of the Trump campaign and the Russians.  The who, why and what questions remain unanswered.  This also is considered “fake news” by the president and he constantly tweets about issues he thinks are “ridiculous” in connection with the investigation.

He does so even though his first National Security Adviser Lt. General Michael Flynn USA (ret.) was fired by the president for working with the Russians, being paid by them, and lying about it.  I suppose we should just let that go.  Nothing to see here, folks, just move along.

This is the short version of the context surrounding the firing of Director Comey.  The president showed real class by not notifying Director Comey of his dismissal, rather the Director learned about it on television while giving a speech in Los Angeles.

So the president whose staff members and campaign members are under investigation by the FBI and the Attorney General of the United States who was forced to recuse himself from the Russian investigation because of his own role in the campaign and “forgetting” to reveal his own Russian contacts, are the folks that fired the Director.  It most definitely does not pass the smell test.

Thus the question, is the president incompetent of trying to cover up misdeeds in his administration? Does he not know what he is doing or is he deliberately undermining our Constitutional balance?  I do not know, but either one is dangerous.

The alleged reason for the firing was the mishandling of the investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton’s emails back in July.  Of 2016.  The investigation that then Candidate Trump applauded.  Hmmm.  The timing is also suspicious.  Remember the Trumpian tactic of changing the headlines whenever something critical of him makes the news?  On Monday former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper and former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates testified before a Senate sub-committee looking into the Russian connections.  Their testimony was less than flattering to the Trump Administration and in some cases directly contradicted statements made by the president and his spokespeople.  On Tuesday, Director Comey is fired, thus changing the headlines.  I’m just sayin’….

From the time Attorney General Yates notified the White House that General Flynn was compromised and a potential agent of the Russians until he was fired — only after it all became public in the Washington Post — was 18 days.

From the time that the current Deputy Attorney General and Attorney General recommended the dismissal to the president and the FBI director was fired — for something that happened in July 2016 — was minutes.

Also remember that the FBI Director is appointed for a 10 year term.  This is to keep politics and partisanship out of law enforcement in the most critical areas of our national security.  Only one other active Director was fired, and that was William Sessions in 1993 by President Bill Clinton for ethics violations, not for investigating anything to do with the administration.

Many people were upset by the way that Director Comey handled the email investigation of Secretary Clinton.  Some even argue that the way he handled it (a news conference about a lack of evidence to prosecute) was unprecedented and unprofessional and effectively handicapped the campaign of Secretary Clinton.  In a larger context, even as one may have no love for Director Comey, his firing is very troubling at this particular point.  It seems that as the investigation gets closer to the truth, the resistance from the White House increases.  Director Comey must have been very close to finding damaging information.  It only takes a cursory look at any newspaper or other news source to see that this has raised significant bi-partisan concern in the Congress as to the meaning, appropriateness and impact of the firing.  Most Republicans and Democrats have expressed serious concern.  It is not right.

Alarm bells should be going off when taken in connection with this quote from White House spokesperson Sarah Huckabee Sanders during an interview last night with Tucker Carlson on Fox News. In the same vein as the president and other spokespeople in the White House, she spoke about the Russian investigations and said:

I think the bigger point on that is, “My gosh, Tucker, when are they gonna let that go?” It’s been going on for nearly a year. Frankly, it’s kinda getting absurd. There’s nothing there. We’ve heard that time and time again. We’ve heard it in the testimonies earlier this week. We’ve heard it for the last 11 months. There is no there there. It’s time to move on.

President Trump wants the investigation to go away.  Countless efforts by the president and his spokespeople to undermine the investigations have not worked.  They pretend, as does Ms. Sanders, that the American people do not care.  We won.  End of story.  Yet, the investigations continue and it does not go away.  Next step — fire the Director of the FBI.

One can only conclude that the president must really be trying to hide something big.  Maybe yuuge. Reporting today indicates that last week Director Comey quietly asked Congress for a significant increase in funding for the Russian investigation.  Another coincidence?

President Trump undoubtedly thought that by making Director Comey go away, his troubles would go away as well.  They are just beginning.  Reportedly, the president has little interest in history or understanding exactly how the government works.  Fine.  But someone should tell him that time and time again the cover-up is what brings folks to their knees, doing more damage than the “crime” ever would have.  Maybe he should read up on it.  He may learn something about it when he appoints his next Director of the FBI and the Senate holds confirmation hearings.  If you think there is a fire in the Senate during the current hearings, you haven’t seen anything yet.

A civics lesson might help as well.  Trying to run the United States as a family business operation does not work so well.  Unless his aim is to make a lot of money, which that part so far is working. But that’s a piece for another day.

The investigations will not go away.  They will be slowed down dramatically in the near term.  The FBI is extremely unlikely to report the results of their investigations without a Director in place.  That will take weeks or more likely, months.  James Comey was a Republican appointed by President Obama. President Trump should appoint a Democrat with an impeccable reputation as the next Director.  I am not holding my breath.  His appointment will tell us a lot about the future integrity of anything that comes out of the Department of Justice.

The investigations will continue in the interim.  However, the integrity of those investigations is now compromised. Only by appointing a special prosecutor — which the White House and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) are mightily resisting — will there be some assurance to the American people that an independent investigation, unencumbered by political and partisan elements, reports believable results.

This is fundamental to our national security.  Stay awake and keep the pressure on.  Silence and “getting tired of it all” will erode our freedom.

 


A Disturbing Conclusion

Another day, another Trump story dominating the news.  I will eventually again write about something other than our president, but it is hard to ignore the elephant in the room when every morning there is some new statement by the president or his staff that is cringe worthy.  Be it wire tapping (with or without “quotation marks” — this is what we have come down to — or misspellings) or microwaves as cameras, every day there is something.  We as citizens need to look past the daily “guess what they just said” comments and try to discern what is really going on.

Avoiding a discussion on the Trump Administration policies for the moment, which is hard to do, there is a different picture I am trying to understand.  And believe me, trying to ignore his proposals is difficult, be it the American Health Care Act (or Trumpcare — no, no, it’s Ryancare — no, no Trumpcare) or the president’s budget proposals that gut many essential programs and departments. Those proposals, as good or as bad as they may be depending on one’s political views, are just that, proposals. The Congress ultimately will pass, or not, the AHCA and any president’s budget proposals are more of a wish list and indicator of their administration’s priorities rather than the actual budget, which is also the purview of the Congress.

I am focused for the moment on trying to figure out exactly what is going on with those things that the president actually controls and what they may portend.  To some degree, it is necessary to get down in the weeds to see where things are headed.  There are several troubling indicators of how President Trump intends to run his administration.

At first I could not figure out if the nonsensical and illogical tweets, statements, and press briefings were the sign of an administration in disarray, trying to find its bearings or something else.  I have come to believe it is something else.  Many pundits have already commented on the fact that every time the media or the public focuses on some inane action or statement from the president or his staff, some new, head line grabbing tweet or statement comes out.  Some call President Trump the Distractor-in-Chief (DIC?).  That may be part of it, but I think there is a larger more insidious goal.  President Trump continually calls any reporting he does not like “fake news.”  Beyond that he and his staff continually attack the media and put out statements that are proven to be untruthful, yet they double down and insist that it is true by pointing to some off-the-wall media source as the “proof” of their statements. This is deliberate — not flaky, or anti-PC, or any other excuse attributed to the activity. I say again, it is deliberate.  The White House staff is deliberately and systematically trying to undermine the credibility of the serious news outlets in the United States.  Coupled with the stated disdain of the intelligence community so often reiterated by the president and his advisers, there is a very deliberate effort to create an atmosphere of distrust where nothing is ground truth.  Once such an atmosphere exists, the administration can say and do anything that they want to do and they will then claim black is white and only they know what is going on.  Trust them.  How many times has Senior Adviser Kelly Anne Conway (and others) gone on a news show and defended some outrageous statement from the president?  When pressed for evidence that such statements are true, how many times has she said words to the effect that “well, the president has access to information that I do not have so he must know what he is talking about?”  No proof.  No logic.  Only that if the president said it, it has to be true, no matter how outrageous.   And how many times when personally pressed does the president decline to give proof to defend a statement and only says something along the lines of “more information will be coming out in about two weeks.  It will be amazing.  You won’t believe what is going on.  It will surprise you.  Believe me.”  Have you noticed that it is always in two weeks?  And then two weeks, months, years, pass and nothing more comes out.

This approach seriously undermines the credibility of the president.  If anyone were to pay attention. Seemingly most Americans shrug it off as that’s “Trump being Trump” or as the “mainstream media” trying to undermine his presidency.  Never mind that the media merely plays what the president or his advisers actually say and then for some strange reason ask them to provide the basis for the statement. How unfair!

You can take it to the bank that our friends and enemies are paying attention.

That is why I am so troubled.  Either the president does not care that his credibility suffers, credibility that will be crucial when a real crisis hits our country, or he is risking his credibility in order to undermine the veracity of any source of information outside the White House so that only his version of the truth is available.  A harsh assessment, I admit, but increasingly I am unable to come up with any other explanation for the way that he and his staff conduct business.  What began as mildly amusing behavior morphed to incredulity to concerns about sanity to fear that it is intentional.

And there is more.

There are some good people working in the Trump administration.  Secretary Mattis is one, Lt General McMaster is another, and others, who while I may disagree with their policy views, I respect their integrity and willingness to try to do the right thing.  Many of them signed up with this administration with the caveat that they be able to pick their own people and not be micro-managed by the White House.  So far, that is not happening.

Secretary Mattis has yet to get a second in command, the Deputy Secretary of Defense.  He tried three times so far to get three different people in place.  All rejected by the White House.  There are no other political appointees below the Secretary level at DOD thus far.  One may claim that we need to “drain the swamp” but the reality is that the Secretary cannot do everything by himself.  Skilled, knowledgeable people with expertise in everything from procurement to regional alliances need to be in place to make U.S. policy effective.  Right now, nobody.  Likewise, in the State Department. Secretary Tillison’s nominees for his subordinate political positions are zero for everyone.  None has gotten past the White House.  Just as troubling to those that understand how such things work, last week the Mexican Foreign Minister, the direct counter part to Secretary Tillerson was in Washington for talks and the State Department did not even know he was in town, much less participate in the discussions. Only the White House inner circle participated.  National Security Adviser McMaster found out last week that, in fact, he cannot pick his own staff.  He tried to have a Trump campaign supporter now in charge of national intelligence for the National Security Council moved to a different job so that NSA McMaster could put a more qualified and effective person in that slot.  The staffer went to the president, on the advice of Mr. Steve Bannon, and NSA McMaster was overruled. There are a multitude of similar examples were one to peel away the layers and look inside the various departments and agencies in the Executive Branch.

Even if all that is true, who cares?  So what?  Why write about it except for sour grapes?

There are at least two reasons to take note.  The most benign concern is that our nation’s defense and foreign policies, to name two, cannot be thoroughly vetted, reviewed and implemented without the right people (any people!) in place.  No matter how good the Secretary may be, he or she is only one person and cannot do it all alone.  The more serious concern is that the White House staff, the close inner circle to the president, may not want any effective push back from the Defense or State Departments or other agencies.  They may want only the White House inner circle to promulgate and execute policy.  The Cabinet’s job is merely to act as props (see almost every signing ceremony in the White House) or cheerleaders for the president.

President Trump’s style as a businessman was to have a small, totally loyal, inner circle that carried out his decisions.  By all accounts describing his style, President Trump is not much for details and makes decisions by using his “gut instincts.”  His close inner circle then carries on and implements what they understand to be his intent.  This may work in a real estate business, but it does not work well in an undertaking as large as the United States government, especially when the current inner circle takes great pride in stating that they have no experience.  When they also refuse, or limit, the input from those that do have knowledge and expertise, something is brewing.  It is either a disaster waiting to happen, or something more sinister, such as a drift towards centralized, autocratic control of the nation.

When all of the pieces of the puzzle are together — and there are more including Mr. Bannon’s view of the world, his declaration to “dismantle the administrative state,” blaming “the deep state” for the failures of their policies, lashing out at the judiciary, claiming  that former President Obama is running a shadow government with the aim of stopping the Trump administration, among others — it paints a troubling picture.

At first I thought that maybe they were just experiencing growing pains, not unusual for a new administration.  Then I thought that maybe the staff was just trying to deal with a loose cannon in President Trump — which could be dangerous, but the experienced hands would eventually bring him back to reality.  Now I am beginning to see that it is actually a plan.  What I have not decided upon is whether President Trump is the visionary using his staff, or whether Mr. Bannon is the visionary using the president to fulfill his own view of re-ordering the world.

I absolutely have not given up on the ship of state being righted and put back on a steady course. There are positive signs such as the Congress (after only about 8 months!) investigating the impact of Russian meddling on our national election.  Equally soothing is that more and more Representatives and Senators, of both parties, have nicely said that the president lied when he stated that President Obama had Trump Towers and the campaign “wire tapped.”  The judicial system is working to check the executive over reach of some of the president’s Executive Orders.  The system is working as intended, even if in fits and starts. It remains incumbent on all Americans to keep our eyes wide open and call “foul” when appropriate. Likewise, we need to give credit where it is due.  All is not lost, not even close, but I still worry.  If we see this seeming chaos from self-inflicted crises within the White House, one wonders what will happen when a real crisis erupts.  History teaches us that one eventually will come along.  And probably sooner than later.

When it happens, that will be the true test of this administration.  My nightmare scenario is given the chaos and attempts to undermine anything that runs counter to White House wishes now, while in a period of relative calm with a strong economy and no direct existential threats to our well-being, what will happen in a major crisis?  Will the administration draw upon the many talented and experienced resources our nation and our government has to solve the problem or will they draw even more inward in an attempt to use the crisis to consolidate more power and move further towards autocracy?

I have no crystal ball and have no idea how things will unfold.  The signs thus far leave me greatly troubled about the future of our great nation, more so than at any point in my life.