Archive for the ‘scandals’ Category

Where’s The Beef?

Thursday, November 9th, 2017

via GIPHY

One of responses from the Trump administration with regard to the claims of Russian involvement in the 2016 election has been to call the investigation a “nothingburger”.

Let’s check to see how much beef there really is in this nothingburger.

The most important recent development is the guilty plea of George Papadopolous.  He admitted that he lied to federal agents about his efforts to arrange meetings between Moscow and the Trump campaign.  The Trump administration used their standard response that Papadopolous didn’t have an important role in the campaign, but his role isn’t what is in question (though there is plenty of evidence that he was active as a foreign liaison to Britain and Greece).  The important questions (the beef) are why the Russians were interested in talking with him, why did he want to talk with the Russians, and who else in the Trump campaign knew that he was talking to the Russians?

It isn’t clear why the Russians were talking with him.  What is clear is that the Russians only began to respond to his requests for a conversation AFTER it was announced that he had joined the Trump campaign.

Papadopolous said that he wanted to talk with the Russians because they were offering him “dirt” on Clinton.  That “dirt” was thousands of hacked emails.  Worse yet, his emails show that he was in regular contact with senior Trump campaign officials regarding not only the information but also a proposed meeting between Trump and Putin.  Reports are that Trump received a briefing from Papadopolous.  According to sources who attended the meeting, Trump “didn’t say yes and didn’t say no”.  As a result, Papadopolous continued his conversation with the Russians and received some encouragement from campaign staffer Sam Clovis.  Clovis has since said, through his lawyer, that he was just being polite.  But Papadopolous was told that a meeting between Trump and Putin had bad optics.  Instead the meeting “should be someone low level in the campaign so as not to send any signal”.  This whole scenario flies in the face of Trump’s repeated denials that there was no contact whatsoever (polite or otherwise) between the campaign and Russians.

Trump isn’t the only one who has issued a blanket denial of any contacts.  Jeff Sessions was also at the Trump briefing.  This is the same Jeff Sessions who testified before Congress that he knew nothing about any contacts between Russians and the Trump campaign.  Even though, at this point, we know that his department had already accepted a guilty plea from Papadopolous.  This is also the same Jeff Sessions who was told of Carter Page’s trip to Moscow in July to give a speech.  In Sessions’ most recent appearance he narrowed that earlier statement to mean, he did not “conspire with Russia or an agent of the Russian government to influence the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.”

What this also means is that the Trump campaign knew a month before the meeting that Kushner, Manafort, and DTjr took with a Russian lawyer, that the Russians may have had millions of Clinton emails.  Even more importantly, Trump himself knew when he helped author DTjr’s response when news of the meeting broke, that the meeting was about Russian hacked emails.  The response claimed the meeting was about Russian adoptions.

Based on published reports, we now know that there were at least nine Trump associates who were actively engaged in conversations with Russians during the campaign.  Those include Paul Manafort and Rick Gates who have already been indicted by Mueller for pre-campaign money laundering.

In order to defend his “nothingburger” position, Trump’s response to all of this has been to create an alternate reality which castes large swaths of the government as corrupt.  What this does for him is create a rationale for him to pardon those in his administration as they are inevitably held accountable for their lies.

Trump campaign advisor Sean Hannity’s Trump defense has revived his flagging Fox career and laid the groundwork for Trump’s assertion of executive privilege when the investigation starts to close in on him.

Those include reviving the made-up Clinton uranium and Steele Dossier scandals, and the claim the Comey decided not to indict Clinton well before the FBI investigation concluded.

This leads to the conspiracy theory that Mueller is using the current Trump investigation to cover up his previous failure to investigate Clinton when he was heading up the FBI.

The depth of this delusion should hopefully answer the obvious question about beef.

If there were no beef, there would be no reason to question Mueller’s motivations.  The ONLY reason Mueller was appointed is because Trump fired Comey, Sessions had already recused himself from the Russian investigation, and deputy AG Rosenstein refused to be the fall guy in the Comey firing.  Suggestions that Mueller somehow engineered this whole thing is way beyond the fringe.

The beef is Trump’s lies regarding his knowledge of contacts in his campaign with Russians seeking to influence the outcome of the election.  The beef is the efforts by the Trump campaign and the Trump administration to cover up the contacts that they had with Russians.  The issue is not whether there was collusion.  That may never be proven.  The beef is that the Trump campaign was willing to do anything to defeat Clinton including talking with Russians about hacked Clinton emails.  The Trump administration has been lying about it ever since.  Those lies are the beef that will bring this administration down.

Our Failing Naked Emperor

Friday, October 6th, 2017

via GIPHY

One of the defining characteristics of the Trump campaign and administration is the utter disregard for the facts.  There was some hope by Trump supporters that once he transitioned from campaign mode to presidential mode, he would also abandon his strategy of habitual fabrication.  That hope died with the inauguration.  Trump’s inaugural crowds were factually smaller than Obama’s, but no one in the Trump administration and no one in the Republican establishment were willing to call Trump out as a liar.  Instead we’re dealing with this interesting situation where he, his administration, and his supporters blame media bias for every report that details yet another Trump lie.

But that doesn’t change the fact that the emperor is still naked.

That “nakedness” is finally causing more than embarrassment.  This “strategy” has made it more difficult for Republicans to govern.  We are now 9 months into a legislative session where Republicans control all branches of government, and the ONLY enduring evidence of this control is Gorsuch’s SCOTUS appointment.  Even that has an asterisk because McConnell had to remove the 60 vote filibuster in order to get it done.

The fundamental operating principle of this administration is that Trump can never fail, he can only be failed.  As a result, any form of failure must either be a lie or someone else’s fault.  I won’t try to go into the psychology of this particular form of egotism.  We’ll save that for another day.  At this point, let’s just look at the consequences of never admitting that you’ve been wrong.

One example is the recent failure to pass healthcare which Trump blamed on the filibuster rule in the Senate.  The FACT was that the healthcare reform bill wasn’t subject to a filibuster.  It only required a simple 50 vote majority to pass because of reconciliation rules.  It failed to get 50 votes because several Senators from the President’s own party refused to vote for it.  McCain refused to vote for it because Republicans bypassed the normal committee process where all interested parties would have an opportunity to comment and all points of view could be considered.  Paul refused to vote for it because it wasn’t conservative enough.  Collins refused to vote for it because she feared it would have resulted in the loss of healthcare insurance coverage in her state.  The bill died before it could ever get a vote, so we don’t know how many others would also have voted against it.

Another example is his regular rant about the biased media and fake news failing to report on his accomplishments.  The problem is, just like the inauguration, there isn’t much there.  Worse yet, Trump’s own obsession to dominate every news cycle makes it difficult for even his modest accomplishments to get much play.  Instead he regularly distracts from his legislative agenda by picking fights and fanning the flames of the culture war.

A third example is the Republican establishment who, in Trump’s description have let the Russian investigation get out of control and secretly oppose his agenda.

What is true is that Trump’s agenda, if in fact he truly has one, is failing because he hasn’t provided the policy to support his bold promises.

Healthcare failed three times because he had promised to provide better coverage to more people at a lower cost.  None of the bills that were proposed accomplished that, even though Trump at one point or another supported all of them.  Instead they were thinly (and in the last case not so thinly) veiled attempts to dismantle Medicaid.  As those realities became apparent to more people, opposition mounted and the bills failed.

Tax reform will suffer a similar fate.  Though Trump promised a bill that would benefit the middle class and not reward the wealthy, the bill that is currently being considered does what every other Republican tax initiative has done.  The bulk of the benefits go to the wealthiest 1% of the country.

This is not the result of a conspiracy of the Republican establishment to undermine Trump.  If anything, Trump has passively allowed Congressional leadership to fill in the blanks on his promises.  The problem is that the bills in their final form were not even close to what Trump promised, and he didn’t seem to care.

The cause is years of Republican bad faith campaigning.  Republicans promised that they could replace Obamacare with something better if they only had the majority to implement their ideas.  They never actually proposed any new ideas.  Instead they were content to demonize liberal Democrats.  When voters finally gave Republicans a chance to prove they could do better, they failed.

The same thing will be true about taxes.  Trickle down tax cut plans that were supposed to make life better for the middle class have failed spectacularly at the state level and nationally.  But here it comes again in even a worse form than what was passed during the Bush years.

Republican voters are unhappy that the party isn’t delivering on Trump’s promises.  Trump used this anger to get himself elected.  But voters haven’t stopped there.  They continue to elect bomb throwers at the state and local level.  Newly elected Senator Moore in Alabama has said he shares Rand Paul’s view regarding healthcare reform and would have joined him to vote against that bill.  Moore will likely make it more difficult rather than easier to get Trump’s agenda through the senate.

The bottom line is that Trump lies have painted the party into a corner on many issues.

The claims that Obamacare is failing make it more difficult to pass bipartisan legislation that most agree would solve the current set of problems.  Passing that legislation would force Trump to admit that Obamacare isn’t failing and can be improved with a couple of simple tweaks.  If that’s true, then why the continued effort to tear it down and replace it with something that kills Medicaid and takes coverage away from millions of people?

Claims that we have to build a very expensive wall across our southern border to protect our country from the threat of illegal immigration makes it more difficult to pass a bill to address the plight of “Dreamers”.  Trump’s base perceives a dreamer deal to be a loss for Trump in the fight to kick illegal immigrants out of the country.

The obsessive insistence by Trump that the various Russian investigations are a hoax, fake news, and a politically motivated witch hunt makes it nearly impossible to make any progress on preventing future Russian election hacking.  That’s because Trump simply can’t acknowledge the obvious fact that Russians did attempt to disrupt the 2016 election and continues to be engaged in social media meddling.  Trump’s war with the legit press in this country has given Russians all of the cover they need to continue their REAL fake news activities.  The latest example is coverage of the Las Vegas shooting where Russian sources promoted stories that the shooter was an anti-Trump liberal jihadist who had secretly converted to Islam.

Trump’s various lines in the sand regarding Korea have only encourage Kim Jong Un to become more aggressive.  In other administrations, tough talk in public is cover for behind the scenes diplomacy that ultimately resolves the issue.  That doesn’t work in Trump-world where he has to win and is willing to undermine his own Secretary of State’s efforts to defuse this dangerous escalation.  Tillerson became the person who failed Trump on Korea.

Trumps pathological need to always be right was on public display in his response to the hurricane devastation in Puerto Rico.  While people were suffering because of the logistics challenges of getting aid from the ports out to the people, Trump was picking a fight with professional athletes.  When the mayor of San Juan called him out on it, he suggested that it was her fault and a cultural failing of the Puerto Rican people that there weren’t enough truck drivers willing to leave their struggling families to get supplies off the docks.  Doesn’t the army have truck drivers?  I thought that disaster relief was all about sending a bunch of people into an area to do those things that the local population couldn’t do for themselves.  We fill in the gaps until the local population can get back on their feet and take care of their own needs themselves.

During his tour of the island, he told those without shelter, food, clean drinking water, sanitation, and medical services that they should be grateful that it wasn’t a real disaster like Katrina.  The implication being that if it were a REAL disaster like Katrina, the government would have been better prepared and would be providing more help.  But the government WASN’T prepared to deal with the aftermath of Katrina and it wasn’t prepared to deal with the humanitarian crisis in Puerto Rico.  That’s Trump’s fault.

We all know how the story of the naked emperor ended.  It will be interesting to see when and how truth ultimately takes down this naked President.

 

Forgive Me Father For I Have Sinned

Monday, August 21st, 2017

For those unfamiliar with this Catholic meme, it is the opening sentence Catholics whisper to the priest to start confession.

My confession is that I find this particular point in our history fascinating.

We have a President who appears determined to self-destruct, a party that is uncertain they are willing to go down with him, and his supporters who have swallowed the kool-aide and have lost touch with reality.

So here’s a little bonus coverage courtesy of one of my favorite academics, Jonathan Haitt of Righteous Mind fame.  He has a great article in The Atlantic which explains the widespread negative reaction to Trump’s Charlottesville comments.

This IS NOT a political rant.

It is simply an explanation of a taboo that Trump broke.

All societies have taboos.  I won’t go through why, though Haitt does in his article.  Suffice it to say that we use a common set of deeply revered values, people, or places to hold all our citizens together in a shared bond.  That bond is our willingness to sacrifice our individual interests for the greater common good.

Charlottesville was a clash of sacred symbols.

The far right displayed their sacred symbols including swastikas, confederate flags, and guns – lots of guns.  They were marching to defend another symbol – the statue of Robert E. Lee.  The goal of the rally was to bind white people together with a shared hatred of Jews, African Americans, and other minorities using claimed white victim-hood and racial purity. (BTW racial purity is a myth.  Skin color is the result of a not well understood interaction between about 100 genes rather than the presence or absence of a particular set of genes.  Commonly available genetic ancestry tests are causing real problems for those advocating a “pure white” society.)

For UVA students, “the lawn” in the center of campus is also hallowed ground.  Students rushed out, unarmed, to defend the Jefferson statue from the approach of the torch-bearing armed white supremacists.  The marchers weren’t planning on vandalizing the statue, but from the student’s point of view these particular marchers would have “contaminated” the statue if allowed to approach unopposed.  That’s because for a Jeffersonian, neo-Nazi’s are taboo.

That’s what the country saw.  Unarmed students spontaneously opposing an organized group chanting the worst slurs against Jews and African Americans and making Nazi salutes.  It was a desecration of our most cherished American story based on the belief that “all men are created equal”.  We all know that this creed is aspirational, but we demand that all of our political leaders accept this premise as a requirement to hold office.  Denying this premise is blasphemy.  As a result white supremacists, the KKK, and neo-Nazis are widely regarded as blasphemous outsiders.

We treat our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution as sacred texts.  We erect monuments to our martyrs.  We punish or shame anyone who ignores our documents or dishonors our martyrs.  We expect our president to play the role of high priest and chief unifier in times when those texts and martyrs seem under attack.

In Trump’s press conference on Tuesday August 15th, Trump fumbled his opportunity to play the role of the high priest and chief unifier because he failed to condemn the blasphemers exclusively.  In response to the public outcry, the President read a staff-written speech to right that wrong.  If it had stopped there, perhaps he could have recovered.  Instead just 24 hours later, he committed the greatest sacrilege of his presidency by saying that there were “very fine people on both sides”.  That’s because our basic belief is that Nazi’s aren’t just bad – they are taboo.

Trump has become taboo by embracing those that we have decided are taboo.  The moral stain of the blasphemers has rubbed off on him.  That’s why you saw such a scramble by all those who understood what he had just done.  Those who fail to distance themselves from the taboo will also become taboo, just as Trump has done.  That’s also why most people in this country were willing to condemn those who just walked in the march.  They didn’t have to carry a flag, shout a slogan, or salute.  Just being there made them taboo too.  They got fired.  They were disowned by their families.  People won’t want to live next to them any more than they would a sex offender.

You can’t apologize for breaking a taboo, particularly one as deep as the Nazi or KKK.  You can’t even use the excuse of ignorance because that would suggest ignorance of our basic values.  In Trump’s case, it doesn’t matter, because he is not going to admit that he did anything wrong.

the stain, the moral pollution, the taint, will linger on him and his administration for the rest of his term. Business leaders have quit his panels and projects; artists who were due to receive honors from the president have changed their plans. Pollution travels most rapidly by physical touch, so be on the lookout for numerous awkward moments in the coming months when people refuse to shake the president’s hand or stand next to him. It is unclear how far the contagion will spread, but it will surely make it more difficult to attract talented people into government service for as long as Trump is the president.

Further this is going to do generational damage to the Republican Party.

people’s political orientations are shaped for life by events that happen when they are young, particularly between the ages of 14 and 24. The young generation—iGen, as Jean Twenge calls them—is extraordinarily progressive and passionate about matters of race and prejudice. If Republicans stand by their tainted president rather than renouncing him, an entire generation of voters may come to see the GOP as eternally untouchable.

It’s hard to say what will come next, but right now the country is unbalanced.

Extraordinary sacrilege has occurred, but divine retribution has not yet come down from the heavens.  We have no priest and no scripture to guide us.  The country may suffer for failing to remove this apostate.

What I can see in the not too distant future, however, is an emotional pivot toward impeachment as a cathartic recovery of purpose and balance.  Trump will be blamed.  Some in his administration will go to jail.  All will be disgraced.  The country will heal.  I saw this happen with Nixon.  It could very well happen with Trump too.  All that is missing is the smoking gun of corruption or scandal and the game will be over.

 

 

The Credibility Gap

Sunday, June 11th, 2017

During the Vietnam War, there was a lot of public skepticism regarding statements that came from the LBJ administration.  Ultimately that led to Nixon’s election because he promised that he had a secret plan to end the war.  He lied too and instead expanded the war.  There were a lot of leaks including the Pentagon Papers.  Those internal defense department documents confirmed that both the Johnson and Nixon administrations had lied, not only to the public but also to Congress.  Daniel Ellsberg leaked those papers.  Nixon hired G. Gordon Liddy and Howard Hunt to break into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to plant bugs to acquire information that the Nixon administration used to discredit Ellsberg.  That same group went on to commit the Watergate burglaries.

The reason for this digression is that when Nixon eventually resigned, 24% of Republicans still supported him.

We are faced with a similar situation today.

Trump supporters are distrustful of any media that disagrees with them.  They are distrustful of any politicians that disagree with them.   In an April poll, 81% of self-described Republicans thought Trump was honest and trustworthy.  Only 38% of American’s share that view.  For those who attribute that 38% to some political bias, only 34% of those who self-describe as independents felt that Trump was honest and trustworthy.

Both of these things can’t be true.  Either he is honest and trustworthy or he isn’t.

It may be possible that Republicans have a different definition of honesty, but the accepted definition is that an honest person tells the truth.  By ALL objective measures, Trump lies on a regular basis.  Here’s a current running list of the 623 lies that he has told since his inauguration.  You may be able to dispute some of these, but it is difficult to suggest that they are all the result of media or political bias.

Republicans may believe that ALL politicians lie and Trump in particular is just a BS’er.  His lies are part of his method of negotiation.  But ultimately, they trust his motives and as a result excuse his tactics.  But that in itself is dishonest.  You can’t tell lies and be called honest.

But let’s give partisans a little bit of a break. They like Trump’s politics and suggest that all politicians lie because the media or the opposition won’t let them tell the truth, or else distort their statements to turn them into lies when in fact they were completely innocent.  But this a President who began his administration disputing the undeniable facts about the size of his inauguration crowd.  No, this President is different.

That brings us to the second topic of trustworthiness.  That is someone who does what he says he is going to do.  Someone who keeps their promises.

Trump fails this measure too.  He promised to release his tax returns.  He promised to put Hillary Clinton in jail.  He promised to pass a healthcare bill that would provide cheaper coverage to more people at a lower cost than Obamacare.  He promised to wipe out ISIS.  He even promised that he would never tell a lie.  I could go on, but I think the point is clear.  He doesn’t keep his promises either.  Worse, he doesn’t even acknowledge that he has failed to keep a promise.  Yet somehow Republicans feel he is still trustworthy.

Where does this come from?

From what I can see so far it is simple tribalism.  It doesn’t matter what Republican is in office, as long as there is an “R” next to their name, they are going to get the support of a large percentage of Republicans.  When the overall approval rating of Bush II fell into the 20’s in October, 2008 as the world-wide financial system began to collapse over 60% of Republicans still approved his job performance.

Another telling statistic that supports this view is what happened during the most recent primary season.

Just before Trump claimed victory, 46% of Republicans felt he was honest and trustworthy.  After the Republican convention, that number jumped to 69%.  Now it is at 81%.  Did Trump become a different person after the convention or after his surprising victory?  I don’t think so.

Here’s another example.  Only 22% of Republicans supported a missile strike on Syria during the Obama administration.  86% of Republicans supported Trump doing exactly the same thing for exactly the same reasons earlier this year.

So that brings us to Comey.

Will his testimony, that has been widely regarded a damaging to Trump and his administration, affect his support among his base?

Early indications are no.

Comey called Trump a liar.  Trump called Comey a liar, suggested there might be tapes to prove his case, and offered to testify in Congress under oath.  What he didn’t do is explain why he cleared the room before his conversation with Comey.

We recently learned that he had similar conversations with Preet Bharara before firing him.

Comey connected the dots between the FBI’s investigation of Flynn, to Trump’s request that the FBI drop those investigations, to his firing, to Trump’s statements that the firing was because Comey did not do what Trump asked him to do.  Trump’s defenders claimed it was just the fumbling of an inexperienced politician.  No harm was intended.  Why would an inexperienced politician make sure that all his conversations with Comey were private?  If nothing else, the reaction of Jeff Sessions, the “experienced” politician in the bunch speaks volumes.  He did not act to protect Comey.  Instead he quickly moved to dismiss him even though it may result in his prosecution because of conflict of interest.

Here’s why all this matters.

Trump is digging a deep hole that he may not be able to get out of.  He has not been vindicated.  The investigations are continuing.  Comey laid out the obstruction of justice case for Mueller to follow.  Mueller just hired a bunch of very high power lawyers who likely would not have signed on if there wasn’t the prospect of building a case against very high ranking members of the Trump administration.

We are long way from the Democratic House majority and the smoking gun that could result in a bill of impeachment.  But fivethirtyeight.com gives Democrats a 10% point lead over Republicans if the house election were held today.

What we do have is a widening credibility gap between a president, his supporters, and the rest of the electorate.  Every week, Trump’s actions and statements confirm the majority view of his credibility.  Those statements and actions also require his supporters to sacrifice their credibility in defense of Trump and out of allegiance to the Republican tribe.

This is not a healthy or balanced situation.  Eventually Trump will be held accountable for his actions and those supporters that remain will also be held accountable for enabling those actions.

Or else this will become the new normal and our country will continue to fracture in to warring camps where tribalism finally breaks democracy.

The Great Erosion

Wednesday, May 31st, 2017

Nixon left office with a 24% job approval rating.  I’ve often wondered what sort of people would still support a President after his spectacular abuses of power were revealed.  Based on recent analysis by FiveThirtyEight, I now have a better understanding.

Nate Silver makes a good argument that Trump has already lost significant support among those who voted for him, and that may only be the beginning.

His analysis tracks the changes in the “strongly approve” portion of those supporting Trump’s job performance.

While Trump continues to enjoy strong approval among those who self-identify as Republicans, the nature of that support has changed.  Those who “strongly approve” has eroded from a high of 30% to current levels of 22%.  In addition, those who “strongly disapprove” outnumber those who “strongly approve” by a 2-1 margin.

The cause of this erosion in base is the first failure to pass healthcare reform followed by an even worse bill that added removing protections to those with pre-existing conditions to a bill that will reduce the rolls of the insured by 23M.

What’s important about this erosion is that it is entirely in line with what NBC polls predicted several months earlier.  They identified a “floor” of approval for Trump at 22%.  The rest of his support was conditional on accomplishments.

The erosion reflects approximately 8% of those who were previous strong supporters, now becoming “somewhat approve”.  But the “somewhat approve” and “somewhat disapprove” numbers have been fairly constant.  The “strongly disapprove” number spiked with the release of the travel ban and has stayed high.  So where did the 8% where were strong approvers ultimately go?

What appears to be happening is that the erosion is in the segment of Trump voters who were reluctant supporters to begin with.  It is those voters that are making the slow journey through the stages of grief from “somewhat approve” to “strongly disapprove”.

The result is that the 22% of voters who supported Trump during the primaries, continue to stick with him.  Everyone else is up for grabs.

That’s why the midterms are going to be an interesting test.

We’ll find out how many of these “reluctant supporters” are going to be willing to vote if their choice is between a candidate who represents a President who has disappointed them and a party that they don’t identify with.  What may make that vote easier for some are those House Republicans who will be defending their vote for a healthcare bill that most of these “reluctant supporters” did not support.

We’ll also find out if Democrats are going to be able going to turn out across the country in the numbers that we’ve seen in the couple of special elections.

If so, Trump may be in trouble because 23 of the seats won by Republicans in 2016 were in districts that Clinton won.  The Democrats only need 24 seats to reclaim a majority.  The special elections in Kansas, Montana, and (soon) Georgia are all much closer than anyone would have predicted.  The result is that ALL of those seats will be in play for the Democrats in 2016 too.

In any normal electoral cycle, gaining 24 seats would be a heavy lift but recent history (Republicans gained 63 seats in 2010) certainly indicates what’s possible when some parts of the electorate are unhappy.  And there are A LOT of people who are unhappy.

Here are some of the reasons why.

The House passed a healthcare reform bill, with Trump’s help, that only 17% of voters supported. His threats to undermine the existing ACA have caused BCBS of NC to request approval of a 22% rate increase.  His budget proposal eviscerates pretty much every discretionary dollar not spent on defense in order to fund a huge tax cut for the wealthy.  Trump’s executive immigration order has been struck down twice by the courts.  We’ll see how his court nominee affects that vote when it gets to the SCOTUS.  The investigations into obstruction of the Russian investigation will continue to produce bad news over the next 18 months.  Trump is considering pulling out of the Paris Accord which is supported by 70% of the public.  North Korea will continue to improve their missiles that could reach the west coast within a year.  Trump trusts China to help with North Korea, but China has their own agenda.  Russia and Syria will continue to deteriorate.  Nothing of substance is going to pass Congress because those who are up for reelection in 2018 won’t want to take any more hard votes.  And Trump will continue to be Trump.

He has no one to blame but himself.

Lock Him Up

Thursday, May 18th, 2017

In a stunning display of arrogance and incompetence, President Trump single-handedly ground his administration to a halt and changed the 2018 election into a referendum on his potential impeachment.

Firing the head of the FBI took a smoldering scandal about collusion with the Russians and turned it into a full blown bonfire with its own special counselor and an impaneled grand jury.

That’s because this is no longer just a question of connections between the Russians and the Trump campaign.  It is now an investigation of obstruction of justice.  It no longer matters whether or not there is substance to the claims that there were a dozen or so conversations between Russians and the Trump campaign.  It also no longer matters whether the conversations were about coordinating the Russian social media and hacking activities with Trump campaign, or they were about current or future business opportunities, or they were just friends catching up about hockey.  What matters now is that there is evidence that Trump and his administration may have attempted to intervene in an ongoing investigation.

The last two impeachment investigations were based on obstruction of justice claims.  It’s that claim that will drive this investigation forward.  That’s because voters are much more concerned about abuses of power than they are about any other claims of corruption.

Trump has attempted to characterize this as a witch hunt, but he only has himself to blame.  Firing James Comey in a fit of pique and then attempting to discredit him caused the response.  Involving the Deputy Attorney General in the firing, gave the Justice Department no other choice.  AG Sessions had already recused himself because he had lied during his confirmation hearings about his Russian connections.  The President had fired the guy leading the investigation at the FBI.  The DOJ had to appoint an independent counselor in order to preserve the integrity of the DOJ and the FBI.

This is politics 101.  Unfortunately, Trump and his administration appear to have skipped that course.

Here’s the rest of politics 101.  This investigation is going to take a long time.  There are two reasons.

First, there is already a grand jury involved, and they have a broad mandate to follow whatever issues they deem appropriate.  The Starr investigation started out with Whitewater and ended up with Monica Lewinsky four years later.

Second, everyone in the White House and the Trump campaign are going to be asked what they know and when they knew it.  Timing is critical to determine intent.  Intent to obstruct justice is what the special counselor will be attempting to prove or disprove.

The consequences of a long investigation are also obvious.

The administration will grind to a halt because Congress will be unwilling to take any controversial votes until they determine what the results will be from this investigation.

What that leaves is the 2018 election.

All the house seats will be contested as well as 33 senate seats.  A lot more information will dribble out between now and then.  Most of it will be unflattering to the President.  The House will not take an impeachment vote before the election because they will not want to run on how they individually voted.  Instead, House Republicans will be faced with the challenging prospect of defending their vote on a VERY unpopular healthcare bill AND defending the actions of a President who is under investigation for abusing his power.  Every Democrat running against an incumbent Republican in the House or Senate is going to tell voters that re-electing the incumbent will insure that Trump will never be held accountable for his actions AND that healthcare insurance will be taken away from all those who have pre-existing conditions and all those on MedicAid.

What is particularly ironic is that Trump won the election based in part on a last minute surge of voters who were persuaded by Trump’s claims that Clinton was a criminal.  He may now end up losing his majority in at least the House for exactly those same reasons.

BTW the Real Clear Politics combined job approval ratings poll just hit a new low.  For the first time since the inauguration, the aggregate poll slipped below 40.  Same thing with the aggregate FiveThirtyEight job approval poll.

 

Sometimes It Takes More Than Looks

Thursday, March 2nd, 2017

harding2

Warren G. Harding is widely regarded as the worst President ever to occupy the office.

Many say he won the election because he “looked like a President”.   This was the tail end of an era where those who LOOKED like gentlemen were assumed to possess all of qualities and capabilities associated with gentlemen.  While Harding was popular during his term, the scandals which emerged after he left office relegated him to his status as a failed president.

We are now in an era of billionaires.  Those who appear to possess great wealth are assumed to possess special qualities and talents that set them apart.  Trump’s election is an example of the trust that some voters have in a wealthy person.  They elected a man whose only qualification to occupy the most powerful political office in the country is that he appears to be wealthy.

I think it is fair to say that in the first month and half, the Trump administration is struggling to find its way.  Even though it is early, there are seeds of scandal that are already blooming.

Russia

The White House has been working furiously to discredit a story that the NYT broke regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russia.

In a now famous interview with Chuck Todd of Meet the Press, Reince Priebus disputed the story alternately calling it “grossly overstated”, “inaccurate”, “totally wrong”, “total baloney”, and “garbage”.  He claimed that people in both the intelligence community and the congress confirmed this description.  The next leak was that Priebus asked the FBI to go on the record with what they had told him.  The FBI refused because the request would politicize the FBI even more than it is now.  Then Priebus assembled a group of intelligence community members and Republican members of Congress to rebut the story, but only anonymously.  This is particular ironic since Priebus (and later Trump) used anonymity of the NYT sources to question the accuracy of the whole article.

It is this sort of fake news stuff that is enormously important that, when you get a front page story of The New York Times without a single source on the record saying that your campaign had constant contacts– they didn’t say one contact. They didn’t say two contacts. It doesn’t matter. We have not been informed of even that. But to say, “Constant contact?”

In this process, however, the two points that the White House objected to in the story became clear.

  1. The story said “repeated contacts”. The White House has built a straw man by claiming that the story said “constant contacts”.
  2. The story said the contacts were with senior Russian Intelligence officials. We now know that the White House is trying to claim that the Russian conversations that DID occur were not with senior Russian Intelligence officials.

“NBC News was told by law enforcement and intelligence sources that the NYT story WAS wrong — in its use of the term ‘Russian intelligence officials.’ Our sources say there were contacts with Russians, but that the US hasn’t confirmed they work for spy agencies. We were also told CNN’s description of Trump aides being in ‘constant touch’ with Russians was overstated. However, our sources did tell us that intelligence intercepts picked up contacts among Trump aides and Russians during the campaign.”

We find out today that new AG Jeff Sessions was one of the people who DID have at least two conversations with a Russian official during the campaign and neglected to share that information during his confirmation hearing.

Testifying under oath before the Senate Judiciary Committee, he was asked in January by Al Franken what he would do if he learned of any evidence that anyone affiliated with the Trump campaign communicated with the Russian government during the 2016 campaign. “I’m not aware of any of those activities,” he responded. He added: “I have been called a surrogate at a time or two in that campaign and I did not have communications with the Russians.”

There’s more: Sen. Patrick J. Leahy (D-Vt.) sent Sessions an additional written question: “Have you been in contact with anyone connected to any part of the Russian government about the 2016 election, either before or after election day?” The AG’s one-word answer could not have been more categorical: “No.”

Sessions response was that his conversations with the Russian ambassador did not involve the campaign, so he felt he answered the questions accurately.  He has also agreed to recuse himself from future congressional investigations.

Here’s the scope of this potential scandal.

There WERE conversations between the Trump campaign and Russians during the election.  Those conversations included Jeff Sessions, though he claims that their conversations didn’t touch on the campaign.  Sessions clearly had an opportunity to disclose his conversations during his confirmation hearings and chose not to.

The White House is disputing that these conversations (Sessions and others) were “constant”, that they were with Russians who worked for Russia’s various intelligence agencies, and that they were about the 2016 election.  Of course this begs the question of why the FBI or other intelligence agencies were listening to the phone conversations of “regular” Russians, but the larger issue is the nature of the White House’s attempt to bury this story.

The risk to the Trump administration is that their efforts to bury the story will ultimately be more damaging than the story itself.  Flynn was the first victim.  Fired for lying supposedly lying to the President. The second victim could be Sessions.  He could be on the hook for perjury.  The cover-up is always more dangerous than the story itself, but in this case the story about a foreign power intervening in a US election is unprecedented.

Yemen

The father of the Navy Seal that died in last month’s operation refused to meet with the President.  He is blaming his son’s death on a poorly planned and poorly executed operation.  He has demanded an investigation.

“Why at this time did there have to be this stupid mission when it wasn’t even barely a week into his administration? Why?” said Mr. Owens, who told The Herald that he had not voted for Mr. Trump. “For two years prior, there were no boots on the ground in Yemen — everything was missiles and drones — because there was not a target worth one American life. Now all of a sudden we had to make this grand display“  “Don’t hide behind my son’s death to prevent an investigation.”

“The government owes my son an investigation,” the father, William Owens, told The Miami Herald.

One of Trump’s campaign positions was that Clinton failed in her responsibilities to protect the lives of Americans in the Benghazi attack.  Trump criticized the Clinton investigations.  He claimed she was guilty even though the investigations produced no evidence to support that claim.  The Trump campaign produced an ad quoting some of the family members of those who were killed in the attack.  Several of them spoke at the Republican National Convention.  One was in the audience at the third debate.

Ryan Owens’ wife was at Trump’s first speech to Congress.  Trump recognized her for her sacrifice.  But he has also failed to take any responsibility for the failed mission.  He has instead blamed both the military and the Obama administration.

Here’s the scope of this potential scandal.

Will there be as thorough an investigation into this failed raid as Trump called for in Benghazi?

Will Ryan Owens’ father be as celebrated in his grief  as Ryan Owens’ widow?

Will the White House drop their claim that the raid yielded valuable intelligence – a claim that has since been disputed by intelligence officials?

The risk to the Trump administration will be similar to Russia.  If they oppose or interfere with an independent investigation, they will be putting the administration in jeopardy.  If the investigations reveal that decisions on either the raid or the speech were mainly political, they will lose the trust of voters.

Summary 

As these and other scandals continue to pop up and unfold, the façade of media bias as the root cause for Trump’s troubles will fall away.  What will be left are the tawdry facts that the Trump campaign DID have conversations with the Russians about the election. And the Trump administration DID approve a poorly planned, poorly executed mission that discovered no new information because there was political benefit to what appeared at the time to be an easy win.

The legacy of this administration will be similar to the business legacy of the President.  The claims of expertise and unique skill will all fail to produce any substance.  The bodies will stack up.  The collateral damage will mount.  The domestic and foreign mistakes will increase dissension and weaken our country.  At some point, enough people will realize that the only thing that Trump brought to this office was wealthy arrogance.  Once they realize that being President requires larger skill set, they will kick him out of office.  When they finally tire of his attempts to blame his failures on others, they will finally blame him for misleading them.  The fact, however, is that it was voters who misled themselves.  They assumed that wealth somehow qualified a person to be President.  Like Harding, voters will realize that wealth, just like looks, has little or nothing to do with competence or trustworthiness.