• FBI Search Dog On the Prowl and Pointing Toward . . .

    The Chicago Tribune‘s wonderful editorial cartoonist, Scott Stantis, has often penned negative drawings about Pres. Trump.

    He has not been especially critical of the Trump investigations… until now.

    His balanced stance makes his devastating take on the FBI’s unraveling mess all the more meaningful.

    http://www.chicagotribune.com/news/opinion/stantis/

  • Democrats Go Full Sgt. Schultz: DNC, Debbie Wasserman Schultz say they knew nothing about payments to Fusion GPS for Russian Dossier

    Here’s The Hill’s story, reported by Jonathan Easley.

    And here’s the key point.

    Current and past leaders of the Democratic National Committee (DNC) say they had no knowledge that the national party was helping to fund a dossier compiled by a British spy that contained scandalous accusations about President Trump.

    The Washington Post reported Tuesday that Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the DNC paid millions to the law firm Perkins Coie, where Democratic lawyer Marc Elias worked with the opposition research firm Fusion GPS to construct the memo, which was compiled by British spy Christopher Steele. –The Hill

    Since that story posted, John Podesta also denied knowledge. (CNN) He headed Hillary’s campaign.

    Comment: They pinned the meter.

    Their scrambling shows they know how toxic the story is for them personally, as well as for their institution.

    What we don’t know is whether they will tell the same tale under oath, whether there are documents (including Hillary’s missing emails) that would shed light on the purchase of scurrilous information from Kremlin agents, done through three cut-outs (the law firm, which paid Fusion GPS, which then subcontracted with Glenn Steele), with Hillary’s campaign covering up the money trail.

    On Federal election disclosure forms, they simply said it was payment for “legal services.”

    Another crucial point: since the FBI itself was the recipient of the document and may have used it in their own investigation, as well as for search warrants, the FBI and DOJ themselves have conflicts of interest and cannot investigate this. Nor (IMO) can Mueller, since his close personal ties to Comey and his staff’s financial support for Hillary’s campaign constitute obvious conflicts of interest.

    This, my friends, is a fecal hurricane, Cat 3 and expected to rise.

  • Why the Clinton financing of the Fusion GPS Report is so deeply troubling . . . and why they have lied about it

    The revelation that the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee paid for the “Russian dossier” from Fusion GPS is a bombshell.

    Fusion fought tenaciously to avoid any disclosures about who paid for the document and which sources they used.

    They are still fighting to prevent any examination of bank records that would show others, besides the Clintons and DNC, who might have paid them for this work.

    (Side note: Democrats say that a “Republican donor” hired Fusion GPS before the Democrats did. Perhaps. But there is no actual evidence so far that any Republican donor actually did hire them. Whether he did or not, the alleged anti-Trump, Republican donor was only seeking ordinary opposition research. He had bowed out once Trump’s nomination was certain, so he was not involved in the Russian dossier scandal. Only the Clintons and DNC were involved in hiring foreign nationals and seeking information from insiders in a hostile foreign power for use in an American political campaign.

    Meanwhile, DNC leaders are invoking the Sgt. Schultz defense, saying they didn’t know about the payments to Fusion GPS.)

    When asked who paid them and other questions last week by Congress, Fusion GPS executives pleaded the Fifth Amendment against self-incrimination.  That is their right. But we are not jurors in a courtroom; we can draw our own conclusions. Mine is that the executives believe they have real criminal exposure.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Not only do we know the Clinton Campaign and their allies paid for the dossier, we know they lied about doing so. That includes outright lies from the lawyer who served as the Clintons’ cutout for payments to Fusion GPS. (The Clinton campaign hired a lawyer to commission the dossier so their purchase could be hidden behind attorney-client privilege and so they could hide all the payments to Fusion GPS under the misleading–and possibly illegal–line item FEC disclosure of “legal services.” At the very least, their behavior is sleazy and deceptive. What else is new?)

    Here’s how NYT reporters responded after learning they had been lied to.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Russia’s Role in the Steele Dossier

    But lies are only the beginning.

    What is most troubling is how the Fusion GPS oppo research became a vehicle for Russian interference in US political and judicial processes.

    We know Fusion GPS hired a former British intelligence agent, Christopher Steele, to compile the dossier. Steele, who once headed the Russia desk at MI6, got his information from shadowy sources in Moscow, who gave him information allegedly compiled by Russian police and intel agencies.

    There is a strong possibility those sources and their information were part of the Kremlin’s ongoing disinformation campaign, designed to interfere in the US election. The fact that Steele came a-calling was a golden opportunity to insert this information into the heart of the US political system. As it turned out, it was also inserted into the US criminal justice system when the dossier was shared with the FBI.

    Of course, we know the Kremlin meddled in the US campaign. It is likely (though not certain) that some of the false information in the Steele/Russia dossier was part of that effort.

    After Fusion GPS completed the dossier,  they gave it to the Democrats who paid for it, presumably through the middleman lawyer who served as a cutout. Then, somehow, the dossier makes its way to the CIA and FBI.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Comey’s FBI

    At James Comey’s FBI, the dossier prompts a full-scale investigation. Apparently, the FBI also considered working with Steele–and paying him–to get more information from Moscow. (It’s really too bad the US doesn’t have some sort of government agency to get this kind of secret information in foreign countries.)

    There is still a lot we don’t know. But we can reasonably conclude that opposition research using foreign nationals, secretly financed by a political party, and almost-certainly buttressed with disinformation from a hostile foreign power was introduced into a US election campaign and used as justification for a federal investigation of US citizens.

    It is not clear if any FISA warrants were based on this dossier or if it prompted the Obama administration to do its wholesale unmasking of US citizens. We hardly know anything about the FBI’s role because it has stonewalled Congressional investigators, who have sought key documents for over two months without any response.

    We do know that, after Trump was inaugurated, the intel agencies asked to give him a special briefing on the dossier. Using that briefing as a news hook, one of the agencies then immediately (and illegally) leaked information about the dossier to the press, yet another disturbing development in this saga.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Boomerang

    This whole episode reveals the darkest underbelly of American politics and foreign interference in it. It is potentially a huge scandal–and one that involves the very agencies that normally investigate such scandals.

    It has a rich vein of irony, too. The Clintons and the Democrats have insisted, rightly, that all Russian meddling in our elections be investigated. They have claimed, without proof, that the Russians not only meddled, they collaborated with Donald Trump. Now, it turns out it was the Clinton campaign that was the major conduit for Russian influence–a tale worthy of Wile E. Coyote.

    It is essential that Congress investigate all aspects of this issue, which involves the FBI and CIA as well as the Clintons and the DNC.

    It merits a criminal investigation, too, as does the tsunami of corruption and coverup surrounding the Uranium One deal (which directly involves the Holder DOJ and Mueller FBI, as well Sec. Clinton).

    Attorney General Sessions should appoint a Special Counsel.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦

  • UPDATED COMMENTARY on Presidents and Soldiers of Blessed Memory

    As is so often the case, an issue with several important elements has been compressed and distorted, both by politicians and by the media.

    It is increasingly obvious that the most important element of this whole story is

    • how low our public discourse has sunk,
    • how vile are the statements we make about political opponents, and, sadly,
    • how we impute the most foul motives to all our adversaries, turning them from “the loyal opposition” into “enemies and traitors.”

    ♦♦♦♦♦

    Here are a few more thoughts on these somber issues, which are now, unfortunately, the subject of mudslinging.

    • It is right and fitting that presidents phone or write the loved ones who gave their lives for our country and for their comrades in arms. How Presidents undertake this terrible responsibility should be their choice.
    • It was wrong and unbecoming of Pres. Trump to criticize his predecessors about their ways of honoring our fallen soldiers.
      • ALL his predecessors were decent, honorable men who took these losses seriously. That should be acknowledged, not turned into a partisan football.
        • We can differ with people politically without concluding that they are, by definition, knuckle-dragging, immoral fools.
        • American politics is being corrupted by our collective inability to differ politically without slinging mud personally.
      • It is beneath the Office of the President to criticize President Obama on this issue. It should be publicly shamed.
      • Trump’s false and undignified criticism was sufficiently upsetting to Pres. George W. Bush, who has been the most dignified of recent ex-Presidents, that he spoke out publicly, at least indirectly criticizing Trump.
        • UPDATE: Steve Bannon’s criticism of GWB on these issues is noxious. Not surprising, but still noxious.

    • It is wrong and unbecoming for others, such as the Congresswoman from Florida, to do the same thing, turning a private moment of grief into her public moment in the spotlight.
      • Her bad behavior was made worse because she took a benign statement by the President and twisted into something malicious.
      • Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, known for her hats and not what’s under them, has now personally attacked Gen. Kelly, a Gold Star father.
      • She’s loathsome.
      • UPDATE: General Kelly incorrectly characterized Rep. Wilson’s speech in Florida at the building dedication. It was not all about her, as he said. She shared the credit for the building. (I am sure he misremembered, rather than lied.)
      • UPDATE: Sarah Sanders statement that Gen. Kelly cannot be criticized is clearly wrong and misunderstands the roll of free speech in our political discourse. That would be true even if Kelly were still an active-duty military officer. Sanders has properly walked back most of her statement, but, like most political figures, she can’t quite say the plain truth: “I was wrong.”
    • The loss of service members in Niger, which gave rise to this controversy, was a tragic military error, compounded by a lot of uncertainty about the events in their immediate aftermath. It is unclear why the military was slow to reveal publicly what happened.
      • The Democrats have implied that it is Pres. Trump’s “Benghazi” (that is, a high-level political coverup). It’s not unless there is a full-scale coverup and months of lying and misrepresentation, as there was after Benghazi.
    • CNN has run the story 24/7. That’s media malpractice. That, unfortunately, is also CNN’s motto.
      • CNN is like a dog with a bone: they bite it and hang on, long after all the meat is gone.
      • The problem is not that CNN’s panels are false. It is the channel’s bizarre news judgment that the story merits round-the-clock coverage for days, driven, I am sure, by their (correct) conclusion that the story harms Trump.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, October 20

    Articles chosen with care. Your comments welcomed.
    Linked articles in bold purple

    ◆ Tax Cuts, Tax Reform gaining momentum

    The Senate passed a Budget Resolution, the essential prelude to any effort to pass tax reform. Without the resolution, the tax bill could be stopped unless it had 60 votes. With the resolution, it needs 50 votes.

    Analysis: Whether it can get 50 votes depends on the details, which will affect different states, income groups, and economic sectors differently.

    Ending the deduction for state and local taxes, for example, hurts high-income people in high-tax states. That could cost Republican House votes if they represent such districts. (Most analysis misses the point that the state taxes hit high earners more so Republicans from middle-class districts might not be affected.)

    Giving everyone a large standard deduction sounds great . . . except to the residential real-estate industry, which thinks it will render mortage deductions meaningless for many middle-income buyers.

    Plus, we don’t yet know the breakpoints between tax brackets, so the impact on middle-income families cannot be forecast accurately.

    Politically, the Republicans must pass tax cuts. Whether they must pass larger reforms is less obvious. But even “must pass” legislation is a problem for this bunch.

     Unmasking investigation

    Obama’s UN Ambassador Samantha Power made more unmasking requests than McDonald’s makes hamburgers. Now, Power has told the House Intel Committee that she did not make those unmasking requests. Somebody else did, using her name. (Fox News)

    Since the testimony was behind closed doors, it is unclear if she knew or assented to the requests, if she knows who made the requests, or if “masking” an unmasking request is itself illegal. It is certainly unethical.

    Now, the same committee has called Obama’s last Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, to find out what she knows about these unmaskings and the Russia-Trump investigation. (Fox News)

    Comment #1: This massive unmasking for what seems like political purposes by the Obama Administration is not only a scandal in its own right. It will have real effects on national security if it blocks the renewal of FISA court authority, which must be done soon.

    Comment #2: It has also been reported that the FBI and DOJ knew about Russian bribery to obtain uranium ownership during the Obama years, when Hillary Clinton was Sec. of State. Bill Clinton was paid substantial funds personally for speaking to Russian entities at this time and the family foundation received vast sums (over $100 million) from investors with stakes in the transaction.

    This investigation was not revealed to the heads of Congressional Intelligence Committee, as is required.

    Moreover, this Russian scandal directly involves the FBI when it was head by . . . . Robert Mueller, now in charge of investigating Russian scandals.

    This stinks.

    US-backed forces declare “victory” over ISIS in Raqqa after 4-month battle (CBS)

    Comment: Now that ISIS is circling the drain, the real question is what comes afterwards in Sunni regions of Iraq and Syria.

    Iran and its proxies, Syria and Iraq, are determined to keep the Shiites in charge.

    That will fuel more radical Sunni insurgencies like ISIS and Al Qaeda.

    Catalonia’s bid for independence: Spain’s central government is now preparing to strip the region of its local powers (Los Angeles Times)

    The region’s president, Carles Puigdemont, did not renounce independence despite a Thursday deadline imposed by the central government.

    The escalating confrontation between Madrid and Spain’s most prosperous region sent ripples of unease across the continent, where European Union leaders are already wary of fissures within the bloc.

    Spain’s worst political crisis in nearly four decades of democracy could hamper a still fragile economic recovery in the country as a whole and cause particular financial harm to Catalonia, which is already experiencing a flurry of corporate flight. –Los Angeles Times

     Comment on Presidents and Fallen Soldier in separate ZipDialog post (here)

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • Presidents and Soldiers of Blessed Memory: A Comment UPDATED

    As is so often the case, an issue with several important elements has been compressed and distorted, both by politicians and by the media.

    Here are a few thoughts on these somber issues, which are now, unfortunately, the subject of mudslinging.

    • It is right and fitting that presidents phone or write the loved ones who gave their lives for our country and for their comrades in arms. How Presidents undertake this terrible responsibility should be their choice.
    • It was wrong and unbecoming of Pres. Trump to criticize his predecessors about their ways of honoring our fallen soldiers.
      • ALL his predecessors were decent, honorable men who took these losses seriously. That should be acknowledged, not turned into a partisan football.
        • UPDATE: We can differ with people politically without concluding that they are, by definition, knuckle-dragging, immoral fools.
        • American politics is being corrupted by our collective inability to differ politically without slinging mud personally.
      • It is beneath the Office of the President to criticize President Obama on this issue. It should be publicly shamed.
      • Trump’s false and undignified criticism was sufficiently upsetting to Pres. George W. Bush, who has been the most dignified of recent ex-Presidents, that he spoke out publicly, at least indirectly criticizing Trump.
        • UPDATE: Steve Bannon’s criticism of GWB on these issues is noxious. Not surprising, but still noxious.

    • It is wrong and unbecoming for others, such as the Congresswoman from Florida, to do the same thing, turning a private moment of grief into her public moment in the spotlight.
      • Her bad behavior was made worse because she took a benign statement by the President and twisted into something malicious.
      • Congresswoman Frederica Wilson, known for her hats and not what’s under them, has now personally attacked Gen. Kelly, a Gold Star father.
      • She’s loathsome.
      • UPDATE: General Kelly incorrectly characterized Rep. Wilson’s speech in Florida at the building dedication. It was not all about her, as he said. She shared the credit for the building. (I am sure he misremembered, rather than lied.)
      • UPDATE: Sarah Sanders statement that Gen. Kelly cannot be criticized is clearly wrong and misunderstands the roll of free speech in our political discourse. That would be true even if Kelly were still an active-duty military officer. Sanders has properly walked back most of her statement, but, like most political figures, she can’t quite say the plain truth: “I was wrong.”
    • The loss of service members in Niger, which gave rise to this controversy, was a tragic military error, compounded by a lot of uncertainty about the events in their immediate aftermath. It is unclear why the military was slow to reveal publicly what happened.
      • The Democrats have implied that it is Pres. Trump’s “Benghazi” (that is, a high-level political coverup). It’s not unless there is a full-scale coverup and months of lying and misrepresentation, as there was after Benghazi.
    • CNN has run the story 24/7. That’s media malpractice. That, unfortunately, is also CNN’s motto.
      • CNN is like a dog with a bone: they bite it and hang on, long after all the meat is gone.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, June 30

    Articles chosen with care. Comments welcomed. Linked articles in bold purple

     Trump’s twitter fury, aimed at MSNBC’s Morning Joe and its hosts, Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski

    The Washington Post headline says, quite accurately: ” Trump and ‘Morning Joe’: How a long and ugly feud just got even uglier

    Comments: 

    1. Yes, Scarborough and Brzezinski have said outrageous, hyperbolic, defamatory things about Donald Trump
      • Many other media outlets have done the same
      • Far more show consistent partisan bias, damaging their reputations, hurting the President, and eroding trust in media
    2. No, that is absolutely no excuse for the President of the United States to respond with noxious, personal attacks
      • Trump’s response would be objectionable, but not so different from many Twitter spats, if he were merely a private citizen
      • But he is not a private citizen and should not be held to those standards. As President, he is not only a political figure, he is the head of state. One requirement of that office is to maintain dignity and decorum consistent with the office.

    Politically, this is self-inflicted damage to Trump. Few approve it except for his most avid supporters. And it takes him off-message, at a time when Americans want results on healthcare and taxes.

    But the worse damage is to our public life and discourse, which had already sunk so low, and to trust in our institutions, which are crucial to our democracy.

     Far Different from the first time: “Trump travel ban takes effect to minimal disruption (Fox News)

    The revised order, which the US Supreme Court approved in part (with some aspects reserved for future decisions), covers 6 countries and does not block foreign individuals with strong personal ties to the US.

    A scaled-down version of President Donald Trump’s travel ban took effect at 8 p.m. ET Thursday, with none of the dramatic scenes of protest and chaos that greeted the original version of Trump’s executive order five months ago.

    The Departments of Homeland Security, State and Justice went ahead with the implementation after the Supreme Court partially restored the order earlier this week. –Fox News

    Comment on Media bias:

    The Fox report was straightforward. Others, not so much.

    It was almost impossible to find a news report that actually gave the news instead of an editorial. The news is that the revised ban went into effect, worked smoothly (so far), and met with only modest demonstrations at airports, far different from the bureaucratic mess and large demonstrations that surrounded the initial order.

    Kudos to the BBC for this neutral headline: “Trump travel ban comes into effect for six countries.”

    Bronx cheer for many others. CNN headline makes no mention of the smooth rollout and modest demonstrations. It does mention further court challenges, even though the main one will come in the autumn at SCOTUS. The challenges are from Democratic state AGs, such as Hawaii, and they mainly ask for clarification. A nothingburger.

    Most of the headlines looked like this. Others emphasized the demonstrations.

     

    Major legal victory: Jury decides US can seize a major Manhattan skyscraper, owned by Iran (New York Times)

    The jury . . . found that the Alavi Foundation, which owns 60 percent of the 36-floor skyscraper at 650 Fifth Avenue, violated United States sanctions against Iran and engaged in money laundering through its partnership with Assa Corporation, a shell company for an Iranian state-controlled bank that had owned the remaining 40 percent. . . .

    The [US] government has agreed to distribute proceeds from the building’s sale, which could bring as much as $1 billion, to the families of victims of Iranian-sponsored terrorist attacks, including the Sept. 11 attacks. –New York Times

    Comment: The same foundation has made donations to Columbia University (link here). The stench runs deep.

    ◆  Washington football team will remain the Redskins. Native American groups and DOJ drop lawsuit after Supreme Court ruling.  (Washington Post)

     Major lawsuit again San Francisco State University over its systematic anti-Semitism, including violent suppression of Jewish speakers, shouted curses, calls for an “intifada,” etc. The suit alleges the university administration was indifferent to repeated complains and actively protected the disrupters.  (Newsweek)

    The lawsuit has been filed by a pro bono organization, the Lawfare Project. The suit

    calls SFSU “among the worst of the worst offenders and is largely recognized as being among the most anti-Semitic campuses in the country.”

    The heckling of Barkat is one of several incidents that the suit argues contributed to an atmosphere hostile to Jewish students, one that was created with the alleged complicity of the school’s administrations. –Newsweek, reporting on Lawfare Project’s suit against SFSU

    Comment: Long overdue. The SFSU administration actually blamed the Israelis for one disruption against them, saying the only reason the mayor of Jerusalem (Nir Barkat) came to speak at SFSU was that he knew the Palestinians and the leftist allies at SFSU would riot to prevent it–and that’s just what Barkat wanted.

    So, this is the logic: the mayor of a large city comes to speak at your university; your students riot and prevent him; you blame the mayor; and then, after promising citizens the rioters would be punished, you do nothing at all.

    Those administrators should be held fully and personally accountable. Their next jobs should be flipping burgers until they are replaced by robots.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

     

  • Will Trump Resign?

     Enough of the Ridicule

     Enough of the Investigations

     Enough of the Hard Word of Governing

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Good foreign trip, but now he’s landed–and so have his troubles

    I’m betting that sometime before the midterms, President Donald J. Trump will resign.

    Stick with me as I explain why.

    While Trump’s tour of the Middle East and Europe was not the “homerun” of which he boasted, it did go surprisingly well, at least on Trumpian terms.

    But that’s over now.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Five Congressional Investigations . . . plus a tenacious Special Counsel, Robert Mueller

    Pres. Trump returned to the White House on Sunday to face the “I” words—indictment and impeachment, both fueled by a lengthening list of Russia-related leaks and charges. Not only those, but also the dark Nixonian (and Clintonian) phrase, “obstruction of justice.”

    He returned to await next week’s public testimony of his fired nemesis, former FBI director Jim Comey—that “nut job,” as Trump described him during an Oval Office meeting in which the commander in chief shared highly classified “code word” info with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador and volunteered that firing Comey relieved “great pressure.”

    Now he is stuck obsessing about five congressional probes looking into alleged Russian ties; about subpoenas for Oval Office tapes, about depositions, indictments, anxiety that someone caught in law enforcement’s grip will turn state’s witness and finger Trump—could it be Mike Flynn or Paul Manafort? Was winning favor with Flynn the reason Trump allegedly asked Comey to lay off the former and fired NSA chief. (Trump denies doing so).

    Why did Trump ask two other top American intelligence chiefs to tamp down Comey’s Russian collusion probe? For at least one of them, there’s a “contemporaneous” memo.

    Special counsel Robert Mueller, III, impeccably ethical FBI head III, and friend of Jim Comey, now charged with looking for criminal behavior, will be sure to study that memo and every other piece of evidence.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    The Bad News Will Keep Coming

    The bad news stories never stop. Ivanka’s husband, Jared Kushner, the golden boy and presidential favorite—Trump’s senior advisor–could face, thanks to the FBI investigation, public humiliation and, worse yet, indictment. A back channel communication with Russia? What was Jared thinking and why wasn’t he fully forthcoming about his meetings with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.

    On top of that, yesterday’s news, Michael Cohen, Trump’s long-time personal lawyer, his self-described “pit-bull,” has received a subpoena for his “testimony, personal documents and business records” from the House Intelligence Committee.

    Anyone in Trump’s position would feel some level of self pity, but Trump is known for wallowing in it. “…the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!”

    “No politician in history…has been treated worse or more unfairly.” (That one while delivering the commencement address all about himself to Coast Guard Academy grads.)

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Campaigning, now that was fun. Governing, not so much

    Trump, my hunch, is back to asking himself, “Who knew that being president would be so hard? So complicated? So much boring work?”

    Is he sick and tired of all those embarrassing photos focusing on the protruding belly and hairweave blowing in the wind as he boards Marine One?

    Oh for the days when Trump could be Trump.

    In the fog of cascading scoops, Trump can’t be Trump, not if he wants to serve his full term, much less run for a second. For Trump, things can only get worse—and that could happen long before 2020.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    If the Democrats win the House in 2018, governing will be downright unpleasant

    And home cooking will start to look a whole lot better

    Take the 2018 midterms: The Democrats take back the House, Nancy Pelosi becomes Speaker, and impeachment proceedings commence.

    Trump, again my hunch, likely entertains “They’ll be sorry when I’m gone” fantasies as he returns to linger alone in his White House bed; that very bed from which he tweeted a warning to Jim Comey to keep his mouth shut because there could be tapes of their conversations. Who knew that Comey kept detailed, contemporaneous notes of their meetings? Who knew that a special counsel would be reading them? Who even knew that “White House tapes” carried negative connotations and a special place in presidential history.

    At those moments, does he grow nostalgic about the campaign trail when he could belittle the policies of Obama and Hillary and make grandiose promises about bringing back “jobs, jobs, jobs” (Oops! Breaking news on Carrier sending jobs to Mexico) and bombing the hell out of ISIS, about building that “beautiful wall” and all the rest of his “drain the swamp” applause lines?.

    If I could get inside his head, I hear him getting down to even less lofty thoughts. Why think of affairs of state when I could be thinking about real estate? I hear him telling himself, I’m sick of this rundown White House. I miss my $100 million Trump Tower penthouse. I miss the marble and 24-carat-gold Palace-of-Versailles-inspired décor. I miss my bed, my linens, my pillow, my loyal housekeepers, my valet.

    And the Oval Office? The thrill is gone. It’s not CEO-sized and I miss gazing at my Trump Tower office walls festooned with framed magazine covers featuring me. I miss my unfailingly discreet secretary. I miss not having to obsess over leaks. And leave it to Time to report that I insist on two scoops of vanilla ice cream with my chocolate cream pie while everyone else gets one, and that my boy scout vice president requests a fruit plate.

    Air Force One? Like the Oval, a thrill the first time, but not nearly as cool as my 757, its leather seats embossed with the Trump family crest.

    So long as he remains a resident of 1600, Trump might think, leaked details about his morning cosmetic prep are just a matter of time. The concocted hair, the unnatural stiffness of its several sections: Does he use an aerosol spray? Does Aqua Net still exist? Can Trump claim his very own ozone layer hole?

    And more.

    How long before the “failing” New York Times, likely relying on a leak from some White House staffer, or some other “fake news” source, reports that he skips the daily intelligence brief in favor of reading Breitbart News while his people apply the bronzer and the concealer and the pancake makeup to prepare him for another day in hell?

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    If he toughs it out, he still could lose a re-election bid

    Why not leave on his own terms?

    If he sticks it out there’s the indignity, for starters, of not getting a second term. Obama got two; Clinton got two. Not fair. But possible, as financial backers run scared. And Republicans, worried about reelection and rushing to microphones to applaud the appointment of Mueller, are keeping their distance, a few even muttering the “I” (impeachment) word.

    And what about those polls that show cracks in his base of support? And the Wall Street Journal editorial page, of all places, hectoring, “Loose Lips Sink Presidencies,” calling the state of his presidency “perpetual turbulence” and calling him “inexperienced” and “impulsive.” And that Politico headline, “Conservatives begin to whisper President Pence.”

    On the bright side, he exits the White House on his own terms, Melania at his side, if not holding his much ridiculed hand, barely hiding her relief. He emerges as the most famous man in America, the misunderstood, abused hero who tried to drain the swamp and make America great again, but who was blocked at every turn by the elite in politics and academia and the press.

    If he hangs around, he could end up, like Richard Nixon, shamed, shunned and on the precipice of impeachment, having to accept a pardon from his VP. Does Trump understand the difference between himself and Nixon; that the late President might have been a crook, but he was also an intellectual, and, in forced retirement, a wise man on international politics? For Trump, another reality TV show, just not one filmed at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, awaits.

    ♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦♦

    Carol Felsenthal is much-published author. Besides a long list of magazine credits, she has written a number of acclaimed biographies:

    • Citizen Newhouse: Portrait of a Media Merchant,
    • Power, Privilege, and the Post: The Katharine Graham Story,
    • Princess Alice: The Life and Times of Alice Roosevelt Longworth, and
    • Clinton in Exile: A President Out of the White House, a look at Bill Clinton’s post presidency

    She is also a contributing writer for Chicago Magazine and the political blogger for their website, Chicagomag.com.

    She has taught biographical writing at the University of Chicago and written profiles of everyone from Ann Landers to Michelle Obama.

  • UPDATE: Robert Mueller to investigate the Trump-Russia issue. Excellent decision. Excellent choice.

    The breaking news that DOJ’s second-in-command, Rod Rosenstein, has appointed a Special Counsel, former FBI Director, Robert Mueller, significantly changes the political and legal dynamic. Great choice.
    Rosenstein’s decision is a sensible one to restore a sense of order and disinterested justice to these controversies.
    ♦♦♦♦♦♦
    The only potential conflict is that Comey was a senior aide to Mueller. But I don’t think that will affect Mueller one iota.
    Mueller’s long experience at the FBI will mean the current investigation will dovetail with the new Special Counsel.
    Equally important, it will move quickly because Mueller can be get up-to-speed quickly on the current FBI investigation.
    It is crucial–crucial–that both parties endorse this decision and the selection of Mueller now that Rosenstein has made those calls.
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    The swirling controversies around Trump, the Russians, and Comey are not “sound and fury, signifying nothing.”
    The signify something….but what?
    At the very least, they raise very important questions about the President’s self-discipline and his willingness and capacity to govern prudently and make decisions thoughtfully, lawfully.
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    They underscore the impulsive character of much Presidential decision making and the still-chaotic organization of the White House itself.
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    Those problems come from the top.
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    At this point, however, we do not know how important the intel leaks about Russia are (they seem a lot less important than initially feared) or whether Trump crossed a line in his private discussions with Comey after the Flynn dismissal.

    What explains Trump’s imprudent actions? 

    My guess is that his lack of discipline, hubris, and inexperience led him to think that he was dealing with roughly the same problem (and people) who handle garbage removal and concrete in Manhattan.
    His voters think that’s exactly right.
    His adversaries think it is why he should never have been elected.

    What explains the brouhaha? 

    • Trump crossing some murky lines, which creates genuine concern
    • Some Republican and traditional conservative opposition to Trump and his outsider style and nationalist policies,
    • Serious opposition from career people at the intelligence agencies, whom Trump accused of incompetence and politicization repeatedly during the campaign

    and

    • The media+Democrats’ slash-and-burn resistance to Trump personally and his agenda.

    What’s the impact, so far?

    • Increasing concern for unstable, chaotic “leadership” from the White House, which means
    • Increasing doubts that Trump’s key agenda items of tax cuts and health-care reform will pass
  • ZipDialog for Wednesday, May 17: Making Sense of the News about Trump, Comey, and Russia

     The two big stories are about Pres. Trump:

    (1) The discussion with then-FBI Director Comey about the Mike Flynn investigation, and

    (2) The discussion with the Russians about ISIS.

    Let me offer comments on each, rather than a regular news roundup.

    My goal is to say what we know and don’t know about each and put their importance and potential consequences in some perspective.

     Comment on FBI Director Comey’s private meeting with President Trump

    The meeting was in mid-February, the day after Flynn was fired as National Security Adviser

    The most grievous possibility is that Trump was asking Comey to stop the investigation, which could be seen as obstruction of justice. That’s a very serious charge.

    Comey claims to have written a memo-to-self after the meeting. He held it secretly for three months and then had friends leak it to the press on Tuesday. The anonymous friends read excerpts from the memo and did not release it to the press. They kept their own identities secret, as well.

    Since it was Comey’s own memo, the leak had to come from him. No one besides Comey and the friends though whom he is leaking has actually seen the memo. We don’t know if he wrote memos on other meetings with Trump (or with others), but he probably did.

    I suspect this memo and any others he wrote will be subpoenaed. That could get very interesting. The Democrats, in particular, will enjoy the circus and the stench of scandal, using it to block the Trump presidency.

    Personally, I am disturbed Trump even broached the subject of the Flynn-Russia investigation with Comey.

    Excluding Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the meeting casts further doubt on the propriety of the President’s behavior.

    But there are problems with interpreting the information we currently have as an attempt to obstruct justice, which is how the Democrats and their favorite media are spinning it.

    • First, if there was an attempt to obstruct justice, Comey had a clear legal obligation to report it. He did not. That suggests he thought it was not such an attempt.
    • Second, Comey never discussed this potential obstruction with the second-in-command at his agency, which he presumably would have done if it were a disturbing issue or a close call.
    • Third, Comey never threatened to resign, a threat he famously made during the George W. Bush administration over a DOJ decision. He presumably would have done so–or told his associates about his doubts–if he thought Trump was trying to block an FBI investigation.
    • Fourth, Comey gave very detailed briefings to senior Congressional investigators about the Russian investigation and never mentioned it.
    • Fifth, Comey did not leak this bombshell memo while he was employed at the FBI. He kept it private for three months and only disclosed it after being fired. That means he either did not think the information sufficiently damning or else he thought it was his “job insurance” in case Trump wanted to fire him (a very disturbing possibility, reminiscent of J. Edgar Hoover). Right now, we simply don’t know why he kept it secret, especially if he thought it was so important.
    • Sixth, it is possible that Trump’s statement was less a request to kill the investigation of Michael Flynn (which would be obstruction, if that was Trump’s specific intention) and more a vague aspiration that he hoped this mess would end soon with Flynn cleared. (Again, I do not think the President should say any such thing to the leader of that investigation. That’s true even if his statement falls well short of obstruction.)
    • Finally, we know that the FBI investigation has continued full-throttle and that the former second-in-command, now heading the agency temporarily, said in public testimony that no one has attempted to impede the FBI inquiry. That’s vitally important.
      • If Trump were attempting to obstruct the investigation, it seems likely he would have done more. Of course, the Democrats say he did: he fired Comey. But he did so long after the “bombshell” meeting, so it is hard to connect the two.
      • Comey has also said that he didn’t get the additional resources he needed for the investigation. But that has been rebutted by the acting director (who says he has adequate resources) and the deputy AG (who says flatly that Comey never made such a request).

    Bottom Line:

    1. Trump’s political enemies see the whole episode as more evidence of Nixonian malfeasance, a wonderful chance for hearings that put Trump and the Republicans on the defensive, and a great way to impede and undermine Trump.
    2. Trump’s friends see it as something like an attempted coup by Comey, the intelligence agencies, the sore-loser Democrats, and their friends in the media.
    3. Expect many more shoes to drop, including a grand jury investigation of Russian financial ties by some former Trump campaign aides.

    ◆ Comment on Trump and the Russia Leaks

    Now, several days after the news broke, we still don’t know all the details. But we can reasonably conclude that Trump shared some highly-classified information with the Russians. Although Trump has full authority to do that and did not disclose “sources and methods,” he seems to have spoken without fully recognizing the sensitivity of the information or clearing it in advance with his national-security team.

    After the meeting, they called a couple of the US intelligence agencies to clean up after the fact. Some senior people in those agencies almost certainly were the ones who then leaked that information to the media, vastly compounding the damage as well as committing felonies by disclosing the secret information.

    The New York Times and Washington Post played this story as a huge Trumpian error, endangering US national security. But they never explained how, other than saying that such leaks were terrible and, because the leak came from a US ally, it could endanger that relationship.

    My assessment: Trump may have shared too much; it is hard too say since we don’t know the details publicly. If he did, then it was probably a combination of inexperience handling this classified material and an overestimation of our common interest with the Russians.

    But there is a huge irony here. The media’s main claim is that Trump endangered the US with his leaks.

    But it was the WaPo and NYT that spread that information around the world (via leaks they received) and it was the NYT that went further and identified the US partner who “owned” the intelligence, the Israelis. If the information Trump gave the Russians truly jeopardized the US and was a major violation of our security, then what exactly was the justification for publishing detailed descriptions of this secret data, which shares it not only with the Russians but also Iran, ISIS, and everyone else?

    Bottom Line:

    1. Trump may have made a mistake, but it doesn’t look like a huge one (from what we know so far). It may have been done out of hubris, inexperience, or overestimation of our potential to work with the Russians but not out of malice–and certainly not treason as some unhinged commentators have said.
    2. The media, the Democrats, and Trump’s other opponents, including many traditional conservatives, have exploited his error, exaggerated its impact, and actually compounded the problem by publishing additional classified materials, contradicting their claim that they were only worried about the national-security impact of Trump’s (presumed) error.

    ◆ Bottom Line on the two big stories taken together: the Comey meeting and the Russia meeting:

    This whole ruckus–the damage he inflicted on himself, the damage his adversaries are inflicting on him–destabilizes his presidency, sucks the oxygen out of his policy initiatives, splits the Republican party (whose elected officials don’t know whether to back him or back away), and weakens the country.

    If there is real fire beneath the smoke, the damage will get worse. Much worse.

    On the other hand, if Trump’s supporters think he is being railroaded out of office without conclusive, damning evidence, they will see what they feared all along: a Washington establishment that runs the country, regardless of what the electorate says–an entrenched, unelected elite determined to fight dirty to retain its power.

    Given the already-deep cleavages in the country, either alternative poses serious dangers to America’s consensual, constitutional order.

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