• Will Trump Ax Mueller?

     My Hunch: Yes, he will. And the ramifications will be huge

    I’m betting Trump orders Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to ax special counsel Bob Mueller.

    Trump’s reason—not that he needs one—will be the friendship between Mueller and Trump’s fired FBI chief, Jim Comey.

    Trump could get that ball rolling, but then, I predict, shortly after the 2018 midterms, we’ll be calling Mike Pence, “Mr. President.”

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    An Impossible Triangle?

     

    ◆ MY ADVICE:

    If I were advising Trump, which would be about as likely as my advising Rahm Emanuel, I’d tell him, “Stick with the special counsel you’re stuck with.”

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    Does Mueller Have a Conflict of Interest?

    Trump’s Allies Now Say “Yes”

    ◆ MY ADVICE: 

    Give up this charge that the friendship between Mueller and Comey represents a “conflict of interest,” especially given that one of your closest cronies (think Newt Gingrich] couldn’t praise Mueller, a 12-year veteran of the top FBI job under both W. Bush and Obama, enough when Rod Rosenstein made the appointment last month. (See The Hill’s article on Trump allies attacking the Mueller-Comey relationship (link here).)

    That high praise was bestowed, of course, before leaks seemed to reveal that Mueller’s probe had morphed from Russian collusion to, reportedly, investigating Trump personally for obstruction of justice over his allegedly pressuring Comey to drop an investigation into former National Security Adviser Mike Flynn.  Not only that, but rumors are also swirling that Mueller is looking at Trump’s financial dealings and those of his son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

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    “Bobby Three Sticks” and His Friend

    Mueller will not destroy his distinguished career and reputation, even for a friend

     Robert S. Mueller III (“”Bobby Three Sticks” to his friends) is close to heading home at the close of a distinguished career.

    Among other honors, Mueller, 72,  is a decorated Marine for service in Vietnam.

    Mueller is not going to allow a personal friendship with Trump’s (and Hillary’s) enemy #1, Jim Comey, to sully his reputation.

    One could argue that the fact that Mueller and Comey are friends will make Mueller more careful about charging Trump with obstruction of justice, etc. in the absence of a rock-solid case.

    One could also argue that Mueller should have declined the appointment.   The Hill this morning quotes a “Justice Department statute that says recusal is necessary when there is the `appearance’ of a `personal’ conflict of interest.”

    Looking for a way this afternoon to postpone the pain of transcribing an interview tape from last week, I started to search narrowly whether Mueller had ever expressed his affection for Comey.

    It took a matter of seconds to find this quote from Mueller in a Washington Post story dated August 23, 2013. (link here). The context is Mueller reflecting on the bittersweetness of leaving the FBI and turning over the job to Comey.  Mueller called Comey a “`good friend,’  an `excellent choice’ and a `superb prosecutor.’”

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    Does Anyone on Team Trump Do a Google Search?

     Mueller’s affection for Comey should have been no surprise to anyone who follows Washington politics.  Yet Gingrich tweeted that Mueller was “a superb choice…His reputation is impeccable for honesty and integrity. Media should now calm down.”

    Did anyone on Trump’s press team research the relationship?

    In 2004, the two men—Mueller then FBI chief and Comey deputy attorney general– survived the kind of experience—a civilian version of combat–that cements friendships.

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    “To Be, or Not To Be . . . FBI Director”

    Comey, who I think would have been better suited for a career on the stage than in law enforcement–ran up the stairs of the George Washington University Medical Center, to prevent George W. Bush’s attorney general, John Ashcroft, incapacitated after emergency surgery, from signing a reauthorization of a surveillance program.  Mueller, also on the scene, backed Comey, then serving as acting attorney general in the wake of Ashcroft’s surgery, in calling the program illegal.

    More important, Mueller assisted Comey in getting to Ashcroft’s bedside by ordering Ashcroft’s FBI agents to let Comey through.  The two men, working together, thus succeeded in preventing Ashcroft from signing a document, thrust before him by W’s White House counsel, Alberto Gonzales, and his chief of staff, Andrew H. Card Jr., that would have reauthorized a program of warrantless domestic eavesdropping.

    Comey, showing once more his flair for the dramatic,” called the scene “an apocalyptic situation…” (Washington Post)

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    ◆ MY FINAL ADVICE: 

    Again, if I were advising Trump, I’d tell him to keep his head down, his mouth shut and get on with the business of leading the country, so voters will care if Trump is forced from office because of  what he has described, via tweet, of course, as a “WITCH HUNT.”

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    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.

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Sunday, May 7

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     Biggest event of the day: French election  Why? First, it’s already been important because the country’s main parties are out. Voters are not happy.

    Second, if Marine Le Pen is elected France could well exit the European Union, which it helped form.

    The latest ripple is massive computer hack of Emmanuel Macron’s computer files. (BBC)

    The main suspect is Russia, which is backing Le Pen.

    Macron is heavily favored. (Reuters)

    Comment: Even the prospect will rock European politics. It should have already done; there is clearly widespread dissatisfaction with the excessive bureaucracy, lack of democratic controls, erosion of national control over borders, and other key elements of the European project.

    There is also fury over the massive migration of Muslims from the Middle East and North Africa who are not integrating into European society, reject many elements of Enlightenment liberalism and toleration, and, in some cases, pose terror threats.

    Le Pen is expected to lose to center-left candidate, Emmanuel Macron. Whether he can lift France from the economic and social doldrums is another matter.

     Next up on Health Care: Trump and Mitch McConnell try to craft a deal (Washington Post)

    For months, McConnell, the consummate political insider, has been dispensing his counsel to Trump, the ultimate outsider, who has been absorbing the Kentuckian’s words. The dynamic has provided a degree of stability in the still-forming relationship between the low-key Senate leader and the loquacious president, who are starkly different types of people.

    But cracks have also emerged in their partnership, most notably when Trump has casually suggested that McConnell change the long-standing rules of the Senate and McConnell has bluntly brushed him off.

    Their fragile alliance is about to face its biggest challenge yet in the next phase of the Republican effort to overhaul the nation’s health-care laws. –Washington Post

    Comment: Trump will surely rely on McConnell to work on the deal in the Senate itself, with Vice President (and former Rep.) Mike Pence as the main intermediary for the White House. Trump will be involved enough to show he cares a lot about it and then push harder when the Senate deal is close to done. 

    Of course, the Senate bill and the House bill will be different, requiring a conference committee–the kind of thing that used to be standard before the Obama years essentially jettisoned normal Congressional procedures.

     The New York Times wastes no time attacking: “Health Act Repeal Could Threaten U.S. Job Engine”

    How? Because fewer people might be employed in health care. They report devastating numbers in manufacturing in Ohio and then say, well, treating people for illnesses has softened the blow to employment.

    Comment: Oddly, this editorial was printed as a news story.

     Warren Buffett: I’m a ‘broken record’ on the US economy, we’re stuck at 2% growth  (CNBC)

    Don’t pay much attention to the quarterly numbers, which oscillate, he says. It’s been slow and steady since the autumn of 2009.

     Colombian civil war: Should the US fund the peace deal, as Obama wanted? Monica Crowley says no.  (NY Post)

    In mid-April, President Trump had a brief, cordial exchange with two former presidents of Colombia — Alvaro Uribe and Andres Pastrana — at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. After the Miami Herald reported the encounter, critics suggested it might “undermine” the Colombian “peace deal” struck by the current president, Juan Manuel Santos, and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC).

    In fact, it’s less a peace agreement than a pathway to dictatorship for a key US ally and to an expansion of drug trafficking here — developments that would pose grave challenges to Trump’s national security agenda and fight against opioid addiction.

    Remarkably, this disastrous course will likely be partially financed with nearly half a billion US taxpayer dollars — promised by then-President Barack Obama — unless Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan deny the appropriation to implement the deal. –Monica Crowley in the New York Post

    Comment: This deadly civil war has lasted for decades. Colombian voters rejected a previous peace deal.

    I simply don’t know enough about the current situation to comment on it, or on Crowley’s views, intelligently.

     Richard Dawkins reports on very disturbing views in North Africa

    The underlying article is here (National Secular Society, UK) It reports on a large survey in Egypt, Lebanon, Morocco, and Palestine.

    Just 45% of Egyptian men believed there should be laws “criminalizing domestic violence, including marital rape.” And only 70% of Egyptian women agreed with this statement. –National Secular Society

    Comment: This matters for women in the region and it matters for Europe, where refugees from North Africa are retaining the views for generations, not adapting to liberal western values.

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Marcia Sukenik Weiss
    for the Colombia peace deal
    ◆ Seth Charnes
    for correcting me on Pence serving in the House, not the Senate

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Tuesday, April 18

    Topics and articles chosen with care. Linked articles in bold purple

     The big news continues to be tension in Korea, where Vice President Pence is visiting and told the North Koreans not to mistake the president’s resolve

    Comment: This is a crisis of choice, in a sense. Trump, like Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama, could have kicked it down the road. All those presidents tried and failed to resolve the issue.

    Delay is not always a bad solution, but it’s not always a good one, either. You have to figure out whether time is on your side or your adversary’s.

    The problem here is that North Korea is making steady progress on two deadly fronts, and it is no longer willing to delay them for small bribes, like those paid by previous administrations.

    North Korea is getting better at building nuclear bombs. It is trying hard to make them smaller, so they can fit on a missile, and it is trying to build a hydrogen bomb. Second, it is making steady progress building medium-range missiles and is seeking to build an ICBM. The combination of small nukes and long-range missiles would put the US within range of nuclear attack by a hyper-dangerous regime whose leader does not appear to be calm, steady, and rational.

    The US has long said a North Korean nuclear threat to the US was unacceptable. Saying it, as several presidents have, is a far cry from making it an effective policy. That is what none have been able to do, and not for lack of trying. Trump seems to be doing something. We don’t know exactly what and we don’t know how effective he and his team will be. We do know it is risky to try; the Trump team has calculated that it is far more dangerous in the long run to sit and wait.

    Over the longer horizon, then, it is Pyongyang’s policies and erratic, bellicose pronouncements that created the crisis.

    Over the short term, though, the crisis was initiated by the US.

    My interpretation: Trump, Mattis, Tillerson, and McMaster (and probably Coats and Pompeo) looked that North Korea’s military program and asked themselves a fundamental question: Is time on our side or theirs? If it is on ours, then delay. If it is on their’s, then force the issue. We can see first-hand what their strategic assessment is.

    The hard part now is to force the issue with threats and not the actual use of force, which could lead to vast casualties. 

    In using threats, Trump has a huge advantage over Obama. Trump’s threats to use force are credible. The Chinese and North Koreans–and America’s friends in the region–have to take that seriously for the first time in years.

     “Calexit” supporters drop their secession bid . . . for now (Washington Post)

    Comment: Ken Burns is particularly disappointed.  His proposed PBS series began with a letter,

    My dearest Tiffany–
    If we should lose tomorrow’s battle, if I should die far from the gnarly waves of Newport Beach, I want you to know . . . .

     New York Times runs op-ed by “a leader and parliamentarian.”  That’s what the NYT calls him–and that’s all they say.

    The paper overlooked his day job: he’s a convicted terrorist who murdered five Israelis.

    Comment: You really can’t blame the Times if a writer omits a detail from their résumé.  

    Of course, the writer is the most prominent Palestinian terrorist in jail. The NYT deliberately hid the crucial information about his murders from readers.

    To compound this nasty piece of work, the Times ran it to gin up American public support for a hunger strike by jailed Palestinians.

    The Daily Caller excoriates the paper, rightly.

    And Elliott Abrams, writing for the Council on Foreign Relations blog, rips the Times a new one. Well worth reading. His conclusion nails a crucial point: the readers deserve the information.

     Shocking News: The US economy keeps growing but electricity use is flat. That’s what Bloomberg says. Per capita, it has fallen for six straight years.

     Lawsuit of the Day:

    • Professor comes into Wal-Mart to get fishing license
    • Get license but finds his employment listed as “toilet cleaner”
    • Humorless fisherman files suit

    The AP story is here.

    Comment: According to the lawsuit, the professor feared mockery every time he yelled “I caught another big one.”

     A serious story on the sexual-harrassment allegations against Bill O’Reilly  (Washington Post)

    A key part of the story is the allegation by a Los Angeles author and radio personality, Wendy Walsh, who is not seeking money, which then led to an independent investigation by the prominent NYC law firm. It was the law firm’s negative findings on Fox News Chairman Roger Ailes that led to his departure.

    As the Washington Post puts it:

    A similar fate [to Ailes] could await O’Reilly; a negative finding by the law firm could force the hands of Fox News Chairman Rupert Murdoch and his sons, James and Lachlan, who run Fox’s parent company.–Washington Post

     Here is tomorrow’s Washington Post opinion page. Notice a pattern?

    The list continues beyond this screenshot. It is, as the mathematicians say, “finite but large.”

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Robert Lieber and Ed Lasky
    for different reports on the New York Times‘ hiding the background of a Palestinian terrorist.

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Friday, February 24

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Last year, Trump skipped the premier conservative event, CPAC

    The year before, he was boo’d

    Now, he is the hero and will be become the first President to address it in his inaugural year

      Richard Spencer, a founder of the alt-right movement, expelled from CPAC after conference organizer denounces “fascist group” (Washington Post)

      Vice President Pence to CPAC: “We’re in the Promise-Keeping Business” (NPR) Steve Bannon said exactly the same thing.

     Everybody who assassinated their brother, please raise your hand 

      Malaysian police find nerve agent on Kim Jong-Un’s dead half-brother. (USA Today)

    Comment: To undertake such a risky act is a sign of the regime’s paranoia and internal instability. 

     SEVEN people killed yesterday in Chicago. SEVEN (Chicago Tribune)

    Here’s My Comment

     “Thank you, Jack”  Tribute to a Marine who “served his country quietly, died for it violently (at Iowa Jima), and had a small part in the storied history of the United States Marine Corps.” Bob Beattie, writing eloquently about the Uncle Jack he never knew (Medium.com)

    Comment: What a touching story. My friend, Jim Vincent, was named for an uncle he never knew, another soldier who died fighting in World War II. Jim’s uncle died in the long battle for Monte Cassino in Italy. Jim’s daughter, Ruth, researched that battle and found some of her great uncle’s buddies, who were alongside him when he fell.

     University of Michigan Students Demand “Black-Only’ Space”  (Pajamas Media)

    Comment: I am perfectly fine with African-American students forming their own clubs and societies and including (or excluding) whomever they wish.

    That is what a robust civil society should permit. But it is wrong to ask the state of Michigan to do it officially and to pay for it.

    It is also perfectly appropriate for anyone who doesn’t like a private club’s rules to protest them. Lots of all-male clubs were changed that way. Their corporate members resigned when the memberships became controversial and the clubs either changed or didn’t, as they chose.

    Yes, we can have all these “private” arrangements regulated by laws and statutes, but, in doing so, the arrangements cease to be private, cease to be voluntary associations. That is a huge loss, even if the goals of the laws and statutes are admirable.

     “ABC 7 suspends [sports anchor] Mark Giangreco for ‘lunatic’ Trump tweet” (RobertFeder.com)

    Comment: So, after sending this tweet, who exactly is the simpleton?

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    zd-hat-tip-facing-inward-100px-w-margin♥ Hat Tip for helpful suggestions:
    ◆ Ed Vidal
     for the University of Michigan story
    ◆ Robert Feder, outstanding reporter on Chicago media, for the Mark Giangreco tweet

     

  • ZipDialog Roundup for Monday, February 20

    Hand-picked and farm-fresh–
    Linked articles in bold purple

     Malaysian probe of murder of North Korean leader’s half-brother “strains Malaysia-North Korea ties,” says Reuters. No one doubts the murder was ordered by Kim Jong Un.

    Malaysian police are hunting four North Koreans who fled the country on the day of the attack, having already detained one North Korean man, a Vietnamese woman, an Indonesian woman, and a Malaysian man.

    At least three of the wanted North Koreans caught an Emirates flight to Dubai from Jakarta late on the same day, an immigration office official in the Indonesian capital told Reuters. Malaysia’s Star newspaper reported that all four had returned to Pyongyang.

    South Korean and U.S. officials have said the killing was probably carried out by North Korean agents.–Reuters

     In a difficult military operation, Iraqi army (with US help) starts to retake the western Mosul, ISIS’ capital and last stronghold (New York Times) The city’s eastern section has already been liberated. The western section has denser population and small, winding streets, and ISIS is well-entrenched there, making it a brutal location for urban fighting. It should take several months for Iraqis to retake.

    Comment: After liberation, the city will need to be stabilized politically and militarily. That, too, is a major task.

     Michael Novak, Catholic theologian who championed capitalism and constitutional democracy, has died at 83. (New York Times obituary) He is best known for his 1982 book, The Spirit of Democratic Capitalism.

    Comment: The best way to grasp his depth and his insights is to watch him. Here is a brief video–less than 5 minutes–with real understanding of what make America special, done without any chest-pounding.

    Here is another brief interview, answering the question, “Does Capitalism Corrode Morality?”

     Tucson Mayor’s Prius Carjacked at Gunpoint (Fox)

    Comment: The silver lining, police say, is that Tucson’s air quality was not harmed.   

     How much do Manhattan’s wealthy liberals hate Trump? Well, they forced the cancellation of a skating party at their kids’ hyper-exclusive, hyper-expensive private school. . . because it would be held at a public rink Trump rebuilt in Central Park. The NY Post story is here.

    Trump renovated the rink in 1986 after the city fumbled the job for six years.

    Another Dalton parent said a clique of Upper East Side “liberal moms” upset with Trump pressured the headmaster to call off the event, a source said. –New York Post

    Comment: Speaks for itself.

     VP Pence continues his European tour, reassuring NATO allies (Washington Post) The WaPo stresses Pence’s differences from Trump on NATO.

    Although the vice president repeatedly stressed that he was speaking on behalf of President Trump, the two men indeed seemed as though they were separated by an ocean.

    Pence offered bland mollifications, forced to calm and cajole European countries that, in the post-Cold War order, until recently never had cause to question the support of the United States. But at a campaign rally Saturday evening in Florida, Trump did the opposite, again criticizing NATO — hours after Pence had extolled its virtues in Munich — and offending yet another ally when he implied that there was a recent terrorist attack in Sweden, one that seemed to exist only in the president’s imagination. –Washington Post

    Comment: What the Post sees as differences might be that, but they might be something else, something smarter. They might be a shrewd way of convincing Europeans to pay more without undermining NATO’s deterrent posture toward Russia.

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