My Dad Was Better Than John Kerry

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

Former MA Senator and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry is an accurate precursor for today’s 2020 Democratic presidential hopefuls. Unbearably self-absorbed and phony, Kerry’s military career of was rife with controversy, surrounded by justifiable doubt regarding the legitimacy of his having been awarded three Purple Heart medals within a very short time span.  For what amounted to surface scratches incurred on three separate occasions, Kerry gleefully accepted the same citation given to real heroes who lost a limb or suffered a disfiguring injury while saving their comrades on the battlefield. Kerry should have sloughed off the very idea of accepting those Purple Hearts for injuries no worse than a shaving cut. He didn’t miss a single day of service due to those injuries. Not a day.

Unfortunately, the military does not distinguish between severity of wounds when awarding the Purple Heart. Regardless of how true or fraudulent Kerry’s Purple Heart claims are, the fact is Kerry’s having accepted the medals devalued and disrespected the serious, life-threatening injuries suffered by real soldiers in actual combat.

Critics claim that Kerry was a conniving, disingenuous shill from Day One, who always had his eye on a future political career. His preening, insufferable anti-military 1971 testimony in front of the Senate, complete with his pretentiously affected pronunciation of “Jen-Gis Con,” is so laughably transparent as to be unbelievable. Yet this dishonest, put-on, all-for-show snake-oil salesman somehow managed to become the Democratic Party’s presidential nominee in 2004. He began his acceptance speech by awkwardly saluting and squawking, “Reporting for Duty!” as if anyone in the known universe thought Kerry or any Democrat had the slightest allegiance to anything with any connection to America’s military. Since Jimmy Carter in 1976 and continuing right through today’s 2020 Democratic contenders, Democrats have been virulently anti-military, viewing its funding as robbing them of vote-bribing social program dollars and condescendingly regarding military people—from enlisted personnel all the way to senior command officers— as nothing more than unsophisticated war-mongering oafs, incapable of grasping the finer points of civilized society.

Today’s Democratic Party does not care about the good of the country as a whole, nor does any current Democratic presidential contender care about the military or understand much about its role. The Democrats are simply interested in winning elections and attaining power, not in furthering the best interests of the country. They look at the country as a big collection of special-interest groups, to be singled out as victims whose salvation shall be delivered for “free” by a Democratic-sponsored Government program. Women, blacks, Hispanics, people below the poverty line, LGBTQ, college students, seniors, and minimum-wage workers are all regarded by the Democrats as simply pieces of the electoral puzzle, to be won over with a taxpayer-funded program crafted just for them. Beneficiaries of such programs will vote for the Dems, while well-heeled liberals will assuage their personal guilt and bolster their self-esteem by voting in favor of them.

The military doesn’t fit into this plan. Military funding does not alleviate the suffering of a special-interest group in a vote-winning manner. Foreign policy success does not convince the 25-year-old with $72k outstanding in college loans to vote for you. F-35s may unerringly destroy their targets in hostile airspace but they will never shatter that supposed “glass ceiling.”

The John Kerry Democrats exploit their military service (if they even serve at all) as nothing more than a political checklist, while demeaning and devaluing the very institution they’re using to further their own personal fortunes. It’s quite a contrast to the way the Greatest Generation served their country. Very few, if any, soldiers serving in combat in WWII publicly identified themselves as Democrats or Republicans, as liberals or conservatives. They were simply Americans, united by a common goal, loyal to the country and to each other.

So it was with my dad. He served in the 338th Field Artillery Battalion in Italy. My dad was an FO (forward observer). The FOs would go to the front lines and find a suitable hiding place. There, they’d use their binoculars to observe how and where their cannon fire was landing, and they’d radio corrective instructions back to the battery.

338th Field Artillery Battalion Insignia

Obviously, the Germans hated the FOs, since they were the ones responsible for directing lethal fire down on them. One day, the Germans spotted my dad’s small group, holed up in a small abandoned house on a hill. No one knows for sure what gave their position away—perhaps it was a glint of sunlight reflecting off a binocular lens. But whatever it was, the Germans spotted them and brought their own 88mm guns to bear on the house. The Germans leveled it, with many American casualties. My dad was struck in the head by a falling beam. The survivors managed to get back to base and my dad was sent to the backlines for emergency surgery, which included the placement of a steel plate in his head.

Want to know what my dad’s most urgent request was following surgery? He wanted to know how soon he could rejoin his buddies at “B Battery.” That was not an uncommon request. U.S. soldiers had an extremely strong sense of commitment and devotion to each other and to their mission. Soldiers would routinely lie about their condition, telling the medical staff they were better than they really were, in an effort to get back to the “boys.” After the war, my dad returned home, got a degree in Civil Engineering under the GI Bill, earned a modest, respectable blue-collar salary in the construction industry and raised his family. He never spoke of the war, he never boasted about his bravery under fire, nor did he ever try to leverage his near-death Purple Heart experience for any kind of personal gain. Like millions of other WWII vets, he was simply a quiet, class guy who did his job and expected no special treatment.

John Kerry accepted three Purple Hearts for wounds no worse than falling off a bike and skinning your knee, all with the duplicitous intent of parlaying a blatantly false, inflated record of military “heroism” into a lucrative future political position. Kerry is the prototypical modern Democratic politician who is all about themselves, all about looking for electoral advantage regardless of the truth, all about Party before Country. Whether it’s favorable international trade deals, treaties/agreements between adversarial nations (like the Iran nuclear deal, the Paris Climate Accords, the Intermediate Range Nuclear Forces treaty, etc.), border security or anything else, President Trump uses just one benchmark to determine whether the U.S. will continue or withdraw from an existing agreement or enter into a new agreement: Will it benefit America?

Today’s Democrats employ Kerry-like reasoning in every move they make, in every vote they take, with every press conference or interview they give: “How will this benefit my personal power ambitions?” If the truth and the country have to suffer in subservience to personal and Party ambition, so be it.

My dad was better than that. Much better.

Among the various Democrat electoral strategies that involve attempts at damaging President Trump with the hope of preventing a win in 2020, we have the tax-return strategy. Now that Mueller has failed to come up with the goods, and given that most people realize that Nadler and company in Congress will be going over the same ground as Mueller with not nearly the same resources (neither financial nor in terms of expert prosecutors) in order to try and score political points, we have the spotlight turning towards Trump’s tax returns.

The language being used, as usual when it comes to the Trump opposition, is both apocalyptical and self-righteous. Here’s Steve Rosenthal at the Urban-Brookings Tax Policy Center, as quoted in The Hill:

[The] request tests Mnuchin’s oath of office: whether Mnuchin will faithfully execute the laws of the United States, or whether Mnuchin will bend to the will of the president.

Which also sets up the narrative of Mnuchin the faithful loyalist who’s breaking the rules for evil President Trump. But, Rosenthal’s over-the-top assertions aside, is the Secretary of the Treasury actually breaking any rules by declining to release the president’s tax returns?

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal of Massachusetts is reportedly using U.S. Code Section 6103 (f) as a way to try and force the IRS, and therefore Mnuchin (given that the Internal Revenue Agency is part of Treasury), to disclose President Trump’s tax returns from the past few years. Here’s what U.S. Code Section 6103 (which deals with disclosure of tax information by the IRS and which in most cases stringently prohibits it) subsection (f) in part states:

Upon written request from the chairman of the Committee on Ways and Means of the House of Representatives, the chairman of the Committee on Finance of the Senate, or the chairman of the Joint Committee on Taxation, the Secretary shall furnish such committee with any return or return information specified in such request, except that any return or return information which can be associated with, or otherwise identify, directly or indirectly, a particular taxpayer shall be furnished to such committee only when sitting in closed executive session unless such taxpayer otherwise consents in writing to such disclosure.

In closed executive session. How reassuring, right? No problem with leaks from those sessions if it ever actually happens that President Trump’s lawyers accede to Chairman Neal’s written request.

While Section 6103 (f) provides the technical loophole that Democrats have been looking for, is it constitutional to force disclosure of a president’s tax returns?

Let’s start with the fact that income tax was nowhere in the constitution and income taxes didn’t appear until Lincoln needed to finance the Civil War and Congress established a tax in 1861 for that purpose. Then early in the 20th century, more income taxes on corporations followed. However, as David Herzig, a tax expert, outlines in Forbes the presumption was that taxes were public information:

When enacting the country’s first federal income tax to finance the Civil War, in 1861, Congress provided that all returns should be “open for examination.” Likewise, when Congress came up with the first income tax for corporations, in 1909, the law provided the returns “shall constitute public records and be open to inspection as such.”

But, by the 1920’s and 1930’s, the pendulum had shifted to privacy. These rules and norms were memorialized by the 1970s and 1980s in IRC section 6103.

In other words, U.S. Code Section 6103 was enacted by Congress some 30 to 40 years ago to push back against IRS disclosure of private tax information and to provide a wall of privacy. So, what we have is a tension between freedom of information and privacy. Here’s Herzig again:

IRC section 6103, protects taxpayers from forced disclosure and trumps the primary legislation for disclosure, the Freedom of Information Act. FOIA enables the public to inspect rulings and many other IRS documents, files, and memoranda, but it does not encompass “matters [that are] specifically exempted from disclosure by statute,” e.g., IRC section 6103.

Mnuchin is caught in this crossfire between administrative state regulations and Congress which of course enacted those very regulations in the 70’s and 80’s.

President Trump, as a political choice, should have been more amenable to releasing his returns. His refusal seems to reflect his thinking as a businessman rather than as a politician, which is part of why he was elected. But now we have a tactic that Democrats are going to use to hint darkly that Trump must have debts with Russian banks or goodness knows what else and this compromises him.

The problem is changing key norms dealing with taxes because Trump is president. This is something Congress should legislate if they truly believe they should make it law that any nominee for President has a legal obligation to release their tax returns. As Herzig writes:

By amending IRC section 6103 for presidents, vice-presidents or some subset (i.e., party nominees), Congress can rebalance the rules. But approaching legislation in a knee-jerk fashion is problematic. It is no fun to say we should weigh and contemplate such a change, but it is necessary.

Americans value privacy.

Or do they?

In answering that question, it is interesting to note that the two New York legislators who are pushing for a law obliging the release of tax returns for top officials in New York State, have themselves reportedly not yet done so.

If we’re going to return to a presumption that individual tax returns are public information at least for certain offices in government, then the Federal Government (rather than individual states) may be the way to go. But would that mean that private taxpayers are next?

Tax returns as instruments of shaming private citizens and not just politicians in the public square? Think about that as you consider what AOC tweeted:

We didn’t ask you.

Here’s an interesting idea put forth by The Washington Examiner’s Daily on Energy. The wild card in this second round of talks between President Trump and Kim Jung Un is coal. North Korea’s coal exports to China, in other words. Apparently, UN sanctions have worked because China has complied with America’s demand that they stop buying DPRK coal. And of course, Trump has reportedly just recently extended the deadline for the scheduled tariff increases on a wide range of Chinese imports, thereby apparently delaying a damaging trade war as negotiations with Xi’s regime continue. Here’s what Daily on Energy’s John Siciliano and Josh Siegel write:

North Korea’s economy depends on coal exports, but crippling United Nations sanctions have cut back its shipments to China — its largest buyer — to zero.

That means that Trump has the option of a concession related to coal in reaching a deal with North Korea to give up its nuclear ambitions.

If Kim Jung Un renounces his pursuit of weapons of mass destruction, he gets his coal trade back with China, and perhaps some exchange of expertise between the U.S. Energy Department and Pyongyang.

Trump could also look to patch up the country’s ailing electricity grid through this exchange, or facilitate discussions with American engineering and electricity firms to help rebuild its grid.

The Energy Department has been promoting U.S. energy expertise abroad as part of Trump’s energy dominance agenda, while also touting natural gas exports to countries throughout Asia.

As well it seems U.S. exports of coal to China have soared since the crippling sanctions kicked in, so China hasn’t had to go without the fuel for one of its main sources of electricity, coal-fired power plants. That means that places like West Virginia seem to have been eating Kim’s lunch. And now Trump has a carrot to dangle before Kim’s power-hungry eyes. You give up nuclear weapons, you get your coal exports to China back and we might even help you with your electricity grid, although one would suspect the South Koreans have wanted that piece of action for a few decades now.

The other interesting part to this speculation is how China would react to such tactics by America because if South Korea has an interest in any rebuilding of North Korea if a peace treaty is ever signed, one can imagine China’s interest is as great in maintaining North Korea as a client state and a junior member of their silk road scheme.

The odds of this working out are not overwhelming unfortunately, precisely because such a plan’s success depends on people like Kim Jong Un and President Xi, one of whom is a crazed communist autocrat, the other a ruthless communist leader. Trump – as Victor Davis Hanson writes in National Review – was the one whose relentless attacks on China over the past couple of years have actually caused a real China pivot among the foreign policy establishment towards recognizing the dangers of Xi’s regime and its ambitions, even as Trump tries to improvise and keep things on a personal level, often undermining his very own political instincts on the threat China is to America and the West.

Will Trump prove to be the blunt truth-teller on North Korea? Right now, that seems a stretch, because the Kims’ regime has sunk every American and Western ambition of sealing some sort of peace deal or of neutralizing its aggressive and dangerous military projects.

Once again, Trump has the chance to prove his critics and doubters wrong on North Korea. Perhaps a tactic of using coal as a bargaining chip with both China and North Korea could work. There are plenty of reasons why it might not, however. As Democrats turn up the volume on the impeach-Trump show, it would be wise to keep an eye on the meetings in Asia this week.

Danger Abounds for 2020 Democratic Presidential Contenders

© 2019 Steve Feinstein. All rights reserved.

 

Conventional wisdom posits that in the presidential primary season, the contenders focus most of their attention and efforts on the more extreme wing of their party, the thought being that these rabid partisans—be they extreme-left or extreme-right—dominate the primary voting turnout and thus play a decisive role in determining their party’s eventual nominee.

On the Democratic side, the first set of putative nominees (typified by Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Corey Booker, Kirsten Gillibrand, Julian Castro and the presumptive entry of Bernie Sanders) has obviously been influenced by the strain of über-liberal AOC-like thought, as they engage in a race to out-liberal each other, with their proposed Government giveaways reaching new heights. Astonishingly enough, Ocasio-Cortez’ undeservedly-hyped, bereft-of-specifics Green New Deal (along with Sanders’ 2016 tenets) has served as the blueprint for every Democratic contender’s platform. For them, no amount of Government-provided largess is too much or too unrealistic. Indeed, they present the notions of taxpayer-funded healthcare, free tuition, student loan forgiveness, guaranteed employment and income, guaranteed affordable housing, and unrestricted immigration as if they are perfectly normal, to-be-expected obligations of American government.

The liberal media—eager for political-presidential news of any kind and especially stories of the ‘we really, really hate Trump’ variety—is inclined to give these early declarees an unprecedented amount of coverage, since covering them and their hyperbolic anti-Trump rants gives the liberal networks the opportunity to present an almost unlimited amount of over-the-top anti-Trump stories under the guise of legitimate news: “We’re simply covering what Corey Booker said.” That Corey Booker’s opinion of President Trump is in ironclad lockstep agreement with CNN’s editorial stance is merely a happy coincidence.

The risk that all these early announcers face is overexposure and too-soon critical evaluation of their proposals. The danger for these early-announced Democratic contenders is threefold:

  1. Sameness and lack of individual identity and uniqueness. What is the difference between Harris, Warren, Sanders and Booker and their wildly anti-capitalist, pro-Socialist, ‘free everything for everyone” proposals? How is Harriscare different and better than Berniecare or Elizabethcare?
  2. Damaging early policy evaluation. Trump beat Hillary in large part by winning the votes of previously Democratic blue-collar voters in PA, OH, MI, FL and WI. The middle of the Democratic voting bloc doesn’t agree with all the radical positions espoused by this first wave of contenders. The longer these positions are exposed to the harsh sunlight of analysis, the more likely that a greater number of “ordinary” Democratic voters will reject them. Maybe the rabid extreme Progressive primary voters won’t, but the casual rank-and-file Democrat—the “Trump” Democrat—likely will. Polls will sour. Publicity will turn negative. That new shine will lose some of its luster.
  3. For a politician, being in the public eye for too long can be hazardous. “Familiarity breeds contempt,” as the old saying goes. Perhaps Warren’s caustic, screechy voice will wear thin after several months on center stage. Perhaps Bernie’s advanced age will suddenly become frighteningly apparent and unacceptable to Millennial Progressives, and he goes from “cool old guy” to “Who are you kidding, Grandpa?” in the blink of an eye. Perhaps some embarrassing and undeniable blemish from Harris’ or Booker’s past emerges and there’s no explaining it away. The longer the at-bat, the greater the chance of a swinging strike three.

All this leaves an opening for the Second Wave, a slightly more moderate brand of presidential contender. Seth Molton, Joe Biden, Terry McAuliffe, John Hickenlooper or someone else. Possibly more palatable to a wider swath of voters. While they are just as capable of spouting anti-Trump do-goodism, give-stuff-away-free policies as the Early Contenders, they’d have an ability to speak to the Ohio/PA/MI blue-collar Democratic voter that went for Trump in 2016—and make a convincing case—in a way that the pro-Green New Deal Harris, Booker and Warren never could. Can any of the Second Wave do it? While it’s probably easier and more convincing in a general election campaign for a relatively moderate centrist Democrat to spout ultra-left positions than it is for a super-progressive to attempt to convince the middle of the voting populace of their moderate positions, this Second Wave would suffer from being behind the curve in terms of fundraising, name recognition (except for Biden), organization/logistics and they all run the risk of appearing opportunistic and insincere.

Staking out such a far-Left position may help the Democrats in the primaries but may well prove to be a handicap in the general election. Remember, the Democrats have moved much farther Left than the Republicans have moved Right. A very strong case can be made that Republicans have not moved Right at all since 1960, but compared to a 1960 JFK Democrat, today’s Progressives are unrecognizable. Points of fact:

  1. The words, “Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country” from Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural speech seem laughable, utterly impossible, by today’s Democratic standards.
  2. Today’s Democrats no longer propose great national scientific or military initiatives like the Moon Landing or closing the Missile Gap, undertaken under a Democratic Administration strictly for the country’s benefit as a whole. In contrast, modern Democrats craft their policy proposals in response to the needs of special interest groups (women, minorities, immigrants, LGTB, etc.), for the purpose of buying that group’s votes with a taxpayer-funded program. As predictable as day turns into night, if there’s a perceived issue affecting a demographic group, the automatic current-day Democratic response is to invent a new Government program to “cure” it and raise taxes to pay for it.
  3. Republican positions of limited taxation, necessary-but-reasonable business and environmental regulations, a strong military, support for law and order, favoring the philosophy of giving all groups equal opportunities vs. trying to artificially fabricate equal outcomes—these are unchanged from 60 years ago. It is the Democrats who’ve moved so far Left they’ve had to change their name to Progressive. Republican governing ideals are essentially unchanged.

Pointing this out infuriates today’s Democrats, but it’s a matter of easily-observable fact, not opinion. The 2020 Democratic GND platform may appeal to effete coastal elitists who live in their unsullied theoretical world, but Joe and Jane registered Democrat factory worker/shelf stocker/middle manager isn’t going to buy into it. If Booker-Harris-Warren don’t float their boat, is Biden too old? McAuliffe too used-car-salesmanish? Molten too opportunistic? Hickenlooper too strange?

The economy is doing very well, and peoples’ kids are getting good jobs and supporting themselves. Stocks are way up vs. the Obama years, recent volatility notwithstanding. Europe has finally been told to ante up for its NATO defense. We’re producing a lot of oil and natural gas and everyone is really happy about it (whether they admit it out loud or not). The liberal media have finally met their match, and again, an awful lot of people like it. It is very easy and defensible to say that President Trump’s “official” approval numbers are understated by 5-10%, at least, by all those liberal-leaning polls with their liberal-leaning methods and overly-liberal sample compositions. Every poll that has President Trump at 45% is likely 55% in the privacy of the voting booth.

That is how and why President Trump beat HRC so handily in 2016 and why the polls were so wrong. Democrats may think that President Trump is easy pickings in 2020 and all they have to do is promise a lot of free stuff and repeat the words “Fair share!” over and over again.

In fact, Democrats are in for one very difficult uphill slog in 2020, and baring some unforeseen random outside factor, they probably will not reach the top.

It seems that more than few commentators are not that miffed about the cancellation of the State of Union Address courtesy of Speaker Pelosi. The attitude among many conservative and libertarians seems to be: good riddance to the spectacle. Yes, I agree it’s a bit like the Oscars, if you’re one of those people (like me) who no longer watches them or only occasionally blips by them when they’re on. But I insist that the State of the Union does have a purpose and its cancellation for petty, partisan reasons is a shame and quite different from the reasons that many conservative commentators give for returning it to its Jeffersonian form of a written report delivered to Congress.

But now we have the next move in the battle of the border. And I must admit my reaction to Trump’s response upon reading the headlines was a loud laugh. Here’s how President Trump’s letter to Speaker Pelosi opens:

Due to the Shutdown, I am sorry to inform you that your trip to Brussels, Egypt, and Afghanistan has been postponed. We will reschedule this seven-day excursion when the Shutdown is over. In light of the 800,000 great American workers not receiving pay, I am sure that you would agree that postponing this public relations event is totally appropriate. I also feel that, during this period, it would be better if you were in Washington negotiating with me and joining the Strong Border Security movement to end the Shutdown. Obviously, if you would like to make your journey by flying commercial, that would certainly be your prerogative.

Look. Trump’s the guy, that without intending to, got a room full of belly laughs at the UN last September, so please forgive me if I guffawed heartily when reading about Nancy’s ruined jaunt to Europe, Egypt and to Afghanistan. Sometimes a good belly laugh is quite a healthy thing.

Yes, this is ridiculous. This is petty on a grandiose scale. This has become Gatsbyish pettiness, worthy of a great American novel. Tom Wolfe couldn’t write this. And if someone did write this, the editors would ask them if they could just please make it a little more realistic because for goodness sake, revenge in Washington doesn’t work that way.

It does now.

So, one has to ask: what sort of damage did President Trump do to the process of government and governing in America by cancelling Speaker Pelosi’s chartered flight to Europe, Egypt and Afghanistan? Aside from the fact that the latter is where America’s longest war – a war with precious little victories to show for billions in treasure and thousands in American lives – has been fought for the last 17 years, what was the purpose of the Speaker’s visit?

The Daily Beast has a piece that treats Pelosi’s trip as reverently as if it was Nixon heading to China or Reagan to Reykjavík:

For more than three weeks, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her staff had quietly planned an international trip to Brussels and Afghanistan to check in on America’s longest war. Like most congressional delegations—“CODELs”—it was time-consuming work, involving coordination between numerous agencies, stakeholders, and international officials along with extra security briefings because of the danger of the destination.

Pelosi’s chief of staff worked with a liaison from the U.S. Air Force who was the lead in setting up travel arrangements and the itinerary for the trip. Senior officials at the Pentagon also had been read in on the speaker’s plans, especially those regarding her visit to war-torn Afghanistan, where extra security was needed for her time in Kabul. Two senior officials on the ground in Afghanistan said they received the itinerary for the trip, as they do other congressional trips, weeks in advance and held it close to the chest. Fellow members of Congress made similar accommodations as they prepared to accompany the Speaker on the CODEL.

Yes, you need to plan a little to make sure that the Speaker of the House of Representatives is safe and secure when going anywhere, especially where islamic terrorists would delight in assassinating her. But often these Congressional Delegations are undertaken to provide the soundbites for policies or positions they’ve already put in place back at home. While flustering low-level Pentagon officials might be a little rude, it is hardly a dangerous thing to do to keep the plane on the ground and Nancy at home unless she pays up for commercial.

Who can guess where this goes now? Nancy will be furious and desperate for her revenge in this increasingly personal battle (it’s been personal since Trump won the nomination, but this is on another level of animosity now) that’s about blunt hostility and polarized bases braying for blood.

But just for a moment, it was great to laugh. We now get to go back to the bickering and plotting. Oh yay.

This past Friday, the NYTimes revealed that the FBI started a probe on Trump’s possible collusion directly with the Kremlin back in 2017. Of course, no evidence of such collusion – especially of any direct links between Putin and Trump – has been found as of yet, but process crimes that are dubious at best in the case of Mike Flynn, and tax fraud by former associates/sleaze ball Paul Manafort and his second in command Rick Gates have been filed.

But consider the motivations for the FBI opening this probe (apart from the Mueller probe). In a CNN-politics piece back in December they open with this leading paragraph:

In the hectic eight days after President Donald Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and top FBI officials viewed Trump as a leader who needed to be reined in, according to two sources describing the sentiment at the time.

In other words, because of Trump’s policies and his style of governing, (this occurred less than 5 months into the new administration’s term in office), he needs to be reined in. And who amongst the Resistance would in fact disagree with this? Beneath the faux astonishment at what had been normal political procedures in a transfer of power, (until Trump won the election), was the hostility and even hatred of Trump and his ideas. And this hostility was directly translated into an abuse and overstepping of any reasonable bounds of the FBI’s mission and scope of authority. What business is it of the FBI to rein in any president? The mechanisms are in place and they’re in Congress. Not in the president’s own executive branch of power. As The Federalist’s Mollie Hemingway puts it:

Mueller engaged in a limitless “Russia” probe that has rung up countless Trump affiliates for process crimes unrelated to treasonous collusion with Russia to steal the 2016 election, and spun off various investigations having nothing to do with Russia in any way.

The latest Times report does provide more detail than these earlier reports, however, and none of it makes the FBI look good. In fact, it provides evidence of a usurpation of constitutional authority to determine foreign policy that belongs not with a politically unaccountable FBI but with the citizens’ elected president.

The evidence of this is everywhere and they’re not even bothering to hide it anymore.

And Mueller’s probe has gone from one zealous assault to another, often inventing new crimes in the process. But that’s what prosecutorial power is like in today’s world.

Consider, Mueller officials have apparently leaked details to The Daily Beast about a breakfast meeting in late January, 2017, a few days before the new administration was to assume power. The crime? Hard to say, but because it was held at the Trump Hotel in D.C. and involved various foreign dignitaries, there seems to be an intent to resurrect the emoluments clause strategy, a dubious legal claim when it was first proposed.

And for The Daily Beast it was an opportunity to attack Devin Nunes for having the temerity of being there. They admit several paragraphs in that he is not being accused of committing any wrongdoing. But they linger on the fact that Mike Flynn was at the meeting. Yes, the new National Security Advisor generally meets with foreign dignitaries a few days before he assumes office. It’s called a transition of power.

But what we now have is the Mueller probe looking into who paid for the inaugural process. Here’s The Daily Beast:

The breakfast has come under scrutiny by federal prosecutors in Manhattan as part of their probe into whether the Trump inaugural committee misspent funds and if donors tried to buy influence in the White House. The existence of that probe was first reported by The Wall Street Journal. The Special Counsel’s Office is also looking at the breakfast as part of its investigation into whether foreigners contributed money to the Trump inaugural fund and PAC by possibly using American intermediaries, as first reported by The New York Times. Robert Mueller’s team has asked Flynn about the event, according to two sources familiar with the Special Counsel’s Office questioning.

The reasons for Mueller’s probe keep changing. But the target has always been President or Candidate Trump and how to ensure he didn’t reach the White House and once he reached the White House, how to try and ensure that he would be impeached. Here’s Mollie Hemingway concluding her piece in The Federalist:

In sum, the framing of this New York Times article is either poorly conceived or outright disingenuous at every turn. Using the completely lawful and constitutional firing of the bumbling Comey as pretext for opening a criminal investigation into the president is a grand abuse of power by the FBI. Attempting to overtake the authority to determine U.S. foreign policy from the lawfully determined president of the United States is a violation of the U.S. Constitution.

For one of the nation’s largest newspapers to suggest that this makes the president — and not the FBI — look bad actually validates two of Trump’s biggest complaints: the media are hopelessly biased, and there really is a “deep state” out to overturn the 2016 election.

I’m not sure anything in the Mueller report will change minds on either side of the issue. And it’s a seemingly similar dynamic playing out over the Border Wall fight: what was acceptable before Trump is immoral in the case of the border wall, or treasonous in the case of the Mueller probe, if Trump’s administration is involved.

Hostility towards President Trump is fraying the constitutional order in America. Not good.

The Washington Post’s Daily 202, penned by James Hohmann, tried today to put the focus on another Paul Manafort screw up that may perhaps indicate some sort of cooperation with Russia on polling data. Unfortunately for Hohmann, the sources he quotes actually admit that most of that data was public anyway. Here’s the Daily 202:

“A person knowledgeable about the situation” tells the Times that both Manafort and Rick Gates, the deputy campaign manager, transferred the data to Kilimnik in the spring of 2016 as Trump clinched the Republican nomination: “Most of the data was public, but some of it was developed by a private polling firm working for the campaign, according to the person. Mr. Manafort asked Mr. Gates to tell Mr. Kilimnik to pass the data to Oleg V. Deripaska, a Russian oligarch who is close to the Kremlin and who has claimed that Mr. Manafort owed him money from a failed business venture, the person said.”

Anonymous sources who have at least 2 or 3 degrees of separation from whatever actually happened are telling us that perhaps some of the data was not publicly available. This sure feels like Glenn Simpson’s Fusion GPS still hard at work feeding pliant journalists to ensure the Mueller probe stays front and center.

Again, Paul Manafort seems to be the type of lobbyist who would do whatever he thought would bring him economic benefit short of commissioning a hit on somebody or planting bombs in apartment buildings to get elected, something Putin is suspected of having engineered back at the turn of the century. But as of yet there is hardly any real clinching evidence that Manafort was looking for Russian help to get Trump elected while at the same time hoping to pay off supposed debts owed to people in Russia.

Is it impossible? Of course not, but let’s wait for the final report.

However, Hohmann seems to have failed in his quest to get the media to maintain the Mueller probe at center stage, because all the buzz right now is about Trump walking out of a meeting with Pelosi and Schumer because of Nancy’s rigid insistence on not a penny for a wall.

The Mueller probe is already a rerun on declining ratings, slipping out of people’s consciousness unless it produces some dramatic evidence.

It’s not The Apprentice. It’s no longer even The Probe.

It’s The Wall everybody.

And the Wall is just a symbol (it’s more than that of course, it’s part of any comprehensive solution to border security but it’s mostly a symbol right now) for deep divisions over what America’s immigration policy should be. Which of course begs the question of what exactly is the Democratic Party’s position on immigration?

But the issue has been ripped out of the hands of politicians who were, on the whole, never that eager to have rigorous application of the law as well as ripped out of the hands of those in business who don’t mind paying cheaper wages. It is now in the hands of hardline activists who like any good radical will continue pushing out the envelope on what constitutes immigration and what rights a sovereign state should have over its borders until the envelope (that is the bundle of rules and regulations that control a nation’s immigration) is a shredded, flapping bit of recycled paper blown along the sidewalks of Laredo.

Trump took on the evasive and hypocritical conventional wisdom on immigration and its economic consequences and was in large part elected because of that. And now he’s facing the hard left who have a vision of borders and sovereignty that is orders of magnitude beyond anything Democrat and GOP Senators proposed a few years ago. So, this fight does truly matter and if President Trump really did mean what he said (despite the inflammatory rhetoric he loves in order to provoke) then he should keep fighting this fight.

Congress is another matter. And independents – as Byron York has pointed out – are also another matter and a key and diminished constituency that he has to convince in order to win the War of the Wall.

Did his speech do that? Maybe. Maybe not. But the fight continues regardless. And that may now mean considering using emergency powers to get the border wall funded.

Which will mean a whole new fight in the courts perhaps all the way up to SCOTUS.

That may not be a bad thing in the longer run. In the shorter run, it will get a little rough, to say the least.

Let’s review Senator McConnell’s words regarding the stopgap spending bill that punts the issue of funding the border wall into the next Congress. Feb 8 to be exact, six days short of Valentine’s Day. Here’s some of the Majority Leader’s wisdom:

We need the government to remain open for the American people.

No, you don’t Mitch. You need the government to remain open because you love your job and you will do nothing you calculate endangers your next re-election. Especially funding from business groups that aren’t all that worried about a porous southern border, to put it politely.

We need to wrap up our work for this year.

You didn’t wrap up your work, Mitch. You spiked the memos and headed home where the wrapping is on the presents under your tree, not on comprehensive border protection. Yes, criminal justice reform got done. Bravo. There’s lots more to do and you essentially handed “work” on the border over to Nancy Pelosi. Who will do to funding for border security what no Democrat (nor many Republicans) dare do to any government program at all – like say the National Institute of Health funding a $442,000 study of male prostitute behavior in Vietnam:

Starve the border wall to death by defunding it.

There will be important unfinished business in front of us, and we’ll owe it to the American people to finally tackle it.

Smooth, Mitch, very smooth. Words like “it” and “unfinished business” could refer to any piece of legislation lined up for Senate consideration. With a Democrat House, whether the border wall gets any additional dollars at all now remains to be seen. But President Trump remains bombastically optimistic, as he tweeted:

In our Country, so much money has been poured down the drain, for so many years, but when it comes to Border Security and the Military, the Democrats fight to the death. We won on the Military, which is being completely rebuilt. One way or the other, we will win on the Wall!

He’s right on money being poured down the drain. But Trump looks like he’s clearly lost another border wall battle. And perhaps lost the war as well. And that has Freedom Caucus members worried, and betrayed-by-Trump’er Ann Coulter furious as usual:

If anything, Trump’s vulgar narcissism made his vow to build a wall more believable. Respectable politicians had made similar promises over the years — and they always betrayed the voters. Maybe it took a sociopath to ignore elite opinion and keep his word.

On the basis of his self-interest alone, he must know that if he doesn’t build the wall, he has zero chance of being re-elected and a 100 percent chance of being utterly humiliated.

But when Trump is alone with Ivanka, they seem to agree that the wall has nothing to do with it. The people just love him for who he is! In a country of 320 million people, I’m sure there are some, but I have yet to meet a person who said, “Yeah, I don’t really care about immigration or trade, I just love his personality!”

Don’t stop there, Ann.

She doesn’t. After suggesting that Trump should have used the military to build the wall if Congress couldn’t get it done, she suggests there is far more support for the wall than people like McConnell realize. Or perhaps care, seeing their priorities are different. And that comes back to Trump’s persona versus Trump’s policies. This non-shutdown and border wall surrender – and that’s exactly what Schumer has called it, a retreat – may be far more damaging to Trump’s presidency than he realizes.

Does Trump indeed realize that? Or does he believe he can somehow strike a deal with Chuck and Nancy and somehow get enough of his wall built to say he delivered on a key campaign promise? Ann Coulter is suggesting that if he doesn’t get some sort of a wall built, and more than just some really, he will be seen as a blowhard. By his own supporters.

Coulter may just be right.

This changes things. Not because it necessarily alters the facts, although it does shed a different light on Michael Flynn’s perspective of the interview on January 24th, 2017 with the 2 FBI agents. And the “this” that changes things, is Judge Emmet Sullivan’s courtroom tirade. Here’s part of what he said:

You were an unregistered agent of a foreign country while serving as the national security adviser to the president of the United States. Arguably this undermines everything this flag over here stands for.

And yes, the judge pointed at the Flag in the courtroom as he unleashed his accusation against Flynn. The foreign country is not Russia, however. It’s Turkey, which Flynn did indeed lobby for while failing to register as a foreign agent, before becoming Trump’s National Security Advisor. Registering as a foreign agent has been more of bureaucratic form-filling exercise until lately. It has now assumed the moral weight of a felony in Judge Sullivan’s eyes.

Is the Judge legally or even politically right?

It doesn’t matter if the question is fair, unfortunately. There are surely plenty of Democrat examples of unregistered agents who got away with it because it wasn’t something that really mattered much in Washington. Call it acceptable practice to be sloppy about registering. That has now become an untenable position to take. This means far greater transparency brought to bear on foreign lobbying in America. And theoretically, who can argue with greater transparency? So, one can see a host of foreign lobbying regulations coming around the bend or being rigorously enforced if they are already in existence.

But the real question is: did Flynn’s lack of registration mean he somehow is guilty of treason? Because that’s what Judge Emmet has implied, even if he reportedly walked back his words somewhat. It’s clearly what the judge feels. If it is somehow treason, then Washington’s foreign policy establishment should start getting worried, regardless of what side of the aisle they happen to work for.

Now, let’s consider the memo on the Flynn interview that Mueller’s team just released. It’s highly redacted but it clearly shows the agents getting into the weeds of foreign policy by asking Flynn if he talked about sanctions with Russia’s ambassador during the transition period between the election and the inauguration.

Flynn’s answers were cautiously neutral and noncommittal. What ferking business are delicate foreign policy questions for a sitting National Security Advisor (who was an incoming NSA at the time of the conversations with ambassador Kislyak) to a couple of FBI agents? In other words, was Flynn obliged to answer the FBI’s questions? Would no answer have been a lie? These are impossible legal questions. But easy political ones. Comey by his attitude in that recent interview in Manhattan which I detailed in the last blog, clearly thought it was a no-win situation that a better organized administration would have never allowed to happen without a lawyer present.

And now we have a judge lambasting Flynn over his Turkey lobbying and thus somehow giving credence to the theory that he deliberately and knowingly lied in the FBI interview. Which the Mueller team has also recently insisted on. And which Flynn now has seen fit to agree with. He has no other choice at this point, really.

But in all of this tempest, there is again no real evidence of collusion with Russia. Only a failure to register as an agent of the Turkish government. Unseemly, perhaps. A little shady? Yes, it is. But talking about sanctions with the Russian ambassador as the incoming NSA is in no way collusion. As much as Mueller’s team would like the public jury – that is, voters – to think so.

Flynn is being made the scapegoat for what were perfectly acceptable practices before Trump got elected president and the collusion story was put together in order to de-legitimize his administration. And it seems to be working. Fired Deputy Director McCabe is likely grinning ear to ear. His machinations have borne fruit.

Its not just what Christopher Steele said in early August in a defamation lawsuit brought by Russian bankers, or where he said it. It’s why he had to say it. Here’s one of the things Steele said in what seems to have been a written statement to the court:

Fusion’s immediate client was law firm Perkins Coie. It engaged Fusion to obtain information necessary for Perkins Coie LLP to provide legal advice on the potential impact of Russian involvement on the legal validity of the outcome of the 2016 US Presidential election.

Based on that advice, parties such as the Democratic National Committee and HFACC Inc. (also known as ‘Hillary for America’) could consider steps they would be legally entitled to take to challenge the validity of the outcome of that election.

Perkins Coie is an old well-established Seattle law firm. It has represented much of the West Coasts tech giants. It also is apparently counsel of record for:

  • The Democratic National Committee
  • The Democratic Leadership Council
  • The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee
  • The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee
  • And nearly every Democrat Member of Congress
  • As well as having represented the presidential campaigns of John Kerry, Barack Obama, and Hillary Clinton.

And leading its Political Law practice is the ebullient Marc Elias, he of the outstretched palms in a joyful evangelical display of hutzpah as he congratulated Minnesota voters in managing to get Al Franken in by a whisker and a recount back in 2008/9. It’s a heart-warming photograph especially the faces of the low-level Democrat officials, turned up in a sort of gleeful stupor at Elias’ relentless, celebratory partisanship. Which when combined with a top-notch legal mind becomes a formidable weapon.

But that weapon was sheathed in November of 2016 and only unleashed this past November in what seems to have proven to be a rather less successful attempt at turning the leadership of the Senate back over to the Democrats based on a few recounts in places like Florida, or Missouri. However, Elias and Perkins Coie were locked and loaded (Yes, I’ve just mixed my military metaphors. Sorry.) and ready to be used to contest the results of the 2016 presidential election.

So, what happened?

Somebody. A few people one supposes. Maybe John Podesta and others said: slow down. We won’t do this just right now. We have to use the dossier and the intelligence community to discredit Trump. We’ll do everything we can and asap, but we have to put the pieces together. I can imagine more than a few shouting matches over tactics, but the general agreement was to put the following political and legal plan into action.

  • Use the electors. Try to somehow convince them not to certify the election. If that doesn’t work.
  • Use the intel community. It’s already been working with us since early in 2016. Have the Steele dossier brought up in a meeting Trump had with then FBI Director Comey which is looking more and more like an entrapment scheme (one of many attempts that began around March of 2016 to draw in members of Trump’s campaign on promises of dirt through Russian connections) that would provide the necessary excuse for the media to mention its existence, especially the golden showers fabrication, and hopefully for some media site to release the dossier. Which is exactly what happened.
  • Entrap Mike Flynn (with the traps laid by former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe) a former Obama intel official  who was hated by the Obama administration and especially the Iran Deal wonks at State led by Ben Rhodes from his perch in the Obama White House. Use a legitimate meeting with the Russian ambassador as a pretext for absurd speculations on using the Logan Act which is itself an absurd bit of legislation that has sat dormant and unused on the books for centuries. And nail Flynn for what seems to have been mistakes and not lies.
  • Have Sally Yates and Bruce Ohr disrupt the Trump administration’s policies at DOJ.
  • Use the Trump Comey meeting and the discussion about Flynn to set up obstruction of justice charges.
  • Set up a situation where AG Sessions has to recuse himself because of legitimate contacts with Russia.
  • When Comey is predictably but tactlessly (in the military sense of the word) fired, use Comey’s friend – Columbia Law prof Daniel Richman – to leak Comey’s memo of the meeting in order to pressure Rod Rosenstein to appoint a special counsel.
  • If no real evidence of collusion is found by the special counsel, use obstruction of justice charges.
  • If even that doesn’t appear to be airtight, go after shady Trump associates on criminal charges that have to do with money-laundering and failing to register as lobbyists, all in order to portray a veneer of corruption around the Trump administration and lay the groundwork for impeachment.

Oh yes, and send Marc Elias back in after the 2018 midterms to see if he can work his magic again.

We wouldn’t have found about the recount plan and the closer than realized links between Perkins Coie and Steele and of course Fusion GPS if it hadn’t been for 3 Russian bankers associated with Alfa Bank (they of the supposed evil server that had a direct line to Putin’s bedside) who had the audacity to fight back in court.

And that pushback produced the documents where Steele stated the possibility, or more accurately the goal, of a recount back in November or December of 2016.

Thanks to the Washington Times for bringing this story into the open. Because mainstream media right now is all about how Cohen will drag down Trump. Which is a not impossible prediction.

But we should keep in mind that Democrats and Never-Trumpers in the intel community – in their desperation to keep Trump from the White House and now to impeach him – have effectively criminalized the transition period for all future incoming administrations. As well as made lobbying by any foreign government a much riskier proposition. This was not done for noble ends and will likely not end well down the road.

Gabriel Malor, a DC area attorney, has laid out the way the SDNY prosecutors – working out of New York’s Southern District and therefore working with one carefully calibrated degree of separation from Mueller’s team – will make the case against President Trump. And they will do so working in tandem with the Democrat House of Representatives. In a piece in The Federalist, he points out the ultimate irony for Trump.

This may be thought of as The National Enquirer Impeachment when the smoke has cleared, and the House has likely attempted to impeach and perhaps has indeed impeached President Trump.

The nuts and bolts of the case will be the payments made to Stormy Daniels and – perhaps even more so – the payments made to Playmate Karen McDougal through American Media Incorporated or AMI. That would be the owners of National Enquirer, who bought up the rights to McDougal’s life story which includes an affair with Donald Trump, of course. This was managed by Michael Cohen and his testimony may give the necessary evidence to prosecute the payments as a campaign finance violation on three counts:

  • It is unlawful, usually at least, for a corporation to make a direct payment to a campaign for a federal office. That’s why PAC’s exist. Was this a direct payment? If it was hush money to help Trump’s campaign, then yes it likely was.
  • It is unlawful to make a contribution to an election for federal office in excess of $2,700. Using a little math: $130,000 > $2,700. It’s hard to argue with that inequality. Again, as long as the payment to Stormy Daniels was for electoral and not just personal reasons, then it may very well be that Trump was an accomplice to this crime.
  • Cohen’s use of service contracts through shell companies to reportedly disguise the payments is in breach of campaign finance transparency laws.

Now here’s where Schiff the milquetoast coyote comes in. While pointing to these possible/probable crimes, he is already linking them to any possible legitimate contacts with Russia and eagerly trying to conflate the two separate cases. One is what’s looking like a campaign finance violation. The other is what is looking like little evidence so far of anything resembling true collusion with Russia.

As Malor points out, the Office of Legal Counsel has deemed that you can’t indict a sitting president, establishing this precedent during the Nixon/Watergate years. Finance campaign violations have a 5-year statute of limitations, apparently. But impeachment proceedings can start whenever the next Congress decides it wants to, which given the Cohen indictments and the possibility of Mueller wrapping up his probe, will probably be sometime in the last week of this coming January. Roughly speaking.

So that’s what Schiff is doing, trying to lay the groundwork for public support for impeachment. He’s got more than a little help on his side, unfortunately for the president. As I said in the last blog, this could have been avoided with a little more caution and a little more thought about process on the part of Trump’s campaign team. But when you hire people like Paul Manafort to run your campaign, that type of thinking is not part of the plan.

And yes, had Trump had a campaign team that was more thoughtful and cautious, he may not have won the election. What brought him to Washington may expel him from Washington as the powers that be across the administrative state, the judiciary and now a good part of Congress – never mind most of the media – have the perfect excuse to do what they’ve wanted to do since late on November 8th just over 2 years ago. Expel Trump from Washington.

If they do attempt this, and it seems certain they will, they should remember the reasons why Trump was elected and do so with a little humility and appreciation for the forgotten man and woman that brought the president to Washington D.C. But there is no humility to be seen anywhere. It died with George H.W. Bush, even if it was sometimes just an act by a very skilled politician, it was also real. And that reality is gone. So we now seem to be approaching the most climactic and (politically) bloody act of the Trump Presidency.

But even so, who can say this will be the final act? One should be very careful about assuming this will sink President Trump. Even if it will be a bloody winter in Washington.

Meng Wanzhou is the daughter of Huawei founder Ren Zhengfei and is also CFO of the company. She would have thought of Vancouver as a second city to her, seeing that it’s population of wealthy, successful Chinese immigrants practically own the city, and have it made it a completely unaffordable city for even many a hard-working professional who doesn’t have a cool 7 figures to drop on a modest 3-bedroom house.

Something changed and on Wednesday she was arrested in Vancouver in order to be extradited to America on charges relating to the company’s reported defying of sanctions on trading with Iran, as well as perhaps concerns about intellectual property theft, something that just about every major Chinese corporation or SOE is likely to have benefited from.

The Canadian prime minister quickly tried to distance himself from his own judiciary and even John Bolton has publicly said that President Trump himself might not have known. Or in fact, had known what was coming. But it’s possible Trump didn’t know about this, and it certainly undercuts his improvised ceasefire with Xi which was quickly put together at the G20 in Buenos Aires.

Is it the right thing to do? Espionage, especially industrial espionage, but also espionage in order to gain a commanding position in technologies that might be used in the next major war or are being used in various low-scale wars or confrontations with hybrid warfare, is something China has almost certainly been guilty of for some time.

Zhengfei himself was a People’s Liberation Army ex-officer when he founded Huawei back in 1987. It would hardly surprise if surveillance and espionage have been goals from the get go for the corporation. And that brings us to other nations that seem to have made the decision to distance themselves from Huawei’s products. Those nations are:

  • The UK: BT (British Telecom) has decided to remove Huawei equipment from key parts of its 3G and 4G networks. The head of MI6 stated that they would have to decide if they were “comfortable” with the use of Huawei equipment and the position of the Chinese tech company in general.
  • Australia and New Zealand: Governments in both countries have decided to block the use of Huawei equipment in their future 5G networks.
  • Canada: Canadian justice and law enforcement collaborated with America to detain and presumably to extradite Meng Wanzhou.

Let’s see, doing the math, that would add up to – including America of course – um, five countries right? Five Eyes you could almost say.

Although this is conspiracy wonking, it is interesting that the intel community across the Five Eyes alliance decided that a few days after Trump’s tentative deal with China would be the right time to arrest a key Chinese tech executive on Canadian soil, the last place Trump or Xi would have expected such an occurrence. This could be a coincidence. Or it could be a deliberate attempt by the intel community along with officials in Trump’s own DOJ (which remains the purview of Rod Rosenstein more than it is that of Acting AG Matthew Whitaker) to force the President’s hand. Frustration with a lack of sanctions that target espionage in particular could be their excuse.

Or they just want to disrupt the administration, and this is a great way to do it.

Unfortunately, aside from political motivations and questions about timing, this may very well turn out to be something that had to be done. Xi’s China has abused its privileges in the world trading system and is actively trying to intimidate and use its trading partners for its own mercantilist benefits. It comes at an awkward time and it smells a little of Trump derangement syndrome, but this will unleash a confrontation that has been building anyway.

I just wonder if President Trump had any idea this was coming.

Maybe Felix Slater – the Russian-born investor/developer/shady-biznethman – is closest to the truth in an interview he had with the Daily Beast on the topic of the Trump organization’s interest in building a Trump Tower in Moscow during late 2015 and up to mid-2016. He said:

It was like, ‘OK, shit, he got the nomination, it’s not happening, it’s not happening now—that was the idea.

If Michael Cohen did indeed have far more contacts with Russia – and even with an aide to Putin – during the first half of 2016, then maybe it was true that Trump the candidate was reluctant to let slip what he considered a good business opportunity in Moscow. And it could be that while Trump was enjoying the process of campaigning for the nomination and the conflicts and the increased media storm around him, he perhaps doubted that he would make it all the way to the White House, and still largely saw himself as a businessman.

But let go he eventually did. Whether the contacts in the late spring and early summer of 2016 are a case of Sater pursuing the deal on his own, or on behalf of candidate Trump, remains to be seen. But even if true, while uncomfortable because of the lies used to cover it up, it does not represent evidence of any collusion. And as Alan Dershowitz said to Fox’s Bill Hemmer regarding the Michael Cohen accusations:

I think the weakness of Mueller’s substantive findings are suggested by the fact that he has to resort to false statement prosecutions, which really shows that he didn’t start with very much, and that the very fact that he’s conducting an investigation has created these crimes. These are not crimes that had been committed prior to his appointment, they’re crimes that were committed as the result of his appointment, and that raises some questions about the role of special prosecutors in creating crimes or creating opportunities for crimes to be committed.

So, let’s review.

  • Trump announces candidacy in the summer of 2015.
  • Trump expresses interest privately in building a Trump Tower in Moscow in fall of 2015 a few months after his candidacy has been declared. It’s hard to say for how many years he’s wanted to build in the city, but one suspects it’s been a while.
  • Trump does far better than anyone expected in the nominating process and is nominated to the GOP and the world’s shock in late spring 2016.
  • Trump’s advisors have final contacts on a Trump Tower in Moscow around June of 2016.

The conspiracy theorists will say something like: it was hinted to Trump by Putin aides or cut-outs that he could help Trump win the election. A Trump Tower Moscow was a potential prize he suggested to the candidate back sometime in early or mid-2016, or perhaps later in the year.

This is probably ridiculous.

By June 2016, Donald Trump realized he had a very real shot at the presidency. Would he invite Russian interference in his own country’s elections to get a tower built? Trump haters will jump up and down and scream: you bet! But up to now, not a shred of evidence has been unearthed to support such a quid pro quo.

Dershowitz’s words remain very relevant when thinking about the Mueller (and the Kenneth Starr) probe. A pack of prosecutors in search of a crime. And yes, when you have associates like Cohen and Sater, prosecutors can and will find crimes to prosecute. But they haven’t found any collusion yet.

Let’s see what else emerges from the charges they laid against Cohen and what kind of evidence his 70 hours of testimony brings into the light.

Byron York has a piece in the Washington Examiner that analyzes Senator Cruz and President Trump’s transactional relationship. It’s fascinating and not necessarily for the reasons one would suspect. Yes, they were rivals, more or less friendly ones at the start of the 2016 presidential campaign, which means in the fall of 2015. Then as they emerged as the two top contenders for the GOP nomination, things got nasty starting in Iowa and coming to a head as Trump became nominee in the spring of 2016. Cruz lashed out at Trump and basically called him a vile narcissist who treated people – including Cruz’s feisty Cuban-born father – terribly.

Trump won the election, and things changed. And now Senator Cruz is not just an ally but a close ally of the President.

What a load of hypocritical horsesh!t right?

Maybe not so load-of-sh!tty, as a matter of fact.

Why so? Because of you. The voters. That’s why.

America is a republic. A democratic republic, with elected representatives who serve their voters. It is not an administrative state, as much as many in the beltway wish that ALL of America was one sprawling set of all-seeing agencies, and they could therefore go about their plans for a perfect, government-run state that takes care of all your needs and tells you everything you must and mustn’t do.

The reality usually sits somewhere between majority voters deciding every issue and that dystopian vision of how America should be according to the bureaucrats.

Seen that way, it is interesting how leadership nowadays is seen as the ability to ignore the unwashed majority’s demands and do unpopular things for their own good. Yes, that may have very well have been what the founders envisioned especially with regards the Senate. But the problem is that the good that is sought today is not what the founders would have called the good. The good today is a statistic. A compilation of statistics.

The Good, Plato’s fundamental cornerstone of what guides a just society, has now devolved down to what we call Big Data. Google therefore knows the good. Not you. And Google has the goods. On you. And to run all that data that tells the experts what is good and what isn’t – the rather narrow range of values that the global elites have agreed on for a couple of generations now – you need lots of administrators, don’t you?

In fact, the agencies in Washington are currently in a panic because their IT professionals are close to my age, which is nowhere near young. The administrative state and Silicon Valley are the same parts of an enormous blob that functions much more like old-fashioned oligopolies than their lean, disruptive, and innovative image that they nourish so carefully with the complicity of big media, would like you to think. And they need young blood to staff the blob.

So, the administrative state and its branches in tech and the media work around, over, and under the transactional relationship you should have with your representative. It’s one of the things that Trump is taking a sledgehammer to, and big Tech is pissed off naturally.

That means that transactional is an adjective that not only applies to foreign policy, or the relationship between Trump and Cruz, but also to the relationship between voters and their representatives. Voters enter into a transaction with any given candidate based partly on the candidate’s views (or ideology if you must use that frickin’ word) and on how they’ve voted once in office. With all due respect (which is very little) to Karl Marx’s coined phrase.

What gets in the way of that transaction between voters and their representatives is the administrative state. Yes, the Constitution itself sets up checks and balances to guard against the tyranny of the majority, but the administrative state is so deeply embedded within the executive branch itself, that it has flown under the radar of those checks and balances and only recently has it truly begun to be brought out into the light and attacked as undemocratic. From Justice, to the intel agencies, to the IRS and the EPA: the agencies that have accumulated so much power are at last a little more visible as to their ever expanding reach and thus more subject to voter anger.

Maybe that’s why voters lined up overnight to see the Trump-Cruz rally. They’re getting transactional with their elected representatives. They might even call it a grand bargain.

So, the Dow was down over 3% and the Federal Reserve has no choice but to tighten rates given the incredibly robust economy. Should we panic?

Rising interest rates in a growing economy with relatively benign inflation has not generally been a harbinger of doom, but a flattening yield curve (interest rates plotted against the length of maturities: usually 2 to 10-year maturities are the ones markets focus most on) does indicate a possibility of slower growth or even recession in the future.

But there’s another sliding market that’s perhaps more important right now, and for the future of the global economy: the slide in the Chinese yuan, the unit of account of the renminbi, China’s currency. For some reason the Chinese have to use two terms where most countries use one. America’s currency is the dollar and the unit of account is … you guessed it! The dollar!

Forecasters have been predicting the collapse of the Chinese bubble for years now, while the defenders of China’s economy suggest – reading from the official party script – that it’s all a case of careful fine-tuning of policies. Adjusting a little here. Tweaking a little there. Never mind mounting real estate debts. Never mind suspicious balance sheets at many banks. Never mind the shadow debts tucked away underneath all that new construction.

But do mind Trump and his trade conflicts.

Worries about U.S. tariffs hurting China’s export economy are truly coming home to roost, finally causing nervousness on the part of the main people whose opinion really does matter: the Chinese leadership. So, the question becomes: will China back down now or will it stick to its 30-year plan to World Domination, and ignore the pesky irritations of this surely one-term president?

Uh, maybe not?

These tariffs will cause damage, how much remains to be seen, but the damage will be and already is real. The question is, can they convince the Chinese leadership through their blunt force to start minimally respecting things like property rights and basic freedoms of their own people?

We don’t know at this point, but we will find out over the next few years. Trump has brought a sledgehammer where the experts have said he should use a finely-tuned laser. But there’s been a great deal of fine-tuning and little has changed in China’s ruthless mercantilism over the past two decades during which it has reaped enormous benefits from being a member of the WTO. Its behavior suggests it has not really deserved this privilege, but most countries look the other way and are glad to pick up what they can from leftovers of the banquets at the Great Hall in Beijing, speaking I hope to God, metaphorically. I don’t think the Prime Minister of Canada or the German Chancellor, for example, have actually gone scurrying under the tablecloth in Beijing to grab some crumbs, but you get the point.

Will Trump produce a noticeable change in China’s behavior? Or will he cause a real trade war? Or will he perhaps end up doing a bit of both, thereby giving his detractors just enough to holler about and give his defenders enough to praise?

And give his Chinese counterparts enough to worry about?

So that’s the loop.

Jeff Flake was assaulted in an elevator by an angry rape victim, Maria Gallagher, who has clearly made up her mind about Kavanaugh’s guilt on the basis of Professor Ford’s words and statements, and no other evidence. And anyway, it’s all symbolic don’t you see? He’s conservative, Catholic, and played football and basketball in high school. How could he be anything else but a predator, right? Her furious demands that Flake look her in her eyes will become the next MeToo rallying cry.

So now Flake has demanded – after voting Judge Kavanaugh out of committee along with the rest of the GOP – that there be an FBI investigation, as Senator Durbin demanded Kavanaugh himself ask for, in Thursday’s hearings’ most audacious move by Democrats. One that finally prompted Senator Graham to speak the words that had to be spoken that day.

But guess what? Flake’s wishes have come to fruition and we now have what the Senate Judiciary Committee’s statement calls:

The supplemental FBI background investigation would be limited to current credible allegations against the nominee and must be completed no later than one week from today.

Senators Murkowski and Manchin quickly expressed support for Flake’s idea before the rest of the Senate decided whether to go with Flake’s plea for what will be a rushed and inconsequential piece of political theatre. Democrats like Jeff Flake’s idea, shockingly.

That’s the loop. A background check by the FBI so that Manchin, Murkowski, and Flake can vote yes sometime next week. Or the week after. Maybe. While Collins seems to be leaning towards no, given her silence.

Do you think people like Maria Gallagher will approve of Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation because the FBI do a perfunctory 1-week background investigation? Does Senator Flake think this will somehow help to calm passions?

The answer to that question comes in the form of a rumor that Democrats are planning to launch impeachment proceedings against Kavanaugh should he be confirmed as a Supreme Court Justice. It is a given that Justice Kavanaugh would have to, and will have to if he is confirmed, live with round the clock security for at least the first year of his tenure. And perhaps for far longer.

Flake himself, as well as Grassley, have received threats and are under protection as well. Could we arm the Texas Rangers and have them provide protection?

How about we protect them like the overturned vehicles that surrounded Boris Yeltsin in the summer of 1991? Who gets to be that mythical architecture student who was crushed to death under the wheels of a Soviet Tank? Metaphorically speaking, of course. I think. I hope.

Which makes me think. Maybe there is a Russian connection after all, and it’s this one.

President Trump in fact really is the Boris Yeltsin of 21st century American politics.

Gorbachev the great reformer did not preside over the Soviet Union’s collapse. He desperately tried to keep it together under a collapsing command-and-control economy with a bloated military budget and a kleptocratic bureaucratic class. A supposed clown like Yeltsin was the one with the cojones to actually change it. And Yeltsin was more than clear about what he was up against. Despite the drinking. The silly dancing. The bumbling privatization schemes which helped created the oligarchs who are now firmly under Putin’s thumb.

The Soviet Union collapsed under the weight of its absurdities, but it was Yeltsin that forced those absurdities to the surface. Like Trump does on a daily basis it seems.

The good news is that America is America and that what Trump is presiding over is the collapse of institutional process – not the collapse of institutions themselves; I’m not saying that – in Washington D.C. Consider:

  • A senator is trapped in an elevator with a raging sexual assault victim.
  • That event perhaps changes the way the Senator will vote on the confirmation of a Supreme Court Justice.
  • The UN general meeting with the gathering of the world’s nations becomes a boring little footnote.
  • The Democrats seem to be planning impeachment proceedings against a possible Justice Kavanaugh, should he gain that position.
  • Violent threats from both ends of the spectrum cause increased police protection across the Hill.

And a 1-week background investigation will bring peace to the land? Sorry, don’t think so. This could get much worse. When do the tanks start rolling? Metaphorically of course.

Nothing produced so far in the Paul Manafort trial has had anything to do with any possible collusion with Russia on the part of Trump’s campaign back in 2016. So, Manafort’s plea bargain – which has a whole lotta plea and not much of a bargain – deals with tax fraud and not declaring your foreign lobbying activity. Things Manafort has most likely done, along with a significant percentage of other wealthy and connected beltway grifters like Tony Podesta, but done well before Manafort was even signed on as campaign manager in 2016.

Is there anything else?

That’s the question. Has Manafort held out on some information that somehow could be used to suggest or prove some sort of broadly-expanded definition of collusion? Because if they had found anything then Mueller would have charged Manafort with it. Andrew Weissmann has been leading the charge of course, and we’re not sure what he and Manafort will chat about now in order for Trump’s former campaign chief to be granted the leniency of merely a 10-year cap on any possible jail sentence. We’ll see but here’s a guess.

It will be some sort of attempt to link Manafort’s Pro-Russia Ukrainian connections to Trump’s campaign. Perhaps a money trail that leads, indirectly more than likely, to the Kremlin. But it has to be one that is relevant to what happened in 2016. Not what happened 5 or 10 years beforehand. But never mind, some sort of connection will be attempted. And again, they have spent millions and over a year trying to find one, using every possible avenue that’s available to a well-financed powerful special prosecutor. And they’ve come up with zilch.

As well, we now have what the hard-left Democrat base have been screaming for, some sort of possible if flimsy evidence that Brett Kavanaugh possibly may have had a #MeToo moment 36 years ago as a teenager at a party and therefore is disqualified to be a Justice. An anonymous letter that Senator Feinstein felt was too vague and too old to be useful. The woman who wrote the letter refusing to come forward. The media portraying the contents of the letter in contradictory ways. Rowan Farrow writing a hard-hitting piece in the New Yorker.

Perfect if you hate Kavanaugh and the possibility of a conservative, originalist court.

Or maybe not. This is an anonymous 36-year-old accusation that only surfaced when Kavanaugh had been nominated for the Supreme Court. What a coincidence, huh? It’s early days to see what becomes of the accusation, but if the media can out the woman – which they are surely trying to do at this moment – then maybe this story will stick and maybe Kavanaugh’s confirmation will somehow be sabotaged.

This is what happens when the opposition sees a blue wave coming in November. The rules of the game change and the hounds of war are released, howling and snapping and baying for blood. Ok, the progressive and NeverTrump hounds have been baying for blood for nearly 2 years now, but their cries are louder and are being listened to by Democrat strategists now that they see a House majority as a very real possibility and are even fondling the idea of a possible Senate takeover as well.

As well, the pressure on Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski will rise by orders of magnitude to try and ensure that Kavanaugh’s confirmation is voted down. Why? Because Trump’s approval ratings have fallen slightly, and because the polls are suggesting a Democrat House come November.

This will be tough week coming up for President Trump and it shows how partisan warfare makes it impossible for the Executive to focus the nation on what it has achieved. Jobs are plenty. The economy is booming. And everyone’s angry, divided and often isolated. How will everyone feel when the next recession hits?

The Judiciary was in the Constitution. But not the Department of Justice which was created in 1870 as part of the federal Executive Branch. But that doesn’t matter according to Harvard Law Professor Jack Goldsmith. Back in January he wrote this in Lawfare:

The most important guarantees of DOJ/FBI come not from the Constitution or statutes, but from norms and practices that since Watergate have emerged within the Executive branch.

Every presidency since Watergate has embraced policies for preserving DOJ and FBI independence from the President in certain law enforcement and intelligence matters.

In other words, make way for rules, protocols, regulations, and policies. Because of Watergate, you must get the hell out of the way and make room for Administrative State policy. As part of this broad perspective, Goldsmith attacks the Unitary Executive view and insists that the Executive should function like a mini-me of the Constitution: with competing factions divided against each other so that ambtion counteracts ambition within the Executive itself.

And the Executive is indeed showing some divisions, mostly between President Trump and AG Sessions, who responded to yet another Trump interview that sharply criticized Sessions with the AG responding with these words:

I took control of the Department of Justice the day I was sworn in, which is why we have had unprecedented success at effectuating the President’s agenda. While I am the Attorney General, the actions of the Justice Department will not be improperly influenced by political considerations. I demand the highest standards, and where they are not met, I take action.

Note the careful wording at a key point in his pushback and widely praised defense of the DOJ: will not be improperly influenced by political considerations.

Because the DOJ is in fact often, if not always, influenced by political considerations. Sometimes improperly so. Especially Obama’s DOJ during the electoral campaign for the 2016 elections and even more especially during the transition period. Acting AG Sally Yates, for example, ignoring Trump’s executive order in early 2017. And perhaps being involved in Associate Deputy AG Ohr’s illegal contacts with Chrisopher Steele. AG Lynch’s tarmac meeting with Bill Clinton, is another example as well.

Look, it’s doubtful anyone from the other side of the aisle are supporting Sessions because they think he’s a noble warrior. They detest Sessions’ values and his law-and-order policies. But they love that he’s in a struggle with Trump. So perhaps what we have is a floating unitary executive theory:

When we’re in power we suipport a strong and unified executive. When they’re in power, we support a weak and divided executive.

And of course, in this kind of environment, President Trump firing AG Sessions would almost certainly be a bad political move. Especially before the November elections, as Senator Lindsey Graham was careful to add when speculating about his former colleague’s future in Trump’s cabinet.

Perhaps we should think of it this way: A president firing his AG should require something close to “high crimes and misdemeanors” in order to be acceptable. Sessions might not have had to recuse himself according to some views, but had he not, we have no idea how the FBI – or even the DOJ under Sessions – would have proceeded with the Russia investigations.

Because indeed there were and are those in both the FBI and DOJ who would love nothing more than impeachment proceedings to be launched against Trump.

So the question becomes: how do you deal with a highly politicized DOJ and FBI? There seem to be two main roads you can take:

  • You take the high road and try to focus on process and hope that works. Like Sessions seems to be trying to do. OR
  • You get as partisan and political as your opponents in the FBI and DOJ and start firing people. Like Trump wants to do.

A separation of powers conundrum within the Executive Branch of government. This is a mess any way you look at it.

If you’ve been following the evidence as parsed by writers like Washington Examiner’s Byron York, National Review’s Andrew McCarthy, Chuck Ross at the Daily Caller, John Solomon in The Hill, and Lee Smith of Tablet and Real Clear Investigations, you can imagine that the intel community may well have been a key part of  a movement to prevent Trump from being elected, then to turn the Electoral College against him, then embarrass and discredit the new administration, and finally to lay the grounds for impeachment.

If you believe that Russia and Trump colluded you feel frustrated that they haven’t done their job, not that they are rather setting dangerous precedents. This includes a possible plurality of voters, most/much of the media, and a clear majority of any subset of progressive and liberal elites you could name in academia, Hollywood, government and even in finance.

In other words, the Mueller probe and the previous FBI investigations are merely a couple of additional – if vital – chess pieces in the culture wars. They are not – in the view of those who follow them at least – ways to reach some sort of understanding of the truth of a complex reality. They are confirmations of bias. The way the Mueller investigation is covered differs enormously depending on the media outlet that’s doing the covering. There seems to be precious little middle ground that reports from say. Politico and the Washington Times share.

It’s boiled down to two competing conspiracy theories:

  1. Hillary was given a pass and Trump was hard-balled in an effort to keep him out of and then to try and remove him from the White House.
  2. Trump colluded and needs to be removed from office – often by any means possible, save assassination … unless we have to resort to that as well.

But there is a reality out there. There are facts and witnesses and perhaps one of the two theories is closer to the truth. The fatal problem is that bias is so evident on the part of the intel community and partisan baiting is such a favorite tactic of President Trump that the result after all this is over will be thus:

All investigations are now political and therefore partisan. There is no true guilty or innocent. There is only what side of the aisle, or wall, or any other issue like abortion, you happen to be on. That means that the Judiciary is political in a way that the Founding Fathers would not have foreseen. Look at District Judges rendering judgement on Trump’s policy decisions through the court’s stays on executive orders they don’t agree with. That can work the other way should the tables turn. And turn they always do.

So Trump’s baiting of John Brennan who has been such a partisan critic of the President that even his colleagues – while defending his right to maintain his security clearance (even though it’s a privilege and not a right, unlike free speech) – have said he’s gone over the top, is a logical move on the chessboard of cultural warfare.

Should Brennan sue, Trump would use the legal process to discredit the ex Head of the CIA. Fighting witch hunts with show trials, ones that Brennan likely deserves. But America does not.

 

You know, I could say a few things about Bill Clinton – and yes some of them would even be about the peace and prospertiy that he had at least some role in creating for America – but right now, I’ll just say this:

Hillary and Bill and Trump are right. So are the Obamas, of course.

Aretha Franklin is gone. People grew up whose lives changed as they listened to her music. Whose lives were changed by her music. They all will be mourning her passing. She helped change the world. So when Bill Clinton tweets:

Like people all around the world, Hillary and I are thinking about Aretha Franklin tonight & listening to her music that has been such an important part of our lives the last 50 years. We hope you’ll lift her up by listening and sharing her songs that have meant the most to you.

He’s right tonight and while his tweet is too perfectly constructed, it is certainly heartfelt. Clinton is a pretty competent saxophonist and any musician has to appreciate the powerful beauty of Aretha Franklin’s work.

President Trump’s comments before a Cabinet meeting were a little rambling and were about him as well as Aretha, but they were just as heartfelt. And his tweet was actuallly presidential:

The Queen of Soul, Aretha Franklin, is dead. She was a great woman, with a wonderful gift from God, her voice. She will be missed!

But just wait. Here’s Hillary’s tweet:

Mourning the loss today of @Aretha Franklin who shared her spirit and talent with the world. She deserves not only our RESPECT but also our lasting gratitude for opening our eyes, ears and hearts. Rest in eternal peace, my friend.

You can feel it coming, can’t you? Right now tweets are being put together that will savage the President and praise MeToo and lament that Trump wasn’t MeToo’ed during the campaign. Why did they have to wait so long to publish the Harvey Weinstein story?? They will yell. And Aretha’s ghost will be raised in order to attack old white men – like a Shakespearean tragedy on amphetamines.

The Obama’s avoided this trap with their elegant and sweeping tribute:

Through her compositions and unmatched musicianship, Aretha helped define the American experience. In her voice, we could feel our history, all of it and in every shade — our power and our pain, our darkness and our light, our quest for redemption and our hard-won respect

But others won’t be so balanced, one fears.

This is not a comment on Aretha Franklin’s personal political views. One need not wonder if she was a fan of President Trump. She probably wasn’t, despite their previous professional relationship which seems to to have been good.

Soul heals like few other things do. We all have our stories. At least people my age do, and I suspect a lot of younger people as well. But it’s inevitable that Aretha’s passing will be weaponized and used and that’s just the way things are. But for now we should be thankful not just for the gifts she shared with us, but for the agreement she brings amongst adversaries.

If only for one precious moment.