“What we have is the president inarguably demanding of both the institutions and their leadership that their first priority is personal loyalty to him rather than to the norms that have governed their behavior for a couple of centuries.”
— Ret. General Michael Hayden (5/4/18)
By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (5/7/18)
Dear Fellow Readers,
Country over party. Didn’t all of us grow up saying the pledge of allegiance? Even if we didn’t contemplate the meaning, isn’t it self-evident? How can anyone misconstrue, “I pledge allegiance to my Flag and to the Republic for which it stands, one nation, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all“?
Justice means ‘equal’ for all, this isn’t a debate as if some are more equal, or more importantly, this cannot be contradicted to impose policies that fuel inequality by giving preference to some.
How can anyone accept the lies and chaos of Trump simply because they have an affinity for what they believe he stands for, that he somehow stands for ‘them’? An attitude that ends justify means challenges the rule of law, but even scarier is when Trumpsters go beyond a sense of infringement and believe in the means – pain and suffering for the undeserving and absolutism about their right to stand in judgment.
While we consider the sanctity of the higher ground let’s credit some of the defenses and rights we hold dear.
Stormy Daniels’s lawyer Michael Avenatti tweeted this on Sunday:
“Listen up: Not all cases are the same nor is the winning strategy. Here, the constant media/PR pressure has forced Trump, Cohen, et al. to make a series of huge errors and to make damaging admissions helpful to our case. This was not by accident. And we’re not changing.”
Who amongst us doesn’t have frustration with the media? But credit where credit is due. Imperfectly but perceptibly the media is making the case that Trump-Russia is substantiated and Trump’s behavior of corruption and lying over decades has consequences.
Or does Trump corruption have consequences? Let’s revisit from the last edition the stance of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein: Rosenstein Makes A Stand Against Trump’s Interlopers In Congress.
Rosenstein vowed that he would not violate his oath, that he will not bend to Russpublican threats of extortion and impeachment.
The quote is by Attorney General Robert Jackson, from the Roosevelt administration. Rosenstein credits Jackson for a stance he took in 1941 when facing similar threats he refused to disclose sources in an investigation taking a stance that “we do not discuss investigations”, referring to this as a bedrock principle.
Department of Justice: The Name Stands For A Moral Value
It is exactly this concept of separation of the branches of government that is again being challenged in the interest of party over politics with a threat of impeachment against Rosenstein.
Rosenstein reminds us, crediting former attorney general John Ashcroft, the Justice Department is the only department where the name “articulates a moral value”.
Meanwhile the media have their hands full simply catching the daily deluge of Trump lies, denials, deflections, disclosures, threats and melodrama. Let’s consider a few headlines to paint the picture: Giuliani: It Is Possible Michael Cohen Paid Off Other Women For Trump.
“When asked during an interview on ABC News’s “This Week” whether Michael Cohen, Trump’s personal attorney, had made payments to other women, Giuliani said he did not know of any but acknowledged that this could have happened.
““I have no knowledge of that,” Giuliani said. “But I would think if it was necessary, yes.””
Giuliani also makes his case for how Trump’s payment to Stormy Daniels was not a campaign contribution which could indicate a felony violation. Giuliani points a finger at Stormy Daniels, her decision to wait until just before the election “was opportunistic”, though Trump still maintains there was never an affair.
Stormy’s lawyer, Michael Avenatti called Giuliani’s comments a “train wreck” on ‘This Week’, noting:
“This guy’s all over the map over the last 72 hours on some very simple facts that should be very straightforward,” Avenatti said. “I think it is obvious … to the American people that this is a coverup, that they are making it up as they go along, they don’t know what to say because they’ve lost track of the truth.”
It’s not just the confusion of Giuliani’s comments; Trump brings his own brand of confusion to the mosh pit: Trump Is Said to Have Known of Payment to Stormy Daniels Months Before He Denied It.
“President Trump knew about a six-figure payment that Michael D. Cohen, his personal lawyer, made to a pornographic film actress several months before he denied any knowledge of it to reporters aboard Air Force One in April, according to two people familiar with the arrangement.”
Not only do we learn of more evidence that Avenatti is right and it’s a coverup, it does also look like “they’ve lost track of the truth” as Trump throws Giuliani under the bus:
“Virtually everything said has been said incorrectly, and it’s been said wrong, or it’s been covered wrong by the press,” Mr. Trump told reporters, though he excused Mr. Giuliani by explaining he had “just started a day ago.”
After so many denials, Trump is found to have known about the payment and manages to open the door to questions about the complicity of the Trump Organization in the cover-up.
So Many Lies And Lies About Lies
How do we make sense when we’re fielding buckets of lies and confusion daily?: Don and Rudy, Disaster Twins.
Writing for the New York Times Gail Collins considers that question. After commenting on Trump’s track record of picking “only the best people” she credits Giuliani:
“Now he’s got Rudy Giuliani. Has anybody managed to create so much chaos so fast?”
Here’s Giuliani’s spin on the Stormy payment:
“So it comes down to this: The $130,000 that Stormy Daniels got to keep quiet during the campaign was from Trump. But it was not an illicit campaign contribution. Nonono, it was simply a charitable attempt to protect Melania from a broken heart.”
“To come to this conclusion you would only have to do two things:
“A) Forget that on Thursday Giuliani said it had to be paid because “Imagine if that came out … in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton.”
“B) Conclude that in buying off Stormy, Donald Trump was much, much more concerned about his wife’s feelings than about getting elected president.”
Collins makes an excellent point – to believe the latest lie you have to disremember the previous lies.
While not directly answering the question, the inference here is ineptness. There are equal voices offering views of ‘genius’. But there is a third option, as explained in an intriguing Vanity Fair from over a year ago: Is Trump’s Chaos Tornado A Move From The Kremlin’s Playbook?
The sub-head to the Vanity Fair article is this: It’s terrifying to think that the Trump administration is simply winging it, in a swirl of lies, contradictions, and Twitter rants. A scarier possibility is that there is, in fact, a plan, taken straight from Putin 101.
Consider these two paragraphs from the middle of the article and see if any examples come to mind for you?
“What if all the Trumpian chaos that the “mainstream media” have come to take for granted as pugilism and vanity was part of a more cunning plan? What if Trump and chief strategist Steve Bannon were actually drawing from a sophisticated postmodern propaganda model developed by none other than Vladimir Putin, Vladislav Surkov, and their political technologists at the Kremlin? While Trump may not have state-controlled media at his disposal, as Putin does, to serve as 24-7 propaganda organs both domestically and abroad, his team is finding ways to shrewdly approximate Putin’s capacity to shape narratives and create alternative realities.
“Trump and his team’s espousal of fake news, embrace of “alternative facts,” and relentless lying to reporters, political adversaries, and the American people sabotage a democratic playing field that has existed in this country for more than two centuries. Trump’s use of Twitter is equally destructive. By hijacking headlines and warping the news cycle through sheer gravitational force, Trump is rupturing the journalism landscape, one land-mine tweet at a time. The effect, it would seem, is to undercut any attempt at vigilant analysis or coherent investigation into his administration. He is the Distracter in Chief, a decoy in the bully pulpit whose self-perpetuating charade provides the perfect cover while shadier actors systematically transmogrify the democracy concealed in his prodigious shadow.”
There are many great explanations put forward by the authors, but here’s a conclusion:
“He’s trying to cut the media out of the equation,” says Natasha Ezrow, a lecturer at the University of Essex who studies modern dictatorships. “That’s what a dictator does. They cut the media out and try to weaken it by delegitimizing it.” Fred Turner is grimly unflinching in his assessment. “Trump is not just a populist. He is a true authoritarian, and our democracy is actually at risk.”
The authors note, “add in Bannon, who told The New York Times in January that the press is “the opposition party” and “should keep its mouth shut.”
Lost in the fog of deceit the Stormy Daniels story cancels out revelations like this: Giuliani Contradicts Trump On Comey Firing, Saying Russia Inquiry Was A Factor.
Yep, Giuliani sets another record straight, Trump did pay Cohen who paid Daniels, and, oh yeah, Trump fired Comey because he refused to tell him he wasn’t under investigation in Trump-Russia.
“He fired Comey because Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn’t a target of the investigation,” Mr. Giuliani said in an interview late Wednesday with Sean Hannity of Fox News. “He’s entitled to that.”
Almost hidden from view, there is Trump-Russia corruption news. This brings us up to date on House Intelligence Chair Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and his umpteenth account to either vindicate or protect Trump: Exclusive: Nunes Demands Justice Department Records. Then He Doesn’t Read Them.
Devin Nunes understands that his actions have nothing to do with facts, facts don’t support his case – it’s process. Find something that can be touted as defense and bang the table. Make the opposition party and media invest the effort to explain why this latest is NOT a valid defense and is actually more proof of guilt. But who pays attention to ‘corrections’ when the media train has moved on. After threatening Rosenstein with contempt and impeachment and ultimately gained access to review certain documents for him self and Rep. Trey Gowdy (R-SC):
“… when the pair arrived at the Justice Department to review the electronic communication, officials were caught off-guard by his next move. Nunes — sitting with a copy of the document in an unopened folder directly in front of him — opted not to read it, according to four sources with knowledge of the situation.”
A reminder, facts are not always the deciding factor.
Here’s an update to an item we covered a month ago where Vanity Fair reported that some Russian oligarchs were being questioned by the FBI when arriving in the U.S.: Viktor Vekselberg, Russian Billionaire, Was Questioned By Mueller’s Investigators.
Vekselberg is worth an estimated $13 billion. He’s been covered here for Trump relationships like this:
“Another potential area of interest for Mr. Mueller is Mr. Vekselberg’s business in Cyprus, the Mediterranean nation considered a magnet for Russian money. Mr. Vekselberg has controlled a company that has been the largest single shareholder in the Bank of Cyprus. Around the same time that Mr. Vekselberg was investing in the bank, Mr. Trump’s future commerce secretary, Wilbur L. Ross, was its vice chairman.”
Vekselberg also attended Trump’s inauguration. We don’t know anything more about the interview with the FBI. But it is worth noting another aspect of Vekselberg’s history:
“In the 1990s, Mr. Vekselberg, together with partners, closed in 2003 what was at the time the largest private transaction in Russian history by forming a joint oil-pumping venture with the British company BP, called TNK-BP.
“But soon, BP executives came to suspect the Russian partners had close ties to the F.S.B., the main successor intelligence agency to the K.G.B., and other Russian security services. The F.S.B. classified oil field maps and closely tailed British employees. Once, during a business dispute with the Russians, BP’s office in Moscow was raided by police officers armed with assault rifles.”
Important? We don’t know yet but we have more Russia news.
An interesting story was refloated and debunked just his week: ‘Complete urban myth’: BP Finance Chief Refutes Reports That CEO Bob Dudley Was Poisoned In Russian Plot.
The ‘debunked’ story of the “BP chief poisoned” was highlighted two days earlier. BP wants us to understand that the relationship with Russia is “good” and “it is very different to what we had with TNK-BP.” TNK-BP was sold to Russian state owned oil firm Rosneft a few years ago for $16 billion. Rosneft became the largest Russian oil company after acquiring the assets of Yukos, the former company run by Mikhail Khodorkovsky who was jailed prior to the dissolution of the company. We recently shared news of Khodorkovky emails that showed Russian attorney and Donnie Jr. meeting attendee Natalya Veselnitskaya is an intermediary for the Russian government.
So many Russians yet such a small Trump-Russia corruption world.
Another Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska also made the news. The Financial Times reported Oleg Deripaska, Russian Oligarch Under Siege For Putin Ties. [Story behind paywall.]
“Since becoming one of seven Russian oligarchs named in the last round of U.S. Russia sanctions Deripaska’s trajectory has changed.
“When Oleg Deripaska hosted a party for participants in the World Economic Forum at his Davos chalet in January, he met his guests’ every expectation. “I had heard that his bash was the wildest in town, and it was,” said a young European banker who attended Mr Deripaska’s party for the first time. … Three months on, Mr Deripaska’s status is hanging by a thread. Under the toughest anti-Russian sanctions yet, the US has targeted the 50-year-old and all the companies he controls with a worldwide transaction ban.”
The point is – penalties against Russian oligarchs for their involvement in influencing the U.S. election have worked. Meanwhile, Trump has refrained from additional sanctions as “he does not want to upset Putin”.
Stein waffles on Russia election role
Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein continues to attract attention over her contacts with Russia during the election: Jill Stein Refuses To Condemn Russian Election Interference In Babbling CNN Interview.
“Appearing on CNN’s New Day, former Green Party candidate Jill Stein refused to condemn Russian meddling in the 2016 election, while telling host Chris Cuomo that she is to Senate investigators because she is “protecting Americans’ civil liberties.””
Stein has turned over some documents but draws the line at “material that basically protects the civil liberties of all Americans”. Disclosures were limited to contacts with Russian government (as an example) but when considering the limits of this definition, if the campaign had contact with people like Russian attorney Natalya Veselnitskaya (above), these were not disclosed. CNN host Chris Cuomo opened the interview by saying, “If you’re hiding something, that makes people suspicious that maybe you had something to do with the Russian interference?”
How dare you
We’ll end with a reflection. If we apply Chris Cuomo’s comment to Stein, how does this look for Trump?: Trump Lies About His Lies And Gets Angry With The Person Asking The Question.
“”We’re not changing any stories,” he said, admonishing reporters for “bringing up that kind of crap.”
“”You take a look at what I said,” Trump told reporters Friday, when questioned about his previous statement.”
An authoritarian attitude – how dare you question me for any reason?
Similarly there is the irony of Trump possibly pleading the Fifth Amendment according to Giuliani. This after Trump once said, “the mob takes the Fifth”. Maybe this is one of those times where Trump has given us the answer – what if he’s right, the mob takes the Fifth and Trump may do that as well. A=B=C.
The Naked Truth About Trump
New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd questions the co-dependency of Trump and the media: The Naked Truth Abut Trump.
“As we pat ourselves on the back, though, for the grueling hours and Pulitzer-quality scoops, we should remember one thing: Even if we vanished tomorrow, Trump would probably end up in the same place.”
Clearly Trump and Giuliani will pair up to offer much more confusion. Are they inept, geniuses or is this authoritarian bait-n-switch propaganda?
Clearly we’ll be working at sorting Trump-Russia corruption for some number of months.
In the meantime we’ll end with a bit of uplifting humor: Michael Cohen Wiretap Cold Open – SNL.
(Commoner Call cartoon by Mark L. Taylor, 2018. Open source and free to use for non-derivative use with link to www.thecommonercall.org )