“The greatest threat facing the United States is its own president.”
— David Rothkopf, Washington Post opinion (7/4/18) )
“Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.”
— Quote in Bob Woodward’s book “Fear:Trump In The White House” regarding advice from then Trump attorney John Dowd to his client regarding the wisdom of testifying before Mueller investigation.
By Dan Peak
The Commoner Call (9/6/18)
Dear Fellow Readers,
The nod for this column goes to Watergate journalist and author Bob Woodward with his new book, ‘Fear: Trump in the White House’. The book will be officially released on September 11 but Trump is doing his best to help advance sales. A good starting point is Woodward’s recent August taped conversation with Trump about the book.
Much of the discussion is about Woodward’s repeated efforts to interview Trump while writing the book. Trump repeatedly states he knew nothing about a request. Woodward finally specifically asks, “Senator (Lindsey) Graham said he talked to you about talking to me. Now, is that not true?” Trump admits Sen. Graham had “actually mentioned it quickly in one meeting”. We offer the Washington Post version of the 11-minute conversation with both Woodward’s taped discussion and a transcript: Transcript: Phone Call Between President Trump & Journalist Bob Woodward.
You decide whether Trump and spokesperson Kellyanne Conway lie about their knowledge of Woodward’s request to interview Trump. Here’s part of the exchange between Woodward and Conway as she, according to Trump, “just walked in”.
Conway: Bob, how are you? Hi.
BW: Hi. Remember two and a half months ago you came over and I laid out, I wanted to talk to the president? And you said you would get back to me?
Conway: I do. And I put in the request. But you know, they — it was rejected. I can only take it so far. I guess I can bring it right to the president next time.
Conway, “put in the request” and she assures Woodward, “I try to follow all the protocols”, before she tries to throw former Trump spokesperson Hope Hicks under the bus with, “but you talked to [former White House communications director] Hope [Hicks], right, who said no?” When this doesn’t work she simply exits the conversation with, “But anyway, I’ll give you back to the president. And I’m glad to hear that you tried through seven or eight different people. That’s good. You should tell him all the names.”
Life in ‘Crazytown’
Trump has spent the 24 hours following the release of the taped conversation trash-tweeting the book in advance. Why so?
Could it be his panicky response has something to do with: ‘This is treason’: Read The Most Dramatic Quotes From Bob Woodward’s New Tell-all Book About Trump’s White House.
There are many great quotes like Woodward’s assertion that Chief of Staff John Kelly did in fact call Trump an “idiot” back in April 2018. The longer version according to Woodward is, “He’s an idiot. It’s pointless to try to convince him of anything. He’s gone off the rails. We’re in Crazytown. I don’t even know why any of us are here. This is the worst job I’ve ever had.”
But we highlight one set of comments for a reason.
“But Trump also criticized Sessions for his Southern accent, reportedly mocking it and saying of his own administration’s attorney general: “This guy is mentally retarded. He’s this dumb Southerner … He couldn’t even be a one-person country lawyer down in Alabama.””
We can now cite two things Russpublican senators have defended against attacks by Trump: trade wars that punish farmers and the intellect of southerners: Southern Republican Senators Reject Trump’s Criticism Of Sessions.
Stern words were (kinda’) offered in defense by Session’s old congressional pals.
Here’s Alabama Sen. Richard Shelby’s version:
“Asked what he thought of Trump’s claim that Sessions was “mentally retarded,” Shelby, the fifth most senior Republican senator, added: “I think that’s strong words. I think Sessions is a very smart man and a man of integrity. I would disagree with the president on that.””
“He pointed out that Trump himself relied on Southern voters during the 2016 general election, warning: “I guess the president, he says what he thinks . . . I think the president’s probably got a lot of respect for the South, I hope so. He did well there. Without the South he wouldn’t be the president of the United States.””
These southern senators certainly know how to — um — protect their own. Here’s another shot across Trump’s bow:
“Said Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Tuesday: “I think we all know it’s likely he is going to terminate him after the midterms. In the interim I think it would be good if he stopped raving about Sessions. It’s unbecoming. Either do something or don’t, but these comments just continue to degrade our nation.” “
It’s like listening to Foghorn Leghorn, “It’s unbecoming, UNBECOMING I say!!”
We’re certain Sessions slept well knowing his greatest supporters were there for him when it counted:
“Asked whether he thought Sessions could last until the midterms, Sen. John Neely Kennedy (R-La.) told The Washington Post: “I don’t know. It’s not my call, it’s the president’s.””
What could make the Russpublicans so complacent? Maybe this? 5 Key Takeaways From Brett Kavanaugh’s Supreme Court Confirmation Hearing.
Russpublicans got their tax cut to reward their millionaire and billionaire donors and now they have a second Supreme Court nominee. Having denied President Obama a nomination of SCOTUS candidate Merrick Garland simply because they could through control of the Senate, they un-ironically offer this view:
“Republicans accused the minority of playing politics with a nomination they’ve already promised to oppose, but that won’t stop them from asking charged questions about a number of high-profile issues in the next two days as they press Kavanaugh to discuss his views on abortion, gun rights, the powers of the presidency and whether President Donald Trump could be subpoenaed in the special counsel’s investigation.”
While polls continue to hold the promise of bad mid-term news for Trump and Russpublicans, their strategy appears to be kick-the-can-down-the-road-and-hope-for-the-best after the mid-term elections. Similar to the latest Washington Post-ABC News poll showing a 60% disapproval rating for Trump, a new USA Today poll showed a 56% disapproval with “those surveyed said they wanted to elect a Congress that mostly stands up to Trump rather than one that mostly cooperates with him.”
Meanwhile, back at the investigation
Okay, but what is special counsel Mueller up to? The New York Times reports: Mueller Will Accept Some Written Answers From Trump.
We opened with former Trump lawyer John Dowd saying, “don’t testify” while warning that testifying would lead to an “orange suit”. After bushels of assertions from Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani about Trump’s wishes and intent, we now have this:
“The special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, will accept written answers from President Trump on questions about whether his campaign conspired with Russia’s election interference, Mr. Mueller’s office told Mr. Trump’s lawyers in a letter, two people briefed on it said on Tuesday.
“But on another significant aspect of the investigation — whether the president tried to obstruct the inquiry itself — Mr. Mueller and his investigators understood that issues of executive privilege could complicate their pursuit of a presidential interview and did not ask for written responses on that matter, according to the letter, which was sent on Friday.”
In spite of the goldurn best efforts of Kellyanne Conway to get Trump’s input for Bob Woodward, maybe Mueller will have better lucking getting some input from Trump and team. Trump lawyer Jay Sekulow offered, “it was the legal team’s policy to not discuss its communications with the special counsel’s office.”
Smoke, mirrors and Rudy
Maybe Giuliani is not on that same team: How Rudy Giuliani Turned Into Trump’s Clown.
The New Yorker’s Jeffrey Toobin offers a detailed history of the long relationship between Giuliani and Trump. Giuliani’s “combative style of politics” and his “all in for the President” according to former Trump adviser Chris Christie doesn’t always fit well with his peers:
“Giuliani’s behavior has provoked disgust among some of his former fellow-prosecutors. “He has totally sold out to Trump,” John S. Martin, a predecessor to Giuliani as U.S. Attorney who later became a federal judge, said. “He’s making arguments that don’t hold up. I always thought of Rudy as a good lawyer, and he’s not looking anything like a good lawyer today.” Preet Bharara, who served as U.S. Attorney from 2009 until 2017, when he was fired by Trump, told me, “His blatant misrepresentations on television make me sad. It’s sad because I looked up to him at one point, and this bespeaks a sort of cravenness to a particularly hyperbolic client and an unnecessary suspension of honor and truth that’s beneath him. I would not send Rudy at this point in his career into court.” Giuliani’s desire for attention and publicity has always been at odds with the buttoned-up traditions of the Southern District of New York. In 2014, some seven hundred current and former prosecutors for the Southern District met for a gala dinner to celebrate the two-hundred-and-twenty-fifth anniversary of the office. Almost every former U.S. Attorney still living gave a speech—except Giuliani, who sent a video, with the excuse that he was attending to his duties as an “ambassador” to the U.S. Ryder Cup golf team. The announcement was greeted with derisive laughter.”
And here’s the point:
“Giuliani, like Trump, has created the illusion of coöperation without the risks of actual coöperation. At times, it seems that he’s just going through the motions of negotiating with Mueller. “We were pretty close a few times to an agreement, but we couldn’t quite get it across the goal line,” he told me.”
The “illusion of cooperation”, something Giuliani and Kellyanne Conway share on behalf of Trump.
Meanwhile, Trump does even pretend democracy let alone cooperation – here are two recent headlines:
From the Washington Post we have, Trump Suggests Libel Laws Should Be Changed After Uproar Over Woodward Book
In reaction to Woodward’s book, Trump Tweet blasted, “Don’t know why Washington politicians don’t change libel laws?”
He then went on to say every day citizens — like us — should also be muzzled: Trump Suggests Protesting Should Be Illegal.
Following coverage of protests during the Kavanaugh hearings Trump tweeted, “I don’t know why they don’t take care of a situation like that. I think it’s embarrassing for the country to allow protesters. You don’t even know what side the protesters are on. In the old days, we used to throw them out. Today, I guess they just keep screaming.”
Well if anyone knows about “embarrassing” the country that would be Donald J. Trumputin.
We do know what side the protesters are on, our side.
Orange in orange
Russpublicans pussyfoot around Trump lest they draw his eye n’ ire. Even when defending one of their own after Trump called attorney general Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions III “mentally retarded” there were no teeth marks to the push back.
Every once in a while a truth slips out. Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen finally cited Putin by name in denouncing Russian involvement in the 2016 U.S. election:
“At Vladimir Putin’s direction, Moscow launched a brazen, multi-faceted influence campaign to undermine public faith in our democratic process and to distort our presidential election,” Nielsen said at George Washington University in Washington. “Although no actual ballots were altered by this campaign, make no mistake: This was a direct attack on our democracy.”
But that’s a rarity. We’re far more used to Kellyanne’s nattering deflections.
Trump’s comments as presented in Woodward’s book get far worse than what’s been presented here so far. While Mueller may well accept some answers from Trump in writing, there is this discussion between then Trump attorney Dowd and Mueller:
“Dowd then explained to Mueller and Quarles why he was trying to keep the president from testifying: “I’m not going to sit there and let him look like an idiot. And you publish that transcript, because everything leaks in Washington, and the guys overseas are going to say, ‘I told you he was an idiot. I told you he was a goddamn dumbbell. What are we dealing with this idiot for?’ ”
““John, I understand,” Mueller replied, according to Woodward.
“Later that month, Dowd told Trump: “Don’t testify. It’s either that or an orange jumpsuit.””
But here’s the really scary part, the thing about Trump we all imagined and hoped wasn’t true:
“At a National Security Council meeting on Jan. 19, Trump disregarded the significance of the massive U.S. military presence on the Korean Peninsula, including a special intelligence operation that allows the United States to detect a North Korean missile launch in seven seconds vs. 15 minutes from Alaska, according to Woodward. Trump questioned why the government was spending resources in the region at all.
““We’re doing this in order to prevent World War III,” Defense Secretary Jim Mattis told him.”
Mattis said, “the president acted like – and had the understanding of – a fifth- or sixth-grader.”
Giving Trump the benefit of the doubt, we have an ignorant, lying, hateful, self-serving, sixth-grader, making decisions that could be as serious as World War III.
If it wasn’t already clear, it’s time for a change.
This is either reassuring or scary as hell. Take your pick!
Rothkopf was right, the greatest threat we face is the president. But we’ll give the final word to an anonymous “senior official in the Trump administration”, published on Wednesday evening: I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.
“The dilemma — which he does not fully grasp — is that many of the senior officials in his own administration are working diligently from within to frustrate parts of his agenda and his worst inclinations.
“… But we believe our first duty is to this country, and the president continues to act in a manner that is detrimental to the health of our republic.