#PutiTrump

The Art of the Swamp (Smile Through)

#DrainTheSwamp | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Michael D. Cohen in New York City, 13 April 2018. (Detail of photo by Jeenah Moon/Reuters)

The setup, via Jonathan Chait:

Viktor Vekselberg. (Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images)Earlier this month, when Michael Avenatti reported that Michael Cohen’s Delaware shell company received half a million dollars from a firm linked to a Russian oligarch, it looked quite shady. But the firm, Columbus Nova, quickly asserted the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, had only a tangential relationship to it, and had not used it as a conduit to pay Cohen. Columbus Nova released a statement insisting it was “owned and controlled by Americans and not Vekselberg, and denied that Vekselberg had ever owned the company or used it as a conduit for payments.” So maybe it wasn’t a Russian bribe. Maybe it was just an investment firm, which happened to have a large Russian client, looking to get influence with the administration the way many businesses do.

As more information has dribbled out, the innocent explanation has looked less and less plausible.

And the punch line, from the New York Times:

Eleven days before the presidential inauguration last year, a billionaire Russian businessman with ties to the Kremlin visited Trump Tower in Manhattan to meet with Donald J. Trump’s personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, according to video footage and another person who attended the meeting.

In Mr. Cohen’s office on the 26th floor, he and the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, discussed a mutual desire to strengthen Russia’s relations with the United States under President Trump, according to Andrew Intrater, an American businessman who attended the meeting and invests money for Mr. Vekselberg. The men also arranged to see one another during the inauguration festivities, the second of their three meetings, Mr. Intrater said.

Days after the inauguration, Mr. Intrater’s private equity firm, Columbus Nova, awarded Mr. Cohen a $1 million consulting contract, a deal that has drawn the attention of federal authorities investigating Mr. Cohen, according to people briefed on the inquiry.

(Rashbaum, Protess, and McIntire)

Such as it is, something about gravity goes here. There is a certain point at which it is not so much the notion of everything going downhill from there, but, rather, the appearance of trying to smile through a screaming, flaming plummet into a cursed abyss. No, really, there is even a clown car taxi joke in there having to do with a “series of coincidences” that really does sound like a its own manner of comedic setup about how there they all were minding their own business when all of a sudden . . . .

Something, something, #WhatTheyVotedFor.

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Image notes: Top — Michael D. Cohen in New York City, 13 April 2018. (Detail of photo by Jeenah Moon/Reuters)  Right Viktor Vekselberg. (Photo: Mikhail Metzel/TASS via Getty Images)

Chait, Jonathan. “Did a Russian Oligarch Funnel Money From Russia to Michael Cohen?” New York. 25 May 2018.

Rashbaum, William K., Ben Protess, and Mike McIntire. “At Trump Tower, Michael Cohen and Oligarch Discussed Russian Relations”. The New York Times. 25 May 2018.

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Rudy’s Bizarre Adventure (Candy and Nuts)

#DimensionTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Composite image: Donald Trump speaks to the National Rifle Association convention, in Dallas, Texas, 4 May 2018 (Photo: Carlos Barria/Reuters); Rudy Giuliani speaks at the Grand Hyatt in Washington, D.C., 5 May 2018 (Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP Photo); uncredited protest image of Vladimir Putin.

Oh, come on:

In a recent interview with HuffPost, Giuliani initially disputed the notion that Trump’s daily citing, in the final month of his campaign, of Russian-aligned WikiLeaks and its release of Russian-stolen emails constituted “colluding” with Russia.

“It is not,” Giuliani said.

Then he switched tacks.

“OK, and if it is, it isn’t illegal… It was sort of like a gift,” he said. “And you’re not involved in the illegality of getting it.”

(Date)

This is a test of a principle. The analogy here is the idea that for a generation, at least, Americans pretended our supremacist heritage wasn’t, and that it was unfair to let a proverbial few bad seeds have any defining influence about the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave. And toward that end, we must also admit the observable fact that supremacism is one of about two things President Trump’s voters actually get in return for electing him; the other, of course, is a living mortal demonstration of the Republican thesis that government does not and simply cannot work. For our purposes, though, we might consider a period before Mr. Trump won the presidency, nested sometime in the forty-eight years ‘twixt the Democrats losing the South and the 2016 election, and the idea that you just don’t talk about people that way, unless.

Unless what? Unless you have proof. But what does proof of supremacism mean to a roomful of supremacists? In the end, the abiding standard is that you just don’t say that about people. It is also true that if we ask around, we will find a lot of that in society, and the common aspect is the stake perceived by by those who would posture themselves as well-intended and upright, except.

Except what? Well, therein lies the hook. Except nothing. They are upright, well-intended people, and that is all there is to that, and, besides, it is all everybody else’s fault, anyway; if only black people would; if only women would; if only hellbound infidels would.

Which, in turn, reminds that any given analogy only goes so far. At some point, #DimensionTrump seems to proscribe certain aspects and vectors of inquiry, yet it seems only to the president’s peril.

(more…)

The State of the Department (Quack)

#AmericanPrestige | #WhatTheyVotedFor

With apologies: Altered detail from cartoon by Jen Sorensen, 17 April 2018.

“guess how many people are working on Iranian nuclear proliferation at the State Department? as of today....zero”

Anne Applebaum

We should be clear that by today, the columnist means Friday last, when she posted the tweet, which refers, in turn, to a report from Foreign Policy:

One of the State Department’s top experts on nuclear proliferation resigned this week after President Donald Trump announced the U.S. withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal, in what officials and analysts say is part of a worrying brain drain from public service generally over the past 18 months.

Richard Johnson, a career civil servant who served as acting assistant coordinator in State’s Office of Iran Nuclear Implementation, had been involved in talks with countries that sought to salvage the deal in recent weeks, including Britain, France, and Germany — an effort that ultimately failed.

Johnson’s departure leaves a growing void in the State Department’s stable of experts on Iran’s nuclear program and highlights a broader problem of high-level departures from government.

Officials say the trend is particularly evident at the State Department, where Trump sidelined career diplomats and morale plummeted under former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The office Johnson led has gone from seven full-time staffers to none since Trump’s inauguration.

Today is Tuesday, and elsewhere in the commentariat Steve Benen notes, “The article didn’t explicitly say that Johnson resigned in protest, but there doesn’t appear to be much of a mystery about what happened here.”

(more…)

What They Voted For: The Laughingstock

#AmericanPrestige | #WhatTheyVotedFor

President-elect Donald Trump delivers his first official news conference since winning the November election, 11 January 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

Because the first part of the making something great again is wrecking it so that it needs to be recovered:

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, reads a copy of 'Fire and Fury', by Michael Wolff, at the Tehran Book Fair, 11 May 2018. (via Instagram)On Friday, Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei was pictured in a post on his Instagram feed at the Tehran Book Fair.

Nothing unusual there, but in one image he was seen reading a Persian-language edition of Michael Wolff’s book Fire and Fury. The subject of which, of course, is the chaos inside Mr Trump’s White House.

When the book was released in January, it was described as a “bombshell” by commentators as it raised doubts over Mr Trump’s mental health.

It claimed Mr Trump said he pursued his friends’ wives, that his daughter Ivanka would mock him, and that the US president would eat cheeseburgers in bed.

(BBC)

This is, of course, only days after President Hassan Rouhani responded to President Trump’s dereliction of a nuclear treaty by “conferring with the world’s two super powers, Russia and China”.

Yes, this demolition of American prestige is precisely what Republicans voted for. They cannot prove to us that government doesn’t work unless they break everything; they cannot make the nation great “again” if they do not lay it low. And, yes, in their own way, a game show host and flaccid farce, an obvious subject for Ayatollah Khamenei to scorch with such easy, demonstrative, blistering critique, is precisely what Trump supporters voted for.

This is actually part of their supremacism: It is easier to foster a world war if supporters feel insulted by the designated enemy; Trump seems to think Iranians are as simplistic as his followers, so he makes it easy for the Ayatollah to zing the President of the United States because he knows the magagaga are, themselves, easy marks.

They did elect him, after all.

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Image note: Top — President-elect Donald Trump delivers his first official news conference after winning the November election, 11 January 2017 in New York City. (Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)  Right — Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Supreme Leader of Iran, reads a copy of Fire and Fury, by Michael Wolff, at the Tehran Book Fair, 11 May 2018. (via Instagram)

British Broadcasting Corporation. “Is Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Khamenei trolling Trump?” BBC News. 11 May 2018.

Noteworthy

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

#PutiTrump: Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown. Donald Trump in detail of photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for msnbc, 2016.

In the long, nasty #trumpswindle, this is a moment worth noting:

• From October 2016 through January 2018, Mr. Cohen used his First Republic account to engag in suspicious financial transactions totaling $4,425,033.46.

• Chief among these suspicious financial transactions are approximately $500,000 in payments received from Mr. Viktor Vekselberg, a Russian Oligarch with an estimated net worth of nearly $13 Billion. Mr. Vekselberg and his cousin Mr. Andrew Intrater routed eight payments to Mr. Cohen through a company named Columbus Nova LLC (“Columbus”) beginning in January 2017 and continuing until at least August 2017.

(Avenatti & Associates)

And then, as we all gape in wonder:

The Daily Beast can confirm that Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Michael Cohen received hundreds of thousands of dollars from a company controlled by Putin-aligned Russian oligarch Viktor Vekselberg. The allegations were initially made by Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ lawyer. According to a dossier published by Avenatti on Tuesday evening, “Vekselberg and his cousin Mr. Andrew Intrater routed eight payments to Mr. Cohen through a company named Columbus Nova LLC beginning in January 2017 and continuing until at least August 2017”. . . .

(Schactman)

Attorney Michael D. Cohen in New York City, 13 April 2018.  (Photo by Jeenah Moon/Reuters)And everybody is tempted to break out a catch phrase, or punch line, or maybe even hold their breath. Don’t.

Yeah, something just happened. This is still going to take a while, even if and especially when.

____________________

Image note: Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown. Donald Trump in detail of photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for msnbc, 2016.

Avenatti & Associates. “Executive Summary”. Project Sunlight. 8 May 2018.

Schactman, Noah. “Michael Cohen Took Cash From Russian Oligarch After Election”. The Daily Beast. 8 May 2018.

A Matter of Perspective (Poodlefinger Mix)

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

A child walks past a graffiti depicting Russian President Vladimir Putin and Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump on the walls of a bar in the old town in Vilnius, Lithuania, 14 May 2016. (Photo by Mindaugas Kulbis/AP Photo)

This is important:

When Donald Trump makes ridiculously untrue comments, few are surprised. The president has a reputation for breathtaking dishonesty, which is well deserved. Making matters much worse, however, is the degree to which his White House makes no real effort to be more trustworthy.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Photo: Evan Vucci/AP Photo)For example, the White House issued a formal written statement late Friday responding to the federal indictment of 13 Russian operatives who are accused of attacking our elections to help put Trump in power. A Washington Post analysis described the statement as “extremely dishonest,” and documented several demonstrable falsehoods—none of which has been corrected.

But West Wing officials weren’t content to stop there. On Twitter, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said, “Unlike Obama, [Trump] isn’t going to be pushed around by Russia or anybody else.” That might be slightly less laughable if Obama hadn’t imposed sanctions on Russia, which is the opposite of what Trump did.

In a certain way it does not matter what the esteemed Steve Benen finds laughable. There is a long story, of course, behind the statement that, brain chemistry is brain chemistry, or that brain chemistry will as brain chemistry does, but the proposition of laughability depends on circumstantial norms observably not in effect.

When the Press Secretary says President Trump will not be “pushed around by Russia or anybody else”, we need to consider what that means to her. Because either Sarah Huckabee Sanders believes what she says or she does not. The latter is actually the extraordinary alternative, so the question becomes how she believes such a seemingly ridiculous statement.

And to this the answer is actually straightforward:

• President Trump will not be pushed around by Russia because Russia is not pushing him around.

• President Trump will not be pushed around by anybody else because he will not be pushed around by Congress or the Special Counsel’s Office.

(more…)

What Rosenstein Said

#PutiPoodle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Deputy U.S. Attorney General Rod Rosenstein testifies to the House Judiciary Committee hearing in Washington, D.C., 13 December 2017. (Photo: Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

Via Bloomberg:

Beyond the 13 people indicted, Mueller announced the Feb. 12 guilty plea of a California man for identity theft, Richard Pinedo, who is cooperating with prosecutors. The indictment of Russian individuals and companies also suggests a broader conspiracy than Mueller charged, saying grand jurors heard about others involved in the scheme.

Richard Painter, who was the chief ethics adviser in the George W. Bush administration, said the lack of any evidence of collusion in the indictment wasn’t the final word by prosecutors.

“They’re charging what they know,” he said. “The contact with the Trump campaign might be unwitting in this case, but that doesn’t mean that the collaboration issue is finished.”

Now, just to make certain: We should probably bear in mind that neither, really is the question of this or that contact being unwitting truly closed. It seems a tawdry hair to split, except there is also the part about how—

This “information warfare” by the Russians didn’t affect the outcome of the presidential election, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein told reporters. Trump and his Republican supporters have repeatedly denounced the Mueller investigation as a “witch hunt” and have denied any collusion. The indictment cites no instances of Russians coordinating directly with the Trump campaign.

—and this is important: Rosenstein did not say the information warfare “didn’t affect the outcome of the presidential election”.

(more…)

The Suicide Pact as a Political Argument

#PutiPoodle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

Contemplation of Justice

This is an interesting starting point:

If the Justice Department and the FBI knowingly used an unreliably biased witness to win a FISA warrant against Carter Page, violating his civil liberties in the process, you would therefore expect that there are some judges on the FISC who are concerned. They, after all, are the ones who were misled. They are the ones who signed warrants and renewals based on shoddy information. Conversely, if the judges on the FISC are not hopping mad, you might take that as evidence that they don’t, in fact, feel misled and that the Justice Department and FBI conduct was, after all, reasonably within the obligations of lawyers and investigators before the court.

(Wittes)

One particularly difficult aspect of the #TrumpRussia scandal is the manner in which the context of dispute overshadows history itself. It is telling, in comparison, that Democrats have come to defend and advocate the individual mandate, but also that Republicans and conservatives turned on their own idea; at some point, we ought to take the note about insincerity. It has, for years, also been true that a liberal political relationship to law enforcement is fraught, to say the least; but it is also true that conservatives have simultaneously drummed up tough law-and-order talk while relying more and more on conspiracy theories denigrating and defaming law enforcement institutions. Naturally, the allegedly liberal party finds itself defending the law enforcement agency and agent that, to the one, undertook irregular actions wrecking the Democratic presidential candidate, and that alone ought to be boggling. To the other, if we set aside Donald Trump for a moment, the FBI is also the agency that reviews its own duty-related killings, and has found itself to be perfect, something like a hundred fifty out of a hundred fifty. Given a day in court to indict all the sleazy tactics of a powerfully effective eugenic “drug war” any liberal would find the FBI in line to defend the necessity of allowing law enforcement to behave that way. Yet the spectacle continues apace, with Republicans hollering until they wheeze and Democrats breathlessly defending one of the most controversial law enforcement agencies on the planet. Without this extraordinary, self-inflicted presidential scandal requiring our priority, what is up with the Federal Bureau of Investigation, anyway? Federal law enforcement is still law enforcement.

Just as Democrats finding themselves rallying to defend the individual mandate ought to be significant of something about how we reached this point, or Jade Helm leaving liberals to consider posturing an ostensible general defense of the American military; or, if we can remember back to 2009, the conservative roll from patriotism and the indignity of protesting against the president to the patriotic necessity of threatening the president with firearms; or, hey, we might consider decades of conservative conspiracism including the National Rifle Association, and then wonder whether it will be law enforcement or the military confiscating the guns; so, too, might we wonder at the trend of conservatives behaving so badly that others need to do their jobs for them.

(more…)

SOTU Speculation

#trumpswindle | #WhatTheyVotedFor

#PutiTrump: Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown. Donald Trump addresses supporters in Everett, Washington, 30 August 2016.

Take the note, via Steve Benen:

On Jan. 30, 1974, exactly 44 years ago today, Richard Nixon delivered his State of the Union address and argued that the investigation into the Watergate scandal should end. “One year of Watergate is enough,” the Republican president said at the time.

And this, of course, is a setup to noting that Rep. Steve King (R-IA04), never known as a bastion of measured rhetoric, described the content of a House Republican staff-written memorandum as worse than Watergate. Similarly, Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi (R) attacked the Special Counsel investigation into the #TrumpRussia affair as corrupt and worse than Watergate. And famed conspiracist Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) worried that collusion to stop Trump’s election is Worse than Watergate. President Trump himself adores making Watergate claims: Uranium One, imagined wiretapping, and Benghazi conspiracism, at least, he declares on par with Watergate. The Birther conspiracy? Even bigger than Watergate. This is hardly a new GOP obsession; Benen counted at least ten assertions of scandal in the Obama White House that Republicans chose to compare to Watergate, and that was in 2013.

It is easy enough to wonder if perhaps a soberish president carefully reading staid remarks prepared by professional hands would be sufficient to win critical praise, but given the state of things, it starts to seem more likely that Mr. Trump will, instead, afford himself the indulgence of simply going off.

For public safety, drinking games ought to be prohibited.

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Image note: #PutiTrump — Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown; Donald Trump addresses supporters in Everett, Washington, 30 August 2016.

Benen, Steve. “The bar has already been lowered too much for Trump”. msnbc. 29 January 2018.

—————. “The curious Republican preoccupation with Watergate”. msnbc. 30 January 2018.

—————. “‘Worse than Watergate'”. msnbc. 11 November 2013.

The Killer Death Wish Perjury Trap Suicide Mission

#PutiTrump | #WhatTheyVotedFor

#PutiTrump: Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown. Donald Trump in detail of photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for msnbc, 2016.

That Special Counsel Robert Mueller might wish to speak with President Donald Trump is no particular surprise; nor is the president’s cheap façade of confidence unexpected. Late paragraphs in Carol D. Leonnig and Josh Dawsey’s report for the Washington Post, however, are worth the moment, at least:

However, some of Trump’s close advisers and friends fear a face-to-face interview with Mueller could put the president in legal jeopardy. A central worry, they say, is Trump’s lack of precision in his speech and his penchant for hyperbole.

People close to Trump have tried to warn him for months that Mueller is a “killer,” in the words of one associate, noting that the special counsel has shown interest in the president’s actions.

Roger Stone, a longtime informal adviser to Trump, said he should try to avoid an interview at all costs, saying agreeing to such a session would be a “suicide mission.”

“I find it to be a death wish. Why would you walk into a perjury trap?” Stone said. “The president would be very poorly advised to give Mueller an interview.”

Laura Silverman asks the obvious: “Does this sound like they’re talking about a ‘stable genius’ who is innocent?”

To the other, this is Roger J. Stone we’re talking about. It doesn’t really matter to Mr. Stone whether what he says is helpful; his priority seems to be elsewhere and otherwise.

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Image note: #PutiTrump: Protest image of Vladimir Putin, artist unknown. Donald Trump in detail of photo by Mark Peterson/Redux for msnbc, 2016.

Leonnig, Carol D. and Josh Dawsey. “Mueller seeks to question Trump about Flynn and Comey departures”. The Washington Post. 23 January 2018.

Silverman, Laura. “Does this sound like they’re talking about a ‘stable genius’ who is innocent? It doesn’t to me. Yikes.” Twitter. 23 January 2018.