Thursday, July 20, 2017

Special Counsel's investigation Expands to Target Trump Family's Financial Dealings with Russia

Bloomberg dropped this bombshell just a couple of hours ago:  
The U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s election is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe. 
The president told the New York Times on Wednesday that any digging into
matters beyond Russia would be out of bounds. Trump’s businesses have involved Russians for years, making the boundaries fuzzy so Special Counsel Robert Mueller appears to be taking a wide-angle approach to his two-month-old probe. 
FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.
John Dowd, one of Trump’s lawyers, said on Thursday he was unaware of this element of the investigation. "Those transactions are in my view well beyond the mandate of the Special counsel; are unrelated to the election of 2016 or any alleged collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia and most importantly, are well beyond any Statute of Limitation imposed by the United States Code," he wrote in an email. 
Agents are also interested in dealings with the Bank of Cyprus, where Wilbur Ross served as vice chairman before he became commerce secretary. They are also examining the efforts of Jared Kushner, the President’s son-in-law and White House aide, to secure financing for some of his family’s real estate properties. The information was provided by someone familiar with the developing inquiry but not authorized to speak publicly.
In a New York Times interview yesterday, President Trump left open the possibility he may attempt to fire Mueller if he strayed too far into the Trump family's finances.  While how he would accomplish such a firing is questionable given how the special counsel law is structured, perhaps a more likely way for Trump to protect his family from such a financial investigation would be to issue pardons to anyone who might be a target of Mueller's probe.   Indeed, Trump could even issue a pardon to himself.   Whether Trump's choice is the firing of Mueller or issuing multiple pardons, either choice takes him one step closer to impeachment.

Monday, July 17, 2017

President Trump Tweets That Collusion With A Foreign Power Is Normal In Politics

Once again, the narrative has changed.  First, President Trump, et al. claimed there was absolutely no meetings between Trump campaign officials and agents of the Russian government.  That turned out to be a lie.  The next story was that there were meetings, but no discussion of election matters, and certainly no "collusion."  When the Donald Trump, Jr. meeting with a Russian attorney finally came to light, the tale spun by Junior was that it was a brief meeting to discuss Russian adoption.  Another lie. An email chanin demonstrated the "adoption" meeting
was instead for the purpose of allowing Trump, Jr. to receive anti-Hillary Clinton info dug up by the Russian government.  If you believe the every increasing list of participants of that meeting, and there is no reason to cloak those individuals with any sort of credibility given their history, the dirt on Hillary Clinton was not forthcoming.

At the very least, the emails and subsequent meetings demonstrate a willingness on the part of Trump campaign members to collude, even if such collusion did not take place.  Even more clearly, it appears that campaign finance laws were violated, laws which prohibit the solicitation of things of value from foreign nationals.  Opposition research is most certainly a thing of value which would have been reported as an in-kind contribution.

However, just hours after confirming the date and time of the Trump, Jr. meeting with the Russians to get anti-Hillary information, Trump publicly announced that he would in a few days give a speech detailing Hillary dirt.   We're supposed to believe that was just a coincidence and that the President knew nothing of the "adoption" meeting?   Given the President's penchant for lying, it's hard to believe this claim is true.

It's probably only a matter of time before it is revealed that President Trump was well aware of his campaign staff's interactions with the Russian officials to help him defeat Hillary Clinton.  While collusion was never the only thing that mattered in the investigation (I always thought that related financial crimes were likely the bigger story), it appears that collusion really did take place, or at the very least an attempt to collude.

Now that collusion is a strong possibility,, what is the Trump response? Well, of course, to say that even if there was collusion, collusion is perfectly okay because everyone in politics does it!  Late this morning, Donald Trump tweeted:

Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That's politics!

Of course, that's a ridiculous claim.  But even if it were true, it's not a defense.  If you run a stop sign, it is not a defense that other people run that same stop sign too.

The word "impeachment" is increasingly being mentioned by more and more Democrats, an idea dismissed out of hand by most Republicans. They shouldn't.  Democrats are likely to run on impeachment in 2018 and, if history is any guide, they almost certainly will win a majority of seats. When that happens, impeachment proceedings are almost certain to happen.

Even if impeachment is successful, the President's case would still have to be tried in the Senate. Given the seats up in 2018, it is virtually impossible for the Democrats to do much better than draw even with the Republicans who have a 52-48 majority.  While that would seemingly close the door on Trump's removal, I don't buy it.  Given the likely bad 2018 election results, I think 17 Republicans could be found to vote to rid the country of the incompetent, ethically-challenged administration that would likely be an albatross as they go into the 2020 election.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

President Trump Tweets that He Discussed Forming a Cyber Security Unit with Russia

Friday's meeting between American President Donald Trump and Russian President Vladimar Putin only featured six people in the room, the two Presidents, U.S. Secretary of State and Russian Order of Friendship Winner Rex Tillerson, Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and two interpreters. Everyone else was shut out, including the American National Security Adviser, H.R. McMaster, who would normally rank ahead of the Secretary of State when it comes to attending such a meeting.

The purpose of the small attendee list was undoubtedly to prevent leaks. The Trump administration did not want a repeat of the damaging information that came out during his last meeting with the Russians, a lighthearted event in the oval office in which Trump bragged about his access to top rate intelligence followed by his then giving out highly classified information to the Lavrov and other Russian attendees.
Russian officials meeting with President Trump in Oval Office this May
 It was at that meeting that Trump also told the Russians he had fired "nutjob" FBI Director James Comey to ease pressure on him due to Comey's Russian investigation, a maneuver that has failed miserably.

Unfortunately, for the Trump administration, there was one person in the room who could not remain silent when it came to releasing damaging information about what happened in Friday's meeting - Donald Trump.  This morning President Trump tweeted out:
South Carolina Senator Lindsey Graham said involving the Russians in a cyber security unit is "not the dumbest idea I've ever heard but it's pretty close."  Meanwhile Florida Senator Marco tweeted out that "partnering with Putin on a "Cuber Security Unit" is akin to partnering with Assad on a "Chemical Weapons Unit."

And those were Republicans. Adam Schiff, a Democrat who is a member on the House Intelligence Committee, who said on CNN's State of the Union that "if that's our best election defense, we might as well just mail our ballot boxes to Moscow."

It is now clear how Russian participation on such a cyber security unit would work.  Would we share with the Russians our intelligence on how we track down hackers and how systems can be designed to avoid such hacking in the future? Doesn't President Trump understand that such information would be enormously helpful to the Russians in continuing their cyber hacking program?

Trump has now tweeted several times about Friday's meeting and it is clear from those tweets that the President did not "press" his man crush Russian President Vladimar Putin on election meddling.  Even Secretary of State Tillerson said Trump raised meddling not on his own behalf but on behalf of the "American people" and then simply moved on when Putin denied it. President Trump now admits that he didn't raise the possibility of sanctions for Russia's election interference, despite the fact such a bill passed the Senate 97-2 and is pending in the House.  According to Lavrov's version of the meeting, Trump accepted Putin's denials of involvement and even offered the observation that some media outlets in the United States are exaggerating the election hacking story.    While Lavrov has a reputation for being less than honest, sadly President Trump does as well.   Bottom line is that Lavrov's claims about what transpired during the meeting seem perfectly consistent with the things President Trump has said about Russian interference in the 2016 election, including how Trump responded when asked by a reporter about the issue just two days early.

Sunday, July 2, 2017

President Trump Continues Assault on Free Press as New Tweet Condones Violence on Reporters

One would think that President Trump's attacks on a free press had gone as low as he possible could have this week with his twitter attack MSNBC's Morning Joe Hosts, Mika Brzezinski, and Joe Scarborough, which included not only his sexist mocking of Brzezinski's appearance but also lies about their trip over New Year's to the President's Maralago resort.  But on the heels of that tweet came Brzezinski and Scarborough's claim that President Trump used a threatened National Enquirer expose of Brzezinski and Scarborough's relationship (they are divorced and now are engaged to one another) to try to extort better coverage of the President on their show  Calls from the White House, including apparently from Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law, indicated that if they were willing to apologize to President Trump for their past criticism of the President and provide more favorable coverage in the future, the President would have the publisher of the National Enquirer, with whom the President is close friends, pull the story.  The Morning Joe hosts refused and the story ran.

It should be noted that this is not the first time President Trump threatened to expose the Morning Joe hosts' relationship because he did not like how they talked about him on the program.  He tweeted such a threat earlier this year, though it seems in discussing the President's more recent tweets about the program the reporters have forgotten about the earlier threat President Trump made.

So we're at the bottom, right?  Think again.  Never bet against President Trump finding a way to lower the dignity of his office and lowering political civility yet further.  As the network morning news shows were taking place, President Trump posted this spoof of his physically assaulting a CNN reporter:

In an environment in which a Republican congressional candidate assaulted a reporter because he didn't like the question he was asking and a Democratic nutjob began shooting at Republicans members of Congress at a baseball practice, the last thing we need is the President using his position to undermine civility and condone violence.  While many may simply laugh off the President's professional wrestling spoof, the fact is there are people on the margins of society who are going to take such a video as the President himself condoning violence on reporters.  Of course, Donald Trump has condoned violence at his rallies before so this isn't new.

Okay, we've finally reached the bottom, right?