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Posts Tagged ‘Mueller

situation USA 2: reflections on the Mueller Report and more recent events

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I’m listening with moderate interest to Sam Harris’s recent interview with a legal journalist, Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare, about the Mueller Report. Harris and I share a total abhorrence of Trump, but Harris gives the appearance of being apologetic about it, presumably because he’s an American and a Big Name with a large following, a percentage of whom are Trumpets, who either follow Harris because of his castigations of the Left and identity politics, or just like trolling and giving him a hard time. So it’s no surprise that he’s been avoiding the Trump disaster over the last year or so, and focusing largely on more positive stuff.

However, with the Mueller Report all done, and Trump so far from done, he’s found an expert to dive into the report’s findings and implications. I’m not a lawyer of course, but I’ve read the report and, no doubt like many other such readers, I feel smugly annoyed at the way it has been misrepresented by both sides of politics.

I’m broadly in agreement with Wittes’s analysis of the report, even if I find the legalistic tone a little obfuscating at times, given the nature of the crisis created by Trump’s advent. One thing, though, I continue to be disappointed about – and this is common to most legal analyses I’ve heard, is a kind of dithering or a throwing up of the hands vis-a-vis ‘the indictment of a sitting President’.

Trump should now be in prison for the campaign finance violations he directed Michael Cohen to commit (and would be if he had lost the election). It seems to me grossly unjust that Cohen – though he did commit other crimes – should go to prison for two felonies related to payments Trump arranged to be made to women he had secret relations with, and one crime of lying to Congress about Trump’s financial dealings in Russia, without Trump also being charged and convicted. Cohen was sentenced to 3 years’ prison all up, and it appears impossible to separate the sentences for crimes directed by Trump from other sentences, but it’s certain that Trump, as the ‘Mr Big’ who hired Cohen, should receive longer sentences than Cohen for those particular offences. Presumably he will be charged and imprisoned when he leaves office – for these any many other crimes. If he isn’t, this will simply add to the USA’s well-deserved global disgrace. 

Anyway, the interview takes the Mueller Report’s findings in order, first its release and the behaviour of Barr, then volume one and collusion/conspiracy, and then volume two and obstruction. 

Wittes first defends Barr regarding the delayed, redacted release of the report. He describes the redaction process as ‘labour-intensive’ and time consuming, so that the near 4-week lag from the completion of the 400-plus page document to its release was justified. He also feels that the redactions themselves were by and large reasonable (something that can’t really be determined until we get to read the unredacted version). My essential quibble with this claim is that everything I’ve learned about Mueller, through reading the report itself and through listening to those who know him and have worked with him, is that he is meticulous and thorough in all legal matters. So it seems to me more or less certain that he would not have handed the report over in unredacted form. Of course Barr would’ve received the unredacted report as Mueller’s boss, but Mueller surely would’ve given detailed indications of what the redactions should be, and why those redactions should be made. Had Barr accepted those indications holus-bolus the report could’ve been handed over to Congress and the public almost immediately. There are two other reasons why Barr may have wanted to delay. First, to intrude further into the redaction process (in Trump’s favour), and second, to delay for the sake of delay, hoping that the commotion might die down, that ardour might cool even slightly, and even to delay the inevitable (as the Trump administration has been doing since). 

Wittes next talks about the letter Barr wrote soon after receiving the report, and its distortion of the report’s content. This of course relates to the delay in the release of the report, because Barr’s summary, which he later tried to argue wasn’t a summary, seemed to exonerate Trump of all crimes, allowing Trump and his administration to claim complete innocence. The duplicitous ‘summary’, which Mueller himself criticised severely in a letter to Barr, seems further evidence that Barr’s delayed release of the redacted report was strategic. The duplicity is revealed, as Wittes points out, in an analysis of Barr’s selective quotes from the report, published in the New York Times. Having just read the letter myself, I find this quote particularly disturbing: 

Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.

Having read volume two of the report, and listened to many legal analysts discussing it, I find this pretty astonishing. You’d have to wonder what could constitute obstruction, according to Barr (though the answer is pretty evident from his 19-page letter on the matter which got him appointed A-G in the first place). As to Rosenstein, his role in the administration is being reassessed in the light of this endorsement.

But now I need to interrupt this analysis in the light of a recent brief press conference held by Mueller. He has used this platform to stress the finding that, due to Department of Justice policy, charging the President with a crime was ‘not an option we could consider’ – that’s to say, it was never on the table from the start. This, presumably, regardless of the crime – murder, rape, grand larceny, treason, no crime is so heinous that it needs to be dealt with pronto. Instead, Mueller refers to his introduction to volume 2 of the report. Here is the essential message from Mueller’s presentation:

If we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said so. We did not, however, make a determination as to whether the President did commit a crime. The introduction to volume 2 of our report explains that decision. It explains that under long-standing department policy a President cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional. Even if the charge is kept under seal and kept from public view, that too is prohibited. The Special Counsel’s office is under the Department of Justice and under the regulation it was bound by that department policy. Charging the President with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider. The department’s written opinion explaining the policy makes several important points that further informed our handling of the obstruction investigation…. First the opinion explicitly permits the investigation of a sitting President because it is important to preserve evidence while memories are fresh and documents available…. And second the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrong-doing.

The words in italics are, importantly, Mueller’s emphases. As just about every pundit agrees, Mueller has emphasised this part of the report very deliberately to indicate that, now, that other process should take over. That’s to say, congressional oversight or impeachment.

But what Mueller and almost everyone else in the USA doesn’t get, is that this other process is fundamentally flawed because it is a political process. It is simply wrong to shirk the legal responsibility of dealing with legal issues, for one person only – the POTUS. It is, in fact, corrupt, to a degree that is so screamingly obvious to an outsider like me, that I feel like committing the whole nation to an institution for the criminally insane. And if the US Constitution permits this, so much the worse for that constitution. I must admit to being sick to death of the US Constitution being referred to in reverential and worshipful tones by Americans. It seems to make critical analysis impossible, almost treasonous. In any case, the implication of not being able to charge the President with clear-cut criminal behaviour, is this – with great power comes great immunity.

By not dealing directly with Trump’s criminality, or Presidential criminality in general, for whatever lame historical reasons, the Department of Justice has handed this situation over to partisan players, most of whom are not qualified or educated in law. This is wrong. And I’ve not heard a single US ‘expert’ point this out. To describe this as extremely frustrating is a vast understatement. I note that Mueller uses the weasel term ‘wrong-doing’ instead of crimes, to try to get the DoJ off the hook. It won’t do. Trump has committed crimes. His ‘fixer’ is in jail for some of them, and most lawyers happily say that they would win convictions for others. This whole sorry situation will damage, deservedly, the USA’s reputation for a long time into the future. Permanently, in fact, until it gets it the criminal liability of its all-too powerful leaders sorted out. Currently their President is above the law, and that’s the example they’re setting for heads of state everywhere.

Written by stewart henderson

May 31, 2019 at 8:38 am

what to do with a serious problem like Trump: part two

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So what damage is Trump doing to the US political system? He sets an example of deceit, disrespect, adversarialism and other negative qualities. He highlights these sorts of qualities as a route to worldly success. He undermines all the essential institutions of western democracy, especially an independent press and judiciary. His belligerence and lack of co-operation with judicial authorities may lead to further damage, including serious civil unrest, of a kind not seen in the USA for decades, or longer. We’ll see what happens.

So that is the problem of Trump, as all reasonable people see it. Having said that, I have some optimistic and some pessimistic comments to add.

I should start with the pessimistic stuff, so that I can end on a positive note.

Trump is the proverbial bull in a china shop. What do we do when we find a bull in a china shop, blundering about, smashing up everything, just being a bull? We take steps to get him out of there, pronto. And being enlightened souls, we don’t want to punish him for being what he can’t help being. A tranquilising dart might be the best answer, though this may make him thrash about all the more, at least for a time. We try to protect the shop as best we can, knowing that some damage will be inevitable.

However, Trump is a bull with friends and enablers, some of whom see him as a mighty stallion trampling over the spoils of the undeserving, while others see him as, for various reasons, a most useful bull. Still others see him as pure entertainment. They’re prepared to fight to prevent this bull from being removed from this china shop…

That’s roughly the present situation. As I’ve stated before, Trump is no Nixon, he won’t go quietly. He would rather barricade himself in the White House than resign. He would argue that a sitting President can’t be charged, he would refuse to co-operate with impeachment proceedings, and this would create a situation far worse than a constitutional crisis.

That’s the problem, the pessimistic stuff, and frankly I’ve no idea how this will be resolved. The worst case scenario is serious civil strife, of a kind not seen on American soil since the civil war, and Trump being Trump, I honestly can’t see a best case scenario that doesn’t involve violence of some kind, hopefully only to Trump himself, so as to prise him out of office. Given that scenario, tranquilising mightn’t be such a bad idea.

With that out of the way, let’s turn to the optimistic stuff, the silver lining, the lessons learned. Clearly, post-Trump, the American political system needs some restructuring, just as a town might do after being severely damaged by an unanticipated storm, one that could always strike again.

Trump has revealed serious failings in political and judicial structures. In fact he’s been revealing them for decades, from what I’ve gathered, as he has emerged largely unscathed from a lifetime of extortion, standover tactics, unpaid debts and dishonest deals and enterprises. He has surrounded himself with similarly shady characters; fixers, mobsters, goons and corruption merchants of all stripes. His success mirrors the failures of law and order in ways that I’m not equipped to deconstruct, but it’s surely true that these are failures.

Trump’s list of dodgy deals and litigations should have excluded him from candidature for high office, but there seems to be very little vetting for the position of President, something which seems to be a matter of pride in some circles. You don’t want just anyone to become your head of state, and democracy, to give away a nasty but surely open secret, doesn’t guarantee the best leadership. That is why the separation of powers is so important.

So these are two areas that need some work, post-Trump; tighter rules and vetting for Presidential and other political candidature, and a tightening and bolstering of the separation of powers. I would also like to see white-collar crime pursued far more vigorously, but again I’m not equipped to go into detail on this. Another area of concern in the light of Trump’s assaults is the media and its protection. It would be hard to quantify the damage Trump has done in this area with his ‘fake news’ meme. Lying is, of course, not a crime, or we would all be criminals, but the massively irresponsible behaviour of a head of state who lies about virtually everything, and who regularly denigrates and abuses those who speak obvious truths to power – a major media role – shouldn’t go unpunished. The media should be given greater legal means to fight back against this denigration. Getting more into the detail – producing tax returns should be absolutely mandatory for all political candidates, with no exceptions and strictly enforced, and the ’emoluments clause’ in the constitution, an out-dated piece of verbiage describing gifts from members of the nobility, should be upgraded and strengthened to prohibit those in high office to profit directly from their position.

On the separation of powers, so regularly attacked by Trump out of wilful, self-serving interest: many are unaware that this separation serves the important purpose of limiting democracy. Limiting demagoguery in this case. Among the checks and balances which seek to defuse the danger of a directly elected President, beholden to no party or principle, are an independent judiciary, an independent fourth estate, and a system of independent or bipartisan vetting of those nominated by the President for such Level One positions as Secretary of State. This separation of powers needs to be strictly adhered to and supported by law to the extent that regular attempts to undermine this separation, as is practiced by this President, should be seen as obstructing the rule of law and dealt with severely.

There need to be other checks and balances of course – checks on the media itself and on such organisations as the Department of Justice, which according to Alan Dershowitz and others beside the President, is pursuing Trump beyond the scope of its mandate. I’m not sufficiently au fait with these checks, which should of course include defamation laws to protect public personae, to make effective comment, but the scope of the Mueller enquiry is a matter of public record. There is no doubt that the Mueller enquiry has been given wide powers, but there is also no doubt that Russian interference in the 2016 election was considerable, and the indictments of many Russian citizens and entities as a result of the probe have supported this. There is also no doubt that Trump’s businesses in recent years have been linked to Russian oligarchs, as freely admitted by Donald Trump Jr, and that Trump has been extremely reluctant to make accusations against Russia and its dictator in light of clear evidence of interference which benefitted his Presidential bid. It’s highly likely that the probe has found clear evidence of conspiracy with a foreign power during the 2016 elections, to say nothing of obstruction of justice in the ousting of James Cohen and possibly also Andrew McCabe. The constant denigration of the Department of Justice and the FBI by the current President is of course unprecedented, and will require, I think, unprecedented responses in order to preserve and reinforce the separation of powers and to ensure that lawyers, judges and law enforcement officers can do their jobs without having to face the kind of treatment meted out to them by the likes of Trump and his enablers.

So, finally, no more from me about Trump, I hope. There are threats and opportunities here. The immediate threat to civil society comes from a bull who won’t go quietly, who will be supported by some powerful allies in defying authority, with possibly disastrous immediate consequences. The opportunity, as always with disasters of this sort, is to improve the political system to ensure that this is the first and last rogue President to disgrace the White House. Good luck with all that.

Written by stewart henderson

May 7, 2018 at 11:57 am

Trump’s downfall – like watching a slow-mo train wreck

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the demise of Richard III

So after something of a lull (but not in the offices of the DoJ’s Mueller and his team) everything’s hotting up in the Russia investigation, and my prediction seems now a dead cert. The indictment of the thirteen was a fascinating read, and we’ve yet to find out if any Americans close to Trump were wittingly involved in this trolling affair. There’s likely more to come from that direction, but the most recent guilty plea and co-operation deal from former White House aide Rick Gates lands a decisive blow, and we still haven’t heard from Flynn – though there may be nothing much to hear.

The Mueller team’s strategy in this investigation, or perhaps I should say the pundits’ attempts to comprehend the strategy, makes for irresistibly compelling viewing and listening, especially as we’re now getting reading material from the team, and very deliberately so, as the American public, or that part of it that matters, need to be made aware of the real and serious nature of the Russian threat and the relationship between the Trump campaign and presidency, and Russian oligarchs, government officials and supporters, such as former Ukrainian dictator Viktor Yanukovych. I should mention the most compelling of the pundits, for me, who include Rachel Maddow, Laurence O’Donnell and Ari Melber for MSNBC, and Anderson Cooper, Don Lemon and Chris Cuomo for CNN and their numerous expert guests.

What has been tantalisingly suggested in the most recent indictments of Manafort, Gates and the Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan is a possible/probable connection between 1: Manafort’s financial problems and the many swindles he engaged in after the deposing of Yanukovych in 2014 and the sudden reduction of those problems when he became Trump’s campaign manager in 2016, and 2: the financial connections between Trump and members of his family and Russian oligarchs. One key to that reduction seems to be the millions of dollars of loans received from a Chicago bank headed by a Trump supporter, who apparently was hoping to be made Secretary of the Army in return. Didn’t happen of course.

And the crises keep on coming in Trumpland. I’ve not written here for a few days, and the latest, just in, is that Kushner has been effectively demoted due to his lack of a security clearance, which will mean a battle between him and John Kelly, which will involve Trump, but more importantly it will focus attention on just why Kushner is deemed a security risk. And of course the clearance issue involves a scandalously large number of White House staff besides Kushner. Another shemozzle. There was apparently a conversation between White House counsel Don McGann and Deputy A-G Rosenstein (initiated by the White House I’ll bet) a couple of weeks ago about Kushner’s clearance. I’d love to have heard its substance. It’ll be interesting to see how Trump handles this particular debacle. He presumably won’t fire Kelly, because that’ll do nothing for the clearance situation – it’s people like Mueller and Rosenstein he wants to fire. My guess is he’ll try to continue with business as usual, defying Kelly’s order that Kushner not be allowed access to top secret documents. The media need to be watchful on this.

But getting back to Manafort-Gates, this appears to be the main game re Trump’s downfall. According to all the legal analysts, the case against Manafort is more than extremely strong, and his only hope of getting a lighter sentence is to plead guilty and co-operate with the Mueller investigation – though perhaps he’d prefer to live his life out in jail than leave himself open to Russian hit-men. He’s showing no sign of cracking as yet, but I can’t imagine it’s due to loyalty to Trump. Meanwhile, reports are that Trump is very worried about Manafort spilling the beans. Again it’s all about following the money.

For the rest of this piece, though, I want to focus on whether Trump will be kicked out, how will he be kicked out, the obstacles and a little bit about the aftermath. First, let me focus on an article in the New Republic, by Matt Ford, published in late January, entitled ‘Trump is Here to Stay’. It’s not a pro-Trump piece, but it questions the likelihood of indicting a sitting president. This is a key question, because I’ve never taken much interest in the political process known as impeachment, which is a more or less uniquely American thing. To me, it should be all about the law – laws being similar (or more similar than different) in all advanced western nations. And no single person, regardless of station, should be above the law. So I would be expecting that Trump would be removed by the Department of Justice, not by Congress, but there’s no precedent for this. But there’s no precedent for Trump either. I wouldn’t want Trump to be removed by a political process, I’d want him to be removed for breaking the law, or laws.

So what laws would he have broken? Obstruction of justice and perjury are two obvious ones, and others would have to do with his finances, and how they tie him closely to Russian oligarchs and their extreme anti-democratic ambitions and their interference in the recent elections – for which one Russian oligarch has already been indicted. Of course my disagreement with Ford and his article is driven by optimism and an unwonted love of fireworks, but I think that, though he accepts Mueller’s thoroughness, he underestimates it. He might also think differently now that these Russians have been indicted, and Gates has pleaded guilty. The Mueller team have come out in public a lot more in the past month, and more is surely expected, nobody can really predict what will come out next. Indictments against, say, Kushner for his financial dealings may change the picture, especially if they’re comprehensive. And Manafort may yet change his tune under pressure. And remember that the Mueller team can look at any wrong-doings that turn up in the course of their investigations, which include the dodgy profits Trump is certainly deriving from simply being the President. I think Ford also underestimates the groundswell of resistance, which may lead to unprecedented national action throughout 2018. The mood against Trump may turn more and more ugly, and if a Mueller indictment comes on top of that, we may witness a true constitutional crisis. For example, I don’t see Pence as being acceptable to the American public, so we’ll be in uncharted territory. Americans might at last see that their political system needs some serious revision – too many personal appointees of America’s CEO and not enough elected officials running things – not enough democracy, in effect.

 

Written by stewart henderson

March 1, 2018 at 11:27 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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Trump’s downfall: the Russians keep on coming

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Yevgeniy Prigozhin, one of Putin’s mafioso thugs, and boss of Russian Bot Enterprises

Now to return to that fun topic, the dumping of Trump. Just to repeat, I’ve predicted that Trump will be ousted by year’s end, and I’m today feeling more confident in that prediction than ever, though my optimism meter has bounced about over the past few months.

The so-called speaking indictment recently released by special counsel Robert Mueller has put paid to Trump’s windy blather about ‘the fake Russia thing’. I suspect this was part of its intention. Being true patriots and all, the Mueller team want to prove to the American people once and for all that they’re under attack, contra Trump and his GOP supporters. They’ve indicted 13 Russian individuals and 3 companies on 8 counts, including conspiracy to defraud the US, conspiracy to commit wire and bank fraud, and several counts of aggravated identity theft, and they’ve told a detailed 37-page story to back it all up. And although the indictment doesn’t provide direct evidence of Russian government involvement, it states that funding was provided by Yevgeniy Prigozhin, a close ally and friend of Putin. The indictment is available online here and no doubt elsewhere.

Clearly this’ll stump Trump. The terms ruse, witch-hunt and fake news will no longer be so easily available to him. He himself tweeted shortly after the indictment was announced that because the conspiracy was first launched in 2014, he was somehow in the clear. Not only is this obviously false, the tweet unwittingly admits that the Russian conspiracy was real. I heard that he quickly regretted this, but oops, too late, because his possibly soon-to-be ex-national security advisor HR Puffnstuff McMaster has announced that the indictment provides incontrovertible evidence of the Russian conspiracy.

Rubs hand with glee

So it seems Trump wants to continue to undermine Mueller’s credible findings, and meanwhile American adults will want to know when sanctions will be imposed on Russia and what will be done to safeguard the November elections. These sanctions have already been voted for in Congress, but Trump hasn’t signed them into law. My guess is he’ll try to use the ‘argument’ that the Russian conspiracy had no impact on the 2016 election to do nothing. But that’s a pretty dangerous course to take.

The impact of the Russian conspiracy on the election is impossible to prove one way or another (you can’t read the minds of voters), and it isn’t a focus of the Mueller enquiry, which is entirely concerned with illegal activities. The fact that Trump isn’t at all concerned, as America’s head of state, that Russians engaged in illegal activities to meddle in US elections, should be, you’d think, of enormous concern to citizens of one of the most jingoistic nations on Earth. It should surely be his downfall, and a national scandal. But maybe I’m misreading things. After all, I was never able to believe that Trump could be elected in any civilised country.

Which of course raises the question – why is Trump so reluctant to sanction the Russians? Is it just because of his man-crush, or is it something deeper and more sinister? As many pundits are saying, we’ll get the answer to that by following the money, which is surely what Mueller is doing.

Having just read the full indictment – which really is a page-turner – I find it pretty compelling in its argument and wealth of evidence, and yet on listening to the mainstream cable news networks (CNN and MSNBC) over these last few months, I’m coming to realise that there’s a vast bulk of Americans, perhaps a third, who are so hooked into Fox News and its so obviously crude and distorted view of the US political scene that, it seems, nothing will move them to save themselves from their patently anti-democratic wannabe dictator. I get my occasional glimpses of Fox News and its tirades from the other networks, though I snatch a few direct looks myself. It really is appalling – hilarious in a death-black sort of way. If this number of people believe this sort of guff, and this ferociously, then ultimate action against Trump could lead to something like civil war, an outcome beyond the Russians’ wildest hopes.

One of the more grotesque claims now being made by the Fox Media-Trump cabal is that the Russian meddling was completely without impact, so why bother going after them? Better to go after the Mueller team, the FBI, the CIA and other ‘enemies of the nation’. Again, could this outcome be any better for the Russians?

I’ve said that it can’t be proved that the Russian bots and trolls influenced the outcome of the 2016 election. You can’t prove that any single voter had her vote decided by a particular rally or online article or image or whatever. That’s why the enquiry never intended to investigate this. It’s police enquiry, after all, so it’s investigating illegal methods and activities. But as to the results of these methods, we assert a few facts. The Russians’ principal focus was denigrating and debilitating the Clinton campaign – that’s surely why they ‘supported’ Sanders. Another major focus was supporting Trump (though occasionally muddying the waters) – that’s surely why they attacked the campaigns of Cruz and Rubio. Another salient fact is that the Trump election campaign was successful, confounding nearly all the pundits. The Russians would’ve had multiple reasons for supporting Trump, including some sort of quid pro quo, but one reason surely was that, since the Russians’ intentions were profoundly anti-democratic, as is shown by their efforts to disrupt democracies around the world, it would be screamingly obvious to promote the cause of perhaps the most profoundly anti-democratic candidate ever to contest a US presidential election.

It seems unthinkable that Trump wouldn’t act against the Russians, and it seems unthinkable that the American people would let him get away with this. Current reporting from Wired online tells us that pro-gun Russian bots are trolling over the Florida killings, as they did at the time of the Las Vegas massacre and on other occasions. It’s surely past time for the people to rise up against a leader who cares nothing about this and would obstruct efforts to act. Maybe they’re hoping that Mueller will do their job for them. I think, though, this needs more than just Mueller. The adults need to take over the asylum.

Written by stewart henderson

February 19, 2018 at 3:54 pm

Posted in Fox News

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watching Trump’s downfall – follow the money

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veteran federal prosecutor Andrew Weissmann, bullish criminal fraud expert and key member of the Mueller team

Canto: The good thing about the Mueller investigation, or ‘special counsel enquiry’, is its broad terms of reference, as we Australians would describe it. The brief of the enquiry is to investigate any links and/or co-ordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matter that arose or may arise directly from the investigation…

Jacinta: So that would include obstructing justice, but I’m not sure that the firing of James Comey, then head of the FBI, in May 2017, will fit the ‘obstruction of justice’ category.

Canto: But the FBI were investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election, and Trump more or less admitted, just after firing Comey, that it was because of the ‘Russia thing’.

Jacinta: ‘More or less’ isn’t good enough, and it could be argued that justice wasn’t obstructed because Comey’s firing led directly to the Mueller investigation.

Canto: Okay forget obstructing justice, at least for now, I was going to talk about money. That’s to say, matters arising directly from the investigation. That’s how Paul Manafort and Rick Gates were indicted. They were lobbying for the pro-Russian faction in Ukraine, in particular the disgustingly villainous Viktor Yanukovych, but were involved, not incidentally, in massive money-laundering schemes. So they’re in big trouble, and it’s well known that Trump and his family are up to their ears in Russian money, and if Trump’s finances aren’t dodgy, then the term dodgy surely has no meaning. Mueller’s team, detailed here, ‘possess a vast array of experience investigating financial fraud, corruption, money laundering, foreign bribery, and organized crime’. A perfect bunch to catch out Trump.

Jacinta: You’re making a few assumptions here about Trump’s corruption. Yes he’s a bullshit artist, he doesn’t have any normal concept of the truth, he’s ignorant, he’s inhumane, he’s a bully and much more. That doesn’t make him a criminal. If he was involved in the kind of activities Manafort was involved in, he surely would’ve been indicted by now.

Canto: They may have enough to indict him, but doing so would bring the investigation to a spectacular halt. His indictment might be the cherry on the cake, the last thing to add. First they’ll be spiralling in on the family, Kushner and Trump Jr…

Jacinta: You’re sounding like the most optimistic anti-Trump pundit, imagining they already have mountains of evidence, they’re just adding to the pile to make this the most spectacular house-of-cards downfall in US history, for which their names (I mean the Mueller team) will be covered in eternal glory. I’m a little sceptical.

Canto: Trump has never produced his tax returns and I’m assuming he has much to hide. His companies declared bankruptcy four times in the early nineties, and two more times in the 2000s. It came to the point where the only bank that would lend to him was Deutsche Bank, a financial institution that was at the same time heavily into laundering Russian money. And it’s no secret that Trump and his family are heavily indebted to Russian oligarchs – super-rich members of Putin’s kleptocracy. Naturally they’re expecting a quid pro quo. This is where the interference lies – Trump’s indebtedness and the Russian government’s expectations.

Jacinta: But has Russia really benefitted, apart from Trump’s fawning over Putin? There was talk of the Trump administration going easy on Russia in exchange for dirt on Clinton, but it hasn’t actually happened has it? Trump’s personal indebtedness to Russians, if proven, doesn’t prove that he or his team conspired with Russians to subvert the US political/democratic system. I mean, there’s no doubt the Russians have been trying to subvert the American, and British and French and other western governments, and they were working toward a Trump victory in 2016 for obvious reasons, but whether or not they conspired directly with the Trump team, that’s unclear. Certainly the Russians would’ve tried to, but did they actually succeed, and what evidence has there been of a quid pro quo?

Canto: We don’t know, but it’s likely that Mueller’s team does. They’ve subpoenaed Deutsche Bank for documents relating to Trump and his family’s finances, though this has been denied by Trump’s lawyer Jay Sekulow. Deutsche Bank is about the only major bank in the world willing to lend to Trump, and it was found guilty of laundering some $10 billion dollars of Russian money last year. Kushner received a loan of $285 million from Deutsche Bank in 2016, just before election day. The Mueller investigators will know much much more about this than we or any reporters do. It’s about connecting the dots, to quote one reporter, between the Trump and Kushner finances, Deutsche Bank and Putin and his billionaire kleptocrats. Apparently Trump and his companies have received no less than $3.5 billion in loans and loan-guarantee agreements from Deutsche Bank since 1998. It’s impossible to believe that Mueller’s lawyers aren’t shining all sorts of lights on all this murkiness and making more sense of it than has ever been made before. I look forward to the next indictment. It might be the most fateful one yet.

Jacinta: Okay, here’s a question. What exactly is money laundering?

Canto: Well, as the term suggests, it’s about turning dirty money into apparently clean stuff. Ill-gotten into ‘legit’. Though the term has become envaguened in recent years,

Jacinta: Good word.

Canto: Thanks, so now it just about covers all kinds of dodgy financial dealings, including terrorist financing. But the key, usually, is to give the appearance of legitimacy to money obtained illegally or wrongfully. And of course the variety of ways this can be done is just about endless. So let me tell you about the Deutsche Bank ‘mirror trade’ system. It was about accepting two trades at once that looked essentially equal and opposite, one in roubles, the other in dollars or other western currencies. These trades looked innocuous but their real purpose was to convert money, and to shift it out of Russia. This, inter alia, helped to ‘clean up’ the money, which was more often than not of dubious origin, given Putin’s kleptocracy.

Jacinta: Just a quick read of Deutsche Bank’s history reveals scandal after scandal, a history of corruption – fraud, price manipulation and so on… which makes me long to get off the topic of money-grubbing and kleptomania and political jiggery-pokery and back to sciencey subjects. I’ve had enough.

Canto: Okay, I’ll try to get my mind off the Trump spectacle – what will happen will happen. No more, I promise – for a while. Just let me end with a list of dictators Trump has lavished praise on. Of course there’s Russia’s Putin and Duterte of the Philippines, but there’s also Nursultan Nazarbayev, dictator of Kazakhstan for the last 25 years; Xi Jinping, long-time leader and now dictator of China, lover of execution and other forms of repression; Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Egypt’s new repressive macho-man; Recep Erdogan, the Turkish bag of shit; and he’s expressed approval of Kim Jong Un and even Saddam Hussein. In fact, anybody who doesn’t seize power for himself (no women allowed) and hold onto it for a long time is considered a lightweight…

Jacinta: Okay calm down, let’s look at different sorts of power in the future…

 

Written by stewart henderson

January 4, 2018 at 10:53 am

watching Trump’s downfall – a new civil war?

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Putain and Frump chat about the best Russian hidey-holes cum 2018

Canto: So maybe I’m getting a bit over-excited about the Trump mess. I’m already getting nervous about my prediction that he’ll have fled to exile in Russia by next year.

Jacinta: That was your prediction?

Canto: Well, no I just thought of that one, but he’ll be out of office. The thing is, it’s the Mueller probe that’s most likely to nail him, and I’m being forced to defer to lawyers who predict that Mueller’s team won’t be completed until 2019 or beyond.

Jacinta: Hope deferred makes the heart sick.

Canto: Still, there are other possibilities. His popularity is the lowest of any Prez after a year in office since polling began, by a long way. It’s a slow, steady decline, and if it continues that way it’ll be well down in the twenties by late next year, and that may mirror his fall, slow and steady.

Jacinta: Though hopefully with no soft landing.

Canto: Well if he’s out of power it couldn’t possibly be soft. And I don’t mean weakened by the mid-term elections, I mean out the door.

Jacinta: Well the Republicans have just passed what many are calling a truly terrible tax bill, and people are already taking to the streets. And considering that Trump himself is going to benefit massively from it, while the have-nots and have-littles, many of whom voted for Trump, have been screwed, it may be that this time his base will shrink more than he ever thought it could.

Canto: Yes, there might be fighting in the streets. And here’s where Trump’s over-confident arrogance might just kill him off. He’s made a dangerous promise to campaign heavily towards the mid-terms next year, because he thinks he alone can fix it, that’s to say he can bring his ratings up with the same bullshit that he used last year. The same aggression, the same fake promises, the same conspiracy theories, the same hate speech. But his base, or maybe his ex-base, won’t have seen any improvement in their lives, the circus will have lost a lot of its glitz and the opposition will be mobilised to protest, to drown him out. It could turn ugly, and as fewer people buy into his shite…

Jacinta: The shrinking base will get tougher and angrier, and it’ll be the confederates and the union all over again. Or something.

Canto: Well, war of a kind is brewing, because the rhetoric, especially from the far right, is getting apocalyptic. Mueller and the FBI and the DoJ are in the process of launching a coup, they should be marched out of their lawyerly hidey-holes in cuffs, we have to act now to stop this show trial, that sort of thing.

Jacinta: And some say this is getting orchestrated, or at least egged on, by the White House. Trump junior even got in on the act the other day. He apparently likes to talk about rigged systems and a sinister Deep State…

Canto: The one responsible for September 11?

Jacinta: Yes, and contrails and the fake moon landings and the assassination of JFK and AIDS. The one running the USA and the world from bunkers deep beneath the Rocky Mountains. Anyway the Deep State is now a kind of anti-Trump, similar to the Anti-Christ, out to destroy the Prez.

Canto: Though he’s doing a pretty good job of that himself. And all the adults are saying that Mueller’s a consummate professional and his team won’t be fazed by the baying hounds, but I’m just wondering whether things might get out of control if they don’t produce something positive soon, like an indictment of Kushner, or a summons to Trump himself.

Jacinta: But wouldn’t that just set the Trumpets blaring?

Canto: Not if it was a solid indictment, or a well-worded summons. Of course plenty of Trumpets would blare, and Fox News would howl…

Jacinta: Do foxes howl?

Canto: Yes and they bark and scream and gekker and it’s all pretty hair-raising, but the Trumpets are definitely more dangerous. But anyway I think the drama that would follow the next big Mueller move would be nothing compared to the drama that would follow a move against Mueller, by the White House or a GOP faction.

Jacinta: A number of prominent Dems consider that the holiday break would be an ideal time for Trump to make a move, and they’re issuing warnings. What do you think?

Canto: I think these warnings are tactically sound, though they’re also heartfelt. They really feel this is a fight for democracy. I don’t think Trump would have done anything, but these Democrats speaking up helps to assure that.

Jacinta: Well if Trump does act the civil war may begin with the ‘nobody is above the law‘ rallies. Heard of them?

Canto: Yes a bipartisan organisation that’s set to mobilise protesters around the nation from the moment that Mueller is sacked. So they’ve learned from the past, but the Trumpets should’ve learned too. I don’t think there will be another Saturday night massacre.

Jacinta: No, and I think Trump’s trickier than you might think – he seems to slime his way out of a lot of situations that would see others in prison, and I think he’ll manage somehow to slime his way out of having to swear to anything on oath. But I don’t think he’ll ever manage to slime his way back into popularity again. I would love it if the people got him.

Canto: Like Mussolini?

Jacinta: A pleasant fantasy but let’s be civilised. An uprising so relentless as to make his administration completely unworkable.

Canto: So a night-flight to Russia mightn’t be out of the question then?

Jacinta: Well I can only think of two things that would undo him, a popular uprising or a situation in which he’s forced, personally, to tell the truth.

Canto: But there’s a third. Being forced to reveal his finances.

Jacinta: Well I include that in the second. Being forced to tell the truth about his finances.

Canto: I’m getting impatient, waiting for the DoJ’s next move. I heard they were going to interview Trump’s lawyers, who keep trying to calm him down, like with this idea that he’s about to be exonerated.

Jacinta: Which is silly. I’m pretty sure the investigation will get to Trump, but not until they’ve built up a really solid case. And they won’t be asking him to sit down to a friendly interview, as was reported on somewhat speculatively back in October. Anyway, a few days ago the press were all over this story about the Mueller team interviewing Trump’s lawyers, but I’ve heard nothing since.

Canto: The DoJ won’t be leaking anything about it if it takes place. The White House leaks like the Titanic, but it’s all bullshit.

Jacinta: I think obfuscation’s a better word. Yes you won’t be able to trust anything they say, but Trump’s mood might be revealing.

Canto: Not necessarily. You’re assuming the lawyers will relay to Trump the truth about their meeting. Better to assume the opposite.

Jacinta: What a tangled web they weave. Maybe a public uprising will cut the Gordon knot.

Canto: Most obscurantly put Jacinta. Most obscurantly.

Written by stewart henderson

December 24, 2017 at 8:06 pm

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watching Trump’s downfall – waiting for Mueller

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Trump’s rating, from Gallup. Opinion polls differ on Trump’s precise rating, but all show a steady decline throughout the year

Canto: So let’s have fun talking about the craziest political administration in my long lifetime, and where it’s going.

Jacinta: Not fun for everyone, not fun for women, non-whites, the poor, scientists, the judiciary, sick people, intellectuals, the FBI, net start-ups…

Canto: But not so bad for people who don’t actually live in the USA…

Jacinta: Rubbish. The abandonment of net neutrality in the USA will affect access to net content in Australia and elsewhere, with much more control going to established providers, and this administration’s anti-science stupidity will affect Australian scientists working or wanting to work in the USA.

Canto: Okay, not so bad for me. Especially as I’m confident that Trump will be out on his arse within months.

Jacinta: So how do you think that will happen?

Canto: Well right now, Trump is being pressured by his base via Fox News to sack the head of the Special Enquiry, Robert Mueller. This is funny in itself because they don’t explain how this can be done and they don’t look at the consequences. So they seem to be unwittingly precipitating Trump’s downfall.

Jacinta: How so?

Canto: Well imagine Trump takes the advice of Fox – advice that he himself is urging them to provide. Trump apparently hasn’t the  capacity to sack Mueller directly, much to his chagrin. This must come from the Attorney-General, Jefferson Sessions, but he has recused himself from this whole issue, so the job falls to his deputy, Rob Rosenstein, who very recently made it clear that he wouldn’t sack Mueller without just cause. And he stated clearly only a week or so ago that he didn’t see any just cause at that time.

Jacinta: But since then members of the Trump transition team and GOP pro-Trumpers…

Canto: I prefer to call them Trumpets, very noisy ones.

Jacinta: Okay, a few Trumpets are making a big noise about Mueller’s team having obtained the transition team’s emails illegally, a claim strenuously denied by a spokesman for Mueller.

Canto: And other independent law experts have argued that the Trumpets are blowing hot air on this. And think about it, this enquiry is investigating collusion between the transition team and Russian officials, collusion to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. What would be the first evidence they’d want to look at? Communications of course. Emails. So if there was no collusion, why would the the transition team be complaining about a collecting and investigating of emails?

Jacinta: Yes, you’d think they’d be handing over their emails and texts voluntarily. Nothing to see here, see?

Canto: Right, so Rosenstein won’t agree to sack Mueller, so he’d have to be sidelined somehow, and Trump would have to go down the line to find someone to sack Mueller, which by the way wouldn’t stop the enquiry from proceeding. And I’ve heard from experts that there aren’t too many down the line who would have the authority to sack Mueller, so he might reach a dead end there, and imagine all the adverse publicity a mess like that would create.

Jacinta: For Mister 32%. But I’ve heard that Mueller could be sacked by Presidential privilege, and that it could happen sooner rather than later, which could be the real beginning of the end for Trump. If Congress doesn’t react to that, the general public might.

Canto: Right, if Trump manages to fire Trump directly – and we know how he loves doing that – he’ll want to shut down the whole enquiry, citing ‘there’s no collusion, no collusion, it’s obvious folks, so obvious’, and there’s no way he’ll carry the general public on that one. A recent survey says that 68% of them disapprove of his response to the probe already, and that percentage will jump if he takes direct action, surely.

Jacinta: Well I’ve also just heard, through the cable news networks we’ve been consuming like popcorn lately, that Trump is expecting a letter of exoneration from the Mueller team soon. Where he got this idea from nobody quite knows – lawyers are saying nobody gets letters of exoneration from these types of enquiries. they publish their final findings and that’s it. It’s possible though that he got the idea from his own lawyers, or more likely from a garbled self-serving interpretation of what they’ve been telling him. Trump’s private lawyers are due to meet with the Mueller team next week, and they may have suggested to him that this is a sign that the enquiry is winding up.

Canto: Fat chance of that. Or should I say, my god I hope not. But it’s unlikely for a number of reasons. First, his former national security advisor Michael Flynn, a very close associate and friend of Trump, has pled guilty to a number of relatively minor charges as part of a plea bargain he’s made with the Mueller probe, and most lawyers I’ve listened to are quite certain Mueller will have gotten valuable information on collusion from Flynn, and possibly also Papadopoulos. That would probably implicate Kushner as well as Trump himself. It’s also a well-known fact that Trump’s finances are tied up with Russia and have been for decades. He’s clearly beholden to Russian interests, which is why he’s so sensitive to the collusion issue.

Jacinta: I have one word to add. Deutschebank.

Canto: I think it’s two words actually, but yes Deutsche Bank has been subpoenaed to produce Trump’s financial records. I’m sure they’d be very revealing, especially considering Trump’s fawning attitude to Putin, one of the world’s most ruthless dictators. This is one of the least publicised points in the case, and it may well be the one point that crushes Trump.

Jacinta: And it could take the Department of Justice about a year just to sort through that mess. But can Trump himself be subpoenaed? I can’t imagine him testifying under oath without committing perjury after perjury.

Canto: I believe Trump can be subpoenaed, and he’s said he’s perfectly willing to testify under oath, without being subpoenaed, but of course that was just one of his lovely bubbles, and I suspect his head would explode if he really was forced to tell the truth. Not out of anger, but out of ‘that does not compute’ confusion. He doesn’t understand the meaning of the word.

Jacinta: Yes I don’t think he’d go willingly into that lion’s den. But this is one of the frustrations for me. The Trumpets want this enquiry to end soon, preferably with Mueller and his team going straight to jail, but most lawyers and independents believe it’s far from over and may stretch into 2019. So the frustration is that I want to see Trump meet his demise asap, but I know that an investigation that brings down a sitting President has to be more thorough than thorough. And if, say, charges are brought against Kushner or Trump junior in the near future, the Trumpets will blare out for the investigation to be investigated, and Trump’s rage will make him more unhinged and incoherent than ever. That itself may bring about a national crisis…

Canto: Yes, well that’s where the fun begins, for us in our faraway ivory tower…

Fox Trumpets

Written by stewart henderson

December 20, 2017 at 8:05 am

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