Month: September 2018

Freaky, Flakey Friday

Last night, some blowhard was talking about the Senate and the power of one; meaning one retiring senator, Jeff Flake (R-AZ), overwhelmed by a spasm of conscience, brokered a deal with his pal, Sen. Chris Coons (D-DE), to hold up a confirmation vote on beer enthusiast Brett Kavanaugh. The Senate won’t vote until the FBI has conducted a further, limited investigation into the Kegger’s school-boy and adult-boy antics.

While Flake and Coons enjoy a relaxing smoke in the rosy afterglow of bipartisanship, they should remember that it took three women to move their conscience to break from the Republican cohort.  It took the power of one, Christine Blasey Ford, who, in spite of her revulsion and fears,  spoke her truth before the Senate committee and the world. Through the agency of another woman, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Ford forced the Senate to listen to her story. After that, it still took another woman, Ana Maria Archila, co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy, to force Flake to check his own conscience. Archila demanded that Flake look her in the eye while she told him tearfully that a vote to confirm would mean that women’s ordeals don’t matter and that men don’t care.

  Nevertheless, Flake deserves credit for forcing the issue in committee. He is stepping down because he has become unelectable. At least, it’s given him the opportunity to break ranks and, in doing so, slow down the Republican juggernaut.

The power of one senator who is willing to reach across the aisle carries tremendous power. Flake’s rebellion gives cover to other Republicans to vote their consciences, free of recrimination. If there are a few reasonable actors within the majority caucus that who will vote free of party pressure on important issues, the leadership might have to engage in meaningful negotiation. It’s too bad that Flake had to resign as a result of opposing FEPOTUS. Maybe one of the other GOP apostates will survive. If so, the Senate may be pushed back toward collegiality and compromise, notwithstanding Lindsey Graham’s partisan eruption. From time to time, a pair of Senate co-sponsors might emerge from one of the its delivery rooms to announce the birth of a meaningful bipartisan agreement.

To paraphrase Barack Obama, that is what change would look like.

And to paraphrase Joe Biden, that would be a big fucking deal.

The Kegger Plays His Trump Card

Yesterday’s meeting of the Senate Judiciary Committee predictably satisfied the expectations of political junkies, #metoo activists and garden-variety voyeurs. The crowd also experienced the rare surprise of the cool and collected Brett Kavanaugh putting on his angry Trump face for the galleries and the folks at home. Trump’s Justice in utero wasn’t going to go out without a Trumpian rant.

Kegger spent several days in White House captivity, mastering the Trump playbook. He roared about the Democrats’ chicanery, lamented that his days of teaching and coaching girls’ sports may be over, and raged that the coveted prize, a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court was being pulled out of his hands. He didn’t use the words “rigged” or “witch hunt,” and he wept and cursed his fate. Otherwise, it was unvarnished Trump-speak. Trump’s hand was up the Kegger’s back, moving his lips and waving his arms.

The Republican senators had hired Rachel Mitchell, an able and experienced sex crimes prosecutor from Arizona, to question accuser Dr. Christine Blasey Ford in their stead. Mitchell took each majority members’ five-minute segment in the Ford questioning, and she was scheduled to do the same with the Kegger. However, chairman Grassley and his bloc, fortified by the nominee’s new-found belligerence, decided to take back the microphone.

First up, Lindsey Graham (R-NC) lay the groundwork for the rest of the afternoon. Turning away from the judge, he fixed his pole axe on his Democratic colleagues.

“This is the most unethical sham since I’ve been in politics and if you really wanted to know the truth, you sure as hell wouldn’t have done what you’ve done to this guy!”

His target was his friend, Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), who bore the brunt of accusations that she held back Ford’s accusation until after Kavanaugh’s first hearing finished.
At long last, the combatants dismissed Ford and Kavanaugh, the proxies for the war between the statesmen. The Repubs were in high dudgeon over the Dems’ treatment of Kavanaugh, and the Dems were tacitly taking their revenge for their rivals’ dismissal of Merrick Garland in 2016 – and for a bagful of other indignities and slights.

The public got to see what kind of shit show we’ve enabled in the halls of government. Blame everybody — we’ve demanded winner-take-all politics, and now we have it. The Democrats led by former Senator Harry Reid (D-NV) set this in motion by eliminating the filibuster in connection with judicial appointments below the Supreme Court level This reduced the vote to a simple majority. When Mitch McConnell (R-TN) extended the rule to Supreme Court confirmation, the nuclear option, the stage was set for extreme appointees who did not require bipartisan support.

In 2016 Merrick Garland was put forward by Barack Obama, a centrist judge who previously had garnered the approval of both parties. He did this to dare the Republican house to gamble on the outcome of the presidential election.  McConnell, in complete control of the Senate, refused even to consider his nomination, rolling the dice that, if Clinton had won, he could always activate Garland’s nomination. With Trump in the White House and a Republican majority in the Senate, McConnell has been rolling sevens, judicially speaking. The Democrats, outmaneuvered, lament lifting the filibuster in the first place.

Dick Durbin (D-IL) had predicted in January that ending the filibuster would be the “end of the Senate,” as we know it. Yesterday, he lamented that his prediction had come true.

“It’s interesting, a Republican senator this morning in the gym raised the same question with me. And I said, ‘I think we’re learning our lesson here.’ That eliminating the filibuster on the Supreme Court at least, and maybe the other federal positions, has really created a much more political process. It is better for us to move toward with something that is bipartisan and try to find more moderate people to serve on our federal judiciary.”

Good luck with that. It’s a great aspiration but no one in this Senate presently will lead the institution out of its quagmire. So much needs to be unwound to return to lower-case d democracy in our politics. The Senate and House must reclaim their preeminent places in our government, and the imperial presidency, begun long before Trump, must be contained. These changes require the Supreme Court to recognize congressional primacy, and Brett Kavanaugh won’t let that happen — unless his puppeteer loses the White House.

Who Said Life is Fair?

Three accusers so far, and we’ve only gotten as far as freshman year. Imagine what’s in store for Brett “Kegger” Kavanaugh as an upper-class man at Yale. Boola, boola.

All of his accusers could be mistaken or lying, but the odds are against it. Predict It, the UK bookmaker, had confirmation at 96% last week, now down to 30%.

Kegger’s self-driven PR campaign hasn’t moved the needle. It didn’t help that he was sharing the headlines with Bill Cosby’s sentencing for drugging and raping a woman (and a lot more whose cases were too old to be brought). It’s bad luck too that there’s no statute of limitations in a Senate Confirmation hearing to protect 100-Keg from his own history.

Kegger caught another bad break being before the Senate and not a courtroom. No one has to presume his innocence or give him the benefit of the doubt, even if his sponsors have brought in a prosecutor and want to turn the hearing into a quasi-trial.   He could use a little legal aid about now.

Kegger is by far the sweatiest Supreme Court nominee in my lifetime. He looks like he’s got hives. He’s lost  his composure. When he appeared on Fox News two nights ago, begging for fairness, you could smell the tension. Why so uptight? Come on, man, we’re impartial, just calling balls and strikes. It’s not our fault you’ve got a big strike zone and a few holes in your swing.

There are plenty of second acts in American lives, and Kavanaugh has had his allotted two. He’s parlayed his privilege from high school hedonist to Judge of the DC Circuit Court of Appeals. Not bad, but now Kegger’s looking for a third act, and that curtain’s not going up. He shouldn’t complain. He’s a judge on one of the most respected courts in America. He’s lucky; in fact, he works for Merrick Garland.

Considering Kegger’s questioned past and his proven lies in earlier confirmation hearings, he’s gotten more than his share of fair. There are jurists out there as good or better, who couldn’t get so much as an interview. Merrick Garland comes to mind.

Do you remember telling your parents that something was unfair and their response? Life isn’t always fair. Kavanaugh should wipe away his tears and return to his very special job, which he is very lucky to keep. For now.  A criminal complaint has been filed before the Committee on Judicial Conduct against Kavanaugh, alleging perjury during his 2004 and 2006 confirmation hearings.  The committee chair?  Merrick Garland.

Real News: The Times Had a Duty to Publish the Rosenstein Story

Some progressives have expressed outrage at the New York Times for publishing its reporting on Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein’s statements at a 2017 DOJ-FBI meeting held immediately following FEPOTUS’S firing of James Comey.  Their argument is that the Times should have held the story back because its potential damage to Rosenstein and by extension to the Mueller investigation, which he directs.

Sourcing the Story

Based on interviews of the reporters conducted by Michael Barbaro, also of the New York Times, the article was a well-sourced piece that resulted from their attempt to document the official reaction to Comey’s firing. The reporters can’t be faulted for their practice, and the Times can’t be accused of publishing a story that its detractors could label, “fake news.” 

Post-Publication Confirmation

The follow-on from the publication has confirmed that Rosenstein did mention the idea of recording meetings with Trump, and he also mentioned raising the application of the 25th Amendment with a couple of cabinet-level officials. Rosenstein has signaled his intent to step down. Presently, he is scheduled to meet Trump at the White House on Thursday. 

National Security Justification

The progressive view is that the Times potentially jeopardized the Mueller probe by printing the story. If Rosenstein departs, he will no longer block Republican attempts to end the special prosecutor’s work, which these progressives consider a matter of national security. There’s precedent for news media holding back stories when such concerns may be adversely affected.  There is also precedent, and law, to support publication even if national security interests are implicated.  The publication of the Pentagon Papers most readily comes to mind.

Mueller’s probe touches on issues of national security.  Within the framework of the investigation, many subjects concerning our security have been publicly reported.  A case can be made that almost all the investigation could be deemed classified.  

In the Service of Democracy

The investigation itself is vital, but not as a matter of national security. It is vital as a matter of democracy; undertaken to prosecute anyone who conspired to undermine our 2016 elections.  Mueller’s investigation is not forward-looking, as the Congressional investigations should be. It is to cite and prosecute past criminal conduct.

The Times has a duty to report stories which address the democratic process. When the Deputy Attorney General and FBI Director are considering the need to conduct surveillance on the president or to assess his constitutional fitness to serve, that’s news and of vital national interest.  

Rosenstein, Mueller and the Rolling Report

On Friday night, the New York Times reported that top officials of the Department of Justice and of FBI met to discuss how to move ahead with respect to the new president within days after he fired FBI Director James Comey.  Rod Rosenstein, Deputy Attorney General, was nominally in charge of the meeting. Andrew McCabe, then acting FBI director, also attended.  Subsequently, McCabe was fired. Rosenstein is still in place for the moment, amid rumors that he will be fired.

Prior to being fired, Comey had made memos of his meetings with Trump.  According to Comey, in one meeting Trump asked Comey for a pledge of loyalty, which Comey could not deliver.  In a follow-up meeting, for which Trump requested privacy, Trump asked Comey to go easy on Flynn, the National Security Adviser fired for lying about his ties to Russia and other foreign governments.  Comey had shared the memos with some colleagues as these meetings had occurred.  With Comey now fired, the conclave of top law enforcement officials reviewed the ex-director’s memos again.

At some point during this meeting, Rosenstein allegedly discussed his wearing a wire to record his meetings with the president.  The attendees also discussed the role of the 25th amendment to the Constitution, the one which makes provision for removing a president who is unfit to serve.  Rosenstein has not unequivocally denied discussing either recording or removing the president, or discussing recruitment of cabinet members to join the effort to unseat Trump.   

Rosenstein appointed Robert Mueller as Special Prosecutor on May 17, 2017, within days of the Comey firing and the DOJ-FBI strategy meeting.  Rosenstein’s order of appointment gave Mueller a lot of latitude to investigate.  Presumably, Rosenstein delivered at least one unwritten instruction with the appointment.  Rosenstein undoubtedly urged Mueller to have a report at the ready, just in case one of them is fired without warning.

Mueller, a preternaturally cautious man, has probably done even more than Rosenstein would have suggested.  Pieces of the investigation have been stashed with federal prosecutors’ offices in New York and Virginia, and there are likely materials being safeguarded elsewhere to protect against preëmptive action by FEPOTUS.   These proto-reports would be updated regularly, like a computer backup, so that if the system crashes, the data won’t be lost.

This isn’t spy craft; it’s legal tradecraft.  Memos of this kind speak of events more clearly than human memory.  The participants of the DOJ-FBI meeting took notes, and some if not all wrote memos. One day the record will be open but that may be a long time from now.

If Trump fires Rosenstein he will try to appoint a successor who will end the Mueller probe. Even so, there will be records: recorded interviews, memos, notes, transcripts, grand jury minutes, and rolling reports; up-to-date status accounts of an investigation that has moved in many directions at once. One of those massive jigsaw puzzles, unfinished by Rosenstein and Mueller, pieces scattered, needing someone else to put them together.


Which Witch Hunt: Manafort Folds

Trump Witch Hunt Manafort


Donald Trump’s presidency is like life itself.  It will end but you wonder when and how it will happen.  My guess on the When is sooner than we think.  The How came into clearer focus this week, when the Paul Manafort piece dropped from the three-dimensional chessboard. 

Manafort, the former Trump Campaign Manager, agreed to cooperate with the Special Counsel, without limitation. Manafort pleaded out his second indictment, giving up four of his properties. The fate of his ostrich jacket remains a mystery. 

Manafort will have to open up every crevice of his seamy life.  Here are a few of the subjects he will expose:

  • Why he agreed to work for no money, when he was deeply in debt to Oleg Deripaska, one of the Russian billionaires involved in what the Russians like to think of as a public-private partnership. 
  • Details of the June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with a Russian lawyer, who arrived offering dirt on Hillary Clinton; and Donald Jr. and Jared Kushner’s roles. 
  • Whether there was an agreement to reduce sanctions against Russia in exchange for the information on Clinton.
  • The movement of money after the June meeting. 
  • Whether there was coordination between the Campaign and the Russian hackers, one of whom was extradited from Spain and is now in an American jail.
  • The story behind the change at the Convention in the GOP Platform to weaken US support of Ukraine independent from Russia.
  • Whether the Wikileaks information dump was coordinated with the Campaign.
  • Whether the targeting of specific voters, whose information was obtained from Democratic databases, was shared with the Trump Campaign.
  • What the Future Ex-President knew about these matters and when he knew them. 

There’s more. Manafort no doubt can lead the law to records and people with direct knowledge of Trump’s pre-candidacy connections with Russian lenders and their connection to the Russian State.

Prior to Manafort’s Virginia trial, the prosecution had to turn over all of the information received from Rick Gates, Manafort’s former associate, who made a deal with Mueller and testified in Virginia against his former boss.  That must have been when Manafort and Trump found out how much the government already had on them.  Coincidentally, it’s when Trump’s narrative changed from “No Collusion” to “Collusion isn’t a Crime.”

Once Manafort was convicted in Virginia, he faced a second trial in DC, which would expose his role in the Russian penetration of the 2016 election.  He and his attorneys would have determined that he couldn’t win and had nothing to gain by going to trial. He held his optimal leverage for settlement before jury selection. The trial was delayed at Mueller’s request, and that was when the lawyers began to discuss a plea bargain in earnest.  Manafort still had something Mueller wanted that only he could provide.

Once a deal was struck, Manafort terminated his joint defense (information-sharing) pact with the Trumps, freezing them out from further information about the government’s case against them.  

Impeachment is the least of their worries— believe me! Trump’s portfolio, like Manafort’s, might be in jeopardy. Between the Mueller investigation and the New York State investigations, there is no limit to the potential exposure Trump and his kids face. The Trump Campaign (slush fund), Organization and Foundation are being pursued, and Junior, Eric and Ivanka are tied to them.

When Anonymous(s) described FEPOTUS as amoral, they meant that he is guided by money, not ethical considerations. Trump should be aware that part of his fortune, however much it is, now is in play.  Many pundits believe that he ran to enhance his brand.  I’ve come to see it as a broader ambition — to the power and wealth of a Putin.  Money remains the coin of his realm, the way he measures himself and others.  I believe that he fears losing his fortune more than he fears disgrace. For Trump, losing his empire, not losing his presidency, is his disgrace.  

It would not be a surprise if, within the next few weeks, channels are opened to extricate the Trumps financially, politically  and legally from their predicament. It would necessitate his resignation and a transition to Mike Pence, which the GOP would welcome.  It’s hard to envision any other outcome.  Attachment.png

The Resistance Strikes Back


   A suddenly old man, raging against the darkness


The New York Times today is running an op-ed piece authored by a senior member of the Trump administration, whose identity is known to the Publisher. The author described the Near Future Ex-President  of the United States as being unfit for office.  He identifies himself a member of the Resistance — a group of high-ranking officials, staying in the government to avert a catastrophe caused by an unreliable Commander-in-Chief. According to him, the senior members of the West Wing consider Trump an unstable, impulsive and dangerous person.

The members of the Resistance consider themselves heroic, protecting America from its reckless electoral choice.  In fact, it is an illegitimate exercise of power.  They are not our elected officials. Yet, they are abusing the power of their appointments by interposing themselves in place of the President. They are no more justified in playing President than First Lady Edith Wilson had been when Woodrow Wilson was critically felled by stroke.

Many have scolded the author for maintaining anonymity.  Critics say that the author should go public and resign, as this would enable Congress to act.  It’s a quaint notion. Congress already has enough information to begin an investigation on Trump’s fitness to serve.  The Republican-led Congress just won’t do it. 

Trump has gained weight, and his skin is ashen.  He looks unhealthy and spent. Yesterday he used an event yesterday to fulminate on the latest viper in his nest.  Trump sounds like The Caine Mutiny‘s paranoid Captain Queeg and looks like Inherit the Wind‘s delirious, pitiable Col. Matthew Harrison Brady. The chaos of the White House is no longer funny. It’s sad and terrifying. 

The Senate is preoccupied with ramming through the Brett Kavanaugh nomination to the Supreme Court.  The nominee’s views on the breadth of presidential power remain unexamined, at a time when the likelihood of Supreme Court involvement moves from hypothetical to probable.  The looming controversy highlights the Senate’s stupidity in politicizing the appointment process, all but eliminating debate.  A responsible Senate would argue the wisdom of this  appointment, especially when approval of the nominee is inevitable. Such debate, if undertaken solemnly, is the means by which we make a more perfect union.

This presidency is unsustainable. The President behaves like  King Lear, a suddenly old man raging against the growing darkness and unable to manage his own affairs, much less the staggering responsibilities of being President.  Members of the Cabinet, of Congress and of the Supreme Court, please exercise your collective powers, fulfill your constitutional duties and bring an end to this failed administration.

Put That Dossier Down and Pay Attention

New Faces of 2018. – Sam Patten is added to Mueller’s chart

The U.S. Attorney’s office for the Southern District of New York works white-collar crime very well.  When Rudy Giuliani was still a lawyer, he ran that office, relentlessly taking down insider traders and junk bond hucksters.  The core of this office remains on top of its game, putting away those people who take lives by ruining them — Bernard Madoff, for example.

The SDNY Attorney’s Office has another expertise, also a holdover from the Giuliani era, and that is organized crime. The government went hard after organized crime for decades.  Giuliani famously jailed the heads of the five organized crime families, using RICO against them.  Giuliani was innovative and aggressive in his use of RICO. When Robert Mueller sent the Michael Cohen case to the Southern District, he might have been thinking about Stormy.  He might also have been thinking about RICO.    A crooked lawyer and his files and seasoned RICO prosecutor in the same district. Even Mueller would have smiled.

Tickets to the Ball

Robert Mueller’s team has at least one of those charts, and his lawyers keep adding pictures and drawing new lines.  On Friday another face became public.  A non-Mueller prosecutor filed a case in which lobbyist Sam Patten pleaded guilty to felonies resulting from funneling $50,000 from a Ukrainian oligarch through a Cypriot bank in exchange for four tickets to the Trump inauguration. The oligarch didn’t use the tickets. He passed them over to an American, whose identity so far has not been disclosed.  Patten agreed to cooperate.  Patten’s failed to register as a foreign agent and took part in a scheme to pass money from a foreign national to the inaugural committee. Lots of faces, lots of lines.

Say Hello to Rico

Congress passed the Racketeering Influence and Corrupt Organizations Act in 1970 to fight organized crime. The law gave the prosecutors a weapon to sweep up crime operations, including money laundering and bribery.  In movies and on TV,  investigators and prosecutors post a big organization chart in the middle of the room, displaying a pyramid composed of faces and lines connecting them to each other. RICO popped into my head. after hearing about Patten Too many operators doing similar things at the same time for similar purposes. Patten hawked inauguration tickets, and Michael Cohen was raked in millions of corporate dollars for access to the Administration.  The Trump DC booked rooms and events for sultans and sheiks..  China granted Ivanka Trump three patents for no apparent reason.  These unrelated transactions paint a picture of an organization using the office of the president for personal gain. RICO ties together these separate strands so that it doesn’t matter if Cohen knew what Patten was doing. Prosecutors can indict both under the RICO statute.  If the prosecutor establishes that the Trump campaign, Trump organization or the Trump White House is a corrupt organization, prosecutors can indict nearly the entire organization, from lowly soldier to its titular orange head. Under RICO, it wouldn’t matter if the payment to Stormy Daniels was directed by the Future-Ex-President or not. It doesn’t matter  if he received any of the Cohen’s or Patten’s money.  If the president knew in advance about Manafort’s or Flynn’s crime, RICO connects Trump to them. It doesn’t matter if he knew beforehand about concerted action with Russia. Nor does it matter if someone was part of the crime or part of the coverup. RICO addresses a multitude of sins.

Dossier? What Dossier?

Most people following this story have gotten stuck on the dossier, a MacGuffin if you ever saw one.   Sure, the dossier would explain some of FEPOTUS’S\s  errant behavior in foreign policy.  It would explain why FEPOTUS is silent when questioned about Russia.  The Russia probe might be only part of the faces and a few of the lines. It may be only one stream of money flowing through a corrupt organization.

Toppermost of the Coppermost, Donny

The Special Prosecutor may have the top place filled in on the chart, and and he might be waiting for more. Every time another money scheme pops up involving one Trump operative, the RICO theory grows stronger.   It’s easy to visualize a RICO case on trial. The prosecutor unveils an enormous chart, assembled with several other enormous charts, displaying the pyramid of perpetrators — the. bottom line of soldiers through the Capos and finally the top slot, usually occupied by a person called the Don.  There’s some writing in that spot where ordinarily a photo would be. As one draws near, you can read it, It says:


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