Revolted Colonies

U.S. Politics and Culture

Category: Congress

Breathlessly Awaiting Comey’s Final Chapter

For those of you whose TV viewing will not be disrupted by work today, you will now be treated to a preview of the Soap Opera cum Congressional Hearing known as the Comey Memos.  For former FBI Director James Comey, a pillar of rectitude, a man of unshakable integrity, it’s surprising that his memos read a little like a Harlequin romance.  

Comey writes breathlessly of the first time he met the man he would one day call “President.”

During our one-on-one meeting at Trump Tower, based on President-Elect Trump’s reaction to the briefing and without him directly asking the question, I offered that assurance.

He gushed about how the President-Elect was like no one he had ever met before.

I felt compelled to document my first conversation with the President-Elect in a memo. To ensure accuracy, I began to type it on a laptop in an FBI vehicle outside Trump Tower the moment I walked out of the meeting. Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward. This had not been my practice in the past.

This hardened professional, a survivor of the George Bush administration, who stood up to Alberto Gonzalez, Bush’s personal attorney, who was trying to compromise bedridden Attorney General John Ashcroft, felt his knees buckle when he realized that the President was trying to get him alone.

He had called me at lunchtime that day and invited me to dinner that night, saying he was going to invite my whole family, but decided to have just me this time… It turned out to be just the two of us….seated at a small oval table in the center of the Green Room. Two Navy stewards waited on us, only entering the room to serve food and drinks.

The besotted Director felt powerless, having been cast under the spell of Don Giovanni Trump. Nevertheless, he resisted. Oh, how he resisted the enticements of his pursuer!

My instincts told me that the one-on-one setting, and the pretense that this was our first discussion about my position, meant the dinner was, at least in part, an effort to have me ask for my job and create some sort of patronage relationship.

 Comey is not like all the rest. He is the product of a strong and supportive home, a disciplined and religious background. He would not cave in like Trump’s earlier prizes. He’s the kind of guy who always keeps at least one foot on the floor.

I replied that I loved my work and intended to stay and serve out my ten-year term as Director. And then, because the set-up made me uneasy, I added that I was not “reliable” in the way politicians use that word….

Trump pressed Comey. 

The President said, “I need loyalty, I expect loyalty.” I didn’t move, speak, or change my facial expression in any way during the awkward silence that followed. We simply looked at each other in silence.

Later, Trump again pressed Comey.

Near the end of our dinner, the President returned to the subject of my job, saying he was very glad I wanted to stay, adding that he had heard great things about me from Jim Mattis, Jeff Sessions, and many others. He then said, “I need loyalty.” I replied, “You will always get honesty from me.” He paused and then said, “That’s what I want, honest loyalty.” I paused, and then said, “You will get that from me.”

Normally, at this point, Comey might have stifled a sob or felt a clutching in his throat. 

It is possible we understood the phrase “honest loyalty” differently, but I decided it wouldn’t be productive to push it further.

Instead, he departed, his virtue intact. He retreated to his car, and before driving off, he wrote the entire discussion down, word for word, so as not to lose a single innuendo to the mercy of faulty memory.  Returning to his office, he logged his recollections in and then told his BFFs  about his trying evening at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue.

Comey decided that he could never let himself to be left alone with the President.  Yet weeks later he found himself face-to-face with his tempter in the Oval Office, the President having excused all the other meeting participants. Trump moved in, invading Comey’s personal space. He asked Comey if he could see his way clear to let it go – the “Flynn” thing.  

When the door by the grandfather clock closed, and we were alone, the President began by saying, “I want to talk about Mike Flynn.” Flynn had resigned the previous day. The President began by saying Flynn hadn’t done anything wrong in speaking with the Russians, but he had to let him go because he had misled the Vice President. He added that he had other concerns about Flynn, which he did not then specify.

“He’s a good guy,” said Trump.

Comey pulled himself up to his full 6’8″ height, put on his stern face and, mildly nauseous, vomited a little in his mouth. After this meeting, Comey would not face Trump again. The President would not relent. He called, beseeching him to lift the cloud of inquiry over his head, to tell the world that he Donald John Trump, was not being investigated. Comey was wracked, pulled in opposite directions by honesty and loyalty.  He could not say anything because he thought it was possible that he would have to retract it.

In a final phone call,  suitor became tormentor.   Trump asked Comey why did he testify before Congress the week before that there was an open investigation, and why didn’t Comey say Trump was not under investigation.  Then Trump added:

“Because I have been very loyal to you, very loyal; we had that thing you know.” I did not reply or ask him what he meant by “that thing.” I said only that the way to handle it was to have the White House Counsel call the Acting Deputy Attorney General. He said that was what he would do and the call ended.

 Less than a week later, while meeting with federal agents in  Los Angeles, Comey heard that he’d been fired, but he did not believe it until he saw the TV news news crawl.  A great deal of confusion ensured about who prompted the firing and the reasons for it. It was Trump, all along, who jilted his FBI director.

Today,  James Comey will come before Congress to tell the rest of his tragic tale. If you decide to watch have a box of Kleenex at the ready.

  © Revolted Colonies 2017

Politics as Unusual: The FBI, The Bundy Verdict and The Comey Letter

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FBI director James Comey had a lousy week, and next week is not looking any better.  A trial jury in Oregon told him that his G-Men were off-base thinking that armed seizure of a federal bird sanctuary constituted a crime when the panel acquitted the Bundy Gang of conspiracy, gun and other charges. Comey took refuge in Anthony Weiner’s underwear, but they’re not fitting as planned.

Bad Day at the Bird Bath

img_1441The Bundy Gang didn’t walk away. There are other charges against them still pending.  The acquittal was not a blanket exoneration. Still, it will force the Bureau to reconsider its policy in dealing with armed anti-government resistance.  J. Edgar Hoover must be spinning in his grave. 

img_1443The shooting at Ruby Ridge, Idaho in 1992 and the siege and shootout in Waco, Texas in 1993 had previously put the FBI under scrutiny in its encounters with the Militia Movement, of which the Bundys are a part. The verdict handcuffs the Bureau in protecting federal land from armed opposition.  The next step, unfortunately, would be to call up the National Guard. which may be precisely what the Bundys want.

Rifling Through the Underwear Drawer

img_1448The day after the Bundy acquittal and without any apparent connection to it, Comey sent Congress a letter stating that the FBI was reading newly discovered Hillary Clinton emails from a cache recovered a month ago from a laptop it seized from Weiner.  The laptop was shared by the former Congressman and his soon-to-be ex-wife, Huma Abedin, a top aide to the President-in-Waiting. Weiner is under investigation for conducting an online sexual relationship with a minor.

Even though the FBI has had Weiner’s laptop for a month and presumably has known about the emails for as long, allegedly it hasn’t gotten around to reading them.  So, the FBI hasn’t determined if these emails are new discoveries or copies of emails previously recovered.

Nevertheless, Comey thought it necessary to inform Congress of the find. In July, Comey announced that the FBI had found no basis to recommend criminal charges against former Secretary of State Clinton, arising out of her use of a private email server. He then scolded her publicly for mishandling classified material.   Comey came under fire for this ex-officio comment.

Crossing The Boss

img_1447Now, Comey is on the hot seat again. He went against Attorney General Loretta Lynch’s direction not to issue the inflammatory letter adding nothing of substance to the case against Clinton, eleven days before Election Day. The FBI reports to Lynch’s Justice Department. Yet, Comey said that he felt obligated to inform Congress of this newish discovery. Comey’s action may well be grounds for dismissal. Given Lynch’s own political problem over her June  airport meeting with Bill Clinton, creating an appearance of impropriety in connection with the email server issue, she was in no position to block Comey and is in no position to fire him.  

Comey Unchained

Nevertheless, Comey’s feeling of obligation is badly misguided. The emails have not been examined. Right now, they are not evidence—they are data. It is against law enforcement policy to discuss on open investigation of any kind.If Clinton was not running for President in an upcoming election, you can bet that Comey would not even have thought about it. The FBI would continue its investigation and report its findings to DOJ, which then would make a decision as to prosecution.

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Even if he had an obligation to update Congress, his action was premature and knowingly prejudicial. It would be understandable if the FBI had determined that the emails were newly discovered material, containing a “Classified” marking and being sent to or from Clinton’s private server.  Then the Bureau could report something meaningful had been found and that further classification review by other agencies would be required. Until then, it should have remained an internal matter for the Bureau; especially because classified material might involve matters of national security.  

Comey has painted himself into a corner. If the emails are innocuous, he should not have raised it at all. If they involved  classified material, he can’t disclose them but clearly has opened that door. He’s prejudiced the election as well as a potential prosecution.  Clinton along with others accuses Comey of a political hatchet job.  Try as one might, the political aspect is impossible to dismiss.

© 2016 The Revolted Colonies

Health Care Costs Top The New President’s Agenda

img_143When the new President takes over the executive branch of the U.S. government in January, she must place health care costs at the top of her domestic agenda.  Considering Hillary Clinton’s  handling of health care reform in her husband’s administration, this would make an interesting parallel. In 1993 President Bill named the First Lady to lead a task force to reach the goal of universal health care.  The only thing universal was opposition to the plan. The new President will face a changed environment but the cast of characters is largely the same.  So, the administration must develop new approaches to succeed this time around.

Insurance Carriers in Retreat

The administration announced that policy holders will receive substantial premium increases on upcoming policy renewals in the Obamacare exchanges. The rate increases are set by state regulation. Thus, they are not arbitrary price hikes. Health care costs continue to increase at a rate that has overwhelmed health care budgeting. United Healthcare, the nation’s largest insurer, is withdrawing from some markets where the company is booking losses. UHC’s action signals that the insurance companies are maxed out.  An insurance company needs policy holders to do business.   By leaving the market, they are saying that they cannot get enough premium dollars to turn a profit after paying legitimate claims.

Causes of Increased Costs

When health care advocates line up the usual suspects, the insurance companies are often first on the list. If the insurers aren’t the cause, what is?  In America’s Bitter Pill, a book on the creation of Obamacare and its shortcomings, Steven Brill pointed out that the Affordable Care Act failed to address the cost aspect of health care. Obamacare expanded coverage without tackling the tougher issue of cost control. The pharmaceutical and biotech industries are the principal engines driving health costs.

Prescription Medicine Costs

The Obama administration agreed not to tackle drug prices in exchange for Big Pharma’s cooperation in expanding coverage. The government has no legal means of holding down prices for specialty or generic drugs.  It lacks an effective bargaining position even in Medicare, where the size of the purchasing unit would compel large discounts. 

The next President must engage the pharmaceutical industry meaningfully if she hopes to sustain Obamacare. There are good strategies available but the White House must be able to form a broad enough coalition in Congress to back its strength in negotiations with the drug lobby.  Consequently, a new approach to control costs must win over Congress. As a result, the administration  must count votes and negotiate with individual Members, not solely with leadership.

Biotech Costs 

Significant advances in genetic and cellular research generate new diagnostics and therapies, broadly described as  Biotech. Some of this research carries the promise of meaningful progress in combatting and preventing a number of cancers, as well as other diseases that are activated at the cellular level.  The cost of these advances is massive. The procedures take enormous time to develop, and there is no assurance that one will result in effective treatment. The rewards of success must justify the attendant costs and risks.  

As these therapies have become available, the cost has become a significant booster in overall healthcare benefits. Therefore, it is unrealistic to place the costs fully on the backs of policy holders  because it will price out people who cannot afford to bear that cost. The expansive nature of the field requires forward-looking approaches, such as public “sharing” in the fruits of publicly-funded research. The technology becomes a public-private asset, in which the ownership of patents  benefits the public in part.  Public participation can result in an overall cost reduction in health-care while providing seed-capital for  education and medical technology. Furthermore, the programs should be able to pay their own way.

Partnering with Providers

Engagement with the drug and biotech industries must be  mutually beneficial to be successful.  Policy holders won’t benefit from a punitive approach or one that threatens to disenfranchise the industries.  

© 2016 The Revolted Colonies

 

Taking Florida By Swarm

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Florida is the U.S. port of entry for the Zika virus. So far, two neighborhoods in Miami have been declared places of active infestation by Zika-infected mosquitoes. The first was Wynwood, a hip community of funky, painted walls and edgy restaurants. Authorities call the infestation the Wynwood Exclusion Zone. As of this morning, Wynwood is no longer exclusive. The virus has spread to Miami Beach. There’s plenty of warm and humid weather left, so Zika is on the move. That’s no good for tourism, Florida’s $24 billion cash crop. The Florida Congressional delegation and Governor Rick Scott are flipping out.

Zika can be traced to the forests of Uganda, where it was first identified in 1947.   By 2007, it had spread to Micronesia, then French Polynesia and from there to Brazil in April 2015. Since then, Zika has been working its way north. The Center for Disease Control posted its first travel alert in January 2016. At last count, a total of 8,000 cases have been reported in the U.S.

The virus is transmitted by mosquito bite and less reliably by human sexual contact. It causes a fever similar to dengue and yellow fever. There is no cure but it is not normally fatal in adults.  However, Zika poses a serious risk of complications for a pregnant woman. The virus may pass to the fetus,  creating the risk of fetal brain injuries.  There is a vaccine in the works, as well as a genetically modified mosquito, which dies before being able to reproduce.  The most reliable strategy and toughest to execute is not getting bit.

You’d think that all politicians could agree on funding to get rid of a mosquito that eats baby’s brains. You’d be wrong.  The Administration requested $1.9 billion to eradicate Zika. The Senate came up with  a $1.1 billion package which was defeated. It had been tied to an amendment to defund Planned Parenthood in Puerto Rico and another that eased restrictions on the use of pesticides.

The House countered with a bipartisan proposal of its own, which would allow the Administration to use $600 million left over from fighting Ebola. This one died in committee, like a genetically-modified mosquito. In April, Obama took the money from Ebola funding anyway by executive order,  but it is not enough. In June, Congress went to summer camp without passing any measure at all.

Funding is needed and quickly. Just yesterday, the CDC published that maybe Zika isn’t harmless for adults after all. Studies on rats suggest the possibility of an Alzheimer’s-type effect on adult brains.

Still, Congress lacks a sense of the urgency of the situation. Most members are too busy worrying about reëlection to attend a special session. They’re content to wait until September, when they all come back with their suntans, lanyards and possibly, hopefully, a few mosquito bites.

© 2016 The Revolted Colonies

The Art of the Deal

     Reading mysteries is fun because the reader tries to solve them. Following politics is like that, even when someone is fired, not murdered – although in political life there is not much difference. It’s more of a why-done-it. This morning I’ve been poring over the firing of Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski Trump’s Bouncer-in-Chief.. There are obvious reasons to fire him – inciting violence at the primary stops, allegedly assaulting a protester, sagging poll numbers, a bare campaign war chest.  In fact, this weekend just before the firing the campaign ran an email blast saying, in effect, that the campaign is broke.   But there are less obvious reasons as well, and that’s where the why-done-it question is leading us.

     We know in the last week, GOP leaders, who were yielding to the Trump campaign, had a change of mind. They were reacting to plummeting forecasts due to Trump’s ban on Muslim immigration; his self-congratulatory take on the Orlando tragedy; his typical neglect of facts.  The GOP leaders got spooked.  They’d been trying to figure a way to run Trump without losing their congressional majority. After Orlando, the rhetoric changed. There was renewed mention of an open convention. Even party leaders who support Trump, like Sen. Bob Corker of Tennessee, condemned his statements about the mass murders at the Pulse, the LGBT&Co. nightclub in Orlando.  Trump has a problem, but the GOP has a bigger one.

     Trump’s problem was that he was not getting donor support from traditional GOP sources.  He was trying to cozy up to them and their wallets when he had more Tourette’s moments on the campaign trail.  He wasn’t going to put his own money up – the first rule of Trump – Only Spend Other People’s Money. It got so bad that over the weekend, his campaign ran an email blast to raise $100,000.00 – the cost of a Trump luncheon – for ad buys attacking Hillary Clinton.  This was a mighty fall.

     But the party had problems too.  If Trump couldn’t raise any money and couldn’t control his mouth, he would get shellacked in November and take the party down with him.  The down ballot candidates for Senate and House would crash and burn, potentially putting all three branches of government in Democratic control. The party was examining the possibility of denying him the nomination. But that path was closed. Trump’s voters would not stand for that.  The party would splinter for sure. The party had to stick with its Hair Apparent, even if he loses. But they couldn’t let the Senate and House races go into freefall.

     Thus, the Monday morning purge.  The leadership forced Trump to fire Lewandowski as a condition to providing campaign support in the battleground states, especially those that are in play for the Senate.  By putting Paul Manafort in as campaign manager, the leadership has one of its own. Manfort made his bones with Ford, Reagan, the Bushes and candidates Dole and McCain.  He is the GOP eye in the middle of the Trump hurricane.  If money is going into Trump’s campaign Manafort, not Lewandowski or Trump, will be accountable.  Trump stated that he was going to take the campaign in a new direction: in other words, no more talk about walls, blanket immigration bans and racial profiling, for starters.

     The leadership will let the Donald be the Donald, but under controlled circumstances.  For example, they will run the show in the battleground states, so that the down-ticket candidates are better insulated from the Trump coattails. Spending in those states will come from general GOP funds and super pacs so that they control the message. GOP staffing will cover many of the holes that Trump can’t fill. It will be the GOP ground game, not Trump’s. When a Pennsylvania voter tells a pollster that she wants to re-elect Senator Pat Toomey, but can’t bring herself to vote for that Trump fellow, the pollster will say, “Then do what you’ve got to do.”

    This is why Lewandowski was dumped.

    The whodunit is easy.  “You’re fired,”Trump said

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