Category Archives: opinion

The Rosenstein Hit Job

If you have been living under a rock for the past year, Rod Rosenstein is Deputy Attorney General, working in the Justice Department. After Attorney General  Sessions recused himself from the Russian investigation led by Bob Mueller, Rosenstein took over oversight of that work.

It is painfully obvious that Donald Trump would like the Justice Department to end the Mueller investigation. He pressured AG Sessions to un-recuse himself, and has bad mouthed Rosenstein, suggesting that he will be fired. So far, that has not happened.  All of that stuff are matters for Mueller to ponder as evidence of obstruction of justice.

So what to make of a NYT story from anonymous sources that suggests Rosenstein thought about trying to get the president removed from office, and even wearing a wire to tape record what he said?

My first reaction is that this is not credible. BTW, Rosenstein has denied that he said or did what the article asserts. There is considerable doubt as to what actually happened . if anything. My second reaction is that someone in the White House is acting with some desperation to lay the groundwork for Rosenstein to be fired.

Why the desperation? Mueller now has cooperation from Trump’s campaign manager, Manafort as well as Trump’s personal attorney, Michael Cohen. He also is getting info from Trump’s long term CFO, Weisselberg. In other words, Mueller is getting a ton of high level info about Trump world. That is scaring the hell out of the White House folks.

What will happen? If Trump goes ahead and fires Rosenstein, based on this story we are likely to see several things

  • Dems will have yet another election issue
  • the next in line at DOJ will take over Rosenstein’s oversight – Noel Fransisco. Fransisco is not just a Trump stooge. He does take a broad view of presidential power to dismiss executive branch officials. But it is not clear that Fransisco would end the Mueller investigatoin
  • to the extent that the leaked story is exposed as a White House hit job, we may see more obstruction of justice allegations
  • the other cases that are pending that  relate to matters Trump via other venues will continue. Trump has no ability to stop US attorneys or state officials form investigations. Nor can he influence state court matters.

In other words, this is not the most well thought out hit job in political history. It is likely to go nowhere fast.

Another possibility — Trump may not fire Rosenstein, but try to use this to rouse his base against the “deep state”. Will that affect the midterms? We shall see, said the blind man!

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Part 2: Will Mike Bloomberg Run for President?

The other day, Mike Bloomberg floated a trial balloon – perhaps he would run as a candidate for the nomination of the Democratic Party in the 2020 presidential election. That trial balloon turned out to be a lead balloon. No way.

Is that the end of the story? It may be. But it also may not be. We should keep in mind 2 things about Mike Bloomberg. First, he  has political interests that go well beyond being part of the Democratic Party. He could, if he chooses to do so, run as an independent. And he may do so in order to mobilize moderates and the business community. Second, Mike Bloomberg has a ton of money. He could spend $1,000.000,000 on a race without batting an eye.

So I would keep an eye on Mr. Bloomberg. He may not be ready to walk away from the race just because certain influential dems don’t want him in. And consider this (from the above linked article)

“In a general election he would do exceptionally well, he would pull in a lot of independents, he would pull in a lot of moderates,” said Adrienne Elrod, a former spokeswoman for Hillary Clinton’s campaign, said of Bloomberg,

Bloomberg as a third party candidate would steal moderate votes from dems and the GOP.  Stay tuned!

Did Trump’s Run for the Presidency Start with a Publicity Stunt that Went Off the Rails?

It seems a long time ago when Donald Trump descended the escalator in Trump Tower and announced to an audience that he had paid to attend that he was running for the presidency.

At the time, it seemed a bit surreal. And from just about any perspective, it did not seem like it was a good idea for Trump to do it. First, running for and being president would require work, something that Trump doesn’t like to do. Figure out health care policy? Who would want to do that? Second, it would mean public exposure to all of the ugly details of Trump’s past, and not just with women. Third, it would be a distraction from business. He might find ways to make money from high office, but that was not a sure thing. He didn’t need to do it for the money.

One line of thought is that Trump was pressured into doing it. Pressured by whom? The story goes that the Russians wanted their horse in the race. So Putin said he would spill the beans on what Russians know about Trump unless he ran. That is possible. And btw, that is something that Paul Manafor might know about. We will see.

Michael Moore has another, even more outlandish idea. Trump did it out of jealousy.

Moore told the trade publication that when Trump learned Stefani (Led’s) performance fees as a coach on NBC’s “The Voice” were greater than what he earned for “The Apprentice” on the same network, he staged his Trump Tower campaign announcement in June 2015 to show NBC how popular he was….

It was a publicity stunt. But then it went off the rails

After Trump’s accusation that Mexico was sending rapists across the border, NBC cut ties with him. But Trump, suddenly finding himself cheered on by massive crowds and an indulgent media, figured why not make a serious run for the highest office in the land?”

It is a bizarre explanation for an equally bizarre event.  And for that reason, it may just be true. Since becoming president, Trump has not done any of the work that being president requires. And he constantly appears to be one step away from disaster.  Perhaps that is because he never really wanted the job of president. Just the attention that the president gets.

What do you think?

Manafort’s Flip

Paul Manafort most likely felt that he held out for as long as he could. After all, he was the only “Trump Team” defendant in a Mueller prosecution who did not plead guilty when charged. Everyone else cooperated. He then sat through a full trial in Virginia (that no doubt cost him an arm and a leg) and was convicted of 8 felonies. He faced an impending second criminal trial in Washington where he was likely to be found guilty of additional multiple felonies. And Muellerwas mulling over whether to re-try Manafort in Virginia on 10 additional felony charges that had resulted in a mistrial.

It is no stretch to say that Manafort was getting beaten up pretty badly by the Mueller team. And it is likely that Team Mueller did that for a reason. They had reason to believe that Manafort has information that is critical to their investigation. No doubt they telegraphed their intentions to Manafort. They probably said flat out that they were coming after him. Flip or else.

Why did Manafort hold out? No one but Manafort knows. But it is likely that he felt he would find an escape hatch through a presidential pardon at some point. To get that, he had to play the loyal subordinate, and so he did.

Manafort decided the other day that enough is enough. He did a deal with Mueller to plead guilty in Washington, and cooperate.  This is a major about face and there are two important takeaways

  • Doing a cooperation deal means that Manafort is no longer looking for a pardon and is now on “Team Mueller”. Trump, the Trump family, and everyone else who had contact with Manafort during the campaign and after is now at risk from what Manafort says about them.
  • To get this deal, Manafort had to persuade Team Mueller that he has valuable information. In other words, he has already spilled his guts. And whatever he said, it was enough to make Team Mueller take notice. He has already delivered value, and is likely to deliver a lot more.  We can expect more from the Mueller folks, and soon.

So what is next? Manafort was pretty high up on the Trump totem pole. And whatever evidence he has to offer, it is likely to move the focus of the Mueller investigation even higher to Don Jr., Jared Kushner and Trump himself. About what? Vox offers a few potential areas of interest.

But couldn’t Trump still pardon Manafort? He has the power to do so. But having the power to do so is not the full story. If he uses that power for the purpose of stopping Manafort’s cooperation, he is obstructing justice. And that is a crime which could lead to impeachment. So pardoning Manafort would be a rather desperate move.

The key point in all of this. Rudy Guiliani is right that Manafort was not convicted of crimes relating to collusion with Russia. But Manafort now will tell all he knows about specific acts of collusion. For this reason, Rudy’s comments about the cooperation are irrelevant.

Stay tuned .

Trump: The Amazing Exploding Man!

It is reported, once again, that Donald Trump exploded. Some might wish that this was an actual physical sort of thing, though it would be messy, and I would despair of getting the White House fully back in shape for the next occupant. Those folks may be disappointed, therefore, that this story relates to an emotional explosion. The body is still in tact, including the carrot top.

I wonder if anyone is keeping track of this sort of story. To my reckoning, we are getting “Trump explosion” stories more than once a week. That would mean, over a year,, that the dude has let loose over 50 times. A record?

So what is it this time? We find out from Mr. Woodward’s book “Fear” that Trump exploded when he heard that special investigators Mueller subpoenaed records from Deutsche Bank.

Hmmm … in this case, one could understand why Mr. Trump might get emotional. It was Deutsche Bank that was (1) assessed billions in fines for money laundering out of Moscow, and (2) loaned money to Trump when no American bank would go near him, and (3) loaned even more money to Trump even though he had defaulted on his first loan.

Would it be too much of a stretch to wonder why Deutsche Bank would do this?  Could it be that there was a connection between the extensive Russian money laundering and the loan business with Trump? Call me crazy, but I can’t help but wonder — even if it would make Donald blow his top yet again.

Obama is Back!

For the last 18 months, we have not heard much from Barrack Obama. He has vacationed, done a few speeches, and traveled around. But he has not entered the partisan arena to weigh in on how he feels about the Trump era.

Normally, that would be ok. There is a tradition that former presidents don’t get too involved in their party’s political dog fights. But these are not normal times. These are times where basic US values and institutions are under threat. And in these kinds of times, it is “all hands on deck!” And Obama is now “on deck”.

Among other things, he said this in a recent speech

In a healthy democracy, there’s some checks and balances on this kind of behavior, this kind of inconsistency, but right now there’s nothing. Republicans who know better in Congress — and they’re there, they’re quoted saying, yeah, we know this is kind of crazy — are still bending over backward to shield this behavior from scrutiny or accountability or consequence, seem utterly unwilling to find the backbone to safeguard the institutions that make our democracy work.

And he is dead on by saying that Trump is a symptom, not the cause of the decline in US political dialog. The Republican Party has brought this about over a period of years by refusing accountability for its rhetoric and actions. By toadying up to powerful interests that, for their own purposes, are at best indifferent to the welfare of the country.

When did this get started? My take is that it started with Nixon’s southern strategy. Nixon courted southern voters who were angry about civil rights legislation. Reagan took this farther by championing unrealistic sound bite policy positions rather than serious discussion. His victory removed the fig leaf from American politics – it did not need to be informed or serious. The Bushes furthered this game without shame or remorse. Their failed presidencies were the result. McCain then brought Sarah Palin to the national stage. Let’s not forget Mitch McConnell’s “scorched earth” Congressional tactics that brought us extended battles over each and every governmental action, and government shut downs over the “debt ceiling”. And then we got Trump.

The question is how long the American people will allow this to continue. Will serious conservatives re-emerge as a force in US politics?

Stay tuned on that one. We are nowhere close to that ending.

John McCain’s Uplifting last words

I did not agree with John McCain on many policy issues, though I would point out that he was a great friend and supporter of Estonia. I was always grateful for that. And I respect John McCain as a man and as an American patriot. No one ever doubted that McCain was devoted to his country and served it as well as he could. That “tour of duty” lasted 60 years.

In his last letter to America, McCain wrote many things that merit attention. And especially these

“Do not despair of our present difficulties but believe always in the promise and greatness of America, because nothing is inevitable here. Americans never quit. We never surrender. We never hide from history. We make history.

Thank you John for that.  Let’s do what he suggests.