The Snowflake King Blows His Top

On Saturday, May 19, 2018, the New York Times published a story claiming that Donald Trump Jr. at least toyed with the idea of accepting help in his father’s presidential campaign from foreign countries other than Russia. In August 2016, Trump Jr. held a second questionable Trump Tower meeting with booster and Blackwater founder Erik Prince and business executive George Nader (who’s a convicted pedophile) along with emissaries from the United Arab Emirates and Saudi Arabia. Also present was an Israeli social media specialist named Joel Zamel who had a plan to boost Donald Trump by using thousands of fake Facebook accounts. According to the Times, Nader told Trump Jr. that the Saudi and UAE princes were “eager” to help his dad win the White House, claiming he was a strong leader who’d “fill a power vacuum” they thought President Barack Obama had left in the Middle East. It’s unclear who commissioned this proposal and whether it went forward. But Trump Jr. “responded approvingly” and Nader joined the Trump-world fold, often meeting with son-in-law Jared Kushner, former national security adviser Michael Flynn, and former strategist Steve Bannon. After the election, Nader paid Zamel as much as $2 million but we’re not sure why. Though a Philippines-based company linked to Zamel called White Night, reportedly provided Nader with an elaborate presentation on the importance of social media campaigning in Trump’s win.

There are plenty of reasons why the New York Times report matters. First, it shows that Russia wasn’t the only country offering to help with the Trump campaign in the 2016 election. Second, it raises questions about what sort of repayment Saudi Arabia and the UAE might’ve received for their assistance. And it demonstrates the Trump campaign’s cavalier, if not sinister attitude to US campaign laws. As the Times reports: “It is illegal for foreign governments or individuals to be involved in American elections, and it is unclear what — if any — direct assistance Saudi Arabia and the Emirates may have provided. But two people familiar with the meetings said that Trump campaign officials did not appear bothered by the idea of cooperation with foreigners.” Trump Jr.’s lawyer Alan Futerfas told the Times that while he “recalls” a meeting with Nader and someone who “may be” Zamel” who pitched him on a social media platform or marketing strategy, the younger Trump declined. Zamel’s lawyer Marc Mukasey denied his client was even involved in the Trump campaign. Nader’s lawyer Kathryn Ruemmler claimed the businessman has “fully cooperated” with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Anyway, George Nader’s name has appeared multiple times in Mueller’s investigation as his interactions with Zamel, Prince, and Trump Jr. are a focus of the probe. During the 2016 campaign, Nader visited Moscow at least twice as a confidential emissary from Crown Prince Mohammed of Abu Dhabi. He helped arrange a meeting in Seychelles between Erik Prince and a Russian business executive close to Vladimir Putin that Mueller’s also probing. Zamel-tied companies also have Russian connections as well. After Donald Trump’s inauguration, Nader reportedly promoted a proposal to use private contractors for an economic sabotage against Iran that might get the country to abandon its nuclear program, which he pitched to Saudi officials last spring. And he was in talks with Erik Prince about a plan to convince Saudi Arabia to pay $2 billion to create a private army to fight against Iranian proxy forces in Yemen.

The Times’ report asks as many questions as answers but the writers do give us something to think about as they end it wondering what Nader’s, Prince’s, and Zamel’s efforts may have gotten for Saudi Arabia and the UAE. As they write, “Since entering the White House, Mr. Trump has allied himself closely with Saudi Arabia and the Emirates. His first overseas trip was to Riyadh. He strongly backed Saudi and Emirati efforts to isolate their neighbor Qatar, another American ally, even over apparent disagreement from the State and Defense Departments. This month, Mr. Trump also withdrew from an Obama administration nuclear deal with Iran that both Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates had campaigned against for years, delivering them their biggest victory yet from his administration.”

On May 20, Donald Trump went on a Twitter tantrum slamming the report as “long” and “boring” while asking when special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation will “STOP!” Because according to him, it has found “nothing” on Russia or him, so “they are now looking at the rest of the World!” And he said investigators would likely continue their work into the 2018 midterm elections, “where they can put some hurt on the Republican Party.” He also returned to many of his old talking points about Hillary Clinton and Russia. He apparently suggested that the FBI should’ve broken into the Democratic National Committee’s offices and seized its server after its emails were hacked, tweeting, “Republicans and real Americans should start getting tough on this Scam.” Trump knows that the Russia could harm Republicans in the 2018 midterms, though it’s hardly all of their problems. The GOP’s also facing a lot of Democratic enthusiasm, a high number of congressional Republican retirements, and a shitty tax bill that nobody likes. Not to mention their willingness to bend over backwards to protect and defend Trump despite everything he does or says.

Mueller’s investigation into the Russia meddling in the 2016 election and potential Trump campaign-Russia collusion has just hit its one-year anniversary. And just last week, the special counsel has reaped plenty of rotten fruit. On May 16, the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee tried to help Donald Trump win in 2016. The New York Times and Washington Post reported that the FBI sent an informant to talk to Trump campaign advisers George Papadopoulos, Sam Clovis, and Carter Page after finding evidence the campaign had suspicious contacts with Russia in the investigation’s early stages. And it’s been reported that the FBI has started looking into payments Trump lawyer Michael Cohen took from a South Korean aerospace company and that he had reached out to a Qatari investor asking for a $1 million in exchange for consulting services. In addition, while Mueller can’t conclusively determine whether there was collusion or obstruction of justice, there have already been multiple indictments and guilty pleas. Even Trump’s personal lawyer Cohen is under a criminal investigation.

Nonetheless, that Sunday afternoon, Donald Trump fired off two more tweets. One decried the expansion of Mueller’s probe. But in the other, he tweeted, “I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!” Now Trump has the constitutional authority to make such a demand. But there are things to keep in mind. First of all, the Justice Department’s inspector general launched an investigation into how the FBI got permission to spy on Page in March, so part of what Trump is asking for is already happening. In fact, DOJ spokeswoman Sarah Isgur Flores write in an email that the department for an expansion to the ongoing review of the Page application, “include whether there was any impropriety or political motivation in how the FBI conducted its counterintelligence investigation of persons suspected of involvement with the Russian agents who interfered in the 2016 presidential election.” While it’s not clear whether anything at the FBI, DOJ, or the Obama administration did regarding the 2016 was political, Trump’s call for a probe certainly is. And as Georgetown adjunct professor Carrie Cordero tweeted that the Justice Department doesn’t do any politically motivated snitching. “There are rules. And I’m convinced there are people left in this government who will follow them, she wrote. Should he go through with it, Trump could face a showdown with the Justice Department officials expected to execute it. But at any rate, his paranoia, susceptibility to conspiracy, and desire to deter and meddle with the Mueller investigation are becoming increasingly disturbing.

Donald Trump’s tweet from May 20 appears to be a reaction from the New York Times and Washington Post reports about the FBI sending an informant to talk to the Trump campaign advisers after finding evidence of suspicious Russian contacts during the Russia investigation’s early stages. Though Trump falsely claimed that the informant was a “spy,” sent to infiltrate his campaign and said such a thing would be “bigger than Watergate,” there’s no evidence. It’s more likely the FBI sent an informant because investigators just wanted to figure out what was going on between Russia and the Trump team. As former FBI counterintelligence head Frank Figliuzzi told NBC News, “What is easier to imagine is the FBI trying to flesh out information on Russian intelligence operatives by making approaches to campaign staffers if the reasonable suspicion was there and the approvals were in place.”

As we should know by now, the Trump-Russia investigation originated in May 2016 with a drunk George Papadopoulos bragging to an Australian diplomat about a Russian-linked professor approaching him who claimed that the Kremlin had dirt on Hillary Clinton. The diplomat later tipped off the United States to Papadopoulos’s comments. Papadopoulos has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI as part of Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and potential Trump-Russian collusion. The FBI legally surveilled Carter Page for almost a year due to his Russian contacts, starting in October 2016, after being on the bureau’s radar as a potential Russian agent for years. Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort had run a campaign on behalf of Russian interests in Ukraine, which he had to resign over. Michael Flynn also has plenty of ties to Putin and Erdogan.

Nonetheless, the Department of Justice meekly complied despite that Donald Trump’s latest spin is so ridiculous that even the most sycophantic Trump screeds in conservative media had trouble adjusting to this bullshit conspiracy theory. There’s no way Barack Obama ordered an investigation into Trump’s campaign for purely political reasons, especially since the fact the FBI let it remain secret until after the election. Besides, accepting foreign help in a political campaign is illegal under federal law. Not to mention, Hillary Clinton had a contentious primary challenge against Bernie Sanders. No reports on what the Obama administration did to him.

Of course, Donald Trump’s ability to comprehend objective reality is seriously cracked since he refuses to see himself as culpable for any damage he’s done in his life. Yet his confidence that the array of forces will shift to his benefit and that he may turn the tables on his enemies has a real basis in reality. In the face of widening evidence of Trump campaign culpability in the Russia investigation, Republicans have churned through a frequently changing series of ugly conspiracy theories to defend him. He’s bringing his party and the powers it commands around his warped manner of thinking. But Trump’s allies have seized on the procedural offense of the “spy.” Despite that the FBI’s probe into the Trump campaign because of its association with multiple figures with suspicious financial and political Russian connections like Carter Page, Paul Manafort, and Michael Flynn. The defense has ignored all evidence of guilt and has instead focused on why Trump was being investigated at all. Instead, his defenders assume that the level of covert Russian influence in Trump’s campaign was completely typical. The only difference is that Trump was somehow subjected to scrutiny at best. At worst, Trump’s defenders revolves around the premise that the FBI had no business snooping on Trump. And that any evidence Mueller produces is proof of an illegitimate investigation.

However, Donald Trump may be formulating an even more radical theory. According to Vanity Fair’s Gabriel Sherman, his team, “is attempting to build the case that anti-Trump forces in the F.B.I. entrapped his advisers using informants to plant evidence about Russian collusion.” In other words, Trump is accusing the FBI not only planting a spy, but evidence. As Sherman reported, “The president himself is convinced that the secret F.B.I. informant who reportedly met with several Trump campaign advisers in 2016 was not merely an informant, but an Obama political operative. One administration official told me the theory has become so widely accepted that people in the West Wing are paranoid that the F.B.I. has multiple informants working to take down Trump.” All of this sounds like you’d read in a Cold War spy novel that’s so unhinged that even Trump can’t possibly believe it. But you’d have to explain Trump’s longtime love affair with conspiracy theories he imbibes in his Fox News binge watching, where crazy conspiracy theorists are either given a guest spot, panel spot, or TV show. You might also think that Trump can’t get his party go along with his theory and dismiss all evidence of culpability as having been fabricated by a pro-Obama cabal in the FBI. Yet, you’d be ignoring how far down the Trump rabbit hole the Republican Party has gone already.

But Trump’s FBI smearing is another blatant way to deflect attention and blame away from his continuing effort to corrupt American democracy for his own benefit as well as those of his fellow oligarchs’ around the world. It’s an indisputable fact that Russia not only tried but also succeeded in influencing the 2016 election. Email transcripts show that Donald Trump Jr. was clearly eager to work with Russians to help his dad win, and it’s impossible that Trump didn’t know about it. As there have been 19 indictments and guilty pleas so far, the question for the Mueller investigation is who else may be involved, what else might’ve taken place, in that or some other criminal activities.
Intelligence and domestic law enforcement organizations like the FBI and CIA exist to protect the integrity of the nation’s political structure. Sure, much of that purpose has been invoked as tyrannical repression of domestic dissidents in the name of McCarthyite “Anti-Communism” when ordinary Americans merely trying to exercise their constitutional democratic rights were routinely subjected to government harassment, blackmail, or even straight up assassinated. Not to mention union organizers and civil rights activists have been and still are particularly targeted for egregious state violence. Yet, that doesn’t mean the purpose of intelligence and law enforcement is necessarily a sham. Many foreign governments have tried meddling with the American political structure in various ways from the Soviet Union to nominal allies like Israel. In such situations, it’s entirely right and proper for security agencies to investigate the possibility and try to prevent it beforehand or remedy the breach after that. After all, a democracy is supposed to be under the voters’ control, not other states or anyone else.

However, Russia is just one facet of the monumental corruption inside the Trump empire. Donald Trump’s whole career has had plenty of egregious and mindboggling incidents of corruption that most Americans could never get away with. In addition to the New York Times report on Donald Trump Jr. August Trump Tower meeting, the Associated Press reported that a top Trump campaign fundraiser, Elliot Broidy had worked with Nader in 2017 to push US policy towards Saudi Arabia and the UAE and away from Qatar and Iran with millions in political donations. Neither Nader nor Broidy registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act as would almost certainly be legally required. Some of the money was funneled through the so-called Foundation for Defense of Democracies and they expected to collect millions in consulting contracts from the 2 monarchies (amounting in effect to post facto bribes). And they had just started cashing in payouts when Mueller’s FBI probe caught up with them.

In other words, Donald Trump’s business empire, campaign, and administration has been open to basically any foreign authoritarian wanting to buy the American political system. This verifies my long-held conviction that Trump and his swamp cronies have the slightest scrap of respect for American democracy or the right of the American people to honest government. Like a lot of Trump’s schemes, it’s just another rigged deal, another influence play, another institution to be looted. But this time with an unusually large number of loyal workers to be betrayed and cut out of the spoils in the end. Because if you’re an ordinary American who believes Trump and buys into his cons, you will be screwed.

The Mueller investigation and other similar efforts are an endeavor to protect the basic integrity of the American democratic state. But unlike the Cold War days, it’s not from some hostile foreign adversary but from a free-floating international cabal of oligarchs (with at least a large plurality of whom are at least technically American) tirelessly trying to make money the only axis of politics. The pre-election investigation of Trump’s corruption included the wholly legitimate use of informant just gives Donald Trump conspiracy fodder depict himself as the victim while he keeps picking the American people’s pockets.

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What Stormy Daniels Knows

 

At the surface, it seems that the Stormy Daniels saga is a salacious and pointless story distracting the public from the truly important issues in the Trump era. After all, she’s a porn star whose story involves an extramarital affair with a powerful much older man. Such incidents usually pertain to nothing of consequence. Even if they pertain to $130,000 hush money payments and non-disclosure agreements.

But if that older man is Donald Trump who’s now the president of the United States, then Daniels’s story isn’t about the tawdry details of infidelity. But one about Trump’s corruptibility as a president whose personal life and finances are shrouded in unprecedented secrecy. Back in 2016, Trump’s longtime personal attorney Michael Cohen paid Daniels $130,000 in exchange for her signing a nondisclosure agreement to keep her from saying anything about her alleged affair with Trump during the election’s final days. Recently, Daniels has filed suit to invalidate the non-disclosure agreement she signed, freeing her to speak about her relationship with Trump. Cohen has filed a private arbitration case against her and obtained a restraining order stating that she’d face penalties if she publicly discusses her affair. Her attorney has claimed she’d been threatened with physical harm if she didn’t keep quiet. Then there’s the fact Cohen has filed a suit against her for $20 million for breaching their agreement. Daniels’s attorney Michael Avenetti slammed Trump’s team for a “bullying tactic” in pursuing such an enormous sum from a private citizen over “bogus” damages in a maneuver that’s “likely unprecedented in our history.” He said their attempts to move a case from a state court in Los Angeles to a federal court is because it would increase the chances the matter will be decided in private arbitration, “thus hiding the truth from the public.” Oh, and the Trump team has tried to keep her interview with Anderson Cooper from airing on 60 Minutes on March 25.

Nonetheless, from the public’s standpoint, the key issue isn’t Daniels’s story. It’s the circumstances surrounding the payoff and how many similar deals out there. Now the payoff raises 2 big ethical and legal problems. First, it’s an attack on American’s threadbare system of campaign finance regulations thanks to Citizens United. But one of the few remaining laws on the books bans corporations from giving gifts to a candidate. Since Cohen used his Trump Organization email to arrange the deal and relayed the payment through a private Delaware-based shell company to her representative. And he did with no thought of repayment, discussion, or coordination with anyone else on the Trump team. According to Washington Post reporter, Philip Bump, “those two things together — that a Trump Organization email address was used to facilitate the payment and that the payment was linked to the campaign — would constitute a legal violation.” Of course, you could argue that a payoff made weeks before Election Day to prevent disseminating damaging information about a presidential candidate had nothing to do with the campaign. Either way, the money’s true origins and the extent of other Trump figures’ involvement in the payoff is worth taking seriously. Still, if we ignore this drama just because it involves a porn star, we might blow another enormous hole in a web of rules supposed to separate our democracy from a plutocracy. If we stop enforcing the rules about coordination, corporate contributions, and disclosure simply because Daniels’s case is tawdry, we’ll regret it.

Second, secrets worth paying over a hundred grand to keep could be powerful tools in foreign governments’ or domestic special interests’ hands. We know that Stormy Daniels isn’t the only woman Donald Trump has paid off. Former Playboy bunny Karen McDougal also had an affair with Trump around the same time as Daniels and received $150,000 from the National Enquirer for exclusive rights to her story in August 2016, which they never published. She’s also suing to invalidate her non-disclosure agreement as well. And I’m Trump has paid off other women, too. In addition, Trump has other secrets, some of which may or may not have been successfully kept from interested parties. And it’s likely someone might have leverage over him.

Donald Trump is a notorious philanderer and is subject to 18 sexual assault and other misconduct allegations that congressional Republicans don’t want to investigate. The Trump Organization has deployed aggressive nondisclosure agreements years before he became a candidate. Not to mention, he has a long history of corrupt business practices and still hasn’t released his tax returns. Taking all that into account, it’s not hard to conclude that Daniels and McDougal aren’t the only people whose silence Trump has bought. Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury quotes Steve Bannon saying that longtime attorney Marc Kasowitz, “has gotten him out of all kinds of jams. Kasowitz on the campaign — what did we have, a hundred women? Kasowitz took care of all of them.” Bannon might’ve exaggerated. But his statement supports McDougal’s claims that Trump and his friends had a system to keep his affairs quiet. People at the National Enquirer told the New Yorker that America Media Inc.’s Chairman and CEO and Trump friend, David Pecker often bought stories to kill them. Sometimes he did it to protect the story’s subject and sometimes to hold the story as a sort of leverage over celebrities. As McDougal told Ronan Farrow, “Someone in a high position that controls our country, if they can influence him, it’s a big deal.”

Given what we know about Donald Trump’s sex life, you may wonder how his reputation could possibly be damaged by extramarital affair revelations. Trump has no problem with naked photos and videos. He appeared on the cover of Playboy which he proudly displayed on his Trump Tower office wall. In fact, he signed copies of the magazine on the campaign trail. He had cameos in 3 Playboy videos in 2001. His wife Melania’s official White House biography even included the time she posed nude for British GQ, not her only such photo shoot. In addition, his 3 marriages and 2 divorces were New York tabloid fodder. Hell, the New York Post once ran a cover with his mistress claiming Trump was the “best sex I ever had.” He’s boasted to Howard Stern about going in contestants’ dressing rooms during his pageants. He bragged about his penis size during a presidential debate. Oh, and another porn star claimed he once offered her $10,000 for sex. And let’s not forget that he bragged about sexually assaulting women on a bus in front of Billy Bush. So Stormy Daniels telling her story of her affair with Trump won’t hurt his reputation as the total scumbag he already is.

But the fact he and his allies are willing to cut large checks to buy Daniels’s and McDougal’s silence indicates that they think these secrets are valuable. The problem with a powerful public official having valuable secrets is they can be exploited for more than just financial gain. Nobody with this kind of exposure to blackmail and manipulation by special interests or foreign intelligence agencies could get a high-end security clearance. And at least in a traditional sense, such exposure would’ve made someone ineligible for a high-level White House position (like Jared Kushner). As president, Donald Trump is exempt from the normal security procedure rules on grounds that the voters should be able to decide. Yet, that demonstrates that voters deserve to know the truth about the scope of Trump’s secrets and the lengths he’s willing to go to keep them. Based on his history, he’s at least willing to sue anyone willing to release an unflattering documentary about him, a reporter talking about his wealth, and Daniels.

A recent report from the Washington Post report that in the early days of his presidency, Donald Trump asked White House staff members to sign nondisclosure agreements vowing not to reveal confidential information, which they complied. A copy of a draft obtained by Ruth Marcus said those who violate the agreement would be subject to $10 million in penalties for each unauthorized revelation of confidential information (though she suggests that such an enormous amount didn’t make it into the final copy). It bars staff from discussing, “all nonpublic information I learn of or gain access to in the course of my official duties in the service of the United States Government on White House staff,” including, “communications . . . with members of the press” and “with employees of federal, state, and local governments.” It also forbids, “works of fiction” mentioning government operations or are based on confidential info. The agreement has no date, meaning it essentially keeps former staffers from speaking out forever. And if these were anything like the non-disclosure agreements Trump used on his campaign staff, I guess his White House staff would be prohibited from releasing anything disparaging about him, his family, or his businesses. Not to mention, ban them from citing insider material in books, memoirs, speeches, or movies. In 2016, Trump told the Washington Post, “When people are chosen by a man to go into government at high levels and then they leave government and they write a book about a man and say a lot of things that were really guarded and personal, I don’t like that.” A source told Marcus that the decision to implement the agreements came about in February or March 2017 when there was, “lots of leaking, things that just weren’t true, and a lot of things that were true and should have remained confidential.” Trump hoped to quell leaks by making sure his staff knew they could be “on the hook for some serious damages.”

Using such agreements in the White House is unprecedented and likely unconstitutional. As Marcus writes, “the notion of imposing a side agreement, supposedly enforceable even after the president leaves office, is not only oppressive but constitutionally repugnant.” Attorney Debra Katz told the Washington Post, “The idea of having some kind of economic penalty is an outrageous effort to limit and chill speech. Once again, this president believes employees owe him a personal duty of loyalty, when their duty of loyalty is to the institution.” Unlike employees in the private sector like those in the Trump Organization, White House aides have First Amendment rights under their employer, the federal government. Then there’s the conflict with federal laws like the Freedom of Information Act, which requires the preservation and public release of government information, including email communications, schedules, and other information about high-level employees. The Presidential Records Act makes private White House communications publicly available within 12 years after a president leaves office. While federal employees can be prohibited from sharing information, that generally applies to what’s classified or otherwise sensitive. If a White House staff leaks to the press, the cure’s firing not suing. Still, if you don’t think Trump won’t try to use the NDA to silence staffers, Cohen has sued Stormy Daniels for $20 million over violating hers 20 times. Even if they don’t think they’re legally enforceable. They are meant to intimidate government employees to remain quiet or else have a good lawyer on hand if they choose to speak out against the Trump administration. After all, Trump has fired Rex Tillerson as his Secretary of State who called him a “fucking moron,” behind his back.

Nonetheless, if Donald Trump’s history is anything to go by, he has a broad discretion on what constitutes a confidentiality breach. Trump Organization employees are restricted from publicly disclosing information, “of a private, proprietary or confidential nature or that Mr. Trump insists remain private or confidential,” according to the document. They’re also required to return or destroy copies of any confidential information at Trump’s request. The company nondisclosure agreement is binding during employment “and at all times thereafter.” Trump’s confidentiality agreements stipulate that disputes be handled by the American Arbitration Association with the result it keeps legal matters out of court and information out of public view.

However, public court documents show that Donald Trump is aggressive in targeting anyone divulging information about him or his businesses. In 1992, he famously sued ex-wife Ivana for $25 million on claims she violated their divorce decree’s nondisclosure portion. The lawsuit stemmed in part from a Harry Hurt romance novel called The Lost Tycoon, which her ex-husband claimed was based on their marriage. In 1996, Trump sued New York businesswoman, Barbara Corcoran for her New York magazine comments he claimed violated a confidentiality agreement. In 1999, he withheld an alimony payment from ex-wife Marla Maples for violating a confidential agreement between them when she told a British newspaper, “If he is really serious about being president and runs in the general election next year, I will not be silent. I will feel it is my duty as an American citizen to tell the people what he is really like.” In 2002, Harper Collins shelved a volume of Maples’ tell-all, most likely because Trump blocked its release. In 2013, his Miss Universe pageant sought and won a $5 million judgement against a former contestant, accusing her of disparaging an event by claiming it was rigged. The judgement hung on the contestant contract’s fine print barring participants from doing or saying anything bringing, “public disrepute, ridicule, contempt or scandal or might otherwise reflect unfavorably” on Trump or a list of businesses associated with the pageant. In 2016, he campaign aide Sam Nunberg’s for $10 million over his non-disclosure agreement.  And this month, Trump’s lawyer threatened Steve Bannon with a lawsuit for comments he made to Michael Wolff.

While the inclination to try to stay serious and talk about guns, trade, Medicaid or drug overdoses rather than Donald Trump’s affairs with porn actresses and Playboy models is understandable. But the American people have a right to know whether Trump, his associates, and the businesses he controls violated campaign finance law. We also have the right to know whether he habitually cuts large checks to buy ex-lovers’ silence and how broadly susceptible to blackmail or other forms of manipulation he may be. A responsible Congress would investigate these matters. The fact the current Republican majority is so invested in turning a blind eye to all sorts of Trump misconduct that it doesn’t even occur to anyone that these investigations will happen. At least until midterms. But Robert Mueller is already investigating Trump’s team, but on different grounds. And there is some overlap between the Daniels’ case and the Russia investigation in terms of personnel and subject matter. Cohen is an important figure is both stories. Not to mention, the alleged “pee tape.” It would be at least reasonable for Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to formally expand Mueller’s mandate to include the campaign finance questions in the Daniels reports. Either way, Washington should stop tittering in embarrassment and recognize that there’s a serious scandal here.

Of course, I have no interest in hearing Stormy Daniels’s story about her relationship with Donald Trump. I don’t want to know more about Trump’s sex life more than I already had. Nonetheless, if Daniels wants to tell her Trump story, I believe she has every right to. Especially since Trump is now president. Yet, we shouldn’t forget about all the other Trump stories such as his rampant wage theft, his Trump University scam, his egregious business practices, his business dealings with shady figures, his fake charity, his bankruptcies and business failures, his ripping off consumers and cheating investors, his pathological lying, and other schemes. His history of corruption is mindboggling and really should be heard. The fact Trump uses nondisclosure agreements on people associated with him from employees to ex-lovers and wives should really alarm us. Especially if he’s known being aggressive targeting anyone willing to say what he wants kept under wraps. Trump is a man with plenty to hide.

While we’re at it, if a noxious figure like Donald Trump needs constant recourse to non-disclosure agreements, those in their current, virtually unlimited form should be banned. It is a shame that these NDAs have become increasingly common in employee-employer relationships, business interactions, and even in purely private matters as we see with the Stormy Daniels case. And they have become the legal workaround for rich people and corporations to prevent truthful criticism about themselves and exposure of their potential misdeeds. They represent a misuse of our justice system to legally coerce an unequal relationship between those who have money and those who don’t. Thus, they’re court-sanctioned extorting of a person’s silence that serves no public benefit. There is no question that NDAs enabled Harvey Weinstein’s serial predation and other employer abuses across the country. NDAs arising from lawsuit settlements can present a real public danger by preventing victims from ever speaking out about the wrong done to them. They allow a rich enough wrongdoer to use the justice system to buy the wronged’s silence. If the accused party be a sexual predator like Weinstein, financial fraudster like Bernie Madoff, or an employer endangering their employees’ health and safety like Don Blankenship, NDAs set up perverse incentives to continue such action for as long as the wrongdoer can buy silence from the courts. It’s ridiculous that mere “disparagement” of a boss or company should be legally actionable through an NDA. Why should somebody’s opinion about someone or something matter in a court?

State legislatures and courts need to drastically limit contractual NDAs to protection of legitimate business interests like trade secrets, unique business processes, or maintenance of client confidentiality in sensitive areas like medicine and law. Likewise, court settlement NDAs should be limited in cases whose exposure to the details serves no public benefit, or when the injured party may wish to guard their own privacy like in certain sexual harassment suits. Should an employee or outside party actually make injuriously false statements about someone, the injured party could still sue for libel. But they must prove that a statement is false and defamatory as well as stated with a reckless or knowing disregard for the truth. So US libel laws can’t be used to shut down free speech. But NDAs can and have as Trump’s history clearly demonstrates. Stormy Daniels shouldn’t have to sue to tell her story. Neither should anyone else connected to Trump.

 

A Firing of Spite

You may claim that New Yorkers may be liberal elitists who are out of touch with the rest of America. While most people in New York City view Donald Trump with open contempt, many in the rest of the US have absolutely no idea why. But despite their liberal leanings, their loathing for their fellow New Yorker in the White House has nothing to do with his politics, his supporters, or how they view the rest of the country. Even before he got into politics, New Yorkers hated him. Because Trump has lived in New York City his whole life and have way more experience with his cries than anyone else in the world. They know he’s a first-rate huckster who’s swindled workers, customers, contractors, and investors alike to enrich himself. He may be shrewd and cunning but with no morals, ethics, or any sense of responsibility for his egregious actions. They don’t see Trump as a great businessman he styles himself to be in his narcissistic delusion of grandeur. But rather a fraud whose life as a celebrity and real estate behemoth wouldn’t be possible without his privileged background and inherited wealth from his father. He doesn’t think the rules should apply to him or that he should suffer any consequences for anything he does. He constantly lies and harshly retaliates those who dare criticize or challenge him. And he’d lash out at anyone who’d say anything negative about him even in jest. But what I find most disturbing about Donald Trump is his propensity for spite.

On Friday, March 16, 2018, Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe 2 days before his formal retirement which could cost him a federal pension. According to him, Justice Department Michael Horowitz found that in 2016, McCabe inappropriately allowed 2 top officials to speak to Wall Street Journal reporters on as story about FBI infighting over how to handle investigations into Hillary Clinton, particularly her email use as secretary of state and the Clinton Foundation. Specifically, McCabe authorized officials to push back against allegations that he had slowed down an investigation into the Clinton Foundation. According to the New York Times, the article states that the former deputy FBI director insisted his agents had the authority to investigate the foundation even if the Justice Department wouldn’t authorize grand jury subpoenas. Apparently, the inspector general’s report allegedly determines that McCabe lacked candor with internal investigators when asked about disclosures to the Wall Street Journal. That incident was under investigation as part of a broader look on how the FBI and Justice Department handled themselves during the 2016 presidential election. But McCabe lied about his authorization during an interview with the months-long probe, though he admits it as an honest mistake. That led to the FBI to recommend firing McCabe, which Sessions apparently accepted.

But the former deputy FBI director disputes this, writing in his searing statement: “The OIG investigation has focused on information I chose to share with a reporter through my public affairs officer and a legal counselor. As Deputy Director, I was one of only a few people who had the authority to do that. It was not a secret, it took place over several days, and others, including the Director, were aware of the interaction with the reporter. It was the same type of exchange with the media that the Deputy Director oversees several times per week. In fact, it was the same type of work that I continued to do under Director Wray, at his request. The investigation subsequently focused on who I talked to, when I talked to them, and so forth. During these inquiries, I answered questions truthfully and as accurately as I could amidst the chaos that surrounded me. And when I thought my answers were misunderstood, I contacted investigators to correct them.”
Andrew McCabe had resigned from his post as deputy FBI director after Donald Trump and other top administration officials publicly attacked him for months. He’s also stepped away from his responsibilities, hoping to wait to leave until his retirement date. If Trump wanted him gone, he didn’t need to fire him. He already accomplished that. Though there are real questions about McCabe’s performance at the FBI, there are deeper questions about Trump’s public vendetta against him, and the role Sessions played in his termination. He may not be innocent in wrongdoing. He made a questionable call about allowing a leak to the press during the 2016 campaign and apparently lying about it. But none of this was why Trump wanted him gone. Since it’s difficult to believe that the full weight of the presidency was focused on firing McCabe for improperly authorizing FBI officials to speak to the Wall Street Journal or even hiding it later.

Donald Trump wanted Andrew McCabe gone because of his role overseeing the Russia probe as well as his ties to James Comey, whom he loathes. He hasn’t hid the fact as he tweeted on St. Patrick’s Day, “Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI – A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!” Trump thinks the former deputy FBI director is a James Comey-aligned Democrat who was biased against them (he’s not). And he believes his political appointees should protect him. Trump has carried out his vendetta with McCabe for months in public and in harshly personal terms. Nor did he pressure Jeff Sessions behind the scenes since the whole country witnessed his campaign. By 2018, his campaign had already worked since the then-deputy FBI director announced plans to retire. Therefore, the Trump administration fired McCabe not to remove him from government, but to deny him the pension he earned for 20+ years of government service. It was an act of punishment and spite, not personnel management.

Donald Trump’s fury over Andrew McCabe goes back to a long-running controversy over the latter’s wife’s allegedly compromising ties to Hillary Clinton. In 2015, McCabe’s wife ran for a state Senate seat in Virginia, with backing from the state Democratic Party and Clinton ally former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe. Trump and other Republicans have used the donations and Justice Department probe against McCabe to argue he was secretly harboring an anti-Trump agenda. Trump also made it personal by asking McCabe what it’s like to have a “loser” wife. The former deputy FBI director’s name also surfaced in a text message sent by FBI agent Peter Strzok, who was removed from Robert Mueller’s Russia probe over his anti-Trump bias. But Strzok mentioned someone named “Andy” in a text message with federal attorney Lisa Page suggesting there was a negative discussion about Trump in McCabe’s office. Conservative media jumped on this, implying that the deputy FBI director was part of a grand anti-Trump conspiracy. When Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May 2017, McCabe became acting FBI director. Suddenly, a man Trump believed worked against him was leading the probe into his campaign’s connections to Russia.

Jeff Sessions’s explanation for the firing boils down to the “Integrity is our brand” mantra. But this comes from an attorney general who’s seemingly crossing ethical lines himself in making this decision. Sessions has recused himself in no uncertain terms from any questions related to the investigations into the Clinton campaign or Russia involvement during the 2016 election. But on March 16, Sessions fired Andrew McCabe for activities undeniably related to the Clinton investigation. Sure, he fired McCabe after public pressure from Donald Trump. But Trump is clearly angry at McCabe for activities related to the Russia investigation, which Sessions is also recused from. The attorney general has his personal and professional reasons to get rid of McCabe. His recusal pissed Trump off since it left him exposed to Mueller inquiries. In fact, Trump has publicly mocked Sessions for months in what is now a pressure campaign to get the attorney general to resign. Firing McCabe doesn’t just conflict with his recusal promise but it’s exactly what his boss wants from him. The former deputy FBI director’s firing is Sessions’s olive branch to a man who might fire him, coming at a time when Trump’s looking for administration appointees to can. Whatever damage McCabe has done to the FBI’s reputation is nothing compared what Sessions’s did to the Justice Department’s integrity.

This isn’t the first time Jeff Sessions has been accused of violating his recusal pledge. A watchdog group filed a complaint with the Justice Department in May that his participation in FBI Director James Comey’s firing was a violation of his pledge to recuse himself from matters involving Russia. They asked the department investigate the ordeal, issue a public report, and take additional action if deemed appropriate.

The Trump administration’s firing of Andrew McCabe is part of the cost of Donald Trump’s daily venality. As with Jim Comey’s firing last year, even when his administration makes a decision that might be justifiable on its own terms, the process by which that decision was made can’t be trusted and may be scandalous on its own. McCabe acted improperly enough that justifying his termination is possible. But Trump and Sessions acted so appallingly that it’s hard to trust the process leading to McCabe’s termination. Or to believe this was anything but an effort to punish and humiliate a perceived political enemy and to send a message to other who might investigate Trump that they do so at their peril. This is the problem when the White House is occupied by a vengeful man with nothing but contempt for institutional independence, rule of law, or government transparency. You can’t trust Trump to fairly and impartially carry out decisions like this one. So the decisions themselves can’t be trusted. In the broader sense, Trump’s behavior here looks and feels uncomfortably like the kind of purge authoritarian leaders use to clear the field of potential rivals, critics, and whistleblowers. He doesn’t need to frog-march adversaries off to their deaths to abuse his executive power, intimidate would-be informers, drive honest civil servants out of government, and silence anyone who might challenge him. He destroys his critics’ livelihoods and careers. He turns dissidents into enemies of the people. He uses his media access and public trust to smear them. The threat of his rule disappears with them, because few in government will want to challenge such ruthless power after seeing the consequences. In the words of Freedom House, Trump has, “deviated from established norms of ethics and transparency, verbally attacked crucial democratic institutions such as the news media and the judiciary, and made inflammatory and often inaccurate statements on a wide range of issues.”

In response to his dismissal, Andrew McCabe released a fiery statement, “I am being singled out and treated this way because of the role I played, the actions I took, and the events I witnessed in the aftermath of the firing of James Comey. The release of this report was accelerated only after my testimony to the House Intelligence Committee revealed that I would corroborate former Director Comey’s accounts of his discussions with the President. The OIG’s focus on me and this report became a part of an unprecedented effort by the Administration, driven by the President himself, to remove me from my position, destroy my reputation, and possibly strip me of a pension that I worked 21 years to earn. The accelerated release of the report, and the punitive actions taken in response, make sense only when viewed through this lens. This attack on my credibility is one part of a larger effort not just to slander me personally, but to taint the FBI, law enforcement, and intelligence professionals more generally. It is part of this Administration’s ongoing war on the FBI and the efforts of the Special Counsel investigation, which continue to this day. Their persistence in this campaign only highlights the importance of the Special Counsel’s work.”

Like his former boss, McCabe kept memos including details on his interactions with Donald Trump, Comey, and other topics. And according to the Wall Street Journal, he gave the memos to special counsel Robert Mueller. It’s not clear that McCabe was worried about Trump lying to him like his boss. But his memos might be able to support Comey’s claim that Trump pressured him to end the FBI’s probe into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. If he does that, it makes Mueller’s obstruction of justice case much stronger as well as give him even more insight into how Trump dealt with FBI leadership and if at any point he attempted to end the probe. Given that he issued a fiery statement, gave memos to Mueller, and lawyered up, the battle over his ouster is far from over.

Soon after the news of the McCabe memos broke, Donald Trump tweeted, “As the House Intelligence Committee has concluded, there was no collusion between Russia and the Trump Campaign. As many now are finding out, however, there was tremendous leaking, lying, and corruption at the highest levels of the FBI, Justice, & State. #Drain the Swamp.” Minutes later, her fired of another tweet about McCabe, “The Fake News is beside themselves that McCabe was caught, called out and fired. How many hundreds of thousands of dollars was given to wife’s campaign by Crooked H friend, Terry M, who was also under investigation? How many lies? How many leaks? Comey knew it all, and much more!” This is basically an unfounded conspiracy theory that’s become increasingly hard to track. He later added, “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!” These are a slew of previously debunked allegations and misleading claims. He also accused Comey of lying under oath, questioned the existence and validity of McCabe’s memos, and criticized Mueller by name for allegedly filling the ranks of his team of prosecutors and investigators with Democrats. But while Trump and other Republicans complain about Mueller’s team’s political interests, it’s illegal to consider political affiliations when choosing who to hire, according to the FBI. As McCabe wrote in his statement, “The big picture is a tale of what can happen when law enforcement is politicized, public servants are attacked, and people who are supposed to cherish and protect our institutions become instruments for damaging those institutions and people.”

Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s firing of Andrew McCabe shows that his war with US law enforcement has entered a new phase and that he and his cronies feel more emboldened to attack Robert Mueller and others directly working on the Trump-Russia probe. In addition, it raises new fears that Trump would take the extreme step of firing Mueller, which both Democrats and Republicans claim would spark a constitutional crisis. Savannah Law School professor Andy Wright told Vox, “This is an escalation because it’s open warfare against the special counsel by name, and it’s capping off a 10-month effort to thwart the FBI and Mueller. I don’t know what happens next because we’re in uncharted territory.” On Saint Patrick’s Day, Trump’s lead personal lawyer John Dowd told reporters that Mueller’s probe should end, pointing to McCabe’s firing as a sign the whole investigation is tainted. Though he’s the same guy who told Axios in December that Trump “cannot obstruct justice because he is the chief executive law enforcement officer.” As if he hadn’t heard of Richard Nixon. And how presidents aren’t above the law as well as can be guilty of obstruction of justice. Still, the fallout from McCabe’s firing is deeply unsettling as Vox’s Ezra Klein argued, “McCabe’s firing shows how Trump has corroded the operations of the American government.” It may get worse in the coming days, especially if Trump warms up to try removing Mueller. But if he does, I hope as former CIA Director John Brennan tweeted, “When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history.”

Of Applauses and Military Parades

On Tuesday, January 30, 2018, Donald Trump delivered his first State of the Union address in front of both houses of Congress. Of course, like the last time he addressed Congress, the media lauded at how he seemed to act presidential by reciting words off a teleprompter which you wouldn’t see in his Twitter feed. But that doesn’t change the fact he’s the hollow showman who’d rather pick fights than offer any remotely plausible solutions to any real problems. And that he shows absolutely no interest in governing or uniting the country. Nor does it change the fact he’s a narcissistic sociopath who’d sell out America and undermine established democratic norms in order to enrich himself, his Republican allies, and his 1% friends. Or how he has no respect for America, democratic principles, or the rule of law.

But what scares me most about Donald Trump is his authoritarian impulses. He sees himself above scrutiny and criticism. He sees himself entitled to countless praises from everyone without doing anything to deserve them. And as president, he thinks that anyone working in the federal government should be personally loyal to him above all else. In his mind, anyone who thinks less of him as this wonderful president who’d make America great again is an Un-American conspirator out to get him who should be crushed. Trump has called reporters who write unflattering articles about him as, “enemies of the people” and the media outlets they work for as “fake news.” He has called athletes who kneel during the national anthem to peacefully protest police brutality and racism as unpatriotic and disrespectful to the American flag. He has questioned the authority of federal judges who ruled against his policies. He has declared war on law enforcement officials and agencies investigating him whom he’s alleged as agents in some Democratic deep state conspiracy to bring him down. Despite that the key decisionmakers in the Russian inquiry are all Republicans, including his own hand-picked deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

On Monday, February 5, Donald Trump addressed a crowd in Cincinnati in which he decried how congressional Democrats didn’t stand and applaud for him during last week’s State of the Union. “They were like death and un-American,” he said. “Un-American. Somebody said, ‘treasonous.’ I mean, Yeah, I guess why not? Can we call that treason? Why not? I mean they certainly didn’t seem to love our country that much.” Trump loyalist may dismiss this incendiary sentiment as nothing but a joke. After all, he didn’t say refusing to give him a standing ovation was treasonous. He just merely agreed with people who said it was. And like many things Trump says in his tweets, there’s a tendency to shrug it off.

But Donald Trump’s casual allegation of calling the Democrats’ behavior “treasonous” should be taken very seriously. Merriam Webster defines treason as “The offense of attempting by overt acts to overthrow the government of the state to which the offender owes allegiance or to kill or personally injure the sovereign or the sovereign’s family.” In Article III Constitution: “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort. No person shall be convicted of treason unless on the testimony of two witnesses to the same overt act, or on confession in open court.” Of course, treason can be punished by life in prison or death. Joining an enemy army because you didn’t get the promotion you deserved is treason. Splitting off from your country so you can subjugate black people to forced labor is treason. Giving out secrets to the Russians after World War II is treason. Refusing to stand or applaud the State of the Union when a president thinks you should is neither treasonous nor Un-American. If it was, then you can easily say that congressional Republicans were treasonous whenever they sat on their hands while Barack Obama touted his accomplishments in office to the Democrats’ cheers. Same when it came to every president before him.

Nevertheless, when Donald Trump links a refusal for a standing ovation to a president during a State of the Union address as “treasonous,” he’s implying a far more unsettling message. What Trump really meant in Cincinnati is that dissent was traitorous and/or un-American. That if these non-clappers really loved their country, they’d be applauding when he touted how low black unemployment had dipped under his presidency. Despite that his touting of historically low black unemployment was a cherry-picked fact based off a single month’s economic report which totally lost relevance when the black unemployment numbers trickled up in January. Besides, even if he did reduce black unemployment to historic lows, that wouldn’t make any difference to the Democrats. Because Trump has pissed plenty of Democrats off through his divisive and incendiary rhetoric. Not to mention, his pandering to white supremacists as well as his assaults on healthcare, education, the environment, civil rights, workers, and the poor. Then there’s his disregard for democratic norms and the rule of law as well as his attacks on American institutions like law enforcement and the press.

Still, even the mere suggestion of criminalizing dissent should trouble any fan of democracy. The right to dissent without fear of retribution is at the heart of what differentiates the United States from authoritarian countries around the world. In fact, it’s even protected by the First Amendment of our constitution. As US Senator Tammy Duckworth tweeted, “We don’t live in a dictatorship or a monarchy. I swore an oath—in the military and in the Senate—to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, not to mindlessly cater to the whims of Cadet Bone Spurs and clap when he demands I clap.” When a president floats the notion of no applause when it was appropriate, it sends a very powerful message to the nation about how we do (and should) deal with those disagreeing with us. Doesn’t matter if Donald Trump was joking or not. And whether you agree with President Pussygrabber or not, it sends a very terrible message. What the Democrats did during Trump’s State of the Union wasn’t unprecedented and was well within their rights. To say otherwise, is un-American and destructive.

Then there’s a recent report from the Washington Post, in which an anonymous military official claimed that Donald Trump requested that the Pentagon begin planning a military parade this year along the inaugural route between the US Capitol to the White House. According to the paper, Trump was inspired by a 2017 to France for Bastille Day which traditionally features one. “The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France,” the official said. “This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.” Excuse me, but doesn’t there seem to be something a bit despotic about this? Because save for winning wars, holding military parades is what armed forces in dictatorships to show they’re not to be messed with like in Russia, China, and North Korea. Still, this isn’t a new interest of Trump’s since he wanted military equipment and a flyover for his 2017 inaugural parade. Of course, Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed the event in the works, “President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe. He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.” Oh, what a load of shit. Trump is a man who dodged the draft thanks to his rich daddy, called POWs cowards, had disabled veterans chased off of Trump Tower, promised to donate $6 million to vets but didn’t, set up a fake veterans hotline, attacked a Gold Star family for being Muslim, and told a grieving serviceman’s widow that her husband, “knew what he signed up for.” The say that Trump wants a military parade to show honor America’s service members is ludicrous. He doesn’t give a shit about the brave men and women who’ve served this country other than as props in his displays of patriotic pageantry. But Trump is a president who’s openly praised a number of totalitarian leaders like Russia’s Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan. He’s openly questioned his own Justice Department and FBI, suggesting there was a conspiracy at the highest levels wanting to weaken him. He’s worked tirelessly to disqualify the idea of an objective news media. He constantly says things that aren’t true and has an administration coining the term, “alternative facts.” Not to mention, he has a tremendous ego and perhaps to top the kind of military parade he saw in France. Because to him, might makes right and he with the biggest toys wins.

However, when the toys are tanks and missiles, no one’s really sure what “winning” looks like as the stakes go up. Donald Trump is either unaware or dismisses this concept. He also doesn’t seem to care about the kind of message a parade of tanks, guns, and other military playthings through the Washington D.C. streets sends to the rest of the world which will watch. Meaning we’ll probably get a military parade in Washington because Tiny Hands gets what he wants whether or not it’s good for the country. Our soldiers and weapons aren’t toys for Trump to parade around to compensate his fragile ego. Still, if there’s anything un-American it’s an unpopular president holding a military parade because other countries get to do it.

Nonetheless, if there’s anyone who’s betraying the nation, consider the guy who’d deliberately and systematically wreck the institutions guaranteeing the separation of powers and accountability of the Executive and Legislative branches. Think of the guy who’d subvert the rule of law to protect himself, his family, and his cronies from justice. If you’re looking for a man who’d betray the Founders’ glorious vision and our Constitution, look no further than the clown who heads this White House circus. I mean the very man who swore to uphold the Constitution and obey the laws of the land, but ignores them and attacks those who’d carry them out. Sure, there have been presidents who’ve failed, strayed, and fell to weakness. And we can remember presidents from both parties who no one could even imagine betraying the nation to a hostile foreign power. Not this man. And we don’t have to imagine it either. We can see it. Trump’s unashamed schmoozing with Vladimir Putin speaks for itself as he allows Russia attack our democracy, our Republic, and our institutions. Only Trump and his sycophants question Putin’s implacable hostility, aggression, and desire to divide and disrupt this country. That Putin wants to weaken our standing, diminish our power, and harm our interest in the world is stated Russian policy. When Congress sent Trump veto-proof legislation demanding he impose sanctions on Russia, he waited until the last second to impose, well, nothing. When Putin arrested campaign opponent Alexey Navalny on fake charges, His Hind-Ass remained silent. For some reason, Trump is determined to show he’d do anything, at any time, to please this Russian authoritarian. He’ll even tear down the United States government around him to hide from accountability, wreak alliances, compromise intelligence sources, and endanger our troops to please Putin. Let us strip away all the excuses and rationalizations and just call Trump’s actions on Russia, what they are: treason.

 

The Insanity of the Snowflake Court

On January 20, 2017, Donald Trump was sworn in as President of the United States, which was a day that will live in infamy. Since then, he and his Republican sycophants have unleashed a series of unfortunate events which have undermined the democratic process, disrespected American values and civil liberties, and ignored the will of the American people. Not surprisingly, Trump has proven to be an incurious and incompetent executive as well as a friend to plutocrats and white supremacists. He has broken democratic norms and brought out the American ugliness that was meant to be buried all those years ago. He has alienated our allies and praised despots known to inflict atrocities on any of their citizens who dare challenge their authority. He has divided the country with his incendiary rhetoric, especially whenever someone publicly says something he doesn’t like. He has tried to delegitimize the media who’ve reported negative stories about him as “fake news.” He has surrounded himself with sycophants and crooks in his administration as well as berated and fired those not willing to put personal loyalty above all else. He has tried to undermine an investigation into his campaign’s ties to Russia. And he doesn’t care of the consequences of his actions unless they affect him personally, despite the vast damage he’s inflicted with his cruelty. Nor does he take responsibility for his callous actions. It is impossible to list the scandals, controversies, and incendiary rhetoric coming from this man or his administration.

Since 12:01 on January 20, 2018, the federal government shut down. Republicans and Democrats are still stuck in a struggle to reach an immigration deal. On January 18, House Republicans passed a bill to fund the government for 4 weeks and extend the Children’s Health Insurance Program for 6 years, after Congress had failed to reauthorize the program for the last 4 months. But on a procedural vote late on January 19, which needed 60 votes to advance the House spending bill, 45 Senate Democrats and 5 Senate Republicans rejected it. Democrats are frustrated with Donald Trump’s unwillingness to accept a bipartisan to address the nearly 700,000 immigrants in legal limbo after he pledged to end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. And they felt of having no choice or leverage but to reject the House spending bill to force DACA negotiations. Several Republicans working on the DACA fix joined in and are angry over the inability to cut a long-term funding deal for the military. Meanwhile, Republicans have pitted DACA recipients against CHIP despite that their majority failed to extend the program. Yet, Democrats still believe they have a compelling case for DACA after Trump’s latest tirade calling some countries “shitholes” in an immigration meeting with lawmakers. But so far, there has been no easy resolution. Though Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has offered Democrats a shorter short-term spending deal keeping the government open until February 8 and promised to open immigration negotiations then. Now the mad scramble to fund and reopen the government begins.

Now a federal government means that a lot of so-called “non-essential” government activities suddenly cease. Federal employees are divided into “essential” and “nonessential” groups. Nonessential employees receive furloughs like an unpaid leave of absence until the shutdown’s resolved. Essential employees also stop getting paid but still have to work. But when a shutdown’s over federal workers usually get the salaries they went without. Likewise, a shutdown usually suspends various government functions. Military, air traffic control, federal prisons, Social Security and other benefit programs aren’t typically affected. However, the Office of Management and Budget estimated that the shutdown resulted in 120,000 fewer jobs and cut economic growth by .2-.6% in the last quarter during the last government shutdown in 2013 whose effects were substantial. Tax refunds totaling $4 billion were delayed. Women, Infants, and Children nutrition program went underfunded. Federal research activities at the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention nearly shut down entirely. Environmental Protection Agency inspections halted in 1,200 locations. The Food and Drug Administration delayed approval of drugs and medical devices. National parks shut down, resulting in $500 million lost in consumer spending from tourists. And reviews of veterans’ disability applications slowed to a halt, with nearly 20,000 applications per week not being processed. So it’s a very serious matter.

It’s not unusual for Congress to go on the brink of a shutdown since it happened several times in Trump’s first year of office alone. But failure to actually make the deadline is rare. But since the federal government has shut down, Congress has to pass a spending bill. They have 3 options. First, they can pass the appropriations bills in an omnibus which crams 11 of these together into one spending package. Second, they can pass a “continuing resolution” funding government at its current levels to buy more negotiating time for the actual appropriations bills. Or third, they could pass a “CRomnibus,” which combines the two as well as extends the deadline on certain more contentious appropriations like the Department of Homeland Security and passing a spending bill on the rest. Though McConnell has proposed another CR, Democrats voted one down amid stalled immigration negotiations, which have recently intensified after months of inaction. So it’s unlikely they’d vote without some agreement on DACA’s future. Still, Donald Trump and the Republican leadership keep engaging hardline immigration hawks showing no interest in compromise. And his Orange Hind-Ass has reportedly told Senators Tom Cotton and Mark Meadows that he won’t support a proposal without these hardliners’ blessings. For Democrats, this is a serious red flag since their votes are needed to pass anything on immigration, which Republicans want kept out of the spending talks.

Naturally, both parties have spent the last few days trying to set up the other side to take the blame for the shutdown due to budget impasse. Republicans have made plans to force vulnerable Senate Democrats to take uncomfortable votes. Democrats claim that since Republicans control both houses of Congress and the White House, not keeping the government open is their fault. At the same time, Republicans accuse Democrats of withholding needed Senate votes to press a resolution to the immigration debate impasse, even at CHIP’s expense. Of course, that’s ridiculous since Congress could’ve easily resolved the whole CHIP thing months ago. However, the truth is that Republicans didn’t even have the votes to keep the government open on their own. Yet, Democrats weren’t going to let the government remain open without a DACA deal even if Republicans had the votes. Nonetheless, after Lord Cheetohead blew up the DACA talks in the “shithole” meeting, they felt they had no choice and saw the spending bill as the best leverage. For both parties know that tying a DACA deal to a spending bill was the only way to assure its success. Because immigration hawks want to blow up such a deal from a bipartisan group of senators. So the hardliners and Republicans have dug in while Democrats have decided that now is the time to force the DACA issue. So the government won’t open until one side feels the squeeze and blinks. And it could’ve been avoided had Hamsterhair accepted the bipartisan DACA deal in the first place.

We need to remember that Donald Trump set the current crisis in motion last September when he revoked Barack Obama’s executive order protecting DREAMers from deportation. But he offered no guidance about what he wanted to happen next other than Congress to do something. His lack of clarity has emboldened the GOP immigration hardliners while raising immigration reformers’ hopes for a deal. Unfortunately, Trump’s intervening behavior ruined everything and left everyone feeling he might screw over at any moment. Nobody is exactly sure who’s shutting down the government or what the White House is trying to achieve by rejecting a bipartisan proposal that would’ve averted one. The country has mostly coped with Trump’s inability to do his job through outsourcing governance to congressional GOP leadership. But congressional Republicans are less unified while Trump is more invested in immigration than on most issues. So his actual personal leadership as president is critical for moving the system forward. However, the mere fact that these circumstances require Trump to act like a real president doesn’t change the fact he’s a lazy, ill-informed conspiracy theorist prone to tweeting cryptic statements about delicate issues from Fox & Friends segments.

As a candidate Donald Trump loudly, frequently, and obnoxiously promised to “build a wall” on the US-Mexican border and “make Mexico pay” for it. Of course, these ideas never made any sense since Mexico would never pay for such a thing. But once Trump won the election, turning them to actual policy imperative became important to the overall Republican Party. And the White House got behind the conceit that Congress could reserve funds for it that Trump would assert was some kind of advance on the nonexistent future Mexican repayment. But this left the problem of actually getting the money since congressional appropriations require 60 Senate votes. Not surprisingly, many Republicans were lukewarm on the wall all along. Thus, Trump was considering forcing a government shutdown to try to get his way. In May 2017, he tweeted, “The reason for the plan negotiated between the Republicans and Democrats is that we need 60 votes in the Senate which are not there! We…. either elect more Republican Senators in 2018 or change the rules now to 51%. Our country needs a good “shutdown” in September to fix mess!” Obviously, this was a bad idea and other Republicans seemed to have talked Trump out of it. But the problem of getting Democratic votes for the wall remained. One natural way would give Democrats a big legislative win of their own. Yet, since a lot of congressional Republicans weren’t very excited about the wall, they’d revolt over giving away policy concessions of any real value. Then came an idea of canceling DACA allowing Trump to generate new leverage and give concessions on the DREAMers in exchange for wall money and leaving Republicans no worse off than they were before.

Unfortunately, Donald Trump has deeply hawkish views on immigration thanks to his personal and ideological racism as well as deeply ill-informed on all subjects aside from the art of the con. Besides, the basic problem with a DREAMers-for-wall swap is that the wall is a phenomenally stupid idea that wouldn’t accomplish anything to reduce immigration to the United States. Also, walls to keep people out or in have been tried countless times in history and have failed to do so. Not to mention, the billions of dollars spent to maintain and guard it which would make a wall a colossal waste of money. And if legislative DREAMer protections ended up creating a path to citizenship, it might actually result in increasing immigration since the new citizens could sponsor visas for relatives. Thus, better-informed immigration hawks like White House senior adviser Stephen Miller and Sen. Tom Cotton began working with Chief of Staff John Kelly to avoid the kind of deal Trump had repeatedly suggested and even at times explicitly agreed to in general terms. While hawks successfully scuttled a deal by souring Trump on a bipartisan compromise by Sens. Lindsey Graham and Dick Durbin, they haven’t introduced any plausible ideas of their own.

However, instead of negotiating positions, immigration hawks have produced a comprehensive wish list for entirely transforming the American immigration system to a tiki torch wielding white supremacist’s delight. They want billions of dollars in new border security along with the full RAISE Act vision of cutting legal immigration in half while ending family and diversity visas in favor of an exclusive focus on job offers and educational attainment. This is what Donald Trump means with his various asides about the perils of “lotteries” and “chain migration.” Consequently, there’s just no way Democrats will agree to these changes as the price for helping the DREAMers. There’s just a total disproportion between these demands’ scale and the DACA issue’s significance. To get sweeping changes in the immigration system enacted, conservatives would need to come to the table with some kind of help for the entire long-settled undocumented immigrant population. Like the kind of comprehensive immigration reform they’ve eschewed for years.

So if Democrats blink and cave into Donald Trump on the shutdown question, Donald Trump will get none of the policy changes he wants. He’ll have no change to diversity visas, no change to family visas, and no wall money. In exchange, he could start deporting DREAMers but the capacity of American courts to do so is already maxed out. Still, losing legal status will harm DREAMers in concrete ways. It’ll force some out of active-military service and others out of legitimate work and education activities. But those who’ve grown up and spent their whole lives in the US aren’t going to “self-deport,” and crowding the deportation pipeline with sympathetic DREAMers won’t help immigration hawks’ case. It’s possible that Trump doesn’t care and thinks hurting DREAMers is its own reward. If that’s so, he at least should admit that and let the country move on. Even if it makes him seem like a horrible person which won’t hurt him much. I mean low approval ratings and mass protests should illustrate that most of American people think he’s a piece of shit anyway.

The current situation’s perversity is that Donald Trump has always publicly maintained that he wants to do something to help the DREAMers when his actions show us that’s not the case. He has repeatedly used the word “love” in this context despite that he was perfectly willing to put 700,000 immigrants in legal limbo just to get money for his stupid, useless wall. Though his supposed willingness to help the DREAMers has raised expectations among Democrats and immigration activists that a deal can be struck. If Trump doesn’t actually want a deal, he may narrowly prevail on the government shutdown. Democrats from red states with low Latino and Asian populations won’t hold out forever in a futile effort to help DACA recipients. Had Trump had signaled opposition months ago, there probably wouldn’t be a standoff today. But if he wants a deal, he needs to seriously engage with the process and lay out some concrete ideas on the table. Instead, by veering from handshake deals with “Chuck and Nancy” to profane ranting about “shithole countries,” he has confused everyone on Capitol Hill and brought the political system to breaking point. And he thinks he’s a master in the art of the deal.

Nevertheless, we must note that Donald Trump’s remarks on immigration from “shithole” countries reflects a larger, more pervasive, and more dangerous viewpoint on the intersection of immigration and race. By referring nations like Haiti and African countries as “shitholes,” he’s not just expressing what some conservatives view as “politically incorrect” sentiments. Rather he and importantly members of his staff are embracing what used to be a fringe theory held by the farthest of the far right. It’s a theory claiming that white people are being systematically “erased” by their inferiors, and thus require an influx of white babies and new white immigrants (at the exclusion of their nonwhite counterparts) to survive. This viewpoint has resulted in the federal government shutdown. We must understand that the current debate at Capitol Hill has little to do with border security concerns. It’s about halting immigration, especially from nonwhite countries. In the final days and hours before the government shutdown, Donald Trump sabotaged a bipartisan compromise that was Congress’s best shot at passing a package that would’ve kept the government open and do something about the DACA program Trump ended last year, but wanted “fixed.” This would’ve given him much of what he wanted out of immigration reform like the border wall and an end to “diversity” visas. Instead, Trump turned toward restrictionists like Sen. Tom Cotton and White House Senior Adviser Stephen Miller who has long influenced his attitudes on immigration policy. Miller’s silent hand on Trump’s DACA views was noteworthy enough that Sen. Lindsey Graham told MSNBC that his approach had, “no viability.” Breitbart fired back at Graham, running a piece which called him, “pro-amnesty” while referring to Cotton as, “the heir to Jeff Sessions’ pro-American immigration reform agenda.” Cotton has said that the “American people” like Trump’s and more importantly, his own “economic nationalist approach” favoring cuts on legal immigration, harsh penalties on DACA recipients and legal immigrants, and criminalizing undocumented immigrants’ status whose presence violates civil law. The language used by sites like Breitbart make it clear that this is all about mythmaking and fearmongering. As John Binder writes describing Cotton’s extremist policy: “By 2023, the Center for Immigration Studies estimates that the legal and illegal immigrant population of the U.S. will make up nearly 15 percent of the entire U.S. population.” The Center for Immigration Studies is an unreliable source for immigration data since its fonder John Tanton of embracing eugenics and reportedly told a friend, “for European-American society and culture to persist requires a European-American majority, and a clear one at that.” Now Tanton’s allies are attempting to put these ideas into immigration policy. And they wonder why Democrats aren’t interested despite the obvious white supremacist implications. Judging by Trump’s actions on revoking temporary protected status on DREAMers, Haitians, and El Salvadorans, I’m guessing he’s with the hardliners. Thus, as far as I see it, I don’t see any resolution in sight to this shutdown.

All the Snowflake King’s Men

On Tuesday, January 9, 2018, California US Senator Dianne Feinstein released a full transcript of Fusion GPS Glenn Simpson’s extensive 21-hour testimony before 3 Congressional committees. According to her, “The innuendo and misinformation circulating about the transcript are part of a deeply troubling effort to undermine the investigation into potential collusion and obstruction of justice. The only way to set the record straight is to make the transcript public.” The move follows a decision by Republican Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Chuck Grassley and Senator Lindsey Graham, who after months of testimony, issued a criminal referral for Steele, alleging the committee had reason to believe the former spy has lied to the authorities about his conversations with the press regarding the dossier. His spokesman, Taylor Foy called it, “confounding” that Feinstein released the transcript “unilaterally” over the Republican majority’s objections. Well, of course, she did because she knew the Republicans were cover up that testimony to protect Trump’s ass. But according to Foy, “Feinstein’s unilateral decision was made as the committee is still trying to secure testimony from other witnesses, including Jared Kushner. Her action undermines the integrity of the committee’s oversight work and jeopardizes its ability to secure candid voluntary testimony relating to the independent recollections of future witnesses.” By releasing the transcripts against objections from Republican colleagues, Feinstein didn’t cause much harm. She broke no law. Though Simpson testified in a closed session, he wasn’t a government official. Nor did he discuss classified information or anything about anyone’s private life. Besides, Simpson had already called for his testimony’s full release. What Feinstein violated was the normal rules of Senate decorum, which Republicans had been using to cover up a key point that debunks some of their own talking points about this matter.

Simpson’s testimony contains many revelations. He touches upon how the Trump Organization handles taxes saying, Donald Trump’s relationship with gangster Felix Sater, how his country clubs aren’t making any money and that someone might’ve been killed as a result of the dossier. But most importantly, his testimony revealed that the FBI was already investigating potential links between Donald Trump’s campaign and the Russian government before they even heard anything about Christopher Steele’s infamous dossier on the matter. During the hearing, Simpson stated when Steele spoke to the FBI about his findings, the bureau, “believed Chris’s information might be credible because they had other intelligence that indicated the same thing, and one of those pieces of intelligence was a human source from inside the Trump Organization.” That along with a report from the New York Times suggests that Trump campaign aide George Papadopoulos who during a night of heavy drinking in May 2016, accidentally kicked off the Trump-Russia investigation by telling an Australian diplomat that Russia had political dirt on Hillary Clinton.

We must not forget that Feinstein released this transcript over her Republican colleagues’ objections. Recently, conservatives had been pushing a theory that the basis for the FBI investigation was an opposition document compiled at the Clinton campaign’s behest. On January 3, key House conservative Rep. Jim Jordan rolled out a tweetstorm of 18 questions about the FBI and Russia, many of which centered on the Steele dossier. Along with another leading House conservative Rep. Mark Meadows, Jordan is calling for Trump to fire Jeff Sessions and put in a new attorney general to oversee and possibly quash the Russia investigation. This is part of a broader effort to discredit the Robert Mueller investigation which in turn is part of the conservative counternarrative on the whole Russian scandal. The dossier plays a key role in this conspiracy theory. By putting the dossier on trial, they have tried to impeach the basic case that people in Trump’s circle may have coordinated with the Russians who attacked the election. Trump allies have also used the dossier to go on offense against the FBI and the Justice Department, charging that “biased” federal investigators used what Republicans call partisan, Democratic-funded propaganda as the basis for the whole Russian investigation. However, the reality is that while intelligence circles hold Steele in high regard, there’s no evidence that the FBI has ever used his work as the basis of its Russia investigation. Besides, the case for collusion goes beyond the dossier and includes outreach by Russian agents to the Trump campaign as well as meetings between Trump associates and Russians.

Now who is this Glenn Simpson and what is Fusion GPS? Simpson is one of the co-founders of Fusion GPS which is a “strategic influence” firm first hired by the conservative publication called the Washington Free Beacon in 2015 to conduct opposition research on Donald Trump. Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee contracted the firm once Trump’s Republican nomination became more imminent. In turn, Fusion hired former MI-6 Russian specialist Christopher Steele to specifically look at Trump and Russia. The former British agent used his Russian contacts to compile a dossier describing efforts by Russian President Vladimir Putin to cultivate a relationship with Trump and his entourage and to gather material to blackmail the candidate if necessary. He did not pay sources for the information. His investigation ended with a several allegations including that Russian security services are blackmailing Trump with a recording of him paying prostitutes to pee on his bed at the Moscow Ritz Carlton presidential suite. And that Trump’s campaign was the beneficiary of a multifaceted Kremlin plot to interfere in the 2016 US election. Obviously, Steele felt his findings went beyond political campaign fodder and made him worry that there was a genuine threat to US national security. So he took the info to the FBI who was already getting tips and reports something was going on. Steele’s information just confirmed the seriousness of the situation. Buzzfeed published Steele’s dossier in January 2017 which set off a firestorm of controversy and intrigue which neither man intended to happen. But in recent months, it had taken new life as the centerpiece of a conservative counter-conspiracy theory that Trump’s political enemies cooked up the whole Trump-Russia investigation. Simpson’s testimony primarily debunks the conservative narrative placing the infamous dossier at the center of the story and confirms the Times account of a drunk Papadopoulos kickstarting the Trump-Russian investigation.

But how could a drunk Papadopoulos be the start of the Trump-Russian investigation? Let’s just say that it all boils Papadopoulos having a drunk conversation with Australia’s ambassador to the UK, Alexander Downer about Russia having dirt on Hillary Clinton. Downer, of course, shared the details with other Australian officials who ultimately passed word of it to their American counterparts once the hacking of Democratic email accounts became a big deal. And thus the FBI investigation ensued that July. All because Papadopoulos said the wrong thing to the wrong guy while under the influence. They listened to Steele because they already had an investigation into the Trump-Russia question underway. While the investigation hasn’t yet proven the existence of anything like the vast conspiracy Steele alleges, it certainly has uncovered a real evidence of wrongdoing. This consists of a Papadopoulos guilty plea along with serious criminal charges against former Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort and former Trump National Security Adviser Michael Flynn. We’ve also learned that key Trumpworld figures like Jared Kushner and Donald Trump Jr. were at least eager to potentially collaborate with the Russian government into revealing anti-Clinton “dirt.” Rather than taking a cue from Downer in alerting the authorities to the existence of the of an active Russian intelligence effort aimed at the United States. There also continues to be an ongoing investigation that might yet reveal other criminal activity. Or it might not. Either way, Simpson’s testimony is more evidence that law enforcement took the Trump-Russian collusion question seriously for reasons that had nothing to do with the Steele dossier.

Steele may have overreacted as well as got things wrong. Yet, fundamentally, it doesn’t matter since the investigation doesn’t rise or fall on his credibility. Even so, he turned the dossier to the FBI for no obvious reason other than his allegiance to our closest ally. Despite what the Republicans think, the Steele dossier was not a purely political document paid for by Democrats to hurt Donald Trump. Else Steele wouldn’t have reported such information to the FBI. In fact, the Democrats hardly made a concerted effort to hit Trump where it hurts during the 2016 election and they didn’t need a dossier suggesting treason to do it. For Trump’s history of corruption of dubious business practices is simply mindboggling. Also, he’s a narcissistic sociopath who has consistently abused any position of power he’s had to enrich himself. Besides, allegations of collusion with a foreign power to interfere in an election are far more serious than the traditional political punches.

While Republicans decry that Feinstein’s decision to make the Simpson testimony public undermines the congressional investigations, it was the their own efforts to obstruct inquiries that prompted to her to release the documents in the first place. Because they’d rather stick with Trump for their own selfish interests despite the damage he’s done to this country, how many norms he’s violated, and how he’s enriching himself. In an op-ed Fritsch and Simpson write, “We suggested investigators look into the bank records of Deutsche Bank and others that were funding Mr. Trump’s businesses. Congress appears uninterested in that tip: Reportedly, ours are the only bank records the House Intelligence Committee has subpoenaed. [We] found widespread evidence that Mr. Trump and his organization had worked with a wide array of dubious Russians in arrangements that often raised questions about money laundering.” The House committee investigating Trump’s Russian connections was an utter joke while led by Rep. Devin Nunes who was on Trump’s transition team! Last year, the California Republican betrayed his oath of office on behalf of a faction within the Trump administration. Hell, he practically went to and from the White House telling Trump and his allies the House committee’s activities. In siding with Trump, Republicans have put their party over nation and principles. In essence, instead of pursuing what Fusion GPS found out about Trump, they’ve become enablers to a possible traitor who has no love for the country he’s supposed to lead, no respect for the democratic values he’s supposed to protect and promote, and no affinity for the rule of law he’s supposed to abide.

Nevertheless, the fact Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans didn’t want the Simpson testimony released to the public speaks volumes about their motives. As Simpson and Fusion GPS co-founder Peter Fritsch wrote in an op-ed that the committees have “known for months” of credible collusion allegations but have chosen instead to “chase rabbits.” And yet, Republicans tried pushing a conspiracy theory that Trump’s political enemies created the dossier to defame him and launch an FBI witch hunt. It’s clear conservatives in Congress have been misleading people about the origins of the FBI investigation into Trump and Russia with hopes in discrediting it. We all know that Republicans want to hold on to their power to enact policy they want no matter how unpopular it is. We know they’re willing to support Donald Trump so they can get their way. It is one thing for a major political party to unite behind a corrupt president. But it’s a very serious concern when the GOP unites behind a campaign of willful disinformation at the country’s expense. As Joshua Marshall wrote in Talking Points Memo, “What’s happened is that we’ve had a year tarnishing the reputation of a man who did right by the United States for no obvious reason other than his allegiance is to our closest ally and creating a comic, degenerate alternate reality in which the people who alerted us to the problems and those who first sought to understand them are the malefactors rather than the people who were at a minimum cozying up to a foreign power. It is actually quite like the cliched story of the whistleblower who speaks up and then becomes the scapegoat in the cover-up of the bad acts he was trying to bring to light. In fact that’s exactly what it is.” Now that Republicans have chosen to protect their Snowflake King, we must remember how their selfishness at Capitol Hill has disgraced the nation.

The Madness of the Snowflake King

In this winter of our discontent, there is a term flying around conservative circles called “snowflake” used to describe liberal extremists who get offended by every statement and/or belief that doesn’t exactly match their own. To them, these individuals think they’re just unique as “snowflakes” when they really just have fragile feelings. To be fair, I do believe there are some liberal snowflakes who do exist. But when it comes to fragile feelings and offense by every statement and/or belief not aligning theirs, I think the “snowflake” label describes conservatives much more. For one, conservatives have an entire media ecosystem to insulate them from uncomfortable mainstream truths and assure them their views are perfectly reasonable. I mean when other networks air rather damning stuff on Donald Trump, Fox News runs stupid shit and peddles conspiracy theories. Secondly, conservatives go absolutely apeshit over race related issues such as Black Lives Matter calling attention to police brutality, NFL players taking a knee, and removing Confederate monuments. Third, those so-called “snowflakes” conservatives refer to have had to deal with all kinds of offenses and systematic injustices against them for perhaps their whole lives.

But in the United States, there is no bigger snowflake in the country than Snowflake King Donald Trump. Even before he ran for president and disastrously ended up in the White House, we all know that this guy has a massively inflated ego and self-delusions of grandeur. He sees himself as a successful and brilliant businessman despite being an outright fraud who’s shamelessly engaged in unethical practices and corruption that have ruined hundreds of people’s lives. His presidency will become legend for his incompetence, his Twitter tantrums, his lack of regard for the law, democratic principles, and norms, and his corrupt administration that’s loaded with sycophants. Still, Trump is known to burst over the slightest insult that he’s referred the mainstream media as “fake news” whenever they run a negative story about him. For a president, to discredit the media over the negative stuff about him whether it be his unethical business practices, his flagrant disregard for democratic norms, his lack of respect of democratic values, openly racist tirades, his Twitter tantrums, his incompetence and mental instability, and pathological dishonesty. Even before he became president, Trump was known to at least threatening to sue those who dare challenge him or at least said stuff about him he didn’t like. Sometimes this has resulted in real life consequences. In 1990, he threatened to sue Janney Montgomery Scott unless they fired their securities analyst Mark Roffman. His crime? Issuing a negative forecast for Trump Taj Mahal which was later proved correct. Nevertheless, Roffman lost his job and spent the next few years in a living hell. A year later, Trump threatened to sue any broadcaster or distributor who’d show an 80 minute documentary about him called Trump: What’s the Deal?, which powerfully and disturbingly portrayed him as the fraud he actually is. His effort to suppress the film proved successful.

Recently, a book has been recently published called Fire and Fury: Inside the White House which has been dominating the political cycle this January. Written by longtime New York columnist Michael Wolff, media outlets have run excerpts from it which has resulted in a furious response from Donald Trump. In fact, his lawyers sent a cease and desist letter to the book’s publisher, demanding to stop publication. Not surprisingly, it has become a bestseller as copies fly off the shelves. Still, while Fire and Fury isn’t the most factually accurate account of Trump in the White House, it nonetheless confirms a lot of the dysfunction and disorganization that has characterized the administration. Specifically, Wolff’s book depicts a deeply unprepared, incurious president surrounded by toadying advisers concerned about his ability to do his job. Knowing how willfully ignorant Trump is about how government works during the 2016 Election campaign, this isn’t surprising at all. His lack of knowledge of the US political system was a source of constant criticism. One big instance of that on display was when he promised to pick a Supreme Court Justice who’d “look very seriously” at Hillary Clinton’s e-mails. However, the Supreme Court tries laws, not people. In a primary debate in Houston, Trump referred to federal judges “signing bills” a task the president does in a federal system. As Wolff recalled in his book on how some of Trump’s closest aides spoke of him behind closed doors: “This—insulting Donald Trump’s intelligence—was both the thing you could not do and the thing—drawing there-but-for-the-grace-of-God guffaws across the senior staff—that everybody was guilty of. Everyone, in his or her own way, struggled to express the baldly obvious fact that the president did not know enough, did not know what he didn’t know, did not particularly care, and, to boot, was confident if not serene in his unquestioned certitudes. There was now a fair amount of back-of-the-classroom giggling about who had called Trump what. For Steve Mnuchin and Reince Priebus, he was an “idiot.” For Gary Cohn, he was “dumb as shit.” For H. R. McMaster he was a “dope.” The list went on.”

Now we all know that Donald Trump doesn’t like to read which is a very terrible sign. Because on any given day, a president is expected to read about as much as a college student cramming for a big exam. Thus, as Cracked reports, intelligence agencies have to keep their reports 25% shorter than Obama’s and allow no space for dissenting opinions. Policy papers are trimmed from 3-6 pages down to a single page with lots of graphics and maps. The National Security Council has taken things a step further by “strategically” including Trump’s name as often as possible since he usually keeps reading if he sees it mentioned. But a bigger problem than these oversimplified briefings is that Trump apparently doesn’t even bother to read them. This can lead Lord Cheetohead to embarrass himself in talks with foreign leaders, drafting woefully inept executive orders, or signing off on documents he doesn’t even understand. As Wolff recalls: “Here was, arguably, the central issue of the Trump presidency, informing every aspect of Trumpian policy and leadership: he didn’t process information in any conventional sense — or, in a way, he didn’t process it at all. Trump didn’t read. He didn’t really even skim. If it was print, it might as well not exist. Some believed that for all practical purposes he was no more than semiliterate.” He even quotes Gary Cohn stating, “It’s worse than you can imagine. An idiot surrounded by clowns. Trump won’t read anything — not one-page memos, not the brief policy papers; nothing. He gets up halfway through meetings with world leaders because he is bored.”

Furthermore, Wolff notes how Donald Trump doesn’t seem to understand the kind of responsibility being a president entails. Most Americans are familiar with the idea as of the president as a political and institutional concept, with an emphasis on ritual and propriety. Well, Trump isn’t most Americans since he’s prone to his ongoing Twitter tantrums over stuff that pisses him off. As Wolff writes, “Here was another peculiar Trump attribute: an inability to see his actions the way most others saw them. Or to fully appreciate how people expected him to behave. The notion of the presidency as an institutional and political concept, with an emphasis on ritual and propriety and semiotic messaging — statesmanship — was quite beyond him.”

Wolff also describes him as anti-intellectual as he noted, “For anything that smacked of a classroom or of being lectured to — “professor” was one of his bad words, and he was proud of never going to class, never buying a textbook, never taking a note — he got up and left the room. This was a problem in multiple respects — indeed, in almost all the prescribed functions of the presidency.” Such conduct is very unbecoming of a vast array of occupations, especially if they require a college degree. But if you’re the President of the United States, it’s incredibly unforgivable. Though we know that Trump’s brand contains a very anti-intellectual streak, eschews the advice of experts, doesn’t sponsor any cultural events, and doesn’t express any form of curiosity in anything. He sees no value in science, history, or education. And his campaign might be responsible for why more Republicans might have more negative opinions about colleges and professors they see as liberal elites in their ivory tower. If Trump should call himself a “stable genius” then he’d probably buckle up in the Oval Office, listen to criticism, and take notes. Despite that academics might seem to be in their own little worlds at times, a politician advocating anti-intellectualism is a very terrible thing since it encourages willful ignorance and disinterest in learning and education. And Trump’s willful ignorance and disinterest in anything but his own vanity and enrichment is rooted into his own narcissism and sociopathy since he worships no god by himself and he has no faith than in the almighty dollar.

Nor does Donald Trump seem to have the proper temperament or understand his role to lead a nation. As Wolff recalls, “What was, to many of the people who knew Trump well, much more confounding was that he had managed to win this election, and arrive at this ultimate accomplishment, wholly lacking what in some obvious sense must be the main requirement of the job, what neuroscientists would call executive function. He had somehow won the race for president, but his brain seemed incapable of performing what would be essential tasks in his new job. He had no ability to plan and organize and pay attention and switch focus; he had never been able to tailor his behavior to what the goals at hand reasonably required. On the most basic level, he simply could not link cause and effect.” Cracked has reported that American agencies are withholding an unusual amount of information from Trump. Though Trump has expressed scorn for the intelligence community (particularly when it comes to Russia). However, a bigger concern for them might be his habit of casually announcing classified information to rival governments. In May 2017, during a meeting with Russian officials, Trump reportedly boasted about the quality of intelligence he received every day. He also revealed details of a terrorist plot he’d recently been informed of. The problem with that is that revealing you know something can let someone guess fairly quickly how much you know it which can compromise the original intelligence source who may not have wanted the Russians to know about it. Though America doesn’t need to be hostile with Russia anymore, we know it has very different goals and ambitions than we do. Meaning that we need to exercise a degree of caution when dealing with them. But Trump’s carelessness with intelligence can be more than a one-time problem since in the wake of this story, an unnamed European country warned that they may stop sharing intelligence with the United States because they don’t like Trump compromising sources while trying to impress people.

Nevertheless, Donald Trump’s bizarre behavior has often compelled about his mental state long before Fire and Fury. Just last week, he unleashed a series of tweets which culminated in a nuclear threat of nuclear war with North Korea. On January 2, 2018, he tweeted, “North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un just stated that the “Nuclear Button is on his desk at all times.” Will someone from his depleted and food starved regime please inform him that I too have a Nuclear Button, but it is a much bigger & more powerful one than his, and my Button works!” In fact, the book’s very title came from a Trump speech back in 2017 over North Korea when he said, “North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States. They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen.” This at an event that was supposed to focus on opioids. Such statement terrified North Korean experts who worried about Trump provoking a war with another nuclear-armed power. Yet, Wolff noted such words also scared the bejesus out of Trump’s staff as they spent the next week trying to get him to stop talking about it. As Wolff wrote, “North Korea, a situation the president had consistently been advised to downplay, now became the central subject of the rest of the week — with most senior staff occupied not so much by the topic itself but by how to respond to the president, who was threatening to ‘blow’ again. Charlottesville was a mere distraction, and indeed, the staff’s goal was to keep him off North Korea.” To use Charlottesville to distract Trump from North Korea just makes me cringe. This is one of many examples illustrating that Trump is incapable of understanding the consequences of his actions. When Trump does something like fire James Comey, bomb Syria, or threaten North Korea, he does so without any sense of how human beings might be affected. As Wolff writes, “One of Trump’s deficiencies — a constant in the campaign and, so far, in the presidency — was his uncertain grasp of cause and effect. Everyone [in the White House], in his or own way, struggled to express the baldly obvious fact that the president did not know enough, did not know what he didn’t know, did not particularly care and, to boot, was confident if not serene in his unquestioned certitudes.”

But while the White House tries to write off Fire and Fury as “trashy tabloid fiction,” its fallout suggests otherwise. Already, Donald Trump has treated its revelations as gospel truth has launched a blood feud with his former strategist and campaign CEO Steve Bannon. Because on January 3, 2018, the Guardian posted excerpts from Wolff’s quoting Bannon saying some remarkable things about the Trump family. In these excerpts, Bannon called Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower “treasonous,” speculated that Trump might’ve been involved as well, and asserts that Jared Kushner is involved in some “greasy” business that could expose him to money laundering charges. These revelations not only cut into Trump’s denial of wrongdoing in the Russian scandal but also insulted his family members as well. Neither of which will put you in Trump’s good graces. Interestingly, Bannon’s Brietbart website reproduced some quotes sometime later without disputing them, giving a seeming impression of accuracy. Furious at the Bannon revelations, Trump released an infuriating statement reading, “Steve Bannon has nothing to do with me or my Presidency. When he was fired, he not only lost his job, he lost his mind. Steve doesn’t represent my base — he’s only in it for himself.” Except that Bannon’s Brietbart website is called “the platform of the Alt-Right” who mostly comprise of white supremacists which number among Trump’s most ardent supporters. Anyway, Trump goes on to minimize Bannon’s role in his 2016 victory and complain that he helped cost Republicans a Senate seat in Alabama by endorsing Roy Moore. Look, we all know that Bannon played a pivotal role in the Trump campaign or otherwise the alt-right wouldn’t be a thing. Furthermore, he also accused Bannon of constantly, leaking false information to the media to make himself seem far more important than he was” since it “is the only thing he does well.” Now Bannon is even out at Brietbart over the Trump book controversy over his comments.

It’s not hard to imagine that Donald Trump’s staff never thought he should be president. Nor is it difficult to think that Trump never wanted to be president in the first place. As Wolff frames it, “The Trump campaign had, perhaps less than inadvertently, replicated the scheme from Mel Brooks’s The Producers. In that classic, Brooks’s larcenous and dopey heroes, Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom, set out to sell more than 100 percent of the ownership stakes in the Broadway show they are producing. Since they will be found out only if the show is a hit, everything about the show is premised on its being a flop. Accordingly, they create a show so outlandish that it actually succeeds, thus dooming our heroes.” Though at least Bialystock and Bloom ended up in prison and didn’t doom a whole country. Still, Wolff believes that the Trump administration’s problems currently lie at the concept that even his staff didn’t think he’d win. Why release your tax returns if he’s going to lose? What’s the harm in sucking up to Russia’s government if he’s likelier to build a hotel in Moscow than occupy the White House? Why bother with educating the candidate on major policy issues or build a real platform when he’ll never govern? Or why worry about conflicts of interests or business entanglements if they’re never going to matter? This might explain so much. Yet, even if he was just running for president, those things will still matter.

Still, Fire and Fury paints a picture of Donald Trump through his own tweets, speeches, comments, and actions as well as the constant on- and off-the record statements from his staff. It’s similar to what reporters have heard from top staff at the White House. And similar to what I and much of the American public have long suspected. Trump is not cognitively up to the job of the presidency. He’s not just someone who doesn’t know much about policy or foreign affairs. It’s that he’s someone who doesn’t want to know about policy or foreign affairs. And he dislikes the methods by which you actually could learn about policy and foreign affairs. Thus, Trump’s ignorance isn’t an absence of knowledge. It’s closer to a personality trait and possibly even an ideology, which is even worse.

Naturally, when a man so unqualified for the presidency that his campaign wants him to lose unexpectedly wins the White House, chaos ensues. Suppose you work for Donald Trump at the White House. How would you please, placate, manage, constrain and inform a raging child king? Though the answer is embarrassing. But it’s one Trump’s staff and any foreign government wanting America’s favor know all too well: flattery and sycophancy. Trump’s staff tries to keep their boss from social media with constant praise and putting lots of media in front of him. Also, his staff worry about leaving him alone for hours at a time because he watches too much TV, gets annoyed with what he sees, and throws a Twitter tantrum. Other techniques for keeping Trump happy include hanging a map displaying his electoral victory in the West Wing, planting supporters and planting supporters in crowds as he gives a speech. One instance of the latter had him being passionately cheered while he gave a speech at the CIA headquarters by non-CIA supporters in the front rows for that specific purpose. This pissed off the CIA who consider themselves apolitical and don’t appreciate being herded into a meeting to listen to someone complain about how hard or unfair their job is. He thinks that no politician has been treated more unfairly than him despite that the TV news media has treated him much better than he deserves to be.

And how do you harness the remarkable opportunity you’ve been given to actually build something of value? The central struggle of Trump’s early months was between chief strategist Steve Bannon, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, and chief son-in-law Jared Kushner. All of them in their proximity to power, saw the potential to build a presidency they could be proud of or at least less disgraced by. As Wolff recalled: “Each man saw the president as something of a blank page — or a scrambled one. And each, Walsh came to appreciate with increasing incredulity, had a radically different idea of how to fill or remake that page. Bannon was the alt-right militant. Kushner was the New York Democrat. And Priebus was the establishment Republican. “Steve wants to force a million people out of the country and repeal the nation’s health law and lay on a bunch of tariffs that will completely decimate how we trade, and Jared wants to deal with human trafficking and protecting Planned Parenthood.” And Priebus wanted Donald Trump to be another kind of Republican altogether … As Walsh saw it, Steve Bannon was running the Steve Bannon White House, Jared Kushner was running the Michael Bloomberg White House, and Reince Priebus was running the Paul Ryan White House.” This struggle was hardly a civil conflict ideal as Wolff records the tree factions’ endless squabbles comprising of leaks, schemes, backbiting, and the outside heavies brought in to change Trump’s mind at the last minute. But the conflict was so immense because Trump is incapable of and uninterested in resolving. Trump never gave a damn about Trumpism since he’s not sufficiently interested in policy, ideology, or ideas to direct his own presidency’s course. Thus, the course will be directed by the most firmly established interests around him like his family the congressional GOP.

Nonetheless, Michael Wolff’s Fire and Fury contains a mystery it never resolves. As he wrote, “It was obvious to everyone that if [Trump] had a north star, it was just to be liked. He was ever uncomprehending about why everyone did not like him, or why it should be so difficult to get everyone to like him.” However, it would be easy enough for Donald Trump to run a presidency that left him better-liked. He could work with the Democrats, ease up the culture war, and give some gentler speeches. There has never been a president for whom the bar is lower than for Trump. It would be so easy to clear it and he’d have people around him happily acting as guides and cheerleaders. But he didn’t do any of that and Wolff’s book doesn’t provide a satisfying answer since it’s a portrait of a man undone by the very forces he unleashed. Because Donald Trump doesn’t care about policy, politics, ideology, or coalitions. All he cares about is Trump. He wanted to put his name on buildings and in tabloids. Now he has his name on the most important building on the planet and on the front page of most every newspaper in the world. Yet, outside a few conservative outlets, the coverage he receives is horrible, the worst of any president in memory. He can’t perform his job well enough to be liked or respected. But he only wanted the job in the first place because it would force the whole world to like or respect him (except it people still don’t like or respect him, including me). And he’s driven to rage and paranoia by the resulting dissonance, disappointment, and hurt. Mostly because he doesn’t understand that running for the most powerful office in the land will not get people to like and respect you. You have to do something to earn that adoration and respect. Sure he might be a rich businessman, but his career and life have been marked by unethical business practices, baffling corruption, inflammatory statements, and other dubious deeds. Trump wants the adoration and respect for doing nothing besides being a rich businessman and TV star.

This wasn’t what Donald Trump wanted and it’s not clear whether it’s something he can bear. A more capable, competent, and stable person would by now, have either changed their behavior to receive more of the response they crave or just given up on getting that kind of attention. Yet, Trump exists in an unhappy middle ground, starting his day with morning rage tweets, spending weekends retreating to one of his golf clubs, searching for validation he craves in his Twitter feed and on Fox and Friends but never getting it from the elite taskmasters he’s always sought to impress. The pressures of the presidency are enough to break almost anyone but Trump is less suited for the work and backlash than most. The strain’s already showing as his workday’s reportedly shrunk to 11am to 6pm. Yet, the bulk of his first term remains to the detriment of us all and it can include his financial secrets being revealed to the world, his family being indicted, and a crisis he mishandles exploding into a catastrophe (like that didn’t happen already in Puerto Rico). The question now is whether Trump’s staff can keep governing around him and whether a dysfunctional president can have a semi-functional White House. And so far, I don’t really know if that’s possible with a narcissistic sociopath like Donald Trump. Because he’s a man who cares nothing about America, has no respect for democratic values, and doesn’t think the rule of law applies to him. A man like him only inspires more chaos and internal stripe which won’t end until he’s out.