A Disgrace to the Nation, a Disgrace to the Presidency

I have not been shy about my fierce antagonism to Donald Trump. But his Helsinki summit with Russian President Vladimir Putin culminated in a show stopping trainwreck that should’ve shocked nobody but generated bipartisan outrage across the United States. On Monday, July 16, 2018, Trump held a friendly rendezvous with Putin who sabotaged an American election on his behalf. And he has been rewarded by seeing an American foreign policy turn in a pro-Russian direction.

When Donald Trump issued a plea on a podium in Doral, Florida on July 27, 2016, he stated, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” We all know he was referring to the emails Hillary Clinton had deleted as irrelevant to her work as Secretary of State. But for those who don’t understand, Trump was publicly asking for Russian agents to break into her computer systems, steal documents she had erased, and release them to the public. And according to recently released indictments Special Counsel Robert Mueller revealed a few days before, that same day, for the first time, Russian hackers attempted to hack into, “email accounts at a domain hosted by a third-party provider and used by Clinton’s personal office.” They also, “targeted seventy-six email addresses at the domain for the Clinton campaign.” Now Russia’s campaign to interfere in the election had been an ongoing campaign as early as March that year. What Trump’s request seems to have done was focus efforts on Clinton’s inbox. There are plenty of plausible explanations of wat happened here. Maybe the Russians heard Trump’s call and heeded it. Perhaps Trump’s invitation was attached to a private plea to Russian contacts like one sent by either Paul Manafort or Roger Stone. It’s possible the whole thing was just coincidental. But we should resist the tendency to speculate since it’ll just distract us from what we do know. And it’s damning.

Nonetheless, it should be glaringly apparent that Vladimir Putin is not our friend. He does not share our values nor does he care for democracy. In fact, he rules Russia as a kleptocratic dictator with a repressive iron fist. For God’s sake, the guy had his critics and political opponents murdered, including journalists and ex-spies like Alexander Litvanenko in Great Britain. It’s obvious that Russia couldn’t have meddled in the 2016 presidential campaign by hacking into the DCCC, DNC, and Hillary Clinton’s team without his orders. And we know they orchestrated this massive information theft on the Dems and used it to help Donald Trump win. Not to mention, Russia’s efforts to help Trump win included social media campaigns to inflame racial divisions on his behalf with armies of bots meant to elevate stories boosting him and hurting Clinton along with efforts to compromise state voting machines. None of this is in doubt.

Even before Donald Trump decided to run for president, the Russian ties were there. In 2008, Donald Trump Jr. said of the Trump Organization, “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.” And in 2014, Eric Trump added, “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.” From 2003-2017, “buyers connected to Russia or former Soviet republics made 86 all-cash sales — totaling nearly $109 million — at 10 Trump-branded properties in South Florida and New York City.” Trump’s onetime campaign manager Paul Manafort had ties to the Kremlin and was deeply in debt to Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch, closely connected to Vladimir Putin. And he was keeping in touch with this guy’s team during the election as well as asked of his powerful position in the Trump campaign, “How do we use [it] to get whole?”

Yet, we also know that Donald Trump has repeatedly praised Vladimir Putin even at considerable political cost after asking Russia to hack into Clinton’s emails, which it did. We know that Trump associates like Roger Stone seem to have advanced warning of the hacked emails’ release. We know that the willingness to cooperate with the Russians wasn’t one of Trump’s idiosyncratic musings. It was suffused in the Trump campaign’s top ranks since members of his inner circle like Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort eagerly accepted a meeting with Russian operatives promising Hillary Clinton dirt. And that Trump dictated the statement lying about the infamous Trump Tower meeting’s purpose. Additionally, we know the Trump campaign interfered in the Republican National Committee’s platform drafting to softening the language on Russia and Ukraine. We know that Jared Kushner sought a secret communications channel with the Russians so the US government couldn’t hear their negotiations.

The Russia strokefest even carry on to Donald Trump’s presidency for there has never been a single issue haunting his administration as long or as much as his Russian ties. Since his election, he’s bucked his party, his administration, and decades of foreign policy in attempts to shield Russia from sanctions for electoral interference, pull American support back from NATO and the European Union, and forge a closer relationship with Vladimir Putin. Then there’s Trump’s own testimony about firing FBI Director James Comey to end his investigation into Russia’s role into the 2016 election. In addition, he wanted to fire Attorney General Jeff Sessions and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for failing to protect him from the investigation. An it’s no wonder the Trump administration has moved from arguing that Trump didn’t obstruct justice to arguing that by definition, the president can’t obstruct justice. All of this leads to Trump insisting on the Helsinki meeting with Putin over his staff’s objections and despite the absence of any clear agenda.

Indeed, Donald Trump addressed the election hacking during his joint press conference with Vladimir Putin. “I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today,” he said. Well, you think? Because of course he’d deny that he’d have anything to do with election hacking despite all evidence to the contrary. Trump then added, “And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators with respect to the 12 people. I think that’s an incredible offer.” Uh, no it’s not. If anything, that’s like having Al Capone offering to help the cops with the investigation over the guys involved in the Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre. You know that things won’t turn well. If anything, Putin isn’t interested with working with the Mueller investigation. More likely he’d offer to help with respect to draw people from the Mueller team into Russia to kill them.

Donald Trump then attacked US intelligence services and again mused how much better it might’ve been if Russia cracked into Hillary Clinton’s server and gotten her documents. “What happened to Hillary Clinton’s emails?” he demanded as if anyone cared about her emails 2 years after the 2016 election. “33,000 emails gone — just gone. I think in Russia they wouldn’t be gone so easily.” Even his allies were dumbstruck, with former Bush press secretary Ari Fleisher tweeting: “I continue to believe there was no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia. But when Trump so easily and naively accepts Putin’s line about not being involved, I can understand why Ds think Putin must have the goods on him.” Asked if Russia had compromising material on Trump, Putin replied, “it’s difficult to imagine utter nonsense on a bigger scale than this. Please disregard these issues and don’t think about this anymore again.” Though you can imagine him privately laughing maniacally with fellow Russian officials. When asked about whether he holds Russia accountable for their actions contributing to the deterioration in the US-Russia relationship, he replied in an answer reeking of treason:

“Yes, I do. I hold both countries responsible. I think the United States has been foolish. I think we have all been foolish. We should have had this dialogue a long time ago, a long time, frankly, before I got to office. I think we’re all to blame. I think that the United States now has stepped forward along with Russia. We’re getting together and we have a chance to do some great things, whether it’s nuclear proliferation in terms of stopping, we have to do it — ultimately, that’s probably the most important thing that we can be working on.

“I do feel that we have both made some mistakes. I think that the probe is a disaster for our country. I think it’s kept us apart. It’s kept us separated. There was no collusion at all. Everybody knows it. People are being brought out to the fore. So far that I know, virtually, none of it related to the campaign. They will have to try really hard to find something that did relate to the campaign.

“That was a clean campaign. I beat Hillary Clinton easily and, frankly, we beat her. And I’m not even saying from the standpoint — we won that race. It’s a shame there could be a cloud over it. People know that. People understand it. The main thing — and we discussed this also — is zero collusion. It has had a negative impact upon the relationship of the two largest nuclear powers in the world. We have 90 percent of nuclear power between the two countries. It’s ridiculous. It’s ridiculous what’s going on with the probe.”
He’s basically saying that the US is no better than Russia. And that he won a clean campaign so all what the Mueller probe is doing is hurting our relationship with Russia.

Despite that 12 Russian agents hacked into Democratic emails on Putin’s orders and for Trump’s benefit. And the Trump team was eager to let it all happen. Later, when asked specifically about Russia-backed hackers stealing Americans’ private correspondence, Donald Trump replied: “My people came to me, [Director of National Intelligence] Dan Coats came to me, and some others, and said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin; he just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties.” Uh, Coats and his team didn’t think it’s Russia. They said it was Russia. But anyways, as president of the United States, Trump stated that he has equal confidence in Vladimir Putin and the American intelligence community the same way he believes that both the white supremacists and counter-protestors in Charlottesville were “very fine people.” Such remarks are politically baffling since such remarks only undermine his position. The simplest explanation for why a president who happily outsources his domestic policy to Paul Ryan and his judicial nominations to the Federalist Society insists on freelancing around Russia is that there’s a genuine meeting of minds between Trump and Putin on a wide range of issues.

Take the matter of the natural gas pipeline Nord Stream 2 Germany plans to build which Russia hawks in the US and Europe have long been concerned about. Such pipeline would give Russian fossil fuels more access to the European market. Donald Trump often likes to criticize Germany but rarely likes to bash Russia. But somehow, he surprised many observers by criticizing this pipeline at the NATO Conference in Brussels. On the surface, it appears that Trump had tried to ingratiate his passion for making trouble with German Chancellor Angela Merkel with something resembling routine American foreign policy. But the Helsinki summit quickly dashed those hopes. Asked by a Russian journalist about the pipeline and how he’d characterize the US-Russia relationship, Trump made it clear his pipeline concern isn’t that it would give Russia undue political leverage over Germany, but simply that would be bad for fossil fuel interests:

“I called him a competitor, and a good competitor he is. I think the word competitor is a compliment. I think that we will be competing when you talk about the pipeline. I’m not sure necessarily that it’s in the best interests of Germany or not. That was a decision that they made. We will be competing. As you know, the United States is now, or soon will be, but I think it is right now the largest in the oil and gas world. So we’re going to be selling LNG. We’ll have to be competing with the pipeline. I think we will compete successfully. Although there is a little advantage locationally. I wish them luck.

“I discussed with Angela Merkel in pretty strong tones. But I also know where they’re coming from. They have a very close source. We will see how that all works out. But we have lots of sources now. The United States is much different than it was a number of years ago when we weren’t able to extract what we can extract today. So today, we’re number one in the world at that. I think we will be out there competing very strongly. Thank you very much.”

Essentially, Donald Trump’s view on the relationship with NATO to Nord Stream 2 make absolutely no sense. But it’s consistent with his overall worldview. While a normal US leader may worry that Russo-German energy ties might undermine Germany’s ability to lead an independent Europe at a political level, Trump’s objection is backward. He doesn’t think it’s worth America’s while to contribute to Europe’s defense through NATO if Europe turns around and buys Russian gas. He defines Russia as a “competitor” to the United States exclusively in the commercial sphere rather than a geopolitical one. That’s why he called the EU a “foe” in much stronger terms in regards to competition levels in export markets. If you view world affairs through a mercantile like Trump does, then America’s closest allies who are mostly rich democracies are our biggest enemies and deterring Russian expansionism is a waste of cash. Nonetheless, it’s time to accept that this is what Trump really thinks and that’s how he’s governing accordingly.

In New York Magazine, Jonathan Chait published a speculative idea that Donald Trump had been a compromised Russian agent since the 1980s, which though chilling borders more on conspiracy theory than anything else. It’s more likely that Trump is more concerned on how the Russian election meddling for his behalf may render his electoral victory illegitimate. Though he doesn’t care much about how to win since he’s employed dubious means in the past. In fact, he’s more worried about getting caught. Nevertheless, like much of the debate, Chait’s piece reflects the view we’re still largely in the dark about the Trump Organization’s true nature of its relationship with Russia. Except we’re not. In fact, we know a vast amount about Trump’s Russia connections, Russia’s role in the 2016 election, the Trump Organization’s efforts to conceal Russian contacts, Trump’s efforts to impede the investigation into the matter, and about his treatment of Russia, Putin, and NATO since his election. As former NSA official and executive editor of Lawfare Susan Hennessy told Vox, “Every single time we’ve heard of that the Russians reached out to offer something — dirt on Hillary Clinton, access to another trove of emails, secret meetings, back channels — the common theme of every single individual in Trump’s orbit was, ‘Yes. Help us out.’ That is the really astounding picture that has emerged.”

While there is much left to find out, learning the truth is important for its own sake. Yet, the obsessive focus on what we still don’t know reflects a hope among Donald Trump’s opponents that Mueller will find something, reveal something, or bait Trump into doing something that will trigger consequences of some kind. However, there’s nothing so automatic in the system. And there’s no reason to believe further revelations would call forth that kind of response. At this point, the big issue isn’t what we don’t know. It’s what to do with what we do know.

Thanks to politics, the 2018 and 2020 elections can’t and won’t act as a clear way for accountability on Donald Trump and Russia. From issues such as Supreme Court justices, tax policy, Obamacare’s future, civil rights, workers’ rights, and environmental regulations, there is too much at stake at any given election these days and there are too few choices available for voters for them to answer a problem as complex and unusual as this one. This is especially true since Republicans control both houses of Congress and many in the House have went out of his way to protect him. Because they know their future is tied to Trump’s survival. Anything that weakens his administration weakens their 2018 reelection prospects, their ability to fill judgeships, and their ability to pass tax cuts. Thus, their political lives depend on Trump’s political strength.

It’s hard to remember now that Donald Trump entered the White House with an unexpectedly low level of support from his own party. Vulnerable Republican senators and House members refused to admit voting for him while Speaker Paul Ryan stated he’d no longer defend him. As a candidate, Trump was personally hostile to a number of established GOP figures like US Senator Ted Cruz and expressed heterodox views on a wide range of policy issues. Theoretically, it could’ve led to an unusual dynamic where congressional Republicans subjected Trump to an uncommonly stringent level of oversight for a same-party president, and Trump engaged in an uncommonly high level of policymaking cutting across established party lines. In practice, Trump and the GOP reached a Faustian compromise. Republicans would give no restraint whatsoever on Trump’s personal corruption or financial conflicts of interests. While Trump won’t attempt to pursue heterodox agendas on infrastructure, healthcare, anti-trust, etc. that he promised on the campaign trail, which was easy enough since he made them to give socially conservative white working-class voters no incentive to vote with their economic interests. And he doesn’t care much about those supporters anyway and had no plans on fulfilling what he promised them. The deal has worked well on domestic issues, culminating in the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to succeed Anthony Kennedy on the Supreme Court.

But it’s begun falling apart on foreign affairs after a successful 2017. Coats, Defense Secretary James Mattis, and others with conventional conservative Republican views hold key advisor jobs in the Trump administration. However, Trump had no interest taking their advice since he thinks that advice is wrong. And now he’s acting to unravel America’s global trading relationships, doing what he can to undermine NATO and the EU, trying to find excuses to get out of defense obligations to South Korea, and otherwise implement a mercantilist vision he’s articulated over and over again. Thus, it’s time for congressional Republicans to stop issuing gutless statements denouncing him and start taking this seriously as his policy agenda. But since Republicans place a higher value on party unity than the foreign policy issues they claim to stand for, they will do whatever they can to stay in Trump’s good graces and avoid angering his base before the upcoming midterm elections. Because they don’t want to jeopardize their legislative agenda, they’ll let their Snowflake King take a sledge hammer on decades of US foreign policy on Russia and other issues. At the same time, the mainstream GOP tries desperately to at least pretend they can be anti-Putin and pro-Trump. However, the Trump-Putin presser makes it clear that it’s impossible.

Meanwhile, congressional Democrats don’t have the power to do anything right now and are more focused taking back Congress back in 2018. But even if they do win the election, their priority will be retaking the presidency in 2020. So they’ll more likely focus on healthcare and Social Security, not Russia and the 2016 campaign. Thus, it’s best we don’t expect impeachment down the line in the foreseeable future. Since while the Democrats can successfully impeach him and remove him from office quite easily once they’re in power, that might mean President Mike Pence. And no one in the Democratic Party wants that.

As for the rest of the legal system, well, there’s nothing necessarily illegal about Donald Trump publicly asking Russia to hack Hillary Clinton’s emails. Just as there’s nothing illegal about him pursuing a stunningly pro-Putin foreign policy after receiving Russia’s aid. The actual hacking was illegal, no doubt. But who’s going to hold Russia accountable for that? It won’t be the Trump administration who asked for and benefitted from their help. For when asked by a Reuters journalist “Do you hold Russia at all accountable for anything in particular” that has contributed to the decline in the US-Russia bilateral relationship, Trump delivered the defining answer of his foreign policy that he doesn’t. Nor did he object to Vladimir Putin’s oppression, Russia’s 2008 effort to dismember the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, Russia-backed forces shooting down Malaysia Airlines Flight MH-17 and killing hundreds of civilians, Russia’s invasion of Crimea, its subsequent invasion of Eastern Ukraine, Russia’s apparent use of a deadly nerve agent in the UK, or of course, the computer hacking associated with the 2016 election.

Though Mueller’s indictments were announced just before the infamous Trump and Putin summit, it first led to talk of whether Trump might cancel it meeting (which he didn’t) and then speculation over whether and how he’d confront Putin over Russia’s actions. But everyone knows that Trump’s actual response to Russia’s intervention on his behalf has always been of gratitude and solicitousness. So what other response is there to a world power doing exactly what you asked of them in a time of political need?

Nevertheless, after a massive bipartisan condemnation of Donald Trump’s disastrous press conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki where he questioned Russian meddling in the 2016 election, Trump held a surprise press conference the next day to walk back on his comments. Sitting at a table with members of Congress, he read clearly prepared statement asserting he had “accepted” US intelligence’s findings that Russia was behind cyberattacks leading up to the 2016 election. He claimed he had misspoken about the press conference when he questioned the idea of Russian interference which might be plausible in theory. But take his statement in the context of what Trump actually said, it makes no sense. And it’s very clear he’s still expressing skepticism about Russia’s guilt as he states:

“My people came to me, Dan Coats came to me and some others; they said they think it’s Russia. I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this. I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server. But I have confidence in both parties. … I think it’s a disgrace that we can’t get Hillary Clinton’s 33,000 emails.

“So I have great confidence in my intelligence people, but I will tell you that President Putin was extremely strong and powerful in his denial today. And what he did is an incredible offer. He offered to have the people working on the case come and work with their investigators, with respect to the 12 people [Russian agents indicted by special counsel Robert Mueller for election interference]. I think that’s an incredible offer.”

What he’s saying is that there’s a conflict between US intelligence and Russia claims, that he’s not sure who’s right, and that he’d appreciate Russian intelligence’s help in clearing up what happened. Despite the fact that the 12 newly indicted Russians were intelligence agents so we’re in no position to trust Russian intelligence on such matters whatsoever. What’s more he still reiterated his skepticism when he said, “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place,” following it up with, “Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.” He still doesn’t believe Russia is involved and he’s trying to convinced us that he didn’t mean what he said. Let’s not kid ourselves that Trump’s trying to gaslight the entire world and assert something he didn’t by sheer force of confidence. He’s brazenly lying to us and we shouldn’t let him get away with it. Russia meddled with the 2016 presidential campaign of which can there be no doubt. We shouldn’t believe otherwise.

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To the Honorable United States Representative Conor Lamb of the Pennsylvania 18th District

Dear Congressman Lamb:

As your constituent of the 18th District, I have been satisfied with your efforts to represent the interest of Southwest Pennsylvania in ways your hypocritical sellout predecessor Dr. Tim Murphy ever could. Though you may not be my representative for much longer due to a new congressional map, I wish you the best of luck beating Keith Rothfus. As a liberal who supports gun control and environmental protection, I know you may not share my views on everything. But since I live in a heavily red district, I know I have to make due with whoever Democrat has a fighting chance in the polls and be as inoffensive to the electorate as possible. Unlike Murphy, your support for affordable healthcare and unions seems genuine while you appear very keen on fixing the opioid crisis ravaging our nation. From looking at your priorities list, you seem honestly committed for actions that benefit working Pennsylvanians and their families.

However, while your site states that you have a bias for action, I am not sure if any of your stated goals are feasible at the moment. You may be today’s Senator Jefferson Smith in Washington, but sometimes a fresh face with good ideas can only go so far. You may be willing to work with anyone to protect our people and bring good jobs. But so has any politician willing to work across the aisle for the greater good. Yet, sometimes it does not matter whether you are willing to work with those who do not agree with you. But whether those on the other side are willing to work with you. And from what I have seen with the Obamacare repeal nightmare last year and since, I honestly believe that as long as Donald Trump is in office and Republicans control both houses of Congress that our nation’s problems will not get better and even exacerbate in years to come.

Yet, if there is anything requiring direct action by our leaders in Washington, then it is on the matter of Donald Trump in the White House. I am painfully aware he enjoys a credible following among a significant contingent in the 18th district since so many in my community, neighborhood, and extended family have disturbingly supported him and continue to do so despite all the unconscionable things he’s said and done. I know you make it a priority not to criticize Trump by name in your public life out of reluctance to offend potential constituents and voters. However, as my US Representative who genuinely cares about the issues affecting working Pennsylvanians and their families, I strongly urge you do. Now you do not have to talk about Russia or Stormy Daniels. Nor do you need to address his other numerous scandals and controversies. But I do believe if you really care about and respect your Trump-supporting constituents, you need to at least tell them the cold, hard, truth they do not want to hear: that the man they see as their champion has no interest in solving their problems and is not on their side. Trump knows how to give wins to interest groups he actually cares about, many of these are large corporation who support unpopular measures such as letting health insurance companies discriminate against those with preexisting conditions, doing away with key environmental regulations protecting our access to clean air and water, letting financial advisers deliberately give their clients bad advice on their money, eliminating essential banking regulations that will pave way to another recession someday, getting rid of key labor protections like those against wage theft, and handing a sweetheart tax cut deal boosting corporate profits to record levels.

But more importantly, you need to address the undeniable fact that Donald Trump has never been the friend of ordinary working Americans and never will. Throughout his entire career he has reaped in millions from the remains of failing businesses at the expense of investors, small businesses, and American workers. For decades, according to a 2016 USA Today article, Trump has been subject to at least 60 lawsuits along with hundreds of liens, judgements, and other government filings documenting people accusing him of failing to pay them for their work. These include a Florida dishwasher, a New Jersey glass company, a carpet company, a plumber, painters, 48 waiters, dozens of bartenders and other hourly workers at his resorts and clubs, real estate brokers who sold him his properties, and even several law firms that once represented him in these suits and others. Since 2005, Trump’s companies have also been cited for 24 Fair Labor Standards Act violations for failing to pay overtime or minimum wage according to the US Department of Labor at the time. In addition, USA Today’s review found more than 200 mechanic’s liens on wage theft claims filed by contractors and employees against Trump, his companies, or his properties since the 1980s. These range from a $75,000 claim by a New York heating and air conditioning company to a $1 million claim from a president of a New York City real estate banking firm. For Trump Taj Mahal casino project in Atlantic City, New Jersey Casino Control Commission records state that at least 253 subcontractors weren’t paid in full or on time, if at all. These comprise of workers who installed walls, chandeliers, and plumbing.

Nor do all these wage theft cases date from the 1980s. In May 2016, Trump Miami Resort Management LLC settled with 48 waiters at Trump National Doral Miami golf resort over failing to pay overtime for a 10-day Passover event. The lawsuit contended that some even worked 20-hour shifts. In Trump’s facilities at California and New York, bartenders and wait staff have sued with a range of allegations from not letting workers take breaks to not passing along tips to servers. And in January 2017, several contractors who worked on his D.C. Hotel project with renovating the Old Post Office on wage theft claims.

In sum, these actions paint a picture of Donald Trump’s sprawling organization consistently failing to pay small businesses and individuals before tying them up in court and other negotiations for years. Sometimes Trump’s team financially overpowers and outlasts much smaller opponents by draining their resources that some give up the fight or settle for less, some declare bankruptcy, and some end up out of business entirely. Of course, Trump and his associates have shrugged off these wage theft claims on the excuse that they did a terrible job despite that he often offered to rehire those same contractors again. But the sheer number of companies and others he hasn’t paid either suggest two things. His companies have a poor tract record hiring workers and assessing contractors. Or more likely as alleged in dozens of court cases that Trump’s businesses renege on contracts, refuse to pay, or consistently attempt to change payment terms after the work is done.

Mind-boggling wage theft practices is just one way Donald Trump has screwed his over ordinary Americans. Though he has done well after his multiple Atlantic City casino bankruptcies, his own casino employees have collectively lost millions of dollars in retirement savings after Trump Hotels & Casino Resorts’ value plummeted. According to a class action lawsuit filed against the company following its 2004 bankruptcy, starting in 1996, THCR encouraged its employees to invest their 401(k) savings in company stock. That same year, it sold $1.1 billion in junk bonds to offset Trump’s personal debt and buy more ill-fated casino properties in Atlantic City. Then when the stock price neared its nadir amid bankruptcy, the company forced its workers to sell at a huge loss. More than 400 employees lost more than a combined total of $2 million from their retirement accounts. One worker who put $1,000 into her 1997 retirement account had her savings withered to just $59 by 2004. Trump has never had to declare personal bankruptcy but the company he set up to operate his Atlantic City casinos went through numerous corporate restructurings to reduce its debt load. Since Trump used his company as a means to of transferring his personal debt, issuing rounds of junk bonds to build cash that would erase them. As he prospered, his companies floundered. In other words, he put up little of his own money, shifted personal debts to his casinos while collecting millions of dollars in salary, bonuses, and other payments. Any burden of his failures fell on his investors and others who bet on his business expertise. While Atlantic City casino employees had their retirement savings wiped out, the share price rose from $.57 to $2.04/share, and Trump kept his $2 million salary after THCR emerged from bankruptcy, and took in more than $44 million in compensation over the course of 14 years he served as the company’s chairman.

Despite how many publications like the Washington Post, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, USA Today and others have done stellar work on reporting Donald Trump’s history of corrupt business practices which have left a trail of destruction and destruction in its wake, especially in Atlantic City. But I was deeply disappointed by how little the televised media and our leaders in Washington have touched upon his sordid history of corruption and abuse of power which I strongly believe are the core of his character and give an idea of what he really thinks about his white working class base. To him, they are just a means to the end meant to be cast aside once they’re no longer useful to him. I know their racial resentment and anxiety over demographic change was the main reason why so many of them voted for this unrespectable con artist to the presidency. But I think another big reason why he is in the White House today is the fact that many Americans don’t seem to take corporate crimes as seriously as they should since they hurt those with the least resources to defend themselves. Yet, when corporate executives steal from their employees and use their company to leverage debt and free themselves from responsibility for their bad decisions, ordinary working Americans suffer. And that is especially the case when workers are underpaid and in precarious situations that will result in termination if they ever dare complain or challenge their bosses. Trump’s crimes may be egregious but he’s far from the only man in Corporate America who’s screwed over his investors and employees. Wage theft is so endemic in this country that the average American has either been a victim of it or knows someone who has. And even when caught, employers who steal from their workers usually face little or no consequences. Since no Wall Street banker has been convicted for causing the Great Recession, I think addressing Trump’s shady business practices is a conversation is sorely needed on Capitol Hill and in our public squares, at least to make an example out of him.

I know criticizing Donald Trump in front of your constituents won’t be easy for you. I understand you don’t want to alienate potential voters. Yet, if not enough people in Congress don’t address Trump’s abuses of power and corruption as a businessman, including what he did to Atlantic City, then I deeply fear he might be on his way to winning a second term as president. Since the Constitution limits presidents to serving two terms, it’s very possible that Trump won’t need his white working class base anymore to retain power in the White House. I really don’t want to face the prospect of a Trump reelection victory. I have been through that nightmare once in my life resulting me crying myself to sleep afraid of what would happen to me and waking up early when I couldn’t sleep anymore. As a young woman on the autistic spectrum, I was almost inconsolable over the notion of losing my Medicaid coverage when the American Healthcare Act passed the House until the Senate’s ACA repeal plan died on the floor last summer. Since finding a job is difficult for me at the moment, I don’t ever want to go through that again. And since Medicaid is so essential for fighting the opioid crisis in this country which is now a national emergency, neither do you.

I know you are a good man and are nothing like the good for nothing piece of shit in the White House. You have made sacrifices to your country such as your time in the Marines and you support the welfare of those who served. And I do believe you care about ordinary Americans and their families. However, being a true advocate for your constituents shouldn’t just be about making stump speeches on what potential voters might want to hear. Though I know you do your best to fulfill the promises you’ve made. I am aware you don’t want to cause controversy among the public in Southwestern Pennsylvania. And considering you won your seat in a highly-contested special election by 755 votes, I wouldn’t blame you.

However, there comes a time when you must state the inconvenient truth that might make your constituents view you as a pariah in anger, which may put your political future at risk. Yet, if you want to prove that you’re truly on your constituents’ side and that you’re willing to put their interests first, then you must make a compelling, respectful, honest case to prove that Trump is taking them for suckers and has no intention to fix their problems. His history as a corrupt businessman who’s exploited employees and investors to enrich himself perfectly illustrates this. In fact, I have compiled a blog post in The Lone Girl in a Crowd highlighting decades worth of his corruption scandals with links if you’re interested. Yet, however vague and substance-lacking they were, Trump campaigned on some ideas similar to yours and promised similar things which unlike you, he had no intention to deliver. Many voters in the 18th District fell for it hook, line, and sinker. Living in a rural area, I witnessed the worst of it with people in my community flaunting Trump signs everywhere I went, of which I found deeply distressing. But even then, I knew Trump was working his art of the con since I had been conducting research on his past and building a case against him. Nonetheless, if you truly respect Trump voters, then you must tell them the truth, even if it brings you fits of rage from potential voters already sold on his brazen lies and false promises or costs your nascent career. Your constituents in Southwest Pennsylvania deserve nothing less.

Asking you to criticize Donald Trump at the risk of losing your career may not be the wisest of requests. Yet, with the Republican Party so deep in his support for this unrespectable man, I am desperately pleading you to stand up to him on behalf of the people in your district. Yet, while you denounce him as a fraud, assure your voters you will work with him if that’s possible and do everything you can to protect them against his cruel and hostile policies that only benefit him, his allies, and his corporate backers. Trump may value loyalty of his subordinates and supporters, but that doesn’t mean he will return the favor for he’s known to stab people in the back once they cease being useful to him or suddenly become a liability. And though he will provoke controversy to please his base, he will not go out of his way to help his supporters in any meaningful way that doesn’t benefit him in return. Since you’ve been a Marine, I’m sure you can show him what true loyalty means as you represent constituents who may not have voted for you and may not be able to give you anything in return.

An Assault on Decency

While I was on my Minnesota vacation, everything in my country seemed like going to shit. Before I left Donald Trump signed an executive order suspending the family separation “zero tolerance” policy. Though tempting to hail such measure as a victory since overwhelming public pressure and outrage forced him to do it. But the notion that Trump has “ended” family separation is a questionable matter of law. Children are still in detention camps with no sign of seeing their parents again who now face criminal charges and deportation for illegal entry. Despite that most of these migrants’ choice to enter the country illegally is more akin to Harry Potter’s choice to cast a patronus against a Dementor attacking his cousin. Most of these families were desperately fleeing violence in Central America and have already gone through the legal channels for seeking asylum. Yet, border patrol agents either turned them away or told them to come another day. Sure, they knew they were breaking the law by crossing the border. But they didn’t have much of choice to do so. And as Harry later found out, these people were essentially tricked into doing so by spiteful authority figures who hated them. There is no established protocol to reunite families and sign that his administration plans to do so. Nor does Trump’s executive order ban the practice. Rather, it merely directs the Department of Homeland Security to detain migrant families together instead of separating them. Such policy also poses legality question as well. Should courts overturn it, it’s entirely possible that family separations can start again.

However, the “backlash works” analysis also skips a more fundamental political question. The disturbing truth is that huge number of mostly Republican Americans were willingly to back such separation policy. In fact, they’re even more excited about the underlying policy of arresting every undocumented immigrant crossing the border a la “zero tolerance” policy giving rise to family separations in the first place. What’s most telling about this dark and cruel incident isn’t Donald Trump stepping back in the face of public outrage. It’s the millions of Republicans willing to support an obviously cruel immigration policy. In turn, points to perhaps the deepest problem in American politics in the Trump era, which is the lethal conjunction of white identity politics and partisanship has made the Republican Party willing to sanction injustices that had previously been unthinkable in modern America. It’s as if politics seems to justify anything at this point for them. As long as they get what they want in the culture wars, they’ll sell their souls to supporting a sociopathic authoritarian demagogue who cares nothing for them regardless of whoever gets hurt, how much he undermines American values, or the damage he’s caused in these United States.

While most Americans strongly oppose Donald Trump’s family separation policy, Republicans generally support it by a significant margin despite there’s a substantial minority who don’t. After all, massive margins of them usually favor Trump. Yet, this still means that millions of Americans back a morally grotesque policy separating children from their parents for an unknown period of time, possibly permanently. The fact most Republicans seem to favor this unconscionable “zero tolerance” policy illustrates the degree to which Trump’s position and partisanship has shaped Republican moral thinking. What’s more depressing is that the debate over family separation policy in its relatively early stages. So there’s a good reason to believe if Trump returns with the idea, Republicans will be more likely to support it, not less. If there is a moral crisis in American politics these days, it’s that a large contingent of Americans are willing to support morally indefensible policies from a sociopathic and unrespectable man for the sake of “law and order” or “national security.” Despite that a moral repugnant “zero-tolerance” policy at the border achieve neither.

Yet, if you doubt such shift in public opinion will happen, consider Republican opinion on the infamous Muslim ban. When Donald Trump first announced his proposal for a “total and complete shutdown” on Muslim immigration in December 2015, scores of prominent Republicans including his future Vice President Mike Pence condemned the idea in roughly the same moral indignation some Republican leaders have used to discuss family separations. A poll by the Wall Street Journal and NBC found GOP primary voters evenly split on the idea. But when it became clear Trump was likely to become the GOP standard bearer in March 2016, things changed. Exit polls from 5 states comprising of Ohio, Florida, North Carolina, Missouri, and Illinois, found that Muslim ban support among 2/3 of Republican voters. When Trump actually implemented a version of the now infamous Muslim “travel” ban in January 2017, Republicans overwhelmingly backed him with 84% support according to a June 2017 poll. Hell, despite court challenges and its flagrant unconstitutionality on grounds of religious discrimination, the US Supreme Court still ruled in favor of it.

So what happened with the Muslim ban? Obviously, the clearer it became that supporting it was a core Trump position, the clearer it became that being a Trump supporter in good standing required backing the travel ban. When Donald Trump became the Republican nominee and later president, Republican partisanship became more about backing this unrespectable man. Of course, such behavior isn’t unprecedented among a president and their supporters. Since the more closely a policy is identified with the president, the more people from the president’s party are willing to support it. As Texas A&M professor George C. Edwards III told Vox, “The president’s association with a policy is an especially powerful signal to those predisposed to support his initiatives. By reinforcing his partisans’ predispositions, presidents can counter opposition party attacks and discourage his supporters from abandoning him. In addition, co-partisans appear to be resilient in returning to support after periods of bad news.” Under a normal presidential administration, this isn’t a huge deal. But when the president is a vile sociopath who only cares about enriching himself and his corporate backers while doing the minimal to convince his base that he’s on their side by enacting cruel policies that really don’t help anybody, you have a national crisis in American moral values on your hands.

Fortunately, the family separation debate didn’t actually go on for very long so far. Thus, public opinion didn’t have time to harden along partisan lines. The Trump administration sent mixed signals about what to think of it. Sometimes they claimed it’s a shame and the Democrats’ fault (despite it really wasn’t). Other times they justified it as necessary to deter more undocumented migration. Under these conditions along with the moral shock from headlines feeling fresh and some prominent Republicans like Laura Bush willing to condemn the policy, it’s easy to see why Republican voters felt comfortable opposing Donald Trump this time.

Yet, despite all that, millions of Republicans still supported this morally egregious policy of ripping children from the families and putting them in cages at a relatively significant margin. However, suppose the Trump administration resume family separations while Donald Trump provides a sustained defense in public appearances and tweets. Chances are that Republicans most likely will rally around him the same way they came to support the equally morally obscene Muslim ban. And what’s truly scary is that if Trump stayed the course on this one and allowed the media and public outrage to dissipate, he might’ve gotten away with it.

Nonetheless, if this was just a matter of partisanship and Trump support, it wouldn’t be the very assault on decency that it is. But it’s not. Rather it’s by going after overwhelmingly Latino immigrants from Central America, Donald Trump is playing on his political home turf like it’s “Mexicans are rapists” all over again. In 2015, two political scientists named Marisa Abrajano and Zoltan Hajnal published a book looking closely at the way mass Latino immigration was shifting American politics. According to Abrajano in the book’s summary, she and Hajnal concluded that the influx of Latino immigration had driven a large number of white voters into the Republican Party. This effect appears to track media coverage. When people in the news talk about the threat posed by Latino immigration such as Donald Trump talking about how Latino migrants are responsible for gang violence, Republicans benefit. Another group of researchers polled white Americans on how their view of diversity affected their likelihood of voting for Trump. They found that when whites were reminded that America was becoming an increasingly black and brown country, they were more likely to support Trump and favor immigration restrictions.

This is the crux of the moral crisis of the Trump era in a nutshell. The most Un-American and morally reprehensible parts of Donald Trump’s presidency such as his crackdown of undocumented immigrants, the Muslim ban, his shocking moral equivalence during the white supremacist rallies in Charlottesville, Virginia tap into the forces that are the most responsible for making him president. While stories of separated families in the media have wracked neutral observers’ hearts, Trump’s most hardcore supporters (like white supremacists and the Alt-Right) may very well have the opposite reaction. This intersects in a particularly dangerous way in partisanship for if Trump can maintain his hardcore base’s support enough to retain majority GOP support, he won’t need to immediately cave. And the longer and harder he fights for a policy, the more support for it will become GOP orthodoxy.

Disturbingly enough, it’s an established fact Donald Trump’s racial politics are genuinely popular with millions of white Americans who have significantly supported such vicious and morally inexcusable policies like the family separations at the border. It’s also a demonstrably and theoretically so that the GOP’s partisanship strength can enable Republican presidents to attract their party base’s support along with its political establishment. Both facts mean that despite the depravity of everything he says and does in the White House, Trump will always get the Republican Party to back his attacks on members of minority groups, given the time and effort. Indeed, ending family separation for now is a good thing and it’s understandable for liberals to pop the cork and call it a win. But the fact the separations happened at all and that millions of Americans were perfectly fine with them should trouble us all. This is especially since many of these children ripped from their parents will have to grapple with the traumatic implications for the rest of their lives.

Not surprisingly, Donald Trump has resorted to his race-baited fearmongering. During an event on Friday, June 22, 2018, he returned to his old argument about undocumented immigrants, highlighting families who lost loved ones to crimes committed by them. While losing a loved one to a crime is tragic, Trump held this emotionally charged event on “permanent separation” certain families have faced to undocumented criminals in an effort to shift the focus of the immigration conversation from family separations at the border. Granted there are undocumented immigrants who commit crimes. But that doesn’t diminish the fact that Trump’s event with these families is just a publicity stunt to capitalize on their tragedy. First of all, undocumented immigrants are less likely to commit crimes than native born Americans and more likely to be crime victims due to their lack of protected status making them unable to call the authorities. But undocumented criminals pose no more a danger to society than their counterparts with legal status. Had many of these families experienced a loved one killed by a legal immigrant or US citizen, Trump wouldn’t be parading them for his own ends to smear an entire group of people as violent criminals to justify his morally inexcusable policies against them. As he said in the event, “We’re gathered today to hear from the American victims of illegal immigration. You know, you hear the other side. You never hear this side. These are the American citizens permanently separated from their loved ones because they were killed by criminal illegal aliens. These are the families the media ignores.” I’m sure anyone who loses their loved ones to undocumented immigrants are featured on the local news and maybe a spot on a Fox News show since they devour stories revolving around nonwhite murderers killing white Americans, undocumented or otherwise. Yet, here Trump seems to paint undocumented criminals as a special kind of evil they’re not which is an effective way to dehumanize a vulnerable population.

Even worse, not only does Donald Trump often blame congressional Democrats for “weak” immigration laws, his hardline stance on immigration makes it practically impossible to even the most bipartisan legislation for comprehensive immigration reform. Hell, he’s even in complete disagreement with members of his own party on how to solve immigration problems that he created. This isn’t an accident. As the crisis at the border puts the Trump administration under fire from humanitarian groups, Democrats, and even many Republicans as the biggest story in the nation, there’s a belief among senior White House officials, including the dead-eyed longtime adviser Stephen Miller, that fostering controversy is a winning strategy for them and that it will galvanize conservatives ahead of the November elections. Trump’s actions regarding ending DACA while sabotaging any chance for Congress to pass a bill protecting Dreamers is a glaring example.

Yet, that’s not the worst of it. In the wake of the family separations outrage, Texas US Senator Ted Cruz introduced legislation that would halt family separations and double the number of immigration judges from 375 to 750 to process detention cases more efficiently as the system has been backlogged for years due to a judge shortage. . In response, Trump extensively and derisively laughed off the idea of expanding the immigration courts as part of a plan to end the crisis, asserting that asylum seekers’ lawyers coach their clients on what to say so they’ll be allowed to stay in the United States. He said, “We have to have a real border, not judges. I don’t want to try people. I don’t want people coming in.” On Sunday, June 24, 2018, he tweeted, “We cannot allow all of these people to invade our Country. When somebody comes in, we must immediately, with no Judges or Court Cases, bring them back from where they came.” Apparently, Trump doesn’t think the immigration backlog is a problem. In fact, he doesn’t believe that undocumented immigrants should have a right to present their cases to immigration judges at all.

Since the Supreme Court has repeatedly maintained the due process requirements of the 5th, 6th, and 14th Amendments apply to everyone regardless of legal status, including undocumented immigrants. Thus, theoretically, if you deny anyone due process, you deny everyone due process. Not to mention, denying due process flies in the face of America’s basic democratic and moral values. At an immigration standpoint, this means we’re all undocumented immigrants because your documents are useless if you can’t show them to a judge while being identified as a suspect is the same as being guilty. For without due process, the government has all the power while the individual, citizen or otherwise has none.

In practice, denying due process to suspected undocumented immigrants would make all Latinos living in the US subject to the kind of hell akin to what those in Maricopa County were subjected in Joe Arpaio’s sheriff days. Except that instead of corrupt sheriff deputies putting them in a horrifying tent city jail with pink underwear, they’d be arrested by ICE and sent up on a one-way ticket to the country they at least allegedly came from. Many US citizens have already been arrested and/or detained under suspicion of undocumented immigration due to racial profiling by law enforcement. Because so many Americans already associate a Latino presence in their communities with undocumented immigration, especially where there aren’t many of them. Despite that a Spanish-sounding name and brown skin mean nothing as far as legal status is concerned. Do away with due process for undocumented immigrants and Latinos caught in ICE’s crosshairs will be unable to prove their legal status to a judge to challenge that claim. Even if they’re in the US legally or are a native-born US citizen who has lived in the country their whole lives. We should also take into account that 90% of those arrested in Arpaio’s deportation raids had legal status. But that didn’t save them for being suspected for illegal entry and having their constitutional rights violated by their local sheriff because they were Latino. But thanks to due process, Arpaio’s victims were able to prove his rampant abuse with racial profiling to get him convicted.

Nonetheless, this debacle over the family separations at the border demonstrates that supporting Donald Trump means leaving your spine and conscience at the door while having the gall to defend the morally indefensible and torching anything remotely relating to decency as “weak” or “reeking with political bias.” Though there is no question that Trump is a divisive figure, I am deeply afraid of the morally reprehensible policies his supporters are willing to tolerate and even agree with. As deeply disturbed I am about their loyalty to a man who will sell them out if he hasn’t already, I really want to believe they have some semblance of a political conscience or at least principles that they’d never be willing to compromise like the basic notion of democracy, equality, liberty, and civil rights. I want to believe that as polarized our country is that I have some common agreement with these people on key American principles. Not because I am a white woman who’s been alienated by her extended family, friends, and community by jumping on the Trump Train which almost cost me my access to Medicaid last year. But because I really find it difficult to believe that millions of Americans would be willing to sell their souls to support a vile and unrespectable man who’d put US Democracy in danger just to enrich himself with the presidency. Nor do I want to believe that the United States is so broken that the very notions of basic human decency become the source of heated political contention. However, I’m not so sure of even that anymore since Trump’s acolytes seem to stand by him despite all the morally egregious things he’s said or done, even if they previously seemed virtually unthinkable. And ideas I’ve long been taught and believe as basic principles of morality and American democracy now seem politically controversial.

There is no question that having Donald Trump as president poses a grave danger to the United States and the world since he’s a narcissistic sociopath with authoritarian ambitions who has no respect for the country he leads, its values, its institutions, or its people. Yet, what I fear most is what his presidency is doing to this country’s soul since a large contingent of Americans have embraced him as their champion because he says whatever inflammatory screeds they want to hear. And no matter what inexcusable thing he says or does as president, they loyally stand by him and enable his destructive behavior and policies against those who stand to suffer the most. But his entire presidency has been an assault on decency since Trump is an unrespectable man who has absolutely none as his moral degenerate words and policies reflect. Yet, the question isn’t whether his actions and rhetoric define who we are which they sort of do and since our country isn’t innocent from human rights violations separating families. But whether he embodies what we Americans want to be as a nation, which I fervently hope isn’t the case. For while Trump projects an image of strength, business know-how, and patriotism to his supporters, I see him as a manipulative swindler, shameless fraud, spineless coward, pathological liar, and an unrepentant bully with self-delusions of grandeur who has to surround himself with sycophants to enhance his gigantic ego and viciously rage on Twitter or settle petty scores when he doesn’t get his way. To me, Trump embodies the worst of America that it’s fair to see him as the current face of evil in the modern American life. As he stages his assault on decency along with the American values we hold dear from the White House, we must resist him at every turn as citizens. We must not normalize or legitimize his presidency. Nor let his destructive words and policies that undermine democracy with each passing day drag us through the mud. Donald Trump may be president, but he must not receive the respect his office entails him. Because he’s not a man deserving of such recognition or worthy of being referred to as “President of the United States.” His morally bankrupt character makes him only worthy of our scathing contempt and criticism that we should make known wherever he goes. And we must shame his followers to remind of our disgust over their support for such an unrespectable man they think is on their side as he stabs them in the back with his empty promises.

The Clear and Present Danger of Donald Trump

In early June, the New York Times reported a 20-page memo written by Donald Trump’s legal team and delivered to Special Counsel Robert Mueller. In it, they make an unusually frank case for a tyrannical interpretation of presidential power. Its key passage is one where Trump’s lawyers argue that there wasn’t anything shady going on when their client fired then FBI Director James Comey. In fact, there isn’t even any potential shenanigans going on because the president is allowed to be as shady as he wants to be while overseeing federal law enforcement. Thus, he can fire anyone he wants as well as shut down the investigation or open up a new one. As they wrote:

“Indeed, the President not only has unfettered statutory and Constitutional authority to terminate the FBI Director, he also has Constitutional authority to direct the Justice Department to open or close an investigation, and, of course, the power to pardon any person before, during, or after an investigation and/or conviction. Put simply, the Constitution leaves no question that the President has exclusive authority over the ultimate conduct and disposition of all criminal investigations and over those executive branch officials responsible for conducting those investigations.”

Essentially all presidents sooner or later will lawyer up to draw up an expansive view of presidential power. But those lawyers usually argue that they’re not making the case for a totally unchecked executive whose existence poses a fundamental threat to American values. But Donald Trump isn’t that kind of president. Instead, they offer a particularly extreme version of the “unitary executive” doctrine that conservative scholars sometimes appeal to especially when there’s a Republican president. This draws upon the notion that the government’s executive branch, including federal police agencies and federal prosecutors are a single entity personified by the president. However, pushing this logic into such terrain not only gives Trump free rein to persecute his enemies which are many, but also nullify the idea there are any enforceable laws at all.

Of course, Richard Nixon once argued that whatever the president does isn’t illegal which is similar to Donald Trump’s legal defense, making him guilty as sin in the Russian meddling case. However, the United States was built on the very concept that nobody is above the law no matter how powerful that person may be, especially the president which is embedded in the US Constitution. So considering what happened at Watergate, I don’t think this defense will fly because that’s just contrary to American values. Yet, such decision isn’t up to me to decide. Furthermore, Trump has always thought himself above the law even before he was president or at least that the laws don’t apply to him. Call it a rich man’s entitlement, but his rationale has nothing to do with the job he currently occupies.

But should the courts think this memo correct, then there would be nothing wrong with Donald Trump setting up a booth somewhere in Washington DC where rich people can hand him checks in exchange for making any legal trouble they have go away. Think of it as a “Trump Hotel” where corrupt CEOs can check in a room with the legal impunity which has plenty of disturbingly unfortunate implications for the American people. Once Trump cuts these rich guys a check, they’ll have free rein to commit bank fraud, dump toxic waste, or whatever else they want to do at poorer Americans’ expense. A mob boss can get the feds off his case. And so could the perps of the next Enron fraud or whatever else. Since Washington DC’s criminal laws all fall under federal jurisdiction, perhaps most egregiously, Trump could have his staff murder the opposition party senators or inconvenient judges and subsequently block any investigation into what’s happening. Sounds despotic?

Of course, the memo notes to an extent that this kind of power to undermine the rule of law already exists with essentially unlimited pardon power. Such power has never been a good idea which has been abused in the past. George H.W. Bush used it to kill the Iran Contra investigation. Bill Clinton used it to win his wife votes in a New York Senate race. Donald Trump has started using the pardon power abusively and capriciously early in his time in office and in a way that’s quite disturbing. But he has yet to try to pardon his way out of the Russian investigation because this power has one crucial check. That the president has to do it in public and we know Trump doesn’t want to arouse suspicion. Thus, the only limit on his pardon power is a political check which is quite real (explaining why Clinton and George H. did their questionable pardons as lame ducks). Not to mention the theory that Trump can simply make whole investigations disappear would eliminate it.

Nonetheless, much of the argument about Donald Trump and the rule of law rather narrowly pertains to the particular case of Comey’s firing and the potential future dismissal of Robert Mueller. Indeed, these are important questions in the sense that an FBI Director is an important person and a special counsel investigation is an important matter. Yet, the memo is a reminder that they offer too specific view can be easily explained. For one, Trump has always believed that due to his wealth and fame, he can and should be able to get away with whatever he wants. As he told Billy Bush in that bus “And when you’re a star, they let you do it. You can do anything.” Sure he said this in the context of assaulting women. But he’s also carried that philosophy in regards to running his businesses. Since his list of power abuses and unethical business practices is simply mindboggling and staggering. And I’m sure he sees himself above the law in regards to the presidency as well. Thus, looking at his life, Trump doesn’t see himself above the law because he’s president, but because he’s Trump.

But more importantly, one of government’s main purposes is protecting the weak from exploitation at the hands of the strong by making certain forms of misconduct illegal. Donald Trump’s assertion that he can simply waive away investigations into misconduct over worries that they may end badly for his rich friends and family is toxic to the entire scheme. Like most presidents, Trump has plenty of rich and powerful friends and a much longer list of wealthy and influential people who’d like to be his friends. At any rate, in the most unlikely scenario, if Trump really does have the power to make anyone’s legal troubles go away when he feels like it, we’re all in deep trouble.

Blood on Shameless Hands

While most of the media was fixated on ABC canceling the Roseanne revival show over its star, on Tuesday, May 29, 2018, the New England Journal of Medicine released a study by Harvard and other institutions suggesting that Hurricane Maria’s ultimate fallout was over 4,600 “excess deaths” Between September 30 and December 31, 2017. This is twice the mortality of Hurricane Katrina and makes Maria the deadliest disaster on US soil for more than a century. The only other US disaster with a higher death toll was the Galveston, Texas hurricane which resulted in 6,000-12,000 people dead. Yet, the real tragedy here is that these deaths were largely due to delayed medical care as well as lack of necessities such as electricity, water, and cellphone service. Nevertheless, this new finding stands in stark contrast to the government official count of 64 which is a gross underestimate that has remained unchanged for months. But the new research validates previous analyses of mortality data and reports from the ground by journalists and other researchers who found the death count well above 1,000.

When Donald Trump visited Puerto Rico nearly 2 weeks after the storm hit on October 3, 2017, the official death count was just 16, compelling him to insist that Puerto Rico wasn’t a “real catastrophe” like Hurricane Katrina. As he said, “Everybody watching can really be very proud of what’s taken place in Puerto Rico.” But since then, multiple media outlets have found evidence of hurricane deaths not included in the official death count. These investigations prompted members of Congress to request an audit of the hurricane deaths and led social science researchers to take a closer look at the data. In December, they published an analysis of mortality data from the Puerto Rico Vital Statistics System to compare the historical death averages for September and October deaths that year. They found that the storm death rate was closer to 1,085 while a New York Times analysis of similar data found the death toll being 1,052.

The latest study shows that even these estimates were very low. This makes sense since these studies relied on the Puerto Rican government which provided an unreliable mortality picture in the months after Hurricane Maria. With George Washington University’s help, the government’s recount of the death toll is still in the works leaving the people of Puerto Rico a long way from closure from Hurricane Maria. Now they’re preparing for the 2018 hurricane season set to begin on June 1, even as thousands of Puerto Ricans are still without power. As disasterologist Samantha Motano tweeted, “We have the technology to see them coming. We know how to mitigate and prepare for disasters. The United States has the money to prevent these deaths. We are choosing not to act.”

To come up with this new estimate, the NEJM researchers surveyed some 3,300 randomly chosen Puerto Rican households in January and February. They asked each one about deaths in their family between September 30 and December 31, 2017 and factors that might’ve contributed to them. They also asked about damage to their homes, whether they were displaced, and if they had access to food, water, healthcare, electricity, and cellphones. The researchers then compared the results with the island’s official death statistics from 2016 and found a 62% increase in the mortality rate in 2017, which added up to an estimated 4,645 deaths linked to Hurricane Maria (ranging from 793 to 8,498 deaths). About 1/3 of these deaths were attributed to delays or interruptions of healthcare, which in many cases was due to widespread power outages across the island for weeks and months after the storm knocked out 80% of the island’s power grid. And they wrote that the total death estimate “is likely to be conservative since subsequent adjustments for survivor bias and household-size distributions increase this estimate to more than 5,000.”

Obviously, a survey like this has its limitations. There’s always some inherent bias in who volunteers to participate and who doesn’t. Not to mention, we have possible bias in people’s memories of events. But it’s certainly the most exhaustive attempts so far to quantify Hurricane Maria’s death toll. And according to Puerto Rican demographer Alexis Santos, the study’s methodology was consistent with how other scholars have tried to measure the death counts as he told Vox, “Under the level of devastation experienced following Hurricane Maria it is very difficult to separate deaths from the environmental or contextual conditions, one may even say that Hurricane Maria impacted all of the deaths that occurred during that period. That is why approaching it through the perspective of excess deaths provides a figure that excludes the deaths that would have happened under normal conditions.”

Puerto Rico’s government has stopped sharing mortality data with the public in December 2017 and refused to provide it to researchers who conducted the study without its help. But the lack of transparency is no surprise since it’s been a key factor in the inaccuracies surrounding Hurricane Maria’s deadly impact. At the same time, Governor Ricardo Rossello ordered a death recount which public health researchers at George Washington University are doing right now and is still underway. But his office did respond to the NEJM report with this statement: “As the world knows, the magnitude of this tragic disaster caused by Hurricane Maria resulted in many fatalities. We have always expected the number to be higher than what was previously reported. That is why we commissioned The George Washington University (GWU) to carry out a thorough study on the number of fatalities caused by Hurricane Maria which will be released soon. Both studies will help us better prepare for future natural disasters and prevent lives from being lost.”

Of course, suspicion will remain for years between Donald Trump’s habit of weaponizing anti-Latino hysteria as his political centerpiece and the unfolding of an essentially unprecedented human tragedy in a Spanish-speaking US territory. Sure we can’t dismiss that Trump and his team simply don’t know what they’re doing. But Hurricane Maria’s impact on Puerto Rico is the only real crisis we’ve had to see Trump wrestle with which has been a total fiasco with a high human cost.

Puerto Rico’s catastrophe has a 3-fold origin. First, the situation is objectively difficult since Hurricane. Maria was a large storm. But before then, Puerto Rico’s infrastructure was shitty and its economic conditions were unfavorable. Second, under Donald Trump’s “leadership,” the federal government wasn’t prepared for the hurricane and failed to properly place supplies and provide full use of military assets. And last, Trump was never willing to admit that the initial response went poorly and try to improve. Being the narcissistic sociopath he is, admitting wrongdoing and taking responsibility isn’t part of who Trump is. Because as far as he’s concerned, such actions are for losers. So instead, he resorted to defensiveness and counterpunching. Last fall, he wasted no time turning a disaster response into a culture war pitting heroic first responders against indolent Puerto Rican officials. On September 30, 2017, he tweeted: “The Mayor of San Juan, who was very complimentary only a few days ago, has now been told by the Democrats that you must be nasty to Trump. …Such poor leadership ability by the Mayor of San Juan, and others in Puerto Rico, who are not able to get their workers to help. They…. …want everything to be done for them when it should be a community effort. 10,000 Federal workers now on Island doing a fantastic job.”

Obviously, this didn’t convince any skeptic that Donald Trump was handling the disaster well. More like far from it, in fact. But it did accomplish what Trump is good at while cornered: driving politics back to the baseline question of how you feel about the guy overall. Soon enough, the news cycle moves on. However, this made no difference and is the wrong way to respond to a natural disaster crisis. The recovery itself didn’t move particularly quickly either. On average, Puerto Ricans went 84 days without electricity, 68 days without water, and 41 days without cellphone coverage after Maria. That long-term persistence of lethal conditions is how we ended up with thousands dead from a storm that, by the official count, killed “only” 64 people through direct damage. But that wasn’t on the TV news, so Trump didn’t care. As the study’s authors wrote on the revised death toll, “These numbers will serve as an important independent comparison to official statistics from death-registry data, which are currently being reevaluated and underscore the inattention of the U.S. government to the frail infrastructure of Puerto Rico.”

While Donald Trump and his administration aren’t entirely responsible for the Hurricane Maria disaster. But it will be difficult, perhaps impossible, to assess how much it had to do with the federal government’s indifference or ineffectiveness, how much it was the current Puerto Rican officials’ fault, and how much was the effects of long-term Puerto Rican poverty and structural conditions. In any case, Caribbean assistance and recovery weren’t going to be easy since Maria would’ve been devastating under the best of circumstances. Even so, Trump’s reaction was terrible. He picked fights with local government. And he focused more on congratulating himself than doing something worth bragging about while visiting the island. Worse, he didn’t follow up. Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands simply vanished from his public statements and there’s no reporting to indicate anything was different behind closed doors. There’s no record of FEMA officials or anyone else being summoned to the White House and urged to do more. No evidence of high-level White House coordination of efforts from various agencies involved such as they were. In fact, even the best reporting on the government response shows it was botched from the beginning. As the government went all out to assist Houston, not Puerto Rico.

Donald Trump’s failure to act is extremely important because without presidential involvement, executive branch departments and agencies aren’t likely to mobilize despite that many people involved are professionals who care deeply about doing their jobs well. We’ve seen other times the effects on agencies when they know they have to answer to the president. If a Homeland Security secretary knows she’ll have to make a daily report to the president on what he department did about any acute problem, she’ll make sure she has an answer. And that’s exactly when bureaucrats find solutions for intractable problems. When a president declares something mission accomplished and moved on, then even a disastrous continuing situation slides down the list of priorities. This is especially true for the Puerto Rican people’s urgent needs who don’t have their own congressional representatives to put pressure on those agencies. If the impetus doesn’t come from the president, it’s not going to happen. Thus, the best long-term solution for the island probably is statehood, but that won’t help Puerto Rico right now. Though it would be a fitting consequence of the failure to help these citizens when they needed it the most.

Unlike Barack Obama, Donald Trump was lucky to inherit a stable and improving an economic system thanks to a competent, conventional Federal Reserve policymaking. There have been no domestic terrorist attack or major wars. So we should be grateful for the baseline conditions of peace and prosperity. But where Trump’s tested, he’s failed bigly. In the diplomatic crisis between Qatar and the United Arab Emirates, Donald Trump’s decision making is largely driven by his various corrupt associates’ personal financial interests. He’s left the US isolated on Iran while gaining nothing. He’s focused on the atmospherics of a potential summit with Kim Jong Un on Korea while leaving US allies baffled on who’s making decisions and why. The opioid crisis has apparently gotten worse in 2017 and shows no sign of abating.

The carnage in Puerto Rico illustrates the most severe manifestation of Donald Trump’s presidential unfitness despite being far from the only one. Yet, the media focus on Donald Trump’s various antics has the unfortunate tendency to detract from the basic reality that he doesn’t put in the time or the work to solve problems when that’s really the issue’s core. Put a telegenic demagogue in office, you’ll get some memorable demagogic moments that’ll boost news ratings. But you won’t get an adequate hurricane response, meaning a sky-high death toll as a result. For some Americans, Trump’s constant stream of invective and controversy is just another form of reality television. Except that it’s not unless you’re making comparisons to the Hunger Games, which involved people actually killing each other in a post-apocalyptic hellscape. However, frighteningly so, Trump isn’t a reality TV star anymore but an elected official with real and important responsibilities that he shirks on a regular basis. What he does or doesn’t do has huge practical consequences for all Americans, which will be negative for most of us. And sometimes those consequences are the difference between life and death as what went on with Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricane Maria. To hear about the deaths of 4645 people in any disaster would be heartwrenching enough for any president to hear. But Trump doesn’t care and as long as he’s in office our country’s problems won’t get better and more likely exacerbate in the years to come.

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.

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.