Tag Archives: Conway

The Sound of Fear, Starring the Trump Family Deniers

The latest revelation about the collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia is about a meeting attended by the campaign manager Manafort, Trump Son No. 1, Donald Jr., and Trump-in-Law Jared Kushner. I won’t waste your time with the details which were first reported by the New York Times, a newspaper of global fame to which the Trump family has been notably hostile. Maybe not a good move on their part.

I want instead to focus on the narrative that the Trump Family, and its enablers like Kellyanne Conway, have tried to spin in response to the now-admitted meeting whose stated-in-advance purpose was to secure dirt on Hillary Clinton that was sourced in the Russian government. That narrative has a familiar ring as it seems to follow almost exactly the concept of “alternative pleading” that law students learn about in courses on trial practice.

The idea of alternative pleading is that since, in the early stages of a lawsuit, you don’t know for sure how things are going to play out, you, as the defendant accused of some wrongdoing are entitled by rules of court to plead alternative defenses, including defenses that are inconsistent with each other. The evidence will then show what it shows and some defenses will fail while others may succeed. To some extent it resembles the old saw about throwing stuff at the wall and seeing what sticks.

To illustrate, suppose a lawsuit is filed against D claiming D’s conduct was the proximate cause of injury to plaintiff P resulting in damages of X amount, which P therefore is entitled to recover from D. D’s typical first step is to move to dismiss the complaint for failure to state a claim. That is, in simple English, even if everything alleged by P is true, there was nothing wrong with D’s conduct and thus the suit should be dismissed. A “fake suit” in current Trumpian parlance.

Kellyanne Conway, among others, has made this precise argument: even if Junior was seeking dirt on Clinton, this is politics and there was nothing wrong with seeking such dirt that might help the Trump campaign. But this argument ignores the fact that the source of the information was the Russian government, which suggests conspiracy with a foreign power to affect the outcome of an American election. Most rational people consider that seriously wrong, possibly criminally wrong.

So, what next? Faced with the revelations about Junior’s meeting, to which he has confessed publicly via the Family’s chosen medium, Twitter, the Trump Family Deniers change the tune, moving toward classical alternative pleading. First, the story was “there was no such meeting,” Then, if there was a meeting, I didn’t attend it. But if I did attend a meeting, it was a waste of time because we didn’t learn anything with which to smear Clinton so I left the meeting empty-handed. So, even if I did attend the meeting with the intention to do harm to Clinton, no harm to Clinton arose from my conduct, so everything is okeydokey. No harm, no foul. Finally, even if there were some harm, we were just amateurs at politics so we can and should be forgiven our sins and let bygones be ….

In a lawsuit, this sort of stairway to the basement approach is perfectly acceptable practice and the Trump Family Deniers’ playbook appears to follow it quite closely. The problem, of course, is that this is not a lawsuit, not yet anyway.

Instead, it is the early-to-middle stage of investigation into one of the greatest scandals in the history of American politics. One of the singular features of the scandal is that, from the very outset, during the campaign itself, Trump made no secret of his desire for assistance from Russia among others and no secret of his desire to buddy-up with Vladimir Putin (who will be featured in my next blog post). At the same time. Trump repeatedly denied there was any connection between him and Putin or between his campaign and anyone connected with the Russian government. His fame as liar-in-chief, thoroughly documented by many observers, led many to suspect that the denials were false.

Slowly but surely, more revelations of contacts between the Russians and the Trump campaign have emerged.  All the while Trump and his enablers, including Attorney General Sessions as well as several family members and key campaign players, have denied there is anything there. Their stories have changed over time, of course, as new revelations undermine the previous denials. This is starkly shown by the latest stories about Junior and Kushner meeting with a promised source of incriminating evidence on Clinton.

Even if it is true that the Russian lawyer with whom Junior/Kushner/Manafort met did not actually have any useful information and was really trying to influence Trump on the issue of adopting Russian children or to blunt the move to increase U.S. sanctions on Russia, the fact remains, and at this point appears to be undeniable and undenied, that the purpose of the gathering, from Junior’s point of view, was to seek Russian help in the battle with Clinton. And, of course, he wants everyone to believe that the President knew nothing of the meeting.

So craven are the enablers of the Trump Family Deniers that Ed Rogers, in an op-ed in the Washington Post this morning, http://wapo.st/2uaPmNy, singing the familiar tune “hysteria among the media,” argues that,

No senior campaign official, much less a family member of the candidate, should take such a meeting. Having the meeting was a rookie, amateur mistake. Between human curiosity and a campaign professional’s duty to get the dirt when you can, Trump Jr. likely felt that the person had to be heard. However, the meeting should have been handed off to a lackey. Said lackey would have then reported the scoop — or lack thereof — and awaited further instruction. [emphasis added]

What can one say after that? A fair reading of it, I suggest, is (1) perfect execution of “we were just amateurs at politics” defense, and (2) in a play right out of the Godfather, never send anyone from the family to do the dirty work and leave fingerprints; send in one of the stooge soldiers who can be sacrificed if necessary to protect the family, (3) seeking dirt from dirty sources like the Russian government is just good political fun, so what’s the problem?

This “win at any cost” mentality may be part of what led Trump to confess to Lester Holt in the now famous interview that he was going to fire FBI Director Comey because of Comey’s pursuit of the Trump-Russia connection regardless of what the leadership of the Department of Justice recommended. Trump and his very very rich family are accustomed to getting their way without arguments and if you do argue, you’re fired.

Maybe I’m being naïve about politics but I continue to struggle with understanding how the Republican Party can continue to support this president, given that he has no real connection to conservative political values that have driven the Republican Party historically and is making a complete hash of the office of the President. He has accomplished nothing of positive significance since taking office six months ago while destroying international relationships that have sustained world peace for decades. More about this in the next post.

“Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.”

Statement by the President of the United States, February 27, 2017. http://nyti.ms/2ltf0pN.

Nobody?

We knew.

The law known as the Affordable Care Act was signed in March, 2010. The Republican Party hated it. Still does. The RP has had seven years to comprehend how “complicated” health care is. Now the President is shocked to learn that it is complicated. What more is there to say?

Perhaps someone – Kellyanne Conway? – will now explain that “nobody” doesn’t really mean nobody, at least when Trump uses the term. It’s just an adjective, like “military” in relation to deportation activities. That must be it: the “alternative fact” is that “nobody” doesn’t mean “no” body; it means, as Humpty Dumpty famously said, “”just what I choose it to mean—neither more nor less.”

It’s all so … complicated.

Compromise on Trump’s Tax Returns? — No!

A thoughtful article appeared in the Washington Post yesterday (http://wapo.st/2kV9os6), penned by two law professors proposing a plan to “compromise” with President Trump to secure at least a quasi-public view of his tax returns. I would normally defer to this type of approach to solving a high-conflict problem, but in this case, I must, with respect to the authors, reject the idea for multiple reasons.

The concept involves engaging the staff of the staff of the Joint Committee on Taxation, now dominated by Republicans, to privately review Trump’s returns and prepare a “public summary report redacted of any proprietary business information.” The result would be two reports, one “large confidential” and one “redacted public,” based on some “bipartisan process” negotiated in advance with a “summary explanation of any compliance issues raised by the review.”

The problems with this well-intentioned proposal are many and, in my judgment, insuperable. First is the fact that Trump lied repeatedly about his intention to release his tax returns. This proposal gives him the benefit of those lies and that seems fundamentally wrong on multiple levels. Second, the complicated process does not result in full transparency and will almost certainly lead to continued complaints that critical details have been sanitized, whether intentionally or not. Third, there is no reason to trust the Republican majority to play this straight, as they have shown time and again an unwillingness to challenge the President’s remorseless lying, attacks on the independence of the press and many other examples too numerous to detail here but well-known to everyone paying attention. Finally, Trump’s dishonesty suggests he cannot be depended upon to live up to any arrangement if he suddenly decides he doesn’t like it. The latest reported efforts of the White House to suborn the FBI regarding the “Russia connection” are only one of many examples of the lengths Trump will go to delegitimize criticism.

It is true, of course, that full disclosure of Trump’s returns might reveal some confidential business information. That is a problem of his own making. If he had properly divested himself of his business interests, rather than the charade he perpetrated with the infamous stacks of legal documents display, these concerns would perhaps carry some weight. As it is, there is no reason to let Trump off the petard on which he has hoisted himself. If he persists with the fantasy, often repeated by his chief counselor, Kellyanne Conway, that since he won the election, no one cares about his tax returns, he and those who support him will suffer the political consequences. As Abraham Lincoln allegedly said: “You can fool all the people some of the time, and some of the people all the time, but you cannot fool all the people all the time.” Time will tell. Let’s not make it easy for the foolers.

Keystone Kops Meet Three Stooges – Three Weeks of Trump Administration

Those of you old enough to have seen the old film clips know that the Keystone Kops and Three Stooges comedy shtick involved a lot of bumping into each other, falling down, bopping on the head and nose pulling to what, in the case of the Stooges, were regarded as amusing sounds. In those days such things were indeed considered very funny by millions of fans.

Now we have a modern day version of the same thing playing out in the administration of Donald Trump. But it’s not funny.

The sheer incompetence of Trump’s management style is playing out for the world to see. The latest episodes have him and members of his inner circle huddled over a dinner table in the main dining room at Mar-a-Lago discussing national security and military issues arising from North Korea’s latest missile test. There are photos taken by another guest, not part of the government, showing papers, presumably highly confidential, being lit up by cell phones. The Prime Minister of Japan is at the table and part of the conversation.

While the issue certainly affects Japan and our relations with it, you would think our top government people would first want to discuss the situation among themselves before talking it over with the leader of a foreign power. Press Secretary Sean Spicer said today that all that activity just related to organizing a press conference and that Trump had been advised before the dinner about the missile launch in secure quarters. Maybe. Hard to know what to believe when everyone in Trump’s house has a different version of events, as in, for example, the conflict between Spicer and Kellyanne Conway over whether Michael Flynn was fired or resigned. More alternative facts, I suppose. Take your pick.

Trump has been in power less than one month and chaos reigns around him. The great business leader appears to be thrashing around trying to look like a tough guy who’s on top of his agenda, while the work product is mostly a bunch of Executive Orders that accomplish very little actual change and were mostly unnecessary, including, of course, that masterwork on immigration that has been soundly repudiated by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The travel ban EO appears to have been written by people with no legal degrees. One of the chief authors, Stephen Miller (Senior Advisor to the President), just finished a round of weekend interviews in which he decreed that the authority of the president may not be questioned. Mr. Miller was smart enough to graduate from Duke University, no easy feat if you’re not an athlete, but went to work in politics for the likes of Michelle Bachman. Now, at age 31, he is one of Trump’s closest advisors. With all due respect, Mr. Miller probably should have gone to law school first, or at least a graduate program involving constitutional learning.

Trump’s reliance on Miller, Stephen Bannon (Chief Strategist), Reince Preibus (Chief of Staff) and Kellyanne Conway (Counselor to the President) has produced constant chaos and gaffes at every level, an embarrassment to the United States here and abroad. In case you missed the interview, here is the exact Miller statement:

“Well, I think that it’s been an important reminder to all Americans that we have a judiciary that has taken far too much power and become, in many cases, a supreme branch of government. One unelected judge in Seattle cannot remake laws for the entire country. I mean this is just crazy, John, the idea that you have a judge in Seattle say that a foreign national living in Libya has an effective right to enter the United States is — is — is beyond anything we’ve ever seen before.

The end result of this, though, is that our opponents, the media and the whole world will soon see as we begin to take further actions, that the powers of the president to protect our country are very substantial and will not be questioned.”

Is there something about judges in Seattle we don’t know? Miller smirked when he mentioned Seattle, as if a judge from Seattle was somehow a ridiculous idea that merited no respect? The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals sits in four Western cities, covering nine states plus Guam and the Northern Mariana Islands. It rejected the government’s attempt to overturn the District Court’s injunction pending further litigation. That apparently is not good enough to satisfy Mr. Miller’s concept of judicial authority either.

What exactly does Miller mean that as a result of “further actions,” the powers of the president to protect our country will not be questioned?” It sounds like a direct threat to the role of the judiciary in our tripartite system of checks and balances established by the Constitution. Maybe all he meant to say was that next time the Executive Order will be competently and narrowly written so that there is no real question of its legitimacy. Maybe. Mr. Miller should choose his words carefully. Threats to reject the authority of the judiciary as the third co-equal branch of government are more serious than Mr. Miller appears to understand. Oh, and the judge in Seattle did not say that “a foreign national living in Libya has an effective right to enter the United States.”

At the time of the weekend interviews Mr. Miller had ample time to read the 9th Circuit opinion rejecting the government’s request to overturn the decision of the “unelected judge in Seattle.” The court’s opinion eviscerates the government’s arguments one by one, including these findings:

“… although courts owe considerable deference to the President’s policy determinations with respect to immigration and national security, it is beyond question that the federal judiciary retains the authority to adjudicate constitutional challenges to executive action.” [Opinion Part IV]

and

“The procedural protections provided by the Fifth Amendment’s Due Process Clause are not limited to citizens. Rather, they “appl[y] to all ‘persons’ within the United States, including aliens,” regardless of “whether their presence here is lawful, unlawful, temporary, or permanent.” Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678, 693 (2001). These rights also apply to certain aliens attempting to reenter the United States after travelling abroad. Landon v. Plasencia, 459 U.S. 21, 33-34 (1982).”  [Opinion Part VI]

Again, a few years in law school would have helped Mr. Miller grasp these Constitutional fundamentals. Why is the President of the United States relying on this person to speak for his administration in matters of this nature?

Just today a USA Today reported that

“review of presidential documents shows at least five cases where the version of an executive order posted on the White House website doesn’t match the official version sent to the Federal Register. The discrepancies raise further questions about how thorough the Trump administration has been in drafting some of the president’s most controversial actions.”

I won’t belabor this further. The Trump administration is led by a man who claims to be a master business leader, disciplined organizer and super-decisive “very smart” person. In today’s press briefing, Sean Spicer went out of his way to emphasize how “decisive” the President has been in all things. Yet everywhere one looks through the first three weeks of his administration, we see people bumping into each other, heads being bopped and noses yanked. This made for good comedy way back when, but it’s no way to lead a government. Despite months to prepare, all the President’s men seem to have little idea of what they are doing.

#RESIST

Some Advice for CNN

Ah, the ironies. CNN helped make Donald Trump’s candidacy by broadcasting every minute of everything he said or did during the campaign, including having Trump’s campaign shills as constant participants on “panels of political experts” to discuss endlessly every detail of Trump’s behavior. CNN became, in effect, the carnival barkers for the Trump sideshow.

Now, Trump is President-Elect and he is demonstrating that he is exactly the same person and personality that was kept in the public eye by CNN during the campaign. This should come as no surprise. Now he no longer needs to “make nice” and so he refused, in his first press conference in seven months to let the CNN reporter in attendance ask a question. He accused CNN of being “fake news” and indicated, yet again, that he will brook no unwelcome questioning of himself from the press, no matter how prominent.

Then CNN gave another opportunity for KellyAnne Conway, Trump’s shill-in-chief, to bumble and fumble her way through more demonstrably false accusations about the way CNN reported the latest Trump “news.” The CNN team, led by Anderson Cooper, a day later still trying to find a way to do its job, showed how stung they were by the Trump rejection and the Trump/Conway claims that CNN reported something that it demonstrably did not report.

Helpfully, Carl Bernstein, one of the contributors to the CNN reports and who knows a thing or two about reporting and politics, defined “reporting” as the “best available version of the truth.”

Here, then, is some advice for CNN about how it can develop a more constructive relationship with the soon-to-be President and his team of fact-deniers:

  1. Just report the damn news! You know, what happened today that is of interest to the American people?
  1. Eliminate the endless panels of “experts” arguing endlessly over every statement that Trump makes. Just report what he says, what others say, what happens (with as much verification as possible) and let the viewers/readers decide without having to listen to Trump shills like Jeffrey Lord and Conway re-write and re-interpret what Trump said into gibberish. Continuing what you have been doing adds credence to the Trump mode of operation and helps raise doubts about the accuracy and legitimacy of your own reporting. If you’re going to continue to claim that CNN is about journalism, then just report the news as truthfully and accurately as possible and move on. Let the Trump machine finds its own outlets (it will always have Fox and Breitbart) to make its case.
  1. For guidance, review some of the tapes of Walter Cronkite and Eric Sevareid of CBS News in the 1960s. If you want to add interpretation and analysis to the facts, have your “experts” appear alone to state what they believe. Make them own the analysis.

That’s it. Do yourselves and America a favor and remove yourselves as the one of the “usual suspects” Trump wants to paint with a bias brush. Report the news!

One President at a Time

I recall that some years ago, during the Bush-to-Obama transition period, then President-Elect Obama was asked a question about some foreign policy issue that had emerged and responded with, as I recall it, “In this country we have one president at a time.” Thus, he declined the invitation to step publicly on the out-going-but-still-in-charge, administration of President Bush.

Contrast that with the conduct of President-Elect Trump and his crowd of Know Nothings. The issue du jour is the question whether the Russians, perhaps at the personal direction of Vladimir Putin, interfered with the presidential election through electronic hacking. Having expressly urged the Russians to do this during the campaign, Trump is hard-pressed to stand up to the Russians now. But there is another option. He could remain silent. He could defer, for now, to the sitting president of the country by keeping his mouth shut in public about this question that goes to the heart of the nation’s ability to conduct its democratic politics.

Instead, Trump suggests, via Twitter, that the Obama White House was fine with the Russian hacking as long as it thought Clinton would win the election. Then he has his attack dog, Kelly Ann Conway, publicly question the loyalty and integrity of the sitting president in this oh-so-classless statement: “If you want to shut this down and you actually love the country enough to have the peaceful transition in our great democracy between the Obama administration and the Trump administration, there are a couple people in pretty prominent positions — one is named Obama, one is named Hillary Clinton, since his people are trying to fight over her election still, they could shut this down.” In other words, Conway is, in essence, communicating that “we won the election and we don’t care what evidence exists of foreign interference; you, Mr. President, are so disloyal to the country that you put political gain ahead of the national interest in a smooth transition, the only thing that matters right now.” If there is any lack of love for country here, that stone must lay at Trump’s own feet for placing the interests of Vladimir Putin and his anti-democratic politics ahead of the interests of the United States.

Trump’s willful ignorance of foreign affairs is so profound that he may not even realize how damaging this type of public conflict can be. It gives aid and comfort to our enemies by dramatizing in public the conflicts within our own government. If he read a few books and actually tried to learn something before shooting off his mouth, it would do the country a great service.

The hallmarks of autocracy are showing in much of what Trump has said and done since the election. He has personally attacked American corporations and personally attacked individuals who voiced disagreement with his policies.  His transition team has demanded the names of government employees involved in climate change research (later retracted in the face of public outrage), and launched broad-based and factually-deficient attacks on the U.S. intelligence community (in the face of FBI concurrence in the CIA’s analysis of the Russian cyber-attacks) and made clear that anyone who opposes him risks being publicly excoriated by the President himself. This is one of the principal techniques that autocrats use to silence criticism and dissent, the hallmarks of free speech and the means by which a democracy tests and improves its ideas.

In the immediate aftermath of the election, Secretary Clinton’s supporters were told “it’s time to suck it up, accept the outcome and get behind the new administration. Support the success of the new leader, for the benefit of the country, they were told. Every day, and every new revelation, makes it that much harder to follow that advice. The Republican politicians who eviscerated Trump during the Republican primaries and the general election have largely lined up at Trump Tower to seek forgiveness, redemption and of course, jobs in the administration. Their dissent has been interesting to watch but so short-lived as to lack any moral foundation.

The evidence is mounting that Mr. Trump only understands how to run a company where he is the sole owner and the only voice that matters. The United States government is so much more complex, so vast in reach and faces such different and more difficult challenges that his experience as the “boss” on reality TV (whatever that is) and building a real estate empire is utterly and completely irrelevant. He has said he is too smart to need regular briefings from our intelligence experts, that he pretty much knows what he needs to know, getting most of his information from postings on the Internet. He had denied the legitimacy of the scientific consensus on climate change, endorsed the possibility of using torture and taken other positions in overt conflict with American values. He has reportedly “walked back” some of those positions since the election, but why should we believe anything a remorseless liar says? Apparently, Trump’s mother did not teach him the lesson of the Boy Who Cried Wolf.

The Rust Belt voters who turned to Trump after hearing his rhetoric about returning old-style jobs to the area are going to be bitterly disappointed when they discover the harsh truth that such jobs are not competitive and simply cannot be restored to their central place in our manufacturing plants of yesteryear. A thoughtful piece in the Washington Post just today explains that there are many more jobs available in the Midwest than there are qualified people to fill them:

“Although some companies and state programs will cover tuition bills, some workers, particularly those who have held the same job for decades, are hesitant to take them up on the offer, even if unemployment is imminent and the wages are competitive.”

As manufacturing evolves, skilled labor hard to find,” Washington Post, Dec. 16, 2016, at A14.

The problem of dis-employment due to technological advances that produce more with less human input is a major economic challenge for all advanced countries. The solution, like the solution to climate change, will not be found through promises of a return to the “old ways.” That is the stuff of fantasy, a cruel one at that, because it plays on the deepest anxieties of a lot of good people caught up in forces of change they don’t, and in many cases simply don’t want to, understand. Living a lie does not make it any truer.

Obama, with generosity of which he alone among political leaders seem still capable, continues to say that Trump and his “team” are still largely in campaign mode and have not yet come to grips with the realities of governance. That is how he appears to explain Ms. Conway’s remarks. He appears to believe genuinely that these assurances will indeed have a calming influence. We are a little over a month away from the inauguration when all the powerful instruments of government will be at the disposal of the Commander-in-Chief.

Those who still believe in democracy, who still believe that policy should be driven by facts rather than whatever people prefer to believe, who believe in science, who believe that a cornerstone of our freedom is the freedom to speak, write and perform without fear of chastisement, or worse, by the government … they must never yield in their active opposition to the degradation of American values. They must speak out and act up, remembering that the whole world is watching.