Thursday, May 17, 2018

May 16, 2018: A Very Bad Day for Trump

Recently I heard political pundits talking about the exhaustion many Americans are experiencing as they try to keep up with the breaking news stories swirling around the Trump/Pence regime and the Russiagate investigation, not to mention the short term news distractions that seemingly are manufactured almost daily by Der Trumpenf├╝hrer.  Wednesday was a day that saw numerous stories break, none of which portend well for Trump and/or his co-conspirators and sycophants.  The day began with the news that the U.S. Senate Intelligence Committee released a report finding that Russia had indeed sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.  The story was so damning that even Fox News was forced to report on it no doubt to the shock of Fox viewers who have been constantly told that claims of Russian interference were all false.  Here's a taste:
“Committee staff have spent 14 months reviewing the sources, tradecraft, and analytic work, and we see no reason to dispute the conclusions,” {Senator Richard} Burr said in a statement. “There is no doubt that Russia undertook an unprecedented effort to interfere with our 2016 elections.  . . . [Senator Mark] Warner said, “After a thorough review, our staff concluded that the ICA conclusions were accurate and on point. The Russian effort was extensive, sophisticated, and ordered by President Putin himself for the purpose of helping Donald Trump and hurting Hillary Clinton.”
Next came the release of transcripts by the Senate Judiciary Committee of the testimony of the participants in the infamous Trump Tower meeting, including Trump, Jr., who made utterly ridiculous statements strongly suggesting he was lying.  A column in the Washington Post looks at this debacle for Trump.  Here are excerpts:
[S]everal significant facts emerged. First, notes from Paul Manafort, who was present at the meeting, contain some curious clues including “Offshore — Cyprus” and “Active sponsors of RNC,” presumably meaning the Republican National Committee. This is the first we’ve heard of these meeting topics. It is of course illegal to take foreign assistance for an election campaign (more about that later), but it is noteworthy that the purpose of the meeting (adoptions) according to a White House statement — which Trump Jr. conceded may have included his father’s input — was the last item on Manafort’s list, perhaps an afterthought thrown in after discussions about far more controversial matters  . . .  The notion that no one from the campaign ever met with any Russians to discuss the campaign looks more and more like a lie. Second, Trump Jr. says he cannot remember (!) if he talked to his father after the meeting or the calls to set up the meeting (although there is a record of a four-minute call from a blocked number, followed by a short call with Emin Agalarov, who initiated the meeting). Failing to remember if he talked to his father after a group meeting with Russians strikes one as entirely improbable, but in any event, he says he later talked to Hope Hicks about the meeting, which is the virtually the same as talking to President Trump directly.  Third, this is confirmation of eagerness to receive something of value (dirt on Clinton) from a foreign source. And that’s a big legal problem, according to campaign finance and ethics gurus. “Federal law provides that ‘No person shall knowingly solicit, accept, or receive from a foreign national any contribution or donation,’ ” former White House ethics counsel Norman Eisen tells me. “That is not limited to only cash contributions but also includes in kind ones, such as the opposition research that Don Jr. and through him the Trump campaign solicited in connection with the Trump Tower meeting.” He adds, “As time passes and more information comes out such as the Senate release today, the evidence of collusion (or rather, of the various legal claims that we loosely refer to using that term) becomes stronger and stronger.”  Even though the actions occurred before the election, Trump may find himself in a legal fix. Constitutional scholar and co-author of a new book “To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment” Laurence Tribe says, “Under the U.S. criminal code, soliciting a bribe is an independent offense even if the bribe doesn’t come through. And under the federal election code, soliciting prohibited foreign assistance in a U.S. election is an offense even if the assistance isn’t provided. The Trump family’s problems don’t end there, since ‘acts of solicitation’ can become overt acts that form part of a conspiracy to commit another crime.” One final note: Whenever Trump shouts “No collusion,” the response to that should be: “There’s airtight evidence of attempted conspiracy by the highest levels in the Trump campaign to obtain foreign help.” As Bergmann puts it, “According to Donald Trump Jr.’s own testimony, he was disappointed by the meeting because the collusion the Russians were offering wasn’t good enough. So we know the Trump campaign wanted to collude and we know the Russians ran an aggressive campaign to help Trump. Given the mounting evidence it really isn’t a question anymore if they colluded, it’s a question of how deep the collusion went.” No wonder Trump is so freaked out about the Russia investigation.

Then there was the bombshell via New York Magazine that reported that Michael Cohen was gathering large amounts of foreign money that was being passed through to Trump and his family.  Here are highlights from that story:
Last night, the Daily Mail reported a development in the Michael Cohen saga of seismic scale. In a December 2016 meeting in Trump Tower, the British tabloid reports, Cohen asked Ahmed Al-Rumaihi, who runs a $100 billion Qatari investment fund, to send him “millions” which, the story claims, would go “through him to Trump family members.” 
The Daily Mail report deepens the trouble in two crucial ways. First, it extends Cohen’s scheme from domestic corporations (or, in one case, domestic corporations controlled by foreign entities) to direct overseas fundraising. Second, and more ominously, it alleges that Cohen funneled the money to Trump’s family. . . . Now the story suggests he was enriching them, transforming the Cohen bribery story into a Trump bribery story. [T]here is plenty of contextual evidence to support the charge. One is that, after Stormy Daniels’s lawyer Michael Avenatti published Trump Tower surveillance video of Al-Rumaihi, he suspiciously denied attending the meeting, only for his firm to admit it later. Another reason is that, multiple reports have linked both Qatar as a source of players in the broader web of shady Trump financial dealings with Russia, and Cohen as a key conduit. So it would fit the pattern for Cohen to be soliciting a bribe from Qatar on behalf of the Trump family. And yet another reason is Trump’s notorious resentment of other people making money off of him. If Cohen used Trump’s election to solicit bribes, it seems highly likely Trump would demand a taste. And then there is another reason to credit this allegation: Direct bribery of Trump is still happening, in plain sight.  Trump has defied all modern precedent by retaining control of his family company while serving as president, allowing interests domestic or foreign to curry favor by enriching him personally.
What’s clearly true is that the usual restraints against such behavior are altogether absent. There is an old phrase that used to be bandied around the media constantly: “the appearance of a conflict of interest.” Officials were held to this standard, which required them to avoid even looking like they might be tempted to allow their personal interest to influence their decisions. And of course, petty corruption often won out even in the face of this putatively strict public ethic. But it had to travel through a wick Roger et of rules guarding against outright corruption.
The Trump family, by contrast, is operating in a rules-free environment. The appearance of a conflict of interest is not even in question. There are proven conflicts everywhere, and the only question is straight-out quid pro quo bribery. The only authority empowered to uncover the alleged bribes is Robert Mueller.
Lastly, as icing on the cake, news broke that subpoenas were delivered late last week to lawyers representing Jason Sullivan, a social media and Twitter specialist Trump sycophant Roger Stone hired to work for an independent political action committee he set up to support Trump.  Reuters has details: 
U.S. Justice Department Special Counsel Robert Mueller has issued two subpoenas to a social media expert who worked for longtime Donald Trump adviser Roger Stone during the 2016 presidential election campaign. The subpoenas suggest that Mueller, who is probing Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, is focusing in part on Stone and whether he might have had advance knowledge of material allegedly hacked by Russian intelligence and sent to WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange, who published it.
Stone appeared before the U.S. House of Representatives Intelligence Committee last September and denied allegations of collusion between the president’s associates and Russia during the election. “I am aware of no evidence whatsoever of collusion by the Russian state or anyone in the Trump campaign,” Stone told reporters at the time.
According to sources familiar with the ongoing investigation, Mueller also has been probing whether anyone associated with the Trump campaign may have helped Assange or the Russians time or target the release of hacked emails and other social media promoting Trump or critical of Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton.
Sullivan told Reuters that he heads, a social media firm, and “worked on the Trump campaign serving as Chief Strategist directly to Roger J. Stone Jr.” 
Personally, I consider any news that is bad news for Trump on the Russiagate front as wonderful news for America and same, rational America and supporters of the rule of law.  My only fear is what lunatic thing Trump might do as he strives to distract the media and the public from the seemingly tightening noose. 

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