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“The Mueller Report Was My Tipping Point”

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J. W. Verret, Professor of law at George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School, writes in the Atlantic:

Let’s start at the end of this story. This weekend, I read Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report twice, and realized that enough was enough—I needed to do something. I’ve worked on every Republican presidential transition team for the past 10 years and recently served as counsel to the Republican-led House Financial Services Committee. My permanent job is as a law professor at the George Mason University Antonin Scalia Law School, which is not political, but where my colleagues have held many prime spots in Republican administrations.

If you think calling for the impeachment of a sitting Republican president would constitute career suicide for someone like me, you may end up being right. But I did exactly that this weekend, tweeting that it’s time to begin impeachment proceedings.

Let’s go back to the beginning. In August 2016, I interviewed to join the pre-transition team of Donald Trump. Since 2012, every presidential election stands up a pre-transition team for both candidates, so that the real transition will have had a six-month head start when the election is decided. I participated in a similar effort for Mitt Romney, and despite our defeat, it was a thrilling and rewarding experience. I walked into a conference room at Jones Day that Don McGahn had graciously arranged to lend to the folks interviewing for the transition team.

The question I feared inevitably opened the interview: “How do you feel about Donald Trump?” I could not honestly say I admired him. While working on Senator Marco Rubio’s primary campaign, I had watched Trump throw schoolyard nicknames at him. I gave the only honest answer I could: “I admire the advisers he’s chosen, like Larry Kudlow and David Malpass, and I admire his choice of VP.” That did the trick. I got the impression they’d heard that one before. I was one of the first 16 members of Trump’s transition team, as deputy director of economic policy.

In time, my work for the transition became awkward. I disagreed with Trump’s rhetoric on immigration and trade. I also had strong concerns about his policies in my area of financial regulation. The hostility to Russian sanctions from the policy team, particularly from those members picked by Paul Manafort, was even more unsettling.

I wasn’t very good at hiding my distaste. We parted ways in October amicably; I wasn’t the right fit. I wished many of my friends who worked on the transition well, and I respected their decision to stay on after Trump won. A few of them even arranged offers for policy jobs in the White House, which I nearly accepted but ultimately turned down, as I knew I’d be no better fit there than I had been on the transition.

I never considered joining the Never Trump Republican efforts. Their criticisms of President Trump’s lack of character and unfitness for office were spot-on, of course, but they didn’t seem very pragmatic. There was no avoiding the fact that he’d won, and like many others, I felt the focus should be on guiding his policy decisions in a constructive direction. The man whom I most admire in that regard is McGahn, Trump’s first White House counsel, who guided the president toward some amazing nominees for regulatory agencies and the judiciary.

I wanted to share my experience transitioning from Trump team member to pragmatist about Trump to advocate for his impeachment, because I think many other Republicans are starting a similar transition. Politics is a team sport, and if you actively work within a political party, there is some expectation that you will follow orders and rally behind the leader, even when you disagree. There is a point, though, at which that expectation turns from a mix of loyalty and pragmatism into something more sinister, a blind devotion that serves to enable criminal conduct.

The Mueller report was that tipping point for me, and it should be for Republican and independent voters, and for Republicans in Congress. In the face of a Department of Justice policy that prohibited him from indicting a sitting president, Mueller drafted what any reasonable reader would see as a referral to Congress to commence impeachment hearings.

Depending on how you count, roughly a dozen separate instances of obstruction of justice are contained in the Mueller report. The president dangled pardons in front of witnesses to encourage them to lie to the special counsel, and directly ordered people to lie to throw the special counsel off the scent.

This elaborate pattern of obstruction may have successfully impeded the Mueller investigation from uncovering a conspiracy to commit more serious crimes. At a minimum, there’s enough here to get the impeachment process started. In impeachment proceedings, the House serves as a sort of grand jury and the Senate conducts the trial. There is enough in the Mueller report to commence the Constitution’s version of a grand-jury investigation in the form of impeachment proceedings. . .

Continue reading. There’s more.

Written by LeisureGuy

24 April 2019 at 8:05 am

Navy SEALs Were Warned Against Reporting Their Chief for War Crimes

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Dave Philipps reports in the NY Times:

Stabbing a defenseless teenage captive to death. Picking off a school-age girl and an old man from a sniper’s roost. Indiscriminately spraying neighborhoods with rockets and machine-gun fire.

Navy SEAL commandos from Team 7’s Alpha Platoon said they had seen their highly decorated platoon chief commit shocking acts in Iraq. And they had spoken up, repeatedly. But their frustration grew as months passed and they saw no sign of official action.

Tired of being brushed off, seven members of the platoon called a private meeting with their troop commander in March 2018 at Naval Base Coronado near San Diego. According to a confidential Navy criminal investigation report obtained by The New York Times, they gave him the bloody details and asked for a formal investigation.

But instead of launching an investigation that day, the troop commander and his senior enlisted aide — both longtime comrades of the accused platoon leader, Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher — warned the seven platoon members that speaking out could cost them and others their careers, according to the report.

The clear message, one of the seven told investigators, was “Stop talking about it.”

The platoon members eventually forced the referral of their concerns to authorities outside the SEALs, and Chief Gallagher now faces a court-martial, with his trial set to begin May 28.

But the account of the March 2018 meeting and myriad other details in the 439-page report paint a disturbing picture of a subculture within the SEALs that prized aggression, even when it crossed the line, and that protected wrongdoers.

According to the investigation report, the troop commander, Lt. Cmdr. Robert Breisch, said in the meeting that while the SEALs were free to report the killings, the Navy might not look kindly on rank-and-file team members making allegations against a chief. Their careers could be sidetracked, he said, and their elite status revoked; referring to the eagle-and-trident badges worn by SEALs, he said the Navy “will pull your birds.”

The enlisted aide, Master Chief Petty Officer Brian Alazzawi, warned them that the “frag radius” — the area damaged by an explosion — from a war-crime investigation of Chief Gallagher could be wide enough to take down a lot of other SEALs as well, the report said.

[For more stories about the changing nature of warfare, sign up for the weekly At War newsletter.]

Navy SEALs are regarded as the most elite commando force in the American military. But that reputation has been blotted repeatedly in recent years by investigations of illegal beatings, killings and theft, and reports of drug use in the ranks. In January, the top commander of the SEALs, Rear Adm. Collin Green, ordered a 90-day review of the force’s culture and training; the results have not yet been made public.

As Chief Gallagher’s men were sounding an alarm about killings in Iraq, his superiors were lavishing praise on him. An evaluation quoted in the investigation report called Chief Gallagher the best chief of the 12 in the team, and said, “This is the man I want leading SEALs in combat.”

A few days after the March 2018 meeting, the chief was awarded a Bronze Star for valor under fire in Iraq.

A month later, the seven platoon members finally succeeded in spurring their commanders to formally report the killings of the three Iraqis to the Navy Criminal Investigation Service, by threatening to go directly to top Navy brass and to the news media.

Chief Gallagher was arrested in September on more than a dozen charges, including premeditated murder and attempted murder. If convicted, he could face life in prison. He has pleaded not guilty and denies all the charges.

The chief’s lawyer, Timothy Parlatore, said the Navy investigation report, which was first reported by Navy Times, does not offer an accurate account of what happened in Iraq. He said that hundreds of additional pages of evidence, sealed by the court, included interviews with platoon members who said the chief never murdered anyone.

At the same time, some conservatives have rallied to Chief Gallagher’s defense, raising money and pressing publicly for his release.

Chief Gallagher, through Mr. Parlatore, declined to be interviewed for this article.

The Navy has charged Chief Gallagher’s immediate superior, Lt. Jacob Portier, with failing to report the chief’s possibly criminal actions and with destroying evidence. Lieutenant Portier has pleaded not guilty. Through his lawyer, he, too, declined to be interviewed.

The investigation report indicates that a number of other high-ranking SEALs also knew of the allegations against the chief, and did not report them. But no one else has been charged in the case.

Chief Gallagher learned of the March 2018 meeting soon after it happened, the report indicates, and he began working to turn other SEALs against the accusers.

“I just got word these guys went crying to the wrong person,” Chief Gallagher wrote to a fellow chief in one of hundreds of text messages included in the report. To another, he wrote: “The only thing we can do as good team guys is pass the word on those traitors. They are not brothers at all.”

Citing his texts, the Navy kept the chief in the brig to await trial, saying it believed he had been trying to intimidate witnesses and undermine the investigation. He denies that accusation as well. . .

Chief Gallagher, who is 39 and goes by the nickname Blade, is known as a standout even among the elite SEALs. Over the course of five deployments with the SEALs, he was repeatedly recognized for valor and coolheaded leadership under fire. He is qualified as a medic, a sniper and an explosives expert, and has been an instructor at BUDS, the force’s grueling training program. To hundreds of sailors he trained, he was a battle-tested veteran who fed them war stories while pushing them through punishing workouts in the surf.

Investigators’ interviews with more than a dozen members of Alpha Platoon, included in the Navy’s criminal investigation report, as well as other interviews with SEALs, offer a more troubling portrait of the chief.

When Chief Gallagher took over leadership of the platoon in 2015, SEALs said, he already had a reputation as a “pirate” — an operator more interested in fighting terrorists than in adhering to the rules and making rank.

A number of platoon members told investigators that at first they were excited to be led by a battle-hardened “legend,” but their opinion quickly shifted after they were deployed to Iraq in February 2017 to help retake Mosul from Islamic State fighters. . .

A spokeswoman for Naval Special Warfare, Cmdr. Tamara Lawrence, said that while they are commandos, SEALs are still expected to follow the same laws as all other troops, adding, “It’s called special operations, not different operations.”

The investigation report said several members of the platoon told investigators that Chief Gallagher showed little regard for the safety of team members or the lives of civilians. Their mission was to advise Iraqi forces and provide assistance with snipers and drones, but they said the chief wanted instead to clear houses and start firefights.

He would order them to take what seemed to be needless risks, and to fire rockets at houses for no apparent reason, they said. He routinely parked an armored truck on a Tigris River bridge and emptied the truck’s heavy machine gun into neighborhoods on the other side with no discernible targets, according to one senior SEAL.

Chief Gallagher’s job was to plan and oversee missions for the platoon, but platoon members said he spent much of his time in a hidden perch with a sniper rifle, firing three or four times as often as other platoon snipers. They said he boasted about the number of people he had killed, including women.

Photos from the deployment that were stored on a hard drive seized by the Navy show the chief aiming sniper rifles and rocket launchers from rooftops in the city.

Two SEAL snipers told investigators that one day, from his sniper nest, Chief Gallagher shot a girl in a flower-print hijab who was walking with other girls on the riverbank. One of those snipers said he watched through his scope as she dropped, clutching her stomach, and the other girls dragged her away.

Another day, two other snipers said, the chief shot an unarmed man in a white robe with a wispy white beard. They said the man fell, a red blotch spreading on his back.

Before the 2017 deployment, Chief Gallagher ordered a hatchet and a hunting knife, both handmade by a SEAL veteran named Andrew Arrabito with whom he had served, text messages show. Hatchets have become an unofficial SEAL symbol, and some operators carry and use them on deployments. Chief Gallagher told Mr. Arrabito in a text message shortly after arriving in Iraq, “I’ll try and dig that knife or hatchet on someone’s skull!”

On the morning of May 4, 2017, Iraqi troops brought in an Islamic State fighter who had been wounded in the leg in battle, SEALs told investigators, and Chief Gallagher responded over the radio with words to the effect of “he’s mine.” The SEALs estimated that the captive was about 15 years old. A video clip shows the youth struggling to speak, but SEAL medics told investigators that his wounds had not appeared life-threatening.

A medic was treating the youth on the ground when Chief Gallagher walked up without a word and stabbed the wounded teenager several times in the neck and once in the chest with his hunting knife, killing him, two SEAL witnesses said. . .

A week later, records show, Chief Gallagher texted a picture of the dead captive to a fellow SEAL in California, saying, “Good story behind this, got him with my hunting knife.”

But his platoon did not see it as a good story, according to the investigation report: The SEALs called a platoon meeting and discussed how to keep the chief away from anyone he could harm.

When senior platoon members confronted Chief Gallagher about the captive’s death, they said, he told them, “Stop worrying about it, they do a lot worse to us.”

The SEALs told investigators they reported the killing to Lieutenant Portier that night and at other times during the deployment, but the lieutenant took no action. They said the lieutenant had trained under Chief Gallagher at BUDS and “idolized” him.

Members of the platoon hoped the chief would be reprimanded when they returned home from Iraq in August 2017, according to the report. It didn’t happen. The report said they spoke repeatedly to the lieutenant’s superior, Commander Breisch, and to Chief Alazzawi and another Team 7 master chief, but were told to “decompress” and “let it go.” . . .

Read the whole thing.

The US seems to be in a very ugly phase.

Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2019 at 12:40 pm

Republicans for the Rule of Law are running some good ads—here’s one

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Written by LeisureGuy

23 April 2019 at 8:27 am

Trump’s campaign never tried to defend our democracy

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“Un-American” really doesn’t touch it. Jennifer Rubin writes in her Washington Post column:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report details the multiple contacts between Trump campaign associates and Russian operatives and cutouts. Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort met with Russians to get dirt on Hillary Clinton. Trump Jr. exchanged messages with WikiLeaks. Manafort gave campaign polling data to Konstantin Kilimnik. President Trump called for Russia to hack Clinton’s emails and was in constant touch through most of the campaign with Michael Cohen in pursuit of a Trump Tower in Moscow. Carter Page spoke to Russians in Moscow, and George Papadopoulos, a campaign foreign policy adviser, met with London-based professor Joseph Mifsud, who told him the Russians had dirt on Clinton. And the list goes on.

We have gotten so hung up on whether Trump officials conspired with Russia (or maybe “just” WikiLeaks?) and whether soliciting help from a hostile foreign power violated any laws that we have skipped past a fundamental question: Why did none of these people report Russian contacts to the FBI, especially after the campaign was warned about Russian interference in our election?

“What makes the breadth and depth of the contacts so shocking is that Trump and his campaign knew. They knew that the Russians were engaged in a ‘sweeping and systemic’ interference campaign and instead of calling the FBI, or simply staying away, his campaign ran toward the crime,” says Max Bergmann, head of the Moscow Project. “They set up back channels to Russian cut-outs, they gave sensitive campaign data to operatives linked to Russian intelligence, and they sought to deflect and protect the Russians from criticism, pointing to a mythical 400-pound hacker.” He observes, “Just as after Watergate, the Congress passed significant reforms to address [President Richard M.] Nixon’s abuse of power, Congress will need to take action to ensure that no campaign can act in such a corrupt and treasonous manner.” He concludes, “That starts with holding Trump accountable.”

Former prosecutor Renato Mariotti agrees that while criminal conduct is hard to prove, “when intent or knowledge must be proven” there are other possible guardrails we can erect. He offers that with regard to foreign contacts with a presidential campaign, “A law requiring reporting, which would impose civil penalties, would be a good start.”

And remember, the campaign not only failed to report the Russia outreach, but also many (e.g. Page, Manafort) initiated contact and many more lied about it. Benjamin Wittes of Lawfare blog summarizes the evidence:

Trump was willing to do business with and seek favors from the Russian state even as it was attacking the country for whose presidency he was running—and he was willing to lie about doing so.

His campaign’s senior leadership was eager to benefit from that country’s efforts to dish dirt on his opponent and was willing to meet with people it knew to represent that country in order to receive such information.

Multiple campaign staff and advisers engaged in conduct in relation to that country that legitimately gave rise to counterintelligence scrutiny; and

Multiple campaign staff and advisers lied to investigators about their dealings with Russian officials or intermediaries to such officials in a fashion that gave rise to criminal charges or other actions.

While we might bemoan a political culture in which it is necessary to codify what amounts to self-evident decent conduct, it’s essential to thwart future campaigns (including Trump’s 2020 operation) that might consider assisting a foreign power’s intervention in our presidential election.

On the day the redacted Mueller report was released, former CIA deputy director John McLaughlin discussed this very point in an NPR interview:

MCLAUGHLIN: It’s pretty clearly stated in the report — that I’m still going through, of course — that the campaign knew Russia was trying to help them, and they welcomed that. So I think the reason was that they thought they would benefit from it. Apparently, that did not rise, for whatever legal reason, to the level of conspiracy crime in the Mueller report, but it’s pretty clear that they welcomed the support.

AILSA CHANG: Even though it didn’t give rise to conspiracy charges, does it trouble you as a former intelligence officer to see that kind of receptiveness to offers of assistance?

MCLAUGHLIN: Yes, I think the minimum thing that needs to come out of this is that Congress needs to make a law. If the law does not — it does not currently, I assume, prohibit such contacts. And it should, at very minimum, require those who receive such contacts in the future to report them to the FBI, which, in this case, did not happen.

CHANG: Let’s talk about the actual Russian strategy. What new things have you learned reading through at least portions of this report that strike you as important about how Russia interfered with our elections?

MCLAUGHLIN: You know, I think the main impression that comes through to me, Ailsa, is how open we were to this, how vulnerable we were. We were an open target. The fact that Russians could come here in 2014, do this research and get away with it unnoticed is astonishing. The other thing that comes through is the astonishing detail of what they did — everything from engaging social media to actually engaging certain Americans, unwitting, posing as Americans and getting away with it and getting them to do things for them, including staged rallies, a number of things like that.

So, you know, we should’ve had, after we discovered this, a 9/11 Commission-type report to figure out what went on here and what we need to do about it. The Mueller report is the closest thing we’re going to get to that. And I think that may be, ultimately, the most important part of this report — that it gives us the data now to think about how to avoid this in 2020. …

I think the Russians actually succeeded well beyond what they imagined they could here. And that’s the other big impression that comes out of this — is how fragile we were. We thought our democracy and our cohesiveness as a nation — I did — were stronger than they turned out to be in the face of this.

The lesson here is twofold.

First, in order to prevent normalizing this conduct — seeking out and eagerly accepting a hostile foreign government’s help — there must be consequences for Trump, be it through impeachment, censure, defeat at the ballot box in 2020 and/or prosecution for obstruction of justice after he leaves office. No one should stand for election after encouraging and benefiting from help from the United States’ enemies — and then lying and encouraging others to lie about it.

Second, character actually does matter. The Republican apologists who have continued making excuses for Trump’s amoral, corrupt and anti-democratic conduct because at least Trump is their amoral, corrupt and anti-democratic champion (or “Because tax cuts” or “Because Gorsuch”) have created an environment in which democracy itself is expendable. If it injures your opponents and helps elect your side, why not allow a foreign government to put its finger on the scale? This is tribalism verging on moral nihilism, not to mention evidence of the intellectual rot that has destroyed the conservative movement’s credibility. . .

Continue reading.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2019 at 10:57 am

Maxine Waters Needs to Subpoena Details of the Fed’s Dirtiest Bailout

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The very wealthy play a dirty game. Pam Martens reports in Wall Street on Parade:

Based on data that Wall Street On Parade has newly compiled, there is a strong suggestion that the Federal Reserve conspired with at least three of the largest Wall Street firms to hide their teetering condition from the public during the financial crisis, despite the fact that these were all New York Stock Exchange listed companies with a duty to reveal material, adverse financial information to the public in a timely fashion.

If Maxine Waters wants to leave her mark in history as Chairman of the House Financial Services Committee, she will subpoena records from the Federal Reserve on its biggest and dirtiest bailout program, known as the Primary Dealer Credit Facility (PDCF). She and her colleagues must then demand answers from Fed witnesses during the hearing Waters has scheduled for May 16 at 10:00 a.m. The upcoming hearing is titled “Oversight of Prudential Regulators: Ensuring the Safety, Soundness and Accountability of Megabanks and Other Depository Institutions.”

The Federal Reserve is the prudential regulator of the largest Wall Street bank holding companies – three of which are only alive today because the Fed engaged in an unprecedented $5.7 trillion cash for trash operation with the three during the financial crisis. Until the public knows the truth about why the Fed bailed out the insolvent Citigroup – despite its mandate not to lend to an insolvent institution – and why it bailed out Morgan Stanley and Merrill Lynch, which were broker-dealers, not major commercial banks, there can be no confidence in the U.S. financial system.

There can be no trust or confidence because we strongly suspect that the reason for these unprecedented bailouts comes down to two words – derivatives and counterparties. These banks were all so intertwined as counterparties to each other’s insane levels of derivatives that the Fed had no clue what to do other than to save them all. That thesis would also explain why the Fed funneled trillions of dollars in cumulative loans to foreign banks – which also just happened to be derivative counterparties to the collapsing Wall Street firms. These interlocking concentrations of risk between derivative counterparties are just as dangerous today as they were in 2008 because the Fed has not forced the banks to follow the law and put these derivatives on exchanges or central clearing facilities. The majority of the derivatives remain as dark, private over-the-counter contracts between counterparties. . .

Continue reading. There’s much more of significance. Technical but scary.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2019 at 10:28 am

There Was No Russia Conspiracy. But Trump Is More Dangerous Than Ever.

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Andrew Sullivan has a good column in New York:

Yes, it was worth waiting for. The merit of the Mueller report is that it gives us the whole narrative again, a chance to review the last three years with new perspective and fresh eyes, to get above the daily drizzle of short-attention-span disinformation and lies. First of all, it lays out a foreign government’s extraordinary attempt to corrupt our democratic system — in very close and damning detail. At the same time, the report comes very close to destroying the notion that Donald J. Trump was and is a Russian agent, that his campaign was actively conspiring with a foreign government to hack and defeat his opponent in 2016, that Putin had (and still has) something that could be used to blackmail Trump, and that his foreign policy since has been dictated by the Kremlin. The much more believable truth, in fact, is a large-scale version of that infamous “I love it!” Donald Jr. email. The Trump campaign had no problem with foreign interference if it could help them, were eager and hopeful it would occur, publicly encouraged it … but never initiated this or followed through. The scale of Moscow’s operation is as remarkable as the lack of evidence that the Trump campaign was actively in on it.

As for Putin’s deep enmeshment with Trump, I found the following anecdote from the report rather apposite: “As soon as news broke that Trump had been elected President, Russian government officials and prominent Russian businessmen began trying to make inroads into the new Administration. They appeared not to have preexisting contacts and struggled to connect with senior officials around the President-Elect.” More: “Putin spoke of the difficulty faced by the Russian government in getting in touch with the incoming Trump Administration. According to Aven, Putin indicated that he did not know with whom formally to speak and generally did not know the people around the President-Elect.” I’m afraid this makes speculation that Trump has been a Soviet and Russian asset for decades or those who still insist on a conspiracy … well, not exactly in touch with reality. It renders several thousand hours of Rachel Maddow moot, if not shameful. MSNBC’s Malcolm Nance recently reiterated that the president is “an agent of the enemy of the United States,” making this “the single most serious scandal in the history of the United States.” Nope. More disturbingly, a former CIA director, John Brennan, was predicting new indictments as recently as last month.

Michael Cohen never went to Prague. Trump did not coordinate a change in the GOP platform with Moscow. The pee tape was fake — even to those Russians who at one point touted it. The Trump Tower meeting was a bit of a bore, and nothing came of it. Conversations between Sessions and Kislyak were anodyne (Sessions comes out of all this looking pretty good, especially compared with Barr). Manafort did not conspire with Kilimnik. As for Carter Page: “The investigation did not establish that Page coordinated with the Russian government in its efforts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election.” Putin’s press secretary deemed Page someone too peripheral to be worth reaching out to. Yes, the Mueller team regarded Page’s trip to Moscow as not fully explained, and were not fully able to explore George Papadopoulos’s interactions. If you want to insist that it was Mueller’s job to prove a negative, I suppose you can. But an extremely competent, politically diverse team of star investigators with huge resources nonetheless concluded that there was insufficient evidence that “any member of the Trump campaign” conspired with the Russians. And indeed not a single U.S. citizen has been indicted.

Why the mutual love between Trump and Russia? The answer is overdetermined. Trump is an authoritarian; he reveres thugs and bullies and murderers and mobsters; he believes in an economy based on fossil fuels; he has a thing, believe it or not, for cult-worshipping kleptocracies. From Trump’s point of view, what’s not to like? Trump prefers Kim Jong-un to democratic leaders; and Bolsonaro and Duterte over May or Merkel. Putin has said nice things about him; and the CIA worried Trump might be compromised. Of course Trump prefers Putin to his own intelligence services. The idea that Trump could only be pro-Putin because Putin has some dirt on him is silly.

But to my mind, the conspiracy question is far less important than what Mueller discovered on obstruction of justice. Mueller quite rightly notes that obstruction of justice can easily occur even without an underlying crime. And his report, quite simply, is devastating. To be fair to the conspiracy believers, the lies and obstruction and abuse of power would, in most cases, suggest that the president is guilty of something criminal — and was obviously trying to cover it up. But this is not most cases and Trump is different. He needed no fear of being found guilty of treason to obstruct justice. He merely had to believe that the investigation would cloud his presidency and subject him to an authority beyond his control. This is something we now know his psyche cannot tolerate. In a contest between his own diseased ego and the rule of law, there has never been any contest.

So of course he lied when he didn’t have to. And of course he tried to kill an investigation that might have embarrassed him, even if it would not convict him of a crime. Mueller spells it all out in agonizing detail. He kept pressuring his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to curtail or end the inquiry; he asked James Comey to be personally loyal and to go easy on his first national security adviser; he then fired the FBI director because he wouldn’t preemptively exonerate the president and because of the “Russia thing.” Once the investigation began, and Trump realized he could be vulnerable on obstruction of justice, he stepped up the obstruction! Of course he did. He instructed White House counsel Don McGahn to get Mueller fired; he engaged in character assassination of potential witnesses; he “launched public attacks on the investigation and individuals involved in it who could possess evidence adverse to [him], while in private, [he] engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation.” Mueller cites ten separate cases of obstruction. In six of them, he establishes an obstructive act; a link with an official proceeding; and a corrupt intent. Which is to say there is no doubt that this is what Trump did six times. In another case, Mueller found substantial evidence of obstruction.

He dangled pardons for anyone who might incriminate him. His initial blandishments toward Michael Cohen shifted to calling him a “rat” as soon as he started cooperating with legal authorities. Donald McGahn’s recollection under oath of being told by Trump to get Mueller fired was met with Trump’s attempt to get McGahn to “do a correction” and lie to Mueller and the press. (Trump was amazed, like any criminal, that McGahn took notes.) He tried to identify someone “on the team” at the DOJ who could replace Sessions. He told his press secretary to lie to the public. Then there was a relentless, outrageous attempt to accuse the FBI of spying on Trump for partisan reasons, the CIA of trying to oust him, and to promote the Roy Cohn tactic of arguing that the only Russia conspiracy was actually that of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. He continuously described the investigation as a “hoax”, a witch hunt, entirely staffed by partisan Democrats, and is now angling to get his docile attorney general to initiate an investigation of public servants doing their job. All of this is outside the boundaries of any previous president, including Nixon. It’s appalling.

And then there is Trump’s persistent claim that a president is effectively above the rule of law. This is attorney general William Barr’s belief — that a president has total executive control over the administration of justice and can direct it away from himself for any reason with complete impunity. Yesterday Trump tweeted that “I had the right to end the whole Witch Hunt if I wanted to. I could have fired everyone, including Mueller, if I wanted to.” Worth noting this claim for the future, don’t you think? . . .

Continue reading. And do read it all. The column concludes:

What more do we need to know? To refuse to use the one weapon the Founders gave us to remove such a character from office is more than cowardice. It is complicity. It is a surrender to forces which aim to make the world safe for authoritarianism. It may not work. But if we acquiesce, pretend it isn’t happening, or look away, it cannot work. This disgusting man is not just a cancer in the presidency. His presidency is a cancer in our Constitution and way of life. How long do we let this metastasize even further? How long before we take a stand? Mueller has given us the road map. He has done his duty. Now it’s our turn to do ours: “to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

There is no qualification in that oath of citizenship.

Impeach Trump now.

Written by LeisureGuy

22 April 2019 at 9:50 am

How Michael Cohen Turned Against President Trump

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Ben ProtessWilliam K. Rashbaum, and Maggie Haberman report in the NY Times:

Michael D. Cohen was at a breaking point. He told friends he was suicidal. He insisted to lawyers he would never go to jail. Most of all, he feared that President Trump, his longtime boss, had forsaken him.

“Basically he needs a little loving and respect booster,” one of Mr. Cohen’s legal advisers at the time, Robert J. Costello, wrote in a text message to Rudolph W. Giuliani, the president’s lead lawyer. “He is not thinking clearly because he feels abandoned.”

That was last June. The “booster” from Mr. Trump never arrived. And by August, Mr. Cohen’s relationship with him had gone from fraught to hostile, casting a shadow on the Trump presidency and helping drive multiple criminal investigations into the president’s inner circle, including some that continued after the special counsel’s work ended.

In the biggest blow to the president personally, federal prosecutors in Manhattan effectively characterized Mr. Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator in a criminal case against Mr. Cohen involving hush money payments to a pornographic film actress. Mr. Cohen, and evidence gathered by prosecutors, implicated the president.

Now, as Mr. Cohen prepares to head to prison in two weeks, dozens of previously unreported emails, text messages and other confidential documents reviewed by The New York Times suggest that his falling out with Mr. Trump may have been avoidable.

Missed cues, clashing egos, veiled threats and unaddressed money worries all contributed to Mr. Cohen’s halting decision to turn on a man he had long idolized and even once vowed to take a bullet for, according to the documents and interviews with people close to the events. Some of the documents have been turned over to the prosecutors in Manhattan, and a small number were mentioned in the special counsel’s report released on Thursday, which dealt extensively with Mr. Cohen and referred to him more than 800 times.

Mr. Cohen held out hope for a different outcome until the very end, when he pleaded guilty and confessed to paying the illegal hush money to avert a potential sex scandal during the presidential campaign. Just hours earlier, wracked with indecision, he was still seeking guidance, looking, as one informal adviser put it, “for another way out.”

Mr. Cohen’s anxiety, on display in the documents, played a role in the undoing of his relationship with Mr. Trump, as did Mr. Costello’s lack of success in serving as a bridge to the White House. But also looming large were Mr. Giuliani’s and Mr. Trump’s failures to understand the threat that Mr. Cohen posed, and their inability — or unwillingness — to put his financial and emotional insecurities to rest.

After the Federal Bureau of Investigation raided Mr. Cohen’s home, office and hotel room last April, two of Mr. Cohen’s advisers explored whether the president might be open to a pardon, but Mr. Giuliani offered no assurances.

In June, Mr. Costello proposed that he and Mr. Giuliani, who have been friends for decades, meet urgently with Mr. Cohen to address his grievances and ease his anxieties. “Are we going to meet Thursday or Friday?” Mr. Costello texted Mr. Giuliani on a Monday. “I would like to get back to Michael with a response.”

But Mr. Giuliani did not respond. And when Mr. Costello followed up, “Can I get a response on the possible meeting?” Mr. Giuliani hesitated, replying, “Not yet because haven’t talked to President,” who was out of the country.

The next day, Mr. Cohen’s private admission to friends that he was open to cooperating with prosecutors suddenly appeared in the news. And Mr. Cohen relayed his growing displeasure with the Trump camp to Mr. Costello, sending the lawyer an article that suggested the president and his allies intended “to discredit Michael Cohen” and commenting in the email that “they are again on a bad path.” He also complained to Mr. Costello that the president had stopped covering his legal expenses.

Mr. Costello, who spoke with The Times after Mr. Cohen waived attorney-client privilege in February, said that without Mr. Cohen’s team and the president’s lawyers in sync, it was impossible to navigate the tumultuous relationship.

“What we had here was a failure to communicate,” said Mr. Costello, who was never formally retained by Mr. Cohen. “My mission was to get everyone tuned in to the same channel. My thought was a face-to-face meeting among all the lawyers together with Cohen would put everyone on the same channel. The meeting never happened, and the rest is history.”

Mr. Cohen declined to comment.

In an interview, Mr. Giuliani acknowledged that  . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

21 April 2019 at 8:47 am

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