Friday, March 23, 2018

National Security Advisor shuffle - McMaster out, Bolton in

The reporting on this latest cabinet-level shift shows that Trump replaced one hard-liner with another. What it comes down to, your Scriber thinks, is that this is less a fundamental shift in national security policy and more likely Trump finally got fed up with getting advice he did not like. Trump continues to pack the cabinet with yes-men (and women).

The NY Times broke the story in McMaster to Resign as National Security Adviser, and Will Be Replaced by John Bolton.

WASHINGTON — Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the battle-tested Army officer tapped as President Trump’s national security adviser last year to stabilize a turbulent foreign policy operation, will resign and be replaced by John R. Bolton, a hard-line former United States ambassador to the United Nations, White House officials said Thursday.

General McMaster will retire from the military, the officials said. He has been discussing his departure with President Trump for several weeks, they said, but decided to speed up his departure, in part because questions about his status were casting a shadow over his conversations with foreign officials.

The officials also said that Mr. Trump wanted to fill out his national security team before his meeting with North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-un. He replaced Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson with the C.I.A. director, Mike Pompeo, last week.

Mr. Bolton, who will take office April 9, has met regularly with Mr. Trump to discuss foreign policy, and was on a list of candidates for national security adviser. …

General McMaster’s serious, somber style and preference for order made him an uncomfortable fit with a president whose style is looser, and who has little patience for the detail and nuance of complex national security issues. They had differed on policy, with General McMaster cautioning against ripping up the nuclear deal with Iran without a strategy for what would come next, and tangling with Mr. Trump over the strategy for American forces in Afghanistan.

Their tensions seeped into public view in February, when General McMaster said at a security conference in Munich that the evidence of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was beyond dispute. The statement drew a swift rebuke from the president, who vented his anger on Twitter.

“General McMaster forgot to say that the results of the 2016 election were not impacted or changed by the Russians and that the only Collusion was between Russia and Crooked H, the DNC and the Dems,” Mr. Trump wrote, using his campaign nickname for Hillary Clinton. “Remember the Dirty Dossier, Uranium, Speeches, Emails and the Podesta Company!”

General McMaster carried out a slow-rolling purge of hard-liners at the National Security Council who had been installed by Mr. Flynn and were allied ideologically with Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s former chief strategist, earning the ire of conservatives who complained that his moves represented the foreign policy establishment reasserting itself over a president who had promised a different approach.

General McMaster’s position at the White House had been seen as precarious for months, and he had become the target of a concerted campaign by hard-line activists outside the administration who accused him of undermining the president’s agenda and pushed for his ouster, even creating a social media effort branded with a #FireMcMaster hashtag.

The case against John Bolton, in one Trump tweet, was made at

People who’ve been intently watching the comings and goings of people from the White House might have expected the change. But it would have come as a shock to 2013-era Donald Trump.

Bolton stood out for his hawkishness even in the hawkish Bush administration. He was a leading cheerleader for the war in Iraq. And he spent his post-White House career arguing for more military intervention, specifically in Iran (over its nuclear weapons program) and to calm the civil war in Syria.

Trump, on the other hand, used to be a pretty staunch opponent of military adventurism in general and the war in Iraq in particular. (He claimed on the campaign trail that he had opposed the war before it started; that doesn’t appear to be the case, but he was certainly criticizing it as early as 2004.)

He tweeted, over and over again, that “we should never have gone into Iraq” (though, he often added, after going in America should have at least “taken the oil”). And on at least one occasion, in 2013, he declared that “all former Bush administration officials should have zero standing” on the foreign policy question of the time:

Donald J. Trump
All former Bush administration officials should have zero standing on Syria. Iraq was a waste of blood & treasure.
12:41 PM - Sep 5, 2013

Now, a former Bush administration official will be the president’s top policymaker on national security. He will have all sorts of standing on Syria, as well as Iran, North Korea, and any other place you care to name.

According to CNN’s Kaitlan Collins, Bolton “promised Trump ‘he wouldn’t start any wars’” on the job. But as Trump himself knows very well, just because you say — or tweet — something doesn’t necessarily mean you have to stand by it.

But this opens the question: Did Trump promise Bolton not to start any wars?

Democrats and Republicans differ in educational attainment

A recent report from the Pew Research Center supports the conclusion that “Americans are pursuing higher education at growing rates, but those without a college education are increasingly finding a home in the GOP.” The data are summarized in this report by the New York Times: As Americans become more educated, the GOP is moving in the opposite direction. (h/t Jana Eaton)

There are two basic facts to know.

Fact #1: More Americans are earning college degrees

According to Census Bureau data, more Americans have a college degree now than they did a year ago — the highest number ever measured by the Census.

More than a third of American adults have a four-year college degree or higher, the highest level ever measured by the Census Bureau. In 2010, fewer than 3 in 10 Americans age 25 and older had a bachelor’s degree or higher.

“The percentage rose to 33.4 percent in 2016, a significant milestone since the Current Population Survey began collecting educational attainment in 1940,” said Kurt Bauman, chief of the bureau’s education and social stratification branch. “In 1940, only 4.6 percent had reached that level of education.”

Fact #2: More than ever, those with college degrees are Democrats, those without are Republicans

"In 1994, 39% of those with a four-year college degree (no postgraduate experience) identified with or leaned toward the Democratic Party and 54% associated with the Republican Party. In 2017, those figures were exactly reversed.”

More than half of registered voters who identify as Democrat have a bachelor’s degree, while fewer than 4 in 10 registered voters who identify as Republican have a bachelor’s degree.

Those with graduate degrees are even more likely to find their political home in the Democratic Party, according to the survey:

“In 1994, those with at least some postgraduate experience were evenly split between the Democratic and Republican parties. Today, the Democratic Party enjoys a roughly two-to-one advantage in leaned partisan identification. While some of this shift took place a decade ago, postgraduate voters’ affiliation with and leaning to the Democratic Party have grown substantially just over the past few years, from 55% in 2015 to 63% in 2017.”

The Times report draws another conclusion. “[All] This may not bode well for the GOP long-term as the American public becomes increasingly educated.”

… this could be bad news for the GOP long-term as the demographics of the country and the electorate will increasingly look less like their party. It could be increasingly difficult to win sizable numbers of support — and thus elections — from more educated Americans in the future. In recent elections in Virginia, Alabama and elsewhere, the GOP won the white, working-class vote — but, ultimately, the party lost.

Thursday, March 22, 2018

Stormy clouds on Trump's horizon

Consider some political stormy clouds that now loom on the near horizon. Suppose that Trump manages to avoid an interview with Special Counsel Robert Mueller (perhaps by firing him - a very real possibility). But then Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) gets her day in court and compels Trump to publicly testify. Below are snippets from two articles extending my line of thought.

New York Times op-ed columnist Frank Bruni muses about The Calm Before the Stormy. How come Trump is tweeting whacks at Mueller but is silent on lawsuits over his alleged extramarital affair with an adult film star?

Apart from his own kin, there’s no category of person exempt from Donald Trump’s attacks. He has gone after past presidents of the United States, current leaders of our closest allies, stewards of his own party, senior officials in his own administration, the Latina mayor of a city freshly devastated by a hurricane, the Muslim mayor of a city just struck by terrorists and the families of American soldiers killed in combat.

But not Stormy Daniels. Where are the tantrums and tweets for her? It’s a glaring and fascinating omission.

Bruni considered and discounted a couple of possibilities.

Maybe the explanation is straightforward: He doesn’t want to give her any extra motivation to speak out and describe whatever happened between them in a negative light. But when has Trump ever played the tempered pacifist before?

Lawyers are no doubt urging him not to amplify her importance — and spotlight a payment to her that may have violated campaign-finance laws — by personally battling her. But he has repeatedly ignored their counsel not to rail against Robert Mueller and others who are looking into his campaign’s ties to Russia, and that’s a matter of presumably greater threat to his presidency.

Meanwhile he stays mum about a porn star who is peddling steamy secrets about him — and who is doing what he hates most, which is using him as a stepping stone to saturation fame. The interview that she gave to “60 Minutes” is scheduled to be broadcast this coming weekend without a peep from the president (though with frantic efforts by his lawyers to quash it). His silence speaks volumes.

… What if the enigma of what Daniels is about to say really rattles him, and his turning away from it is the telltale sign of that? The assumption has long been that his Twitter account gives us his psychic vital signs and that we can chart his distress by his diatribes. But diatribes are his norm. Deviations from them may hold more meaning.

Trump maybe rattled by how Daniels described him in a previous interview.

"Textbook generic” was how she described the sex that she said she had with him … he comes across as somewhat pitiable. And she has reportedly given new details and documents to “60 Minutes.” [The CBS program airs this coming Sunday.]

Then there’s Melania. By all evidence the distance between the Trumps has widened since the surfacing of Daniels’s allegations that he had sex with her shortly after Melania gave birth to Barron in 2006 and that he told Daniels to pay his wife no heed. Every mention of Daniels must mortify Melania, and the president can’t afford that. There’s more than enough strain in their marriage and turbulence in the White House already.

… it’s worse still if a series of recent elections — in Virginia, in Alabama, in Pennsylvania — suggest that you repel women in the suburbs and they’re acting on their disgust. They won’t be soothed by an illicit romance that could be titled “Filthy Shades of Orange.”

So the take-away here is that Trump’s silence may indicate that he is more disturbed at a deep personal level by the lawsuits coming his way from Stormy Daniels (and other women like Karen McDougal) than by Mueller’s investigation. Perhaps he is aware of his vulnerability when it comes to civil suits. In exploring this latter possibility Washington Post opinion writer Richard Cohen thinks Stormy Daniels — not Robert Mueller — might spell Trump’s doom.

The saga of the adult-film star and the juvenile president has become a rollicking affair. Each step of the way, Daniels has out-Trumped Trump. She is as shameless as he, a publicity hound who adheres to the secular American religion that, to be famous, even for nothing much, is to be rich. By and large, that’s not true, but then there is Kim Kardashian to prove otherwise.

Daniels alleges she and Trump had an affair beginning in 2006. The president’s lawyer and his press secretary allege that the allegations are not true. The lawyer, Michael Cohen, does admit to paying Daniels $130,000, apparently to keep her silent about an affair that, according to Cohen, did not happen. To do this, Cohen set up a private Delaware company and concocted false names for everyone involved — the allegation-maker and the allegation-denier. Only the name Delaware is legit.

The payment of $130,000 over an affair that did not happen did not deter Daniels. For one thing, no one could possibly believe Cohen paid a woman not to talk about a sexual interlude that did not happen. (What’s the price for one that did happen?) I, for one, am understandably mortified that any lawyer named Cohen could be that stupid. Second, the various deniers, both at the Trump Organization and at the White House, keep confirming that Trump and Daniels were fighting it out in court. For instance, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders recently said that Trump’s lawyers had won an arbitration case “in the president’s favor.” Bingo!

Sometimes … it is hard to take sides. … Daniels, after all, is a porn actress. She directs and writes screenplays as well, but she is best known for having sex in the movies — turning what used to be called a romp in the hay into a payday. But, with the inadvertent cooperation of Trump and his band of merry incompetents, she now comes across as the victim. Cohen says he can demand as much as $20 million from her for breaching a nondisclosure agreement. In other words, they’re out to crush her.

But they are on shaky legal ground, as Jennifer Taub reported in

[This scandal has become] about a woman up against a bully and it makes other things explicable: This is what Trump did to Andrew McCabe, fired from the FBI hours before he qualified for his pension. Crushed.

In pre-Trump days, it might have been possible to destroy Daniels by calling her a slut or whatever. But Trump himself is a slut. He is a liar and a moral harlot who revels in irresponsibility and bad-boy behavior. He has no moral edge over his accuser. We have all been instructed by Trump himself to disregard schoolhouse virtues of honesty, dignity and rectitude. Trump himself travels light.

It was the little thing that killed Harry on safari [in The Snows of Kilimanjaro]. It was the unattended cut, the disabled truck, the tardy rescue plane. As he died, he dreamed of Kilimanjaro, “unbelievably white in the sun” but the hyena that had been stalking him made “a strange, human, almost crying sound,” and he knew what the hyena already knew. It is what Trump is learning.

P. S.
Hyenas are scavengers and will often drive off lions from their kills. I invite you to complete the analogy.

Republicans in Congress Fail to Act "against all enemies, foreign and domestic"

The oath of office administered to each member of Congress contains those words.

The Constitution (Article VI, clause 3) requires that Senators and Representatives take an oath of office to support the Constitution. The specific language of the oath has changed several times since it was first administered in 1789. It is set by statute (5 U.S.C. 3331), enacted by Congress. It now reads:

I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I will take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion, and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

U.S. law requires that Members must be sworn before they can take their seats (2 U.S.C. 21, 25). The rules of the House of Representatives prohibit a Member from voting or introducing a bill until he/she has taken the oath.

The oath is administered to Members-elect on the opening day of each new Congress. In the House, the Speaker administers the oath to the Members present in the chamber all at once, as a group. Members absent on opening day due to illness or other reasons, take the oath later from the Speaker, or another House officer. If they cannot make it to the House, a local justice in their area is usually designated by the Speaker of the House to administer the oath.

In the Senate, the oath is administered by the President of the Senate (the Vice-President of the U.S.), or a Senator is designated to give the oath in his stead. Senators come forward to take the oath in alphabetical order in groups of four on the opening day of a new Congress. They are escorted to the front of the chamber by the sitting Senator from their state.

In my opinion, Trump’s pre-election apologists were dead wrong and that list includes sitting members of Congress. If the Trump campaign colluded with a foreign power, and if Trump knew of it or participated in it, then inaction by members of Congress would violate their oath of office.

Here’s A reminder of just how wrong Trump apologists were from Jennifer Rubin at the Washington Post.

President Trump is reportedly “more confident” in his job — what results provide him with such confidence is unknown — and hence we see an undiluted Trump. The promise that one day he would pivot, or become presidential, was ludicrous. In fact, he has gotten worse with time. [Scriber: It’s all coming out in Trump’s Terrible Twos.]

We now see unrestrained Trump — the one who hates criticism; who must continually pummel his opponents; who never bothers to learn about subjects on which he expounds; who thinks everyone in government owes their personal loyalty to him; who means what he says for only a fleeting instant; who confounds allies with policy zigzags; who bullies and blusters; who lies continually; and who, despite his bravado, cannot take on those to whom he apparently owes his presidency (e.g., the National Rifle Association, the Kremlin).

What were Trump’s apologists thinking?

We vividly remember when Republican sycophants assured us that all would be fine because Trump assembled a dazzling Cabinet and the greatest national security team ever. … On the contrary, Trump surrounded himself with people like him (rich, ethically-clueless, allergic to facts, etc.), and he has eschewed people who either tell him no or tell him he is wrong. … The promise that he would be saved by advisers with more intellect, temperament and experience also ignored Trump’s unwillingness to hire critics who voiced their qualms during the campaign. …

But, but … Congress will constrain him! That’s what Trump apologists (including congressional Republicans) assured us. Really. As a matter of policy, they have either been inert or have encouraged his worst tendencies (e.g., demagoguery on the “dreamers”). On appointments, they have rubber-stamped a cast of characters that is distinguished mostly by ethical slip-ups and antagonism toward the missions of the departments and agencies they lead. As for checking Trump’s personal failures, they have turned a blind eye toward his conflicts, his foreign earnings and his refusal to release his tax returns. They have no stomach for confronting Trump. (Even on tariffs, they’ve talked a good game, but no legislation has been forthcoming.)

More specifically, these same apologists in Congress are not likely to mount any serious defense of Robert Mueller and the Russian investigation. Greg Sargent (Washington Post/Plum Line) reports on A GOP senator’s remarkable admission about Trump and Mueller, that Senator being Bob Corker.

President Trump just uncorked a new round of Twitter attacks this morning on special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and on the English language, quoting one of his staunchest legal allies as follows: “I think President Trump was right when he said there never should have been a Special Council appointed because there was no probable cause for believing that there was any crime, collusion or otherwise, or obstruction of justice!”

Yet Republicans appear increasingly dug into their position. Their stance is that of course Mueller should be allowed to finish his investigation, but they will not act legislatively to protect the probe, because this is not at all necessary, as Trump would never dream of taking action against it, since he would face severe consequences that Republicans will not enunciate in advance.

But a Republican lawmaker has just given away the real game behind this carefully crafted straddle. Sen. Bob Corker (Tenn.) was pressed by the Washington Examiner on why Republicans are hesitant to protect Mueller, and this is what happened:

Republicans in Congress are hesitant to antagonize President Trump ahead of ahead of difficult midterm elections, wary of sparking a backlash from a committed grassroots base more loyal to the White House.

Amid sky-high Democratic enthusiasm and a developing “blue wave,” Republicans can’t afford a war with Trump that depresses GOP turnout. Republicans might be worried about Trump’s attacks on special counsel Robert Mueller, but they are reluctant to push back, much less support legislation to curtail the president’s ability to fire Mueller and sideline the federal probe …

“The president is, as you know — you’ve seen his numbers among the Republican base — it’s very strong. It’s more than strong, it’s tribal in nature,” said Sen. Bob Corker, R-Tenn., who decided to retire when his second term concludes at year’s end, after periodically sparring with Trump.*

“People who tell me, who are out on trail, say, look, people don’t ask about issues anymore. They don’t care about issues. They want to know if you’re with Trump or not,” Corker added.

This is a candid glimpse from a leading GOP lawmaker into what’s really driving the Republican straddle on Mueller. …

… Trump’s attacks probably rally GOP base voters, large percentages of whom see the Mueller probe as a witch hunt, making it harder for GOP lawmakers to protect that investigation.

Corker just conceded that this is the driving motive. He suggested that GOP voters equate being “with Trump” in a “tribal” sense with not acting to protect Mueller. Republicans are mindful of this as they craft their position toward Mueller, which includes rhetorical support for the probe but no new substantive limits on Trump’s power to do what they say they don’t want him to do.

At bottom, the GOP position is basically to beg Trump not to bring the issue to a head, without taking any action to prevent it — and without signaling what Republicans will do in response if he does. …

Corker has basically conceded that Republicans believe it would alienate the GOP base to signal that removing Mueller would meet with specific consequences. But if this is the case, and Trump does try to shut down or hamstring the probe, that would only further rally Republican voters behind him. Why would it be any easier to inflict consequences at that point? If, as Corker says, what matters most in this calculus is what GOP voters think of lawmakers’ tribal loyalty to Trump, it would only get harder. And really, why would Trump take any other lesson from what he’s seeing right now?

All that is more evidence for why we cannot count on Republicans in Congress to do anything to protect Robert Mueller. And, I add, Corker’s analysis is evidence for why we cannot count on Republicans to defend our nation.

Here, from Mark Sumner writing at Daily Kos, is a specific example. Part three of Cambridge Analytica report makes a liar out of everyone on the Trump campaign. Select snippets follow.

UK Channel 4 has released the third part of their undercover investigation of Cambridge Analytica, and what it shows absolutely destroys the narrative that has been sold by the Trump campaign, by CA, and by congressional Republicans.

Despite desperate attempts from both sides to downplay CA’s role in the Trump campaign, Cambridge CEO Alexander Nix left no doubt about the scope of the company’s work when he thought the cameras weren’t watching.

“We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting, we ran all the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy.”

The company bragged about this ability to create stories that spread through the internet while leaving no fingerprints.

“We just put information into the bloodstream to the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape. And so this stuff infiltrates the online community and expands but with no branding – so it’s unattributable, untrackable.”

And Nix leaves absolutely no doubt that, as far as he is concerned, it was Cambridge Analytica’s weaponized disinformation tools that put Trump over the top—while deceiving Americans by the millions by feeding them false stories from disguised sources.

In addition to bragging about their ability to make people believe any lie, and their ability to spread those lies in ways that make them look like actual news, Cambridge Analytica’s leaders were also anxious to share how they violated US campaign funding laws by coordinating between the Trump campaign and supposedly independent PACs.

… Mr Turnbull described how the company created the “Defeat Crooked Hilary” brand of attack ads, that were funded by the Make America Number 1 super-PAC and watched more than 30 million times during the campaign.

Nix was also happy to confirm reports that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee really had no interest in finding any sort of problem.

Mr Nix also belittled representatives on the House Intelligence Committee to whom he gave evidence in 2017. He claims Republican members asked just three questions. “After five minutes – done.”

The report reveals that Cambridge Analytica was behind everything on the Trump campaign, from the research to the ad campaigns.

It shows that Cambridge Analytica was actively planting false stories and using false fronts to disguise the source of information.

It confirms what Republican Representative Mike Conaway already let slip—that Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee actively avoided finding any issues.

With respect to those Republicans, Jennifer Rubin closed with this advice, in essence, Vote ’em out!

In sum, Trump could neither hire nor heed the advice of “very best people” on his staff or Cabinet. The pusillanimous Congress was never going to challenge him. But here’s the thing: By removing the GOP majority in Congress, the country can mitigate — not eliminate — Trump’s increasingly unhinged conduct. To get the institutional check that Republicans such as House Speaker Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) promised, it seems, they need to be stripped of that majority.

Wednesday, March 21, 2018

McSally posts fake FB comments about herself

Hey SkyIslandScriber readers - take note! Larry Bodine at Blog for Arizona has a great post this morning reporting McSally Caught Posting Fake Comments Saying How Great She Is. His post and the follow-on comments from the usual BfA commenters are hilarious. You need to go read the short post for a good laugh. Apparently she’s close enough to Donald Trump to pick up some of his fake news techniques. One more reason to vote against McSally this is.

Trump's Terrible Twos

Pediatricians and other behavioral scientists have long characterized a stage of development as Toddlers and the Terrible Twos.

Although parents don’t usually expect the terrible twos to begin until the child is at least two, it can often happen well before then. In fact, some children with start before their first birthday with behaviors ranging from frequent mood changes to outright temper tantrums.

So it is that Donald Trump continues to remind us that he often behaves as if he were a selfish child passing through the Terrible Twos. In fact, Trump’s behavioral problems started well before his first year in office and persist into his second year. Let’s consider just part of what’s happening during Trump’s Terrible Twos.

Trump’s war against the FBI

Just a few days ago, Trump got AG Jeff Sessions to fire FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe. Getting to the essence of Trump’s firing of McCabe, Jeffrey Toobin (New Yorker) sums it up in two tweets in Donald Trump and the Craven Firing of Andrew McCabe.

If you wanted to tell the story of an entire Presidency in a single tweet, you could try the one that President Trump posted after Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired Andrew McCabe, the deputy director of the F.B.I., on Friday night.

Donald J. Trump
Andrew McCabe FIRED, a great day for the hard working men and women of the FBI - A great day for Democracy. Sanctimonious James Comey was his boss and made McCabe look like a choirboy. He knew all about the lies and corruption going on at the highest levels of the FBI!
9:08 PM - Mar 16, 2018

Every sentence is a lie. Every sentence violates norms established by Presidents of both parties. Every sentence displays the pettiness and the vindictiveness of a man unsuited to the job he holds.

Andrew McCabe, who turns fifty on Sunday, will be fine as he moves to the next stop in his career. The demeaning and unfair act that ended his law-enforcement career will be seen, properly, as a badge of honor. Still, this is far from a great day for the men and women of the F.B.I., who now know that they serve at the sufferance of unethical men who think that telling the truth amounts to “sanctimony.” The lies in this story are about the F.B.I., not from the F.B.I. The firing of McCabe, and Trump’s reaction to it, has moved even such ordinarily restrained figures as John O. Brennan, the former director of Central Intelligence, to remarkable heights of outrage. Brennan tweeted on Saturday:

John O. Brennan
When the full extent of your venality, moral turpitude, and political corruption becomes known, you will take your rightful place as a disgraced demagogue in the dustbin of history. You may scapegoat Andy McCabe, but you will not destroy America…America will triumph over you.
5:00 AM - Mar 17, 2018

The haunting question, still very much unresolved, is whether Brennan’s confidence in America’s ultimate triumph is justified.

If he hasn’t already, McCabe is likely to be a cooperating witness in the Russia probe being conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller and that brings us to the thread that runs through most of what Trump does and says.

Will Trump try to fire Robert Mueller?

Depending on who and what you read, the answer is “no” (White House lawyers) or “yes” (journalists split on “probably yes” or “possible yes”).

John Cassidy at the New Yorker, for example, is a “probably yes”. He thinks that Mueller is at risk because as Mueller gets closer to Trump’s business dealings with foreign countries, Trump is acting more and more erratic. He lists the reasons for worry in Why Congress Must Act Now to Protect Robert Mueller. KIN summary, “The issue isn’t whether President Trump is thinking about firing Robert Mueller: we can take that as a given. The issue is whether he thinks he would get away with it.”

The United States may be on the brink of a constitutional crisis. After three days of Presidential attacks on the investigation being carried out by the special counsel Robert Mueller, it seems clear—despite a public assurance from one of Donald Trump’s lawyers that the President isn’t currently considering firing Mueller—that the Trump-Russia story has entered a more volatile and dangerous phase. As the tension mounts, it’s essential that Congress step in to protect Mueller before it’s too late.

It has been no secret that Trump would dearly love to fire the special counsel, and that he has little or no regard for the legal and constitutional consequences of such an action. It has been reported that, last summer, behind the scenes, he ordered Don McGahn, the White House counsel, to get rid of Mueller, and only backed down after McGahn threatened to resign.

Before this weekend, however, Trump had never explicitly attacked Mueller and his team in public, or called for the Justice Department to shut down the investigation. …

But now another barrage of tweets attacking Mueller suggests that Trump may be considering terminating the Russia probe by firing Mueller and thinking he can get away with it. That prospect has even (some) Republicans worried. as the NY Times reports in Trump Assails Mueller, Drawing Rebukes From Republicans.

… Republican senator Lindsey Graham said on Sunday, that such a move “would be the beginning of the end of his Presidency.” As the special counsel’s investigation approaches its first anniversary and closes in on what may well be Trump’s biggest vulnerability—his business dealings with foreign entities—Trump’s calculus appears to be changing.

But Trump’s attacks triggered pushback from Republicans as the NY Times reports in Trump Assails Mueller, Drawing Rebukes From Republicans.

Graham went further as reported by the Daily Caller:

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham said Tuesday that President Donald Trump should be impeached if he fires Robert Mueller as special counsel.

“I can’t think of a more upsetting moment in the rule of law to have an investigator looking at a president’s campaign as to whether or not they colluded with a foreign government, what kind of crimes may have been committed. I’ve seen no evidence of collusion, but to stop investigation without cause, I think, would be a Constitutional crisis,” Graham told conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt.

Hewitt had asked Graham, a Republican, whether Trump firing Mueller would be an impeachable offense.

“Probably so, if he did it without cause, yeah,” Graham told the host.

And, to add to the concern, Cassidy observes that legislation to protect Mueller and his investigation is hung up in the Republican controlled Congress.

If Trump does not fire Mueller, …

Will Mueller interview Trump?

Trump’s legal team has a couple of thousand reasons to keep Trump from an interview, those reasons being Trump’s willingness to lie about anything and everything. To that end, Trump’s lawyers have turned over documents to Mueller with hopes of limiting interview scope, the rationale being that Mueller would accept their say-so about Trump’s innocence.

Steve Benen (MSNBC/MaddowBlog) sees some comedy in all that, writing that Trump lawyers get creative, try to ‘minimize his exposure’ to Mueller.

[Trump’s lawyers want] to provide the special counsel with “a narrative of the White House view” of key events that are currently under investigation, in order to “eliminate the need to ask the president” about the incidents.

You’ve got to be kidding me.

The decision, the Post added, is part of “an effort by Trump’s lawyers to minimize his exposure to the special counsel.” … This dovetails nicely with a New York Times report from early February, which noted the president’s defense team is “concerned” that Trump, “who has a history of making false statements and contradicting himself, could be charged with lying to investigators.”

Not to put too fine a point on this, but the moral of the story isn’t subtle. The president’s attorneys are aware of the problem the public already recognizes: Donald Trump, just as a matter of course, says things that aren’t true. The president lies, habitually, about matters large and small, sometimes to get himself out of a jam, and sometimes for no apparent reason at all.

Having him sit down with Robert Mueller is therefore profoundly dangerous, leaving Trump’s lawyers in an impossible position. If they refuse to cooperate, the president will look guilty. If they agree to an interview, the president is likely to lie to federal investigators, which is a crime.

And so Trump’s defense team appears to searching for a solution that might accommodate the president’s strained relationship with the truth. At this point, given what we know of their offers, the search continues.

Will Trump be forced into court because of extramarital affairs?

OK - alleged extramarital affairs, the most prominent being those with adult movie star Stephanie Clifford (aka Stormy Daniels) and former Playboy model Karen McDougal. Each has now filed a lawsuit that threatens to have Trump take the stand in open court. These might not be even a trivial notice on page 5 were it not for the fact that Trump and his lawyers are fighting so hard.

New Yorker writer Amy Davidson Sorkin explains What Went Wrong in the Stormy Daniels Case.
Last week, the story might have amounted to just a few sordid tabloid flashes, were it not a likely harbinger of major troubles ahead.

There wouldn’t even be a lawsuit were it not for the fact that, last month, a company that Cohen set up to make the payment to Clifford obtained from an arbitrator a temporary restraining order directing Clifford to remain silent, or risk a million-dollar penalty. This effort was futile: weeks earlier, InTouch had pulled from its archives an unpublished 2011 interview in which Clifford had described her encounter with Trump, in terms that leave little to the imagination. (“He was like, ‘Come here.’ And I was like, ‘Ugh, here we go.’ ”) More than that, the President’s lawyers seem not to have considered what Clifford’s next move would be: challenging the arbitration. They had, in effect, engineered something of a win-win situation for her. Practically speaking, in order for Trump to hold Clifford to the agreement, he has to fight her in court—a process he began Friday—and come out and admit to the deal publicly.

Daniels’ suit claims that Trump never signed a nondisclosure agreement that Trump is now trying to enforce.

… why didn’t the President sign the agreement? Did he never intend to, or could he just not be bothered? With Trump, it can be hard to tell bad will from bad lawyering. He regularly demands that his subordinates operate in accordance with what he thinks the law ought to be, rather than what it is. This has been the case in his berating of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, for failing to make problems go away, and, last week, in reports that Trump’s lawyers were considering trying to block the broadcast, now scheduled for March 25th, of an interview that Anderson Cooper conducted with Clifford for “60 Minutes.” There is no legal rationale for such prior restraint. But it wouldn’t be the first time that the President has indicated that he believes he has, or should have, the power to silence the press.

Then again, Trump’s circle might be trying to enforce Clifford’s confidentiality agreement not for its own sake but in order to send a message to other people, who may have signed similar agreements, about the cost of breaking them. (“In my experience, bullies have one speed and one speed only,” [Daniels attorney] Avenatti told The New Yorker. “They don’t just bully one person. They bully many people.”) A hearing in the case is set for July 12th, in Los Angeles; Clifford has set up an online crowdfunding page to defray her legal costs, which may be considerable. She won’t be the only one with bills like that. In Washington these days, many people find themselves in sudden need of a good lawyer—above all, the President.

In the second case, Former Playboy Model Karen McDougal Sues to Break Silence on Trump.

A former Playboy model who claimed she had an affair with Donald J. Trump sued on Tuesday to be released from a 2016 legal agreement requiring her silence, becoming the second woman this month to challenge Trump allies’ efforts during the presidential campaign to bury stories about extramarital relationships.

Both women, who argue that their contracts are invalid, are trying to get around clauses requiring them to resolve disputes in secretive arbitration proceedings rather than in open court. Mr. Trump has denied the affairs, which both women have described as consensual.

Ms. Clifford and Ms. McDougal tell strikingly similar stories about their experiences with Mr. Trump, which included alleged trysts at the same Lake Tahoe golf tournament in 2006, dates at the same Beverly Hills hotel and promises of apartments as gifts. Their stories first surfaced in the The Wall Street Journal four days before the election, but got little traction in the swirl of news that followed Mr. Trump’s victory. …

Ms. McDougal, in a lawsuit filed in Los Angeles Superior Court, claims that [Trump lawyer] Mr. Cohen was secretly involved in her talks with A.M.I., and that the media company and her lawyer at the time misled her about the deal. She also asserts that after she spoke with The New Yorker last month after it obtained notes she kept on Mr. Trump, A.M.I. warned that “any further disclosures would breach Karen’s contract” and “cause considerable monetary damages.”

This strikes me as typical Trump bullying. The Trump team is doing the same thing to Clifford.

Ms. McDougal filed her suit just days before Ms. Clifford was to appear on “60 Minutes” to discuss her relationship with Mr. Trump and the efforts Mr. Cohen undertook on his client’s behalf to pay for her silence.

Mr. Trump joined a legal effort last week seeking some $20 million in penalties tied to Ms. Clifford’s agreement.

Jennifer Taub at explains Why Trump Likely Won’t Collect the $20 Million He Claims Stormy Daniels Owes Him. Taub says:

… will the court or an arbitrator make Stormy pay? This seems unlikely. While an agreement can set out in advance what a breaching party might owe, such “liquidated damages” provisions are not always enforced. Generally, they are honored only if they are viewed as reasonable in light of the anticipated or actual losses caused by the breach. Something that looks like a penalty will be rejected.

She reports opinions from five law professors that basically concur with her assessment. If they are correct, Trump’s legal maneuvering will not succeed.

AZBlueMeanie at Blog for Arizona publishes more commentary on Trump’s attempt to silence Daniels in Playboy president seeks to profit from porn star – and more!

… Trump has denied (1) that he had an affair with Daniels and (2) that he has an NDA with her, so what is the basis for him to sue to enforce this NDA and to profit off this porn star to the tune of $20 million? This is quite literally insane.

The Blue Meanie also opines on the Trump attempt to block the airing on CBS of the Anderson Cooper interview with Daniels.

Any litigation aimed at stopping 60 Minutes from airing Anderson Cooper’s interview of Stormy Daniels this Sunday likely would fail, given protections for press freedom against prior restraints — most famously laid out in the Pentagon Papers case in which the Supreme Court ruled that the New York Times and the Washington Post could publish, over the objections of the Nixon administration, classified documents that detailed the history of US decision-making on Vietnam.

Pop some popcorn and tune in Sunday night.

See? Trump’s Twos are truly Terrible.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Hey Ducey: 19% of what is already owed, isn't "new" money

When I went to bed last night, I intended to write a post in the morning about Governor Ducey’s unveiling of his school safety plan yesterday. Now, as I sit down to write, I learn of yet another school shooting, this one in Maryland. As of March 8th according to CNN, there had already been 14 school shootings in 2018 which averaged out to 1.5 per week. Delving into the numbers, only 2 of those are what I would call “mass shootings”. The rest of them, although they all occurred on school grounds, (grades K through university level), were either a result of gang violence, fights and domestic violence or accidental discharge where someone besides the shooter was shot.

I present this information not to minimize the other shootings but because yesterday someone shared with me that they heard some gun violence statistics that turned out to be misleading. Let’s face it, numbers can be sliced and diced to prove just about any narrative. In the end though, I say what does it matter and why focus on that? America’s school children feel unsafe in their schools…what are we doing about it?

Yesterday, Governor Ducey unveiled his school safety plan. My fellow blogger on Blog for AZ, “AZBlueMeanie”, again scooped me to the story and as usual, his writing is much better than mine. Basically, he writes, Ducey’s plan is to ’“harden” schools with more people armed with guns on campus – exactly the opposite of what student activists are calling for – and to throw a little bit more money at school counselors.’

What money will be allocated to all this is unclear. Ducey’s plan commits “$1.8 million over three years to modernize the reporting system law enforcement uses for criminal records and to populate the state’s background check system.” This, because law enforcement in the state has called the background system “ineffective” and only 63.6% complete according to a 2015 review by the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission. The hope is that a shift from the current paper-based model to computerized, will enable law enforcement to enter new records into the database within 24 hours versus the current standard of 40 days. This, says Ducey’s staff, could become a “model for other states to follow”.

The plan also includes $8 million from AHCCCS for increased mental health resources in schools. This funding will be available to schools for students whose families fall below 200% of the federal poverty level or, are covered by AHCCS or KidsCare. Schools that don’t qualify for this funding can use “new district additional assistance funding.”

I love this last line. You see…there is no “new” district additional funding (or really, much of any new funding). There is only district additional funding (or capital funding as it used to be called), that has been sucked out of our district schools. Over $2 billion since 2009 to be exact, leaving these schools with only 15% to maintain and repair their facilities and buy new busses, technology and other high cost items. The “new” district additional funding Governor Ducey refers to, is just his proposal to return some of that funding, $371 million (split between districts and charters) over five years. Please let this soak in. Governor Ducey is proposing that part of the solution to make our schools more safe, is to take some “new” proposed funding, (only 19% of what our schools need just to get back to where we were in 2009), and use this to help provide more mental health help for our students versus fix our crumbling facilities and unsafe busses. Although gun violence in our schools is deservedly getting the most attention right now, it isn’t the only critical safety issue our schools are facing.

I do want though, to give credit to Governor Ducey in two areas. First of all, he says he does not want to arm teachers. Hallelujah!! In my opinion, arming teachers is the stupidest idea I’ve heard in a very long time. I spoke recently with a teacher who was a Marine security policeman. He said if teachers are armed in the school where his children are enrolled, he will pull them out of that school. If I had kids, I would too. Arming teachers will not make our schools more safe.

Secondly, Ducey evidently also wants our state to be able to seize guns from those who are a danger to themselves and others. His plan includes “an emergency STOP (Severe Threat Order of Protection) order, in which law enforcement can petition the court to seize firearms”, an ex parte STOP order, allowing family members, guardians, school workers and others to do the same, and an extension providision for up to six months.

Governor Ducey’s plan does not however, address the “gun show loophole” allowing person-to-person sales of firearms to evade background checks. His failure to do so could negate the value of STOP orders, and it calls into question the ability to pass his legislation in a bi-partisan manner with House Dems calling his current plan a “missed opportunity”.

For their part, the Arizona School Boards Association recently released a school safety resolution to the state’s 1,200 school board members recommending each governing board considering passing such to call on our Legislature to take action to make our schools safer. The resolution calls upon “local, county and state public safety agencies to prioritize collaborative threat assessment and crisis planning with school districts and for Congress and state legislatures to pass legislation that: more effectively regulates access to firearms, provides funds above those needed for basic building maintenance and improvement for capital improvements shown to increase safety and security, funds public health research on issues related to gun violence, and advances mental health supports.” Association leadership was also in discussions with Governor Ducey prior to his releasing his plan.

I don’t know which of these ideas will eventually see the light of day and which ones will make a real difference. What I do know is that if we cannot begin to talk to each other about this problem (and it is a problem no matter how much of an ostrich anyone wants to be), and look for common ground, our children will continue to die violent deaths in our schools. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t want our schools to become fortresses, just safe places where our children can learn. Maybe that is the starting point.