Wednesday, March 21, 2018

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.

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