Guardian: Miss Universe May Be Key to Trump/Moscow Connection

 

 

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This televised appraisal of overly-tall brunettes will be in history books. 

 

It’s just too perfect

The 2013 pageant has become a focal point for the simultaneous investigations, led by special counsel Robert Mueller and congressional committees, into whether associates of Trump colluded with Russian officials to help them win the 2016 US presidential election.

Investigators are examining closely efforts apparently made by the Russian government to pass Trump’s team damaging information on Hillary Clinton, using Trump’s politically-connected Miss Universe business partners as couriers.

They are also looking into the $20m fee that Trump collected for putting on the pageant from those same business partners – along with extraordinary allegations about Trump’s private conduct behind closed doors at the Ritz-Carlton hotel during his 2013 stay in Moscow.

The Guardian has learned of additional, previously unreported, connections between Trump’s business partners on the pageant and Russia’s government. The ties are likely to attract further scrutiny by investigators who are already biting at the heels of Trump associates.

This administration, and the entire political career of the ridiculous Current Occupant, have been defined by a few things: racism, ignorance, corruption, bluster, bullying, cowardice, empty machismo, vainglorious self-assurance, petty feuding, and no-skinned narcissism. But, aside from horrible destructive policies, what might best define the Trump era is just how fucking tacky it is.

Everything about Trump has always been tacky and vulgar. The gilded bravado, the phony TV persona, the desperate striving for approval masked as condescending confidence. The constant boasts about money, often to people who had much, much more (though always to people who had much, much less).

It’s not just that Trump has always been defined by tackiness; it’s that he has helped define it, from the bloated decadence of the 80s to the phony-conflict fake-strongman nausea of the reality show 2000s, his gross imprint has been a weight on our culture. He’s not solely responsible, but he did help create, and clearly thrived in, the worship of wealth, the addiction to ginned-up drama, and the deference toward TV ringmasters that paved the way to his Presidency.

So it is fitting that his true political career may have been partially launched by the glittery tackiness of Miss Universe, where, according to The Guardian he really became more entangled with the middle rings of Putinism, who used flattery and access to impress the world’s easiest mark.

Most people in the story, including the ridiculous Rob Goldstone, are present at the now-key Don Jr. meeting with a bunch of Russian insiders. The Miss Universe pagent is the nexus at which the key players start to gain influence in the Trump inner circle, access that eventually led to them working to put Trump in the White House.

That last sentence, by the way, ought to be the lead line in the obituary for our idiot times.

Anyway, read the whole piece. It points to where Mueller will be looking, the whole cast of characters that through “friendship” and money sought to manipulate, use, and support the Trump family in an attempt to both undermine our democracy and make more money. That it worked shows volumes about the emptiness of America’s worst family, but it wouldn’t have worked without the rest of our dumb, and essentially tacky, culture playing along.

Miss Universe! That’s where this all really got started. It’s almost too perfect.

(By the way, there is one mitigating factor for Trump in this, in a part that is painted as evidence of more collusion.

It is not known whether Trump met any associates of Putin in lieu of the president himself, but he certainly claimed to have.

“I was with the top-level people, both oligarchs and generals, and top-of-the-government people,” he said in a radio interview in 2015. “I can’t go further than that, but I will tell you that I met the top people, and the relationship was extraordinary.”

When Trump brags about meeting the best people because he’s the best, but says he can’t tell you more, he’s lying. He’s a terrible con man, and this is his obvious tell. He’s so desperate for approval. That’s the hardest part about this: it’s impossible to use anything Trump says as evidence, because he is simply always, always lying.)

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With New WaPo Revelations, Team of Rats Clearly Acting Like Rats

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Last night, the Washington Post broke the story that the initial wildly misleading and dishonest statement regarding the fabled Don Jr. Russia meeting was dictated by the President himself. The statement, if you recall, basically said “we met one woman and it was all about adoption, and come on, so what?”

This turned out to be not exactly the case.

That’s interesting, because it again shows the President to be an inveterate, indeed instinctual liar, whose relationship with the truth is analogous to the one he has with women, which is: I can do whatever I want to it. It is breathtakingly arrogant, in its assumption that if he says something, we’ll all believe it (or rather, that it will become truth, because he’s Trump, so what he says goes). It’s also incredible in how much it complicates the life of his son.

I don’t know if there are any legal ramifications here; I sort of doubt it. But the real upshot of the story is that while the sources are anonymous, and this will surely be disputed, they all came from within the White House. This isn’t just leaking about how Reince is a jerk or anything like that. These are senior officials saying that the President is deliberately complicit in misleading the American people about his administration’s, and his family’s, ties to Russia.

That’s partly because I would imagine the ship is clearly sinking. Mueller is zooming in on the money, which is what this has always been about. But as much as anything, it is because it is clear that the President has zero loyalty, and is willing to discard anyone to benefit himself. Now, this has been clear literally forever, and anyone who ever believed otherwise is an idiot, but even idiots have to understand the game now.

Here’s the proof. This is my favorite part of the whole thing.

Hope Hicks, the White House director of strategic communications and one of the president’s most trusted and loyal aides, and Josh Raffel, a White House spokesman who works closely with Kushner and his wife, Ivanka Trump, huddled with Kushner’s lawyers, and they advocated for a more transparent approach, according to people with knowledge of the conversations.

In one scenario, these people said, Kushner’s team talked about sharing everything, including the contents of the emails, with a mainstream news organization.

Yup. It was Jared Kushner, who loathes the press, never speaks to it, and who consistently lied on his disclosure forms, who was pushing for transparency and openness. Amazing how he and Ivanka are the ones who come out good in this story. I wonder who the sources would be.

Let’s call him “Jared K.”

Like I said, I don’t think anything will come of this qua this. It might demonstrate that Trump knew more about the meeting than he let on, though it doesn’t have to. He might have heard of it that day, and decided that, in his wisdom, he’d be able to handle it. That’s very plausible!

But the story itself shows the extraordinary dysfunction of this White House, and more than that, the willingness of top inside sources to attack the President himself, and throw him under the bus before they get run down. It’s sort of exciting, but also another reminder of how much a disaster we’ve inflicted upon ourselves. It’s what happens when you have a government of the worst, by the worst, and for the worst.

With Trump’s Pardon Inquiry and Mueller Investigation, We’ve Entered The “Not Even Pretending” Portion of the Show

OK, so, put on your Rawls veil of ignorance for a minute. Nice, thank you. That’s one sweet-looking veil. No, I get it, it’s painted like a War Boy. Yeah, Fury Road, cool. Anyway, the point is, with it on, you don’t know anything about the Trump Presidency. Hell, you don’t know anything about Donald Trump. You don’t hate him or love him, and have zero pre-conceived notions about his moral probity, his sense of ethics. You have no knowledge of anything about the Russian collusion investigation.

Good? Now peep these headlines.

NYTimesTrump Aides, Seeking Leverage, Investigate Mueller’s Investigators

WaPo: Trump’s lawyers explore pardoning powers and ways to undercut Russia investigation

Now, again, not knowing anything, at the very least you’d think there was something hinky going on, right? People who aren’t worried about an investigation don’t look for ways to undermine it and certainly don’t think about pre-emptively pardoning themselves. Right?

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Trump’s Cybersecurity Fiasco: The Idiot Presidency in Two Tweets

So, if you are a Donald Trump supporter, you have to believe that Trump didn’t think it would happen, didn’t believe it would happen, but tweeted about the discussion anyway, just to give people a chance to comment on it. That he thought it was worth discussing whether “election hacking, & many negative things, will be guarded”, but then had already decided it couldn’t happen.

Now, it is pretty easy to make fun of this. Trump said something monumentally, catastrophically stupid, was promptly and bipartisanly mocked, and rescinded it while trying to save face. That is sadly par for the course for this Presidency. But let’s take a step back, because I think there is something bigger here.

One of a few things happened. One is that Trump suggested the idea, which even I don’t think happened (although, who knows?). Another is that Putin had the idea, and Trump promptly and swiftly turned it down, but then, why would he say they had a discussion about keeping the election safe? Maybe he meant to say he turned it down, but then realized he couldn’t say that he didn’t trust the Russians, because that undermines his undermining of our intelligence services, so just backpedalled to save face.

But there is another option here. And it is that Putin made the suggestion, and Trump accepted it, or at least said it was worth looking into. He would have done this through a combination of wanting to please Putin, to be on the same side as a tough white nationalist authoritarian, and from his own inability to admit to himself something might have been hinky about his monumental landslide election. That seems about right

So why did Putin do it? Because, and I think this is key, they wanted to see what they could get the President to say. Putin had to know Trump would be scorned and mocked for making this public. Even were the Kremlin not behind the hacking (they were), the perception that they were would make any offer absolutely laughable. I truly think Putin wanted to see how much he could get away with.

And he made the President look like a jackass, one both weak in the face of Russia and ready to back down when revealed to be a fool. He’s keeping the system roiled. It was a power play, pure and simple, and Russia easily triumphed.  It’s wrong to say he support Trump, per se. There are certain policy similarities, such as “NATO bad”, but more than that, Putin supports western disorder. And with Trump, he has pure disorder. It’s chaos he can easily manipulate.

Myself, I am not yet so tired from all the winning. Does that start soon?

Dear GOP: Mike Pence Hates Health Care and Loves Tax Cuts, Too

 

You guys already bond over horrible things! Wouldn’t this be nicer?

 

If I were a Republican (which sharp-eyed and politically astute readers of this blog will recognize I am not), my basic calculations in the wake of the Comey firing would be this:

  • We’ve supported Trump so that we could kick millions of people off health care and cut taxes for the rich.
  • And oh yeah, destroy the environment and the public good!
  • And he’s been super willing to do that, so it’s been ok to ignore the troublesome what-have-yous over his total lack of mental or moral capacities for the job.  He’ll sign anything to get a win so he can pretend to be Mr. Businessgenius President, and anyway, the Mexican and the Muslim stuff has been a great bonus. Aces all around!
  • But ok, this might be too much. You can’t fire the FBI director because he’s investigating your Russian crimes, man. This looks superbad, even though we love the strongman thing. Except when the black guy does it, then it is tyranny.
  • So, can we get through this? If we get rid of him, can we still get our stuff done?
  • Let’s say we impeach. It’s a bad year, really bad. But we look brave! And the media calls us heroic, putting the country ahead of our party. And then we have President Pence, and he hates taxes, health care, the public good, the environment, hippies, and liberals as much as we do. And he hates abortionists and gays way more than Trump!
  • So we can weather this impeachment, because god knows our democracy is literally under assault, and still get stuff done before the midterms. And maybe, just maybe, we’ll actually pick up seats for our courage.

There are flaws in this calculation. For one, what if Trump doesn’t care if he is impeached and refuses to leave? And the drama of displacing a President might overtake everything else, especially this President. And you might lose the base entirely. And you might not be done by 2018.

And I may be assuming facts not in evidence. I am assuming there is a baseline of genuine patriotism here. That despite their love for voter suppression, the GOP doesn’t actually want to see us go full banana. That Trump, whole embarrassing, is sort of exactly what they want. So I might be making a few too many assumptions, really.

But dammit, come on. President Pence will give you what you want! I would loathe a Pence Presidency. He’s a theocrat and a bigot and kind of a dummy and I’d fight every one of his policies, but he is so within the acceptable norms. I even sort of fear a post-impeachment Pence, because the sigh of relief will be so great that he will be sort of unshackled. Any opposition might be seen as gauche.

But things are so bad now, and we’re so close to an epochal constitutional disaster, that I’d embrace that. Even if it is for the wrong reasons–to make it easier to pursue their terrible agenda–one has to hope that the GOP discovers some patriotism, before it is too late.

The Comey Firing and the Coming Constitutional Crisis: Crossing the Border

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When talking about the firing of James Comey, that smirkingly moralistic Boy Scout who clearly decided to hand over the election to Donald Trump, there are a few things to stipulate.

  1. The stated reasons for his firing–that he engaged in a grotesque abuse of power, or at the very least, political malpractice in how he handled Clinton’s emails–were the correct ones. James Comey should no more be the Director of the FBI than I should.
  2. The stated reasons are clearly bullshit.
  3. The stated reasons are initially clever, but incredibly witless. They hang a lampshade on how cheap and petty the arrangement is.  They only make it more clear that this is, in one way or the other, about Russia.

You can tell the Administration is somehow stunned that no one believes their nonpartisan rectitude in this manner. They honestly expected to be praised for this. That’s how they operate: they still assume that if they say something, us normal non-billionaire totally un-President people should believe it.  It’s Trump’s way. One of the reasons for his increasingly erratic ways are that it isn’t working. The media isn’t just reporting what he says as reality.

Because really, this is too much. I bet there are 10 hours and 2000 tweets worth of material on top Republicans praising Comey for disclosing the Anthony Weiner email “investigation” (and I still can’t believe we have to talk about that as a world-changing event). Many of these are by the President! We’re expected to believe that they are now outraged about this? And if so, why five months in?

It is belaboring the obvious to say that this is about Russia. It’s either that Comey got “too close” to something they are trying to hide, or just that he refuses to close the investigation, to do the bidding of Donald Trump. Either way, these aren’t headlines we should be reading in America.

But again, the lie is the key here. In his public letter, Trump says “While I greatly appreciate you informing me, on three separate occasions, that I am not under investigation, I nevertheless concur with the Department of Justice that you are not able to effectively lead the Bureau.” Why even bring that up? It’s a way to change the story, to say, “see, there’s nothing here!” It’s the typical Trumpian con. You can just say anything, so long as it gets you to a yes.

That reckless cynicism and nearly supernatural disregard for the truth isn’t just a part of this crisis; it is key to it. They actual tawdry crimes and corruption that drive this Administration are, in and of themselves, enough to cause a genuine catastrophe, but it is what they are driven by that makes this moment so scary.

Our system of government is formed less around laws than it is around norms and expected behavior. There are rules, but when they are broken, there is shockingly little that can be done until the rule-breaker himself is forced to change his behavior. When the exemption on conflict of interest rules were carved out for the President due to the complexity of the job, it was assumed that the President would avoid potential conflicts, not that he would see it as carte blanche, an open door. That’s obviously not the case with Trump.

He has no instincts except to enrich himself and to further his brand. There isn’t a democratic bone in his body, or a thought for the greater good anywhere in the arid warped-mirror desert of his mind. That’s why he can fire the FBI Director for lack of loyalty: he thinks this is how it should be, and there is really no way to stop him.

That’s the problem, and that’s why we are in a crisis. It was assumed that the President wouldn’t be in hock to a foreign power and wouldn’t have every top staffer equally entangled. It was assumed they wouldn’t fire the FBI Director for looking into it. It was assumed that they would adhere to some basic democratic standards. Donald Trump, with his unique and terrible sicknesses and vanities, turned out all those assumptions.

That’s what has always worried me the most about this Administration. That the only real mechanisms to stopping his revolt against the Constitutional order were Republicans, enthralled with a right-wing strongman and unable to put basic patriotism over their lust for tax cuts. And even if they did (and now is the moment, boys), there is only so much that can be done.

Let’s say this is impeachable (High crimes and misdemeanors are not just jailable offenses, but crimes against the Presidency), or something is, and the GOP actually decides to do it.  Say they impeach, and the Senate convicts. Then what? What if he refuses to leave? Again, it is assumed that a convicted President will leave office, but what if he refuses to, claiming that Congress can’t usurp an election? What horrors await us there?

This is the problem. We assume a President will behave one way. This one won’t. I’ve been worried that at some point he will order the military to do something flagrantly illegal, or that he’ll govern as a strongman, ruining our democracy, and the military will have to decide to do something. (This is the Turkish model, as I argued) A coup against an elected leader is antithetical to democracy, but it also might be needed. It is a terrible, unfathomable situation. But it is fathomable, now.

We have no idea how this President will act or what he’ll do. We don’t know if we have the legal mechanisms to alter some of his worst behaviors. We don’t know if he’ll follow the Constitution, and impeachment is part of the Constitution. If he doesn’t follow that, then what?

The title of this post is about a border. I felt that on Jan 20th we crossed the border into another land, in a way. Our conceptions of ourselves have changed, because the norms that guided us don’t any longer. It’s a psychic shock, and I think the naked and sweaty corruption of yesterday’s assault on democratic norms is pushing us further across the line.

(B)eyond his ignorance, his vapid stupidity, his tireless and pathetic ego, is that he is the exact kind of dull and base grotesquerie we’d laugh at in other countries. There is nothing there but ego and avarice, brainless pronunciations in the service of cheap laughs from his braying sycophants, who react tumescently whenever he punches down. He’s the comic bouffant strongman, the kind you see in some wretched mountain land. And that’s the border we somehow crossed over.

The true psychic shock of this transition will, I think, be hard to measure, and hard to predict. But I do think, now that the elegies are over and Donald Trump is sworn in, placing his hand on the Lincoln Bible, that there will be a subtle breaking. Its effects won’t be felt all at once, of course. But our conception of who we are will change.

We’ll have a penny-ante Balkan-esque strongman in the White House instead of a President. We’ll have a witless dummy who thinks his smirks are poetry. We’ll have a man whose conception of leadership is finding and punishing enemies. Our country will be different. We’ll be different.

I wrote this in January. I was hoping to be wrong, and the resistance still makes me hopeful. I do think that this might really spur the GOP into action, partly because he made them look foolish (most of them praised Comey for the October letter with effusive partisan bonhomie). But we also might be slowly ground underfoot, one lie at a time, until we think the bottom of a shoe is the wideopen sky.

 

Clint Watts Sums Up What Trump’s Collusion With Russia Really Means

 

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Pictured: Me engaging in Godwin’s Law times, like, a million.

 

One of the most irritating parts about living in this madhouse political time is that the very worst people are suddenly influential. I literally couldn’t believe that, as of late, we were having a Sebastian Gorka moment, with his “ideas” being discussed on serious television programs, not to mention that he had actual influence in the White House. If you paid attention at all to CT, he was always this fringe idiot who was inexplicably taken seriously by a few people, but thankfully very few. He was more a persistent irritant. That he suddenly was everywhere was as boggled and distorted as the fact that some reality show idiot was being saluted by Marines.

But, on the other hand, people who you respect, who should have always been listened to more than bigoted fascists like Gorka, suddenly have their own moments, to help us explain how the reality TV dummy is President. For the last few months, that’s been Clint Watts. His testimony in the Senate Intelligence Committee yesterday clarified what we should be talking about when looking for collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian provocateurs.

Clint’s appeared on this blog a handful of times (which I’m sure is a thrill), first about foreign fighters, and then more Trump-y stuff, and over at the old joint we had a neat little roundelay about drones. So when the Senate called for his expertise, I knew we were in for something good. What I didn’t expect was him to draw the parallels between Trump and Russia so clearly.

“I think this answer is very simple and is what no one is really saying in this room. The reason active measures have worked in this US election is because the commander-in-chief has used Russian active measures at times against his opponents.”

That’s the money quote right there. What we see, clearly, is that there doesn’t even need to be active collusion to say that the Trump campaign worked with the Russians in order to influence the elections. They purposely amplified Russian propaganda, giving it even greater attention, which, as he pointed out, is the whole goddamn point of propaganda.

And, furthermore, he was saying that because the Russians wanted to demonstrate that they could influence the election, because you don’t want to be subtle in doing so, the Trump amplification was, in addition to helping his horrorshow campaign, aiding and abetting Russia’s position as a power capable of doing such things.

And that’s part of Russian’s entire 21st-century purpose. They are a weakened superpower practicing asymmetrical warfare in the zone of influence. They want to intimidate and bully their Eurasian neighbors, as they jostle with China and form tenuous, loose-handshake alliances with Turkey, and Iran (and to an extent India) for continental dominance. They are playing the Eurasian game on multiple overlapping fronts, and being able to show their power is more important to them than using it, given their diminished resources.

And Trump, through his vanity and lack of self control, helped them do so.

I don’t know if any of this is actually actionable. The way I drew it here, I don’t think it is impeachable, though maybe there is an obscure law about helping Russia become more powerful.

But this is also just the beginning. That Michael Flynn is asking for immunity is…odd, since no one has accused him of any crimes (sure, the Logan Act, but I haven’t heard anyone seriously say he might be prosecuted for that). He’s either acting under a superabundance of caution or knows he’s got some problems coming his way. Either way, as soon as the investigation moved away from Nunes’s doltish coverups to an actual Senate hearing, dude got spooked. He knows it is serious now.

And that’s the point. It clearly goes much further. That literally everyone in the administration is compromised, in some form or the other, by Russia, and that they are being the opposite of forthcoming is too much smoke. As Charlie Pierce said, to assume that it stops with mere amplification is “to believe to the point of fanaticism the power of coincidence.”

If you live long enough, you see Donald Trump become President. But maybe if you live just a bit longer, you’ll see him become a disgraced ex-President.