Trump’s ‘no collusion’ claims unravelling

Donald Trump and his supporters have adamantly claimed there was ‘no collision’ between his campaign and Russia leading up to the 2016 US election, but that is unravelling. One of Trump’s got to media spokespeople has shifted the goal posts substantially, now saying there was no collusion just by Trump himself.

Even if Trump was not directly involved with Russian collusion, if his campaign manager, fixit lawyer, son, daughter or son-in-law were colluding during his campaign it would not be credible to claim he knew nothing about it.

For some reason CNN was used to walk back the ‘no collusion’ claim

CNN – Rudy Giuliani just totally contradicted 18 months of ‘no collusion’ talk from Donald Trump

If you know anything about the White House’s reaction to the ongoing special counsel probe into Russia interference in the 2016 election, it’s these two words: “No collusion.”

Trump, as well as his top aides — everyone from senior counselor Kellyanne Conway to White House press secretary Sarah Sanders — has insisted since the start of Robert Mueller’s special counsel investigation in spring 2017 that no one in the Trump campaign colluded with the Russians to help his candidacy and hurt that of Hillary Clinton. In a single answer to a question about the Mueller probe last January, for example, Trump unleashed an epic seven(!) “no collusion” assertions. Here’s just a piece of that (bolding mine):
“Well, again John, there has been no collusion between the Trump campaign and Russians or Trump and Russians. No collusion. When I watch you interviewing all the people leaving their committees, I mean, the Democrats are all running for office, trying to say this that — but bottom line, they all say there’s no collusion. And there is no collusion.”
Trump’s Twitter feed, too, is choked with “no collusion” talk. According to the indispensable Trump Twitter Archive, Trump has tweeted the words “no collusion” 60 separate times, with the first coming on May 12, 2017 and the most recent happening on January 6.

All of which brings me to Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s interview with CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Wednesday night. And these lines from Giuliani, in particular:

“I never said there was no collusion between the campaign, or people in the campaign. I said the President of the United States. There is not a single bit of evidence the President of the United States committed the only crime you can commit here, conspiring with the Russians to hack the DNC.

But it looks like straight out bullshitting about what he ‘never said’. On Fox News in July 2018:

Fox News’ Guy Benson: “Regardless of whether collusion would be a crime, is it still the position of you and your client that there was no collusion with the Russians whatsoever on behalf of the Trump campaign?”

Giuliani: “Correct.”

This repositioning of ‘no collusion’ claims looks to be forced by what is now known.

When Giuliani started claiming that there was “no collusion” between the campaign and the Russians, we didn’t know that campaign chairman Paul Manafort had not only met with Konstantin Kilimnik, a Russia with ties to the country’s intelligence service, but had shared polling data on the 2016 race. Or that Kilimnik is a focus of Mueller’s probe.

And it appears that Mueller has already written a draft report on his inquiry into collusion. It looks like Giuliani is trying to distance Trump himself from what may be revealed.

If, say, Mueller finds collusion but not by Trump, the President and Giuliani will now say: We told you! No collusion between Trump and the Russians. This is all one big witch hunt! Mueller didn’t find anything.

If Trump could maintain some level of credibility with his base, it would make it that much harder for GOP lawmakers — especially in the Senate — to turn on him in impeachment proceedings.

None of that, however, should excuse what Giuliani was up to on Wednesday night. He was purposely trying to rewrite the history of his defense of the President of the United States in an ongoing investigation into how Russia sought to influence a national election on US soil.

And it is unlikely Giuliani is doing this without Trump being in on the ‘adjusted claim’.

One of those causing problems for Trump’s claims of co collusion is his ex-lawyer Michael Cohen, now convicted of lying to Congress.

Buzzfeed:  President Trump Directed His Attorney Michael Cohen To Lie To Congress About The Moscow Tower Project

President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.

Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. “Make it happen,” the sources said Trump told Cohen.

And even as Trump told the public he had no business deals with Russia, the sources said Trump and his children Ivanka and Donald Trump Jr. received regular, detailed updates about the real estate development from Cohen, whom they put in charge of the project.

Cohen pleaded guilty in November to lying about the deal in testimony and in a two-page statement to the Senate and House intelligence committees. Special counsel Robert Mueller noted that Cohen’s false claim that the project ended in January 2016 was an attempt to “minimize links between the Moscow Project and Individual 1” — widely understood to be Trump — “in hopes of limiting the ongoing Russia investigations.”

Now the two sources have told BuzzFeed News that Cohen also told the special counsel that after the election, the president personally instructed him to lie — by claiming that negotiations ended months earlier than they actually did — in order to obscure Trump’s involvement.

Cohen admitting being involved with collusion with Russia blows the ‘no campaign collusion’ denials out of the water.

The standard Trump response is to attack and try to discredit anyone threatening him. And that’s what is happening here.

If you believe Giuliani…

On the FBI investigation of Trump’s Russian connections

There continues to be defenders of Donald Trump and deniers of any Russian collusion.

Washington Examiner – Devin Nunes: Counterintelligence bombshell shows FBI leaders ‘had no real evidence against the Trump team’

On Friday, the New York Times reported the FBI opened a counterintelligence investigation into Trump the day after he fired FBI Director James Comey in the spring of 2017. The counterintelligence inquiry was later wrapped into the FBI’s broader Russia collusion investigation, which special counsel Robert Mueller was appointed to lead after Comey’s ouster.

Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, said the New York Times’ bombshell report on a counterintelligence investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia only strengthens the argument that the FBI has no evidence of collusion against the Trump team.

“This is yet more evidence that FBI leaders actually had no real evidence against the Trump team,” Nunes said in a statement obtained by the Washington Examiner‘s Byron York. “Instead, they were simply trying to undermine a president they didn’t like and avenge Comey’s firing. By relying on the Steele dossier — a fraudulent document funded by Democrats and based on Russia sources — FBI leaders were either complicit or too oblivious to notice they were being used in a disinformation operation by the Democratic Party and Russian operatives.”

In a follow-up, the Washington Post reported the president took steps to try to protect his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including pressuring a translator to withhold information on discussions between the two leaders from administration officials.

And there continues to be claims that there was obvious cause for concern.

…imagine you are a FBI Agent working Russian counterintelligence in 2016 and you witness the following:

– you witnessed Russian hackers targeting a wide swath of Americans including the DNC, DCCC, former Secretary of State & a Presidential candidates staff

– someone previously targeted by Russian Intelligence joins the Trump campaign and then appears on a stage in Moscow supporting Russia policy and speaking negatively of US policy

– A Presidential candidate hires a new campaign manager whose not been in the business in the states for years, but has been seen pushing a Russian agenda in Ukraine and has Russian intel contacts

– an Australian official contacts you and says the Russians have stolen emails of a Presidential candidate & may want to give them to the candidate’s competitor

– a Russian lawyer & others tied to Russian government visit a Presidential candidate’s son in the candidate’s building in NYC

– Candidate Trump stands on a stage and calls out Russia and asks about emails from his competitor, says they will be rewarded if they have them and release them

– website that’s released sensitive & classified documents from US for years, helped deliver a US insider to The Kremlin, begins publishing document & emails during Dem convention, content you know was stolen by Russia. Site administrator once hosted a TV show on Russia State TV

– during this time, you watch a campaign associate tweet with a Russian account that’s pointing people to stolen documents from the opposing campaign. The campaign associate predicts something will happen to the opposing campaign manager- his emails are later released

– as Election Day approaches, Presidential candidate makes allegation, without evidence, voter Fraud & Election Rigging, Russia propaganda echoes this, social media accounts associated Kremlin do the same, at same time, you watch Russian Hackers hit state election infrastructure

After election, current President issues sanctions against Russia, but the incoming National Security advisor makes calls to Russian officials from 3rd country, when approached for clarification post inauguration, the advisor lies about contents of phone call w/Russian officials

During summer fall leading into the election, you receive raw intelligence from highly reliable source whose proven invaluable on other investigations. source provides intelligence on Russia’s efforts to support a presidential candidate, the info is consistent with other info

Before inauguration your bosses, your leaders from all intelligence agencies brief president elect on classified info showing Russia influenced the election on behalf of President elect. President elect rejects intelligence from all your superiors and suggests Russia innocent

From the summer of 2015 all the way through the election and after inauguration, you watch as the candidate, president elect and now president offers overt effusive support for Vladimir Putin who you know has been helping the President get elected.

Shortly after inauguration, your new commander-in-chief spouts false information about Polish aggression toward Belarus. This is not supported by the Intelligence community you are in, and the only source for this viewpoint is Russian propaganda.

After firing of National Security Advisor that lies to agencies investigators, the President corners your boss 1-1 asks him to go easy on National Security Advisor who lies about his conversation with Russians.

During this period, the President inexplicably and repeatedly asks your boss if he’s under investigation with regards to Russia, despite your boss and other intel heads going out of their way to brief the President about Kremlin efforts to potentially compromise & manipulate him.

While Congressional committees investigate Russian interference, the President fires your boss for his handling of an email investigation into the President’s opponent, an investigation that helped elevate the President rather than hurt him.

You later find out a draft memo from President to your boss regarding his firing cited the Russia investigation.

The President then goes on national television and in an interview says he fired your boss because of the Russia investigation.

A week after firing your boss, the President invites Russian leaders into the Oval Office, Russian photographers capture the moment, but US media is not allowed to observe. President then brags to Russian leaders about firing your boss.

Sometime during the spring, if you’re not already aware, you read a news story alleging the President’s son-in-law may have sought a way to communicate with Russia via a back channel not monitored by you and your colleagues.

During summer, you watch the President attend NATO summit and shove Montenegro PM, in an Interview claim Montenegro is aggressive, might start a war. This mirrors Russian propaganda & you know Russia backed covert operation destabilize Montenegrin election.

For next year, either you, your colleagues and your organization, FBI, are discredited by President. He mixes true and false information in public disclosures which you are not allowed to respond to. If you do respond, your accused of leaking and could be fired or even jailed.

Documents & information from confidential sources you’ve pledged to protect, are selectively leaked into public through those who are supposed to provide government oversight. These inappropriate disclosures make your job as an investigator nearly impossible & hurts your sources.

At some point during the summer or before, you learn that the President’s son was receiving & responding to direct messages from website that was releasing emails stolen from the President’s opponent by Russia.

1st two years President’s term, you watch him take a negative, adversarial stance toward NATO and particularly Germany. This strains your relationship with your most valuable intel partners, your Counterterrorism agent colleagues depend on them & they help fight war on terror.

Over next 2 years, President aggressively seeks meetings with Putin who helped elect him. Need for meetings is not clear. One President meets in private with Putin for 2 hours without witnesses but translator. To this day, you, your bosses don’t really know what was discussed.

President emerges from private meeting with Putin and on world stage in Helsinki accepts and validates Russian denials about election interference & rejects years of your teams intel work. This badly damages your reputation and partner trust with your organization.

Separately, your President publicly discusses a Russian proposed partnership on cyber security, this insane concept is mind boggling to you as an investigator as you’ve just spent years tracking these same Russians who just attacked your country.

Even further, your President publicly mentions a possible exchange where Russian investigators might interview and interrogate you and other Americans about their attack on you and America. A crazy, frightening and bizarre threat to you as a civil servant.

Throughout your investigation into Russian interference, you watch as your President’s attacks on the Special Counsel, Justice Department & FBI are amplified and spread in America by the very Russian troll social media accounts and state sponsored propaganda you are investigating.

Throughout the Special Counsel indictments, hearings and trials, you watch the President and his legal team publicly interject, discredit witnesses and discuss pardons, all subverting the rule of law and justice which you’ve dedicated your life to protect and defend.

You either know or learn a parallel investigation shows Russians representing a bogus Russian gun rights movement penetrated the political party hosting members who’ve tried to discredit you – you recognize this as a TEXTBOOK espionage/influence op you learned at FBI academy.

After two years, the Attorney General over you, who appropriately recused himself from Russia investigation, is fired for seemingly no clear reason after taking public lashings from the President.

Your AG is replaced by an acting AG whose unqualified for position, has limited experience justify such high level appointment, you’ve watched him on TV discrediting your agency and your team’s investigation despite seeing none of evidence or knowing anything Russian influence.

The same month, the President’s personal lawyer pleads guilty in federal court and says he continued negotiations throughout almost the entire Presidential campaign for a Tower in Moscow. This is in opposition to President’s public denials.

You read public reporting that the best apartment in the Moscow Tower project pursued by the President’s business was offered to Russia’s President Putin, the same Putin your President always sides with over you and your agency, the Putin who helped your President win.

You either knew or learned through a redaction error that the President’s campaign manager was alleged to have lied about providing polling data to a Russian whom he owed money, via a former Russian GRU contact.

That was Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort.

Clint Watts concludes:

Wrote thread through day from memory without web searches, I’m sure I missed a lot, & this is all on the public, can’t imagine what it must feel like to serve FBI during this investigation,we clearly don’t know everything Mueller team knows, I imagine there is much more to learn.

If Mueller has been doing his job and is as thorough as has been claimed I imagine he has learned quite a lot.

As Watts shows, there is already a lot out in public, but no doubt there will be more to come when Mueller’s report comes out. It has been reported a draft of his report has already been done.

Whatever the outcome of Mueller’s investigation, it is important for the US and for the world that the results are publicly known.

 

 

 

 

Trump threatens Turkey with economic devastation

Donald Trump recently announced that the United States would be withdrawing their troops from Syria. This raised questions about the fate of the Kurds who had been supported and used by the US, but are opposed by Turkey.

Trump has answered in his typical bluster and threat style, via Twitter:

“Will attack again from existing nearby base if it reforms. Will devastate Turkey economically if they hit Kurds. Create 20 mile safe zone…Likewise, do not want the Kurds to provoke Turkey.”

What if the Kurds attack Turkish forces? Should Turkey not respond for fear of economic devastation?

What if Russia…? What if Iran…?

What would economic devastation mean for Turkey and the Middle East and the Mediterranean?

Reuters: Trump threatens Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks Syrian Kurd militia

U.S. President Donald Trump threatened Turkey with economic devastation if it attacks a U.S.-allied Kurdish militia in Syria, drawing a sharp rebuke from Ankara on Monday and reviving fears of another downturn in ties between the NATO allies.

Relations between the United States and Turkey have long been strained by Washington’s support for the Kurdish YPG, which Turkey views as an extension of the outlawed Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) that is waging a decades-long insurgency in Turkey.

Speaking in Riyadh, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said he did not think the threat would change plans to withdraw troops from Syria. Asked what Trump meant by economic devastation, he said: “You’ll have to ask the president.”

“We have applied economic sanctions in many places, I assume he is speaking about those kinds of things, Pompeo said, adding he had not spoken with Ankara since Trump’s comment.

So it sounds like Trump’s Secretary of State doesn’t know what the hell Trump is playing at. This isn’t an unusual situation for Trump’s administration. Defense Secretary Jim Mattis resigned over Trump’s Syrian withdrawal announcement.

Trump has already impacted significantly on the Turkish economy.

Ankara is well aware of the cost of strained ties with the United States. A diplomatic crisis last year, when Trump imposed sanctions on two of President Tayyip Erdogan’s ministers and raised tariffs on Turkish metal exports, helped push the Turkish lira to a record low in August.

Things are getting crazier, with Trump letting loose on Twitter making seemingly impulsive, destablilising (for his Administration and for the world) and potentially devastating pronouncements.


Reuters Explainer: Where do the Kurds fit into Syria’s war?

The future of Kurdish-led swathes of northern and eastern Syria has been thrown into doubt by President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw U.S. troops who have helped secure the territory.

The region, roughly a quarter of Syria, is the largest chunk of the country still outside the control of President Bashar al-Assad, who is backed by Russia and Iran.

Syrian Kurdish leaders fear Turkey, which sees them as a threat, will use a U.S. pullout as an opportunity to mount an assault into northern Syria.

This has driven them to talk to Moscow and Damascus in the hope of agreeing a deal to protect the region and safeguarding their political gains.

The Russians will be quietly looking for any advantage they can take over the Us withdrawal from Syria.

HOW DID THE KURDS EMERGE AS A FORCE?

The main Syrian Kurdish faction, the Democratic Union Party (PYD), began to establish a foothold in the north early in the war as government forces withdrew to put down the anti-Assad uprising elsewhere. An affiliated militia, the People’s Protection Units (YPG), secured the region.

Early in the conflict, their control was concentrated in three predominantly Kurdish regions home to roughly 2 million Kurds. Kurdish-led governing bodies were set up.

The area of YPG influence expanded as the fighters joined forces with the U.S.-led coalition against Islamic State (IS), becoming the spearhead of a multi-ethnic militia alliance, the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).

SDF influence widened to Manbij and Raqqa as IS was defeated in both. It has also reached deep into Deir al-Zor, where the SDF is still fighting IS. The SDF, which also includes Arab and other groups, says it has more than 70,000 fighters.

Kurdish leaders say their aim is regional autonomy within a decentralized Syria, not independence.

The Syrian Government would probably not react well to an bid for full independence.

WHY DOES TURKEY VIEW THEM AS A THREAT?

The PYD is heavily influenced by the ideas of Kurdish leader Abdullah Ocalan, a founding member of the Kurdistan Workers’ Party (PKK), which has waged a 34-year insurgency in Turkey for Kurdish political and cultural rights. Ocalan has been in jail since 1999 in Turkey. He is convicted of treason.

The PKK is designated a terrorist organization by Turkey, the United States and the European Union. Turkey says the PKK is indistinguishable from the PYD and YPG.

So the US has been supporting an organisation they have designated terrorists?

Turkey has a Kurdish minority equal to 15 to 20 percent of its population, mostly living in eastern and southeastern areas bordering Syria. Wary of separatistism, Turkey views the PYD’s Syrian foothold as a security threat.

Turkey has already mounted two cross-border offensives in northern Syria as part of its efforts to counter the YPG.

Now Trump has threatened Turkey not to do that.

FOR KURDS, IS ASSAD A FRIEND OR FOE?

Syria’s Baathist state systematically oppressed the Kurds before the war. Yet the YPG and Damascus have broadly stayed out of each other’s way during the conflict, despite occasional clashes. They also have been seen to cooperate against shared foes, notably in and around Aleppo.

The YPG has allowed the Syrian state to keep a foothold in some of its areas. The YPG commander told Reuters in 2017 it would have no problem with the Assad government if Kurdish rights are guaranteed in Syria.

But Damascus has long opposed Kurdish autonomy demands and talks between the two sides last year went nowhere.

It’s complicated. And difficult to see a lasting solution.

WHAT WOULD AN ASSAD-KURD DEAL MEAN FOR THE WAR?

The territory held by Damascus and the Kurdish-led authorities accounts for most of Syria. A political settlement – if one could be reached, perhaps with Russian help – could go a long way to stitching the map back together.

Anti-Assad insurgents, though defeated across much of Syria by the government and its allies, still have a foothold in the northwest stretching from Idlib through Afrin to Jarablus. Turkey has troops on the ground in this area.

The rebels include Turkey-backed Free Syrian Army groups and jihadists.

Assad also wants Turkey out as he vows to recover “every inch” of Syria.

It’s very complicated.

I don’t think Trump can deal with complexities, apart from making them more complex with his ad hoc impulsiveness and threats.

Some good may accidentally emerge from his approach, but there is a far greater likelihood he will make things worse.

Russia will be seeing how they can benefit from all of this. I can’t see Trump deliberately aiding Russia here, but that is a highly likely inadvertent outcome.

 

More on Trump and the Russia probe

It has been revealed that just after Donald trump fired FBI chief James Comey the the FBI investigated whether Trump was secretly working for Russia. Trump has slammed the report (in the New York Times) but didn’t answer a question on whether he had worked for Russia in a friendly Fox interview.

New York Times:  F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.

Agents and senior F.B.I. officials had grown suspicious of Mr. Trump’s ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign but held off on opening an investigation into him, the people said, in part because they were uncertain how to proceed with an inquiry of such sensitivity and magnitude. But the president’s activities before and after Mr. Comey’s firing in May 2017, particularly two instances in which Mr. Trump tied the Comey dismissal to the Russia investigation, helped prompt the counterintelligence aspect of the inquiry, the people said.

If the president had fired Mr. Comey to stop the Russia investigation, the action would have been a national security issue because it naturally would have hurt the bureau’s effort to learn how Moscow interfered in the 2016 election and whether any Americans were involved, according to James A. Baker, who served as F.B.I. general counsel until late 2017.

Trump does what he often does when something awkward comes up – attacked the source and ex-FBI leaders.

“Funny thing about James Comey. Everybody wanted him fired, Republican and Democrat alike. After the rigged & botched Crooked Hillary investigation, where she was interviewed on July 4th Weekend, not recorded or sworn in, and where she said she didn’t know anything (a lie), my firing of James Comey was a great day for America. He was a Crooked Cop.”

White House response (Sarah Sanders):

“This is absurd. James Comey was fired because he’s a disgraced partisan hack, and his Deputy Andrew McCabe, who was in charge at the time, is a known liar fired by the FBI.

“Unlike President Obama, who let Russia and other foreign adversaries push American around, President Trump has actually been tough on Russia.”

Fox News: Republican uncovered secret FBI debate over Trump motivation for Comey firing during House questioning

A House Republican’s line of questioning uncovered revelations that in May 2017 senior FBI leadership debated whether President Trump was directed by the Russian government to fire FBI Director James Comey, Fox News has learned.

Contacted by Fox, U.S. Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, confirmed his questions to former FBI General Counsel James A. Baker uncovered the claims, some of which were first reported Friday by the New York Times.

Ratcliffe called the Baker transcript leak “selective,” adding that the full transcript of the Oct. 18 interview, which is undergoing a classification review by the FBI and the Justice Department, reveals “that in May 2017, political bias infected senior FBI leadership, and emotion — not evidence — drove their decision making.”

A separate source said Baker told investigators the internal FBI debate over the president’s decision to fire Comey on May 9, 2017, included personnel who have since left the bureau for cause, retired, or have been demoted.

Ratcliffe said he was surprised to read Friday’s New York Times report, which quoted part of his Baker interview, and reported that after the Comey firing “law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior” that they began investigating whether Trump was working on behalf of Russia.

The House Republican would not further describe the contents of the Baker transcript but said it was clear, based on his direct questioning of Baker, that in May 2017 “FBI senior leadership could not accept Comey was fired for cause and the president had the constitutional authority to terminate Comey.”

Ratcliffe said he was aware of the Baker revelations in October, and House Republicans had been working through proper channels to make the entire transcript public.

In a phone interview with a friend at Fox News (Jeanine Piro) Trump avoided answering a question about Russia:

The president was also asked to respond to a recent New York Times report that alleged that the FBI had investigated him for working on behalf of Russia.

“I think it’s the most insulting thing I have ever been asked. I think it’s the most insulting article I’ve ever had written and if you read the article you see that they found absolutely nothing.”

“If you ask the folks in Russia, I’ve been tougher on Russia than anybody else, any other … probably any other president, period, but certainly the last three or four presidents.”

I don’t think ‘the folks in Russia’ are the people to ask about that.

Trump also addressed Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 presidential election, saying “it’s all nonsense.”

“Here’s the bottom line. There was no collusion. There was no obstruction. There was no anything. … It’s a witch hunt.”

That is still uncertain. The Robert Mueller investigation into Russian collusion has not yet revealed anything major against Trump. Time will tell whether it has found information that will be damaging for Trump or his family. In the meantime, the saga and slagging match will continue.

Trump’s ex-lawyer Michael Cohen is set to testify in congress next month, before he heads to prison in March to start a three year sentence. This could be awkward for Trump. However Cohen may be limited in what he can say.

Fox News:  Michael Cohen, seeking vindication, can’t use most ammunition against Trump

While President Trump’s former personal lawyer turning on him before a House committee will be a television spectacle, Cohen’s allies say he will testify under great constraints.

Cohen may have important new information that he has disclosed to Robert Mueller in 70 hours of interviews with prosecutors, but if so, he won’t be able to reveal it.

The major limitation, as Cohen has said, is that he can’t discuss anything still under investigation by the special counsel. That means Cohen, who is still hoping for a reduction in his sentence, can’t answer questions about Russian collusion or the proposed real estate project in Moscow. It also means he can’t address the 2016 Trump Tower meeting between Paul Manafort, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and a Russian lawyer (who was recently indicted on money-laundering charges).

The New York lawyer wants to explain why he went to work for Trump, why he is ashamed of having worked for Trump, and how he made the decision last July to turn on his longtime benefactor, who has called him a “weak person” and a “rat.”

Part of that explanation will focus on Cohen’s view that while certain behavior might be tolerable in a private businessman, the standards are very different when that person becomes president.

Cohen will offer personal anecdotes about his service to Trump and what he has termed his complicity in “dirty deeds,” the sources say. These would likely be unflattering blasts from the past but could have little to do with his record as president.

Trump has survived many unflattering blasts from the past before.

Everyone will have to wait until the Mueller investigation reveals what it has found out about what dealings Trump or his family or associates may have had with Russia in the 2016 election campaign.

 

 

Disapproval of Trump, Democrats and Republicans over shutdown

It isn’t surprising to see disapproval of the US President and both parties over the current Government shutdown over the wall impasse – a fundamental part of governing should be to fund current services and employees.

CBS News poll: Trump, Democrats and GOP draw disapproval over shutdown

In a new CBS News/YouGov poll, President Donald Trump, congressional Democrats and congressional Republicans all draw lackluster marks for their handling of the government shutdown, with Americans expressing net disapproval for all three.

poll-1.jpg

Trump’s overall job approval has also dipped to 53.9% disapprove, 41% approve – see FiveThirtyEight.

Partisan splits are locked in: More than eight in ten Republicans approve of the president’s handling of the shutdown, while seven in ten Democrats approve of congressional Democrats’ handling.

That’s not surprising. But overall Trump is seen as the chump.

poll-2.jpg

A majority see the border problem as a problem rather than a crisis…

poll-4.jpg

…and even 38% of Republicans don’t see it as a crisis.

Despite all this disapproval U.S. Government Shutdown Hits Record Length With No End Seen (Bloomberg):

The U.S. government shutdown over President Donald Trump’s demand for border wall funding became the longest in the modern era as it stretched into its 22nd day Saturday with no end in sight.

Negotiations are at a standstill and no more talks are scheduled for the weekend or early next week. The White House scuttled efforts to reach a deal on Capitol Hill on Thursday, and Trump’s budget team is drawing up contingency plans for a shutdown that extends through the end of February, according to an administration official.

About 800,000 federal workers missed their pay for the first time Friday –at least some receiving pay stubs for $0.00 — as unions sued the government for requiring their members to work without pay. At least one airport planned to close a concourse as absences rose among security screeners who haven’t received their wages. Trump said Friday that he planned to sign a bill guaranteeing that federal employees will be given back pay once the government reopens.

Even if they are eventually paid back a month or two without pay will make things difficult for many employees, and air travel disruptions will annoy many more people.

Democrats and the president remain at loggerheads, with party leaders saying they won’t agree to fund any kind of wall or barrier and Trump insisting he won’t agree to reopen the government until the wall is funded.

I’m surprised the disapprovals aren’t greater – but if the impasse continues on then there is likely to be more against the political nonsense in Washington.

I’m astounded that budget related Government shutdowns are able to and are allowed to occur at all.

Deal making like Picasso

One of Donald Trump’s many attributes (as claimed by Trump) is that he is a great deal maker.

“Deals are my art form. Other people paint beautifully on canvas or write wonderful poetry. I like making deals, preferably big deals.” — Donald Trump, “The Art of the Deal”.

Trump’s current deal making skills look a bit Picasso.

The New York Times details the apparent lack of understanding of trump over the Mexican wall funding crisis – What Trump Could Learn From His Shutdown.

In this case, the president’s inability to reach some sort of deal rests heavily on several basic failures of understanding by him and his team. These include:

1. A failure to grasp how divided government works. The president somehow came to believe that he’d have more leverage once the Democrats took control of the House.

Unfortunately, Mr. Trump has been spoiled by two years of Congress being led by weak-kneed members of his party who, even when troubled by his excesses, largely let him run amok, lest he call down upon them the wrath of the Republican base.

2. A failure to understand the costs of playing only to the base. Time and again, Mr. Trump has chosen partisanship over leadership, doing nothing to expand his appeal. This puts him at a disadvantage in wooing the public to his side of the wall debate.

His job approval has slipped over his handling of the wall funding and partial Government shut down. Even both Rasmussen and Economist/YouGov has him falling to -9% – see RealClear Politics.

3. A failure to understand Nancy Pelosi. Apparently, Mr. Trump never got around to reading “The Art of War,” or at least not Sun Tzu’s admonition to “know your enemy.” If he had, the president would have tried to develop at least a basic working relationship with Ms. Pelosi. The White House clearly assumed that, at some point — maybe after she secured the speaker’s gavel — Ms. Pelosi would bend to Mr. Trump’s will. But the speaker is not impressed with bluster. She is seldom cowed by political pressure from her own team, much less the opposing one. She plays the long game, and her will is as formidable as Mr. Trump’s, possibly more so. One key difference: Ms. Pelosi knows how the legislative process works.

4. A failure to understand shutdown politics. If you don’t want to be blamed for one, don’t say you’re going to own it. Mr. Trump sacrificed that option when he boasted how “proud” he’d be to grind the government to a halt.

5. A failure to understand how the government works. Neither Mr. Trump nor anyone on his team had a clue how disruptive even a partial shutdown could be — and how they’d need to scurry to prevent millions of people from losing food stamps, housing or tax refunds.

Ignorance of the real life effects of suddenly having your pay stopped. It’s probably not something trump has ever come close to experiencing.

6. A failure to understand how members of Congress operate. Standing by the president when he’s tweeting out empty threats and insults is one thing. But when a shutdown starts causing pain and outrage back home, Republican lawmakers, especially those in vulnerable districts or states, start asking themselves which they value more — their president or their political hides. Even casual students of Congress know that this is not a tough call.

It may also grind down his support.

Business deals are quite different. You win some, you lose some (like gamblers, business deal makers only brag about their wins, not their losses).

But political deals are far more complex. When a shutdown becomes a part of the pressure it impacts on many people who need to feed their families and retain their homes, and on politicians who want to retain their support.

A president has far more power than a businessman – but most of that power is reliant on many other people. Doing political deals requires an understanding of how to get the support needed to use their power.  Bullshit and bullying may work in some situations, like when you have a gutless Congress. But when you are up against a bloody-minded Congress understanding how politics works is important.

It may be better to liken Trump’s current deal making to a different sort of painting.

Image result for child painting anger

But ignorant anger is not a strong hand in the art of the political deal.

Reaction to Trump’s border wall speech – more crisis in Washington?

After Donald trump asked all major US television channels to broadcast live a speech on trying to secure funding to progress his Mexican border wall project, there has been a range of reactions.  As usual both sides of the standoff deserve criticism.

The United State’s southern border is a major problem, but Trump’s (and his Administration’s) handling of it has been terrible. Bluster, tantrum and false claims keep Trump in the firing line for criticism, dominating the problems.

Washington Examiner editorial:  All’s not well at the southern border

We do not have an emergency at the southern border, and so it’s good President Trump did not try to seize power by declaring a state of emergency during his national address on Tuesday night.

We do have a serious problem with border security, and so it’s unfortunate Democrats and the press have tried to downplay the problem.

Some of our southern border has physical barriers. For much of it, though, we depend on natural barriers to deter illegal entry, such as the cruel desert or the Rio Grande. If it’s already illegal and deadly to cross in these places, there’s little sense to the protestations by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that a physical barrier there would be immoral.

Of course, Trump doesn’t help his cause when he exaggerates, misrepresents, and misunderstands the facts. It’s not true that terrorists are streaming across our southern border. It’s also not true that our unprotected border areas are the main avenue for illegal drugs — those are mostly smuggled in through valid border crossings, as far as the data can tell us.

Is the problem growing, declining, or generally steady? That depends on how you measure it. We wouldn’t call it an emergency, and we argued against such a declaration by Trump.

But Trump has a magical power to control what people think, particularly his opponents. Trump’s overblown statements about terrorists, heroin, and emergencies have driven his critics to declare our southern border is just fine. That’s a lie.

Are there really people saying the US-Mexican border is just fine?

Our border is porous, and our country suffers from it. Better physical barriers would help. Once we accept that basic truth, we can have a better debate.

It looks unlikely that trump is interested in debate let alone better debate.

New York Times:  The Crisis Is in the Oval Office

How fitting is it that President Trump’s first Oval Office address, which he requested be televised live in prime time by every major network, was aimed at stirring up the American public about a crisis largely of his own making?

Pursuing poorly thought-out and even more poorly executed policies on the pretext of battling a nonexistent national security crisis, Mr. Trump has helped create a pressing humanitarian one.

Mr. Trump is now invoking the urgency of the situation as a justification for pursuing more wasteful, hard-line measures that most Americans do not support, chiefly the ludicrous border wall over which he has shut down critical pieces of the government. The president and his enablers have been busily knitting together inaccurate data, misleading anecdotes, exaggerations and other “alternative facts” about the flow of criminals, drugs and terrorists across the southern border.

Failing that, Mr. Trump has also been floating the possibility of stiff-arming Congress altogether. With his advisers increasingly anxious that Republican lawmakers are poised to abandon them on the shutdown, the president has raised the threat of declaring a national emergency, which he thinks would allow him to command the Pentagon to build his wall.

Such a move would prompt a swift and furious legal challenge, if not a full-blown constitutional crisis, that could drag on indefinitely.

I wouldn’t rule out this being a plan of Trump’s. Who would know what his aim is?

While Mr. Trump proved a wily campaigner and political street fighter, as president he has been painfully out of his element. Two years in, he remains ill suited to the complicated, thankless, often grinding work of leading the nation. Governance clearly bores him, as do policy details both foreign and domestic. He has proved a poor judge of talent. He prefers grandstanding to negotiating, and he continues to have trouble with the whole concept of checks and balances.

While the Republican base remains enamored of him, most of the electorate has grown weary of his outrages and antics.

Which is why, with his wall on the line, Mr. Trump so desperately needs to convince the American people that they are facing an acute crisis — maybe even a bona fide emergency.

Josh Campbell (CNN):  Presidential address: The one word Trump didn’t say

In recent days, his administration has sought to whip up fear by scaring people into believing our nation faced a major crisis involving known or suspected terrorists attempting to gain entry in the country. The goal appeared to be trying to manipulate the public’s emotions to persuade people that a border wall would stop dangerous terrorists from coming into the country to kill innocent Americans.

After persistent and repeated fact-checking by journalists and experts, all pointing out the administration’s lies and misleading statements, the White House seems to have retreated from the terror scare. In addressing the nation Tuesday, Trump never uttered the word terrorism.

Last week, DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen stood in the White House Rose Garden and caused jaws to drop by publicly indicating authorities had stopped over 3,000 known or suspected terrorists from entering the southern border.

Vice President Michael Pence later echoed these same figures on ABC’s “Good Morning America.”

The problem is, this number was in part highly misleading and in part actually false, as it referred to a broad category of people, based in part on their country of origin, not necessarily their own individual actions, and mischaracterized where they entered the country.

White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders told the biggest whopper of them all, insisting last weekend on Fox News that nearly 4,000 terrorists actually made their way into the country, adding “we know that our most vulnerable point of entry is at our southern border.” She was fact-checked in real-time by host Chris Wallace, who pointed out that although suspected terrorists have been prevented from entering the country, their method of transit was mainly airports, not just the southern border. He said, “They’re not coming across the southern border, Sarah, they’re coming and they’re being stopped at airports.”

The false Sanders narrative went uncorrected by anyone from the Trump administration until Tuesday, when Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway finally shrugged it off as “an unfortunate misstatement,” adding, “Everyone makes mistakes.”

Some make more ‘mistakes’ than others.

One of the biggest mistakes being made by Trump and his administration is the amount of bullshit they keep spinning. They have got away with a lot, but soft supporters must gradually be questioning their truthlessness and lack of honesty.

Howard Kurtz (Fox News):  Many pundits rip Trump’s border speech — both before and after

President Trump used his much-disputed television time to portray the border as a humanitarian and law-enforcement crisis of the “heart” and “soul,” but not before some media organizations preemptively accused him of spreading lies about the issue.

The president, in sober tones, said nothing about declaring a national emergency, focusing instead on how migrant children are used as “human pawns” and how drugs and criminals are pouring across the border. He also made the economic case, saying illegal immigrants drive down wages, especially for blacks and Hispanics. And he declared that “the federal government remains shut down for one reason and one reason only” — that the Democrats refuse to provide $5.7 billion for “border security.”

Nancy Pelosi, with Chuck Schumer, soon offered the rebuttal, saying the Democrats were all for border security, but not an ineffective wall. She said Trump was holding federal workers “hostage” and that his remarks were “full of misinformation and even malice” — a phrase the Democrats had used hours before the Oval Office address.

In similar fashion, some cable news anchors who had been predicting the president would lie in his speech came on the air soon afterward to make that charge, which was not leveled at the Democratic leaders.

Despite the enormous buildup, nothing that either side said seemed likely to change many minds — or hasten an end to the 18-day partial shutdown.

There is a growing crisis for many Government workers:

There’s a case to be made that this is an artificial crisis, with Trump using the border situation to pound away at his signature promise to build a wall and the Democrats determined to deny him that funding. But there’s also a very real crisis, in which both parties play a role, as 800,000 federal workers continue to go without paychecks and the ripple effects of the partial shutdown are increasingly hitting the economy.

But there’s no denying the political dimension of the shutdown. Half an hour after the Trump speech, his campaign sent out a fundraising pitch saying “he will NOT cave to the Democrats when it comes to YOUR SAFETY…The President is counting on you in this fight, we must hit our goal of $500,000 in ONE DAY.”

Does Trump have a fundraising crisis? This was Trump’s first Oval Office address in two years of office. It seems cynical to use that as a fundraising opportunity.

Trump is due to visit the southern border soon, in an apparent PR blitz, but so far the Democrats who now have the numbers to allow or deny him his wall funding are holding out.

While it can be argued that there is some sort of crisis on the border, it is getting easier to argue that there is a growing crisis in Washington – their dysfunctional system of government looks like it’s in a slide downhill.

Nobody knows more than Trump on just about everything

A collation from the king of modesty talking about himself, on how he knows more than just about anybody on a wide on just about anything.

Thiessen: The 10 worst things Trump did in 2018

Following Marc Thiessen’s Trump successes in 2018 he has also done The 10 worst things Trump did in 2018.

… he also did a lot of bad things that ranged from cringeworthy to catastrophic. Here are the 10 worst:

10. His comment about “sh–hole” countries blew up negotiations for a deal that would have given Trump his border wall.
…his abhorrent comment undermined Democrats who were serious about cutting a deal and gave those who were not a pretext to walk away.

9. His offensive tweets continued to undermine his presidency.
Calling former White House aide Omarosa Manigault Newman “a dog” and Stormy Daniels “Horseface” — among countless offensive tweets — is not just unpresidential, it drives away potential supporters who like his policies but then are reminded how much they don’t like Trump.

8. His misuse of power turned critics into martyrs.

7. He drove away suburban voters and caused the GOP to lose control of the House.
That’s because the president has sought to energize his base in ways that drive those voters away.

6. His graceless handling of Sen. John McCain’s funeral was a new low.

5. His handling of Jamal Khashoggi’s murder harmed America’s moral standing.

4. His news conference with Vladimir Putin in Helsinki was an embarrassment.

3. His policy to separate migrant children from their families at the southern border was an avoidable tragedy.

2. His planned withdrawal of U.S. forces from Afghanistan is a gift to the Taliban and al-Qaeda.
The news came just as U.S. officials were holding talks with the Taliban whose No. 1 demand is . . . the withdrawal of U.S. forces. Hardly the “art of the deal.”

1. His pullout of all U.S. troops in Syria will take America’s boot off of the terrorists’ necks.
Trump’s claim that “we have defeated ISIS in Syria” is as bad as Obama’s dismissing them as the “J.V.” squad.

 

 

 

Trump successes in 2018

Marc Thiessen (Washington Post): The 10 best things Trump has done in 2018

10. He has secured the release of 19 people, including 16 Americans, from foreign captivity.

9. He delivered for the “forgotten Americans.” The Trump boom is benefiting those left behind by the Obama economy. Manufacturing jobs grew at the fastest rate in 23 years and the unemployment rate for Americans without a high school diploma reached the lowest point ever recorded.

8. He worked with Democrats and Republicans to pass important legislation. …Trump got a lot done on a bipartisan basis, including criminal justice reform, opioid and sex trafficking legislation, and a new “Right to Try” law giving dying Americans access to experimental medications.

7. He has ushered in a golden age for women in the CIA. Trump not only appointed Gina Haspel as the agency’s first female director but also made Elizabeth Kimber the first women to lead the agency’s clandestine service…

6. His push to expand domestic energy production bore fruit. This year the United States passed both Saudi Arabia and Russia as the world’s top oil producer.

5. In the six months after the Singapore summit with North Korea, he has made no concessions to Pyongyang.

He didn’t seem to make much progress on North Korea either, but at least he and Kim Jong Un have toned down their rhetoric.

4. He struck Syria again and eliminated the last vestiges of the Islamic State’s physical caliphate. For a second time, he enforced Obama’s red line against the use of chemical weapons. The militant group is far from defeated, but Trump is right that we have knocked “the hell out of ISIS.”

‘We’ includes Russia, Turkey and Iran. It’s probably premature to claim to celebrate the elimination of ISIS.

3. He’s continued his tough line with Moscow.

I’m not sure that Putin will be deterred much by a debatable ‘tough line’.

2. He pulled out of Obama’s disastrous Iran deal and reimposed crippling sanctions on Tehran.

I have no idea how crippled Iran is, and what difference sanctions will end up making.

1. He stood by Brett M. Kavanaugh and even in the worst moments never wavered. Trump has confirmed a record 85 judges in his first two years as president.

That’s the best thing trump has done? It will take time tell whether Kavanaugh turns out to be a prudent appointment or not.

There will be discussion on this at Kiwiblog: The 10 best things Trump did 2018