Sunday, July 30, 2017

The Deepening Madness Of King Donald Trump: 'It's An Affliction, Not A Presidency'

BRIAN SNYDER / CORBIS
A funny thing happened on the way to King Donald's first six months on the throne. 
Impeaching him has gone from a liberal Democratic wet dream to an option that an increasing number of Republicans are discussing, albeit privately.  This, to be sure, is different than actually doing the deed because the GOP has its own wet dream in believing the regent can help their stalled legislative agenda (which sure worked out well with that Obamacare repeal-and-replace thing, didn't it?) but he actually is undermining that agenda at every turn. 
It is a measure of how unhinged King Donald has become that some of the people who could send him packing have tired of his unceasing bombast and finally seem to have noticed how destructive he has become to the Republican Party, not to mention the country.
They certainly had plenty of ammunition in the 27th week of the king's reign as he continued to fume and fulminate over the 2016 election, passive aggressively stroked and criticized his beleaguered attorney general over three consecutive days, flumoxed visiting Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri, whose political partner is Hezbollah, by calling it a terrorist group, debased LGBT soldiers, went off script at the national Boy Scout jamboree to blast Hillary Clinton and then went way off script at a rally in Ohio where he asserted in luridly graphic detail how undocumented immigrant gang members "take a beautiful girl, 16, 15, and others and they slice them and dice them with a knife because they want them to go through excruciating pain before they die."   
And it was only Wedndesday. 
On Thursday, Senator Lindsay Graham declared that firing special counsel Robert Mueller would be the beginning of the end of what one pundit calls "an affliction, not a presidency."  The Pentagon said that it doesn't change its policies toward soldiers' sexual identities based on crazy tweets.  The chief Boy Scout executive apologized for the king's speech.  Sessions refused to resign while Senate Republican leaders asked the king to pretty please kindly knock off his demagoguing of the AG, while Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Charles Grassley flat out said that if Sessions is axed his committee will give him no chance to appoint a replacement.  Then entire Senate convening in the wee hours of Friday morning to pound the last nail into the replace-and-repeal coffin.   
And all this pushback was more or less overshadowed by a royal court at war with itself.  "The grass outside the White House is full of snakes," opined The New York Times, "And the person inside that office is no better."
Meanwhile, the king's new propaganda minister, Anthony Scaramucci, out-crazying the man who hand picked him, ranted that chief of staff Reince Priebus was a "f*cking paranoid schizophrenic" and said of the king's chief strategist, "I'm not Steve Bannon, I'm not trying to suck my own cock."  
Priebus was gone 24 hours later, fired in a typically cowardly manner as the king waited for him to deplane from Air Force One when they arrived in an appropriately rainy Washington from Long Island where the king had advocated using violence in a speech to police officers.  Once Priebus was off the plane and had been diverted to another SUV, the king boastfully tweeted that he had just loped off the head of a court loyalist.   
Scaramucci lasted 10 days.  
We of course found out a great deal more than we needed to know about King Donald when he bragged to the host of Access Hollywood in that infamous hot mic episode about grabbing a woman's private parts.   
And confirmed what we suspect that Congress now knows in another revealing hot mic episode, this one between Senators Jack Reed, the Rhode Island Democrat, and Susan Collins, the Maine Republican, during a lull last week in an Appropriations subcommittee hearing:
REED: I think he's crazy. 
COLLINS: I'm worried. 
REED: I don't say that lightly, as kind of, you know, a goofy guy.  The, uh, this thing, you know, if we don't get a budget deal done . . . "  
Reed's budget-deal reference was an allusion to the king's inability to grasp even the basics of governing, which includes his belief that the Blow Up Obamacare bill that was narrowly defeated in the Senate actually increased Medicare payments and did not radically slash them.    
As I have written over and over and freaking over again, the greatest danger King Donald poses is not nuking Lichtenstein because of a tiff over lace doily tariffs, but our becoming inured to his madness.    
This is something of a race for time, which is why we can take heart that there finally is some pushback (did you ever think Orrin Hatch would eloquently defend transgender people?).  It hypothetically moves the king's breaking point forward, or perhaps the point where the Republicans decide it finally is time to cut their losses since their leader seems unable to focus on anything beyond saving his and his family's asses from the Big Bad Mueller.
The blow to the king's colossal ego because of the defeat of repeal-and-replace, which in the end spectacularly crashed and burned because he was very good at intimidating people and very bad at lobbying them on the successive replacement bills' (plural) supposed virtues, will make him meaner and on the prowl for more people to hurt and new things to destroy as the special counsel's footsteps grow louder.  
The one constant is that it's never the king's fault.  
As the week mercifully ended, Congress passed with near unanimity and sent to the king a veto-proof bill strengthening Russia sanctions that effectively ties his small hands and infuriated Vlad the Impaler, and the king let out a mighty blast at Senator Lisa Murkowski, who along with Collins and John "He's No Hero" McCain, had spelled defeat for the final Obamacare replacement bill.  This was after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's crude blackmail attempt failed to move the Alaskan.  For good measure, the king scolded Congress in a Saturday tweet for looking "like fools" and being "total quitters" and threatened to cut their own insurance plans, which actually may be the first good idea he's had. 
Polls show a steady erosion of rank-and-file Republican support for the regent, although overall his numbers remain robust even if the GOP is a burned-out hulk that can barely rule and is utterly inept at governing.  But there may be no better indication that the fever swamp from which the king rules is under siege -- and that hiring more thugs won't do the trick -- than the growing number of right-wing and conservative commentators who enthusiastically rode his royal carriage and are now jumping off.   
Influential radio host and blogger Erick Erickson is typical:
The president told everyone that only he could do the job and he would drain the swamp.  Instead, he's dammed up the swamp, put a party boat in it, and has turned his attention to Twitter.
We are still a long way from a Barry Goldwater Watergate moment in which the Republican leadership hikes down Pennsylvania Avenue to the White House, bows to the king and tells him that he needs to put down his scepter and resign.   
The ignominious collapse of the centerpiece of the king's presidential campaign -- the quick repeal of Obamacare -- is being viewed by some pundits as the last straw.  Unfortunately, there will be more of them. 
But the tide finally is running out.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Pardon Me: Why All Hell Would Break Loose If Trump Tries To Exonerate Himself

DOMINICK REUTER / AFP / GETTY IMAGES
There is no more pressing question in the storm of legal issues swirling around the Russia scandal than whether Donald Trump can pardon himself.  The answer is that he probably cannot, but if he tries it would plunge America into a full-blown constitutional crisis that his presidency probably could not survive. 
Trump showed his hand over the weekend in tweeting (what else?): "While all agree the U.S. President has complete power to pardon, why think of that when only crime so far is LEAKS against us.  FAKE NEWS." 
No president has ever sought to pardon himself, not even Richard Nixon as the bloodhounds were closing in on him in the final days of the Watergate scandal.  While the Constitution does not address the issue and no court has ever ruled on it, anyone exempting themselves from criminal liability -- even or perhaps especially the president -- would violate America's basic rule-of-law values. 
Trump, of course, has never let values and norms, legal or otherwise, get in his way. But a self pardon would set up a sort of circular firing squad scenario whereby:
The Republicans who control Congress would again voice the usual ad hominem concerns, but make no meaningful move toward initiating impeachment proceedings because that would further threaten their stalled legislative agenda. 
A criminal suit almost certainly would then be filed against Trump by the Democratic leadership or another entity with legal standing, an action that the Supreme Court had ruled was legal but in a rather different context -- Paula Jones's civil suit against Bill Clinton. 
A criminal suit almost certainly would be stayed by the courts -- and most certainly by the Supreme Court -- because of the prevailing view that a sitting president can't be the subject of a criminal action until he is impeached and removed from office.  
The two important things to note here are that the battle over a self-pardon would be fought at the highest levels of Congress and not the courts because of the extraordinary presidential protections the Founding Fathers enshrined in the Constitution.  And we're talking about an incipient constitutional crisis, which is to say there is a threat to our democracy because of abuses of presidential authority and legitimacy (a la Nixon) that have no obvious solution.
A president also has extraordinary powers to order -- and terminate -- investigations. 
This Trump did in firing FBI Director James Comey and seems likely to do again with Robert Mueller, who was named special counsel after Comey was axed.  The cost to Trump by firing Mueller would be dear because of the seismic fallout in general, the possibility it would stir congressional Republicans from their slumber, and probability that Deputy AG Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, and several other Justice Department officials would quit in protest.   
Comey was and Mueller is getting too close to Trump, his family and associates for his comfort.  What is making the kleptocrat-in-chief especially angry is that the special counsel regulation (it's not a law) allows Mueller wide latitude beyond investigating Russian election interference.   
He can subpoena documents (including tax returns), file criminal charges against Trump's family members and associates, and refer evidence (including the voluminous evidence of obstruction of justice already accumulated) for use in impeachment proceedings.  There also are indications that Mueller is ranging far afield from election interference. 
Once such instance is picking up the investigation led by Trump-fired U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara into money laundering by Russians, including Prevezon Holdings, a company with which son-in-law Jared Kushner has done a few hundred million dollars worth of business and is represented by Natalia Veselnitskaya, the Russian attorney who met with Donald Trump Jr. in June 2016 after he infamously declared in an email "If it's what you say I love it" when told she had Russian government-provided dirt on Hillary Clinton. 
But the biggest takeaway is that a self-pardon might not be challengeable until after Trump leaves office in 2020 or whenever.   
Or as University of Michigan law professor Richard Primus nicely put it in an essay in Politico, "an attempted self pardon would be like an umbrella that hasn't been taken out in the rain.  We don't know yet whether it works, or how well." 
It also should be remembered that there is a long tradition in American politics of presidents not prosecuting their predecessors and ranking members of their administrations.   
A fairly recent example is Barack Obama's refusal to go after George W. Bush and the other architects of his torture regime for war crimes, while Trump chose not to prosecute Clinton for those infamous missing emails and unproven claims of Democratic collusion with Russia despite bloviating about that incessantly as a candidate and most recently as this week in a tweet criticizing AG Jeff Sessions for not going after Clinton and recusing himself from investigations into Russian interference in the 2016 election. 
(Trump also has falsely claimed that Bush told his AG to investigate Al Gore for his "crimes" and Obama told his AG to prosecute John McCain, both rather pathetic efforts to divert attention from his myriad self-inflicted woes.)   
But norms being norms, an argument can be made that even war crimes and certainly missing emails pale in comparison to Trump's campaign colluding in a Vladimir Putin-orchestrated plot to undermine the bedrock of American democracy by sabotaging Clinton's campaign, which ups the ante considerably if Trump's successor is a Democrat. 
There also is the possibly of lightning striking. 
This would take the form of a sufficient number of Republicans in Congress actually taking their constitutional duty seriously for a change and declaring "enough is enough" if Trump self pardons, viewing that action as a reason to impeach rather than a shield against prosecution.  They also could reinstate the old independent counsel law, naming a special prosecutor who couldn't be fired by Trump, but neither I nor the British bookies who rate the odds of Trump completing his term at less than 50 percent are holding our breaths over either of those things happening. 
Then there is the thorny matter of Trump preemptively pardoning family members and associates implicated in the scandal, which his criminal defense team is said to be exploring along with the ramifications of a self pardon.
Based just on what we know -- and there's a lot we don't know -- Kushner, Trump Jr. and disgraced former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn are in heaps of trouble. Only somewhat less so are former campaign manager Paul Manafort, campaign adviser Carter Page and dirty trickster Roger Stone.  I also suspect daughter Ivanka, who is Kushner's wife, is not out of the woods. 
While the Latin phrase Nemo judex in causa sua (one cannot be a judge in his own case) has been cited by some legal analysts who have weighed in on that storm of legal issues, Fordham Law professor Jed Shugerman demurs, explaining that pardon power is executive, not judicial, so Trump wouldn't actually be a judge in his own case.   
Besides which, adds Sugerman, "We don't live in Rome even if the Latin sounds wicked smart."

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal. 

Monday, July 24, 2017

'I Don't Remember, I Don't Recall, I Got No Memory Of Anything At All'

CNN
I DON’T REMEMBER
Words and Music by PETER GABRIEL

I got no means to show identification
I got no papers show you what I am
You'll have to take me just the way that you find me
What's gone is gone and I do not give a damn

Empty stomach, empty head
I got empty heart and empty bed
I don't remember
I don't remember

I don't remember, I don't recall
I got no memory of anything at all
I don't remember, I don't recall
I got no memory of anything
Anything at all

Strange is your language and I have no decoder
Why don't you make your intentions clear
With eyes to the sun and your mouth to the soda
Saying, "Tell me the truth, you got nothing to fear

Stop staring at me like a bird of prey
I'm all mixed up, I got nothing to say
I don't remember
I don't remember

I don't remember, I don't recall
I got no memory of anything at all
I don't remember, I don't recall
I got no memory of anything
Anything at all

I don't remember, I don't recall
I got no memory of anything at all

I don't remember, I don't recall

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Why Donald Trump's Self-Inflicted Wounds Will Matter Most In His Eventual Downfall

GETTY IMAGES
When the definitive books are written on the Russia scandal, Donald Trump's self-inflicted wounds will end up having played an even larger role in preordaining the end to his presidency than his collusion with Russia or war on the hallowed principle that America is a government of laws and not men like himself with monstrous egos.  Events in the coming days will bear that out.   
Trump's summary dismissal of James Comey under false pretenses, driven by his narcissistism-driven impetuousness, fears that an FBI director he had consistently praised was closing in on him and the imprecations of his evil son-in-law, Jared Kushner, backfired badly.  This is because it led to the appointment of Robert Mueller, who may be the only person with the investigative chops and political savvy to bring down his presidency.   
That savviness may in the long run actually matter more, and I'll explain why a bit further down.  
Mueller got the call from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein because Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Trump's staunchest supporter and first Cabinet pick, was not available.  He had recused himself earlier because of his own Russia scandal misrememberments and denials under oath that anything of substance was discussed.   
It soon transpired that Trump was beyond angry at his AG for doing the right thing and then it was was revealed in an extraordinary leak to The Washington Post last week based on U.S. intelligence intercepts that Sessions had yet again lied about those disrememberments.  In fact, Sessions had had two in-depth chats with the Russian ambassador about presidential campaign-related matters and policy issues important to Moscow.  (Adoption apparently did not come up.). 
Sessions has survived the weekend, but it probably will only be a matter of time before he resigns or is dismissed, possibly while Congress is in its lengthy summer recess, which begins on July 31.  With Republicans back home making excuses as to why six months into the Trump presidency he and they haven't done bupkis although they totally control government, he would have greater latitude to name a new AG who could then fire Mueller on the pretext that the special counsel is biased. 
No matter the route, those self-inflicted wounds will lead to the same thing -- a constitutional crisis reminiscent of the Saturday Night Massacre and final days of the Richard Nixon presidency -- and we'll all have a ringside seat to see whether history will repeat itself. 
§  
Although Comey and then Mueller in his stead have developed investigative leads in a variety of areas, the smart money says it's . . . the money that will bring Trump down. 
The wealth of newly divulged information about Trump's financial wheelings and dealings over the past 20 years adds up to what, on balance, is rather simple.  In the late 1990s, Trump was deeply in debt, couldn't get loans from U.S. banks and turned to Russian oligarchs with bucketsful of rubles and Deutsche Bank, a German financial institution that those very oligarchs were using to launder their dirty money.  When Trump ran for president and won with an assist from the Kremlin, the bills came due and that is what he is really sweating. 
Meanwhile, look at the WaPo blockbuster on Sessions as a warning shot to Trump from an intelligence community with the balls congressional Republicans lack as they find ways to pretend that Trump has not embraced America's leading foe and its own president even while belatedly condescending to bipartisan support for tough new Russia sanctions for its election interference and annexation of Crimea.   
And be confident that Trump will not only refuse to take the hint, but will embark on another round of self-inflicted wounds.   
Which he already has kicked off with a threat to Mueller to stay away from investigating his family's finances (the overriding concern here for Trump is that his hitherto secret income tax returns will of course reveal really bad stuff) to a weekend tweetstorm asserting he has "complete power to pardon" anyone he damned well pleases, including his royal self.     
§  
The flip side of all this sound and fury is Robert Mueller and the special counsel's investigative team.
We know what they're up to in general terms and there have been a few well-placed leaks to the media.   
We know what they're up against as Trump and his legal team try to limit the scope of their work if not shut them down outright. 
And we know they are pretty much the only way that precious balance can be restored, returning America to being a government of laws.  
Now comes a timely article titled "How White House Threats Condition Mueller's Reality" on the Lawfare blog.  It is a smartly nuanced perspective on what it must be like to be Mueller and know the president is coming for you and you might not have much time to pull off the most important investigation since the 9/11 attacks, which turned out to be pretty much a whitewash.   
The Lawfare reporter-editor team of Jane Chong, Quinta Jurecic and Benjamin Wittes explore six broad areas that Mueller must consider as he proceeds -- the design of his investigation, whether to work from the bottom up or the top down, how quickly to proceed, when or whether to refer their investigation to Congress for impeachment, how to defend his staff from attacks and how to resist being removed. 
The team's big sum-up in pondering whether Trump might revoke the special counsel law enabling Mueller and in doing so obliterate his office, is that he certainly has the power do so.   
They write:  
In any event, Mueller has to operate on the assumption that Trump could get it done.  And that means he's probably given some thought to how he would handle a removal.  What does that consist of?  There's not actually much Mueller can do about it.  The protection against removal is ultimately a political one, not a regulatory or legal one, and that means Mueller can't do much more than try to condition the politics as as to make the constraints on the president as binding as possible.  That means having the sort of relationships with the relevant committees in Congress such that any firing would be considered politically unacceptable. . . . It's crucial not merely that Congress be unwilling to tolerate a disruption of the investigation, but that Trump knows that it is unwilling to do so.
I dare say that Mueller is, in his own legendarily circumspect way, conditioning the politics, but we need to take a deep breath and look at the big picture, which is necessitated because of the play-by-play nature of the barrage of media scandal coverage:  
The president of the United States has been accused of conspiring with Russia to win the presidency, there ample evidence to back that up, and the president has made it clear that he will not allow Mueller's investigation to go forward. 
Could the stakes be any higher?    
If Trump does not step back from the brink, the only thing standing between you and I and authoritarianism is . . . you and I taking to the streets, marching on Washington and demanding that Congress impeach Trump.   
Be strong, be brave and be prepared.

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline of the Russia scandal.  

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Key to Unlocking The Russia Scandal: Finding Out What Putin Has On Trump

INSTAGRAM
At this point in what has become known as the Russia scandal, a few things are obvious. Based on what we know, there probably is a lot we don't know, and what we don't know is bound to be mind blowing.   
Among the things we know is that Donald Trump's campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin in his successful effort to throw the 2016 presidential election to him, the Russian president's manipulation of Trump is the most astounding example of diplomatic puppetry in the post-Cold War era as was further reinforced by their previously undisclosed second meeting at the G20 summit, and most especially Trump's continuing obsequiousness in the face -- let alone the very physical presence --  of the man who is not merely the embodiment of America's greatest geopolitical foe but has made his life work undercutting the U.S. and returning Russia to its long lost Soviet-era glory. 
Among the things we don't know is what Putin has on Trump, and the key to unlocking the scandal's deepest and darkest secret is finding out what that is.
Noting that Trump is a malignant narcissist who believes the earth, moon and stars revolve around him, what other explanation can there be for why a man who routinely faces down and belittles anyone who gets in his way -- be they the leader of an allied nation, a Republican congressional bigshot or the endless primal screaming over Hillary Clinton -- but becomes gelid when the adversary is Putin? 
Election interference?  Never happened.  Sanctions?  We don't need them.  The diplomatic compounds Obama seized?  Sure, we'll give 'em back.  Don't like the U.S.'s Syria strategy?  We'll retool ours to fit yours. 
No matter how you unpack Trump's second meeting with Putin, which did not involve a U.S. translator and Trump himself kept secret from his handlers, it stinks on ice.  The other leaders present at the banquet at Elbphilarmonie Hall in Hamburg sure thought so, and were "bemused, non-plussed and befuddled," in the words of one observer, by the strange spectacle of an American president sucking up to a Russian leader at a summit meeting while marginalizing America's oldest and closest friends. 
Is there a plausible alternative explanation for the second meeting?  No.  Did they merely discuss Putin's ban on American's adopting Russian waifs, as Trump claims?  Of course not. Was the meeting only 15 minutes, as Trump claims, and not an hour?  Of course not.   
We've become so inured to Trump's behavior -- and his profound ineptness as president and commander and chief can sometimes seem like so much background noise -- that we yet again risk missing the main point. 
Why is it that the man who hijacked a presidential election, undermining the very foundation of our democracy and sees Trump as an intelligence asset to be nakedly exploited, even deserves the time of day, let alone three hours of Trump's fawning attention over the course of two meetings?
We fail to seek the answer to that question at America's peril.
§  
When Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in May, his trademark impetuousness and inattention to the consequences of his actions quickly led to the appointment of Robert Mueller, who is possibly the only person on the planet with the investigative chops to bring down his presidency. 
Beyond that delicious irony, president and special counsel have been on a collision course since Mueller was appointed by Rod Rosenstein, a deputy attorney general, after AG Jeff Sessions recused himself because of his own Russia scandal problems.  Trump's minions are now hard at work exploring what options he has to pardon scandal perps and trying to undermine Mueller and his team, which again begs the question of what these guys could possibly be investigating if Trump's assertion there is no Russia scandal is true. 
Trump, in an interview on Wednesday with The New York Times, jumped another shark in revealing for -- well, who's counting the number of times at this point? -- that he not only is above the rule of law, but he's his own worst enemy.  Summoning his ever on-call inner demons, he declared he never would have appointed Sessions if he knew he would do the right thing and step aside, said Rosenstein was suspect because there are very few Republicans from Baltimore (seriously!), and claimed Comey's real motivation for briefing him on the sordid Steele dossier two weeks before he took office was part of a plot to blackmail him.   
And for good measure, the president threatened Mueller if the special counsel looks into his family's finances.  Which was like drawing a line in the sand after the tide had come in but would seem to considerably enhance the possibility that Mueller will be axed, precipitating Trump's version of Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre and the full-blown constitutional crisis with which he has been flirting for some time now. 
Trump yet again provided a textbook example of seeking to obstruct justice through threats and intimidation, which under "normal" circumstances would be grounds for impeachment, giving Mueller further impetus to investigate those finances, which he  already is doing with an assist from an investigative team with superlative finance-ferreting credentials.   
That presumably includes Trump's tax returns, which unlike every president since Jimmy Carter, he has not made public and likely contain a wealth of information about his associations with Russians.  
noted in a post the other day titled "Revealed: Donald Trump's Network of Russian Sleaze & Mob Money Launderers" that Trump's layering of lies upon lies in refusing to even acknowledge his Russia ties -- which include over 30-years of connections with an extensive network of corrupt businessmen, mobsters and money launderers from the former Soviet Union, Russia and their satellite states -- is, in part, a consequence of members of the network being able to leverage his literal and figurative debts, if not blackmail him outright.   
At the top of that list is, of course, the object of Trump's bromantic affection -- Putin.
§  
Even Trump's above-ground financial wheelings and dealings are now drawing scrutiny. 
When he had worn out his welcome with other lending institutions because of a string of bankruptcies, Trump turned to Deutsche Bank for a $300 million loan in 1998 and in subsequent years some $4 billion in loans and bond offerings.  
Coincidentally (or not), the German bank recently paid more than $600 million in penalties to New York and British regulators for being a prominent player in a money laundering scheme known as the "Global Laundromat" run by Russian criminals with ties to the Kremlin. 
Coincidentally (or not), former Deutsche Bank chairman Josef Ackerman is now chairman of Bank of Cyprus.  Wilbur Ross was the vice chairman of the Cypriot bank until Trump nominated him as his commerce secretary.  Coincidentally (or not), the bank is an offshore haven for money laundering by Russian oligarchs and mobsters.  Coincidentally (or not), former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was a favored account holder and deposited $2.7 million in what the Ukraine government asserts were illegal payments from the country's former pro-Russian ruling party. 
Among the Russia connections Trump adamantly denies having is Dennis Rybolovlev, an oligarch who is a major Bank of Cyprus shareholder and purchased one of Trump's estates.  And in May, federal prosecutors settled a case for pennies on the dollar with Prevezon Holdings, a Russian-owned Cyprus investment entity accused of laundering dirty money through Manhattan real estate.   
Coincidentally (or not), one of Prevezon's lawyers was Natalia Veselnitskaya, who huddled with Donald Trump Jr. and the Trump campaign brain trust at Trump Tower in June 2016 in the follow-up to Donald Jr.'s infamous "If it's what you say I love it" email response to an offer to share Russian government dirt that could incriminate Hillary Clinton.
Meanwhile, Jared Kushner has had his own relationship with Deutsche Bank.  Trump's son-in-law and his mother have an unsecured $25 million line of credit and the family business he ran until Trump became president received a $285 million loan in 2016. 
Deutsche Bank says it will cooperate with Mueller's requests for information on Trump's finances. 
§  
What would it take to break Trump?   
He is not about to be impeached because of a Republican congressional leadership whose cowardice verges on treason.  As batshit crazy as he may be, the 25th Amendment will not be invoked in the foreseeable future.  Kushner should lose his security clearance, but won't.  Special Counsel Robert Mueller will not be harvesting the bitter fruits of his investigation for weeks if not months if he lasts that long. 
How about this as a presidency breaker-upper: Trump being humiliated in the eyes of the only people he cares about other than himself -- his family.   
What would it take for that to happen?  Maybe if it turns out that the Russia scandal's deepest and darkest secret is so deeply embarrassing that it threatens to destroy his family and marriage to The Mel if he doesn't quit, tuck his forked tail between his legs and scurry back to Trump Tower. 
 "Daddy, how could you do that?" one imagines Ivanka imploring him as he sits slumped over his Oval Office desk. 
Maybe. 

Click HERE for a comprehensive timeline on the Russia scandal. 

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Will O.J. Finally Get A Chance To Resume His Search For The Real Killers?

WE TEND TO FORGET ABOUT THIS PART OF THE STORY 
(UPDATE: The Nevada state parole has ruled unanimously that Simpson is to be released after serving the minimum nine years of his sentence.)  
It was a balmy late spring evening on the East Coast, June 17, 1994 to be exact.  We were watching Game 5 of the NBA Finals between the New York Knicks and Houston Rockets at Madison Square Garden on a Los Angeles television station because we were putting our recently installed 12-foot satellite dish through its paces and had swung it into a position where we could pull in California signals. 
The Knicks were ahead by a basket in a lead-changing nail biter when the station suddenly cut away to a Los Angeles freeway where a camera from a news helicopter showed a phalanx of police cruisers, their lights madly flashing, in pursuit of a white Ford Bronco. 
Four days earlier, Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, described in press reports as an acquaintance of the estranged wife of football legend O.J. Simpson, had been found slashed to death outside her L.A. condominium. 
The TV announcer breathlessly intoned that O.J. had been charged with the murders, had reneged on a promise to turn himself in to the police after flying home from Chicago, and his Bronco had been spotted on a southern L.A. freeway in what would become, according to one survey, the sixth "most universally impactful" TV moment of the last 50 years, a suspenseful but in retrospect comical low-speed chase that paled next to other impactful moments such as the 9/11 attacks, Hurricane Katrina and the space shuttle Challenger disaster.
We were transfixed.  Hell, all of America was transfixed as Domino's Pizza reported record home-delivery sales because the chase unfolded during dinner time on the West Coast.  This epic pursuit, with O.J. best friend Al Cowlings at the wheel and the Juice himself riding in the back, reportedly with a gun in hand, ground to a halt 50 miles, two hours and hundreds of thousands of consumed pizzas later later as Simpson, clutching family photos, staggered out of the Bronco in the driveway of his Brentwood home, collapsed into the arms of police officers and was handcuffed.
Moments after the chase ended, the phone rang.  It was the City Desk at the Philadelphia newspaper where I was working.  I was told that I was on the O.J. case full time.  Big Boss's orders.  As it turned out, I would be on the case full time for the next 16 months as I covered the murder investigation, pre-trial maneuvering and then the nine-month Trial of the Century.  
Looking back on the whole sordid affair 33 years later, it was an unrelenting exercise in hyperbole that somehow never became bigger than itself in laying bare our obsession with celebrity and the ugliness of our nation's racial divide, the vulnerability of single women, and the debut of an apparently foolproof new forensic technique involving DNA analysis, while revealing how little most of us knew about the criminal justice system, let alone how to game a jury into believing that O.J.'s blood-soaked gloves didn't fit him.
The Juice is back in the news this week because of his parole hearing on Thursday in Nevada.   
Prisoner No. 1027820 has served nine years of a nine-to-33 year sentence for a 2007 Las Vegas crime spree that was a prosecutor's dream -- kidnapping, armed robbery and assault with a deadly weapon.  Four other men who accompanied Simpson took plea deals and received probation. 
The hearing will be carried live by CNN, ESPN, Fox News and NBC, and in one of those fantabulous twists that has dogged Simpson, the sleazebags at Fox News will feature Mark Fuhrman as an analyst. 
Fuhrman, you might recall, is the Los Angeles police detective famous for lying during Simpson's 1995 murder trial about his repeated use of racist language.  He later pleaded no contest to committing perjury during the trial. 
The former detective has shamelessly translated his heightened profile as a ratbag racist cop into financial rewards.  (Then again, Lance Armstrong is doing Tour de France commentary this summer).  
After retiring to Idaho, Fuhrman wrote a best-selling book about his investigation -- he was one of the first detectives on the murder scene -- and subsequent trial titled Murder in Brentwood and later became a "forensic and crime scene expert" for Fox News who predictably has defended police officers in racially-charged shootings. 
Following the fatal shooting of Alton Sterling while being held down by two Baton Rouge police in 2016, which sparked nationwide protests, Fuhrman blamed Sterling. 
Fox News is making no secret of where it stands on the Juice and is giving him the Full Hillary Treatment.  "O.J. Simpson, one of the most heinous and depraved killers in modern American history, is up for parole consideration," says Fox News anchor Gregg Jarrett. "He should never be set free." 
Simpson, whom fellow inmates have nicknamed "Norberg" for his roles as the hapless cop in the Naked Gun movies, is described as a model prisoner who leads a Baptist prayer group, mentors inmates, coaches sports teams and is commissioner of the prison yard softball league, so my guess is that he will be sprung given his clean record and that not even his surviving victim in the crime spree (the other victim died in 2015) opposes his release, which would be in October. 
The elephant in the room, so to speak, is that the trial judge in the crime spree case declared that Simpson had gotten away with murder, something the parole board technically should not consider.

For this career journalist and long time observer of the ebb and flow of American fads, interests and mores, the biggest story was and remains why O.J. Simpson became a murderer.
In a society that judges a person by the color of their skin, Orenthal James Simpson had something that very few black Americans could claim: He was so accomplished and at one time was so popular that, in advertising agency parlance, he was "race neutral." 
That is to say that when most people looked at him they saw not a black man who happened to have overcome a disadvantaged childhood in a broken home, but a handsome and gifted athlete who found fame and fortune by parlaying outstanding college and professional football careers into a successful big-bucks life off the field selling everything from men's footwear to rental cars, and as a broadcaster and later a not-bad Hollywood actor who married a gorgeous blonde woman, had two beautiful children with her, and seemed to be in a giving marriage in a multi-racial community not unusual for Southern California but at that time alien to the rest of the country. 
Simpson’s acquittal can be attributed, in large part, to black jurors who had a deep and well-placed distrust of the LAPD and believed that he had been framed because of his skin color.  Cue Fuhrman testimony. 
(The families of Brown Simpson and Goldman eventually were awarded a $33.5 million wrongful-death civil judgment, but O.J. will be anything but poor upon his release with a multi-million dollar Screen Actors Guild pension and $1,700 a month NFL pension.) 
Yet it appears that to most people O.J. still remains O.J. despite the bitterness and animosity that the verdict unleashed on both sides of the racial divide, although it was us white folks who were shocked, just shocked, that the divide existed, while it was an inescapable fact of life for blacks and other minorities.

had a great ride off of O.J.  Given free rein by the Big Boss, I wrote at least one story each weekday for 16 months, as well as a syndicated column of gossipy tidbits called "The Simpson File" that was wildly popular and published in newspapers throughout the U.S. and Canada.  There was no such thing as a slow news day, and I never ran out of material.
I was one of the few reporters to plumb the racial aspects of the jury early on in the 11-month trial -- 10 women and two men, nine of whom were black, two white and one Hispanic -- and while I did not predict the acquittal (nobody did), I wrote that such an outcome would not necessarily be surprising because woman jurors seemed so sympathetic to O.J. and the truth stretching but convincing arguments of his defense lawyers, who had basically eaten Marsha Clark and her fellow prosecutors for lunch. 
I was the only reporter, to my knowledge, to explore gender views of Nicole. 
In one story, I riffed off of trial testimony showing that after returning home with her two young children on the night of the murders, Nicole had put them to bed, then lit candles throughout her condo, put on soothing music and taken a long bath.  And that to most men, such a scenario indicated that she was getting ready to meet a lover, in this case Goldman, while most women believed that like many a mother, she just wanted to chill out after a long and stressful day, which had included an unpleasant encounter with O.J. at an ice cream parlor.  Meanwhile, Goldman just happened to show up to return a pair of reading glasses she had misplaced.  Men couldn't relate to the tired-mom scenario.  Women could. 
My one "big" scoop concerned the fact the Nicole's breasts had been surgically enhanced because O.J. liked 'em big, something I confirmed in an interview with the Main Line Philadelphia plastic surgeon who had done the deed. 
Ahem. 
Celebrity became O.J., but he could not overcome his humanness.  
I claim no special insight into the demons that possessed this Hall of Famer.  All I know is that despite his accomplishments and exalted status, he was just another human being who was vulnerable to the baser temptations of life in the fast lane who succumbed to the frailties – in his case outbursts of rage, jealousy and a fondness for illegal substances -- that bedevil many of us.
Perhaps no one knows when O.J. hit bottom -- possibly not even The Juice himself.  That occurred sometime in the run-up to the slayings, which probably were a result of a cocaine-fueled binge, intense jealousy, or most likely both.  As it turned out, he had severely beaten Nicole on New Years Day 1989 in an earlier fit of rage. 
In any event, it is sadly obvious that Simpson had been bottom crawling since the double murders. I will leave it to greater minds to do the moral calculus on whether his convictions for the Las Vegas crime spree some 13 years to the day of his murder trial acquittal and a jail sentence somehow makes up for him getting off in 1995. 
My own view is that life -- and death -- don't work that way.  
Besides which O.J., even at the advanced age of 70, his good looks long gone, his waistline larger and fashion statements limited to blue prison uniforms, seems incapable of being chastened no matter how hard he once looked for "the real killers" of Nicole and Ron, and how much jail time he does.