A Trump news companion

Wonder if there’s anything about the president in the news today…

Hmmm, a lawyer who worked for Donald Trump in his private company before he became president, and I guess for a little time after he became president, pleaded guilty to some bank fraud charges today…oh, but also to some federal election law violations.  Michael Cohen admitted to arranging payments to two women to keep them from telling secrets that would damage the campaign of Dona…well, he doesn’t actually name the candidate whose campaign would have been harmed, but it’s clear who it was.  (It was Trump.)  Those are the payments to Karen McDougal and to Stephanie Clifford (Stormy Daniels), women who claimed to have had sexual relationships with Trump, relationships which he still denies…although his lawyer now admits in court to making the payments to keep the stories of those affairs quiet (hell of a lot of good that did!) and says that Trump repaid him, although Trump denies even knowing anything about the payments.   Something doesn’t quite synch up here.  Those bank fraud charges were about his other business operations, nothing to do with Trump.

What else…

Oh, the guy who was the Trump campaign chairman for a few minutes in 2016 was found guilty by a federal jury of eight tax and bank fraud charges (and got a hung jury on ten other counts)…looks like all those crimes had nothing to do with Trump, either, except maybe give us another data point on Trump as a judge of character.  Let’s see, along with Paul Manafort and Cohen, we have:

  • Michael Flynn, retired general who was fired as national security adviser over “trust” issues, who pled guilty to lying to the FBI about his pre-inauguration contacts with Russia’s ambassador to the U.S.
  • Rick Gates, another former Trump campaign official and inaugural committee official, and Manafort business partner, who has admitted committing crimes with Manafort
  • George Papadopoulos, a one-time Trump campaign adviser who pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about his attempts to set up meetings between the Trump campaign and representatives of Russia
  • Twelve Russian intelligence officers indicted for hacking the Democratic National Committee
  • Thirteen Russian nationals and three Russian companies indicted for interfering in the American political system

…and those are just the people collared, so far, by the Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation.  (Never before seen a witch hunt that came back with so many witches in just a year’s time, have you?)  Can Trump have been that bad a judge of character?  Maybe he’s actually a really good judge of character, and found what he was looking for: like all those people that Mr. Mueller has taken an interest in.  Maybe like his pal Omarosa, who he loved so much before he said mean things about her.

Trump’s argument is Manigault Newman:

  • Was only hired because she begged for a job, and he acquiesced.
  • Was not smart.
  • Was broadly disliked and mean to people.
  • Constantly missed meetings and skipped work.
  • Struck [Chief of Staff John] Kelly so negatively he suggested she be fired, and, perhaps most damningly.
  • Was of such questionable quality as an employee that she failed to win his reality show three times.

But she kept her job, even after Kelly complained—Kelly, whose job was to guide Trump’s White House staff.  Why?  What is the one quality Manigault Newman possessed that was sufficient for Trump to argue she keep her job?

She praised Trump.

Maybe he’s getting what he got because he looked for people who reminded him of him, or who at least were willing to swim in the same pool as him.

The problem with being Donald Trump isn’t just being Donald Trump. It’s all the other, lesser Trumps around you. It’s the versions of yourself that you create, the echoes of yourself that you inspire. They’ll devour you in the end.

I don’t mean his biological offspring, though they’re no picnic. I mean his spiritual spawn. I mean the knaves, nuts, schemers and dreamers who have taken their cues from him or turned his lessons against him. This is their moment. This is their month.

What was that other thing about Manafort I just saw?  Oh yeah:

I’m reading that people from the Trump Administration who at his West Virginia rally tonight are reportedly busy reminding people that a president can’t be indicted; wonder why they think that’s important to say right now?  (My understanding is that it’s Justice Department policy not to indict a sitting president, but not a law.)

Remember when the former Navy Seal who ran the mission that got Bin Laden wrote a letter to Trump that said “revoke my security clearance” after the president did that to John Brennan, the former CIA chief who’s been very critical of Trump’s actions as president (to say the least)?  In that letter Bill McRaven said something that was echoed the next day by more than a dozen other former high-ranking intelligence agency officials who criticized Trump for playing political games with the country’s security:

Like most Americans, I had hoped that when you became president, you would rise to the occasion and become the leader this great nation needs.

A good leader tries to embody the best qualities of his or her organization. A good leader sets the example for others to follow. A good leader always puts the welfare of others before himself or herself.

Your leadership, however, has shown little of these qualities. Through your actions, you have embarrassed us in the eyes of our children, humiliated us on the world stage and, worst of all, divided us as a nation.

If you think for a moment that your McCarthy-era tactics will suppress the voices of criticism, you are sadly mistaken. The criticism will continue until you become the leader we prayed you would be.

(I think he’s being polite with that very last bit there…)

Well, there was a weird next chapter in that story today: with his very own thumbs (I think, given the odd capitalization) the president wrote on his Twitter that former director of national intelligence James Clapper “admonished John Brennan for having gone totally off the rails.  Maybe Clapper is being nice to me so he doesn’t lose his Security Clearance for lying to Congress!”  Not sure what Clapper actually said, but what University of Texas law professor Steve Vladeck said about Trump’s Tweet ought to be talked about:

I think I’m ready for the sports section now…

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Where do we go from here

It’s been an amazing couple of days.  Thanks to leaks of government documents and the hard work of some reporters, we’ve learned that the government has been collecting data on our telephone calls—three billion phone calls a day—and essentially watching from inside our computers while we work on the Internet.  Government officials say this is for our own protection, that it’s a good way for them to gather information that can prevent terrorist attacks.  The programs began while George W. Bush was president, and have continued under Barack Obama.

I’ve tried to get my head wrapped around the rapid-fire revelations of the government’s massive system of spying on its citizens; not a rogue operation, but a system pursued by the administration and authorized by Congress and the special Foreign Surveillance Intelligence Courts.  I see that the stories are falling off of the front pages, but we need to fight becoming complacent about this Patriot-(Act)-ic intrusion into our privacy.

On Wednesday news broke of a secret order to Verizon forcing it to turn over metadata of all of its customers calls…we think this includes business, residential and cellular, and we think there are probably similar orders for other telephone providers, but the orders themselves are so secret that the companies can’t acknowledge if it exists.  On Thursday we learned that the government has been tapping directly into the central servers of the major Internet companies to access emails, pictures and videos, etc.  Late Thursday night government officials confirmed the program but insisted it is targeted only at people outside of the United States.  They even claimed that the programs have succeeded in stopping terrorist attacks, although that claim seems dubious.

By Friday the president himself tried to assure American citizens that these programs were for their own good and that we have nothing to fear.  He said, “It’s important to recognize that you can’t have 100 percent security and also then have 100 percent privacy and zero inconvenience. We’re going to have to make some choices as a society. And what I can say is that in evaluating these programs, they make a difference in our capacity to anticipate and prevent possible terrorist activity.”

Really? Well, that’s a load off of my mind; thanks for clearing that up for me, B.

I wrote earlier this week, “We cannot be such a craven and cowardly people that we’re willing to let our government spy on us constantly and record our activities and our associations in the name of protecting us from terrorist threats.  If that’s true, then not only have the terrorists already won but the American example of an open and free society is lost.  What the hell would the Founding Fathers think of us if they knew we were willing to abandon our liberty to a government that assured us it is only looking over our shoulders and listening to our phone calls for our own good?”

Only the ignorant or the naïve have ever expected total security in this world, or absolute liberty and privacy.  That’s not the world we live in.  There are crazy religious extremists who are killing innocent people out of a deluded belief that they are doing God’s will, and nothing more than common sense is needed to know that we have to take reasonable measures to protect ourselves from them.  (There are crazy religious extremists who trying to turn our country into a theocracy of their own denomination out of a deluded belief that that is God’s will, and we need to step up and stop that attack, too.)  I have no doubt that these programs have some positive effect when it comes to gathering valuable information against potential terrorists; what I object to is that these effective programs are targeted at all Americans. Jack Shafer put it well: it’s not that I object to the government pursuing terrorists and suspected terrorists…

What’s breathtaking about these two government surveillance programs that the Guardian and the Washington Post have revealed is that they’re vast collections of data about hundreds of millions of people suspected of no wrongdoing and not part of any civil action.

And, “Ultimately, it will be about the government’s pursuit of all the digital breadcrumbs we produce as necessary by-products of day-to-day life—and phone records and Web data are just a small part.

Bank records, credit history, travel records, credit card records, EZPass data, GPS phone data, license-plate reader databases, Social Security and Internal Revenue Service records, facial-recognition databases at the Department of Motor Vehicles and elsewhere, even 7-Eleven surveillance videos comprise information lodes that are of equal or greater value to the national security establishment than phone and Web files. It doesn’t sound paranoid to conclude that the government has reused, or will reuse, the interpretation of the Patriot Act that it presented to the secret FISA court in its phone record and Prism data requests to grab these other data troves.

Warning: slippery slope ahead…

UPDATE: A short time after I posted I ran across this: the NSA suggested to the Bush White House that the government needed to reconsider how it could effectively spy on people in the Digital Age, although it promised to (of course) obey the law and respect the Fourth Amendment to the Constitution. Well, yeah…

There are also a couple of pertinent new tweets worth a look over there on the rail, too.