Sunday’s tweet storm

There was some speculation that this tweet storm was coming.  The weather in Washington was poor over the weekend, so no golf for the Donald.   Theses tweets included  name calling (crooked New York Times) and unfounded allegations all centered around the Mueller investigation, and the media.  It reminds me why I subscribe to the New York Times, because it provides hard facts, often taken from court filings.  Revealing the name of the FBI informant is a diversion, and it won’t work, as all law enforcement depends on keeping sources confidential.

A totally open investigation, where confidential information in FISA warrants and names of informants, is given to the public, not only can ruin this investigations, but severely limit future investigations.

Mueller has obtained either indictments or guilty pleas for key campaign officials:

Paul Manafort, under house arrest awaiting trial, Trump’s campaign manager, June to August 2016,  Faces many charges, including financial fraud, conspiracy against the US, failure to register as a foreign agent working for Ukraine.

Rick Gates,  plead guilty to financial fraud and lying to investigators, Trump’s deputy campaign manager, worked as number 2  along with Manafort, and then continued after the election, in planning the inauguration ceremonies.  His cooperation with the Mueller investigation may uncover more Russian links.

General Michael Flynn,  pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.  Joined Trump’s campaign in February 2016 as a foreign policy adviser.  Trump appointed him National Security Adviser, a position he held for 24 days until resigning as facts surface on his contacts with Russian officials which he had lied about to Vice President Pence.  He is cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

The list goes on.  George Papadopoulos,  former campaign foreign policy advisor,  has also plead guilty to lying to FBI agents and is also cooperating with the Mueller investigation.

This is white collar crime, involving bank fraud, conspiracy with Russian agents,  campaign finance violation and money laundering.  It must be investigated and prosecuted.  The investigation is not completed, but the tweets say one thing:  Donald Trump is scared of what is likely to be revealed.  When you’ve got nothing to defend yourself, you can always pound the table.  Or send your TV lawyers to Fox News to do it for you.

Keep informed.  It’s a complex story, and not everything will connect up.   It will take time for Mueller to complete the investigation.  See links below on the tweet storm and summaries of the investigation.   And kudos to the New York Times,  Washington Post (I subscribe to both newspapers) and Wikipedia (send in your donation today!).

Stay tuned,

Dave

 Checking Facts: 11 false things Donald Trump said in 5 tweets Sunday morning

Wikipedia: Special Counsel investigation (2017–present)

(Getting results, slow but sure)

Vanity Fair: RICK GATES COULD BE MORE DANGEROUS THAN TRUMP’S ALLIES THOUGHT 

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rick_Gates_(political_consultant)

More Trump’s attacks on the FBI

I’m calling them Trump lies.   As President, he can call up the Justice Department, and ask the Attorney General if this allegation is true.   Instead he prefers Fox News.

The New York Times calls this a “distortions of the truth.”    Here is Trump’s tweet on Friday:

“Reports are there was indeed at least one FBI representative implanted, for political purposes, into my campaign for president,” he tweeted Friday. “It took place very early on, and long before the phony Russia Hoax became a ‘hot’ Fake News story. If true — all time biggest political scandal!”

The big problem are “reports” and  “implanted”     Of course, Trump is saying, “I’m not making this up”  however these are not Justice Department nor FBI reports.  It is just something he heard,  on Fox News.   A commentator is not a news reporter, particularly true on Fox News.  Welcome to the echo chamber, from Hannity’s mouth, to  a flurry of tweets from Trump and then back to Fox News.  Ping pong garbage.

A marketing principle: “You can not turn a lie into the truth by telling it a thousand times.  But the lie will seem credible enough to the public, after they hear it a thousand times to be believed as the truth.”    A second rule is “Never concede you are wrong.”

The New York Times and the Washington Post has been very cautious in their reporting.   This is how the Washington Post presented the story:

In mid-July 2016, a retired American professor approached an adviser to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign at a symposium about the White House race held at a British university.

The professor took the opportunity to strike up a conversation with Carter Page, whom Trump had named a few months earlier as a foreign policy adviser.

But the professor was more than an academic interested in American politics — he was a longtime U.S. intelligence source. And, at some point in 2016, he began working as a secret informant for the FBI as it investigated Russia’s interference in the campaign, according to people familiar with his activities.

There is no evidence that there was a paid FBI spy within the Trump campaign.   This is a lie, and very regrettable that President Trump finds it necessary to attack the FBI in this manner.  When Russia agents are making contacts either abroad or  in the US, with the objective of interfering with the US elections, then this is likely a crime.  The duty of the FBI is to find out who the Russian agents are working for, and their US counterparts.  If this requires striking up a conversation with campaign advisers, this is just good law investigation  tactics.

However, as pointed out on CNN, this reporting was based on leaked information to the New York Times and Washington Post.  They know who this individual is but have refused to disclose it.  I hope it stays this way, at least until Mueller’s investigation is finished.  As reported today in the New York Times,  Trump’s congressional allies are demanding full disclosure of the informant, in an attempt to “investigate the investigation” and disrupt or discredit the investigation.   And as collateral damage, weaken the public’s general confidence in the FBI.

According to the New York Times:

“Law enforcement officials have refused (hand over documents on the informant),   saying it would imperil both the source’s anonymity and safety. “

It would also open the door to more  unprecedented congressional inquiries, and interference of the judicial process  in the name of “oversight.”  The only basis for wrongdoing is Trump’s tweets based on Fox News – that’s how screwy things have become.

Robert Mueller is conducting a serious criminal investigation with the help of the FBI.  He runs a tight ship, with the only information surfacing in the media is from Trump’s personal lawyers or through court filings.

The FBI investigation had its first big break in May 2016 when George Papadopoulos, who  like Carter Page, was a foreign policy adviser,  talked to Australia’s ambassador in London, about obtaining political dirt on Hillary Clinton including Clinton’s hacked emails, to help influence our elections in favor of Trump.    Papadopoulos has pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI and is cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.

The adage “the best defense is an offense” seems to be Trump’s strategy.    Trump and Mike Hannity (Fox News)  are trying their best to create an alternative reality, where conspiracy theories and deep state nonsense can thrive.   This is shameful.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Supreme Court: Ideological Differences

The Supreme Court is not split Republicans verses Democrats.   There is however an ideological split, which influences their decisions.   This is all highly simplistic, as I don’t want a blog about textualism, or judicial activism ideas.      I consider Ginsburg, Breyer, Sotomayor, and Kagan to be in the liberal camp and Thomas, Alito, Roberts, Kennedy and Gorsuch to be in the conservative camp.    So, in theory, every decision will be decided by the group of 5 in the conservative camp.  Wrong, wrong and wrong!

I’ll start with  my conclusion.  Liberals tend to stick together more than conservatives, at least in the current term in the Supreme Court, so if the liberals can attract one or more conservatives, then they will prevail.   Sometimes, liberals join with conservatives.   There are unanimous decisions, where ideological differences are unimportant.   The most recent case,  the New Jersey State Gambling case,  was a 6 to 3 vote, with Kagan, normally on the liberal side, voted with the conservatives.

This is different from politics, where a Republican who supports a Democratic bill, in a close vote, is likely be pressured to change his vote.

I use Scotusblog.com  in the current term for my statistics.  Here is the agreement of votes from the liberal block, in the range of 96 to 100% agreement.

Ginsburg and Breyer   100%,  Ginsberg and Kagan  96%,  Ginsberg and Sotomayor 100%,  Breyer and Kagan 96%,  Breyer and Sotomayor 100%,  Sotomayor and Kagan  96%. 

The conservatives block of 5 justices, range from 68% to 100% as follows:

Thomas and Alito:  100%,  Thomas and Roberts 68%,  Thomas and Gorsuch 81%,  Alito and Roberts: 75%,  Alito and Gorsuch 81%,  Alito and Kennedy 86%,  Roberts and Gorsuch 85%,  Roberts and Kennedy: 89%,  Kennedy and Gorsuch 81%.  

There was a lot of talk about Kennedy being the swing justice.   But, a very good argument can be made that Roberts is also a swing justice.  In fact,   Roberts has agreed with Ginsburg and Sotomayor the same percentage of the time (68%) as with Thomas.  Gorsuch is the new justice, and statistics show he sides with the liberals at times.

There are some important caveats to this.  First, this is all cases, and not broken down in ones where there was an ideological difference.  I don’t know how many cases were involved in calculating these statistics; it may be quite a small set.  Finally,  in a number of cases, justices concur in part, but not in all of the decision.  The statistics don’t distinguish between partial or full agreement.  Both cases are considered agreement.

The Supreme Court has to make judgement on the most difficult cases.  It decides each case on its merits, and in relationship to the law.   It has been noted that the Supreme Court is producing less opinions in the current term.  It may be that Roberts has tried to obtain more of a consensus among the justices, by keeping the opinions more narrowly focused in some of the cases.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Ideological leanings of U.S. Supreme Court justices (Wikipedia)

Judicial activism

Textualism

http://www.scotusblog.com/statistics/

US Supreme Court Opinions  (Recent slip opinions)

The Supreme Court always provides their legal  reasoning for their opinions, and dissents, soon after a decision is rendered.

Pulling out of the Iranian Nuclear Deal

If there ever was a lose-lose proposition, this is it.  It is a loss for the US, for Iran and for our allies.   It may also be a win for Russia, in the long term.

So many experts have stated the most obvious reason for staying in the agreement – Iran was in compliance with the terms of the agreement.  The agreement called for the release of Iranian funds that the US and other countries had frozen.   The US did not get everything it wanted from the accords, but it got the really important part – Iran would not be building a nuclear weapon any time soon.

Moreover,  if we’ve learned anything from history, it is that unilateral sanctions don’t work.  They certainly were a failure in Cuba and  Libya.

It is a major win for the hardliners in Iran, who will wage a narrowly focused campaign against the US.  They will likely blame Iran’s economic problems on new US sanctions, instead of needed reforms.  The losers will be the Iranian people not the Mullahs.  Had the Iranian nuclear deal continued with the US support,  there would have been no guarantees that the moderates in the country would succeed in reforms, but now, with the help of Trump,  the hardliners have new ammunition against any progressive program for disarmament.

It makes North Korean discussions more difficult.  How can North Korea trust us, when we break our word with Iran.  Bad all around, in my opinion.

Opening of our embassy in Jerusalem:

The US ignored the Palestinian claim to Jerusalem, and with it, lost any chance of being a fair broker in peace negotiations.  After a UN vote condemning the move,  UN Ambassador Nikki Haley,   held a reception for “Friends of the US” and I’m not sure who went.  The invitees were the countries that either voted against the UN resolution condemning the recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.   There are only four  countries with a population of over one million people who voted against the resolution –  Israel, Guatemala, Honduras  and of course, the US.

The opinion piece by columnist Dana Milbank, summed up my thoughts on the “peace” celebration in Israel, entitled, “Nothing says ‘peace’ like 58 dead Palestinians.”   Jerusalem was to be a city to be shared between Palestinians and Israels, as a result of peace negotiations.

“The move of the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv could have been a moment of unity and brotherhood. Instead, as with most everything Trump touches, it became a symbol of division and bitterness. It could have been the capstone of a peace deal, as Republican and Democratic administrations alike had hoped. Instead, it all but dashed hope for a two-state solution.”

Israel invited representatives from all 86 countries with consulates in Israel to attend opening ceremonies, but only 32 attended.  Of the 54 countries absent from the opening ceremony were France, UK, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Italy, India, China, Russia and Australia.  In South America, only Peru and Paraguay attended.   Like the “Friends of the US” reception in January 2018,  a lot of familiar friends are not with us.  See links

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2018/05/opens-embassy-jerusalem-countries-attended-180514141915625.html

 

 

Trump’s Approval Rating

The Gallup poll has surveyed the president’s approval rating for 13 presidents from Truman to Trump.   Arbitrarily,  I’ve decided that a 75% approval means that there is strong support for the president’s recent decisions.  Getting above 75% is tough, and it doesn’t last long.      I drew a 25% approval line, which shows only three presidents hit this line or were really close:   Truman, Nixon and George W. Bush.    These were presidents during the Korean, Vietnam and Iraq wars.   But,  Nixon’s sharp drop in popularity was tied to Watergate.

So,  let’s make this real easy.  Over 75%, the country loves their president (more or less) and under 25%, we hate our president.   In between these two extremes,  a well liked president is able to be above the 50% line, and a not so liked president will be under 50% approval.    Many presidents start at high approvals  and go into a slump towards  the end of the term.   This is true for all presidents,  except Clinton, who started low and ended high.

Three presidents (Truman, Nixon, and George W.  Bush) all went above the 75% “we love you” line and managed to end their term very close to the 25% “we hate you” line.   Truman still holds the record of low approval rating, at 22%, with a slight uptick towards the end of his term, which ended in Jan 1953.     Eisenhower ended the Korean conflict, and enjoyed a number of  pops over the “we love you” line.

All this makes sense, as a president has a certain “honeymoon period” where people are cutting him a lot of slack because he’s new on the job.  After some time, and finding out that everything the candidate promised, is not what the president elect can deliver, there should be disappointment in the president.

So, let’s get to Obama’s line,  going into a slump about two years into his first term, crossing below 50%, but crossing back above 50% towards the end.   Of course, Obama got very  high ratings from Democrats and very  low ratings from Republicans.

What really distinguishes Trump’s approval rating, is the lack of variation, as compared to all the other presidents.  He started at 45% approval rating in his first 9 days in office, which dropped to 35% in August 2017, and the most recent surveys show a 42% rating (as of May 6, 2018).

There has certainly been a lot of misinformation out there, coming  particularly from Donald Trump.  His approval ratings do not seem to be impacted at all by the Michael Cohen/ Stormy Daniels scandal.   One reason,  is the Republicans  still love him at an 87% approval rating, and Democrats still hate him, with a 9% approval rating.   These numbers change only a few percent with each new survey.  If the country can be assumed divided 50/50 between Republicans and Democrats, then Trump would have a 48% approval.  Independents drag down his approval,  they have only 33% approval rating of Trump.

I’m getting pretty tired of hearing about how Trump’s approval ratings have soared with minorities, particularly blacks.   There was a 15% approval rating when he was elected president, and it’s 13% now.   Basically, since election day,  they have hated him.   Obama had a 91% approval rating and it stayed pretty much that way throughout his term.   Hispanics also hate Trump with a 22% approval rating, that is basically a flat line, never once crossing above 25% line.   Obama’s approval rating with Hispanics varied,  from 85% to 44%,  so he wasn’t consistently above the “we love you” line.

So, all this stuff about Trump being more popular with blacks or Hispanics  is nonsense.   When approval ratings are very low, there is more statistical variation of the results, particularly when only one small subset is examined.   Also, some polls use only people who were registered to vote in the last election.    Or they survey people who say they intend to vote in the next election.   These factors can make a difference.

Obama never got a “we love you” or “we hate you”  approval rating, and I suspect this will never happen with Trump.   Obama followed a Democratic agenda, had extremely strong support from Democrats,  and very little support from Republicans.  Vice versa with Trump, but the outcome is similar, a lack of variation in poll numbers, as compared to prior presidents.    Perhaps in the past, we focused more on the president himself and now it is more the party’s policy he represents.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Politifact.com: Trump’s False claim that his presidential approval rating is ‘not bad’

Politifact.com:  Donald Trump’s misleading claim that Kanye West’s praise doubled his African-American support

Gallup Poll on Presidential Approval Ratings

The 538 website compares Trump’s popularity (green line) with the 12 prior presidents.

https://projects.fivethirtyeight.com/trump-approval-ratings/

NYT: Trump Falsely Claims His Approval Among Black Americans Has Doubled

Is Donald Trump’s Approval Rating the Lowest in Recent History Before an Inauguration?

Iran Nuclear Deal

It is likely that Donald Trump will pull out of the Iranian nuclear deal on May 12, just 5 days from today.  The deal was not perfect by any one’s standards, but the flaws were blown way out of proportions by Republicans in Congress.   Trump has used this, and almost everything else negotiated by Obama (and other presidents) as terrible.   The response from Iran is unknown to the US pullout.  Our allies, France, Germany and the UK, have all been trying to keep Trump in the agreement.

The deal is working and Iran is in compliance.    Only  Benjamin Netanyahu,  the president of Israel, is against the agreement.   It will impact our negotiations with North Korea, who will see the US as a country which can not be trusted.   One president makes deals and the next one breaks  the deal when the other side is in compliance.

I hope I’m wrong.  If not, I would list this as the worst decision of the Trump administration,  followed by the pull out of Paris Climate Accords.  The third on the list, is the very brazen efforts by  EPA Director, Scott Pruitt, and Interior Department Secretary, Ryan Zinke,  not to protect  the environment or the interior, but to let the fossil fuel companies to do what they want, in the guise of deregulation. I believe the EPA should be changed to EDA, or Environment Destruction Agency.   As long as I’m criticizing Trump’s appointees,  this last one, John Bolton, as National Security Adviser, would be best described as the person most capable of turning a small problem into a larger one, through inflammatory rhetoric.

I won’t go into any more details on the Iran Deal, as there is a lot of commentary on the Internet.  I’ve included a link from Wikipedia below.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Link:

Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action

 

 

 

VW Emission Scandal

It was reported on May 3, 2018, that ex-CEO of VW, Martin Winterkorn,  was indicted by a Grand Jury in Michigan for making “false representations to regulators and the public” about the emission levels of VW vehicles.   As reported by the BBC (link provided below), US Attorney General Jeff Sessions said the indictment showed that Volkswagen’s scheme to cheat its legal requirements went “all the way to the top.”

Kudos to Sessions, federal prosecutors,  and the US justice system.   But even if found guilty by US authorities, it’s unlikely Mr Winterkorn, who resigned soon after the scandal broke in 2015, will ever see the inside of a US courtroom, much less prison, as Germany does not extradite its citizens. according to the BBC.

It was front page news in 2015, that VW had special coding within their cars’  computer to detect when their cars were being tested by the EPA, and make the necessary changes so the cars would pass the emissions tests.  The problem was the nitrous oxide levels (NOx).   The problem was enormous.   If they made their cars compliant for emission standards, the fuel economy would be substantially lower.  In the US,  it is mandatory to post the fuel mileage on the window of new cars.  It is also an obvious selling point,  as it suggests to an owner of an older model, that they could save on both car repairs and fuel costs by trading their old car for a new one.   It is also obvious, that consumers would select VW over other car manufacturers based on better fuel economy.   So, any attempt to fix emissions, would result in a fraud case, by all consumers based on gas consumption.

The Wikipedia summary is very good, but I have supplemented it with a couple of links, relating nitrogen oxide in the atmosphere with health problems and agricultural crises.   I would have a requirement that all automotive engineers take at least one course in environmental science.

Things go wrong in companies all the time.   I worked for an oil company (Texaco) and fortunately, never was directly involved in  engineering decisions involving deceit or fraud.   But, I knew of a number of cases, where if an engineer did go public with certain information, it would likely result in the engineer getting fired, and the whole matter covered up.   It is a real tough situation.  This is exactly the situation VW engineers faced.

The real documentation of the fraud in  VW case, is  the computer program itself, which is stored in a non-readable binary machine code in every car that is sold.   It isn’t a problem of the code being locked or encrypted, but the form of the code. There is a solution to this, but let’s wait to the end of the story.

Eleven million cars produced by VW, from 2009 to 2014, had the rigged software.   Of the 11 million, 500,000 cars were sold in the US.   These were diesel cars, which are not very popular in the US.  My guess is engineers were told a lie.  If caught, we’ll do a recall and fix the error.  This has become standard operating procedure.   Of course, it wasn’t fixable.   Perhaps, a second lie was also told, “we can’t get caught, because it’s all buried in the unreadable machine code.”

Per Wikipedia, “Engineers had recognized inadequacies in emissions tests, dating back to 1989.   The Washington Post also reported that in the late 1990s, EPA engineers at Virginia Testing Laboratory had built a system called ROVER, designed to test a car’s emissions on the road. The project was shut down in 2001, despite preliminary tests indicating gaps between emissions from lab tests and real world tests of about 10 to 20 percent.”     They didn’t contemplate how “on the road testing could catch cheaters.”

It was completely by chance that VW got caught. Under a $50,000 grant,  in early 2014, two professors and two students began testing emission under road conditions, using a portable emissions measurement system.  Under real-world driving conditions the Jetta exceeded US emissions limits “by a factor of 15 to 35” while the Passat exceeded the limit “by a factor of 5 to 20, according to Wikipedia.

Now, what Michael Winterkorn is charged with, is not the initial crime of cheating the testing, but the later concealment from the consumer,  after he learned  the VW cars had the defeat device.

Cars have computers to fine tune the performance.   It was pretty inconceivable that the engineers would create the defeat device,  but they are encouraged to be “problem solvers” and to innovative to gain  a competitive advantage over the other car makers.  It seems a simple solution has been suggested,  to require only readable and public code  to be used in cars.     Unfortunately,  EPA is pretty dysfunctional with Scott Pruitt at the helm.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Wikipedia:  VW Emissions Scandal

BBC: Diesel emissions scandal

Nearly half of Michiganders live in unacceptable smog levels, EPA says

Why ozone levels pose a challenge to food security

 

The counter attack Michael Cohen, Stormy Daniels and Mueller’s investigation.

Wow.  What a mess!  What was going on in the last couple of weeks of the elections – if people knew, Trump would have lost for sure.

It started with the Russian influence in the US elections was a “made up story”  by the “fake news media” or the Democrats,  to explain why they lost.  Then 13 Russians were indicted by the Grand Jury and big names in the Trump campaign are either headed for trial (Paul Manafort) or have pleaded guilty (Michael Flynn,  Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos).    A lot more is coming in the Russian probe.

No country should ever be allowed to influence the US elections.    The best chance for criminal justice and truth is with the Mueller investigation.

The Stormy Daniels story changes depending on how much hard evidence the prosecutors have, and how much Trump feels that Cohen might flip.   Another words, this saga has evolved from some rogue attorney, who felt so honor bond to Donald Trump, to pay $130,000 out of his own funds, to shut up Stormy Daniels, to part of a legal agreement (note attorney-client privilege) to fix problems for Donald Trump as part of retainer fees.

Calm and precise Jeff Toobin, legal commentator for CNN, summed it up nicely, “How stupid does he think we are?”  meaning of course Trump.

It isn’t the FBI or the Department of Justice that has caused a problem for Trump, but the president.

As his associates get caught,  they’re flipping.  The indictments and convictions will depend on a massive amount of information, not available to the public, including financial records, bank statements,  emails, and other documents.

O, what a tangled web we weave when first we practise to deceive!
Walter Scott

I’m leaving off the usual links, except for the Wikipedia, which is the best factual summary I could find.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Link:

Wikipedia – Special Counsel

 

Comey’s book “Higher Loyalty”

I’ve read the book, cover to cover.  It has received excellent reviews.  Some may be disappointed that he does not provide details in the Russian investigation by Robert Mueller.    In interviews, he has carefully refused to comment on the ongoing investigation.

It is not an anti-Trump book, only there was little to admire about his interactions with the FBI Director Comey.   In fact, there is hardly a mention of Trump until the very few last chapters.   It is rather a pro-FBI and pro-Department of Justice book.  It is a memoir, from early childhood  to his various assignments in public office.

In many areas, it is a book in praise of those who have shown outstanding courage, conviction and values.   A defining moment came with the “Stellar Wind” episode, where Comey had to race to the hospital bed, where Attorney General John Ashcroft, re-affirmed that Comey had full authority to refuse to reauthorize a warrantless  surveillance program on constitutional grounds, despite White House objections.   The hero, was Attorney General John Ashcroft,  very ill at the time with pancreatitis,  surrounded by White House attorneys who wanted him to override James Comey, who was acting AG while Ashcroft was in the hospital:

And then John Ashcroft did something that amazed me.  He pushed himself up on the bed with his elbows.  His tired eyes fixed upon the president’s men and gave Card and Gonzales a rapid-fire blast.  He had been misled about the scope of the surveillance program, he said.   He vented that he had long been denied the legal basis for parts of the program now that he understood it.  Spent, he fell back on his pillow, his breathing labored.  “But that doesn’t matter now,” he said, “because I’m not the attorney general.”  With a finger extended from his shaking left hand, he pointed to me. “There is the attorney general.”

There’s more to this story.  Although hesitant at first,  President Bush makes sufficient revisions to the Stellar Wind program,  and the program is re-authorized by the Department of Justice.  It is a positive example of a president, who is respectful of the independence and authority of the Department of Justice.

Most of the interviews I’ve listen to, are focused on Comey’s interactions with President Trump, which are in the last three chapters of the 14 chapters in the  book.   Comey writes there was a lack of humility in Trump as follows:

As I’d seen from other leaders, being confident enough to be humble – comfortable in their own skin – is at the heart of effective leadership.  That humility makes a whole lot of things possible, none more important than a single, humble question” “What am I missing?”

Later, in a discussion of Russian meddling in the 2016 election, with Comey and CIA Director Clapper with the new Trump team,   Comey writes,“What I found telling was what ask…. how the United States might prepare itself to meet that threat [in future elections]. “

Impatient readers will likely dive bomb into the last chapter of the book, which are strictly on the Trump presidency bypassing most of the very positive messages of the book.    By March 30, 2017,  Trump wanted Comey  to “lift the cloud” of suspicion surrounding his involvement with Russian agents, as it was “impairing his ability to act on behalf of the country.” This was repeated on April 11, 2017.    Comey’s firing came on May 9, 2017, in a very humiliating way, in his fifth month on the job.  He writes, “It may sound strange, but throughout my five months working under Donald Trump,  I wanted to succeed as president… We need our presidents to succeed. ”  

Comey doesn’t venture beyond his go beyond his congressional testimony as a private citizen,  on the reasons for his firing.  He stated then,

And on May 9th, when I learned that I had been fired, for that reason, I immediately came home as a private citizen.  But then the explanations, the shifting explanations, confused me and increasingly concerned me.   

He goes not to say they confused him for three reasons: (1) Trump said on occasions that he was doing a great job,  (2) Trump  said he was fired for the Russian investigation (Lester Holt interview)  and (3)  The initial explanation was based on  decisions Comey  made during the election year at  the conclusion of the email scandal.  I will add to this third reason, which I considered a made to order pretext for firing Comey  in an upcoming blog.

The 3 page epilogue leaves no question about how he feels about Donald Trump as president, as he writes, “Donald Trump’s presidency threatens much of what is good for this nation.”   At this point, it is no longer about a particular event or policy, but of violated norms and values.   It ends on a positive message, as he writes, “The next president, no matter the party, will surely emphasize values – truth, integrity, respect and tolerance – in ways an American leader hasn’t needed to for more than forty years. “

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

Scooter Libby Pardon

Scooter who?  I’m certain this is how many people reacted.   His full name is I. Lewis Libby,  but he goes by the name of Scooter Libby.

Now a bit of background on pardons.  The US Constitution gives the president the authority to pardon or commute the sentence of anyone he wants.  A person does not necessarily have to be convicted of a crime to be pardoned.  A list of each president and the number of people whose sentences were reduced or pardon, is given in the links below.  People can be guilty as hell, and still get pardon.  Even before someone is charged with a crime, they can be pardoned.     President Madison pardoned Pierre LaFitte because he helped Andrew Jackson, during the war of 1812.   Andrew Johnson who succeeded Lincoln,  granted a full and unconditional pardon and amnesty to all former Confederates of the rebellion on Christmas Day 1868.   Johnson also commuted the sentence of 3 convicted conspirators in Lincoln’s assassination.

More recently,  President Nixon commuted the sentence of  Jimmy Hoffa, the famous corrupt union boss, who subsequently vanished (likely murdered by others in the mob)  in 1962.  President Ford pardoned Richard Nixon in 1974.  I believe President Ford was right.  Nixon would have been charged with obstruction of justice.  It wasn’t the Watergate break in but the cover up,  backed up by Oval office audio recordings  that helped seal Nixon’s fate.   Nixon was the only president to be pardon.   Ford also provided a full restoration of citizenship to General Robert E. Lee,  who lead the confederate forces during the civil war about 110 years after the fact.   President Carter  granted amnesty to Vietnam war draft resisters, so he clearly is the record holder for pardons.    Carter also commuted the sentence of G. Gordon Libby, involved in the Watergate break in.

— * —

Then there was the billionaire Marc Rich pardon on Clinton’s last day in office.  The pardon raise criticism from many, including the New York Times,  that rich people can buy their way out of trouble, through charitable or  political contributions.  In 1983,  Rich and partner Pincus Green were indicted on 65 criminal counts, including income tax evasion, wire fraud, racketeering, and trading with Iran during the oil embargo (at a time when Iranian revolutionaries were still holding American citizens hostage).  However, Rich’s activities during the oil embargo  benefited Israel, as he was able to supply them with oil, with the help of Mossad, Israel  intelligence unit. The indictment was filed by then-U.S. Federal Prosecutor (and future mayor of New York City) Rudy Giuliani. At the time it was the biggest tax evasion case in U.S. history. Rich fled to Switzerland which refused to extradite Rich for what the they considered were tax crimes.  Rich died in 2013 in  Lucerne, Switzerland.

I bring up Marc Rich’s case, because it would be used, many times, to support the idea of corruption through the use of pardons.  An original “Pay to Play” scheme.  Rich was an oil commodities broker,  and made a fortune buying  crude oil from Iraq and Iran, during the 1973 to 1974 Arab Oil Embargo.   Rich’s ex-wife, Denise had donated over a million dollars to the Democratic Party.  Hillary Clinton didn’t get quite as much, with a donation from Denise on the order of  $70,00 to  $100,000 (See Wikipedia link).    I won’t go into the long controversial Rich saga,  but other tax experts claimed that Rich’s company was in fact, a Swiss company, so the RICO Act  (racketeering law) was improperly applied in Rich’s violation of the embargo rules.   According to Wikipedia:

In a February 18, 2001 op-ed essay in The New York Times, Clinton (by then out of office) explained why he had pardoned Rich, noting that U.S. tax professors Bernard Wolfman of the Harvard Law School and Martin Ginsburg of Georgetown University Law Center had concluded that no crime had been committed, and that Rich’s companies’ tax-reporting position had been reasonable. In the same essay, Clinton listed Lewis “Scooter” Libby as one of three “distinguished Republican lawyers” who supported a pardon for Rich.

Scooter Libby was one of Marc Rich’s lawyers.    It was Eric Holder as Clinton’s Deputy Attorney General who signed off on the pardon.  James Comey was US Attorney for the Southern District of New York in January 2002, and was critical of the pardon (page 159 of his new book).   Comey inherited an investigation into the pardon, as it had the appearance of a corrupt bargain.  There wasn’t enough evidence to bring charges.  Comey suggests it’s possible that Hillary Clinton as a junior senator, might have been reluctant to meet with him in 2002, due to his involvement in this  investigation.   He also suggests that it’s likely simply a scheduling problem.   He states this more as an aside, in discussing Clinton email investigation, which began on July 6, 2015.

— * —

I digress.  Now, back to the Trump pardon.   In the Bush administration,  Scooter Libby held three positions from 2001 to 2005:   Assistant to the Vice President for National Security Affairs and Chief of Staff to the Vice President and Assistant to the President.   He  was Vice President  Dick Cheney’s right hand man, by all accounts, interacting with Departments of State, Justice and Defense.

The Trump  pardon changed nothing  for Scooter Libby.  It seemed directed at conservative Republicans, particularly those who felt Libby had been a victim of an overzealous special prosecutor, some 15 years ago.   Does this sound familiar?

A jury convicted Libby of obstruction of justice and perjury in his grand jury testimony and making false statements to federal investigators about when and how he learned that Plame was a CIA agent.The crime occurred in 2003, and the appeals were exhausted by 2007 at which point  he received a partial pardon from President Bush.   Bush stated:

“Mr. Libby was sentenced to thirty months of prison, two years of probation, and a $250,000 fine. In making the sentencing decision, the district court rejected the advice of the probation office, which recommended a lesser sentence and the consideration of factors that could have led to a sentence of home confinement or probation.I respect the jury’s verdict. But I have concluded that the prison sentence given to Mr. Libby is excessive. Therefore, I am commuting the portion of Mr. Libby’s sentence that required him to spend thirty months in prison. My decision to commute his prison sentence leaves in place a harsh punishment for Mr. Libby. The reputation he gained through his years of public service and professional work in the legal community is forever damaged. His wife and young children have also suffered immensely. He will remain on probation. The significant fines imposed by the judge will remain in effect. The consequences of his felony conviction on his former life as a lawyer, public servant, and private citizen will be long-lasting.”

Many in government including Vice President Cheney, wanted a full pardon.  More over, I’m certain others wanted to lay blame for Libby’s problems to an over zealous Special Prosecutor, named Patrick Fitzpatrick and to blame the justice system.  Bush broke with Cheney on this one.

Fifteen years later, as it seemed everything was back to normal.  As consequence of his conviction, Libby’s license to practice law was suspended until being reinstated in 2016.   The judge had wide leeway in sentencing Libby, but he could have been given up to 25 years and fined one million dollars.  He was sentenced to 30 months in jail, but President Bush commuted Scooter Libby’s jail sentence, resulting in 2 years on probation and a $250,000 file.

All this occurred as a result of the “Valerie Plame affair”  in which a columnist, Robert Novak, revealed that she was a CIA agent.   I won’t go into the detail on the Scooter Libby’s case, however it is part of James Comey’s new book,  “A Higher Loyalty” as he was assigned to the case, as a US Attorney.  Comey’s book came out about 4 days after Trump’s pardon, so Comey had no clue that Libby would be pardoned.  This was a case of at least 3 leakers, within the Bush administration:  Karl Rove,  Richard Armitage and Scooter Libby.   However,  Libby compounded his problems by lying to the FBI.  Libby told investigators it was Tim Russert, the NBC Washington bureau chief which informed him that Valerie Plame was a CIA agent.   They knew Libby had committed a crime which the Justice Department could prove to a jury.

Comey explains that the case against Rove and Armitage was weak, as disclosure of a covert intelligence agent requires proof of specific and evil intent,  not just idle gossip.  To avoid an apparent conflict of interest, Comey appointed a special prosecutor Patrick Fitzgerald.   Right now, Patrick Fitzgerald  is part of James Comey’s  legal advisers and saw Comey’s note on a White House meeting after he was fired.

— * —

Donald Trump pardoned Scooter Libby on April 13, 2018 based on a Department of Justice recommendation.  As I said at the outset,  it change little for Scooter Libby.  However, what I find particularly offensive,  was Trump’s call to Libby’s lawyer, where Trump told her that Libby had been “screwed by the courts.”   Libby’s victim, Valerie Plame,  got it right, as she responded:

“This is definitely not about me. It’s absolutely not about Scooter Libby. This is about Donald Trump and his future,” Plame said before the formal announcement hit. “It’s very clear that this is a message he’s sending that you can commit crimes against national security and you will be pardoned, so I think he’s got an audience of three right now. That would be Manafort, Flynn and Kushner, and perhaps others.”

“The message being sent is you can commit perjury and I will pardon you if it protects me and I deem that you are loyal to me,” she added.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Trump: Scooter Libby “got screwed”

Presidential Pardons

Carter’s pardon stopped further court cases against draft dodgers during the Vietnam war, but excluded anyone who had previously been convicted.  Exactly how many draft dodgers might have been caught and brought to justice, and what punishment would have been given,  is really anyone’s guess.

Wikipedia:  Marc Rich

Wikipedia:  United States  v. Libby 

Wikipedia: Scooter Libby

Politico:  Trump issues pardon for Lewis ‘Scooter’ Libby

Patrick Fitzgerald – Special Counsel for Plame Affair

Scooter Libby – Marc Rich Connection

Comey’ Book: A Higher Loyalty

It is number 1 on Amazon’s best seller list.  Amazon was accepting pre-orders, and my copy arrived yesterday as promised.   The White House has made James Comey out to be public enemy #1, but he was well liked under both Republican and Democrats alike.   He was confirmed as FBI Director by the Senate 93 to 1.  I’m not bothering listening to Comey’s interviews, nor the White House or Fox’s  hourly attacks on Comey.  I’m too busy reading his book.   I used to subscribe to a stock advisory newsletter, whose motto was jokingly, “Frequently wrong but never in doubt.”  I think this applies to Trump.    Comey was the exception,  “Frequently right, but usually in doubt.”

The strongest asset of a democracy is an informed public. This is Comey’s memoir from the vantage point of  the highest level of  law investigation and enforcement.  It should be read from cover to cover, ignoring  the noise coming from Washington and the media.

Stay tuned,

Dave

 

 

Trump’s fixer man, Michael Cohen, and his secret business dealings

Michael Cohen is both a lawyer and a business man.    Search warrants  were served on Mr. Cohen because he is  being investigated for possible campaign finance violations, bank fraud and wire fraud.   It is part of a federal grand jury investigation which was empaneled months ago.  On Monday,  Mr. Cohen lost in his request to have all items seized in the raid returned to him.     It was established in court, that in the last year and a half,  Cohen provided legal advice to only three clients,  Donald Trump,  Elliott Broidy and Sean Hannity.   Sean Hannity denied he was Mr. Cohen’s client.

In their search, investigators also sought to obtain records relating to Cohen’s ownership of taxi medallions — high-value assets that are often used as collateral for loans, according to people familiar with the matter.  The value of the medallions was sharply dropping in value, as a result of Uber and Lyft.   Between April and June 2017, the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance filed seven tax warrants against Cohen and his wife for $37,434 in unpaid taxi taxes due to the MTA.[13]

Prosecutors are following the money on this one.   The  $130,000 payoff to Stormy Daniels, might be the most visible sign of shady business, but I suspect there are far bigger targets.   Elliott Broidy  needed Cohen’s help to hide the fact that his affair with Playboy model, Shera Bachard, who he made pregnant, and Cohen arranged a 1.3 million dollar payment to hush up the affair.    The child was aborted.

According to the New York Times, Mr. Broidy was a national deputy chairman of the R.N.C.’s finance committee, a title he shared with Mr. Cohen.  Mr. Broidy is the second member of that committee to resign this year amid questions involving their behavior with women and deals to silence them.

So,  how big is this swamp?   Here is more from the New York Times article:

During the wide-ranging October meeting, Mr. Broidy raised numerous topics high on the agenda of the United Arab Emirates, a country that has given his security company a contract worth hundreds of millions of dollars. He pitched the president on a paramilitary force his company was developing for the U.A.E. and urged Mr. Trump to fire Rex W. Tillerson, then the secretary of state, who the U.A.E. believed was insufficiently tough on its rival Qatar.

The documents show that Mr. Broidy has worked closely with George Nader, an adviser to the U.A.E. and a witness in the special counsel’s investigation, to help steer Trump administration policy on numerous issues in the Middle East. Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, is examining Mr. Nader’s possible role in funneling Emirati money to finance Mr. Trump’s political efforts. There is no indication that Mr. Mueller’s team is looking into Mr. Broidy.

In 2009, Mr. Broidy pleaded guilty to charges that he made nearly $1 million worth of illegal gifts to New York State officials in order to win an investment of $250 million from the state’s public pension fund. Among the gifts were trips to Israel and Italy, payouts to officials’ relatives and girlfriends and an investment in one relative’s production of a low-budget movie called “Chooch.”

It is also reported that there are no emails between Donald Trump and Michael Cohen.   Trump apparently doesn’t use email.

If true, can you imagine the gall of Broidy, wanting to get rid of the secretary of state,  because of his business dealings in the UAE.    Our environmental policies, have been sold out to the fossil fuel companies,  but was  Trump also trading in our relations with other Middle East countries to help support his donors?    Broidy was also on Trump’s inaugural ceremony committee, where millions  were unaccounted for according to MSNBC’s Rachel Madlow and others (see link).

I’m honestly not that interested in Stormy Daniel’s hush money contract, or  Elliot Broidy’s affair,  but the Middle East connections, by way of George Nader.  This might help Mueller’s team.

At this point, it is a legal battle between the president’s lawyers who want to do anything possible to impede the review by the “taint team”  verses the Department of Justice who want to know to get the team’s  review done as soon as possible.   Judge Kimba Woods has stated that case law on confidentiality, applies equally, be it the president of the United States, or the man on the street.   This has also been the opinion of the Supreme Court,  dating back to claims of Executive Privilege in the days of Nixon and Watergate.   Judge Woods  will likely decide soon whether a Special Master should be appointed.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

Whatever happened to the money from Trump’s inaugural committee?

 

Andrew McCabe

I wrote previously that Andrew McCabe was fired for doing his job well.   All the evidence supports that he was an exemplary FBI agent and Deputy Director.  The firing had nothing to do with the quality of his work. He was fired by the Attorney General Jeff Sessions, following a report by the inspector general.   The charges against him were unauthorized disclosure of an ongoing investigation and lying about it under oath when asked by the inspector general.  The exact wording is he “lack candor”  when interviewed.   It is not criminal to lie to an inspector general, but it’s against the rules of the FBI and can result in firing.

The unauthorized disclosure charge relates to an article written in the Wall Street Journal (WSJ) in October 2016.  Andrew McCabe insists that there was nothing done improperly.   The Wall Street Journal article was printed  on October 31, entitled, “FBI in Internal Feud Over Hillary Clinton Probe:
Laptop may contain thousands of messages sent to or from Mrs. Clinton’s private server.”   The article is clear that there was a fundamental disagreement on how far to push the Clinton Foundation investigation.    Andrew McCabe has stated he was interested in a more aggressive investigation of the Clinton Foundation, ironically at the same time, that Trump was on television nearly every night claiming the FBI was involved in a cover-up of wrong doing by the Clintons.

The inspector general’s report will be made public this week.  I’m certain it will judge McCabe’s action in isolation, not taking into consideration the campaign frenzy at the time.   The disclosure  occurred under extra-ordinary circumstances, with an open investigations on many fronts, and a massive attempt for the Trump team to capitalize on the “crooked Hillary” and weak FBI efforts in particular.

Donald Trump waged an extremely negative campaign in the last week of the campaign,  non-stop ranting about an incredibly corrupt Clinton (“crooked Hillary”)  and in collusion with the Obama administration (DOJ/FBI)  to hide her crimes, from violations of compromising national security via her private server,  destruction of evidence (crushing her cell phone) in an investigation,  and the links between the Clinton Foundation donors and the Uranium One deal.

All of crooked Hillary stuff, as listed above, was nonsense and no crimes were committed.  At least,  Attorney General Jeff Sessions has never charged the Clinton campaign nor the Foundation with any wrong doing, and he has all the investigative details from the FBI.    The only ones  with guilty pleas or likely to stand trial were with the Trump campaign.

My copy of Comey’s book will arrive tomorrow and with the release of the IG report, I’ve got a lot of reading to do.   The WSJ article is provided in the link below.

Stay tuned,

Dave

Links:

October 31, 2016 FBI in Internal Feud Over Hillary Clinton Probe:
Laptop may contain thousands of messages sent to or from Mrs. Clinton’s private server

 

Strike on Syria is a success

I’ve got a lot of complaints about Trump, but the Syrian air strike is one that I consider an outright success.    It was done in close cooperation of our allies.  By all reports, the objectives were military targets, directly tied to chemical weapons production or research.   The Assad regime promised to destroy all their chemical weapons, but obviously they lied.   Russia still backs Assad.   Military solutions are the last resort, but that’s exactly where we were with Assad.   I listen to the discussion at the UN, and was very proud of Nikki Haley, as she forcefully defended our actions, along with the French and British ambassadors to the UN.   General Mattis was equally impressive.

I won’t go into the longer term strategy for now.  Let’s give credit where credit is well deserved on the tactical decision and execution.

Stay tuned,

Dave