Follow the Money

The Russian Connection

In 1977 I spent the winter/spring semester in Washington, DC. I started at the Carter Inauguration, dancing in the DC Armory with the Charlie Daniels Band at the Staff Ball, then spent half of my time in class, and the other half in the office of Congressman Tom Luken from Cincinnati.

That winter a new movie came out with Robert Redford and Dustin Hoffman, “All the President’s Men,” about the Watergate scandal six years before. A pivotal character in the movie was “Deep Throat,” Hal Holbrook’s shadowy figure in the parking garage, who helped confirm and direct Bob Woodward as he dug deeper and deeper into the scandal that brought down a President. The movie made you look over your shoulder just as Woodward was doing, worried about what was going on under the surface, behind the tourists and the white marble monuments.

We now know that “Deep Throat” was FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt. Felt knew what the FBI investigation was revealing, and he knew that the pressure on those above him to keep it quiet was so great that the only way the truth would be revealed with through the press.

In “All the President’s Men,” Deep Throat whispers to Woodward from behind the garage pillars:
“follow the money.”

Following the Money

The major question about the Trump Administration: is it co-opted by the Russians, and if so how much, and why. It is possible that this whole scandal isn’t about power or secret alliances orchestrated by Steve Bannon, but simply about money.

After the fall of the Soviet Union, Russia had a brief flirtation with a democratic society. But with so much money at stake (remember that the Soviet government owned everything, now all of the means of making capital were on the market) the democracy slowly drowned in a sea of easy money. Vladimir Putin was a Lieutenant Colonel in the KGB and then head of the FSB (successor to the KGB) under Boris Yeltsin. He rose to power after Yeltsin resigned, and made an accommodation with the Russians who were making huge amounts of money, legally and illegally, controlling Russian industry and trade. These oligarchs agreed to support Putin.

In this sea of easy money, a huge issue for the new “kleptocrats” was to find a way to launder the money so they could spend the illegally gained money, legally. Laundering money is done “for a price,” with the illegal funds “cleaned” for a percentage (30-40% or more). This process can be pretty obvious, like buying a property valued at $41 million for $95 million. (Trump sell Palm Beach Mansion) Or it can be much more complex, like the Russian Deutsche Bank scheme where Russian stocks were bought in rubles, then sold for relatives in dollars. (Mirror Trades at Deutsche Bank).

By the way, Deutsche Bank was fined $10 Billion for the rubles for dollars scheme, and the CEO, Anshu Jain, was let go. He immediately became the Chairman of the Bank of Cyprus, a bank whose current existence is based on Russian money. The fact that current US Secretary of Commerce Wilbur Ross was the vice chairman of the Bank of Cyprus prior to joining the Trump cabinet only “stirs the pot” even more.

So what do we know? We know that Donald Trump was in difficult financial straits in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. We know that his business was based on his ability to borrow money, and that after the bankruptcies and collapse of the New Jersey casinos, he was struggling to do that. We know he had loans from Deutsche Bank, and we know HE was the one who sold the Palm Beach estate. We also know that his Florida properties are heavily sold to Russians (Investigation of Trump Florida Properties). We also know that Trump World Tower is filled with Russian money (Trump Tower and Russian Oligarchs).

President Trump has said over and over again that he has no investments in Russia. Perhaps that’s true (though we’ll never know for sure unless his taxes are released), but that doesn’t mean he isn’t heavily invested in RUSSIANS.

Sure there’s plenty of other Russian connections. Paul Manafort, who we now know was a paid employee, at $10 million a year, for a close Putin associate; the phone calls, the contacts, and the clear passion Bannon has for a Russian deal. But perhaps this whole scandal comes down to a much simpler motive: Trump needed money, any way he could get it, and the Russians needed to clean their rubles. The problem: what kind of influence and leverage does this give Putin over Trump’s actions?



September 11, 2001: I was teaching high school government, in a building under construction. TV’s didn’t work, computers were limited and not on the internet. A colleague whispered in my ear: planes into buildings in New York. I took my class out onto the track, we sat in the bleachers listening to the radio in my jeep. We watched the planes lined up coming into Port Columbus. We faced 911.

George W. Bush was a disputed President. The ballots in Florida were flawed, many thought they were voting for Al Gore, and instead voted for Ralph Nader. The Supreme Court allowed the Florida count to stop, Bush was declared the winner by the official appointed by his brother, the governor. Later counts showed that Gore would have won.

Much of the same anxiety, anger, and acrimony greeted Bush at the White House door as welcomed Donald Trump. And while Bush, unlike Trump, seemed to recognize his status and his duty to try to represent the whole country; his actions did not mollify many of us who resented his presence.

September 11, 2001, the United States was under attack. Bush, who started the day in an elementary school in Florida, was flown to Air Force bases in Louisiana, and then Nebraska. He was in a bunker at Offut Air Force Base when he made a fateful decision. The President needs to lead in times of crisis, and he can’t do it from a bunker in Nebraska. His plane was the only one in the sky as he flew back to the White House.

In the next few days, Bush chose to lead. He addressed the nation from Washington, and from ground zero in New York. He went to a mosque to declare this was NOT a war on Islam. He embodied the “righteous might” of the United States. And while many of his decisions after were beyond questionable: the excesses of the Patriot Act, Guantanamo, and the war in Iraq; he was able to lead the country through a national crisis. For the moment, we were “proud to be an American.”

Donald Trump has done nothing to unite us. The anxiety, anger and acrimony has continued to grow as he tries to jam his alt-right policies down the nation’s throat. He has failed to acknowledge that his Presidency represents a truly minority view. He has even co-opted the song, making “proud to be an American” into “proud to be a Trumpian.”

The United States has gone through many crises. We have survived drunkard Presidents (Andrew Johnson), disabled Presidents (Woodrow Wilson) and Presidents who broke the laws (Richard Nixon.) The question is, in an era when North Korea is poised to start a nuclear war, when the Russians are willing to attack our democratic process with impunity, and where we have insulted and shunned our allies; what will happen in a tragic national crisis. Will Donald Trump have the “gravitas” to lead our nation?

Historians have noted that in American history, someone has also appeared to “lead our country” through. From George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to Franklin Roosevelt, the Presidency has brought out the best in those Americans tasked with the crisis in office.

Donald Trump has not shown an inkling of that strength. The first 100 days of his tenure have been nothing but division, trivial tweeting, and management failure. My greatest fear is not that Donald Trump will remain in office despite his Russian backers, my greatest fear is that Donald Trump will prove what we all fear: that he does not have the capacity to lead under fire. Let’s hope that he will not be tested.



Seventy thousand, seven hundred and forty four is the number. That is the difference between the vote totals for Donald J Trump and Hillary R Clinton in three states: Wisconsin, Michigan and Pennsylvania. Out of the 13,233,376 votes cast, the difference was 77,744. In Wisconsin, Trump won by 22,748; in Michigan, 10,704; and in Pennsylvania 44,292. Had these numbers been reversed, Hillary Clinton would have won the electoral college with 278 votes to 260 votes for Trump.

NYT – 2016 Presidential Election Results

We all know it was a close election. The difference in those three states is less than 0.6%.

So here’s the point: now that we are aware that the Russian Government, through a highly complex and orchestrated campaign against Hillary Clinton, influenced the United States elections in 2016, we don’t really need Trump “collusion” to come to a conclusion. All the Russian actions had to do was effect 77,744 votes in three states: convincing folks to vote for Trump versus Clinton, change their vote to a third party rather than Clinton, or stay home. All the Russians had to do was change 0.6% of the electorate in those three states for the outcome of the election to be changed. It’s a simple fact: the Russians changed the results of the election. Russian intervention elected Donald Trump.

They did it through a variety of means. They hacked into the Democratic National Committee, stealing emails and information which they strategically leaked out in a manner to not only damage Clinton, but to distract from the seemingly catastrophic failures of Trump. They used Wikileaks as their “cover,” trading on Julian Assange’s reputation of being the voice of those who “blew whistles” against “evil institutions.”

We now know they also developed a complex strategy, using “bots” to flood Twitter and Facebook with anti-Clinton messages, targeting those messages to those Clinton supporters who were “on the edge,” particularly those who originally supported Sanders. They also targeted pro-Trump folks, feeding them “red meat” stories, increasing their drive to the polls despite their misgivings about Trump himself. (Note: I am NOT saying that Sanders voters were more susceptible than others to Russian manipulation, I AM saying that we were ALL manipulated, tweet by tweet, and post by post, to be resentful towards Clinton, and to be less motivated to vote for her against Trump.)

Whether the Russians attempted to hack the “actual” vote count doesn’t even really matter. They hacked something much more significant: the new means by which we communicate and discuss our political thoughts and ideas. They got ahead of the American people by getting into our internal conversation. We were played.

More will come. Whether that manipulation in some way involved members of the Trump campaign, or the new President himself, is a whole different question. The results of those investigations may lead to a national change in leadership. But we are already in a national crisis: it is clear that Russia has chosen our President. It only took 77,744 changed minds, voters who stayed at home, or voters who were motivated to vote against Clinton. We’ve got the President the Russians wanted. Now what?

We have never been faced with this kind of crisis before. We need to ask the most serious question: if we know that the election was manipulated, and we can clearly see the results are in fact distorted by that manipulation, what do we do? In sports if a game is rigged, than the results are vacated. Ask the multiple Russian athletes who have lost their Olympic Medals due to their doping actions. Since we know that this election was tainted, as is clearly true with or without Trump campaign collusion, then what is the next step in our American saga? Will it take a “smoking gun” of Page, Manifort, Flynn, Sessions, Stone and Kushner’s direct cooperation with Russian actions? And if we know that the results were flawed, then how is it that the majority of the country (there’s that 3 million again) will swallow everything from Neil Gorsuch to the gutting of the EPA? Is it any wonder that the country feels “wrong?” It is.

Deep State and the Alt-Right

Steve Bannon and the alt-right believe that Trump’s election has given them the “right” to control the total policy of the United States Government. They believe they are being resisted by elected officials who work for the Federal Government (see the first post in this blog:
Astronomy and the Trump Administration)
In the alt-rights’ mind, the “deep state” represents the drag on the government that prevents their radical changes from taking effect. Trump supporters have called for a “purge” of the executive branch (Steve King calls for purge.)
Let’s take the alt-rights’ views on Russia. To quote:
That a group of faceless, unelected intelligence and foreign policy careerists in the Deep State could effectively run an operation to oust a duly elected sitting U.S. president is a much clearer and present danger. How, exactly, would repairing relations with Russia, which is sitting on a massive stockpile of nuclear weapons, be a bad thing for Americans? (Julian Assange: Hilliary pushing for a Pence Takeover)

The alt-right sees the resistance of the “deep state,” what we used to call the bureaucracy, as preventing change. The questions regarding Russian involvement in the election, Putin’s dictatorial actions including the murders of opponents, and the Russian actions in the Ukraine; all fall by the wayside to the alt-right view. Russia, to them, is seen as a natural ally, who will help lead the Northern European coalition against “Radical Islam” (which seems to mean all of Islam.)

Trump’s own words about immigration ban and the “unprecedented judicial overreach of District Court judges” is another way the Administration is trying to weaken the non-Trumpian government. The courts represent a drag on the Administration’s radical changes, and since federal judges cannot be “fired,” they must be emasculated.

And, of course, the Deep State represents the greatest threat to the Trump Presidency. The FBI, NSA, and CIA all are “deep state” organizations, and all have access to the information which may actually call into question the actions of the Trump campaign, and Trump himself. As a pure case of self-protection, Trump, Bannon and the alt-right need to devalue the information those organizations may offer, in order to win a possible future battle for the Presidency.

So what role should bureaucrats play in determining policy? Is their job to use the Nuremberg defense, simply following orders regardless of whether they think those orders are sound or in fact lawful (as in former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates?) Or do we want the bureaucrats to use their own judgment, developed over what for many is decades of experience, to temper what they see as the excesses of the Presidency? And isn’t that too fraught with danger, both now and in the future.

The United States, like it or not, elected Donald Trump as President (3 million votes to the contrary.) Even with that fact, I don’t believe we also chose the alt-right radicalism that Steve Bannon represents. While I don’t like the power that the bureaucracy has represented for years (at least since the 1930’s) I think I’d rather make my deal with that devil, than the one the sits next to the Oval Office.

Your Money or Your Life (Trump/Ryan Health Care)

Your Money or Your Life

As Congress, the President, and the rest of the country discusses what will happen with the US Government involvement in health care, the issue comes down to: your money or your life. The Congressional Budget Office scored the current Trump/Ryan health insurance bill as reducing the US Government deficit by $33 billion a year over the next ten years. The current deficit is $441 billion and projects to $1.4 trillion for 2027. (The deficit is how much more the government will spend in a year than it will bring in.)

Reducing the deficit would be a good thing. The problem: The CBO also projects that 24 million Americans will lose their health care coverage if the Trump/Ryan bill passes.

The traditional “liberal” argument is that “conservatives” would let people die rather than pay for health care. Some statements by conservative Congressmen seem to echo that idea: Jason Chaffetz telling folks to, “skip their IPhone to buy insurance,” or Roger Marshall saying, “… some people just don’t want healthcare.” But that’s not really a fair argument. Let’s assume (danger!!) that everyone wants people to have access to health care, it’s just a matter of paying for it.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has stated, “everyone will have access to health insurance…” under the Trump/Ryan plan. Those are carefully chosen words. Having access does NOT mean being able to afford health insurance. We all have access to buying Porsches, but not all of us can pay for them.

The Trump/Ryan bill replaces the Affordable Care Act subsidies (the government pays for part of the insurance) with tax credits (the government credits part of the taxes you paid to pay for insurance.) Two problems: first the subsidies were a percentage of insurance cost and increased with increasing premiums, the credits are a set amount.
Second: the subsidies did NOT depend on the amount of taxes you paid, but you can’t get a tax credit if you didn’t pay any taxes. The least able to afford insurance, those who didn’t make any or enough to pay taxes, will be the most likely not to be able to get it.

So, will the people without insurance be left to die? NO one wants that, not even Chaffetz and Marshall. But here’s the effect of not having insurance. Those folks are less able to access preventive care (it costs) and therefore will be more likely to end up with serious but preventable illnesses. They then WILL be treated, but in an emergency room and hospital setting, where costs are the highest.

Uninsured hospital costs will NOT be “eaten” by the hospitals, those costs will be spread among the “paying” customers. This will result in higher hospital bills for everyone else, higher costs to insurance companies, and ultimately higher insurance premiums to EVERYONE (not just those using federal health insurances.) So instead of either paying more taxes, or having a larger deficit; the costs don’t disappear, they get transferred to EVERYONE.

Your money or your life? It’s our money for other lives, and we get to pay for it either way. The Trump/Ryan plan makes sure that we don’t take as much off of the government books, but it doesn’t mean we don’t pay. It just means we pay through “market forces,” the conservative way of saying that we’ll pay more, for less.

Process (impeachment and succession)


This is NOT an opinion piece. There have been some questions about what would happen if the President is impeached. This is how it works.

The Impeachment Process

The President of the United States is immune from criminal prosecution while in office. While this is NOT a Constitutionally mandated rule, it has been confirmed by the US Supreme Court historically, and as a practical matter makes sense. Since the President is not only the “chief law enforcer” and also has the power to pardon, it would make little sense for him to arrest himself, and/or pardon himself.

The President can be impeached and removed from office for Treason, Bribery or other High Crimes and Misdemeanors. While this sounds like a big deal, in reality Presidents have been impeached for perjury, abuse of power, failure to follow a law passed by Congress, contempt of Congress, obstruction of justice, and failure to pay taxes. The former President does NOT have immunity. Therefore, in order to criminally prosecute a President, it is necessary to remove him from office first. This process is called the Impeachment Process (US Constitution, Art. II, Sec. 4.)

Impeachment begins in the House of Representatives. In the past, the Judiciary Committee of the House votes for a “bill of impeachment,” which then goes to the whole House. A majority of the House members must vote to Impeach. The term ‘impeachment” is similar to “indictment” used in the court system. When a President is impeached, it is the House of Representatives bringing charges for trial in front of the US Senate. The House acts as the prosecutors of the case, the US Senate acts as the jury, and the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court acts as the presiding judge.

The impeachment trial takes place in front of the Senate, with the Chief Justice serving as the presiding judge. The “managers” from the House of Representatives act as the “prosecution” in the trial, and the President is represented by counsel of his own choosing. Two thirds (67) of the Senators must agree in order to remove the President. Once they have done so, they can remove the President, and bar him from holding other offices in the United States.

Two US Presidents have been impeached and tried: Andrew Johnson in 1868, and Bill Clinton in 1999. Neither was convicted, (Johnson stayed in office by one vote.) Richard Nixon resigned after the House Judiciary Committee started impeachment proceedings. He was then pardoned for any crimes he might have committed by President Ford.

Presidential Succession

If the President is impeached and convicted, he is removed from office. The Vice President then becomes President for the remainder of the President’s term of office. If the Vice President is removed (or resigns) then the Speaker of the House of Representatives becomes the President. Under law, when the Speaker of the House becomes President, he no longer is Speaker or a member of the House, and he would remain President through the full term of office.

If the Speaker is unable to become President, then the Presidency goes to the President Pro Tempore of the Senate (usually the Senator of the majority party who has he most seniority in the Senate). The current line of succession then: President Trump, Vice President Pence, Speaker Ryan, President Pro Tempore Orrin Hatch. By the way, if none of the above serve, the Secretary of State is next in line: from Exxon/Mobil to President!

25th Amendment

The 25th was written as a response to the possibility of a President who was alive but unable to serve (Wilson’s stroke, Eisenhower’s heart attack, if Kennedy had survived Dallas). It also allowed Congress to approve a new Vice President if the office was vacant.

This is a process for the “temporary” filling of the Presidency, but this process is intended for the temporary disability of the President (illness or injury). If the President states that he is temporarily unable to fulfill his duties, he can notify the Speaker and President Pro Tempore of the Senate, and the Vice President can become acting President until the President notifies them he is ready to resume office.

In addition, the Vice President and a majority of the cabinet can declare the President unable to perform his duties and “take over.” If the President wants to resume the office and the VP and cabinet disagree, the Congress has twenty-one days to determine the outcome, with 2/3 of both the House and Senate having to agree to allow the VP to continue as acting President.

I know You’re Not a Doctor, but Take Out My Appendix Anyway (Secretary of Education)

“I know You’re Not a Doctor, but Take Out My Appendix Anyway”

Not a lawyer: be on the Supreme Court. Not a doctor: operate on a hot appendix. Not a plumber: run a plumbing company. If that makes sense, then it makes sense for Betsy DeVos to be Secretary of Education.

Betsy DeVos has no experience in public education. She went to private Christian schools through elementary and high school and to a private Christian college, Calvin, where she earned a bachelors degree in Business Economics. Her children were home schooled.

Betsy (Prince) DeVos is an heir to a car parts company fortune. She married Dick DeVos, an heir to the Amway corporation fortune. Her brother was a founder of Blackwater, the private security company. She has worked for the Republican party throughout her life. She was party chairman for Michigan, raising millions for Republican candidates, and her family has reportedly donated over $17 million to Republican candidates and committees.

What were her credentials for Education Secretary? DeVos headed up the non-profit “American Federation for Children.” The goal of this organization is to break down education funding into voucher/scholarship programs which would allow individual parents to spend public funds on public, private, charter or home schools. She is committed to this vision of moving money for public education into the private sector.

And, she raised a lot of money for Republicans. And, she has spoken of dissolving the Department of Education. And she fits into Senior Presidential Advisor Steve Bannon’s overall plan of “deconstruction of the state.”

If the Department of Education represents the federal public education, then Betsy DeVos represents the anti-public education world. Much like the appointment of Scott Pruitt as the Director of the Environmental Protection Agency, her choice signals that the Trump Administration looks to “deconstruct” public education.

So what’s wrong with the idea of vouchers: of packing all the government money for a student into a per student package, then handing the package over to the parents to spend their education money where they wish?

1. Private schools do not have the oversight for student learning that public schools do. Students and teachers in private schools are not required to meet the educational standards that public schools have. In the “charter school revolution” of the past several years, many private schools have failed their students because there was no oversight.

2. Private schools can pick and choose students. Students who don’t measure up: in performance, behavior, ability, or following the school’s faith based views – are dumped out. That also means the more expensive students, those with special education needs or physical disabilities, are weeded out of the private school setting.

3. Private education can teach whatever the school decides to teach. While every parent has the “right” to have a religious based education for their child, should every other parent be required to pay for that with public monies?

4. Private education is a profit making monster. Companies running private schools would love to have more access to public funds.

5. With a systematic voucher system, the students left in the public system would be the most expensive or difficult to educate. Of course the claim would be that private education is more efficient, because they wouldn’t have to educate the most expensive students.

What does the Department of Education do? They distribute federal funds, often linked to programs to help certain groups of students like those with physical or learning disabilities or from low income families. The Department of Education uses funding to enforce laws providing equal opportunity to education, gender equality, and preventing discrimination. Going to a voucher style system, with federal monies passed out in blocks to states to be divided into vouchers, defeats this entire process. It sets up a system designed to discriminate.

This is what Betsy DeVos stands for. This is what the world of Steve Bannon and Donald Trump believes in. This is why Betsy DeVos was the exact wrong choice for the Education Department.

Shiny Balls (distractions from Russia and Trump)

Shiny Balls

There is no direct evidence (yet) that the Trump Campaign cooperated with Russian intelligence in the disinformation campaign against the Clinton campaign in the 2016 election. Slowly, some circumstantial evidence is coming to light. Meetings between various Trump associates and Russians raise questions about the nature of those contacts: the fact that those same associates lied about those meetings makes them even more suspect.

The leaked “Trump Dossier” written by former British intelligence agent Christopher Steele (what a “007” sounding name!) states that the Trump campaign actively coordinated with Russian intelligence using Carter Page as the “go-between”. While a great deal of that dossier is still unverified, many of its statements are now checking out as factual.

There are currently at least three active investigations of the Trump/Russia connections. The House and Senate Intelligence committees are both committed to investigations and hearings. Currently, neither committee has plans to call Christopher Steele to testify. And, while it hasn’t been directly acknowledged, it is assumed (ass-u-me, I know) that the FBI is conducting its own investigation as well. Ultimately, a special counsel may be appointed by the Justice Department to oversee another investigation.

Last Tuesday, though it seems like months ago, President Trump gave a “state of the union” style address to a joint session of Congress. Like it or not, it was the most “Presidential” thing he has done. The Trump White House naturally hoped that the speech would drive the newscycle for a few days.

Last Wednesday it was revealed the Attorney General Jeff Sessions did not testify factually to the Senate Judiciary Committee during his confirmation hearings. Sessions forgot about two meetings with the Russian Ambassador, the second one held in his office the day after the Obama Administration announced that they were investigating Russian involvement in the US election. Sessions was forced into recusing himself from involvement and control of the Justice Department’s investigations into the Trump/Russia connection.

On the same day, it was revealed that Jared Kushner met with the Russian Ambassador during December, along with resigned National Security Advisor Michael Flynn. Carter Page revealed that he too met with the Russian Ambassador, and made several trips to Russia (where he had business ties with Gazprom).

CNN: Who is Carter Page

Instead of the newscycle being driven by the speech, the momentum was rolling towards more investigation into Trump and Russia.

Ask any magician: the essence of any good magic trick is distraction. While you watch the beautiful girl, the flaming hat, or the shiny balls; the magician performs his trick. You are amazed!!!

On Friday, Trump left Washington (again) to go to Florida. Saturday morning the first of the “shiny balls” was dropped, as Trump, apparently quoting a Breibart article, claimed that President Obama had Trump Tower wiretapped. Trump then “doubled down” on the tweet, calling for a Congressional investigation of Obama’s alleged actions.

This tweet took over the weekend news cycle. On Monday, the Trump administration cautiously released the next version of the immigration (Muslim) ban, then on Tuesday dropped their version of the new health act. Meanwhile, Julian Assange at Wikileaks dumped a huge load of supposedly CIA information, including allegations that the CIA has worked to hack household electronics for eavesdropping.

NYT: Wikileaks Releases Trove of Alleged CIA Hacking Documents

The Wikileaks dump looks like another “shiny ball.” Its content is designed to “fire-up” both extremes of American political thought, playing into both the fears of the Breibart “black helicopters” groups, and the far-left.

Oh, and we can’t forget the tweet about Obama releasing all of those terrorists who went back onto the “battlefield” (except most of those were released by George W Bush, and of those most who returned to “combat” were released by Bush as well).

It’s only Wednesday. Don’t be distracted by the “shiny balls.” It will take some time, but step by step the nature of the Trump/Russian relationship will be revealed. How far up the Trump organization it may go, we don’t know yet. But in this age of absolute information (alternative or not) we will ultimately find out whether a candidate for President of the United States joined with a rival nation to take over our country.

Drip Drip Drip Part Deux (FISA and Civil Servants)

Drip Drip Drip Part Deux

What an amazing weekend!!!
This weekend we learned:
– there were no “wiretaps” of Trump Tower (James Clapper, Meet the Press)
– the President of the United States cannot “wiretap” people
– the current President of the United States doesn’t know that!!!!

So where do things stand, and what does it mean?

Donald Trump accused President Obama of “wiretapping” his campaign both before the election and after. Legally, the President of the United States hasn’t been able to directly “wiretap” since the 1970’s (that’s Nixon’s era.) The process requires a court order, either from a domestic court because of an ongoing criminal investigation, or through the courts set up by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) which involves a national security interest. Either court would require the agency requesting (FBI generally, but other agencies as well) to produce “probable cause” evidence. Probable cause means that there is clear evidence (not necessarily proof) that a crime or national security violation is being committed, and that listening in to conversations is necessary to gather further evidence.

So if in fact Trump Tower was “wiretapped”, then there was probable cause that the Trump campaign was coordinating in some way with Russian intelligence. By Trump suggesting that there was eavesdropping, then he’s admitting to this probable cause. I don’t think that is what he was doing, but it is an interesting side note.

The agencies dealing with national security DO NOT need a warrant to listen in on foreign electronic communications. They DO need one if the foreigner is conversing with a US citizen. The process goes that a transcript of the conversation is made, and a FISA warrant requested. If the warrant is turned down, the transcript is destroyed. Keep in mind, the transcript or other evidence would have to create probable cause in order to get the warrant.

Trump’s tweets over the weekend were clearly to distract from the controversy itself: was there communication between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence. Trump decided to “call out” the Obama Administration, and he got a clear answer from former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper – there were no wiretaps in Trump Tower.

So what does that mean? It means there were no FISA warrants issued for Trump Tower, for the communications using the Trump Tower phones or other devices. That’s really pretty limited, as most modern communication is done through cell phones, and it would seem reasonable that if a Trump operative was talking to either Russian intelligence or someone in between the two, they would not use an office phone.

It means that Trump is trying to change the subject again, to focus on the “Obama Plot” to get Trump, or as Breitbart now categorizes it, “DEEPSTATEGATE.” It’s all a liberal plot to overthrow the Trump Presidency, so focus on that, not where the actual facts lead. As Obi Wan Kenobi would say, “there are no droids here.”

So are there “droids” here? We don’t know. The information isn’t out there. As many commentators stated over the weekend, there is so much smoke, it’s hard to believe there isn’t a fire. And the Trump group is making even more smoke.

Steve Bannon believes that the “Deep State,” the long time civil government employees who make up the core of the agencies involved, are working against Trump. He believes that they are still following the orders of President Obama. He may not be completely wrong.

There are long time government civil servants who have sworn an oath:

I, [name], do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

They take their allegiance seriously, and they are determined to support and defend the Constitution. If there was information that the Trump campaign was in fact colluding with Russian Intelligence to influence the 2016 election, it is clear where their oath should take them.

Drip Drip Drip (Russia and Trump World)

Drip Drip Drip

No surprise to anyone who knows me, I’ve always been interested in politics. I earned my stripes getting kicked out of Aunt Lee’s apartment for wearing a Kennedy for President button at four years old, and I “got hooked” laid up with a broken arm at eleven watching the riots at the Democratic Convention in Chicago in 1968.

But it was during Watergate that I truly became a political junky. For the last three years of my high school career I watched as the Nixon Administration slowly fell apart. I fought with my government teacher (a stalwart Nixon supporter) and found secret allies among the other teaching staff. As I prepared to head off to college, Nixon resigned, a fitting conclusion to his Presidency and my high school career.

From 1972 to 1974, the investigation of Watergate slowly worked it way up the chain. It started with the five in the break-in. Then the leader of the five, then the check in the account of the five, then the Nixon re-election campaign. From there, onto the White House itself and finally the testimony of Deputy Assistant Alexander Butterfield and the revelation of the White House taping system. That was the beginning of the end.

Richard Nixon resigned as President for orchestrating the cover-up of a felony break-in, and for using the entire apparatus of the Executive Branch, including the CIA, FBI and IRS to continue that cover-up. The key evidence was the tapes, all of the conversations he had in the White House – he bugged himself.

Flash forward to 2017. The question: did the Trump campaign cooperate, coordinate, and collude with the Russian Intelligence agencies to torpedo the Clinton campaign and win the election. It’s NOT proven yet. But there is a familiar (to old Watergate “fans”) drip-drip-drip, as the circle around Trump slowly gets dragged into the morass of Russian connections.

What is clear

It is clear that Russian Intelligence involved itself in the 2016 Presidential election. They did this by hacking the Democratic National Committee and Clinton Chairman John Podesta and then using Wikileaks to put those emails into the public. Russian Intelligence also planted multiple “fake news” stories about Clinton and the Clinton campaign, undermining her credibility, and using timely interventions to re-direct the electorates’ attention back to Clinton’s problems (a clear example: one hour after the release of the Access Hollywood tape when Trump made lewd and inappropriate comments, Wikileaks released the first of the Podesta emails.)

It is clear that Trump has had a strange “relationship” with Vladimir Putin, consistently praising him and defending him even to the extent of justifying Putin’s killing opponents. It is also clear that Trump can’t decide whether he’s met Putin or not or whether he knows Putin or not, he’s publicly answered the question in completely opposite ways.

It is clear that multiple figures with direct connection to the Trump campaign and administration have had conversations with members of the Russian government. Those confirmed to have had contact: former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn, Attorney General Jeff Sessions, Advisor and son-in-law Jared Kushner, and former advisor on international relations Carter Page. Others accused of having contacts but denying them: former campaign manager Paul Manafort and longtime friend and campaign supporter Roger Stone.

It is clear that both Sessions and Flynn denied having contact with the Russian Ambassador. Flynn denied this to the Vice President, and other members of the administration. Sessions denied it in testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee. Once the contact was revealed, they claimed that their contacts were in the reasonable pursuit of their jobs. Their denials raise the question: if what they were doing was legitimate, then why did they deny the contact?

What is Possible

Paul Manafort was Trump’s campaign manager during the summer of 2016. Paul Manafort was a founding partner of the lobbying firm Black, Manafort, Stone and Kelly from 1980 to 1996.
Manafort had pro-Russian Urkrainian client, President Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was forced to flee the Ukraine when free Ukrainian forces took over, exiled to Moscow under the protection of Putin. He left his mansion completely intact, and documentation was found showing that Manafort was paid $12 million under the table for his services (this is disputed by Manafort).

News sources have suggested that Manafort resigned from the Trump campaign because pro-Ukrainian forces threatened to blackmail him with this information. In addition, Manafort has done other business with Russia as well, but has stated that he never knowingly talked to Russian Intelligence agents.

Carter Page was an investment banker with Merrill Lynch located in Moscow, after which he returned to New York and founded an investment fund with a former Gazprom executive (the Russian Government corporation which controls gas). He has gained a reputation as a harsh critic of US policy towards Russia, and has expressed views in support of Putin. Clearly he had the ability to connect with Russian Intelligence.

Roger Stone, who began his political career as one of the Nixon Campaign’s “dirty tricksters”, was an old friend of Donald Trump, and served as an early advisor to his campaign. Stone claimed in August of 2016, that he was in contact with Wikileaks’ Julian Assange regarding an “October Surprise.” Stone has also worked in Ukraine.

What’s the Possible Outcome

What if a final investigation shows that the Trump campaign cooperated with Russian Intelligence in an attempt to win the White House? This would place the entire Trump Administration at risk, both from Russian blackmail, and from US legal and political sanctions.

But one thing for sure – somebody knows!!!! Just like the Nixon White House tapes, most communication with Russian officials are tapped, and US, British, Dutch, French and German Intelligence agencies try to reach in to get the reports sent back to Moscow by Russian representatives. And of course, some members of the Trump campaign must know. The final outcome: the story will come out – and will have consequences.