The Trump Watch (late May) (part 1 of 2)

With every passing month the doings of the Trump administration get more and more bizarre.  Today and tomorrow, The Curmudgeon shares just a few of the highlights – well, okay, more than just a few.

Presidential Pardons

Lost amid the dizzying speed with which appalling news comes out of the Trump big-top is Agent Orange’s pardon of Lewis “Scooter” Libby. Libby, you will recall, was convicted in 2007 of several felonies, among them perjury, lying to the FBI, and obstruction of justice, all misdeeds involving his participation in the effort to cover up who in the Bush administration leaked the identity of CIA agent Valerie Plame.

How seriously can you take a guy when his name…

Libby’s crimes were serious, but a president who’s lying himself to cover up something probably doesn’t see a whole lot wrong with what Libby did.  Also, it’s hard not to suspect that the purpose of this unjustified pardon is to signal to those who might be forced to provide information about Trump to authorities that the president will have their back in the future.  But they shouldn’t count on it:  if nothing else, Trump has shown that perhaps with the exception of his precious Ivanka, he will throw anyone – ANYONE – under the proverbial bus.

The Pot Calling the Kettle Black

Trump called former FBI director James Comey “a slimeball.”

Well, if there’s anyone who’s an authority on slimeballs…

The First Amendment Be Damned

Kim Jong-Trump expresses reverence for the second amendment but apparently thinks the first amendment is for the birds.  When James Comey was still FBI director he met with Trump and the president expressed concern about all the leaking from his administration.  Instead of questioning his own judgment about the people with whom he’s chosen to surround himself who are leaking like sieves and, essentially, betraying him, Trump reserved his ire instead for the reporters who are just doing their jobs and sharing those leaks with their readers.

As the Washington Post reported,

Comey said he told the president, “I was eager to find leakers and would like to nail one to the door as a message. I said something about it being difficult and he replied that we need to go after the reporters, and referred to the fact that 10 or 15 years ago we put them in jail to find out what they know, and it worked.”

Trump was referring to New York Times reporter Judith Miller, who was imprisoned for failing to reveal her sources on a story about who leaked Valerie Plame’s identity.

But “it worked”?  No, actually, it didn’t:  Miller spent nearly three months in jail and was released without revealing her source.

In the same conversation Trump combined his disdain for the first amendment with his love of the idea of encouraging acts of violence against people he perceives to be his enemies.  Again, from the Washington Post:

“I said something about the value of putting a head on a pike as a message,” Comey said. “ by saying it may involve putting reporters in jail. ‘They spend a couple days in jail, make a new friend, they are ready to talk.’

“Make a new friend,” of course, being Trump’s way of suggesting that if a male reporter who refuses to reveal his source is imprisoned and sodomized by another mail prisoner he will happily reveal his source in exchange for his freedom.

This is the kind of person we now have in the White House.

And if You Can’t Throw Them in Jail…

…you can always “monitor” them.

At least that’s what the web site Think Progress notes has been reported by Bloomberg News.

The U.S. Department of Homeland Security is looking to compile a database of journalists, bloggers and social media “influencers” here and overseas, Bloomberg reported.

 A request filed on April 3 sought a contractor to gather information on people posting across all platforms — radio, print, digital, and television — in 100 languages. Bids are expected on April 13.

This is both foolish and dangerous.  Again, there’s this little thing called the first amendment.

And if You Can’t Monitor Them…

…you can take away their press privileges.

Or so Trump suggested in a recent tweet:

The Fake News is working overtime.  Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?

Hmmm, suppressing the press:  isn’t that in chapter two of the dictators’ handbook?

Taking the Fifth

Trump doesn’t want to talk to special counsel Robert Mueller.  His aides are encouraging him not to, too, knowing well that the guy can’t keep his mouth shut.  They put him through a dry run of some anticipated Mueller questioning and the Wall Street Journal reported on how it went.

In an informal, four-hour practice session, Mr. Trump’s lawyers were only able to walk him through two questions, given the frequent interruptions on national-security matters along with Mr. Trump’s loquaciousness, one person familiar with the matter said.

Taking the fifth – or blowing a kiss to a cute juror?

Can you imagine how many of the things he said probably would have gotten him in trouble? No wonder he’s so afraid of Mueller.

But not talking to Mueller?  Isn’t that a lot like… taking the fifth?

And we all know how Trump feels about taking the fifth.  See it for yourself here.

When will he learn that someone is capturing everything he says and when he says dumb things they’re always – always – going to come back to haunt him.

With Friends Like These

Agent Orange has spoken glowingly of his personal lawyer/fixer, Michael Cohen.  In defending his use of his own money to pay off Stormy Daniels, Cohen has suggested that it’s the kind of thing that friends do for friends.

But this is how Trump treats his friends, as reported by the publication Business Insider:

President Donald Trump reportedly humiliated his longtime lawyer Michael Cohen at his son’s bar mitzvah in 2012. 

 Trump was apparently so late to the event … that he delayed the blessings, according to what an attendee told the Wall Street Journal.

 The future president then gave a speech in which he said he hadn’t actually planned on attending but came after Cohen begged him to come by repeatedly calling him, his secretary, and his children. The attendee said guests cracked up at Trump’s remarks, because they seemed fairly believable. 

With friends like these…

Short Attention Span

We’ve heard a lot about Trump’s short attention span and unwillingness to read.  The New Yorker offers another enlightening example.

When Trump assumed office, N.S.C. staffers initially generated memos for him that resembled those produced for his predecessors: multi-page explications of policy and strategy. But “an edict came down,” a former staffer told me: “ ‘Thin it out.’ ” The staff dutifully trimmed the memos to a single page. “But then word comes back: ‘This is still too much.’ ” A senior Trump aide explained to the staffers that the President is “a visual person,” and asked them to express points “pictorially.”

 “By the time I left, we had these cards,” the former staffer said. They are long and narrow, made of heavy stock, and emblazoned with the words “the white house” at the top. Trump receives a thick briefing book every night, but nobody harbors the illusion that he reads it. Current and former officials told me that filling out a card is the best way to raise an issue with him in writing. Everything that needs to be conveyed to the President must be boiled down, the former staffer said, to “two or three points, with the syntactical complexity of ‘See Jane run.’ ”

Sheesh!

More on the Price to Pay for Ignorance

When you have no history of paying attention to public affairs and no demonstrated background in public affairs and refuse to listen to the experts and refuse to read the materials your staff gives you about things you know nothing about, you’re going to make mistakes – and that’s exactly what Trump did when going overboard in his enthusiasm about meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un.  That meeting has now been scrapped, and it’s clear that it failed because of a combination of Kim Jong-Un outsmarting Kim Jong-Trump and Trump making the pretty serious mistake of paying too much attention to his own inflated hype, including all that silly talk about a Nobel Peace Prize.  Vanity Fairexplains.

In his rush to reach a disarmament agreement with North Korea, Trump appears to have badly misjudged his adversary, Kim Jong Un. As multiple State Department sources have told me, U.S. demands that North Korea give up its nuclear weapons were always going to be a nonstarter for Kim. Nevertheless, Trump appeared to misinterpret Kim’s overtures, relayed via South Korean President Moon Jae-in, that he would unilaterally disarm, and was reportedly “surprised” and “angered” last week when North Korea’s chief nuclear negotiator released a statement to that effect. According to The New York Times, Trump now believes he may have made a mistake in agreeing to meet with Kim

And this:

Diplomats and North Korea experts, however, say this was entirely predictable. “Kim Jong Un has not offered to give up his nuclear weapons. He has not done that. He has never said anything remotely close to that,” Jeffrey Lewis, the director of the East Asia Nonproliferation Program at Middlebury College, told me recently. “What he has said is that he is willing to endorse the kind of vague principle of the elimination of nuclear weapons.” But Trump, in his excitement over the prospect of a Nobel Peace Prize, inflated his expectations for the June 12 summit. As Korea expert Victor Cha noted, Kim had “not even reaffirmed the more definitive statements about denuclearization that were used by the North Koreans in the past,” during previous negotiations with Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. “It all sounds good if you are not aware of what North Korea’s strategy is. North Korea in the end, they do want a peace treaty, and they do want normalization, but they want those things as a nuclear-weapon state. . . . They’re willing to part with some of their capability, but they’re certainly not willing to part with all of it.”

So how did Trump miscalculate so badly?  Again, Vanity Fair:

It is not clear, exactly, how this message got lost, or whether Trump merely misunderstood the context of the negotiations. White House aides told the Times they are concerned the president does not understand the elements of North Korea’s nuclear program—details with which Kim is intimately familiar—and that Trump “has resisted the kind of detailed briefings about enrichment capabilities, plutonium reprocessing, nuclear weapons production and missile programs that Mr. Obama and President George W. Bush regularly sat through.” 

That kind of ignorance can get a lot of people hurt.

What Does Trump Believe In?

Former National Security Advisor H.R. McMaster decided to prepare a succinct document, just eight pages, presenting the president’s views on world affairs, but when he and his staff tried to determine what, exactly, those views were, they ran into a little problem, as The New Yorker reported:

Composing the document was a challenge, because Trump did not havemany concrete views on foreign policy beyond bumper-sticker sentiments like “America first.” When McMaster requested Trump’s input, the President grew frustrated and defensive, as if he’d been ambushed with a pop quiz. So staffers adopted Trump’s broad ideal of American competitiveness and tried to extrapolate which policies he might favor in specific instances. McMaster touted the resulting document as “highly readable,” and as a text it seems reassuringly plausible. But nobody on McMaster’s staff could confirm for me with any conviction that the President himself had read it.

 Ladies and gentlemen, the leader of the free world.

Lies

One of the reasons Trump originally offered when denying allegations about the Moscow golden shower incident was his insistence that he had not spent the night in question in Moscow.  That explanation – his alibi – dissolved in stages until eventually the president had to admit it was a lie.

At first he said he only used his hotel room to shower and dress for his Miss Universe pageant.

After all, he wanted to be fresh as a daisy amid a pool of beautiful young women gathered in one place for him to abuse.

But in the process of revealing that FBI director James Comey had informed him about the dossier with the golden shower story, months after that Comey meeting and months after Trump claimed he hadn’t spent the night in Moscow, Trump changed his tune, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

“He said I didn’t stay there a night. Of course I stayed there,” Trump said. “I stayed there a very short period of time but of course I stayed.”

No, the only one claiming that Trump hadn’t spent that night in Moscow was Trump himself – until he decided he needed to change his story and said he’d spent the night there after all.

More Lies

At a gathering of military families and mothers, Trump proudly boasted that he was giving members of the military their first pay raises in ten years.

Only it wasn’t true.

Oh, military members WERE getting pay raises:  but then, military pay has risen every year – for more than 30 years.

So where did Trump get his numbers?  He didn’t:  he just made them up.

Because that’s what he does.

Still More Lies

Last weekend found Trump outraged – outraged! – over what he insisted was the New York Times’s fabrication of a news source to confirm that while Trump has reconsidered his decision to cancel the meeting with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un, that meeting almost certainly will not take place on the originally scheduled date of June 12.  He tweeted that

The Failing @nytimes quotes ‘a senior White House official,’ who doesn’t exist, as saying ‘even if the meeting were reinstated, holding it on June 12 would be impossible, given the lack of time and the amount of planning needed.  WRONG AGAIN! Use real people, not phony sources.”

Just one problem:  that information was provided not just to the Timesbut to a newsroom full of White House reporters last Friday in a background briefing – that is, information that can be used but not attributed to anyone.  Which is exactly what the Timesdid after the White House’s very intentional decision to share this information with the press.  The Times, which almost always conducts itself above-board and honorably, did the honorable thing and didn’t name the source even after the president’s attack.  Other reporters, though, did name names:  the spokesman was Matthew Pottinger, who is on the staff of the National Security Council.

Maybe a little less of this?

Maybe if Trump paid more attention to what his own people are doing on his behalf he wouldn’t be caught so infrequently with his lies – and in this case, a lie that wasn’t even about something important.  One way he can do that:  PUT DOWN THE REMOTE CONTROL.

(more tomorrow)

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