Trump vs. Comey: A Showdown Over the Truth

On May 12 Donald Trump tweeted:  “James Comey better hope that there are no “tapes” of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”  This in response to fired FBI Director Comey’s indicating that Trump had asked for a pledge of loyalty, two or three times it seems.  Not what a president should request from someone whose position dictates independence, with loyalty only to the constitution and to the truth.

I’m wondering if Trump is simply unraveling…..

This may be the president’s strangest tweet because, unlike those hundreds of others that have garnered attention, it makes no sense.   Of course, he has said plenty of outrageous things, many of which he just made up, but they helped his situation in creating an image of a strong decisive leader, a guy who would shake up Washington, or in providing a distraction from topics he no longer wanted to talk about.   Here it only draws more attention to the lingering sore issue of whether his campaign colluded with the Russians during the election.

It is the same as the firing of Comey, with Trump’s team giving false reasons for doing so and then the president admitting it was largely Comey’s refusal to let go of the “fake Russian story.”   Again prompting more attention on the Russian connection, rather than less.

Many commentators suggest that email above was a threat to Comey.  That would only be true if Comey is lying.  I think Trump is the one who is lying.   If so, talk of tapes is like you threatening someone with a gun pointed at yourself.

And mentioning the tapes (unless they actually exist and prove his point) has only served to prompt calls from congress to see them and left Trump’s surrogates, like national joke spokesman Sean Spicer, to feebly admit the president doesn’t want to talk about it.  Some threat.

Again prompting more attention on the Russian connection, rather than less.

Unlike so much else in Washington that just seems to drift a long, this specific conflict over the truth figures to come to a head.  It will be settled somehow.  It comes down to who you think is fundamentally more honest and, unless you are a Trump Fanatic, there is no question.  Comey has spent decades developing a reputation for integrity.  Trump has spent decades developing real estate deals saying and doing whatever it took to succeed.

The Trumpites like to point to the criticism the Democrats have had of Comey’s handling of the Hillary email mess, some even calling for his resignation.  But for the most part, it was his judgement that was criticized not his integrity.  After all this is a guy who wouldn’t even play basketball with President Obama as it might imply too close of a relationship.   And this is a professional who has been keeping detailed memos in FBI files of all of his exchanges with Trump and his team.

Like the gunfight at the OK corral, it will come to a head.  And I think Comey is looking forward to it.

Comey’s host of memos may come out like a series of poison darts, or he might reveal a bunch of them at a public hearing.  The initial one yesterday details Trump asking Comey if he “could see fit” to drop the investigation of Mike Flynn.  The White House says “this is not a truthful or accurate portrayal” of that conversation.  One side of the other is lying and the truth will out.

The president is probably happy to be leaving town this weekend for visits to Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Vatican.  You have to give it to Trump.  He knows how to put on a show.   Who knows what will actually be accomplished, but those meetings should provide some great optics (handshakes with three great religions) and of course Trump will tell us of the great meetings he had all around.

But whatever happens abroad the Comey problem will still be here on his return and if anything, it will look bigger not smaller.


P. S. – Of course I’m aware of the meeting of Russian diplomats with Trump in the oval office and the controversy that has ensued.  You want to bury the story line of the Russian connection?   So, right after firing Comey you host key Russian diplomats in the Oval Office, allowing jovial photos to come out?  Really?  I mean really?

Besides national security implications, it just seems like another poorly thought out tactical mistake reinforcing questions as to whether Trump really wants this job.

After all he has admitted it is harder than he thought.

Trump World: On the Way from the Surreal to the Absurd

Donald Trump’s tweet that Barack Obama wiretapped Trump Tower is looking more and more like a case of the boy who cried wolf.  In other words, his credibility is looking shakier than an alcoholic in detox.

Perhaps he said it to distract attention from FBI probes about Russian involvement in the election.  Or maybe he was angry with Obama for one reason or another.   Who knows with him.  In any case the issue isn’t being left behind like so many of his other outrageous statements that helped propel him to – egads – the presidency.   The story has legs and he and his team would like to undercut them.

However, while his spin-miesters, like spokesman Sean (Bagdad Bob) Spicer and Kellyanne (disinfomainiac) Conway, author of the “alternative facts” line of argument, have continually tried to make the twaddle their master  wrote sound sensible, most observers who aren’t married to conspiracy theories laugh at these evasions.

In short, this fabrication may and hopefully will prove to be a “bridge too far”   for Trump.  That it will produce a “credibility gap” to a degree not quite seen since  President Johnson’s actions fathered the notion during the Vietnam War.

As is usually part of their evasive tactics, Trump and his Trumpeters deny the literal meaning of his own blather, acting as if the president is an inscrutable poet.  They all emphasize that Trump put “wiretapping” in quotes, meaning as everyone should know, not necessarily literal wire tapping but a broad term indicating any kind of surveillance, direct or indirect.  He was speaking figuratively as you many English majors out there should grasp.  Or for you Buddhists, think of Trump as a master of the Zen koen.  Think about it.

And when it comes to surveillance, well that can amount to anything, even a microwave capable of taking your picture, as  Kellyanne suggested in one interview.  These days there are all sorts of instruments that can help surveil, she more or less said.

Her source?  “I read it somewhere.”  Working in the White House, couldn’t she find a better source than “somewhere”?   Say, the huge intelligence agencies we have?

“I read it somewhere” is the standard of proof for any White House inquiry these days, which is why I feel we have moved from the surreal to the absurd.   Trump often backs his wild charges by saying he read or saw something, as if anything out there that can be read or seen can be viewed as a reliable source.

How about something written in a public bathroom stall?   Does that count?   Yes, I would say as long as it supports something our president either already believes or wants us to believe or both.  I feel weak kneed imagining  we elected  a virtual 5th grader on speed to be president, who has brought along a team of playmates to continue the party.

What may be most disturbing is I believe when President Johnson lied, he knew he was not telling the truth.  I’m not sure that this president is always aware of the difference.

Obama Wire Tapping: Trump’s Lies Reach a New Low

So much has happened with the Trump presidency since he gave his address to Congress back on March 28, but I think one event is most important to remember:  Trump’s claim that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.

It is such a typical Trump move.  As James Homann of the Washington Post puts it:  “Whenever he is under fire for something in a sustained way, he makes a shocking claim or provocative declaration about something else to change the subject. He is a master practitioner at the politics of distraction.”  It has worked wonderfully for him, so he’s at it again.

Trump was angered by the bad press he was getting because Attorney General Jeff Sessions failed to tell the truth in a confirmation hearing, thus stealing the joy Trump was feeling from generally positive reviews for his acting like a “normal” president (yes, that was basically the high light) in that address to Congress.  So early Friday morning he tweeted out that charge against Obama.  Later he went off to play golf while the press corps went into a frenzy.  Now that is power.

There are now several more subjects to attract press attention, but I hope they don’t let this baseless accusation by Trump get lost in the shuffle of the never ending, outrageous statements by the president, as has been the case throughout his campaign and the presidency.  The word is Trump was in a good mood Sunday because the talk shows dissected the wire tapping charge and not Jeff Session’s actions.

This fits into a broader battle of narratives.  The Democrats, and some Republicans like John McCain and Lindsay Graham, have focused on Russian involvement in the election including ties to some of Trump’s people.  In response Fox News and the (even?) more reactionary media have been concocting a theory of a “deep state” of Obama people still in the administration looking to undermine the Trump presidency .  The sudden dismissal of 46 Obama appointed federal prosecutors yesterday fits that line of thought.

On the night before his momentous tweet, Trump was on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox and Hannity was espousing this “deep state” theory of Obama’s tentacles.  Perhaps Trump got his idea from that or from a piece or segment in the Alt-right Media or adviser Steve Bannon.  In any case that’s all it took for him to go with it.  The wire tap charge is a useful distraction while also well aligned with the right wing narrative.

The problem for Trump is that he has no evidence.   While he has overcome that deficit often, the stakes are higher here and there is more information to refute him.  As president, Trump has access to any information he wants, but he avoids asking for it because it doesn’t back up his lie.  He won’t even call FBI Director Comey, and a couple other intelligence chiefs, who could tell him if there were any wire taps because they require a court order.  He won’t call because they would tell him he was wrong.

You can tell this is all one big lie because his surrogates have trouble defending his claim of evidence and even a few in Congress imply that the emperor has no clothes.

To skirt further scrutiny the Trump bunch has tossed this hot potato to Congress to investigate, hoping it will just disappear.  A few Republican senators, like John McCain, have failed to play along.  McCain’s response:  “If there is no basis for it, there’s no reason to hold an investigation.” And the Trump team hasn’t provided a basis.

Unfortunately, most Republican lawmakers lack McCain’s character.  While few actually support Trump’s contention to any degree, they don’t bash it, either, as they want a united front to pass legislation, so they can live with Trump’s wild tweets, as if he was that tedious, drunken uncle that all abide at Thanksgiving.

This is the devil’s pact the Republicans in Congress have made with the president, hoping he can help them get legislation they want passed without totally shredding their own credibility and sense of integrity in the process.  Ethically speaking, I imagine for some of them the hoped for ends justify the means.  I think that some will be sorry.

They don’t seem to realize that Trump is now undermining the credibility of the presidency as he has worked at delegitimizing most other institutions that frame our democracy.   So far, the present Republican controlled Congress has been spared, but I doubt that romance will last.

I will keep tracking this particular issue, hoping to heaven it stays alive…………………


P.S. – The issue I’ve discussed above can be looked at in much greater depth by reading this piece in the Washington Post (Daily 202) by James Hohmann with Breanne Deppisch.  They break down the period around the tweet and fit this latest and greatest lie in a pattern of distractions that have served him so well.  The writers raise hopes, though, concluding with ways in which this act might come back to bite Trump.

The article is long but you can skim parts and I think the overall picture it portrays is worth the journey.

The Coverage of the Congressional Town Hall Meetings is Lousy

As one who is angered by the new president’s deforming reality daily to suit his purposes while also blaming the media for creating “fake news,” I feel even more anger today at the the liberal media for the poor job it is doing covering the raucous Republican congressional town meetings being held this week.  In short, I’m accusing them of creating some fake news.

It seems they have decided on a story line and are sticking to it.    Much of the attention is paid to the anger shown by “constituents” while drawing an analogy to the Tea Party anger expressed in 2009 and after.  And TV pundits rehash these events suggesting the Republican party should take notice of “constituent” discontent as it might impact future elections as it did in Tea Party halcyon days.

What baloney.   I put “constituents” in quotes because it is a cover for not really analyzing the make up of these crowds.   Who are these people at these events, especially the outspoken angry ones?  I would bet most  expressing anger didn’t vote for Trump and the fervent Trump backers who would counter that anger with their own didn’t bother to show up because they won.   Look for them at later town meetings if they come to have buyer’s remorse.

So if this is primarily a crowd of angry democrats yelling at Republican congressmen, where’s the news value?   It is not news.  It is what one might expect given the organizing powers on both left and right these days.

While it might be a first, I agree with much of a Trump tweet, the one on Tuesday saying:   “The so-called angry crowds in home districts of some Republicans are actually, in numerous cases, planned out by liberal activists. Sad!”  The anger is not so-called but real but the protests wouldn’t look similar if there were not similar elements of organizing.  Don’t know what Trump’s  “sad” about, but what makes me sad is the shallow level of journalistic coverage, especially of the TV variety.

I suggest that a deep look would reveal there isn’t much here to look at.   Maybe I’m wrong but would like to be proven so by some real research as opposed to the puff impressionistic pieces I’ve seen.

I’ve done quite a bit of surfing of the internet and can’t find a single piece that really tries to analyze the composition of one of these town meetings or exactly who helped organize the collective response.   As to the latter point, at least some organizational agents are occasionally mentioned, like Indivisible, which provides such things as instructions for organizing anti-Trump efforts.   With cell phones and organizational guidance on the net, getting a protest effort together against Trump doesn’t need many if any paid activists.

To repeat, what I see at these protests is an outpouring of anti-Trump anger mostly from those people, like me,  who didn’t vote for him.  So where’s the news?

As to the analogy to the rise and impact of the Tea Party, it doesn’t hold up.   The Tea Party grew through its efforts to push the Republican Party to the right.   While they were angry at Obama, they were also angry at their own representatives, many of whom they managed to “get primaried”, i.e. replaced by their own candidates.

The protesters at these Republican town halls aren’t going to impact the party at large because they aren’t Republicans for the most part.   Whatever influence they’ll have will be on their own party.

Trump disgusts me, but one major reason for that is because he is such a bull shitter, the last thing I want in a president.   I hate B. S., even more so when it comes from sources I respect for the most part.

Journalists:  Do your effing job!

Fareed Zakaria on Trump’s Rocking Chair Presidency

President Trump’s news conference/tirade last Thursday was really something.   Much of the 70 or so minutes was Trump blasting the media for “fake news” that ignored his many achievements thus far as president and cast an unwarranted pall over his White House staff.  In the process Trump told several easily verifiable falsehoods himself and made illogical arguments, but to dwell on them is to dwell on distractions.   He always does that.

The heart of the matter is:  “….. in the midst of it all, what has he actually done?” That question is raised by Fareed Zakaria, one of my favorite political  commentators.  And his answer detailed in a recent column is:  “Hardly anything.”

Zakaria employs an analogy proffered by philosopher Alfred Montapert:  “Do not confuse motion and progress. A rocking horse keeps moving but does not make any progress.’ We are witnessing a rocking-horse presidency in which everyone is jerking back and forth furiously, yet there is no forward movement.”

Here is a synopsis of Zakaria’s main points.  Trump has claimed “There has never been a presidency that’s done so much in such a short period of time.”  Zakaria points to several presidents who accomplished much more in their first 100 days than Trump is likely to, including Barack  Obama.

Trump has said his White House “is running like a fine-tuned machine”, but it “has not even begun serious discussions with Congress on major legislation. (also) According to The Washington Post, of the 696 positions that require Senate confirmation, the president has yet to nominate 661 of them.”  

Also, while Trump has “issued a series of executive orders with great fanfare” the only one that affects much is the travel ban that was so badly conceived and written that it got stuck in the courts.  Seems like that machine has a lot of important parts missing.

Zakaria quotes a piece by Zachary Karabell in a recent Politico Magazine that sums up Trump’s presidency.  “So far, Trump has behaved exactly like he has throughout his previous career: He has generated intense attention and sold himself as a man of action while doing little other than promote an image of himself as someone who gets things done.”

In short, the fine-tuned machine works best blowing smoke.

Zakaria concludes with two aspects of the Trump presidency.  There is the “freak show” that dominates the headlines but there is also “the savvy businessman” who picked some intelligent heavy weights like Rex Tillerson and Jim Mattis to key positions.

It seems to boil down to this:   “For many people, the bargain of the Trump presidency was that they would put up with the freak show in order to get tax reform, infrastructure projects and deregulation. That may still happen, but for now at least, reality TV is in overdrive, and not much is happening in the realm of serious policy.”

Those interested in reading the full editorial can go here.

A Few Inauguration Impressions

The Day Before:

A “welcome to Washington” event in front of the Capitol Building, begun by actor Jon Voight thanking God for helping Donald Trump overcome “all the lies” told about him in the campaign.  OMG!  Homage to the consummate liar, lying so effectively that Trump has convinced millions he is the lone truth teller among hordes of liars, including the press, our intelligence agencies and Meryl Streep.

Inauguration Day: 

Trump and Mel getting out of the limousine with Obama and Michelle waiting to greet them at the Capitol.   Mel sticks out her hand to shake and Michelle gives her a hug.   Awkward but understandable, both trying hard to get through this with class.

Later Bill and Hillary arrive and jack ass reporters yell out:  “How do you feel today?”  And the press wonder why most of us don’t like them much, though Trump is an outstanding reason to like them more now.

Waiting for Trump to be sworn in and watching Hillary and G. W. Bush chatting a few rows behind the rostrum, wishing I were a lip reader.  Let’s imagine.  Hill:  ” And I used to think you were bad.”  George:  “I’m like fine wine.  I get better with time.”

Senator Roy Blunt introduces the new president by describing great divides in the country in years past, a recognition of where we are now.   A fitting introduction as our new president gives few signs of reaching beyond his base, like the alligator in the group lunch commercial who pretends to be reaching for the check .

Then the new president gives a speech that seemed a crystallization of his entire campaign.   I have to praise him for not being shilly-shally.  After thanking the Obama’s for help in the transition, he talks about a rigged America in which the political elite and their wealthy cronies- well represented by  the people sitting behind him – prosper while the “people’s” needs are ignored and  “carnage” abounds like tombstones around the country.   In short, he gives those behind him, including the Obama’s, the finger.

The rest of the speech was basically “America first” in everything in every way.  If this or that might favor a foreigner over an American, Trump was against it.  A foreign company over an American company, he was against it.  A foreign government over our own, he was against it.

I imagine our allies are  wondering what all that means to them.

But typical Trump, at a luncheon after the ceremony, while demonstrators including some violent idiots were kept far away by security, he joked and glad handed with those same virtually criminal elitists.  Always the chameleon capable of matching his colors with those of the audience.   Always prompting me to question what will he actually do.

Later the Trumps and Penses escort the Obamas to the helicopter which takes them away.

I have no idea what those four said waving good bye to the Obamas, but I’d guess that one of the Obama’s said:  “Thank God that’s over.”

Trump and Our Intelligence Services: Two Separate Realities

We have a president elect who has been able throughout the campaign to by and large getaway with creating a reality in a shape that was useful to him at the moment.  And now we have an intelligence community that doesn’t do that.  It creates a reality based on their best understanding of the facts at the moment.    And those two mind sets are now clashing right in front of us as we run up to the inauguration.

General Michael Hayden, former CIA Director, on Smerconish show January 7

Those two mind sets clashed yesterday, not with all sorts of fireworks but with a clear display of separate realities as to the main points of the report those intel chiefs delivered to Trump.   I made some predictions in a post yesterday as to what might transpire.  While I think I was in the ballpark, I missed the chance to hit a  home run, not foreseeing the big fat possibility that Trump would cherry pick a bit here and there from the report while misrepresenting its main substance.  In other words he would publicly interpret the report in a way that fit his separate reality.

The reality of the report was that Russian hacking is a big problem and that it interfered with our election in various ways with a few aims in mind, one of them to reduce the chances of Hillary Clinton winning.   That is an unwelcome reality for Trump because he will not accept any news that might de-legitimize his victory to any degree nor any information that detracts from his desire to develop a closer relationship with Russia.

I should have realized that Trump might just ignore, or misrepresent the findings of the report as he has done so many times in the past with information that doesn’t suit him.  In other words, work it into his separate reality.  I thought he would back off a bit as long as the report did not conclude that the Russians actions helped him win, as he knew it did not, because the intelligence chiefs don’t believe that’s their call.

But in simply discussing Russian efforts to make an impact it raises the possibility that some of those attempts did influence a number of voters who didn’t care for either candidate much, but felt the duty to vote anyway.   Though impossible to know how much of an impact, it seems unlikely to have had no impact at all, which is what Trump insists on claiming.  Even worse, he acts as if the report backs him up.

Here is the beginning of the official response of Trump to the findings of the intel services:   “While Russia, China, other countries, outside groups and people are consistently trying to break through the cyber infrastructure of our governmental institutions, businesses and organizations including the Democrat National Committee, there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election including the fact that there was no tampering whatsoever with voting machines.”

That is a textbook case of disinformation as defined in Wikipedia:   “Disinformation is intentionally false or misleading information that is spread in a calculated way to deceive target audiences.”  For one, as Michael Hayden pointed out, the initial part focusses on a cyber problem we have with several nations, which is true, but it wasn’t the focus of the report.   The problem with Russia was the focus of the report and that is obscured here.

After beginning with that misleading statement, the Trump team jumps to “there was absolutely no effect on the outcome of the election”……as if that has anything to do with the initial comments on the general cyber problem or that the intel report concluded that.   Neither is true.   The intel report concluded nothing as to the impact.  Instead it leaves it to us to form our own opinion from their information.

The “no impact” comment is just made up, a fact hidden by connecting the words to the statement about no tampering with the voting machines, which is actually in the report.

Perhaps this break down is tedious to you, but the Trump team is so good at spreading disinformation that a light needs to be continually cast on instances of them doing just that.   Especially on a topic as important as our relationship to Putin’s Russia.

Over these next two or three weeks this war between separate  realities could heat up, as there are several Republican senators who I believe will resist Trump’s continuous attempts to trivialize Russian actions of interference in our political process.