With Mueller’s net tightening, Trump is said to be exploring whether or not he can pardon himself, and those close to him

With Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Jared Kushner all set to testify before Senate committees this coming week, I can’t say as though I was surprised to read just now in the Washington Post that President Trump, according to White House sources, has begun talking with his attorneys about the possibility of pardoning those in his inner circle, as well as himself… Following is a clip from the article in question, in case you might have missed it.

Some of President Trump’s lawyers are exploring ways to limit or undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation, building a case against what they allege are his conflicts of interest and discussing the president’s authority to grant pardons, according to people familiar with the effort.

Trump has asked his advisers about his power to pardon aides, family members and even himself in connection with the probe, according to one of those people. A second person said Trump’s lawyers have been discussing the president’s pardoning powers among themselves.

Trump’s legal team declined to comment on the issue. But one adviser said the president has simply expressed a curiosity in understanding the reach of his pardoning authority, as well as the limits of Mueller’s investigation…

Frankly, I wouldn’t be at all surprised, given what’s come out over this past week concerning the June 9, 2016 meeting at Trump Tower between senior members of the Trump campaign, a Kremlin attorney charged with ending sanctions levied against Russia, a former Russian counter intelligence officer with a reputation for hacking, and a Russian national implicated in laundering money on behalf of organized crime figures friendly with Putin, if we heard late tomorrow that Trump had not only pardoned his son, his son-in-law, and his former campaign manager, but had also moved to fire Robert Mueller, the former FBI director tasked with heading the investigation into Russian interference in our last election. One would hope, if Trump reacted in such a way, Republicans in Congress would finally begin to move against him, but, as you know, we’re in completely uncharted waters here, and anything could happen.

Regardless of whether or not something absolutely earth shattering happens in the next day or two, one does get the sense that the stage has been set for a showdown of some kind, now that Trump has thrown down the gauntlet [as he did yesterday when he told the New York Times that he wouldn’t accept Mueller looking into his personal finances], and Mueller has picked it up [making it clear today that, yes, he’d be doing just that].

Here’s the whole thing told in two tweets.

So, yeah, apparently Mueller, the ex-Marine former FBI director, wasn’t all put off by Trump’s hollow blackmail threat… a fact which, I’m sure, came only as a surprise to our President.

Anyway, as you might imagine, everyone is now running around like crazy, asking questions like, “Can a president really pardon himself?” and “What would Republican members of Congress do if he were to fire Mueller?” Well, here, with a partial answer to the first question, is what MSU Law professor Brian C. Kalt had to tell the Washington Post.

…Currently, the discussions of pardoning authority by Trump’s legal team are purely theoretical, according to two people familiar with the ongoing conversations. But if Trump pardoned himself in the face of the ongoing Mueller investigation, it would set off a legal and political firestorm, first around the question of whether a president can use the constitutional pardon power in that way.

“This is a fiercely debated but unresolved legal question,” said Brian C. Kalt, a constitutional law expert at Michigan State University who has written extensively on the question.

The power to pardon is granted to the president in Article II, Section 2, of the Constitution, which gives the commander in chief the power to “grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offences against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment.” That means pardon authority extends to federal criminal prosecution but not to state level or impeachment inquiries.

No president has sought to pardon himself, so no courts have reviewed it. Although Kalt says the weight of the law argues against a president pardoning himself, he says the question is open and predicts such an action would move through the courts all the way to the Supreme Court…

update: The cool thing about Twitter is the you can just write to folks, and sometimes they actually write back… Here’s the beginning of my conversation with Brian Kalt on the scope of presidential pardon power.

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Drip, drip, drip…

As I’m still recovering from yesterday’s never-ending, late night rant, I’d intended to take tonight off. Three things happened today, however, that I wanted to let you know about…

1. According to reports, Secretary of State Rex Tillerson is considering the closing of the State Department’s cybersecurity office. While it’s possible that all of the duties of the group would be taken on by other State Department offices, it’s understandable that many find the prospect extremely troubling, given that the NSA, CIA and FBI all believe, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that the Russians are actively engaged in cyber warfare against our nation. And, making matters worse, as I’m sure you can appreciate, this announcement comes less than a week after Trump announced his desire to work more closely with the Russians on issues of cybersecurity, much to the shock of our national security community.

2. While Donald Trump is denying it, news broke this evening that, during last week’s G-20 conference in Germany, he and Vladimir Putin had a second, considerably more private, meeting. According to reports, the meeting, in violation of all known accepted protocol, was attended by just Trump, Putin, and a Russian interpreter. Why they should want to meet like this, without any other members of our national security team present, especially given the rumors swirling about collusion and election rigging, your guess is as good as mine.

3. It’s been made public that the eighth person to attend the June 9, 2016 Trump Tower meeting we discussed yesterday between top Trump campaign officials and Russian operatives, was Ike Kaveladze, a Russian citizen who, not too long ago, was accused of having laundered some $14 billion for Russian organized crime in the United States. [So, just to recap, in that one meeting, we had an attorney focusing on the lifting of sanctions, a former Russian counter intelligence officer with an expertise in hacking, and a money launderer with expertise in hiding the assets of the Russian mob. But, if we’re to believe the White House, they’d just stopped by to advocate on behalf of the Russian orphans.]

Make of all that what you will. I think I speak for most of you, however, when I say it looks as though the net is beginning to draw tighter around the husky orange carcass of our small-handed, wannabe leader. There’s just no way the intelligence community is going to allow this to go on much longer… No, the wheels of the deep state are already grinding away.

[The image above was from an earlier post, but I thought it fit nicely.]

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Russia, Russia, Russia… Now that we’ve got a narrative, we can’t let go

It’s all happening so fast. It’s easy to be overwhelmed. One minute, Kid Rock, in what we can hope is just a bid to sell a few thousand more of his ridiculous “dumbfuckistan” t-shirts, announces a bid to take on Debbie Stabenow for the Senate, and, the next thing you know, Caitlyn “just because she’s transsexual doesn’t mean she can’t also be a reprehensible human being” Jenner, is announcing that she might be following in his terrifyingly unqualified footsteps, because, you know, it’s just politics. It just never seems to end… this constant onslaught of stupidity… this army of idiots and con-men, emboldened by Trump, jumping in to fill the gaping void left open by the implosion of the Republican Party… With all of this going on, it’s hard to stay focused on the big picture. If we going to stop this slide into insanity, though, it’s what we have to do. If we’re going to ensure that this never happens again, we’ve not only got to get Trump out of office, but we’ve got to make him pay such a price that no human being in history ever attempts to do what he’s done again. And we have to be sure that his followers come to see the truth, or, at the very least, slink quietly back into the shadows, never to be heard from again, like all those Germans who cheered on Hitler to victory in the 1930s.

As for how we get there, I’m not so sure. But I have to think there’s a path that will get us back on a path to sanity. We just have to work together to find it.

The good news, as we’ve been discussing, is we’ve finally got something to work with. A narrative is coming into focus – one that we can share with others – one that explains exactly how all of this came about, and why.

We now know that, in early June, 2016, just after Donald Trump secured the Republican nomination, an email was sent to his son Donald Trump Jr., alerting him to the fact that Russia not only supported his father’s candidacy against Clinton, but wanted to help him defeat the former Secretary of State. We know this because we’ve seen the emails between Trump Jr. and Rob Goldstone, the intermediary in Russia, who had worked with the Trump organization in 2013 to bring the Miss Universe pageant to Moscow. [Goldstone, as I understand it, helped secure the financing for the event, by bring in a Russian oligarch by the name of Aras Agalarov, who agreed to put the money up in exchange for letting his son, a pop singer by the name of Emin, headline the soul-crushingly hollow tit and ass parade.] These emails, as everyone who gets their news from sources other than Fox News and Breitbart now knows, included phrases like “This is obviously very high level and sensitive information but is part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr Trump” [Goldstone] and “I love it” [Trump].

We also know that Trump Jr. apparently took this offer of help very seriously. Just six days after the initial email from Goldstone offering assistance from the Kremlin, people were flying in from Russia, not just to meet with Trump’s eldest son, but also his son-in-law and confidant Jared Kushner, and his ascending campaign manager Paul Manafort, who, just a few months later, as you’ll recall, left the campaign, when his extensive ties to Vladimir Putin became public, threatening to kill Trump’s chances in the general election. [We’ve heard since from sources within the intelligence community that, last summer, communications were intercepted between Russian intelligence officials discussing how Manafort could be used to influence Trump. And, today, as coincidence would have it, news just broke that New York prosecutors have subpoenaed Manafort’s bank records.]

Donald Trump Jr., of course, denied that any of this happened, at least at first. For months, he denied vehemently that there had been any meetings with the Russians, and only came clean once the emails noted above were forwarded to the New York Times by an anonymous source within the White House. And, even then, he first lied about the content of the meeting, saying that he and the Russian woman he’d met with, whose name he didn’t even know, had only talked about the possibility of once again making Russian orphans available for U.S. adoptions. [The adoption program had been closed in response to sanctions imposed against Russia by the Obama administration.]

Sean Spicer said in a press conference today, that “there was nothing (about the Trump Tower meeting with the Russians) that would lead anyone to believe that there was anything except for (a) discussion about adoption,” but that doesn’t jive with the information known thus far about what was promised in advance, what Donald Jr. has already admitted to, or the fact that Manafort and Kushner were brought into the meeting. [One doesn’t have to have experience running presidential campaigns to know that the top three people working for a candidate don’t typically drop everything to attend meetings about international adoption policy.]

At any rate, there was a meeting between Trump Jr., Paul Manafort, Jared Kushner, Kremlin attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya, Rob Goldstone, a person described as an interpreter, and least two other people, who those in the meeting, at least at first, refused to name. While the eighth member of the meeting is still unknown, we’ve since learned that the seventh was a former Soviet counter-intelligence officer by the name of Rinat Akhmetshin, who, as coincidence would have it, just happens to have an aptitude for hacking. [Akhmetshin claims to have just dropped by the meeting on a whim, as he happened to be in the area, but it seems unlikely.] Here, in case you missed it, is how the news concerning his identity broke.

While it’s unclear that a quid pro quo was established at this meeting, the circumstantial evidence would appear to confirm that some kind of agreement was struck, in which the Russians would work to actively to discredit Clinton and assist in Trump voter suppression efforts in exchange for the lifting of sanctions against their country and the passing of legislation more friendly to Putin and his cronies in Russian organized crime… Just after the meeting concluded, as I suspect you may have heard, Trump began, for the first time, talking about Clinton’s deleted emails and the possibility that they might somehow surface. And, as you’ll recall, about a month later, at the Republican National Convention, the only addition the Trump campaign had to the GOP platform was the stopping of support to those in Ukraine fighting against the Russian military… Oh, and then, this past May, Trump Attorney General Jeff Sessions abruptly settled a money laundering case being handled on behalf of Russian organized crime figures by our old friend Natalia Veselnitskaya. The case, which had been filed by US Attorney for the Southern District of New York Preet Bharara in 2013, according to Foreign Policy magazine, “alleged that 11 companies were involved in a tax fraud in Russia and then laundered a portion of the $230 million they got into Manhattan real estate.” [I’ll leave the discussion of Russian money laundering by way of Trump properties for another occasion.]

So, stay with me here… On March 10, Donald Trump fired Preet Bharara, and, then, on May 12, Sessions, without warning, settled the $230 million case that Bharara had been handling for less than $6 million… It kind of makes you wonder, doesn’t it?

Well, as you might imagine, the 17 Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee would like to know more about this case… Here, for those of you who haven’t seen it, is a clip from their letter to Jeff Sessions, demanding answers.

You might think that the Attorney General of the United States would be anxious to help in an inquiry regarding a money laundering racket being run on American soil by a hostile foreign nation that the FBI, NSA and CIA all feel confident worked to subvert our 2016 election, but apparently that’s not the case. Citing the importance of his “personal privacy,” Sessions has declined to disclose his contacts with Russians. And, it’s worth noting, he’s done this in violation of a court order. This, I should also add, comes after Sessions lied on his SF86 security clearance form by stating that “No,” he had not had any contact with foreign government officials in last seven years. Oh, and then there’s the matter of his lying under oath during his confirmation hearing, saying that he’d not had contact with anyone connected to the Russian government during 2016 election, when, in fact, he had… His end, I suspect, will come like Michael Flynn’s, who also denied talking to the Russians until tapes were apparently produced by the intelligence community… A fitting end, in my opinion, for the man who civil rights leader Coretta Scott King warned us back in ’86 was a threat to American voting rights. In the meantime, though, Sessions will keep looking for ways to take more cash and property from American citizens, while giving more cash and property back to members of the Russian mob.

I suppose it could all be a coincidence. It could be a coincidence that Flynn, Kushner, Trump Jr. and Sessions all just happened to forget their many interactions with Russians prior to the election. And maybe Trump sent his entire senior campaign staff to meet with a Russian delegation promising information harmful to Hilary Clinton because they somehow knew they’d really just be talking about the plight of Russian orphans, which is a cause that’s close to all of their hearts. And maybe it’s a coincidence that, while the President talks shit about every other global leader, he only praises Putin. And maybe there’s nothing to the fact that Sessions quietly settled that Russian money laundering case, and that the Trump campaign’s only contribution to the GOP platform in 2016 was that language about how we’d stop assisting those fighting against Russia, a country that, not too long ago, we used to refer to as the “evil empire.” And maybe the former Russian intelligence officer with a background in hacking, who Trump Jr. neglected to tell tell us was at that meeting, really did just happen to tag along with a friend, as he was in the area and had nothing better to do that day. And maybe there’s nothing to the news about how Kushner had sought a private back channel so that he could communicate with Moscow outside the established State Department channels. And, I suppose, the investigations into how the Trump campaign could have coordinated the strategic placement of fake news stories about Clinton with the Kremlin could lead nowhere. But, really, how likely do we think any of that is? I mean, the odds against all of those things just being coincidence is pretty astronomical, right? And I feel like more is coming. My sense is that it’s inevitable, that this administration has to completely unwind at some point. I mean, the alternative is unthinkable, but it’s more than just wishful thinking on my part, I think. There’s just too much smoke, and there’s more and more if it every day.

As I’ve told others, though, I suspect it would have been even worse if Trump had lost. I really believe that it would have been even uglier, with a sizable percentage of our fellow citizens thoroughly convinced that “Crooked Hillary” had “rigged” the election, and stolen the White House from Trump. I think it could well have torn the nation apart, and this cold civil war of ours could have quickly turned hot. At least now, we have an opportunity to work through this together in the light of day, and move forward. It’s just a question of how. How do we break through to the viewers of Fox News, InfoWars and Breitbart News, and convince them that it’s all been a con? How do you pull someone out of a world like that when they’ve been brainwashed for over a decade, told repeatedly that our last president was an America-hating Kenyan marxist, and that Hillary Clinton operated a child sex ring beneath a D.C. pizza parlor? And, more importantly, how do you ensure that it never happens again? Do models exist for the mass deprograming of entire populations? How was it done in Germany and Japan after WWII? How did we convince people to accept the truth of what had happened? The easiest way, I think, would involve a full confession from Trump… a complete retelling of the entire thing from his perspective, starting with the lies of birtherism, and going right through the campaign, admitting to every lie, and explaining to the American people how he conned them by stoking their fear and appealing to their most base instincts. I don’t think, however, that’s going to happen. So maybe we’d better start planning now for contingencies.

This isn’t, of course, to say that we should let up on the health care debate. We should continue to push back, build on our successes, and use it as an opportunity to talk with others Americans about the differences between our parties and our visions for the future. With that said, though, I don’t think we’ve got a chance of rolling back the Trumpification of American politics, and the army of con-men like Kid Rock in our future, without a clear focus on the Russia investigation. Health care is a battle. But Russia is the war. And, in my opinion, we have to proceed with that in mind. The attack on health care will be back. The Empire, as we know from Star Wars, will keep rebuilding the Death Star. The only way to end it once and for all is to get at the root from which all of this terrible stuff is growing, which is ignorance and fear. And the only way to do that, I’m convinced, is to wake the American people up to what’s been happening. And Russia, I think, is the key. It’s the story that shocks them into waking up. And we can’t let go of it, for even a minute.

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Jim Damron, one of my favorite artists, gets a mention in the New York Times

I think the value of my art collection may have increased a bit today. Not only did one of my favorite Ypsi artists, Jim Damron, just make it into the pages of the New York Times, but the article included a link back to something I’d written about a painting of his that I’d purchased a few years back… For what it’s worth, it’s kind of a stretch to call Jim an “Ypsi artist,” as he just lived here for a short while, several decades ago, as a toddler. Still, though, I like mentioning it… Anyway, I’m happy for Jim, as, to my knowledge, this is the first mention of his work to appear in the national press, and I hope it leads to greater recognition of his work, which is really wonderful. [That’s his painting of the late Adam West as Batman, in the photo below.]

Oh, and if you want to buy the painting of Buck Henry that I bought from Jim, which is now kind of famous thanks to the New York Times, it’s not for sale. I intend to keep it until I pass away, at which point my lazy, good-for-nothing grandchildren will have to fight one another for the opportunity to pawn it.

Posted in Art and Culture, Mark's Life | Tagged , , , , , | 2 Comments

Keep right on pretending to pray, but not even God himself can save you now, Donald Trump

Remember how, not too long ago, I was telling you to keep an eye on Donald Trump’s religiosity? My thinking at the time was that the more ‘in peril’ our President believes himself to be, the more he’ll feign an interest in all things Christian. Well, judging by what we’re seeing in the press today, I’d say he thinks impeachment is imminent.

The following photo, taken last night, shows evangelical leaders laying their hands on Donald Trump inside the White House as he bows solemnly in prayer.

And that wasn’t all. Trump also met with Pat Robertson earlier today to discuss what he’s doing to protect the religious freedom of Christians in the United States, among other things. Of course, he also made sure to mention that, in his opinion, Vladimir Putin would have rather had Hillary Clinton be elected President of the United States, as she’s considerably weaker and commanding of respect than he is. Here’s a clip from the Christian Broadcasting Network release.

…In an effort to debunk claims that Russia wanted to help him win the election, the president argued that’s an illogical conclusion.

He thinks Putin would actually have been happier with Hillary Clinton in the White House because he’s building the U.S. military and working to export U.S. energy, which Russia opposes.

“We are the most powerful country in the world and we are getting more and more powerful because I’m a big military person. As an example, if Hillary had won, our military would be decimated. Our energy would be much more expensive. That’s what Putin doesn’t like about me. And that’s why I say, why would he want me? Because from day one I wanted a strong military, he doesn’t want to see that,” Trump told Robertson.

“And from day one I want fracking and everything else to get energy prices low and to create tremendous energy. We’re going to be self-supporting, we just about are now. We’re going to be exporting energy – he doesn’t want that. He would like Hillary where she wants to have windmills. He would much rather have that because energy prices would go up and Russia as you know relies very much on energy,” he continued.

“So there are many things that I do that are the exact opposite of what he would want. So what I keep hearing about that he would have rather had Trump, I think ‘probably not,’ because when I want a strong military, you know she wouldn’t have spent the money on military,” he said. “When I want tremendous energy, we’re opening up coal, we’re opening up natural gas, we’re opening up fracking, all the things that he would hate, but nobody ever mentions that”…

As much as I’d like to go off on a tangent about how fucking stupid it is to suggest that the price one can charge for oil goes up with increased energy production from renewables, I’m going to try to stay focused here… and just say that I really do believe the more Trump talks of God, in hopes of rallying what’s left of his far-right, evangelical base, the more vulnerable he thinks that he is. I suspect there are other barometers out there that one might use to predict the proximity of impeachment, but this is the one I’ve chosen to put my faith in… And, on a day like to today, it’s given me comfort. When I see things, like Trump posting about how “The W.H. is functioning perfectly,” as he did earlier today, I just look at this photo of him, surrounded by evangelicals, all touching him as he pretends to pray, and it reminds me that the only reason he’s doing any of this is because he knows the axe is about to fall, and that these are the only people who will be with him at the end… not his golfing buddies, but these poor, deluded culture warriors who really believe that he’s setting the nation back on a righteous path, in spite of all the pussy grabbing, cutting of aid for the poor, etc. “Those morons out there,” as Lonesome Rhodes would call them, are all that he has left. But he can’t fool them forever with his hollow rhetoric about how he’s going to make it safe for people to say “Merry Christmas” again, and the like. At some point, they’ll figure it out. It’s inevitable. But, until then, he’ll try to hold them as tight as he can, wrapped up in the American flag with him, in hopes that they’ll throw themselves between him and Mueller when the time comes.

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