Monday, December 10, 2018

BTRTN: I'm Dreaming of Indict Christmas


With the quickening pace of Mueller’s revelations, Steve is sleeping with visions of epic familial confrontation, Shakespearean-grade internecine betrayal, and hubris triggering a denouement worthy of Greek tragedy. All he wants for Christmas is for Santa make to make his dreams come true.


The Honorable Mr. Emoluments (a.k.a., “Santa”) Claus
The North Polarization, Earth
Hand Delivered by Rudolph

Re: Petition for Annual Seasonal Rewards, Colloquially Known as “Christmas List”

Dear Mr. Claus,

I am writing on behalf of my client, who authors snarky, often belligerent leftist columns for the political website Born To Run The Numbers. My client is prepared to allocute that he has been generally been far “naughtier” than “nice” this year, but he nonetheless wishes to assert his right to a full and complete Christmas with all the rights and privileges pertaining thereto, including a full complement of gifts, which we will detail below. 

Why, you ask, does my client believe that he is entitled to a “full and bountiful” Christmas when you have historically stipulated that such largesse is reserved only for those who have been “good, for goodness sake?”

The essence of my client’s argument, Mr. Claus, is that the Presidency of Donald Trump has fundamentally degraded our definition of human decency, dignity, civility, manners, and proper behavior, making my client’s occasional slips from grace merely harmless and inconsequential bagatelles in comparison to the loathsome howitzers launched daily from the Oval Office. In short, my good Claus, there’s naughty… there’s nasty… there’s cruel… and then there is the President of the United States of America. 

My client acknowledges the occasional rhetorical excesses of his columns, and sincerely regrets such incidents as the time he wrote that Sarah Huckabee Saunders reminds him of Ursula the Sea Witch in The Little Mermaid. Nolo contendere, Claus: clearly not nice. But my good sir, does this even register on our new scale of “naughty?” Perhaps as you attempt to deliver Christmas presents to six-year olds who have been ripped from their parents on our Southern border by our Federal agencies, you will agree that the definition of horrific behavior on the part of our government has profoundly changed. Perhaps observing a president who turns a blind eye to a vicious, cold-blooded murder by a savage Saudi Prince will make you re-think your standards. Your spokespersons, sir, allege that you possess a comprehensive vision of human behavior in their claim that “he knows when you’ve been sleeping and knows when you’re awake.” Mercy, Kringle, it is time for you to fully see this President for the evil, hate, and amorality he represents.

Indeed, all the world shall pause, Claus, to observe just how many tons of allegedly “clean” coal you are going to be dropping down the chimney at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington, D.C.  The world is in a bad place, all right, and my client wants it to stop in the St. Nick of time. 

With this context, surely you will now understand why my client feels entitled to each and every one of the humble presents on his list. There is a clear strategy in his list, which we shall explain after reviewing the line items individually:

1) Petitioner seeks for his first gift a criminal indictment of Donald Trump, Jr. for conspiring with a hostile foreign government to procure information on a political opponent with the overt intent of influencing the outcome of the U.S. election. This is to be based on Trump Junior’s blatant solicitation of allegedly damaging materials about Hillary Clinton, offered by a representative of the Russian government, which was the subject of the June 9, 2016 meeting in Trump Tower. Please be sure that the indictment notes that Donald Trump Junior informed “Individual 1” of the meeting prior to when it occurred, and provided “Individual 1” with a summary of what took place in the meeting. Make sure that this indictment reads similarly to the language of Michael Cohen's sentencing document: that Trump Junior was "acting on the direction of Individual 1."

2) For his second gift, petitioner suggests a comparable criminal indictment for Jared Kushner. Petitioner suggests that Kushner’s attempt to establish a secret communications back channel to the Russian government – specifically intended to avoid eavesdropping by U.S. Intelligence, is grounds for felony charges, as it involves a private citizen negotiating with a hostile foreign government with the intent of subverting the government of the United States. Robert Mueller should be able to establish that Kushner proceeded with this scheme having discussed it with his father-in-law, then the President-Elect. Please include the same language noting that Kushner was “acting on the direction of Individual 1.”

3) Third gift: a criminal indictment for Ivanka Trump for a variety of money laundering and tax evasion schemes to which she was complicit in her role as an official of the Trump Organization. Based on the extensive co-operation of Cohen and senior officers in the Trump Organization, we believe that you should be in a position to assert that “Individual 1” was one-hundred percent aware of these activities.

4) Ah, yes. My client’s last gift: please make sure that there is a second set of indictments issued by the Southern District of New York, naming the Trump children for their involvement in corrupt business practices in the State of New York in their roles as officers of the Trump Organization. Be sure to keep these separate from the three gifts listed above – perhaps affix a yellow “stickie” that labels the N.Y.S. indictments as “pardon-proof.”

Why, you ask, such a limited number of gifts for a somewhat well-behaved citizen such as my client? Aside from his essential humbleness and general disdain for earthly goods (other than his BMW), my client wishes only for world peace, a return to common decency, civility, dignity, global respect for his country, thoughtful and informed leadership, the rule of law, the immutability of fact, and the honor of serving purposes and ideals greater than one’s own self. 

My client is now convinced that the path to realizing his vision must begin with, and indeed cannot be accomplished without, the removal of Donald Trump from the Presidency of the United States.

Further, Mr. Claus, my client believes that we simply cannot count on the idea that at least twenty of the spineless, cowardly Republicans in the Senate will ever vote to remove Donald Trump from office through the constitutional process of impeachment, no matter how much evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors is placed before them. 

As such, my clients sees that the only path to the removal of Donald Trump from the presidency is through his own voluntary resignation. 

That’s where his four gifts come in.

My client’s theory goes like this. First, he believes that Special Prosecutor Mueller will be able to establish that Trump’s family members are guilty of crimes that could send each for significant terms in prison. Moreover, each of these crimes can be fundamentally linked to their relationship to Donald Trump, either in terms of improper activities in the 2016 campaign, the transition period, during Trump’s presidency, or simply as officers in Trump’s company.

The Christmas presents that my client seeks are indictments that relate to the shared criminal activities of the father and his children. 

Because the father is President of the United States, he cannot be indicted for the crimes he committed in concert with his children. But his children can.

My client wishes to trigger an epic crisis of conflicting interests between Donald Trump and his own children, in which the President must choose between their future and his own. No matter how he chooses, he loses.

Now, Santa, I know what you're thinking: "I am just a humble Saint who has a very specific and ambitious charter, which involves making, wrapping, and delivering toys for every kid on earth without the infrastructure of Amazon. Besides, can't Trump just pardon his kids and kill your whole theory? Isn't that what they all assume, so they will stick with him to the bitter end?"

Donald Trump can try to pardon his kids, but his pardon will not cover the New York State indictments… so Trump would risk incurring outrage with the public and with legislators but still fail to completely  protect them going to jail.  Should he nevertheless proceed with a Presidential pardon for his own children, he risks committing an act so wholly self-serving, self-protective, and abusive of his power that it could send shock waves through his own base.

Or, he can stand by and watch his children prosecuted for criminal activity, hoping that they will not be convicted… but knowing that hefty jail sentences await upon a guilty verdict. Would Donald Trump actually take the risk that his own children would go to prison, while he stands idly by, unwilling to acknowledge his own complicity? Would his children feel betrayed, and flip on him, sealing his own fate?  In any of these scenarios, we see the potential for even more outrage within his own base: a man that would allow his children to be tried, convicted, and serve time for crimes in which he was complicit… while he hides behind the protection of the Presidency. How many red-blooded red state mothers and fathers would abide by that?

Of course, all of this would unfold as the Mueller investigation churns forward to its final report, releasing what will undoubtedly reveal still more graphic evidence of Presidential misconduct. The pressure on the President to save his own skin will mount on a daily basis.

This, then, is the legal fulcrum on which this Presidency could turn: if a wedge could be driven between the self-interest of Donald Trump and that of his own children, the dynamic of this presidency could fundamentally shift. Donald Trump would have to debate, in a very public way, whether his own future or that of his children is more important.

And that is where we see a third path.

Santa, all my client wants for Christmas is the true art of the deal: a huge, sweeping plea agreement between Trump, Congress, the Special Counsel, and the New York D.A.

A simple deal, really: the government agrees to not prosecute Trump’s children if Trump immediately resigns as President of the United States. Such a deal could even be written to vacate Trump’s own legal liability for his crimes as candidate and President, but would require that he face all civil and criminal charges from his prior business activities. Trump's children could plead guilty to crimes without serving jail time, but be required to terminate any relationship to the Trump Organization. As for Trump: he would be required to cease and desist from all political activity and political communication, including Twitter, Fox News, or any other medium.

Boy, would that make my client’s Christmas tree light up: Trump gone, no long national nightmare of radically partisan impeachment proceedings. 

Some will argue that Trump should be prosecuted for his each and every crime against the United States, but if that means Trump stays in office for another two years, we must weigh just how much more damage he can do in that time frame. And yes, we’d all have to deal with President Pence, but at this point, we must all be content to have a short-term caretaker in the White House who does not have the destruction of our democracy and our rule of law as his primary objective.  

Mr. Claus, I beseech you on behalf of my client. He will forsake all jokes about Ted Cruz for a period of up to six months as a gesture of his desire to return to kinder and gentler times. He wishes nothing more than to go back to an era when the only comedic fodder coming out of the White House occurred when an earnest, loopy, and occasionally aloof patrician President did not know how supermarket scanners worked and said goofy things like “Message: I care.

This Christmas season, we remembered that man -- who defined, perhaps as well as any president in the history of our country – what selfless, dignified, and graceful public service really means.

Mr. Claus, we miss that kind of leadership desperately.

You, Santa, can make my client’s dreams come true. He doesn’t need a new sweater, a tie, or a pitching wedge.

This year, all he wants is to get his country back.

He's dreaming of indict Christmas.

May that day be merry and bright, and may all our prosecutors indict.

Monday, December 3, 2018

BTRTN: When Donald Trump Became "Individual 1"

Tom with the BTRTN November 2018 Month in Review.

THE MONTH

November was an astonishingly full month, crammed with comings and goings, inflection points and crises galore, from the midterms to the Mideast, the environment, gun violence, immigration, freedom of the press, the domestic and global economy and even threats of war. 

Image result for individual 1The month began with an underqualified sycophant, Matthew Whitaker, beginning his tenure as Attorney General, and ended with the death of perhaps our most qualified president, and one of the most dignified, George H. W. Bush.  The contrast between that gentleman and statesman, our 41st president, and the man who installed Whitaker as AG, our 45th, could not be sharper.

And yet through all of this, history may record the month simply as the time when President Trump moved firmly into the crosshairs of the Mueller investigation and became, ominously, “Individual 1.”  We’ll see if a smoking gun emerges, but certainly enough smoke is billowing at this point to ensure a fire is raging.  That fire is epitomized by a simple query:  if there was no crime to begin with, why have so many Trump officials lied about their ties to Russia?

Going back to the beginning of this epic month, the midterms dominated the first week, and they were every bit the verdict on Trump that was anticipated.  There was a true “blue wave” in the House; the final tally (pending three races that are still outstanding) will show the Dems with a “net flip” of 40-ish seats to take control of subpoena power the House.  The Dems faced, of course, a horrendous “map” in the Senate elections, with virtually no chance to gain control, and they lost two seats in red states that they never should have held to begin with, Missouri and Indiana.  They won both in 2012 when the GOP nominated buffoons who made outrageous gaffes on the abortion issue; the GOP put forth more respectable candidates this year, and they took back both seats.  The GOP also flipped another red state, North Dakota (largely due to incumbent Dem Heidi Heitkamp taking a principled but politically deadly “no” vote on Kavanaugh), and also Florida in an incredibly close race.  But the Dems offset those defeats by flipping Nevada and Arizona, thus netting out with a loss of two seats and a 53/47 GOP/Dem split.  And the Dems made huge progress at the state level, flipping a net +7 Governorships, leaving the state houses now with 23 Dems and 27 Republicans.

Trump simultaneously sought to claim “victory” in the midterms (with limited evidence, per the above) and deflect attention by firing AG Jeff Sessions the very next day, thrusting Whitaker into the interim chair ahead of the logical choice, Rod Rosenstein.  Whitaker, Sessions’ chief of staff, would not have appeared on anyone’s top 50 (or top 500?) list of candidates, but his vociferous public opposition to the Mueller investigation was the only credential that mattered to Trump.  Whitaker was immediately called on to recuse himself, as his public statements cannot be squared with exercising impartial oversight of the investigation, but he brushed that off.  In his first month, however, Whitaker stood aside and signed off on the Mueller bombshells to come.  (We’ll see whether he does the same if Mueller issues Trump a subpoena.)

That same day, Trump upbraided CNN’s Jim Acosta for pursuing a typically dogged line of questioning (the norm for any reporter) in a rare Trump press conference, and later stripped Acosta’s White House press pass.  Trump called Acosta, without a trace of irony, “a rude, terrible person.”  CNN and Acosta sued, and were backed by other news outlets, including FOX – and ultimately won a sorely needed victory for the independent press, with Acosta returning to his beat.

The Whitaker/Acosta cycle was quickly eclipsed by twin demons that always displace political talk:  gun violence (the shootings in Thousand Oaks, California) and environmental disaster (the fires that ravaged that same town the very next day, and the devastating Camp Fire later in the month in Northern California).  These types of tragedies pose political problems for the GOP, putting them on their heels with respect to their laissez-faire regulatory approach to gun control and climate change.  The fires were a timely prologue to the second volume of the Fourth National Climate Assessment, issued by Trump’s own government later in the month.  This is a congressionally mandated report, and this one took the novel approach of demonstrating the economic consequences of unchecked climate change, declaring 10% of the U.S. economy is at risk.  Trump, of course, uses economic growth as his rationale for his intensive deregulation efforts, and in response he did the only thing he could do to control the report’s impact – he released it on the Friday after Thanksgiving to minimize its exposure, and dismissed it with a wave of a hand. He actually said this:  “You look at our air and our water, and it’s right now at a record clean.”  A record clean?

But in the weeks between the SoCal fire and the report, there were plenty more headlines.  The CIA concluded that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman had directly ordered the killing of U.S.-based journalist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Turkish Embassy last month.  Trump dismissed the findings and refused do much more than a wrist slap of his strongest Mideast ally, frustrating politicos on both sides of the aisle.  This is the umpteenth episode in the saga of Trump’s man-crushes on murderous strongmen, with MBS joining Kim Jong Un, the Philippine’s Rodrigo Duterte, China’s Xi Jinping, Egypt’s Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, Turkey’s Recep Erdogen and, of course, Vladimir Putin of Russia on the list of those Trump adores.

On the other hand, Trump is quick to lacerate allies like Chief Justice John Roberts, who finally defended the judicial system in the face of Trump scorn, after Trump lashed out at the 9th Circuit over their opposition to Trump’s brazen immigration policies. 

Also in the news, General Motors announced massive factory shutdowns and layoffs right in the heartland, eviscerating Trump’s promises of industrial revival, a black mark on his economic record that exposed the shallowness of his own might in the wake of powerful economic forces.  Seems those tariffs he imposed on aluminum and steel had a direct hit – on GM, that is, and in the coming year there will be aftershocks to the many GM suppliers.  And did we mention the potential death knell of Nafta; more Trump machinations to deny asylum hearings to immigrants fleeing the poverty and crime of their homelands; or the potential government shutdown that may occur in a matter of weeks over the Wall? Plus the rising tensions in the Kersh Strait, where Russia attacked three Ukraine naval vessels -- again without a proper Trump condemnation. 

And yet, with all this, it was the Mueller flurry at the end of the month that set the tone for the immediate future.  Mueller first announced the withdrawal of the Paul Manafort plea bargain, because the man simply kept on lying; Trump, for his part, refused to take a Manafort pardon “off the table” – the dangling pardon becoming yet another exhibit in the obstruction of justice portfolio.  Mueller then announced that Michael Cohen had joined the parade of convicted liars.  Cohen, in his plea, revealed that he had lied about the timing of the conclusion of negotiations with Russia about a potential Trump hotel deal in Moscow; the talks continued well into 2016, at odds with Trump’s public pronouncements.  And, more to the point, well into the timeframe when the GOP was working on its convention platform -- with the Trumpsters fighting hard for Russia-friendly planks.  Perhaps more concerning for Trump was the disclosure that Cohen has thus far spent more than 70 hours in interviews with Mueller, in full cooperation with the investigation, with more to come.  Seventy hours with Michael Cohen on the topic of Donald Trump’s darkest secrets.  Stay tuned.

We don’t have to tax our imaginations to know what George H.W. Bush thought of all this in his final days.  The Bush Dynasty verdict on Trump has long been clear.  And if you did not know this fun fact, it is all you need to know:  George H. W. Bush voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Much has been said about George H.W. Bush being the last of his kind, but I would not go that far.  One could make a pretty good case that, say, John Kerry fit the same mold:  patrician, Ivy League war hero, gilded political resume, globetrotting statesman.  We will need more of them, in both parties, to erase the stain of these times, and also to prove that there is a place in Washington, D.C. for decency and humanity.

But right now, at the end of November, 2018, we have lost one of those types, and we are stuck with this joker, our presidency held hostage to the pretender now known as “Individual 1.”


TRUMP APPROVAL RATING

Trump’s approval rating remained at 44% for the month, remaining in the same 40-45% zone it has occupied since the second month of his presidency.  It remains to be seen if there is any jolting event that changes a material number of minds in one direction of another, but thus far the flip-flopping has been among a stunningly small group of Americans.  The rest of us appear to be set in concrete, and it is the entrenched support of Trump followers that has paralyzed the weak-kneed Republican leaders who clearly despise the man and what he is doing.  But with an 85-90% approval rating among GOP rank-and-file, only moral courage would spark a GOP revolt.  And that appears to be not only in short supply, but non-existent.

TRUMP MONTHLY APPROVAL RATING

2017
2018

Ja
Jl
J
F
M
A
M
J
J
A
S
O
N
Approve
48
40
42
43
42
42
45
43
43
43
43
44
44
Disapprove
46
56
55
54
54
54
52
53
53
53
53
52
53
Net
2
-16
-13
-11
-13
-12
-7
-9
-10
-9
-10
-8
-8


TRUMPOMETER

The “Trumpometer” increased slightly to +26 in November, up from +23 in October, driven by a sharp drop in the price of gasoline, from $2.90 to $2.63 , with other measures more or less stable (though the stock market showed marked volatility).  The +26 Trumpometer reading means that, on average, our five economic measures are +26% higher than they were at the time of Trump’s Inauguration (with more explanation below, if needed).

TRUMPOMETER
End Clinton  1/20/2001
End Bush 1/20/2009
End Obama 1/20/2017 (Base = 0)
Trump 10/31/2018
Trump 11/30/2018
% Chg. Vs. Inaug. (+ = Better)

25
-53
0
24
26
26%
  Unemployment Rate
4.2
7.8
4.7
3.7
3.7
21%
  Consumer Confidence
129
38
114
138
136
19%
  Price of Gas
1.27
1.84
2.44
2.90
2.63
-8%
  Dow Jones
10,588
8,281
19,732
25,155
25,538
29%
  GDP
4.5
-6.2
2.1
3.5
3.5
67%

Notes on methodology:

BTRTN calculates our monthly approval ratings using an average of the four pollsters who conduct daily or weekly approval rating polls: Gallup Rasmussen, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist. This provides consistent and accurate trending information and does not muddy the waters by including infrequent pollsters.  The outcome tends to mirror the RCP average but, we believe, our method gives more precise trending.

For the generic ballot (which is not polled in this post-election time period), we take an average of the only two pollsters who conduct weekly generic ballot polls, Reuters/Ipsos and You Gov/Economist, again for trending consistency.

The Trumpometer aggregates a set of economic indicators and compares the resulting index to that same set of aggregated indicators at the time of the Trump Inaugural on January 20, 2017, on an average percentage change basis... The basic idea is to demonstrate whether the country is better off economically now versus when Trump took office.  The indicators are the unemployment rate, the Dow-Jones Industrial Average, the Consumer Confidence Index, the price of gasoline, and the GDP.