Posts Tagged ‘ Donald Trump ’

Thug for a Day

When I was a kid, there was an early Reality TV show called “Queen for a Day.” Host Jack Bailey introduced the studio audience (all or nearly all women) to the contestants. They were a set of middle class women who came to describe the recent emotional, financial or physical woe they experienced. Bailey interviewed them without evident empathy. The women often broke down talking of children’s illnesses, financial reversals, deprivation of basic necessities. Sometimes the women were simply unable to maintain their composure—the golden age of television. Bailey always had a handkerchief, ready for any emotional outburst. At the end of the presentations, the audience members were asked to evaluate each contestants by applause. An analog device, the Applause-O-Meter, measured the loudness of the applause. The “winner,” that is, the contestant voted to have the most miserable life, was awarded the title of “Queen for a Day,” and crowned and enthroned to the music of Elgar’s “Pomp and Circumstances.” She was then told what prizes she would receive, like a washing machine, carpet cleaner, etc. (In those days, even a queen was expected to do housework,) The show finished with the new queen smiling and waving through her tears, until the next day when another set of contestants would try to elicit sympathetic applause from the studio audience.

Yesterday a more recent Reality TV host was in the Ritz Carlton in Riyadh meeting with a collection of medieval Middle Eastern royals and nobles as well as a modern military despot, who together with Saudi royalty seemed to make up a modern game show much like “Queen for a Day.” But instead of finding the stories of heartbreak and disappointment told so our hearts would near break with sympathy, these men came to flaunt their brutality, cruelty, offensiveness, greed and backwardness; in short, their personal likeness to the Reality Show’s host. So instead of vying for the title of “Queen for a Day,” they were more likely looking to become “Thug for a Day” before their genial host, Donald J. Trump.

We met the Saudis on Saturday. Yesterday, we met the Emir of Qatar Sheikh Tamim Bin Hamad Al-Thani, King of Bahrain Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifa and Egyptian President Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi. What can we say about these Big Men?

Let’s start with Qatar: The current dynasty has reigned since 1825. That kind of family stability has got to impress our Host. Trump is so family-minded that he has had three so far, and he delights in promoting the projects of his children. Qatar is a Law and Order country. Our president would be impressed by the legal provisions for flogging and stoning. Capital punishment is available for apostasy and homosexuality. Blasphemy is punishable by prison terms. Like our President, Qatar strictly supervises its immigrant worker population, not allowing them to become the rapists and murderers that the immigrants here before the Trump administration became. Bribery and corruption also seems part of the culture, because Qatar, despite inhuman playing conditions and never having qualified to host a World Cup, in 2012 was awarded the 2022 World Cup by the supremely corrupt FIFA. All in all, Qatar made a strong case for Thug of the Day.

What about Bahrain? Bahrain is a monarchy with a vengeance. The King is not only supreme executive, he chairs the supreme judiciary, heads the military, appoints the higher house of parliament, has complete veto power and is uncle of the prime minister. Half of the government is composed of by his family. But nepotism, attractive as that is to the Trumps and Kushners, is not all. This monarchy is known for a history of arbitrary arrests, detention without trial, torture and forced exile. Although homosexuality is technically legal in Bahrain, don’t count on it: Given the lack of due process gays are routinely arrested. The press is cowed and self-censors. It looks like the complete package for our host and only audience member!

Egypt of course is a long-time favorite in all thug competitions. After a brief respite of a popularly elected president, he turned out a bit too Islamy for the military which swooped in to arrest him, re-installed a brutal dictatorship and engaged in mass arrests, show trials (with murder trials involving hundreds of defendants taking a day and accused having no lawyer) and best of all trumped up charges against foreign reporters. Torture, of course, goes without saying. As always, Egypt puts together an impeccable presentation.

But unfortunately for Egypt it seems our host was in a Medieval frame of mind and, in my view, inordinately swayed by conspicuous consumption. And that really did Egypt in. Nobody does plutocracy, gluttony, greed and disregard for the less fortunate like the Gulf States with their in-door ski-ing in the middle of a blistering desert, world-class hotels and artificial islands in the Persian Gulf. Water pumped in from god know where. Everything you could possible want, including booze (as long as you are a foreigner or member of the Family). Almost as classy as Mar-a-Logo. And of course Donald Trump just has to love how these people treat their women. They simply love women, just like he does. And that’s why they put them on a pedestal. Of sorts.

So of course, the winner had to be Saudi Arabia. Their violent reactionary Wahhabism goes back a century and was the basis for the country and their current hope against hope from being swept out of office into the dustbin of history. It is reactionary politics and religion par excellence. And god knows there is no talk of climate change in front of the Saudis. So after the big sword-dancing ceremony, the Saudi king was crowned Thug of the Day and given the prize of $100 billion of American weapons. This he can use to kill Yemeni women and children, or against his own people to stay on the throne, or just stored so that when the family is ultimately deposed, they can be used by Wahhabi-inspired fanatics against, guess who?, the Great Satan.

This trip to the Middle East has so far been extremely educational for Donald Trump. During the campaign he saw Islam as at heart evil. But now he realizes that one can practice Islam and still be fundamentally corrupt, greedy, ruthless and without morals. And still they will give him steak and ketchup! And personally, these guys are just fun to be with. General Sisti wore identical shoes to the President. Imagine that! And the President really got a kick out of that. Trump told Qatar’s emir to expect a shiny something for his Ramadam stocking, “beautiful” American hardware. What religiously-obsessed, reactionary plutocrat couldn’t use a fleet of fighter jets, I ask you? And he told the King of Bahrain that there would no longer be that “strain” in relations between his sovereign self and the United States that existed before the glorious present. Who needs human rights anyway?

So with all this education, Trump no longer had to use the term “Radical Islamic Terrorism,” which he told his followers was the single most important reason he, not Hillary Clinton, was qualified for the Presidency: He would use the term to their face; she would not. But it seems that not all Moslems are dirty, turban-headed, stinking terrorists. Some wear long flowing white robes and act like any other person you might meet in exclusive men’s clubs: corrupt, self-dealing, and willing to help other members of the club. So when our President took the podium to give his anti-Obama speech today, no mention of “Radical Islamic Terrorism” escaped his lips. I’m sure his supporters will understand.

And so, as they say in the Kushner family, “Next week in Jerusalem!”

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Donald of Arabia

Our Id-in-Chief took the weekend off from his main occupation (disclosing his vile, loathsome and criminal impulses on Twitter and in televised interviews) to engage in his hobby, hobnobbing with immoral autocrats of politically repressed lands. Or as the President sees them, possible real estate investors.

The President was in Saudi Arabia to show how popular he is among legitimate powers, those who rationally conduct their affairs by distributing jobs among family members. Saudi Arabia is a country which, unlike Mexico in the President’s mind, has never, as far as we know, “sent their rapists.” And to the extent they “sent their murderers” these were not the kind that take American jobs. Indeed, they helped create jobs in New York’s financial district and Arlington County, Virginia. And these were of the real estate (re)construction type, something the President is well conversant in.

The President was pleased to announce a deal whereby American arms manufacturers would be able to sell more than $100 billion worth of weapons to the medieval kingdom, a deal that has the twin benefits of creating American jobs in a field that government encourages (instruments of death and political destabilization) and allowing Saudi Arabia to take a larger role in its own defense. And by defense, of course, we mean aiding Saudi Arabia in its brutal assault on one of the world’s poorest countries, Yemen, where the Saudis commit regular war crimes and are about to create untold misery by effecting wholesale famine. This too should create American jobs to the extent Americans are involved in famine and war relief, an industry not encouraged by the government. The inhuman slaughter that the Saudis are inflicting will undoubtedly fit within the President’s view of the war against ISIS. Or maybe not. Because, frankly, it’s unlikely he has a plan because he’s unlikely to have any clear idea of the situation. It is certain, however, that we will pay for allowing this uninformed, self-indulgent, hollow marionette and mouthpiece for vulgar and brutal strongmen and repressive regimes to come into possession of so much power. For, just as a blind sow finds truffles sometimes, the president is bound to stumble upon someone who will show him how to use his available powers to inflict lasting and far-flung damage.

While in Saudi Arabia, the President allowed former ExxonMobil CEO Rex Tillerson to opine on Iran’s presidential election, where the country re-elected a moderate running against a fanatical hardliner. In other words, Iranians pursued a more responsible course this weekend than we did last November. This evidently did not sufficiently please this administration, which has been looking for a dustup with Iran because it is an oil producer where ExxonMobil has no rigs. So Tillerson lectured Iran on the free press. And he did so with a straight face, instructing that country (who elects its executive, unlike Saudi Arabia) to create what our president calls “the enemy of the people,” a press that is not government or party run. He also implored Iran to open up the country to political and social freedoms. No mention was made specifically of women’s rights. After all, he was speaking in a country (which will be getting $100 billion of US-made weapons) which does not allow women to drive and which regularly inflicts medieval punishments for theft and beheadings for political crimes.

Soon this crew will be on its way to Israel to visit another set of reactionary cronies who indulge in war crimes. Unfortunately, the President will not be allowed to land a helicopter atop the World Historical site of Masada, a site that Trump has longed been interested in. He one time wanted his Miss Universe pageant to be broadcast from the spot. Israel did not accommodate him then either. His interest is odd. He never applied to have the pageant at Gettysburg or Pearl Harbor. Or Thermopylae. Or Bataan or Philippi or Tours. The last three would have had deep symbolic meaning for his more fervently reactionary followers. But maybe he doesn’t know what happened at any of those places. Maybe he just heard the name and became fascinated with Masada. In any event, he will instead spend 15 minutes at a Holocaust Museum. I hope before he goes his staff gives him a one-page summary of everything he needs to know, in which his name appears throughout and plenty of pictures. Otherwise there maybe another horrific Trump open-mouth-gaffe. But maybe it doesn’t matter. His inner circle have become comfortable lying for him. Today, for example, National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster, told ABC News that he does not remember whether he called James Comey a “nutjob” during the president’s meeting with the Russian diplomat/spymasters in the oval office. Yet without recalling the president’s actual words, he was able to explain what the president actually meant. As for the terminology, either he’s heard James Comey being called a “nutjob” so frequently he can’t place where he heard it and when he did not or he is flat out lying. Either way, it will be no surprise when we hear someone next week say he did not remember hearing the president say that gas chambers weren’t so bad, but what he meant clearly was “we have to make sure that the ObamaCare death panels are stopped.”

Sum in charta ergo sum

I wonder if there is the equivalent of an Overton Window for incompetence, buffoonery and mental limitations. If so, that thing must be moving rapidly in the direction of utter absurdity. We have a president who cannot be evaluated in terms of political calculation, behavior of statesmen or policy beliefs. Frankly, we need behavioral scientists now to analyze his behavior. In view of the respect the office of the presidency is traditionally held in, let me respectfully request that reporters begin by asking researchers in bonobo behavior to explain Donald Trump’s actions. (I realize that there is nothing we have seen to justify expecting to find the highly developed social skills and peaceful behavior that bonobos exhibit. But as I said, respect for the office demands that we first start with the more sentient end of the animal behavior spectrum. We can later ask for other behaviorists to chime in when we see that the president cannot be compared with the “higher” primates.)

What triggered this reflection is the following quote in today’s Talking Points Memo:

“According to a report published Wednesday by Reuters, Trump is more likely to read national security briefing materials if his name is mentioned in as many paragraphs as possible.

“Unnamed officials who have briefed the President and others familiar with his learning processes told the publication that Trump still prefers one-page memos and visual aids.

“One unnamed source told Reuters that since Trump ‘keeps reading if he’s mentioned’ in briefing materials, officials on the National Security Council have learned to insert the President’s name into ‘as many paragraphs as we can.'”

This is beyond a narcissistic personality disorder. This is a fundamental inability to function at a level minimally functioning adults display. It is quite possible that Trump cannot be convicted of obstruction of justice (or any other crime requiring intent) because he simply lacks the mental capacity to form the “intent” that the common law requires (the so-called mens rea).

And yet he has the nuclear codes, the levers of the executive power in this country and the support of the still loyal (though worried) majority party in this country. Have we ever been in more peril?

Trump’s Day After

I must say either Donald J. Trump is a politician, whose brilliance we have not seen since Talleyrand, or he is so subservient to his personality disorder that he is acting out the role of a Shakespearean tragic figure. Not, of course, like the ones we can sympathize with; perhaps more like Edmund in Lear. Either way, it’s insufficient to explain yet another highly unhinged day in Trumplandia.

It has been a little more than a day since Trump fired the man who is leading a counter-intelligence investigation into his Presidential campaign. (Has that really sunk in yet? The investigation is about either terrorism directed at domestic U.S. targets or espionage directed at our government. That is what the counter-intelligence part of the FBI investigates. Only those two thing. And the subjects are high officials in the campaign that successfully put Donald J. Trump in the Oval Office. And we are less than four month into this administration.) Because no one with any influence in the White House had thought through the consequences, the White House felt the need to bring back once-sidelined Kellyanne Conway and audition new-comer Sarah Huckabee Sanders to entertain us with their unique brand of performance art in which they offer up lies and nothing but lies. In this new art form, it doesn’t even matter that the various lies spewed forth are inconsistent with each other; the only important thing is that they are lies. What the president likes is the purity of deceit, not its coherence. Meanwhile the President wakes up (or stays up) and in early morning limbers his thumbs up by lashing out at a Senator—an exercise which Trump must consider some sort of political discourse. It’s is the kind of discourse that is more commonly heard in construction sites in New York City between contractors and building developers each trying to cheat each other than heard between statesmen. But, after all, the charm of Donald Trump, according to his ardent supporters, is that he is not a statesman.

That was just a warmup for the man who had been roundly described overnight as playing the role of President Nixon just as he was about to wallow in his greatest disgrace. Trump who received his professional education in construction sites in New York City where he was the developer trying to cheat someone, evidently doesn’t associate Richard Nixon with disgrace or doesn’t believe disgrace is all that bad a thing, for during the rest of the day he one-upped Richard Nixon. First, the man who greatly increased the suspicion that he had secret dealings with the Russians, had a secret meeting with the Russian ambassador at which, even for photo ops, the American press was not invited. But the Russian press was.  After the meeting Vladimir Putin (dressed in what looks like a hockey team uniform sold by an unlicensed internet merch site), responded to a question from a reporter (Putin evidently responds to his own country’s press) and opined that the American President had acted “in accordance with his law and constitution.” So there you have it; the ultimate authority on American law and constitutional issues, in Trump’s mind, has cleared him. What a coincidence that it is the same person that his campaign was being investigated for conspiring with. But Putin denied any involvement in that. He’s as innocent of that as Russia is innocent of invading Ukraine.

But Trump’s stage management had not ended. He had a private meeting today with the closest adviser of Richard Nixon back in the day, Henry Kissinger! It’s as though the man who saved himself from having to earn a living after he drove his real estate empire into insolvency by playing an executive on a television reality show wanted to ensure that the documentary makers filming the decline of the Trump administration had enough usable footage. After all, even the dumbest of documentary filmmakers will now be able to show Trump with Kissinger after firing Comey and then Nixon with Kissinger after firing Cox. (It was not the day after, however; Kissinger was in Moscow negotiating with the Soviets over the crisis in the Middle East when Nixon decided to create his own domestic crisis in Washington.)

Consider that in this crucial 24-hour period, when key members of his own party in Congress are trying to make up their mind how much to throw their lot in with his , Trump, instead of acting Presidential, continued his display of arrogance for all to see. And instead of leaving well enough alone with the hastily planned rationale for the firing (laughably incredible as it was), he gratuitously offered that Comey was fired because he was “not doing a good job.” This man that Trump needlessly keeps insulting, as though he were Gary Busey on the Celebrity Apprentice, is scheduled to testify about the nature of the FBI’s counter-intelligence investigation of Trump’s campaign before the Senate Intelligence Committee next week. Trump really ought to take some advice from a real lawyer, not the ghost of Roy Cohn from the 1970s.

Or maybe Roy Cohn was right. His advice deeply wormed its way into Trump’s psyche. (It is perhaps a poor metaphor to suggest that Trump has a deep psyche.) Always attack! Never explain or apologize! Everyone else is wrong, no matter what the evidence says! The unethical mob-lawyer profoundly affected Donald Trump’s worldview. That this was so is odd since Cohn achieved a very poor result in the racial discrimination case brought by the Justice Department against Trump, his father and their leasing businesses: record fines and a consent decree that required the Trumps, under pain of contempt citations, to do what they claimed their were not required to do. But Trump doesn’t live in a world where anything untoward happens to him, especially anything that results from his own decision, or maybe better put, his own will. So maybe Trump is right. If so, a new lesson will have been learned by our politicians. It, however, will not be a lesson that will benefit the mere citizens of this country.

Two-bit Nixon

If there was ever a proof about the adage about what happens when you ignore history, Trump just offered it up. The firing of FBI Director James Comey today has many of the hallmarks of Nixon’s “Saturday Night Massacre” except Trump and side-kick Jeff Sessions are too clownish to even act with the degree of prudence as Nixon did during his stupidest act. Nixon the arch-plotter had hatched (with the aid of Alexander Haig and University of Texas Law Professor Charles Alan Wright) what he thought was the perfect trap to either cause Archibald Cox (the Independent Counsel who had in process indictments of cabinet officials and high advisers to the President and was breathing down the neck of Nixon himself) to resign or justify his firing. (It involved setting up a “compromise” for independent review of the subpoenaed White House tapes instead of compliance with the court order to produce them.) Wright bullied Cox into a position of not accepting the deal, and the conspirators thought they could fire Cox while retaining public confidence (at a time the U.S. was facing down the Soviets in the wake of the Yom Kippur War) by insisting that Cox was being unreasonable while the President had national security issues to worry about. As it turned out, Cox took to TV and persuaded the American people that he was being reasonable, not Nixon. Nixon fired Cox, public wrath fell squarely on the White House in a way and to a degree that they never expected. Nixon’s lawyer, Leonard Garment, said of Nixon’s reaction to the public response: “He thought of little else except to marvel ‘over the mischief we had wrought and the public relations disaster we had brought on ourselves.'” (Stanley I. Kutler, The Wars of Watergate: The Last Crisis of Richard Nixon (New York: Knopf, 1990), p. 410.)

All it will take is someone with half the folksy charm and reputation for impeccable integrity of Archibald Cox to bring down this administration. Do we have such a person? Probably not. But the Republicans had spent much of the last year puffing up the integrity of James Comey. That faux-integrity might serve as well as the real thing these days.

Let’s not get to far ahead, however. In those days, the Democrats had control of both Houses of Congress and it still had a tough slog. And from the Saturday Night Massacre to the resignation was another 10 months of gut-wrenching daily agony spilled out from the news each day. And this after we had become sick of the daily agony of news out of Southeast Asia for nearly a decade. So for those of my much younger friends who long for the romance of the 60s-early 70s (without having lived through those days), welcome to the new (old) reality. If History is as vindictive as we think it is, Trump will learn yet that Andrew Jackson is not the President he should have read the Classics Illustrated story of.

The story couldn’t hang together for even one day

Yesterday we noted that the White House’s amateurish modified limited hangout would not fly because it was inherently unbelievable. It required the listener to believe:

(a) The President didn’t know that his campaign’s foreign policy advisor and soon to be National Security Adviser Michael Flynn was going to (and did) call the Russian ambassador to advise them on how to respond to the United States’s sanctions on Russia for interfering with our national elections.

(b) Even though he didn’t have any knowledge of what Flynn did, he “instinctively” knew that it was not illegal. And in fact it is not (per Spicer).

(c) Shortly after Flynn falsely told Vice President Pence about the phone calls, Trump receives information from the Justice Department advising that Pence had made compromising calls to the Russian ambassador.

(d) After receiving that nonpublic report, Trump fires the acting Attorney General and tells reporters he never heard anything contrary to Flynn’s false description of the phone calls to Pence.

(e) Three weeks after Trump received the intelligence from Justice, newspapers publish the information, and Trump fires Pence noy because he did anything wrong, but because the president had lost trust in him.

Now this cover-up has the weakness that several of the premises can’t be believed at the same time by a rational person, because they cause cognitive dissonance. But cognitive dissonance is an unpleasant feeling that can be understood only by those who are trained not to lie to themselves, something that the Cover-Up planners evidently have no understanding of.

But they couldn’t even float this boat for a day, because the chief actor, Donald Trump, blew the whole premise—that he lost confidence in Flynn—by characterizing Flynn as a “wonderful man” done in by the press, during a joint press conference with the Israeli prime minister today.

Now far be it from me to offer advice to professional liars in how to lie, but why didn’t they follow this line: At first hint of trouble, Trump issues statement: Yes, I told Flynn to talk to Russia because I thought Obama was being precipitous. I would be in office in less than a month and I did not need an unnecessary confrontation with a world power—one precipitated by a president who worked to defeat me. We will get to the bottom of this, but the answer is not throwing a world power’s diplomats out of the country at a sensitive time: during a transition of government. If this was technically illegal, then you can blame me. Frankly, I did it to secure this country from needless hostilities. Particularly when I knew for a fact that Russian did not offer any kind of help to my campaign.”

Could Trump have pulled that off? Maybe. It would still hard to believe that Trump was not acting nefariously. But it would have cut the legs out from under the opposition because it is plausibly related to our national interests. It would have gotten Flynn off the hook, and it would have given Trump the much needed patina of a guy in charge. It would also explain his December 30 tweet, which the modified limited hangout did not.

So why didn’t he do it? My suspicion (and I used to examine people in depositions and courts for a living) was that he could not carry out the deception part: namely, that his campaign had no dealings with Russia. So the usual route had to be followed: Throw underlings under the bus and pretend that the jefe had no knowledge. It is very unlikely, however, that Trump has the self-discipline to have conducted himself to maintain plausible deniability. This, after all, is a guy who tweets in the middle of the night when celebrities are mean to him. But one thing is for sure. Whatever involvement Trump had is far worse than the Cover-Up I propose (even though it probably included his ordering Flynn to make the calls). Anyone who thinks that a rouge general (even one as loopy and delusional as Flynn) did this on his own will probably be in the minority. And in any event will have to explain why Donald Trump still says he is a “wonderful guy.”

Trump’s Amateurish Modified Limited Hangout

Before Donald J. Trump took the oath of office (which seems like two years ago at this point), there was another U.S. President who was addicted to lying as policy—Richard M. Nixon. There are many similarities between Richard Nixon and Donald Trump. Both are thoroughly dishonest; both are contemptuous of their enemies (which group consists of anyone not showing unquestioned loyalty), and both think they are much smarter than they really are. But there are important differences. While not as smart as he though he was, Richard Nixon was vastly smarter than Donald Trump. And while they both surrounded themselves with men who were bad for the country, Nixon’s men only wanted to enrich his friends a little bit, not bankrupt the country so that they could roll around naked in money, which seems to be Trump’s singular goal. And while their regard for the truth was probably equally nonexistent, Nixon at least understood that other people had some, maybe even a lot of, regard for the truth. It’s uncertain whether Trump’s chronic narcissism allows him to believe that other people exist, let alone concern himself with what they think.

The difference manifests itself in how they go about deceiving the public. Nixon was smart enough to know how things work. Trump’s one bit of knowledge is that he has fallen into bucket-loads of problems all his life and by lying he has always gotten himself out and with a couple of showers he almost didn’t smell bad. So he leads his life believing in his unceasing luck. Nixon on the other hand knew that luck had to be prodded, and he spent his life plotting his deceptions. He was smart enough to surround himself with men who liked plotting grand deceptions, and on March 22, 1973, two months after his second inauguration and less than a year after the Watergate break-ins, his inner circle was plotting what deception would fly that would extricate them from the tightening noose. With Nixon were Attorney General John Mitchell, White House Counsel John Dean, and two of the most loyal hatchetmen ever to act as White House yes-men. They were plotting The Cover-Up. And the theoretical question came up, How much deception was necessary? They borrowed a concept from the world of spooks, “the limited hangout.” The phrase involves a spy whose cover has been blown. His backup plan is the “limited hangout”: where he admits some minor inculpatory information while hiding the major crimes. The theory of it is that the opponent will jump on the limited information and forego the more damaging rest.

The Nixon people decided that they were going to give a little bit of information to the Senate Watergate Committee that might look politically bad, but deny the truth, saying that none of them were involved in any crime. Nixon hesitated, concerned about what bad stuff they were giving up. Dean tells him that it is really limited. Haldeman jumps in and describes it as a “limited hangout.” Dean agrees. But to mollify the President Ehrlichman tells him, “It’s a modified, limited hangout” because it is really only going to go to the committee, not the public. And hence the most psychodelic phrase of this square but delusional administration was born.

The Flynn case has birthed another modified limited hangout. But this time it was created by a group who really are not skilled at the game, headed by a leader who doesn’t play well with others anyway. Now the chronology that we know is this: Flynn lied about what he spoke about to the Russian ambassador on the day that Obama ordered sanctions in retaliation for Russian interference in the U.S. elections in favor of Donald Trump. (Once you state the issue like this, the question is: Why go on? Shouldn’t this be the end of the Trump administration, without more?) A little more than 3 weeks ago Flynn lied to Vice President Pence about what was discussed. Almost immediately thereafter, the Justice Department advised the White House that Flynn has been compromised, because he discussed the sanctions, contrary to his statement to Pence (would he would continue to insist upon publicly thereafter). the discussions were potentially in violation of the Logan Act and possibly evidenced other felonies. For three weeks the President did nothing. Indeed, Flynn was given access to all national security material in the interim and as late as Monday White House Counsellor (the John Dean equivalent) Kellyanne Conway was telling the press that Flynn had the full confidence of the President. That evening Flynn resigned.

Today White House spokesman Sean Spicer, a man who really is in over his head and maybe (I know you will balk when you read this) even less articulate and intellectually on-the-ball than Donald Trump, was tasked with explaining how the president could have allowed Flynn to remain in his sensitive position given what the Justice Department told him three weeks ago. Here’s the story that came out: The president didn’t know anything about what Flynn discussed with the Russians. But “instinctively” (a word he used five times in the press conference) Trump knew that whatever Flynn talked about (namely, that the sanctions would be re-visited once Trump, the candidate the Russians helped to win the election) was not illegal. And Spicer maintains vehemently that nothing illegal happened. But because over the three weeks the president’s trust in Flynn eroded, he was forced, against his will, to ask Flynn to leave.

Now, given that they had 3 weeks to concoct a story (and that’s if you believe that Trump and Pence first heard of the talks three weeks ago), this would be a pretty flimsy cover-up. What does instinct have to do with it? Why didn’t the President listen to Justice? Why was there no further investigation? The answer might be that these guys are so sure of their ability to come out sweet-smelling from any muck they pour on themselves, that they thought it would go away. Especially since Trump fired the acting Attorney General. (This shows a tragic flaw in narcissism—not understanding that making an enemy unnecessarily will cost you.) So when the New York Times disclosed what Trump knew (at the latest three weeks ago), they finally saw the noose tightening. And they had to come up with a story. Instead of a limited hangout (like: Trump just couldn’t believe the intel because of other signs of honesty by Flynn; it was clearly a mistake) they reached too far. They wanted to make Trump look good coming out of it (intuitively knowing that what Flynn did was legal, even though he did not know what Flynn did) and avoiding any further scrutiny.

The fact is they modified this limited hang-out so much, that it doesn’t work. No one can rightly believe this story. Especially, since the acting Attorney General, the messenger, was fired.

But there is one little thread that might unravel the whole story if it’s given a little tug. The conversation between Flynn and the Russians took place on December 29. We can speculate that he advised the Russians not to retaliate against expulsion of their diplomats and other sanctions in like manner, because Trump would undo them. In fact, the Russians did not retaliate. The very next day, the compulsive Twitter-in-Chief pushed the send button on this message to Twitterdom:

Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart!

Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump)

Richard Nixon was undone after careful, long and intense scrutiny by dozens of lawyers in several branches of government and relentless investigative journalists turning over every rock. He was never dumb enough to create his own incriminating evidence.