Posts Tagged ‘ James Comey ’

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.”

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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 Bush-Obama Administration appoints a confused torturer

James B. Comey, Jr. at the beginning of his career, at a time he was confused about torture. Testifying before the Judiciary Committee on October 29, 2003. (Photo: Reuters/Mannie Garcia.)

James B. Comey, Jr. at the beginning of his career, at a time he was confused about torture. Testifying before the Judiciary Committee on October 29, 2003. (Photo: Reuters/Mannie Garcia.)

James B. Comey, Jr., the nominee to direct the Federal Bureau of Investigation, testified at his Senate confirmation hearings today.

Comey is mostly famous for his nearly two years as the Deputy Attorney General during the George W. Bush Administration (December 2003-August 2005). Part of Mr. Comey’s duties in this position was to approve Justice Department legal opinions. Among the most important of which was the legal opinion granting the green light to the Administration in 2005 to use waterboarding (a technique universally acknowledged until them, including by the Justice Department during the Reagan Administration, as illegal and prohibited torture) as an interrogation technique.

The fact that he is now nominated to run the federal government’s chief law enforcement agency (one which, for example, is required to prosecute persons who engage in water boarding) by a President who, when a candidate had nothing good to say about torturers and their enablers (of whom, it must be admitted, Mr. Comey is one) shows what Mr. Obama’s priorities are in his second term. Unlike what many liberals hoped (against the evidence), namely that his (deeply) repressed progressive nature would be unleashed, the President appears to be planning for his retirement, and signaling to the plutocratic class that he is one of them, and certainly worthy of the  speaking fees and foundation positions that our rulers from the aristocracy of wealth dole out to their faithful servants.

I say this because Mr. Comey is otherwise an odd choice for the kind of liberal Democrat Mr. Obama likes to show himself as. Mr. Comey donated to the campaigns of both of Mr. Obama’s opponents: John McCain and Mitt Romney. But it is in his unerring career choices that Mr. Comey shows the way to tap the rivers of gold that flow from the permanent establishment. After leaving the George W. Bush Administration in the good hands of Alberto Gonzales, Mr. Comey refilled his bank account at Lockheed-Martin, one of the pillars of the military-industrial complex, which not only make politicians but refills the bank accounts of those faithful toilers in the field of government who are loyal to their profit-maximizing principles. After a five year pit-stop there, Mr. Comey passed through the banking world, including a stint as director of HSBC Holding Company, who happened to need someone with contacts in the Justice Department to work out the operational kinks in its settlement for aiding money laundering. Mr. Comey thus has all the resume highlights that Mr. Obama likes, as in the case of his appointments of Valerie Caproni or Mary Jo White, for example.

You can see why such a man would be appealing to Mr. Obama, who is now auditioning for his retirement by highlighting how his Administration is merely an extension of the Bush-Cheney regime.

But in one respect is our current avatar of the Bush-Obama regnum different from the first one: This one dislikes obvious contradictions. He hates it so much he will talk and talk and talk until all liberals agree that there simply was no contradiction. So how to explain appointing a Republican lawyer who authorized the Justice Department approval of illegal torture?

It appears the strategy here was to reach for a psychological explanation. This was not a case of a cynical lawyer who worked in a cynical administration now flipping for a position in another cynical administration. Oh, no! This was a man, deeply conflicted, to the depth of his soul. The ungodly Law said one thing, while his soul was with the angels and his new (he hopes) employer. The New York Times today tells it thus:

“Even though I as a person, as a father, as a leader thought, ‘That’s torture — We shouldn’t be doing that kind of thing,’ I discovered that it’s actually a much harder question to interpret this 1994 statute, which I found very vague,” Mr. Comey, 52, said at the hearing.

 Who among us has not felt the conflict between being a parent and being a devoted follower of Blackstone? And surely there is some equitable, if we can’t find a legal, principle that says when a law is vague, just authorize what your employer really wants to do. After all, saying truth, based on morality, to power is so 16th Century. Nowadays we have places to go, people to meet, bank accounts to fill. And those considerations all say one thing: Torture? It’s too confusing.

But that’s not all. Our hero actually went further and tried with all his gosh-darn might to stop the thing he, as a father, found so repellant. So he told Alberto Gonzales, a man universally respected for his ability to mingle politics and law, to tell the White House how much his soul as a father was against this evil. (His soul, it needn’t be mentioned, was  considerably less deep than his pocketbook, as we have seen.) Again The Times:

Mr. Comey said that he urged the attorney general at the time, Alberto R. Gonzales, to make his point directly to the White House.

“He took my — actually literally took my notes with him to a meeting at the White House and told me he made my argument in full and that the principals were fully on board with the policy, and so my argument was rejected,” he said.

And so, just as in a fairy tale, the story ended. No, he didn’t prevail. They actually went ahead and tortured people in violation of law, but in conformity with the legal opinion Mr. Comey approved. No, the fairy tale ending is that He now changed his mind. Torture is illegal! Just like his new employer once said.

And so there you have another gratifying tale of how our government works. Yes, Virginia, there is principle in government. There is also principal, interest and equity. Yes, those terms are all ambiguous. But a truly great soul like Mr. Comey can navigate the ambiguities and find himself both enriched and empowered. Just like in a fairy tale.