Saturday, July 15, 2017

Meanwhile, back in reality....

Mark Shields and David Brooks sum up the Trump Presidency so far:

JUDY WOODRUFF:   The Donald Trump Jr. story. We have now learned that he had a meeting a year ago, Trump Tower, with a lawyer who had some connection to the Russian government. How does this change our understanding of the Russia collusion allegation?

MARK SHIELDS: Well, I think it’s fair to say, Judy, that the White House lost any benefit of the doubt that it could claim on this story.

The shoes continue to drop, like it’s a Zappos warehouse or Imelda Marcos’ closet. I mean, it just — each time, they’re amending their story, they’re appending or extending their story.

And so I just think the fact that there were such denials and accusations of a Democratic plot, all of those are gone, and they stand naked and they stand exposed as shams.

I mean, they were actively engaged, at least welcoming Russian involvement in the 2016 election, in behalf of Donald Trump against Hillary Clinton.

JUDY WOODRUFF: David, does this change your assessment of what may have been going on?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times: Yes.

My colleague Ross Douthat wrote that any time you give Donald Trump the benefit of the doubt, he always lets you down.

And that’s true. That’s true for his business clients and it’s true for those of us who thought, they couldn’t have been some stupid, to walk right into collusion with the Russian meetings.

And yet they were not only that stupid, but I think what is striking to me is the complete amorality of it, that Donald Trump Jr. gets an e-mail saying the Russian government is offering you this, and he says, “I love it.”

And it reminded me so much of some of the e-mails that came out of the Jack Abramoff scandal, that came out of the financial crisis scandal, where they’re just — they’re like frat boys who are gleefully going against the law and are going against all morality. And they’re not even overcoming any scruples to do this.

They’re just having fun with it. And then, in the days since, we have had on — Donald Jr. on Sean Hannity’s show, again, I did nothing wrong, just incapable of seeing that there might have been something wrong about colluding with a foreign power who is hostile with you.

And then Donald Trump himself saying, he’s a wonderful guy, again, not seeing anything wrong, and then even last day lying about how many people were in the meeting, a completely inconsequential lie.

And so we’re trapped in the zone just beyond any ethical scruple, where it’s all about winning.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Beyond any ethical scruple, Mark, is that where we are?

MARK SHIELDS: Yes, I think it’s fair to say that Donald Trump was born without the embarrassment gene or the moral reservation gene.

He just — he doesn’t — when he says that most people would take that meeting, Judy, I mean, this is not — I have been around for a while, and been to the Dallas Fair twice, and all the rest of it. People wouldn’t do that.

In 2000, Al Gore’s campaign got ahold of, was delivered George Bush’s briefing book. They turned it over to the FBI. That’s what you do when you’re honorable in politics.

This isn’t a meeting with a foreign power. This isn’t Canada or the Swiss Family Robinson. This is Russia. This is a country that has supported, propped up the worst of anti-democratic regimes in the Middle East, that has practiced — mistreated its own press, mistreated its own civil society, and economic intimidation of its neighbors, including invasion of its neighbors.

I mean, this is the one country on the face of the earth with the capacity to obliterate the United States. This is serious stuff. And to do it so casually and, as David said, without moral reservation, is — I guess it should be stunning, but, sadly, it isn’t.

JUDY WOODRUFF: But some of the Trump team, David, in their response to this are sounding almost offended that people would even think that they were doing something wrong.

DAVID BROOKS: Yes, well, they just don’t — they don’t get it.

My pal Mike Gerson had a good line in his column today. If you make losing a sin, you make cheating a sacrament. And that is true. If it’s all win-loss, then you do whatever you can to win and to make money and to beat the deal.

And so I do think you have entered the zone where they don’t quite see what they have done wrong. But cheating with a foreign company — country is — as Mark keeps saying, is a grave sin.

And then there’s just the scandal management of it, of letting it drip out, letting it drip out today and today and today. And then there is almost just a cluelessness like a color blindness about how the rest of the world is going to go react to this.

And this has been a leitmotif for the Trump administration.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It is the case, Mark, that there was one version we heard over the weekend, and then, on Monday, there was a little bit more, and then Tuesday, Wednesday, then today still another.

MARK SHIELDS: Mm-hmm. No, it is, Judy.

And I don’t know what to think. I mean, drip, drip, drip, comes a downpour at some point. How about the disparaging of the United States intelligence agencies and professionals by President Trump, candidate Trump and now President Trump, whether Russia — you know, I can’t be sure Russia was involved. Yes, probably, but not for sure.

I mean, here they are, the Trump Tower with the people, their names approved on the visitors list for the meeting in the Trump Tower, and pretending they didn’t know it.

So, no, it’s — David is right. In a management sense, it’s just been incredible, Judy. Apparently, it’s hit the president or someone has gotten to the president, because his statement about his son was so sort of homogenized, he’s a quality person.

JUDY WOODRUFF: He said he’s a good boy.

MARK SHIELDS: Good boy, and praised him for his transparency, which is a little bit like, as I’m about to be indicted for tax evasion, say, well, I want to make something clear. I failed to pay my taxes.

DAVID BROOKS: It does open up a bunch of questions, like what were the — this — as the intelligence experts keep saying, this looked like a Russian feeler operation. They just wanted to see what kind of reaction they could get from Donald Jr.

And if they — how do they respond to the signal? And so what else did they do? There must have been other things they did.

The second, was it connected? Donald Trump, as others have cited, gave a speech in which he said, we’re about to have a big set of revelations about Hillary Clinton. Did that flow out of this meeting? And what was the timing of that? Who else was in this meeting? What actually was said in the meeting?

We still really — we have some testimonies, but what documents were brought to the meeting? It means there’s another several weeks of questions. And it gives Bob Mueller a new channel to walk down. It’s just expanding.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The special counsel.


MARK SHIELDS: I would just say one thing about Mr. Mueller.

He has an advantage and a power that nobody else, that none of us in the press has. He has the power of subpoena. And he has the power of a grand jury. And he has the alternative of indictment for perjury.

So, you just can’t keep changing these stories. I mean, Jared Kushner now has amended, as John Yang pointed out at the beginning of the show, point, his number of contacts with foreign individuals and interests, 100. Three times, he’s now had to do so.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Added names.

MARK SHIELDS: And it raises the question, who leaked these e-mails on Donald Trump — I mean, on Donald Trump Jr.?

Did they — is there mistrust? There is distrust, I know, in the White House whether it was Kushner or Kushner’s people, saying that we had to get this out.
No mention of the transparency of the Trump Administration extending to the big, beautiful wall that Mexico is going to pay for, but why should there be any distrust over that issue?

And before we hear from too many Republicans saying Russia has become an "obsession"* and the only person concerned about it is Hillary Clinton, let's set the record straight (sad that we have to):

“We should not normalize this,” [Former GOP Representative and retired FBI agent Mike] Rogers told CNN anchor Fredricka Whitfield. Russia is “a hostile intelligence service to the United States. Most people know that. If the Russian government calls and says, ‘Hey, we have information on your opponent,’ the first reaction should not be and we should not normalize this behavior. Opposition research is a real thing and it happens in politics every day.”

However, he said, “this is very different and we should not normalize it.”

Cabrera asked if the Trump family’s relative inexperience in politics and na├»vete should be considered when examining their handling of the Russian contact.

“Listen, I don’t buy that argument as a former FBI agent. i’m not buying it. if you’ve been in the business world and you understand how all that works, a foreign government contacts you and says I have information, that should have sent up a red flag all day long.”
The George Costanza defense ("Was that wrong?") will serve the Trump's well, I'm sure.  They can just settle the criminal cases, right?  I mean, if losing is a sin, then cheating is a sacrament, and Donald Trump is the President, and you're not, right?

“I’m an economist, not a lawyer, but what you got to do is just name the statute that’s been violated. We’re a nation under laws, not under men,” Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA) said in an appearance on CNN. “So if there’s proof that a statute’s been violated, then there is an issue. If there’s not, I think a couple of issues have gotten conflated.”

I think 52 USC 30121 is what you're looking for.  In the meantime, I'd refer all such legal questions to Robert Mueller; he seems quite sure to answer them at some point in the future.

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