Friday, July 21, 2017

Trump's NYT interview full of untruths -- and threats.

How to put this delicately?   Our president is unreliable, untrustworthy, untruthful, and unpredictable.   As the first six months of his presidency came to an end yesterday, he faces perhaps the most critical moment yet for his presidency:  the looming showdown over his Russian connections, especially the financial connections, which is what he seems most upset about.  We know that he is very closely associated with foreign nationals who engage in money laundering, and there are questions about his own involvement in that illegal activity.

So what does he do?    Gives an interview to the New York Times which, along with the Washington Post, CNN and MSNBC, Mr. Trump repeatedly demonizes as "fake news."   Why?   What is the message in his choice of media outlet?   One possibility is that he meant the message to be for his liberal detractors -- and the investigators including Mueller -- rather than his devotees.

Nick Visser of HuffPost collected some "wild claims" Trump made in what Vitter calls his "bizarre interview" with the Times.   These include "shocking statements" about "his administration's ties to Russia, ongoing investigations into collusion with a foreign government, and his waning happiness with senior officials in the White House."

1.  Trump says he would not have appointed Jeff Sessions to be Attorney General if he'd known Sessions would recuse himself from having anything to do with the Russia-connection investigation.

The way he talks about it, he obviously feels that Sessions not only betrayed him but that it makes no sense for him to have accepted a job that he was going to recuse himself from -- as though the Russia investigation is the only thing the AG does.   Trump's concept of the AG's job seems to be simply to protect him from investigations.   As we always see in everything with Trump, it's all about him.

Does this sound a bit like a dictator's view of Justice?  The first duty of the job is to serve and protect the president.   As Trump said, "Frankly, I think [it] is very unfair to the president.   How do you take a job and then recuse yourself?"

Translation:  'I gave you this good job in my cabinet, and you were supposed to protect me from the legal sleuths.  And then the first thing you do is recuse yourself from that very investigation.   What use are you?'

Well, as Sessions explained at the time, overseeing the investigators who are handling the Russia probe is only a very small part of the job.   He has thousands of other things to take care of.    In addition, as pointed out by the former head of the government ethics office, Walter Schaub, it was necessary for Sessions to recuse, because he might very well be called to testify in the investigation because of his own meetings with the Russian ambassador, which he failed to mention.

The day after Trump's statement of disappointment in him, Sessions issued a statement saying that he had no plans to resign and would remain AG "as long as it's appropriate."    Trump did not actually ask for his resignation, but many inside observers said it was clearly that.

Sessions may be considering the fact that Trump does not understand the concept of independence of the Justice Department.  But I'm sure they've had this conversation before, and Sessions may prefer to force Trump to fire him -- which would only add evidence for obstruction of justice charges.   It's hard to know where Sessions stands on this now.  Trump should be careful about making an enemy of him;  he could be called as a witness in an impeachment investigation.

2.   That Trump does not understand the working of his own government -- or that he intends to continue defying it -- was also evident in his comments about Special Counselor Robert Mueller.   First, he said that a special prosecutor is not warranted and the Mueller should never have been appointed.   Second, he claims that Mueller and his staff have have tons of conflicts of interest.  He added that there are "many other conflicts that I haven't said, but I will at some point."    That sounds like a typical Trump made-up tease and dodge, like "Comey better hope there are not tapes."

The big issue here is Trump's intense anger that led him to make an implied threat to Mueller not to get into his business finances-- but only what has to do with Russia, which Trump claims is the limit of the investigation.   Going beyond that would cross a red line, he agreed.  The implication was that would be cause for firing Mueller.   A threat?    Headlines the next day stated that Mueller is already getting into the Trump family business finances.

Of course Trump is completely wrong on this.   Mueller's charge is to investigate the Russian interference in our election, the possible collusion of the Trump campaign, and to follow wherever the investigation findings lead.

3.  Trump downplayed the important of his previously undisclosed private chat with Vladimir Putin during a dinner at the summit meeting in Germany.   Trump left his place at the table, went to sit by Putin, and the two carried on a conversation (with only Putin's interpreter with them) for about an hour, according to observers.

Trump told the Times it was just to say hello and exchange pleasantries;  and, he said, it lasted only 15 minutes.  He did add that they talked "about adoption," which quite openly means talk about lifting sanctions against Russia (related to the Magnitsky Act that Putin desperately wants to get the US to lift because it is hurting his oligarch friends).   But who knows what they talked about?   There's nothing but Trump's word for it -- and we know how reliable that is.

There's nothing unusual about one world leader have a quiet private chat with another world leader.  That's one advantage of these summit meetings.  A lot gets done this way.   The point here is that we do not trust what will "get done" between Putin and Trump. -- especially when they talk without any other US official involved, or even a US translator.

Here's one possibility.   It was revealed just two days ago that the US would no longer support the anti-Assad, moderate rebel groups fighting in Syria.    This has always been problematic because, although we opposed Assad, it was hard to know the real loyalties of these myriad groups and where our aid would wind up.   On the other hand, this could also be seen as falling in line with Putin on Syria, since Putin supports Assad -- one of our major disagreements about the Syrian conflict.

4.  Trump accused Comey of trying to use the "unverified dossier" material to gain leverage against him in their January 6th meeting.  This is the material collected by a former British MI-6 agent that contains potentially damaging information (if correct) about Trump.   Comey has said in his sworn testimony that he felt he needed to let Trump know what was "out there" before it might wind up in the media, even though it might prove not to be true.   However, some aspects of it have since been verified.   Trump apparently concluded, however, that Comey's motive was only to threaten and gain leverage over him to keep his job.

We should remember that mind-set when we consider whether Trump's comments about Mueller crossing a red line should be regarded as a threat.
5.  Trump's comments about the Deputy Attorney General are even more bizarre and indicate his distorted view of the role of the Justice Department vis a vis the president.   They also indicate prejudice and his obsession with personal loyalty in its staff.  Here's what he said about Rod Rosenstein.

Quoting himself speaking to Sessions:  "I said, 'Who's your deputy?   So his deputy he hardly knew, and that's Rosenstein, Rod Rosenstein, who is from Baltimore.  There are very few Republicans in Baltimore, if any.  So, he's from Baltimore."

Now the truth is that Rod Rosenstein, who happens to be from Philadelphia and lived in Bethesda, MD when he was appointed U.S. Attorney for Delaware.  He is widely considered the epitome of the "professional, competent, ethical, and fair-minded prosecutor."  The senate vote on his confirmation was 94 to 6.   When Trump used a memo he had asked Rosenstein to write (about his assessment of Comey's handling of the Hillary Clinton email investigation) as the reason for firing Comey, Rosenstein threatened to resign.   So Trump knows that he is not someone who is going to roll over for him.

So what and to whom was Trump's message in this strange, and strangely placed, interview?    My reading is that it comes from Trump's anger and frustration, and he wanted to say to those he considers his enemies (the "elite" media, the establishment politicians and pundits):  "Fuck You.   I'm the president, and these people are supposed to serve me and protect me, not investigate ME."  And, oh yes, the threat to Mueller that he really, really wants to fire him.


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