Thursday, June 15, 2017

Prime Watergate Territory: we're hip-deep in the Big Covfefe

So, not surprisingly it turns out that Trump now wants to fire the Special Counsel Bob Mueller:  Friend Says Trump Is Considering Firing Mueller as Special Counsel (New York Times, June 12, 2017)

Why? Well, this one's easy to answer:

Special counsel is investigating Trump for possible obstruction of justice, officials say (Washington Post, June 14, 2017)

The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said.

The move by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said.

Trump had received private assurances from then-FBI Director James B. Comey starting in January that he was not personally under investigation. Officials say that changed shortly after Comey’s firing.

Mueller Seeks to Talk to Intelligence Officials, Hinting at Inquiry of Trump (New York Times, June 15, 2017).

WASHINGTON — Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel examining Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, has requested interviews with three high-ranking current or former intelligence officials, the latest indication that he will investigate whether President Trump obstructed justice, a person briefed on the investigation said on Wednesday....

A former senior official said Mr. Mueller’s investigation was looking at money laundering by Trump associates. The suspicion is that any cooperation with Russian officials would most likely have been in exchange for some kind of financial payoff, and that there would have been an effort to hide the payments, probably by routing them through offshore banking centers.

Trump's tweeting this morning was entirely predictable:

The bit about investigating money laundering was buried a dozen or so paragraphs deep in that New York Times story, but that's the thing that I always thought would bring down Trump.

And so here we are. I can't imagine the Congressional GOP can continue to stand by if Trump obstructs justice a second time and fires the enormously well respected former head of the FBI Bob Mueller, and presumably Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein with him. Of course, I've been flat-out wrong about what the Congressional GOP can stand for.

As you can see from his Tweet's, Trump is still 100% unable to take responsibility for his own actions or learn from his mistakes. It's no surprise. This is Donald Trump as he has always been and will always be: an awful human being. I believe strongly in the infinite power of forgiveness and redemption for everybody, no matter what they've done. But the first step is to acknowledge your own sins and mistakes. Donald Trump has been incapable of this for seventy years. He isn't going to change now.

Trump is now in a trap of his own making. As they say so often and as Trump would've known if he ever read a freaking book, "It's not the crime that gets you. It's the cover-up."

I've been forecasting a long, grinding march to impeachment. But Trump might accelerate his already overdue departure from the White House if he fires Mueller. And he's not smart enough to understand why it's a bad idea, so there's a real chance it could happen.

This seems a good time to introduce the ol' Patio Boat to the Watergate Defcon scale I've tweeted about a few times over on Twitter. (For those who never saw the movie War Games, the Defcon scale is the US defense condition alert scale that goes from five (total peace) to one (global thermonuclear war). Here's what I've come up with for this:

DEFCON 5 - The Obama Presidency
DEFCON 4 - Trump inaugurated. Corruption and crimes obvious and public. Think of that as the Watergate break-in period.
DEFCON 3 - Firing FBI Director James Comey to quash the Russia investigation. Probably around the equivalent of the Saturday Night Massacre.)
DEFCON 2 - Appointment of Special Counsel Bob Mueller. In 1974 we were queuing up the Senate Hearings for this stage.
DEFCON 1 - Impeachment Hearings. Interestingly enough, Nixon himself never made it this far.

We're getting pretty deep into DEFCON 2 and the summer of '17 has only begun. I still think it's likely that we enter a long slog as Mueller builds an iron-clad case. But Trump could continue to escalate things quickly if he chooses to do so. We shall see.

In the meantime, chaos embroils Washington. The Trump disaster is growing worse by the day. So I close with words I never thought I'd utter, "The sooner we swear in Mike Pence as President of the United States, the better."

Friday, June 2, 2017

Summertime, and the Trumping is Queasy: or, we are all subjects of The Orb of Covfefe

We've made it to June without having entered into a nuclear exchange with North Korea, so I'd guess this is the point where I have to say that Donald J. Trump has now managed to exceed the low side of my expectations.

Hurrah for no thermonuclear war for the first four-plus months!

On the other hand, this is still going about as well as I expected overall. So you can all mute that applause a bit.

(Still, hurrah for no thermonuclear war yet! Hey, that's a good thing!)

I'm not going to detail the sad list of developments in the last month or so, but I will hit a few highlights to keep things in context before I hit today's topic: what my best-case scenario for a Trump presidency would've been.

A special counsel was appointed for the Russian investigation. At some level, what's there to investigate? We have Trump on national TV saying he fired the head of the FBI because he wouldn't stop investigating the Russian ties of Trump's campaign. There it is: smoking gun, obstruction of justice. Case closed. On the other hand, it's going to take a vast mountain of evidence to drag the GOP Congress off their butts, so have at it, Bob Mueller. There's no shortage of corruption and treason for you to dig through and I suspect we'll need every bit of it to shove the Trump gang out of office quickly.

The House passed their awful and appalling health care bill while the Trump Administration uses all of the regulatory levers at its disposal to destabilize Obamacare and run up policy costs. I'd like to believe that somehow the Senate won't follow the House's suit, but that would require believing that at least three GOP Senators would put the health and well being of Americans ahead of tax cuts for billionaires. So I have little faith that anything but disaster is looming on that front.

And on the international front ... oh my, on the international front. From the trips to Saudi Arabia and Israel to the disastrous summit with our NATO allies to announcing our intention to pulling out of the Paris climate change agreement it has been a month of utter and complete international disgrace.

So, yeah, that's about how I expected this to go. And since you now know that crossing the four-month mark without a nuclear exchange has surpassed my lowest expectation, it's time to talk about what fleetingly reminded me of my a best-case scenario when I woke up nauseous and angry on Wednesday, Nov. 9, 2016.

The Orb and Covfefe

So how does that get us to Best-Case Trump? Well, in the midst of the Saudi Arabia trip this delightfully weird image hit the wires:

It turns out that this picture was taken as they pressed this illuminated globe to officially open a large anti-terrorism center in Riyadh. But for a while it gave the Internet great fun as everybody riffed on The Orb and its meaning.

My favorite of the subsequent photoshoppings was this:

Yes, that's Saruman on the left. He looks right at home in this picture, doesn't he?

So, the international trip was mostly a disaster on substance, but it at least gave us all a goofy moment of fun.

And again, a couple of nights ago Trump apparently wrestled his phone away from his minders and began a tweet only to ... lose interest? fall asleep? accidentally hit "Tweet" instead of "Cancel"?

Apparently nobody in the White House was willing to wake Trump up and ask him to delete it. So for about six hours "Despite the constant negative press covfefe" stood as the foremost Tweet on Trump's account. And again, the Internet -- especially Twitter -- had a rollicking good time with the non-word "covfefe" and the fact that apparently nobody would or could tell Trump to take it down until 6 am the next morning. I won't even try to capture it all here. Go look up #Covfefe on Twitter for a sampling, and then you can go with the Merriam-Webster Dictionary on this one:

The Orb and Covfefe hubbubs reminded me of that best-case scenario I had briefly envisioned on Nov. 9th after the greatest electoral debacle in history came home to roost. Somehow, I thought that maybe Trump would stumble into some useful advisors who would steer him into the sort of mediocrity that George W. Bush achieved. Yes, there were some awful mistakes and policy decisions along the way. But he managed to bumble along most of the time without the level of public disaster that we see on a daily basis from Trump, and we all at least got a few laughs out of his occasionally brutal syntax and his malapropisms.

So, yeah, that was my upside for Trump: George W. Bush. I didn't really expect Trump to achieve that, since Bush was a slightly more competent businessman, had eight years of experience as a governor, and generally had a good idea of how the U.S. government works. But I held out a tiny bit of hope that maybe Trump would find his way to that.

Of course, a week or two of the transition stripped me of that lofty notion. What has happened thus far has been much, much worse and less competent than the W. standard. Alas.

But at least we've got black humor to help lighten the load.

(And no, I don't want to hear from Internet scolds saying, "How can you laugh about Covfefe when Trump is...." We're adults here on the ol' Patio Boat. We can laugh at an occasional joke without completely forgetting every other problem in the world. The world is a mean ol' place sometimes, and that's why we have humor to help us cope.)

Meanwhile, the march to Trump's inevitable impeachment continues apace. The biggest thing that will move the dial in the short run is the upcoming special election on June 20 in Georgia's 6th U.S. House District, where Democrat Jon Ossoff has a narrow lead in the polls in a district that was gerrymandered to provide a substantial GOP advantage. Republican Tom Price won the district 61.7%-38.3% in November. Both the Democrats and the Republicans are pouring money into this race, which has already become the most expensive US House race ever. If the Republicans lose there, they may need to reassess whether they really want to ride Trump into the midterm elections in 2018.

The thing about a gerrymander is that it's usually accomplished by drawing districts that favor your party by about 55%-45%, enough to provide a substantial advantage that gives you an election day edge and that also discourages good candidates from running against you and financial backers from putting money into a campaign against you. Cutting the margin much closer than that puts you in danger of making your district competitive. Making the margin much larger means that you might not be able to pack an additional district for your party.

But if you've managed to do so badly in office that you've shifted the electorate against you by 15% or so ... well, then you've got a problem. Because you're suddenly vulnerable everywhere. It happens very seldom because it takes a true wave. It takes something completely outside the political norms to make that happen.

It takes a Trump.

(And the all-powerful Orb of Covfefe.)


BTW, if you're reading this and you're not following me on Twitter, you can do so at @Patioboater. In the pre-Trump era my Twitter account used to be a pretty quiet place with mostly retweeted space photos, weather photos, and a few other items that cracked me up or interested me. Nowadays it's a lot livelier. So come join my mighty 178 followers.