MR. TRUMP TURNS TWO*
White Volkswagen, Watercolor, 6" x 10", Richard J Van Wagoner, Courtesy of Van Wagoner Family Trust**
In today’s Washington Post, Max Boot’s op-ed addressed the past two years of American carnage, including racism, authoritarianism, incompetence, and megalomania. It’s worth a look.
On January 18, 2019, Rachel Maddow (TRMS) listed achievements leading up to the second anniversary of Mr. Trump’s inauguration, not from the past two years or even last year, but all reported in the past week. Her week in review seemed only slightly out of the ordinary from the almost daily crime cliffhangers we have witnessed since Mr. Trump’s American carnage inauguration. Of late, however, the momentum has built to breakneck speed. I hope we have not become too accustomed to the Oval Office serving as a criminal enterprise under the Trump Organization umbrella. A summary of that week in review is set forth below.
Cohen’s Lying to Congress
In the face of the Special Counsel’s response to BuzzFeed’s bombshell claim that Mr. Trump had directed Mr. Cohen to lie, TRMS made a compelling case that someone must have suborned Mr. Cohen’s admitted perjury to Congress concerning the Trump Moscow Tower project. Suborn means that someone else directed or encouraged Mr. Cohen to lie, which would be a crime. Rachel Maddow’s argument went something like this:
The second guilty plea of Mr. Cohen, the one in Washington D.C., for having lied to Congress was a clear predicate for the criminal charge against someone else, another individual, for having suborned that perjury. The Special Counsel’s prosecution of Mr. Cohen for lying to Congress was otherwise wholly unnecessary and simply piling on. He had already pleaded guilty in New York to multiple serious crimes including tax evasion, bank fraud and conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws. As for the single count of lying to Congress in the Washington DC Federal District Court, TRMS pointed out, the Special Counsel asked for no prison and no additional sanctions beyond whatever he would receive for his misconduct in the Southern District of New York, even though prosecutors from the SDNY asked for prison and were much less enamored of Mr. Cohen’s cooperation.
And Mr. Cohen’s Statement in Advance of Plea on the perjury charge, as agreed to by the Special Counsel, confirmed he had lied for the benefit of Individual 1: “the information provided by Cohen about the Moscow Project in these proffer sessions is consistent with and corroborated by other information obtained in the course of the SCO’s investigation.” In his plea colloquy with the DC judge during sentencing on the charge of lying to Congress, Mr. Cohen said: “I made these misstatements to be consistent with Individual 1’s political messaging and out of loyalty to Individual 1.”
As for TRMS’s week in review, you can’t make this up:
The New York Times reported on January 11, 2019 that after Mr. Comey’s firing and after Mr. Trump’s announcement to NBC’s Lester Holt and bragging to Russian diplomats in the Oval Office that the pressure was off him now that Comey was gone, the FBI had opened inquiry into whether Mr. Trump was secretly working on behalf of Russia:
“In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.
“The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.
“The investigation the F.B.I. opened into Mr. Trump also had a criminal aspect, which has long been publicly known: whether his firing of Mr. Comey constituted obstruction of justice.”
Comey Firing as Collusion
On January 14, 2019, CNN released transcripts of the FBI general counsel’s testimony before Congress revealing the FBI debated whether Mr. Trump’s firing of Mr. Comey was at the behest of the Russian government which would clearly be unlawful and unconstitutional. When asked by a Texas congressman whether that had occurred, the general counsel answered, “I don’t know”:
“In the chaotic aftermath at the FBI following Director James Comey’s firing, a half-dozen senior FBI officials huddled to set in motion the momentous move to open an investigation into President Donald Trump that included trying to understand why he was acting in ways that seemed to benefit Russia.
“They debated a range of possibilities, according to portions of transcripts of two FBI officials’ closed-door congressional interviews obtained by CNN. On one end was the idea that Trump fired Comey at the behest of Russia. On the other was the possibility that Trump didn’t have an improper relationship with the Kremlin and was acting within the bounds of his executive authority, the transcripts show.
“James Baker, then-FBI general counsel, said the FBI officials were contemplating with regard to Russia whether Trump was ‘acting at the behest of and somehow following directions, somehow executing their will.’”
On January 13, 2019, the Washington Post reported that Mr. Trump, on at least one occasion, took possession of notes of his interpreter from a face-to-face meeting with Mr. Putin and refused to allow any of his senior administration to know what was discussed in any of his five in-person meetings with Mr. Putin:
“President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.
“Trump did so after a meeting with Putin in 2017 in Hamburg that was also attended by then-Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. U.S. officials learned of Trump’s actions when a White House adviser and a senior State Department official sought information from the interpreter beyond a readout shared by Tillerson.
“The constraints that Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries.”
Air Force One Call in Defense of Putin
CNN reported on January 17, 2019 that as Mr. Trump was heading back to Washington after having just met with Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump called Times reporter David Sanger to argue the Russians were falsely accused of election interference:
“A New York Times reporter said President Donald Trump called him last year to insist that Russia was falsely accused of election interference.
“Times’ reporter David Sanger told CNN Thursday that he was the reporter Trump telephoned from Air Force One while on his way back from Germany after meeting with Russian President Vladimir Putin face-to-face for the first time.
“‘Vladimir Putin told me,’ (Trump) said, ‘that it couldn’t have been the Russians who hacked into the (Democratic National Committee) because they’re so good at cyber that they wouldn’t have been caught,’ Sanger recalled on ‘New Day’ with CNN’s Alisyn Camerota and John Berman. ‘And he said he was really impressed by that argument.’
“Sanger said he then pointed out on that July 2017 call that the US intelligence community had concluded in January 2017 that Putin had personally ordered the hacks into the DNC in 2016.”
“According to Sanger, Trump replied, ‘How I could possibly believe it? That came from (former FBI Director James) Comey, that came from (former CIA Director John) Brennan, that came from (former Director of National Intelligence James) Clapper, they’re all political hacks.’”
“Sanger added, ‘So he essentially sided with a Putin explanation that would cast into doubt whether or not the Russians actually did this — something he had been doing during the campaign.’”
Withdrawal from NATO
On January 14, 209, the New York Times reported that several times during 2018 Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw the United States from NATO which, of course, would destroy the Alliance:
“There are few things that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia desires more than the weakening of NATO, the military alliance among the United States, Europe and Canada that has deterred Soviet and Russian aggression for 70 years.
“Last year, President Trump suggested a move tantamount to destroying NATO: the withdrawal of the United States.
“Senior administration officials told The New York Times that several times over the course of 2018, Mr. Trump privately said he wanted to withdraw from the North Atlantic Treaty Organization. Current and former officials who support the alliance said they feared Mr. Trump could return to his threat as allied military spending continued to lag behind the goals the president had set.
“In the days around a tumultuous NATO summit meeting last summer, they said, Mr. Trump told his top national security officials that he did not see the point of the military alliance, which he presented as a drain on the United States.”
“At the time, Mr. Trump’s national security team, including Jim Mattis, then the defense secretary, and John R. Bolton, the national security adviser, scrambled to keep American strategy on track without mention of a withdrawal that would drastically reduce Washington’s influence in Europe and could embolden Russia for decades.
“Now, the president’s repeatedly stated desire to withdraw from NATO is raising new worries among national security officials amid growing concern about Mr. Trump’s efforts to keep his meetings with Mr. Putin secret from even his own aides, and an F.B.I. investigation into the administration’s Russia ties.”
Trump’s Inciting Rhetoric
On January 16, 209, Mr. Cohen, long time personal lawyer for Mr. Trump, expressed concern about his announced February 7, 2019 testimony before Congress, due to Mr. Trump’s rhetoric. He believed going forward with the testimony could put his family at risk:
“Michael Cohen is having reservations about his highly anticipated public appearance before Congress next month, fearing that President Donald Trump’s frequent diatribes against him could put his family in danger, according to sources close to Cohen.
“While his testimony before the House Committee on Oversight and Reform appears to be on track to occur as scheduled on Feb. 7, it is now less certain than it initially appeared that Cohen — Trump’s former attorney and fixer — will sit before lawmakers, those sources told ABC News. As the president continues to engage in what Cohen sees as reckless and unsubstantiated claims he believes are intended to intimidate him, Cohen has expressed to friends his concern that Trump’s heated rhetoric on television and Twitter could incite an unstable person to target him or his family.
“Cohen has become so worried that he is now questioning whether a public hearing is in his best interest, sources said, and people close to him have advised him to reconsider.
“In an interview with FOX News on Saturday, Trump called Cohen ‘weak,’ accused him of lying to prosecutors in order to get a reduced sentence, and hinted — unprompted and without evidence — that he possessed damaging information about Cohen’s family.
“’[Cohen] should give information maybe on his father-in-law, because that’s the one that people want to look at,’ Trump told FOX News host Jeanine Pirro. That’s the money in the family.’”
Rigged Online Polls
On January 17, 209, the Wall Street Journal reported that Mr. Trump had paid Mr. Cohen $50,000 to have him rig online polls in Mr. Trump’s favor during the 2016 campaign, and that Mr. Cohen had paid the contractor cash, $12,000 to $13,000 in a Walmart bag, and a boxing glove. Mr. Cohen apparently has corroborating documentation:
“In early 2015, a man who runs a small technology company showed up at Trump Tower to collect $50,000 for having helped Michael Cohen, then Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, try to rig online polls in his boss’s favor before the presidential campaign.
“In his Trump Organization office, Mr. Cohen surprised the man, John Gauger, by giving him both a blue Walmart bag containing between $12,000 and $13,000 in cash and, randomly, a boxing glove that Mr. Cohen said had been worn by a Brazilian mixed-martial arts fighter, Mr. Gauger.”
On January 17, 2019, Buzzfeed published the explosive report that Mr. Trump had suborned Mr. Cohen’s perjury before Congress concerning the Moscow Trump Tower project:
“President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.
“Trump also supported a plan, set up by Cohen, to visit Russia during the presidential campaign, in order to personally meet President Vladimir Putin and jump-start the tower negotiations. ‘Make it happen,’ the sources said Trump told Cohen.”
Special Counsel Pushes Back
The Special Counsel pushed back the next day in an equivocal response:
“BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the Special Counsel’s Office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony are not accurate,” said Peter Carr, a spokesman for Mueller’s office, in a statement.
After BuzzFeed doubled down, The Washington Post analyzed the “he said/he said” controversy between BuzzFeed and the Special Counsel:
All of this has nothing to do with America being held hostage by Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell, Mr. Trump’s having placed the second-in-line to the presidency and her entourage at risk after releasing classified information concerning foreign travel on United States’ business, and the United States Senate agreeing to remove sanctions against Oleg Deripaska.
*My brother the very talented fiction writer and novelist, Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, deserves considerable credit for offering both substantive and technical suggestions to https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.com
**My daughter Angela Moore, a professional photographer, photographed more than 500 pieces of my father’s work. On behalf of the Van Wagoner Family Trust, she is in the process of compiling a collection of his art work. The photographs of my father’s art reproduced in https://medium.com/@richardvanwagoner and https://lastamendment.comare hers