Donald Trump Thought He Could Negotiate End Of Cold War In 1980’s

There have been multiple stories in recent months about Donald Trump’s misplaced admiration for Vladimir Putin, but The Hollywood Reporter has uncovered a story about Trump being interested in an earlier Soviet leader, Mikhail Gorbachev:

Donald Trump, in the mid-1980s, aggressively pursued an official government post to the USSR, according to a Nobel Peace Prize winner with whom Trump interacted at the time.

“He already had Russia mania in 1986, 31 years ago,” asserts Bernard Lown, a Boston-area cardiologist known for inventing the defibrillator and sharing the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize with a top Soviet physician in recognition of their efforts to promote denuclearization. Lown, now 95 and retired in Newton, Massachusetts, tells The Hollywood Reporter that Trump sought and secured a meeting with him in 1986 to solicit information about Mikhail Gorbachev. (Gorbachev had become the USSR’s head of state — and met with Lown — the year before.) During this meeting, Lown says, the fast-rising businessman disclosed that he would be reaching out to then-President Ronald Reagan to try to secure an official post to the USSR in order to negotiate a nuclear disarmament deal on behalf of the United States, a job for which Trump felt he was the only one fit.

“He said to me, ‘I hear you met with Gorbachev, and you had a long interview with him, and you’re a doctor, so you have a good assessment of who he is,'” Lown recalls. “So I asked, ‘Why would you want to know?’ And he responded, ‘I intend to call my good friend Ronnie,’ meaning Reagan, ‘to make me a plenipotentiary ambassador for the United States with Gorbachev.’ Those are the words he used. And he said he would go to Moscow and he’d sit down with Gorbachev, and then he took his thumb and he hit the desk and he said, ‘And within one hour the Cold War would be over!’ I sat there dumbfounded. ‘Who is this self-inflated individual? Is he sane or what?'”

On the one hand we see Trump was the same then as now in believing his knowledge and abilities are far beyond what they actually are.  On the other hand, nuclear disarmament and ending the Cold War were hardly bad goals.

Further in the article:

In an April 8, 1984, profile in The New York Times, Trump revealed that concern about a nuclear holocaust had plagued him since his uncle, the groundbreaking nuclear physicist Dr. John Trump, first spoke to him about it 15 years earlier. “His greatest dream is to personally do something about the problem,” wrote the TimesWilliam E. Geist (NBC anchor Willie Geist‘s father), “and, characteristically, Donald Trump thinks he has an answer to nuclear armament: Let him negotiate arms agreements — he who can talk people into selling $100 million properties to him for $13 million.” Geist continued, somewhat snarkily, “The idea that he would ever be allowed to go into a room alone and negotiate for the United States, let alone be successful in disarming the world, seems the naive musing of an optimistic, deluded young man who has never lost at anything he has tried. But he believes that through years of making his views known and through supporting candidates who share his views, it could happen someday.”

Trump expounded on these ambitions in a Nov. 15, 1984, Washington Post profile at the urging, he said, of his mentor and lawyer Roy Cohn, who was best known as Joseph McCarthy‘s chief counsel during the Army-McCarthy hearings. The Post‘s Lois Romano asked Trump for specifics about how he would approach a U.S.-Soviet deal, and recounted how he demurred (using terms familiar to those who followed the 2016 presidential campaign): “‘I wouldn’t want to make my opinions public,’ he says. ‘I’d rather keep those thoughts to myself or save them for whoever else is chosen. … It’s something that somebody should do that knows how to negotiate and not the kind of representatives that I have seen in the past.’ He could learn about missiles, quickly, he says. ‘It would take an hour and a half to learn everything there is to learn about missiles. … I think I know most of it anyway. You’re talking about just getting updated on a situation.'”

In Ron Rosenbaum‘s November 1985 profile of Trump in Manhattan, Inc. magazine (later republished as part of the 1987 book Manhattan Passions: True Tales of Power, Wealth and Excess), Trump discussed his obsession with brokering this ultimate deal, stating, “Nothing matters as much to me now.” He coyly suggested that he already was “dealing at a very high level on this,” hinting at connections in Washington and at the White House, and that negotiators like him were needed: “There’s a vast difference between somebody who’s been consistently successful and somebody who’s been working for a relatively small amount of money in governmental service for many years, in many cases because the private sector, who have seen these people indirectly, didn’t choose to hire these people, any of them, because it didn’t find them to be particularly capable.”

By December 1985, Trump’s infatuation with negotiating a deal between the Americans and the Soviets was so widely known that The New York TimesGeorge Vecsey proclaimed, “People used to titter when Donald Trump said he wanted to broker a nuclear-arms reduction. … If the United States gave Donald Trump an official title and let him loose on the arms race, he might lay off on his threat to darken the western sky of Manhattan with his personal Brasilia North. Make peace, not skyscrapers, that’s the general idea.”

With his limited understanding of foreign policy and nuclear weapons I certainly have doubts about Trump’s ability to negotiate successfully with Russia, and bet that Putin would outsmart Trump in any deal. I also have my doubts as to whether the post-election attempts to open back channel lines of communication with Russia were for such benign purposes.  However, Trump’s stated goal of ending the Cold War is far more admirable than Hillary Clinton’s plans in recent years to return to Cold War  hostilities with Russia, despite the great dangers inherent in her policies.

More Bad News For Trump On Travel Ban, Russia Probe, And GOP Health Care Plan

There was yet another round of bad news for Donald Trump the last couple of days. This includes a federal appeals court refusing to reinstate Trump’s travel ban. The United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit, in Richmond ruled that this was a violation of the First Amendment’s ban on government establishment of religion:

“Then-candidate Trump’s campaign statements reveal that on numerous occasions, he expressed anti-Muslim sentiment, as well as his intent, if elected, to ban Muslims from the United States,” Judge Gregory wrote. He cited, as an example, a 2015 statement calling for “a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States until our representatives can figure out what is going on.”

The travel ban is far more about prejudice than effective defense against terrorism. Donald Trump continues to show that his policies are counterproductive, most recently with police in the U.K. not wanting to share information with the United States due to leaks. Of course the biggest leaker of intelligence information in the Trump administration is probably Donald Trump himself.

There was additional bad news. Jared Kushner is reportedly under scrutiny by the FBI in the Russia probe. There are no specifics as to what his role was but the inclusion of Kushner is consistent with my suspicions that any misconduct by high administration officials will most likely turn out to be financial. Despite partisan claims, those involved with the investigation have consistently stated that there is no evidence of any collusion between Trump and the Russians with regards to meddling in the 2016 election. Without such collusion, any Russian meddling becomes of far less significance, representing the type of activity which both the United States and Russia has engaged in for decades. Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign showed how the Clinton campaign initiated a strategy to blame Clinton’s loss on others, such as Russia, within twenty-four hours of her loss. 

While no crimes have been proven on Trump’s part before being elected, there has been a suspicious pattern of cover-up–and most likely obstruction of justice with the firing of James Comey. Evidence of this was further increased this week when news came out that Trump had attempted to get two top intelligence officials to help him block the FBI investigation. The Washington Post reported:

President Trump asked two of the nation’s top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against an FBI investigation into possible coordination between his campaign and the Russian government, according to current and former officials.

Trump made separate appeals to the director of national intelligence, Daniel Coats, and to Adm. Michael S. Rogers, the director of the National Security Agency, urging them to publicly deny the existence of any evidence of collusion during the 2016 election.

Coats and Rogers refused to comply with the requests, which they both deemed to be inappropriate, according to two current and two former officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss private communications with the president.

Donald Trump and Congressional Republicans also received bad news this week when the Congressional Budget Office released their scoring of the House health care bill. Their report indicated that repealing ObamaCare in this nature would result in twenty-three million people losing health care coverage over ten years, and that many people with pre-existing conditions would find health insurance either unavailable or affordable.

Democratic Party Stronger Without The Clintons

The 2016 election was unique in which, while their partisans might not realize it, each party would be better off if their candidate lost the presidential election. Both parties had horrible candidates, and each party would pay a price if their candidate was president. The damage to the Republican brand since Trump has been elected has been obvious. This distracts from noticing the benefits to Democrats from not being dragged further to the right by DLC Democrats such as the Clintons.

Democrats have misread recent politics in seeing Bill Clinton’s victory as evidence that the path of the Democratic Leadership Conference was the way to win. In reality, Bill Clinton won due to his own personal political skills, not by his desire to turn the Democratic Party into a Republican-Lite Party. The Clinton/DLC philosophy too conservative and out of date in the 1990’s, and it is even less relevant to the 21st century. Democrats lost off year elections in 2010 and 2014 by running as Republican-Lite and refusing to stand for anything. This culminated in nominating Hillary Clinton, who managed to lose to Donald Trump.

While Clinton partisans will never agree, polling data and the election results presents a pretty strong case that if the Democrats had nominate Bernie Sanders instead of Clinton they could have won the White House, and probably taken control of the Senate. The Democratic establishment has totally misread the mood of the country and were misled by an out-dated left/right linear political spectrum, failing to see that many independents would vote for Sanders, but not for Clinton.

While the Democratic establishment still desires to exclude Sanders, others are giving him credit for revitalizing the Democratic Party. Buzz Feed editor Ben Smith writes, While You Were Watching Trump, The Democratic Party Changed: Bernie Sanders lost the primary but reshaped his party.

“What happened in the presidential campaign is that Bernie ran explicitly in support of a Medicare-for-all approach” — a simple framework for single-payer — “and what the politicians saw is that voters were fine with that,” said Vermont Rep. Peter Welch, a longtime advocate of single payer.

“It’s inclusive and it doesn’t get us into the identity politics divisions that are problematic,” he said. “It gets us into inclusive politics.”

And if Sanders made single-payer safe for Democrats, Trump’s extremely unpopular foray into health care policy with the American Health Care Act has created a new landscape. Democrats’ blend of private-sector structures with government money and incentives, Obamacare, never became truly popular. A Republican version of that hybrid system, tilted toward the markets and away from guarantees, isn’t popular either.

“Then the default becomes, well the private market doesn’t work, the next thing is single-payer,” said an insurance industry executive close to the politics of the issue, who noted that the CEO of Aetna recently shocked the industry by calling for a serious debate about what single-payer would look like. (To the insurance industry, it could look like a new sluice of predictable revenue.)

“This is probably going to be like what happened with Republicans on immigration,” the insurance industry official said. “You may even have a bigger swath of Democrats who are not for single-payer but the single-payer group is becoming so outspoken that other voices are muted.”

It remains to be seen whether the Democratic Party will really change for the better, but there was little or no hope if a politician as conservative as Hillary Clinton had won and had the opportunity to shape the party. While she claims at times to be a progressive, she is a “progressive” who fights for conservative results. Clinton was hardly progressive when she supported making flag burning a felony, censoring video games, supported restricting freedom of speech to fight terrorism, defended the use of cluster bombs in civilian areas, supported parental notification laws, making abortion rare (a statement which stigmatizes women who have abortions and plays into GOP attempts to restrict abortions), leaving gay marriage up to the states (a position she finally changed but lagging behind the country tremendously), the Patriot Act, the discriminatory Workplace Religious Freedom Act, working with the Fellowship in the Senate to increase the role of religion in public policy and undermine the principle of separation of church and state, opposed single payer health care, opposed needle exchange programs, supported a hard line on the drug war, promoted increased government secrecy, supported going to war in Iraq war based upon false claims of a connection between Saddam and al Qaeda (without even bothering to read the intelligence material made available for members of the Senate), pushed for military intervention in Libya and Syria, and resuming the Cold War with Russia.

If Clinton was president, far too many Democrats would be rationalizing and defending Clinton’s views and actions. Instead, the defeat of Clinton opens the door for a more liberal Democratic Party. It also increases the chances of Democratic gains in 2018. If Clinton had been elected, we would probably see a continuation of Democratic loses in Congress and state governments. Instead there is talk of a possible Democratic wave in 2018. For many matters, the state government has more day to day impact on our lives than the federal government. For those of us who saw our state governments get taken over by Republicans since 2010, the defeat of Clinton gives hope of throwing the Republicans out.

With Trump in the White House, we have terrible policies, but also massive opposition to him. Plus with Trump in the White House, we have the added benefit of seeing the Republican president being the subject of scandals and possible impeachment, instead of the inevitable scandals to be seen under Hillary Clinton. The manner in which she spent the last couple of years repeatedly lying about the email and Foundations scandals should provide additional warnings about what could be expected with Clinton in the White House.

Donald Trump has been a terrible president, but it would have been a disaster regardless of who won. At least there is now  hope for a better future.

Donald Trump Mocked For Claiming He Is Subject Of Greatest Witch Hunt In American History

Donald Trump, objecting to the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his administration, tweeted: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” The claim came after Robert Mueller was appointed to be special counsel after Trump fired James Comey. Comey is also saying that Trump was trying to influence his judgment about the Russia probe.

This resulted in responses from some of the late night comedians:

President Trump is having one heck of a week. The Justice Department appointed a special counsel to investigate ties between his campaign and Russia, which he did not like at all. But sources inside the White House say when he found out about it, he didn’t yell or scream. He told his staff, “We have nothing to hide.” He was calm. He punched Sean Spicer in the stomach a few times. Then this morning at 7:52 a.m. he got on Twitter and wrote: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” Even his witch hunts are the greatest in American history. –Jimmy Kimmel

It’s been a wild week for President Donald Trump. On Wednesday, the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to investigate Trump’s connections to Russia. Robert Mueller will be the special counsel. And today, Trump reacted by saying, “No fair, why does that guy get to be called special?” I’m kidding; Trump reacted by tweeting, of course. This morning, Donald Trump tweeted that he is the victim of “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” The single greatest — even when he’s whining, Trump still has to be the greatest.–James Corden

Meanwhile, Trump started tweeting again. Today he criticized the Russia investigation, saying, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” Then one guy was like, “Do you still want to see my birth certificate?” –Jimmy Fallon

President Trump today called the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his campaign’s ties to Russia “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” Though it didn’t help his case much when he flew away on a broom. –Seth Meyers

But the best response came from The Washington Post, which reprinted this story:

Nixon, Aides Believe Hearing Is Witchhunt

By Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
July 21, 1973

President Nixon and his top aides believe that the Senate Watergate hearings are unfair and constitute a “political witchhunt,” according to White House sources.

Despite apparent bipartisan and public support for the hearings and the manner in which they are being conducted, the sources said that the President in the last weeks has expressed bitterness and deep hostility toward the two-month-old proceedings.

“The President,” one source said, “sees the hearings as an attempt to get Richard Nixon and do it just damn unfairly.” According to four separate sources, the hostility toward the hearings is also pervasive in the White House staff, especially among former assistants to H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, the deposed former top presidential aides…

We know how that “witchhunt” turned out.

Democrats Risk Continued Failure In Denying Reasons For Clinton’s Loss

Aaron Blake shows how Democrats are burying their heads in the sand with their denial as to how terrible a candidate Hillary Clinton was, even when Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders have pointed this out:

“I never thought she was a great candidate,” Biden said, according to reports. “I thought I was a great candidate.”

…Biden isn’t the first leading Democratic figure with possible designs on 2020 to apparently slight Clinton. Clinton’s 2016 primary foe, Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), has repeatedly offered some version of this quote: “It wasn’t that Donald Trump won the election; it was that the Democratic Party that lost the election.”

Those comments have definitely rubbed some Clinton supporters the wrong way, and Biden’s are likely to even more so, given how direct they were.

Of course, Biden isn’t saying anything that most every election analyst hasn’t. You can make a pretty objective case that Clinton wasn’t a great candidate, given she lost an election she was expected to win to an opponent who became the most unpopular president-elect in modern history.

…in most situations, a party that lost a presidential campaign wouldn’t so fiercely guard the good name of the candidate who lost — much less one who had just lost a second presidential campaign in eight years. Republicans, for instance, were only so happy to place the blame for their 2012 loss squarely on the shoulders of Mitt Romney and his failure to connect with people. The same goes for Democrats and John Kerry in 2004.

So why not Democrats in 2017? Part of the reason is that they simply don’t feel Clinton really lost. Russia’s hacking, FBI Director James Comey’s late announcement about her emails (and the media’s coverage of that issue) and her popular vote win have combined to create a genuine sense that she was robbed — almost literally so. And Clinton has only fed that beast with her repeated comments dissecting the unfair reasons why she lost.

It’s a delicate dance for the likes of Biden and Sanders right now. They want to emphasize that the party can do better, but in doing so, they risk alienating some very passionate and outspoken Clinton supporters with an almost religious sense of righteousness about 2016.

Perhaps it could be done more delicately, but to pretend Biden is wrong about Clinton not being a great candidate is to bury your head in the sand. And that’s a pretty dangerous thing for Democrats to do right now.

Of course Hillary Clinton was one of the worst candidates ever nominated by a major political party. She unethically used her political career to build a personal fortune and capitalize on the Clinton name after Bill left office, despite how this shaped her reputation. As Matt Taibbi has argued, once she made this decision, she should have left politics. She has spent her career undermining liberal values–a progressive who gets conservative results. Polls showed long before the nomination that she was untrusted by the voters. She polled poorly among independents, liberals, swing state voters, and in the rust belt. Nominating her in the midst of her major scandals would have been as if the Republicans had nominated Richard Nixon after the Watergate scandal had become well known.

Donald Trump might have even bigger negatives than Clinton, but Clinton ran such a terrible campaign that she could not even beat him. Clinton’s own negatives were large enough to negate his. Democrats even allowed themselves to be outflanked on the left by the Republicans on economics and foreign policy with the nomination of Clinton (even if this was based upon incoherent positions held by Trump).

Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign shows how Clinton latched onto the strategy of blaming other for her loss within twenty-four hours of her loss. Partisan Democrats who were foolish enough to nominate a candidate as unfit for public office as Hillary Clinton were also gullible to fall for this.

As I wrote in the previous post on her use of these excuses, The Wikileaks releases of hacked email hurt because it verified criticism that the DNC had violated its own rules in rigging the nomination for Clinton, and in showing Clinton’s dishonesty. There has been absolutely no evidence that anything released by Wikileaks was not accurate information. In blaming Russia, Clinton is admitting that the facts about her and the DNC were sufficient to sink her campaign.

Despite blaming the media, Clinton’s violation of the rules regarding her use of the private server was confirmed to be in violation of the rules in effect in 2009 by the Obama administration State Department Inspector General Report. Fact checkers repeatedly showed that Clinton was lying about the email and Foundation scandals. It was Clinton who grossly violated the ethics agreements she entered into before being confirmed as Secretary of State. Hillary Clinton, not the press, was responsible for this story.

In blaming James Comey, Clinton ignores the fact that James Comey would not have been investigating her in the first place if she had not grossly violated the rules regarding email and  hadn’t handled classified information in a careless manner. The investigation further hurt Clinton as Comey’s report demonstrated that she had repeatedly lied in her public statements about the matter. This gave further credence to her reputation of both seeing herself above the  law and of being dishonest. She further hurt herself when she repeatedly lied about what James Comey had reported.

Hillary Clinton brought this all on herself. Clinton lost due to both her own flaws, and the foolishness of those in the Democratic Party who supported her for the nomination, even to the point of violating their own party rules to rig the nomination for Clinton.

Democrats need to move on from both the disastrous nomination of Hillary Clinton and the entire DLC strategy of turning the Democrats into a Republican-lite party. Bill Clinton might have won on this strategy, but that was more because of his personal political skills than the wisdom of this conservative philosophy. Democrats have lost badly in 2010, 2014, and now 2016 by failing to stand for liberal principles. Instead of learning from their mistakes, the Democrats appear determined to repeat them. This includes recently excluding Bernie Sanders from the “Ideas Conference” held by the Center for American Progress.

The 2016 election might change politics for years to come. Donald Trump could damage the Republicans for many years, and Hillary Clinton could do the same to Democrats. It is not clear yet which party will be hurt the most by the awful choices they made in 2016. If we are lucky, the combination will end the two party duopoly and we will have real choices in the future.

A Very Bad Ten Days For Donald Trump

Donald Trump’s presidency appeared to be on a path towards disaster from the beginning, considering his lack of respect for democratic norms and a lack of understanding of the position. What is remarkable is how much has gone wrong in just over a week, and how much of the damage was self-inflicted. If Richard Nixon had used twitter as Donald Trump does, the Watergate investigation might have been wrapped up in half the time.

David Graham has a good chronology at The Atlantic. This is a condensed summary:

May 8: Former Acting Attorney General Sally Yates appeared before Congress contradicting White House statements about Michael Flynn’s firing as national-security adviser.

May 9: Trump fired FBI Director James Comey who was investigating his administration.

May 10: The Trump administration changed its account regarding the reasons for firing Comey. Press reports concentrated on Trump firing Comey because of the Russia investigation and because of him contradicting Trump’s claims that Barack Obama had wiretapped him.

May 11: The Economist published an interview with Trump which showed him to be ignorant of economic policy.  Later the same day Trump gave an interview to Lester Holt of NBC News which directly contradicted the vice president and White House spokeswoman,  and admitted that the Russia probe was a factor in Comey’s dismissal. There were also reports that Trump had previously demanded a pledge of personal loyalty from Comey.

May 12: Trump appeared to threaten Comey, suggesting their conversation might have been taped. Later that day Trump released a letter from his lawyers to claim that he did not have business ties with Russia. The letter was widely mocked for mentioning “a few exceptions,” and tax experts said the letter proved nothing.

May 15:  Politico published a story saying Trump staffers were routinely passing him fake news stories, both to manipulate him and out of fear that the real news would upset him. Later that day a story in The Washington Post reported that Trump had shared highly sensitive classified information with the Russian foreign minister and ambassador which was obtained from an ally.

May 16: The New York Times reported that the the source of the intelligence is Israel. They also reported on a memo previously written by James Comey which quotes Trump as asking him to drop the FBI investigation into Flynn and his ties to Russia.

If matters were not bad enough in this summary as posted, today Robert S. Mueller III,  FBI director from 2001 to 2013, was appointed as as a special council to investigate possible coordination between Trump associates and Russian officials. While Democrats had been speaking of impeachment, and op-ed writers at The New York Times were suggesting that Trump is a criminal president, today also marked the day that the first Republican Congressman, Justin Amash, spoke of impeachment:

Republicans are beginning to talk of the possibility that President Trump could face impeachment after reports that he pressed ousted FBI Director James Comey to end an investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn.

While Republicans are choosing their words carefully, the fact that impeachment is even being mentioned is notable in Washington’s polarized political environment.

Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) on Wednesday said if the reports about Trump’s pressure on Comey are true, it would merit impeachment.

There is reason to be skeptical of the claims of actual collusion between Trump and Russia to interfere with the election. Shattered did show how Hillary Clinton did grasp onto Russia as an excuse for losing the election and to avoid taking personal responsibility.  While there has been no evidence seen so far of collusion to affect the election, we do know that there have been questionable actions involving members or former members of the Trump administration and Russia. Russia does have a history trying to interfere in foreign elections (just as the US does). Regardless of whether there was actual collusion to affect the election, it would be wrong for a president to fire the FBI director for investigating members of his administration, and wrong to demand an oath of personal loyalty.

Dutch Documentary Looks At Donald Trump’s Ties To The Russian Mafia

While we need the results of a full investigation to be certain, I have suspected that investigating Trump and Russia from the perspective of influencing the election results is a simplistic explanation. It is also simplistic to blame Russia for Clinton’s loss and ignore both how weak a candidate she was and how poorly the campaign was run. Certainly Russia meddled in our election, as it has been doing for decades, and we have been doing in other countries, but I suspect that there are other reasons for all the suspicious behavior involving Russia and members of the Trump administration. A Dutch television report on Trump’s ties to Russian mobsters might provide the explanation for such behavior, along with Trump’s unwillingness to release  his tax returns.

The video is available on You Tube:

Alternet provides some background:

Donald Trump’s business partners have included Russian oligarchs and convicted mobsters, which could make the president guilty of criminal racketeering charges.

That’s one of the eyebrow-raising takeaways from a 45-minute Dutch documentary that aired last week, titled The Dubious Friends of Donald Trump, Part 1: The Russians. The first installment of the investigative reporting series, produced by Zembla, does what no American TV network has yet dared to do—take a deep look at the organized crime links and corrupt international business strategies used by Trump and his partners in his properties…

The documentary shows how Trump not only helped hide the identity of his mobster business partner, prompting an ongoing lawsuit accusing Trump of criminal racketeering, but also how Trump used that internal company crisis to demand more money. It goes on to show how Russian oligarchs saw Trump’s properties as a way to get their money out of Russia, and describes the international financial networks that are akin to a pyramid scheme for money laundering. It also notes how the law firm of Trump’s political adviser, former New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani, helped set up a money-laundering account in the Netherlands used by Bayrock.

 

The following description is given for the video:

Although still in its early days, Donald Trump’s presidency is coming under fire. The Russians are alleged to be in possession of sensitive information about Trump. And that exposes Trump to blackmail. Fake news, tweets Trump: “I have nothing to do with Russia – no deals, no loans, no nothing!” Trump swears he has no ties with the Russians. But is that actually the case?

For months, the FBI have been investigating Russian interference in the American presidential elections. ZEMBLA is investigating another explosive dossier concerning Trump’s involvement with the Russians: Trump’s business and personal ties to oligarchs from the former Soviet Union. Powerful billionaires suspected of money laundering and fraud, and of having contacts in Moscow and with the mafia. What do these relationships say about Trump and why does he deny them? How compromising are these dubious business relationships for the 45th president of the United States? And are there connections with the Netherlands? ZEMBLA meets with one of Trump’s controversial cronies and speaks with a former CIA agent, fraud investigators, attorneys, and an American senator among others.

Trump’s ties to the Russia mob were also verified by PolitiFact last year, but they also noted that “these connections were not atypical in the real estate and casino businesses in the 1980s.”

A Failed Administration: Both President And Attorney General May Have Committed Impeachable Offenses

With Donald Trump facing considerable criticism for the firing of James Comey (along with multiple other faults), we must also keep in mind that there are other terrible people in  his administration. Among them is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. The Hill reports that Democrats are questioning his role in the firing of Comey:

The top Democrats on two powerful House committees are calling for a report on possible disciplinary actions against Attorney General Jeff Sessions for his role in FBI Director James Comey’s firing.

The Democrats say Sessions may have violated his pledge to recuse himself from any investigations involving Russia’s effort to influence U.S. elections.

In a letter to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, House Oversight Committee ranking member Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) and Judiciary Committee ranking member John Conyers Jr. (D-Mich.) pressed the Justice Department to explain Sessions’ role in President Trump’s decision to fire Comey.

“Federal law sets forth as a penalty for recusal violations removal from office, and the Attorney General’s violation in this case appears to be particularly grave,” the letter reads.

This criticism isn’t limited to Democrats. Conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin has a similar opinion:

Refusing to recuse oneself from a conflict or breaking the promise to recuse from a conflict is a serious breach of legal ethics. “Someone could file a bar complaint, and/or one with DOJ’s office of professional responsibility, if Sessions had a conflict of interest when it came to the firing decision, and  if he did not follow the ethics rules, including those of DOJ by acting when he had a conflict of interest,” legal ethics expert Norman Eisen tells me. “The fact that he broke his recusal commitment, if he did, would be relevant context, and violating an agreement can sometimes in itself be an ethics violation.” In sum, Sessions has risked his law license, whether he realized it or not. He needs to testify immediately under oath; if there is no satisfactory explanation, he must resign. The alternative could be impeachment proceedings.

Yes, impeachment. The Attorney General appears to have committed grounds for impeachment. In addition, Donald Trump firing Jame Comey because he refused to pledge loyalty to him may be worse than firing him to obstruct the Russia investigation. Either way, it is grounds for impeachment, not that we can count on the Republicans to act on this.

But back to Jeff Sessions, he is also showing that he is a problem with regards to policy, seeking to escalate the failed drug war by increasing sentences for violations of current drug laws. Former Attorney General Eric Holder responded by calling Sessions’s policy “dumb on crime.”

“It is an ideologically motivated, cookie-cutter approach that has only been proven to generate unfairly long sentences that are often applied indiscriminately and do little to achieve long-term public safety.”

In the memo, Sessions told federal prosecutors to “pursue the most serious, readily provable offense” that by definition “carry the most substantial guidelines sentence, including mandatory minimums.”

Holder also said, “Abandoning this evidence-based progress and turning back the clock to discredited, emotionally motivated, ideological policy also threatens the financial stability of the federal criminal justice system.”

Donald Trump’s Ominous Parallels To The Rise Of Authoritarianism

The firing of James Comey by Donald Trump is yet another example of Donald Trump varying from Democratic norms. It is a disturbing case of a president working to destroy our system of checks and balances, demanding a pledge of loyalty from someone in a position designed to be independent of such political pressure.  I posted several opinions on this act yesterday, often from the perspective of comparing Trump’s actions to Richard Nixon’s acts to obstruct justice during the Watergate investigation.

There are even more ominous parallels which can be drawn. Donald Trump has already expressed a disturbing degree of admiration for dictators.  Vox looked at the firing of James Comey from the perspective of people who have studies the rise of authoritarian leaders. Some excerpts:

“Trump has talked like a would-be authoritarian since day one. … This is the first clear warning sign that he’s attempting to [act like one].”

Those are the words not of a Democratic political operative or a fringe liberal Trump critic, but of Yascha Mounk, a respected scholar of democracy at Harvard, reacting to Preisdent Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey…

To people who study the rise of authoritarian leaders, just those facts alone are terrifying.

“This is very common — in semi-authoritarian and authoritarian regimes,” Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the University of Denver, tells me. “Purges, summary firings, imprisonment: These are all things that authoritarian leaders do when they attempt to rid themselves of rivals within government.”

Comey’s firing, these political scientists say, fits a pattern that’s very common in democracies that collapse into authoritarianism in the modern era. It’s not that the elected leaders in these countries set out to become an authoritarian, per se. It’s that they care about their own power and security above all else, and do things to protect their own position that have the effect of removing democratic constraints on their power.

One of the first steps in this pattern is weakening independent sources of power that can check the executive’s actions. Like, say, the director of your domestic security service who just happens to be investigating your administration’s foreign ties.

Trump “has what you might think of as autocratic tendencies, which were probably perfectly normal in the business world but are very problematic in the political world,” says Sheri Berman, a professor at Barnard College. “What he would like to do is eliminate all sources of opposition to him — indeed, even sources of criticism of him — and he’s willing to do pretty much anything to do that.”

When most people think about the collapse of democracy, they think about the Nazis, or maybe a military coup. In both cases, a leader comes to power with the explicit goal of taking a democratic system and replacing it with an authoritarian one. They then immediately pass laws banning dissent and use force to shut down all sources of political opposition.

That actually doesn’t happen very much anymore. Outright fascist movements were mostly discredited after World War II, and data on military coups shows a clear decline in their frequency since a peak in the 1960s.

But in the past 20 years or so, we’ve started to see a new kind of creeping authoritarianism emerge in places around the world — something that, in the wake of Trump’s recent actions, now has ominous parallels to the United States.

Leaders in these kinds of countries — Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, and both Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela — don’t come into power and immediately dissolve the legislature and get rid of elections. What they do is corrupt those institutions, slowly and over time, rendering legislatures powerless and elections not truly competitive.

“It looks the same from the outside — there’s elections, there’s a judiciary, there’s a bureaucracy,” Berman says. “But the sort of power centers within those things, the people who populate them, have changed dramatically, so that … the substance of true democratic competition, true power competition, no longer exists.”

The vital first step toward this kind of “soft authoritarianism” is unified control over every key part of government. That starts with personnel: You can’t corrupt a judiciary staffed with impartial judges, or suborn election officials who are truly committed to running free and fair contests.

Instead, you need to fire people at key pressure points and replace them with cronies, or weaken the institution’s formal abilities to the point where it can’t really provide effective oversight…

There’s a reason FBI directors don’t get fired. The bureau handles, among many other things, criminal investigations involving the executive branch, so its leader needs to be as nonpartisan and clear of influence as possible. That’s why FBI directors have 10-year terms and are generally asked to stay on by new administrations, even if the director was appointed under a president of the opposing party…

“I don’t think we’ve crossed any bright lines distinguishing authoritarian systems from democratic ones,” Jay Ulfelder, a political scientist who studies the rise and fall of democracies, tells me.

The issue, instead, is the precedent that this sets for the Trump administration. If Trump’s firing of the man who’s investigating him successfully neuters the FBI and slows down its investigation of the Trump-Russia ties, that’s one less check on his power going forward. If he gets a clear message that the checks on him when he grabs for power are pliable, how far will he end up pushing the envelope?

The article also points out that Democratic institutions in this country are much stronger than in other countries mentioned which have fallen into authoritarianism, although it is of concern that many Republicans in Congress appear willing to go a long with Trump for partisan gain. The degree of protest over Trump’s actions around the country since his inauguration is also a hopeful sign.

Brian Beutler also addressed this topic:

The firing of James Comey has restarted a conversation about the vulnerability of public institutions in America that had gone largely dormant.

Before Tuesday, one of the most remarkable things about Donald Trump’s presidency was how sturdy it had shown competitor institutions, and the larger system of checks and balances, to be. Courts have beat back his power grabs; media, for all its flaws, has been more skeptical of the claims and actions of the Trump administration than of any administration in recent history. Civil society organizations have flourished, and a vital protest movement has both slowed the GOP legislative agenda, and forced some Republicans in Congress to expect a measure of accountability from the White House.

For those who were relieved by this, Comey’s firing should be a frightful awakening from complacency.

The immediate threat of the Trump presidency wasn’t that he would sap the public of its civic-mindedness, or intimidate judges and reporters into submission with his tweets. It was to the institutions under his control—the ones within the executive branch—and particularly those with meaningful independence from political actors in the White House. Because the path to neutralizing or coopting external institutions runs through corrupting internal ones…

If Trump gets away with firing Comey—if Republicans let him nominate any director he wants; if they resist the pressure to insist on appointing a special prosecutor, or to convene an investigative body; if they squash inquiries into the firing itself—he will read it as permission to run amok. As The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein wrote, Trump’s “appetite for shattering democratic constraints is only likely to grow.”

Absent consequences, Trump will rightly feel liberated to appoint whomever he wants to run the IRS when the current commissioner’s term expires later this year. More alarmingly, he will know that he can get away with ordering a crackdown on voting rights or investigations of his political enemies. And, perversely, these are the reasons he is more likely to prevail. How many Republicans who entered the devil’s bargain with Trump for policy victories wouldn’t expand the terms to encompass electoral ones? Friends of Trump win elections and everyone else is at his mercy. Trump was reportedly upset that Comey did not pledge loyalty to him, and was charging ahead with an investigation that Trump finds threatening. When loyalty and corruption become job qualifications for political appointees, the president will have the power he needs to stifle protest leaders, judges, the free press, and political rivals. He won’t even have to make threats.

In Abusing Executive Powers By Firing Comey, Donald Trump Has Created A Cancer On His Presidency

Donald Trump, in abusing executive powers with the firing of James Comey, has created a cancer on the presidency the likes of which has not been seen since Watergate. While the president can legally fire the FBI Director, firing James Comey in this manner is unprecedented, violating the intent of the law to have an independent director for the FBI. Such independence does not fit in with Donald Trump’s personality. Few, if anyone believe his claim that firing Comey had anything to do with how he handled the investigation of Hillary Clinton. Trump is believed to have been waiting for a reason to fire Comey, between Comey contradicting Trump’s claim that Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap on him, and his investigation of the relationship between members of his staff and Russia.

Partisan differences should be put aside in defending the principle of an independent Director of the FBI. It would have been an abuse of powers if Hillary Clinton had been elected and fired Comey, and it is an abuse of powers that Donald Trump has now done so. The obvious comparisons to Richard Nixon firing Archibald Cox , which were previously raised when Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for defying him on his unconstitutional immigration ban, have been raised again.

Dan Rather, who is very familiar with the abuses of power during Watergate, wrote this about Trump firing James Comey:

Future generations may mark today as one of the truly dark days in American history, a history that may soon take an even more ominous turn.

President Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey is a matter that should deeply concern every American, regardless of party, partisan politics or ideological leanings.

The independence of our law enforcement is at the bedrock of our democracy. That independance, already grievously shaken under the brief tenure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is now shattered by uncertainty.

The firing of an FBI Director is always a very serious matter in normal times. But these times aren’t normal. Far from it. The Bureau is engaged in one of the most important and perilous investigations of this or any other presidency—the investigation of connections between the Trump election campaign and the Russian government.

The questions mount and the shadow grows darker. What were those connections? What did Mr. Trump know about them and when did he know it? How can the President explain the serious allegations against his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn? And what is President Trump hiding in this regard? It’s imperative that the nation—We The People—get answers to those questions. It will take time, but the process must start now.

A politicized FBI is the last thing we need as we struggle through the maze of lies, concealment and ever-deepening mysteries. The last time a President fired prosecutors who were investigating him was Richard Nixon during the widespread criminal conspiracy known for short as “Watergate.” We all know how that turned out. In real ways, this potential scandal and coverup are much graver. We are talking about the very security of the United States and the sanctity of our republic.

Thomas Paine famously wrote in 1776: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. ”

I see this as having the potential for a similar reflection point in our American story. If there is a cover up, if our nation is at the risk that has certainly been more than suggested, it is incumbent upon everyone who claims to love this nation to demand answers.

We need a special prosecutor. We need an independent investigation. There is, obviously, much we don’t know about what has just happened, why it happened and why now. Just as obviously there is much more, so much more that we need know. We need to damn the lies and expose the truth.

I, and many others, felt a special prosecutor was necessary even before yesterday, not trusting the independence of any investigation from the Trump Justice Department. James Comey, regardless of what one thinks of  him, was independent and nonpartisan, and may have been our last shot of a fair investigation. Of course Congress should also continue their investigations, but in a situation such as this we cannot risk political distractions in Congress, and the subpoena power of a Special Prosecutor is necessary.

Others have presented arguments similar to that of Dan Rather. John Cassidy also compared this to Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre:

It amounts to a premeditated and terrifying attack on the American system of government. Quite possibly, it will usher in a constitutional crisis. Even if it doesn’t, it represents the most unnerving turn yet in what is a uniquely unnerving Presidency.

Things like this are not supposed to happen in a liberal democracy, especially in one that takes pride, as the United States does, in safeguards put in place against the arbitrary exercise of power. The F.B.I. is meant to be an independent agency, above and beyond partisan politics and personal grudges. (That is why its directors are appointed for ten-year terms.) The President is supposed to respect this independence, especially when it comes to matters in which he has, or could have, a personal interest.

There is little in American history that compares to, or justifies, what Trump has now done. In recent times, the only possible precedent is the Saturday Night Massacre, of October 20, 1973, when Richard Nixon fired the special prosecutor investigating Watergate, Archibald Cox. Arguably, Trump’s Tuesday Afternoon Massacre was even more disturbing. In 1973, the two top law-enforcement officials in the land—the Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, refused to carry out Nixon’s dictatorial order to terminate Cox. It was left to the wretched Robert Bork, who was then the Solicitor General, to do the deed.

Jonathan Chait described this as a progression of what we have already seen from Trump:

Trump has demonstrated his inability to tolerate any authority that lies beyond his control. He disputes the right of courts to review and overturn his actions; he regards his power as a vehicle for enriching himself and his family, and recognizes no public right to know even the contours of his self-interest. It is fitting that Trump sent his personal bodyguard to hand-deliver Comey’s letter of termination. He sees the federal government as a whole as personally subordinate to himself, exactly like his business. He would no more tolerate independent legal enforcement investigating his potential misdeeds than he would allow his own private security detail to dig up dirt on him.

There is no longer any serious possibility that he will respect the norms of conduct governing his office. The only questions are how far his fellow Republicans, who control all the power in Washington, will let him go before they stop him, or whether the midterm elections will give Democrats the chance.

We do no know the degree to which firing Comey was motivated solely by intolerance of any review of his actions, as opposed to a desire to cover up the actions of himself or associates. Firing Comey when he was not only leading the Russia inquiry involving members of the Trump administration but requesting increased funding does create a strong presumption of guilt. While there is currently no evidence of any collusion between Donald Trump himself and Russians who allegedly tampered with the presidential election, the behavior of members of  his staff do suggest that they, if not Trump himself, do have something to hide.

Trump’s decision to fire Comey is very likely to backfire against him, increasing questions regarding what Trump knew about the actions of his staffers. The immediate effect on the investigation is unknown, even to those within the FBI, but this is not likely to go away. As John Harwood wrote, Trump’s firing of Comey endangers his entire presidency. Such an abuse of power could ultimately lead to impeachment if Trump is found to have been acting to obstruct justice by firing James Comey.

Update: Donald Trump’s Ominous Parallels To The Rise Of Authoritarianism