Two Down In Trump Administration

Two days ago I wrote about how James Flynn was on thin ice, and that Andrew Puzder’s confirmation as Labor secretary were in jeopardy. Later that day Flynn was forced to resign, and today Puzder has withdrawn his nomination.

Both the choices of Flynn and Puzder were examples of poor management from Donald Trump and a failure to perform traditional vetting. The Puzder withdrawal is a fairly straightforward story, but Flynn’s resignation has only led to many additional questions which do require further investigation.

Objective people recognize that there was something improper with Flynn lying to both Vice President Pence and the American people, and with the attempted cover-up by the Trump administration. We have no way to know the degree to which Flynn was acting on his own or under the direction of Donald Trump. We do know that Trump waited three weeks after being informed of Flynn’s calls (regardless of what he might have known previously) to take action. We do not know the full story regarding contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian intelligence.

We are seeing considerable partisan hypocrisy here, such as in Rand Paul saying it would not make sense to investigate other Republicans. The Republicans who refuse to acknowledge the importance of the Flynn scandal, or question how much leads directly to Trump, sound just like the Democrats who refused to acknowledge the importance of Clinton’s scandals. Partisan politics creates such blindness. This deserves to be investigated regardless of your overall opinion of Trump, and regardless of where you stood in the race between Clinton and Trump.

Of course, while we have strong reasons for further investigations, this does not mean we should buy into every claim made about Trump without evidence. There is no evidence that Trump knew anything until three weeks ago. There is no evidence tying Trump to any attempts to influence the election the results. Claims about Trump’s business dealings with Russians appear to be exaggerated but we should have more information including, but not limited to, his tax returns for further evaluation.  We need to get the facts before coming to conclusions.

There has been a lot of anti-Russia hysteria being spread by Clinton and her neocon allies. The Clinton camp has strong reasons of their own to distort the facts, stemming from both their history of hostility towards Russia and their use of Russia as an excuse for their loss. Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate and ran a terrible campaign, regardless of what Russia did. We need to find out exactly what Russia did without jumping to conclusions based upon hysteria being created for political reasons.

Dan Rather, who has considerable experience in White House cover-ups, compared this to Watergate:

Watergate is the biggest political scandal of my lifetime, until maybe now. It was the closest we came to a debilitating Constitutional crisis, until maybe now. On a 10 scale of armageddon for our form of government, I would put Watergate at a 9. This Russia scandal is currently somewhere around a 5 or 6, in my opinion, but it is cascading in intensity seemingly by the hour. And we may look back and see, in the end, that it is at least as big as Watergate. It may become the measure by which all future scandals are judged. It has all the necessary ingredients, and that is chilling.

When we look back at Watergate, we remember the end of the Nixon Presidency. It came with an avalanche, but for most of the time my fellow reporters and I were chasing down the story as it rumbled along with a low-grade intensity. We never were quite sure how much we would find out about what really happened. In the end, the truth emerged into the light, and President Nixon descended into infamy.

This Russia story started out with an avalanche and where we go from here no one really knows. Each piece of news demands new questions. We are still less than a month into the Trump Presidency, and many are asking that question made famous by Tennessee Senator Howard Baker those many years ago: “What did the President know, and when did he know it?” New reporting suggests that Mr. Trump knew for weeks. We can all remember the General Michael Flynn’s speech from the Republican National Convention – “Lock her up!” in regards to Hillary Clinton. If Hillary Clinton had done one tenth of what Mr. Flynn had done, she likely would be in jail. And it isn’t just Mr. Flynn, how far does this go?

The White House has no credibility on this issue. Their spigot of lies – can’t we finally all agree to call them lies – long ago lost them any semblance of credibility. I would also extend that to the Republican Congress, who has excused away the Trump Administration’s assertions for far too long.

We need an independent investigation. Damn the lies, full throttle forward on the truth. If a scriptwriter had approached Hollywood with what we are witnessing, he or she would probably have been told it was way too far-fetched for even a summer blockbuster. But this is not fiction. It is real and it is serious. Deadly serious. We deserve answers and those who are complicit in this scandal need to feel the full force of justice.

He is right. This all needs to be settled by finding the facts–not by ideology or partisanship.

A Way Too Early Look At The 2020 Election, Including A Pundit’s Prediction That Clinton Will Run Again

Yesterday I looked at very early discussions from pundits and pollsters regarding the 2018 Congressional elections. It is far too early to say what will happen, but at least there is old data correlating presidential approval ratings and changes in seat in the midterm elections. There are also pundits with way too early predictions as to the 2020 presidential elections, including one predicting that Hillary Clinton will not only run again, but win the Democratic nomination. Fortunately any predictions made today have a good chance of not coming true.

The New York Post looks at who the Trump White House sees as potential challengers, claiming that they are already working on finding negative information on them. A lot will change between now and 2020 and any predictions are risky. Who would have predicted that Barack Obama would be the nominee four years before he ran? However, it is interesting to see who the Trump White House is concerned about, assuming that the Post has reliable information as to their thoughts:

Trump’s chief strategist, Steve Bannon, asked consultants to scour the backgrounds of four outspoken Democrats — Ohio Sen. Sherrod Brown, Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper and Dallas Mavericks owner Mark Cuban, two sources close to the administration said.

“The White House political department wants people to start looking into them,” said one source close to the White House. “Trump is obsessed with running for re-election.”

Both Murphy, a freshman senator who has lambasted Trump’s immigration orders, and Brown, a 10-year Senate vet who made Hillary Clinton’s VP short list, are seen as viable threats who can quickly raise money and build a network of supporters, the sources said.

Hickenlooper, who founded a brewery before becoming governor of the Western swing state, is seen as a less-combative rising star, the sources said.

But the White House’s “biggest fear” is that Cuban, a billionaire businessman, would run because he can appeal to Republicans and independents, the sources said.

“He’s not a typical candidate,” the second insider said. “He appeals to a lot of people the same way Trump did.”

This could be one reason that Trump is attacking Cuban, not that he needs any reason to attack anyone who has been critical of him.

Making predictions based upon age is risky, but reportedly they have eliminated not only Bernie Sanders but Elizabeth Warren as possibilities due to being too old. They eliminated Kirsten Gillibrand, believing she is too young. The Post also says, “Trump’s political team is also counting out Cuomo and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, because they’ve been tainted by corruption probes.” The nomination of Hillary Clinton in 2016 showed that being tainted by corruption might not be a disqualification.

I would hope that the Democrats have learned their lesson and would not consider nominating Clinton again, but Matt Latimer predicts in Politco Magazine that not only will Clinton run again, but that she will win the nomination. His evidence for why he thinks she plans to run could indicate such plans, but is hardly conclusive. It is also conceivable that she wants to remain in the public eye, and rehabilitate her reputation, without plans to run. While perhaps she should take this advice, I really doubt that this is what she will do:

Hillary Clinton has 100 percent name ID, a personal fortune and a bastion of loyalists. She could enter the race at the last possible moment—at the behest of the people, of course—and catch her Democratic Party rivals by surprise. To soften her reputation as a programmed, overly cautious and polarizing figure, Clinton should eschew the front-runner label and run as an underdog, praising the other candidates and their proposals, opening up her campaign bus to the press corps and offering to have a freewheeling debate with any major rival, at any time, and anywhere.

It is possible she could win again, especially if their is a divided field without a clear front runner as he predicts, but based upon Clinton’s past I doubt this is what she will do. If she wants to run, her first instincts will be to once again try to clear the field and start running early with claims of inevitability.

Opening up to the press corps is the last thing Hillary Clinton would feel comfortable doing. She will continue to oppose liberal views which are far outside of her comfort zone. She certainly does not want to agree to frequent or freewheeling debates. Clinton knew exactly what she was doing when she tried to get the DNC to set a limit of four debates (with the DNC agreeing to limit it to six). Postponing the first debate until fairly late in the cycle made it harder for other candidates to establish themselves. Initially, due to her long experience in politics, she did dominate the debates. However, as Sanders developed experience in debating her, and the fact checkers reviewed her falsehoods, the debates turned against her, such as before the Michigan primary (which foreshadowed her general election loss). If there had been multiple debates starting earlier in the process, I doubt Clinton would have won the nomination.

Regardless of whether Clinton can win the nomination, I hope that Democrats have learned their lesson after loses in 2010, 2014, and 2016. Running as a Republican-lite party does not work. Democrats need to run their best possible candidate in 2020, not one so weak that she could not beat Donald Trump. It is especially important for Democrats to regain control of some of the state legislatures they have lost prior to redistricting in 2020, and a weak candidate on top of the ticket will make this more difficulty. Even if Clinton could win, after Trump we do not need a conservative DLC-type Democrat and neocon in the White House.

Bad Day For Trump’s Immigration Ban And Trump Conflicts Of Interest

There were two setbacks for the Trump administration today. The more significant was an appeals court ruling against Trump’s travel ban:

A three-judge federal appeals panel on Thursday unanimously refused to reinstate President Trump’s targeted travel ban, delivering the latest and most stinging judicial rebuke to his effort to make good on a campaign promise and tighten the standards for entry into the United States.

The ruling was the first from an appeals court on the travel ban, and it was focused on the narrow question of whether it should be blocked while courts consider its lawfulness. The decision is likely to be quickly appealed to the United States Supreme Court.

That court remains short-handed and could deadlock. A 4-to-4 tie in the Supreme Court would leave the appeals court’s ruling in place.

I’ve seen some Trump supporters write this off to a decision of a liberal court. Note that this three judge court ruled unanimously on the issue, including a judge appointed by George W. Bush. (The other two were appointed by Carter and Obama). This ruling was not partisan, considering how blatantly Trump’s Muslim ban violates the Constitution.

Also today, Kellyanne Conway was “counseled” after she broke ethics rules in promoting Ivanka Trump’s products while speaking at the White House.

The White House on Thursday said a top adviser to President Trump had been “counseled” after using a television appearance from the West Wing to promote the clothing and jewelry line sold under the brand of Trump’s daughter…

Experts quickly seized on Conway’s remarks as a direct violation of Office of Government Ethics rules. Don W. Fox, a former OGE general counsel and now the office’s acting director, said Conway’s statements were “jaw-dropping” and “a clear violation of rules prohibiting misuse of public office for anyone’s private gain.”

Peter Schweizer, who has worked closely with Trump chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon and wrote a book, “Clinton Cash,” that was critical of donations to the Clinton Foundation, said, “They’ve crossed a very, very important, bright line, and it’s not good.”

“To encourage Americans to buy goods from companies owned by the first family is totally out of bounds and needs to stop,” Schweizer added. “Clearly, the Trumps feel some of this is related to politics. But whether that’s true or not, these marketing battles need to be fought by Ivanka and her company. They cannot and should not be fought by government employees and the White House.”

I imagine that being  Conway being “counseled” is comparable to when Hillary Clinton was told that she should be using a government server for her email when she was found to be ignoring this rule. Hopefully Conway pays more attention. More importantly, hopefully the entire Trump administration pays more attention–perhaps starting with Donald Trump releasing his income tax returns.

Realistically this is a relatively trivial incident. If anything, being promoted by Conway might even further reduce Ivanka’s sales, which have been suffering by the poor opinion about her father. What is more important are the vast conflicts of interest present in the financial interests of Trump’s family (along with the financial interests of some of his cabinet appointees).

Most of the examples will probably turn out to be more mundane actions in which government actions might benefit Trump’s business holdings. One of the more interesting examples was repeated in the same article linked above:

The Conway episode followed other instances in which Trump’s political rise and his presidency have provided a promotional platform for the family businesses.

On Monday, first lady Melania Trump filed a lawsuit accusing a British news company of publishing an inaccurate story that hurt her ability to take advantage of a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to build her brand of jewelry and accessories. The lawsuit said that the August 2016 article, which falsely suggested Melania Trump had once worked for an escort service, damaged her ability to build “multimillion dollar business relationships for a multi-year term” and damaged her brand during a time when Trump “is one of the most photographed women in the world.”

Signs Democrats Are Rejecting The Gutter Politics Of David Brock & Peter Daou

One of the many downsides of Donald Trump’s election is having people like Steve Bannon working in the White House. However, if Clinton had won, we might have had people nearly as bad from Team Hillary such as Sidney Blumenthal, Peter Daou, and David Brock.

We learned during the email scandal that Hillary Clinton was receiving advice from Sydney Blumenthal, who also had conflicting business interests in Libya. Peter Daou continues to attack Bernie Sanders and his supporters on Facebook and Twitter, often directly naming “white males” as the enemy, failing to see anything wrong with attacks based upon gender and race. He has attributed any opposition to the policies or unethical conduct of Hillary Clinton as being based on sexism. Former Republican hit man David Brock, turned Clinton hit man utilizing the same unsavory tactics, is trying to promote himself as a leader of the Democratic opposition to Donald Trump.

During the election campaign, the activities of David Brock and Peter Daou to promote Hillary Clinton’s campaign was the topic of an article in The New York Times. They continued their gutter politics, directed towards Bernie Sanders and his supporter, after the election. Jeff Weaver responded to the attack:

The knives are out on the Democratic side after the unexpected victory of Donald Trump. Not surprisingly, the first attacks have been launched by the experts on mudslinging against fellow Democrats: David Brock and those whose lease he holds like Peter Daou. Brock’s long history of character assassination and penchant for attacking those on the left continues…

Rather than face the very real challenge of remedying this situation, some have taken to blaming pollsters and data analysts for Hillary Clinton’s loss. After all, it’s much easier to bash those who didn’t see the wheels coming off the train rather than asking why the wheels were coming off in the first place.

Now we’re witnessing the scapegoating of Sanders and his supporters. Most of us knew this predictably lazy attack would come. Somehow, Senator Sanders is to blame because he brought millions into the Democratic Party process by articulating a positive vision of economic, racial, environmental and social justice…

Now he wants Democratic donors to replenish his coffers with millions for another round of mud-slinging. Hopefully, Democratic donors won’t let themselves be scammed again.

And hopefully, the Democratic Party re-establishes faith with the American working class in every zip code by authentically offering a bold and positive vision — a vision with no room for the ineffective gutter politics that benefit Mr. Brock and his friends.

There is hope that Democrats have learned their lesson and might be rejecting the gutter politics of Brock and Daou if this article from The Daily Beast is correct. Asawin Suebsaeng writes that Democrats are rejecting such a role for David Brock, with even some Clinton supporters now sick of Brock:

As David Brock attempts to position himself as a leader in rebuilding a demoralized Democratic Party in the age of Trump, many leading Democratic organizers and operatives are wishing the man would simply disappear.

Many in the party—Clinton loyalists, Obama veterans, and Bernie supporters alike—talk about the man not as a sought-after ally in the fight against Trumpism, but as a nuisance and a hanger-on, overseeing a colossal waste of cash. And former employees say that he has hurt the cause…

…many Democratic grassroots activists and campaign alums have been giving his proposed plans some stern side-eye.

“His ability to produce wins for Democrats is nonexistent,” Jeff Weaver, former campaign manager for Bernie Sanders’s 2016 presidential run, told The Daily Beast. “He does not have the kind of understanding of what kind of coalition you have to bring together to win national races—that’s his fundamental problem.”

During the 2016 election, Brock and his network positioned themselves as prominent allies to the Clinton campaign, generating opposition research, stunts, and ads against Trump, and supporting Clinton in the primary.

Brock bragged early last year that his team had assembled a mountain of damning oppo that could “knock Trump Tower down to the sub-basement.”

But Trump Tower still stands, and Brock’s groups failed to help Clinton to victory.

I would add that the dirty nature of Clinton’s campaigns is precisely one of the reasons that Clinton lost. While many (but not all) of the attacks on Trump from the Clinton camp were accurate, they were not enough to overcome Clinton’s own negatives. Trump managed to pull in enough votes in the rust belt with promises of jobs to win the election. Such talk about the issues, even if he probably cannot keep his promises, were more appealing than the negative message from the Clinton campaign, which failed to provide any positive arguments to vote for her other than her gender and the belief that it was her turn.

Suebsaeng continued:

It’s clear why Brock has acquired a long list of enemies on the more progressive corners of his own party. Brock’s political evolution is well-known: the former anti-Clinton right-winger who starting in the late 1990s transformed into a relentlessly pro-Clinton Democratic operative.

But the friction between Brock and Democrats is not merely limited to its more progressive faction—many alumni of Obama’s campaigns and White House, as well as Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 run, say they want Brock to stay far away from the Democrats’ future plans.

“I don’t think David Brock has been helpful to the party to date, and I don’t think he will be a big part of its future,” a former senior Clinton campaign official told The Daily Beast. “And it’s surprising that many other people don’t see it that way.”

Another senior 2016 Clinton aide, who asked not to be named because the ex-staffer did “not want to deal with Brock’s bullshit,” described Brock and his organizations in 2016 as “useless—you might as well have thrown those [tens of] millions of dollars down a well, and then set the well on fire.”

Two sources told The Daily Beast that in the last couple of months Brock and his team reached out to former Clinton campaign officials, including ex-national press secretary Brian Fallon, to join Brock’s new anti-Trump “war room.” All, however, declined the offer simply because “no one wants anything to do with him,” one source recalled. (Fallon did not respond to a request for comment.)

Other opinions expressed about Brock:

“I met with I’m a couple times—he’s fucking weird,” a former Obama administration official, who also requested anonymity, told The Daily Beast. “I felt like I was meeting Mugatu from Zoolander… I don’t know what the fuck [Brock’s network] did besides raise a ton of money, and I don’t think the after-action report on 2016 says we need more David Brock. Probably the opposite is true.”

And:

“He has a tendency to overstate his level of impact and importance,” a former operative of one of Brock’s organizations said. “There is a sense [in Brock’s own groups] that he cares less about progressive policies and moving the ball forward, and is actually more focused on stroking his ego.”

Another Democratic operative close to the Brock empire told The Daily Beast that the experience working with him only deepened suspicions that Brock cared more about himself than the liberal base or the party at large.

“Somewhere along the way, it became instead of putting the mission of American Bridge [or Media Matters] first, it became about putting him first, growing his power in the party—his popularity,” the operative said. “There’s no question that his groups were the least effective of 2016. If anything they did harm.”

The staffer concluded: “I have never worked somewhere with so much unlimited resources [where] I don’t think they’re used efficiently.”

If the Democrats are going to rebuild in time for the crucial 2020 elections, it is important that they stop acting like Republicans to give voters a reason to support them. Rejecting the gutter politics of people like David Brock is an important step.

Both Parties Tainted By Corruption

There are reasons to fear that the Trump administration might set new records for corruption in government, but before Democrats can claim the high moral ground they must recognize the corruption they have both tolerated and ignored from Bill and Hillary Clinton. Two stories today highlight these points.

First CNN, following attacks for spreading fake news by Donald Trump at his recent press conference, has broken some real news regarding one of his cabinet picks:

Rep. Tom Price last year purchased shares in a medical device manufacturer days before introducing legislation that would have directly benefited the company, raising new ethics concerns for President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee for Health and Human Services secretary.

Price bought between $1,001 to $15,000 worth of shares last March in Zimmer Biomet, according to House records reviewed by CNN.

Less than a week after the transaction, the Georgia Republican congressman introduced the HIP Act, legislation that would have delayed until 2018 a Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services regulation that industry analysts warned would significantly hurt Zimmer Biomet financially once fully implemented.

In potentially related news, The New York Times has a lengthy account of Donald Trump chasing deals in Russia, contradicting the recent statement from his press secretary that, “Mr. Trump does not have any business dealings in/with Russia.”

Today there was also news with the closing of the Clinton Global Initiative to remind us of all the unsavory stories about the Clinton Foundation and how the Clintons have made a fortune selling influence:

…as soon as Clinton lost the election, many of the criticisms directed toward the Clinton Foundation were reaffirmed. Foreign governments began pulling out of annual donations, signaling the organization’s clout was predicated on donor access to the Clintons, rather than its philanthropic work. In November, the Australian government confirmed it “has not renewed any of its partnerships with the scandal-plagued Clinton Foundation, effectively ending 10 years of taxpayer-funded contributions worth more than $88 million.” The government of Norway also drastically reduced their annual donations, which reached $20 million a year in 2015…

WikiLeaks revealed several criticisms of the Clinton Foundation were true, as pay-to-play schemes and the foundation’s corrupt management were exposed. On October 26, The Washington Post reported a memo detailed how the Clinton Foundation was used to boost Bill Clinton’s income.

“The memo, made public Wednesday by the anti-secrecy group WikiLeaks, lays out the aggressive strategy behind lining up the consulting contracts and paid speaking engagements for Bill Clinton that added tens of millions of dollars to the family’s fortune, including during the years that Hillary Clinton led the State Department,” reported The Washington Post. “It describes how Band helped run what he called “Bill Clinton Inc.,” obtaining “in-kind services for the President and his family—for personal travel, hospitality, vacation and the like.”

The Clinton Foundation‘s downward trajectory ever since since Hillary Clinton’s election loss provides further testimony to claims that the organization was built on greed and the lust for power and wealth—not charity.

I previously posted about the material on the Clinton Foundation leaked by Wikileaks here. As I wrote in another previous post, Clinton unethically made rulings on multiple occasions regarding parties which contributed to the Foundation and/or made unprecedented payments for speeches to Bill Clinton. I’ve previously discussed the Clinton Foundation scandals in greater detail, including here and here. I’ve recently noted how both fact checkers and ethicists viewed the scandals and Clinton’s violations of the ethics agreements which she entered into before becoming Secretary of State, while Common Cause called for an independent audit of the Clinton Foundation well before her nomination.

I bet we will see plenty of rotten things under Trump, but we must not forget this record of corruption from two Democratic leaders.

Senate To Investigate Alleged Ties Between Trump And Putin

The Hill  and Politco report that the Senate Intelligence Committee is going to probe the alleged connections between Donald Trump and Russia. As long as it is a real investigation, and not a coverup or witch hunt depending upon party affiliation, I’m all for investigating. I’ll go with whatever the facts show. I could be wrong, but at the moment I question if the Russia claims are the new Benghazi.

There is a tendency of people to believe negative things they hear about politicians they do not like. Sometimes they are true, and sometimes they are not. While I do not like Hillary Clinton, and have discussed at length many of the valid criticisms of her, I never bought into many of the claims ranging from Vince Foster to Benghazi. Turning on Fox (which I can only handle in brief spurts) demonstrates that many on the right still believe these things. Despite all the conspiracy theories, multiple investigations have shown that most of what conservatives claimed about Benghazi was false. All that is left is the possibility that Clinton might have involved in spinning the explanation for the attack after the fact based upon what sounded best politically, and it is also possible we were just seeing confusion from the fog of war as opposed to intentional deceit.

I don’t like Trump any more than I like Clinton, and there is also considerable valid criticism of him, but the material recently released regarding Trump’s alleged Russian ties has the same smell of bullshit as that which surrounded Benghazi. Claims of Russian attempts to influence our election are probably valid, just as the United States (including Hillary Clinton) often tries to influence elections in other nations. Circumstantial evidence such as business ties between Trump and associates is insufficient to prove a wider conspiracy.

This all needs to be investigated, but any conclusions ultimately need to be based upon the facts, not whether you dislike Trump for other valid reasons. On the other hand, if there is valid evidence against Trump, this should not be ignored just because you dislike Hillary Clinton, also for multiple other reasons. If the claims are false, they should be demonstrated to be false, as opposed to hiding behind the vastly over-used term fake news.

Whatever the investigation finds, Russian interference is not the main reason Hillary Clinton lost. There are no credible allegations that Russia actually hacked the voting machines, or even faked email. The Wikileaks email was one of many factors which was damaging to the Clinton campaign, but ultimately this just provided evidence of dishonesty on the part of Clinton, and unfair intervention in the campaign by the DNC, which was already known. Similarly, it is foolish to blame James Comey for Clinton’s loss when it was Clinton who both violated the rules regarding handling of email (as documented in the State Department Inspector General report) and who handled classified information in a careless manner, placing her campaign in this situation. Hillary Clinton was the wrong candidate for Democrats to nominate, and she went on to run an inept campaign.

One negative to a two party election system is that some people come out of it seeing one side as good and the other side as bad. Both sides can be bad, and if we are unusually fortunate, perhaps some year we will have an election when both sides are good. Your enemy’s enemy is not necessarily your friend. Disliking Clinton is no reason to like either Trump or Putin, and all of Trump and Putin’s flaws do not make Hillary Clinton acceptable.

Why Obama, Or Sanders, Could Have Beaten Donald Trump

There has been a lot of playing “what if” after Donald Trump unexpectedly beat Hillary Clinton in the presidential election. Now Barack Obama has joined in, saying he could have beaten Donald Trump if he was able to run again:

“I am confident in this vision because I’m confident that if I — if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilized a majority of the American people to rally behind it,” Obama told his former senior adviser, David Axelrod, on the “Axe Files” podcast published Monday. “I know that in conversations that I’ve had with people around the country, even some people who disagreed with me, they would say the vision, the direction that you point towards is the right one.”

Full transcript of the interview is here.

I agree Obama would have probably won, but to say he would have won because of his vision alone is an over-simplification. There are many more specific reasons why I think Obama could have beaten Trump, even if Clinton could not.

While Clinton tried to run by winning the Obama coalition and running for Obama’s third term, she failed to understand that part of the Obama coalition came together in 2008 due to seeing Obama as the best shot at beating Hillary Clinton and keeping her out of the White House. We continued to oppose Clinton in 2016 for the same reasons we opposed Clinton in 2008, and opposed George W. Bush prior to that.

Clinton was about the worst possible candidate to put up against Donald Trump, and some of this could be seen in the differences between Clinton and Obama. While disappointed that we remain at war in Iraq and the region, at least Obama opposed the war from the start. He recognized that regime change in Libya, which Clinton was the primary proponent of, was the biggest mistake of his administration, while Clinton continued to defend her failed policy. Obama opposed escalating intervention in Syria which Clinton backed, often for rather absurd reasons.

Not only was listening to Clinton on  Libya the biggest foreign policy mistake of his administration, the domestic policy mistake which hurt Obama the most also involved accepting a Clinton policy position–accepting the individual mandate as part of the Affordable Care Act, after he had campaigned against Clinton on this point. While it would be necessary to make health care reform more complicated to avoid the free-rider problem, making the program mandatory in this manner was guaranteed to create considerable public opposition to the program.

Obama managed to keep his administration free of scandal–except for the actions by Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State. This made her a much weaker candidate than Obama, and eliminated what would have been an advantage for Democrats on the conflicts of interest Trump faced. Clinton’s dishonesty, emphasized by both her dishonest campaign against Sanders and her frequent lies in response to the email scandal, also negated Trump’s negatives for his dishonesty.

Obama would have also done a far better job of campaigning. He had an approval rating far stronger than either Clinton or Trump. He wouldn’t have hidden from the press as Clinton often did. People would have turned out to see him, as they did with Trump but not with Clinton. Clinton was weak in the traditional battle ground states, among independents, and among young voters. Obama could have kept most of these voters. He might have lost an occasional state such as possibly Ohio, but not multiple states as Clinton did.

Of course similar arguments would have applied to other potential candidates. While Obama could not legally run again, the Democrats did have a strong alternative in Bernie Sanders. He did much better than Clinton in head to head polls against Trump and other Republicans during the nomination battle.  Sanders also could have turned out the voters which Clinton could not. He could have won in the rust belt states which Trump picked up. There would have been no FBI investigations, and no revelations of a crooked process for Wiikleaks to release if Sanders was the nominee.

Julian Assange On The Election Of Donald Trump And Defeat Of Hillary Clinton

Julian Assange and Wikileaks had a significant impact on the Democratic Party. The revelations in the leaked email led to the removal of Debby Wasserman Schultz as chairperson of the Democratic National Committee and very likely had an effect on the results of the general election. La Republica interviewed Assange. This is what he had to say about the United States election:

WikiLeaks published documents on Hillary Clinton and the US Democrats. How do you reply to those who accuse you of having helped to elect Mr. Trump?
“What is the allegation here exactly? We published what the Democratic National Committee, John Podesta, Hillary Clinton’s campaign manager, and Hillary Clinton herself were saying about their own campaign, which the American people read and were very interested to read, and assessed the elements and characters, and then they made a decision. That decision was based on Hillary Clinton’s own words, her campaign manager’s own words. That’s democracy”.

Do you agree with those who say that it was a hit job, because you hit Hillary Clinton when she was most vulnerable, during the final weeks of her campaign?
“No, we have been publishing about Hillary Clinton for many years, because of her position as Secretary of State. We have been publishing her cables since 2010 and her emails also. We are domain experts on Clinton and her post 2008 role in government. This is why it is natural for sources who have information on Hillary Clinton to come to us. They know we will understand its significance”.

So Clinton is gone, has WikiLeaks won?
“We were pleased to see how much of the American public interacted with the material we published. That interaction was on both sides of politics, including those to the left of Hillary Clinton those who supported Bernie Sanders, who were able to see the structure of power within the Democratic National Committee (DNC) and how the Clintons had placed Debbie Wasserman Schultz to head up the DNC and as a result the DNC had tilted the scales of the process against Bernie Sanders”.

What about Donald Trump? What is going to happen?
“If the question is how I personally feel about the situation, I am mixed: Hillary Clinton and the network around her imprisoned one of our alleged sources for 35 years, Chelsea Manning, tortured her according to the United Nations, in order to implicate me personally. According to our publications Hillary Clinton was the chief proponent and the architect of the war against Libya. It is clear that she pursued this war as a staging effort for her Presidential bid. It wasn’t even a war for an ideological purpose. This war ended up producing the refugee crisis in Europe, changing the political colour of Europe, killing more than 40,000 people within a year in Libya, while the arms from Libya went to Mali and other places, boosting or causing civil wars, including the Syrian catastrophe. If someone and their network behave like that, then there are consequences. Internal and external opponents are generated. Now there is a separate question on what Donald Trump means”.

What do you think he means?
“Hillary Clinton’s election would have been a consolidation of power in the existing ruling class of the United States. Donald Trump is not a DC insider, he is part of the wealthy ruling elite of the United States, and he is gathering around him a spectrum of other rich people and several idiosyncratic personalities. They do not by themselves form an existing structure, so it is a weak structure which is displacing and destabilising the pre-existing central power network within DC. It is a new patronage structure which will evolve rapidly, but at the moment its looseness means there are opportunities for change in the United States: change for the worse and change for the better”.

In these ten years of WikiLeaks, you and your organisation have experienced all sorts of attacks. What have you learned from this warfare?
“Power is mostly the illusion of power. The Pentagon demanded we destroy our publications. We kept publishing. Clinton denounced us and said we were an attack on the entire “international community”. We kept publishing. I was put in prison and under house arrest. We kept publishing. We went head to head with the NSA getting Edward Snowden out of Hong Kong, we won and got him asylum. Clinton tried to destroy us and was herself destroyed. Elephants, it seems, can be brought down with string. Perhaps there are no elephants”.

While there is potential for significant harm under Donald Trump, bringing down such a tremendous force for evil on the world stage such as Hillary Clinton would be a great victory.  While the revelations from Wikileaks were damaging to Clinton, it is not clear how much they actually affected the election. They primarily acted to verify criticism already being made of Clinton by Sanders supporters and her opponents on the left.

Having Wikileaks as a major news story in October was probably harmful in that this centered much of the discussion in the final days of the election on Clinton’s flaws as opposed to Donald Trump’s flaws. The polls seemed to show signs of limited memory on the part of many voters as Clinton’s lead seemed to grow or diminish based upon which candidate was receiving the most coverage. With Donald Trump staying quieter in the final days of the campaign, it did probably hurt Clinton to have her flaws dominate the news between the Wikileaks revelations, along with further discussion of the FBI investigation of her email.

FiveThirtyEight.com tried to objectively measure the degree of damage done to Clinton by Wikileaks but the answer is not clear to them either:

There just isn’t a clean-cut story in the data. For instance, you might have expected a decline in the percentage of Americans who trusted Clinton after Wikileaks began its releases. As Politico’s Ken Vogel pointed out in mid-October, both Trump campaign officials and even progressives said the Wikileaks emails revealed that Clinton would be “compromised” if she became president. But the percentage of Americans who found Clinton to be honest or trustworthy stayed at around 30 percent in polling throughout October and into November.

The evidence that Wikileaks had an impact, therefore, is circumstantial. Trump, for instance, won among voters who decided who to vote for in October 51 percent to 37 percent, according to national exit polls. That’s Trump’s best time period. He carried voters who decided in the final week, when you might expect Comey’s letter to have had the largest impact, 45 percent to 42 percent. (Although, Trump’s margin among those who decided in the final week was wider in the exit polls in some crucial swing states.) And while Clinton’s lead was dropping in the FiveThirtyEight polls-only forecast before the Comey letter was released, the drop accelerated slightly afterward.

Of course, one thing didn’t sink Clinton. The evidence suggests Wikileaks is among the factors that might have contributed to her loss, but we really can’t say much more than that.

Julian Assange also discussed other topics. Among the most interesting was the status of opposition voices in Russia:

“In Russia, there are many vibrant publications, online blogs, and Kremlin critics such as [Alexey] Navalny are part of that spectrum. There are also newspapers like “Novaya Gazeta”, in which different parts of society in Moscow are permitted to critique each other and it is tolerated, generally, because it isn’t a big TV channel that might have a mass popular effect, its audience is educated people in Moscow. So my interpretation is that in Russia there are competitors to WikiLeaks, and no WikiLeaks staff speak Russian, so for a strong culture which has its own language, you have to be seen as a local player. WikiLeaks is a predominantly English-speaking organisation with a website predominantly in English. We have published more than 800,000 documents about or referencing Russia and president Putin, so we do have quite a bit of coverage, but the majority of our publications come from Western sources, though not always. For example, we have published more than 2 million documents from Syria, including Bashar al-Assad personally. Sometimes we make a publication about a country and they will see WikiLeaks as a player within that country, like with Timor East and Kenya. The real determinant is how distant that culture is from English. Chinese culture is quite far away”.

The Guardian, in its coverage of this interview, did point out how bleak the situation is in Russia:

Dozens of journalists have been killed in Russia in the past two decades, and Freedom House considers the Russian press to be “not free” and notes: “The main national news agenda is firmly controlled by the Kremlin. The government sets editorial policy at state-owned television stations, which dominate the media landscape and generate propagandistic content.”

Clintons Continue To Blame Others For Their Loss But Democrats Must Face The Facts To Recover

Normally when someone loses an election they keep relatively quiet. I thought that the horror of seeing Donald Trump being elected president would at least be balanced by being through with the Clintons. That has not been the case. Since losing the election Hillary Clinton, who has never had a very good record on First Amendment issues, has essentially been promoting censorship when calling on Congress to take action against the “fake news” which has been negative towards her, along with fueling the recent surge in anti-Russia hysteria. The Clintons are also keeping Democrats from taking an honest look at why they lost with their constant claims that they lost because of Russia, James Comey, angry white men, Bernie voters, Stein voters, and the media, never taking any responsibility for the terrible campaign Clinton ran and her flaws which kept people from wanting to vote for her.

Michael Daly commented on this at The Daily Beast:

Former President Bill Clinton is quick to apportion blame for his wife’s defeat.
“James Comey cost her the election,” Clinton was quoted telling a group of holiday shoppers during an impromptu chat in a Westchester County bookshop last week.

But he has yet to place any blame at all on an otherwise great man with a great fault who bears considerably more responsibility for Hillary Clinton’s loss.

That man is Bill Clinton himself. His great fault is one he shares with his wife; they too often act as if rules that apply to you or me do not apply to them.

Clinton apologists totally ignore the fact that there would have not been a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton if Clinton had not violated the rules regarding handling email, as documented in the State Department Inspector General report, and then go on to repeatedly lie about the situation.

Similarly, Clinton would not have been harmed by the hacking of John Podesta’s email (regardless of whether they were Wikileaks source–which has not been proven), if the email did not contain such incriminating information about the actions of Clinton and the DNC.

It would have also been better if Clinton had come clean on everything months earlier when the scandals broke, rather than engaging in a coverup, putting herself at risk of all hell breaking loose in the final days of the campaign.

None of this might have mattered if Clinton hadn’t run such a terrible campaign. This includes the mistakes made in states such as Michigan, and ignoring the advice of Sanders supporters. Asawin Suebsaeng wrote:

Ever since election night—when Hillary Clinton tanked and Donald Trump became the next leader of the free world—the most prominent allies and alumni of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign have maintained a succinct message for Team Hillary: We. Told. You. So.

In the final months of the brutal and chaotic 2016 campaign, there were plenty of Democratic activists freaking out about Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania (the three states that ultimately cost the Democrats the White House) and Clinton’s fatal shortcomings there. Many of them were envoys of the Sanders camp who wanted to help fix those problems, including Clinton’s difficulties with the block of the mythical “white-working-class,” economically anxious voters who Sanders had championed during the primaries.

“They fucking ignored us on all these [three] battleground states [while] we were sounding the alarm for months,” Nomiki Konst, a progressive activist and former Sanders surrogate who served on the 2016 Democratic National Committee platform committee, told The Daily Beast. “We kept saying to each other like, ‘What the fuck, why are they just blowing us off? They need these voters more than anybody.’”

Later in the article:

“The Clinton campaign believed they had the strongest and brightest people in the room… and they had no concept of why people would choose Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton,” Kleeb continued. “They mocked us, they made fun of us. They always had a… model that was supposed to save the day. We were street activists and they don’t get that. And that’s a fundamental divide. They ran a check-the-box, sanitized campaign. And voters don’t think like that. You don’t win elections that way.”

Clinton failed to take advantage of what the Sanders campaign had already figured out about the electorate in 2016, and ignored the voters who backed Sanders over her in the primaries. Dave Lindorff discussed how It Wasn’t the Russians: Hillary Lost Because She Blew Off Sanders and His Voters:

The truth is that it was Clinton’s own actions that lost her the support of Sanders voters. Her repeating lying about Sanders during the campaign, and her gratuitous dissing of Sanders and his supporters even after it was becoming clearer that she would win the primary because of the corrupt support she had lined up from the party’s unelected so-called “super delegates,” and her decision in the fall, after winning the nomination, to ignore the 13 million Sanders voters from the primary and instead to pursue the support of what she hoped were disenchanted Republican voters upset that Donald Trump had won the Republican nomination, all doomed her in the general election.

If the Democrats are to recover, they must learn from the mistakes they made in nominating a flawed candidate such as Hillary Clinton,  along with also suffering loses when running as a Republican-lite party in 2010 and 2014. It does no good to claim Clinton did nothing wrong in the email/Foundation scandals as many Clinton supporters still argue, or to place the blame on others for losing the election.

Trump Sons Selling Access To President-Elect In Exchange For Donations

Under the best of circumstances there will be major conflicts of interest and ethical problems when someone with business interests as vast as those held by Donald Trump becomes president. One argument often given for supporting Trump was that he was so wealthy that he would not need to take advantage of using his government position to make money. This assumes a type of ultra-moral human which Trump has given no indication of being. It remains to be seen how Trump will act as president but there are already questions raised by the actions of his kids. The Center For Public Integrity reports that Donald Trump’ sons are selling access to their father:

A new Texas nonprofit led by Donald Trump’s grown sons is offering access to the freshly-minted president during inauguration weekend — all in exchange for million-dollar donations to unnamed “conservation” charities, according to interviews and documents reviewed by the Center for Public Integrity.

And the donors’ identities may never be known.

Prospective million-dollar donors to the “Opening Day 2017” event — slated for Jan. 21, the day after inauguration, at Washington, D.C.’s Walter E. Washington Convention Center — receive a “private reception and photo opportunity for 16 guests with President Donald J. Trump,” a “multi-day hunting and/or fishing excursion for 4 guests with Donald Trump, Jr. and/or Eric Trump, and team,” as well as tickets to other events and “autographed guitars by an Opening Day 2017 performer.”

The Wall Street Journal reports that the Trump team is disputing the connection between Trump’s sons and the event. A spokesperson stated, “Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump are avid outdoorsman and supporters of conservation efforts, which align with the goals of this event, however they are not involved in any capacity.” The Wall Street Journal disputes this:

The filing with the Texas secretary of state shows the Trumps were registered as directors for the nonprofit on Dec. 14. The registered agent for the group is Gentry Beach, a longtime friend of Donald Jr. whom the president-elect last month appointed to his inaugural committee…

In addition to Mr. Trump’s sons, two top fundraisers for Mr. Trump registered with the Texas secretary of state as directors of the nonprofit: Mr. Beach, an investor, and Tom Hicks Jr., son of a Dallas billionaire. Both are listed as co-chairmen for the fundraiser, and last month Mr. Trump appointed them to serve as finance vice-chairmen for his inaugural committee.

This sounds like the same type of influence peddling by the Clintons which Trump criticized during the campaign. Rather than draining the swamp, the Trump family appears to be swimming in it.

Beyond this, there are serious questions raised by Trump’s children being on the transition team while also planning to take control of the family’s business when Trump becomes president.