Thursday, February 22, 2018

Birds of a Feather

A great devotee of the gospel of Getting On.
— G.B. Shaw, Mrs. Warren’s Profession

He’s back. It’s the same old Romney we’ve known over the years. And his reemergence is reassurance. We know what to expect. Mr. Trump, as even his best friends acknowledge, is a man without principle and thanks to recent events, we are reminded that Mr. Romney is similarly bereft. Historical episodes abound.

When Mr. Romney ran for the U.S. Senate in 1994, and for governor in 2002, he said he was pro-choice. During the 2012 primary season when he was running for president, he said he supported repealing Roe v. Wade. Whereas, he at one point said he favored a path for illegal immigrants to become citizens, he later said there should be no “special pathway to citizenship.”

When Mr. Romney was governor of Massachusetts, he presided over the enactment of the Massachusetts health care law that was the model for the Obama health care initiative. That law, among other things, imposes a penalty on those who decline to purchase health insurance, subject to some exceptions. As governor, Mr. Romney defended that provision saying it was a penalty and not a tax. When the U.S. Supreme Court said it was a tax and not a penalty, Mr. Romney immediately recognized the error of his earlier ways, and said it was a tax. More recent examples are found when we refer back to 2012 when Mr. Romney was running for the office Mr. Trump now occupies.

In 2012 Mr. Romney was endorsed by Mr. Trump. In gratefully acknowledging the endorsement, he said: “There are some things you just can’t imagine happening in your life. This is one of them. . . . [H]aving his endorsement is a delight. I’m so honored and pleased to have his endorsement.” Things went downhill from there. Romney lost the election. Then Trump ran.

On February 24, 2016, Trump tweeted that in asking for Trump’s endorsement in 2012, Romney was “so awkward and goofy that we all should have known he could not win!” The next day Trump tweeted: “Mitt Romney, who was one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics, is now pushing me on tax returns. Dope!” Less than one month later Mr. Romney delivered a speech at the University of Utah in which he said, among other things: “Think of Donald Trump’s personal qualities. The bullying, the greed, the showing off, the misogyny, the absurd third-grade theatrics. . . . There’s plenty of evidence that Mr. Trump is a con man, a fake. . . .” Then a strange thing happened. Trump became president and Romney became lackey. Here’s how that happened.

Between Trump’s election and swearing in, he was filling cabinet positions. When Romney thought he was being considered for Secretary of State, he dined with the man he had, but a few months earlier called a “fake” and a “con-man.” In speaking with reporters after dinner, he told reporters he: “had a wonderful evening with President-elect Trump. We had another discussion about affairs throughout the world and these discussions I’ve had with him have been enlightening, and interesting, and engaging. I’ve enjoyed them very, very much.” (What Trump could have said about foreign affairs that was enlightening was not disclosed.)

Mr. Romney did not become Secretary of State. If Trump advisor, Roger Stone, is to be believed, he was never being considered. Mr. Stone said Trump interviewed him “simply to torture him. To toy with him. And given the history, that’s completely understandable.” And following the rejection, Mr. Romney became the same Mr. Romney who criticized Mr. Trump before the election.

After the death of Heather Heyer at the protest in Charlottesville, Virginia, Romney said what Trump communicated to the world “caused racists to rejoice, minorities to weep, and the vast heart of America to mourn.” On January 15, 2018, following Trump’s vulgar description of African countries, Romney said: “The sentiment attributed to POTUS is inconsistent w/America’s history and antithetical to American values.” But then, another strange thing happened.

On February 16, 2018, Mr. Romney announced he was running for the U.S. Senate from Utah. On February 19th Trump endorsed the man he had described as “one of the dumbest and worst candidates in the history of Republican politics, saying he would “make a great Senator . . . and has my full support and endorsement.” In less than an hour Romney, who on March 3, 2016 said: “if Trump had said 4 years ago the things he says today about the KKK, Muslims, Mexicans, disabled, I would NOT have accepted his endorsement.” This is not March 3, 2016. It is February 19, 2018. On that day Mr. Romney thanked Trump for his endorsement.

Those who have watched Mr. Romney’s completely unprincipled stands over the years, should not have been taken aback by the rapprochement between the two con men. They are cut from the same cloth.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Parades and Trump and Women

Now comes the mystery.
— Henry Ward Beecher, Last words

Herewith two riddles: one with an answer-one without. The riddle with the answer is solved, thanks to a story by Hannah Elliott, that appeared in Bloomberg News on May 4, 2017. The mystery was why Mr. Trump wanted to have a great big military parade like the one his friend, Emmanuel Macron took him to in France. That parade was so exciting for Mr. Trump, that he immediately decided there should be an even bigger military parade in this country. Mr. Trump said of the French parade: “It was one of the greatest parades I’ve ever seen. It was two hours on the button, and it was military might, and I think a tremendous thing for France and for the spirit of France. We’re going to have to try to top it.” Plans have already begun. A military official who spoke with a reporter said: “The marching orders were: I want a parade like the one in France. This is being worked at the highest levels of the military.”

Not acknowledged in reports, is that there is another reason Mr. Trump wants a big parade. The reason is found in Ms. Elliott’s story. The headline says Mr. Trump misses driving and “So would you if you owned his cars.” She then offers a litany of all the magnificent vehicles that Mr. Trump has owned over the years, cars worth, collectively, many millions of dollars. They include a $270,000 Ferrari Coupe, a $460,000 1997 Lamborghini Diablo VT Roadster, a couple of Rolls Royces and other cars similarly valuable and fun to drive. As president, Mr. Trump cannot go for a joy ride in one of his cars because of concerns for his safety. There, is, however, one vehicle his protectors will let him drive and he will joyfully ride it in the parade. It is not as glamorous as his cars, but driving one of these vehicles will almost certainly fulfill the dreams of a little boy- a tank. This writer has it on very poor authority, that the military has promised Mr. Trump that he will be permitted to drive the lead tank in the parade. The parade will stop, from time to time, to permit Mr. Trump to open the hatch, stand up, and wave to the adoring crowd that will be in attendance. His golden hair will provide a stark and colorful contrast to the drab colors of the vehicles in the parade and their militarily clad drivers. When you watch the parade, and see Mr. Trump waving, remember that you first learned of it here.

Herewith the insoluble riddle. Mr. Trump is the president of the United States, the highest elective office in the country. Prior to his election he was accused by more than a dozen women of sexual misconduct, misconduct that was documented in a lengthy article in Time Magazine last December. The article contains descriptions of his behavior by 19 women alleging improper conduct by Mr. Trump in encounters with them. Each woman’s description of the offensive conduct is accompanied by a rebuttal from Mr. Trump or one of his spokespeople denying that an improper conduct occurred. These 19 women were less fortunate than Stephanie Clifford aka Stormy Daniels. She described a sexual encounter with Mr. Trump in an interview in 2011, another encounter Mr. Trump says never occurred. Nonetheless, his lawyer paid Ms. Clifford $130,000 a few weeks before the 2016 election in exchange for her agreement not talk about the non-existent encounter. (Herewith a riddle within a riddle: why was Stormy the only woman Mr. Trump denied having any contact with to receive $130,000? Were the 19 women mentioned above not entitled to similar payments?)

Because of his past behavior, Mr. Trump is well qualified to express opinions on accusations made against his friends and colleagues in the White House. A recent accusation involved staff secretary, Rob Porter. His former wives and a girlfriend accused him of abuse. When the details of the abuse were first reported, Mr. Trump joined his staff in professing complete ignorance of the allegations, and voiced unqualified support for Mr. Porter. When Christopher Wray, the director of the FBI, said in a statement to the Senate Intelligence Committee that the agency had notified the White House as early as last March that it had concerns about Mr. Porter as a result of screening him for the security clearance he never received, it became obvious that the White House’s claims of ignorance were lies and that the allegations from the women were true. Mr. Porter resigned.

Lamenting Mr. Porter’s departure from the White House Mr. Trump emitted a tweet: “People’s lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation Some are true and some are false. Some are old and some are new. There is no recovery for someone falsely accused-life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as due process?”

Many of us wish that Mr. Trump’s tweeted assertion that there is “no recovery for someone falsely accused-life and career are gone” applied to him. It obviously did not, since he is now the president of the United States. The riddle is this: How and why did this happen? A possible answer (and there may be others) is that he was not falsely accused and, therefore, the accusations had no effect on his “life and career.” Whether or not that is the reason he is now president, be sure and wave to him as he drives by in his tank.

Friday, February 9, 2018

Nunes and the WSJ

Responsible journalism is journalism responsible, in the last analysis, to the editor’s own conviction of what, whether interesting or only important, is in the public interest.
— Walter Lippman, Address at the International Press Institute

We all make mistakes. As prestigious a publication as the Wall Street Journal has just proved it.

In the case of the WSJ it happened because (a) its editors did not have the time to read the excellent reporting of its own reporters as to events that led to the FBI and Justice Department asking FISA for a surveillance warrant to surveil Carter Page in 2016, and (b) they were unwilling to wait for Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee to take the steps needed so that the Democratic response to the “Nunes Memorandum” could be released. Had they waited, they would have had a complete picture of the facts that led to the request to the FISA court by the FBI and the Justice Department.

The one-sided Republican memorandum known as the “Nunes Memorandum” after the chair of the House Intelligence Committee, Nevin Nunes, was released by the White House on February 2, 2018. In less than 24 hours the WSJ had written a long editorial wallowing in enthusiastic support of what, to many observers other than the editors of the editorial page, was obviously a biased and incomplete memorandum explaining what led the FBI to ask the FISA court to permit it to monitor the activities of Carter Page. In addition to the obvious question of why the editorial page editors couldn’t wait to lavish praise on the report until they saw the Democrats’ response to it, (assuming it would be released by the Republicans on the Committee and the White House) the more salient question is why they couldn’t have at least read the work of their own reporters.

The editorial entitled: “A Reckoning for the FBI” appeared three days after a lengthy report by WSJ reporters, Rebecca Ballhaus and Byron Tau had been published. The reporting of those two individuals contradicted much of the “Reckoning for the FBI” editorial. The authors of the editorial based much of their criticism of the FBI and the Justice Department on the fact that those two agencies failed to disclose to the FISA Court what the Nunes Memorandum described as “essential information.” The essential information was, among other things, that the “dossier” that was prepared by Christopher Steele, a former British spy, was paid for by the Clinton campaign. The editors cited other partisan examples that it extracted from the Nunes memorandum describing the reasons for the conclusions of the Republican members of the Intelligence Committee. Had the editors read the reporting of their own reporters, their editorial would have been quite different or, perhaps, not written at all.

Those two reporters carefully examined what was known about the Counterintelligence Agencies’ interest in Carter Page years before the controversial dossier that was relied by the Republicans had even come into existence. The FBI’s interest in Carter Page, as the reporters explained, went back to 2013. They reported that in seeking the surveillance warrant authorizing the Justice Department to conduct surveillance on Carter Page, the application to the FISA court included material that preceded Christopher Steele’s entry into the picture. Mr. Page, we were told, had been of interest to intelligence officials for at least three years before he became a member of the Trump campaign in 2016. Indeed, his dealings with Russia had taken place for more than 10 years before Mr. Trump ran for president. The article disclosed that Mr. Page met with Victor Podobnyy, a junior attaché at the Russian Consulate on more than one occasion, meetings that triggered the interest of FBI counterintelligence. Mr. Page was first interviewed by a U.S. counterintelligence official in June 2013. The official was trying to determine whether Mr. Podobnyy, with whom Mr. Page had had two meetings, was a Russian intelligence agent. According to the reporters, in the criminal complaint that was filed in 2015 by U.S. federal prosecutors, Mr. Podobnyy was charged with posing as a U.N. attaché while trying to recruit Mr. Page as a Russian intelligence source. The description of the activities of Messrs. Poddobnyy and his contacts with Mr. Page, provided more than ample evidence to help the FISA court, if not the editors at the WSJ, or the Republicans on the House Intelligence Committee, to understand why the order to monitor Mr. Page was sought. Had the WSJ editorial editors read their own reporters’ reporting or been willing to await the release of the Democrat’s response to the Nunes Memorandum, they would have been in a position to give voice to accuracy, instead of partisanship. They didn’t. As Mr. Trump would say, “Too bad.”