“I know dozens of reporters and other investigators who have studied Donald Trump and his business and political ties. Some have been skeptical of the idea that President Trump himself knowingly colluded with Russian officials…However, I am unaware of anybody who has taken a serious look at Trump’s business who doesn’t believe that there is a high likelihood of rampant criminality.”
– Adam Davidson, “Michael Cohen and the End Stage of the Trump Presidency”, The New Yorker
The biggest fuss in the news of the past week was made by Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s newest lawyer, as he went rogue talking to Sean Hannity, telling the surprised host that Trump had indeed known about the hush money payoff to porn actress Stormy Daniels and then proceeding to give a break-down of how such payments are made. In doing so he almost certainly made the legal situation worse for both Trump and Cohen on multiple fronts. While Rudy tried to walk it all back the next day, he’s continued through the week to be a loose cannon. The ensuing chaos, speculation and confusion was the big show.
But it’s the underlying story that is almost certainly what’s important. By the end of the week, the NY Times had run an article about Cohen’s business practices. Most of the various businesses described were either suspicious, were associated with criminals, or both. Cohen’s friends and family include those who were intimately involved with the Mafia and the Russian mob. This fits with Giuliani’s description of Cohen’s role as a “bagman” for Trump, the one who makes payoffs – and bribes? –on his behalf. The question is what the FBI investigation will turn up. It would be surprising if it didn’t involve serious crimes.
As the Times ran it’s story, the Washington Post published an article about a notable shift in Trump’s real estate business: in 2006 Trump, who had previously styled himself as the “King of Debt” began buying properties only with cash. This was an unusual practice for anyone in real estate; for Trump, even more so. Coincidentally, it was also in 2006 that Cohen, with his Russian connections, began working for Trump. The Post doesn’t make the allegation that Cohen helped Trump move into the money laundering business big time, but that question hovers over the article unsaid. And, in both the Times and the Post articles, it’s easy to imagine a Russian mob presence running throughout.
Maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.
“Through technical devices like the radio and loudspeaker, 80 million people were deprived of independent thought. It was thereby possible to subject them to the will of one man..”
– Albert Speer, his final speech, Nuremberg trials
Another ongoing story, one that has become so “normal” as to go unreported most of the time, is the role that propaganda plays in maintaining Trumpublican support. It would appear that approximately 30% of the public is in that sphere, deprived, if not of all independent thought, at least of any interest in fact-based understanding. They’re being willingly held in a miasma of grievance and fiction, fed lies and conspiracy theories and taught to distrust any and all sources of information that aren’t part of that distorted world. Even if Trump were to evaporate suddenly in a noxious cloud, the propaganda machine would remain a terrible and ongoing threat to democracy, as the ability to independently establish facts is critical to civil discourse and governing.
The mainstream press didn’t help itself any in this regard this past week, first inviting comedian Michelle Wolf to the White House Correspondents’ Dinner and then reacting in horror and apologies when she dared to tell the truth. Many rightly pointed out in the aftermath that there is no level of apology that will stop the right from trying to destroy actual journalism. So stop apologizing, already, and start calling a lie a lie. Because that’s all that Sarah Huckabee Sanders does. She lies.
In Other News
- More Scott Pruitt corruption! Who would have guessed! This week, it came to light that Pruitt is fond of international travel – expensive, of course – and that he asks lobbyists and friends to arrange it for him. Whether or not it’s in the interest of the EPA, supposedly his job, doesn’t seem to matter much.
- So much Scott Pruitt corruption, in fact, that one of his staff tried to highlight Ryan Zinke’s corruption to take the pressure off of Scott. Shows initiative!
- It’s not only foreign dictators Trump admires, evidently. He must really have a thing for Nixon, as it came to light that he hired an Israeli spy team to run “dirty ops” against Obama administration officials who helped negotiate the Iran nuclear deal. But he totally wouldn’t have worked with Russian spies to throw the election. Because that would have been wrong.
- Just because it’s been subsumed by other news doesn’t mean the Cambridge Analytica scandal is over. The firm has been forced to close but investigations continue. New is the revelation that Facebook allowed the company to keep data and derivatives that enabled the company to run predictive models through the 2016 election. Makes one think that maybe Facebook should be forced to close up shop, too.
- Trump, who claimed a month or so ago that he “wasn’t afraid” of the NRA, proved how much he needs, fears and wants them by appearing at their convention in Dallas.
- Trump’s war on brown people continued, as he made plans to throw out the approximately 57,000 Hondurans who have lived here as refugees for the past twenty years. Yes, twenty years. I’m sure Honduras will feel just like home.
- Nobody’s talking about the trade war and Trump delayed implementation of steel sanctions for a month. But no progress is being made, either. Negotiators returned from China not only empty-handed, but without having talked to Xi and other high-ranking officials. Crushing tariffs, anyone?
- Trump finally found a qualified lawyer, Emmet T. Flood, who agreed to help him with the Mueller inquiry. Flood is widely respected and qualified, having, among other things, helped Bill Clinton with his impeachment hearings. How he’ll get along with Trump remains to be seen. Although Flood will be in opposition to Mueller's team, it's best for all concerned to have a qualified lawyer handling the case for Trump.
- It’s being reported that John McCain has asked Obama and George W Bush to deliver his eulogy. when the time comes And that he doesn’t want Trump to attend the funeral.
- California Republicans are concerned that they'll have candidates running neither for governor nor senator this year. Good.
There’s no room for complacency! Trump’s poll numbers are creeping up slightly and voters may just be getting numb. It’s critical that we all lend a hand – postcarding, texting, calling, canvassing – and win back both houses of Congress this fall. Join the Blue Wave!
– Tom Benthin
A reminder: a key resource for tracking all the abnormal events from the past week of the Trump presidency is Amy Siskind’s Weekly List: theweeklylist.org .
Before the disaster of the 2016 election we could follow the events that affected our lives by checking the news or seeing occasional posts on Facebook. Since then, with Trump’s erratic, aggressive and autocratic behavior and the Republicans’ unceasing attacks on our government and their efforts to transfer ever more money from working Americans to the rich, it has become much more difficult – and more important – to find our way through the weekly onslaught of news. To get ourselves grounded in the facts and to prepare for the week of action ahead, we provide this weekly summary of critical events to help us cut through the distractions and stay focused and informed as we fight to preserve our democracy.