Fifty shades of Trump

“For all of his many other legal and political problems, is it possible that Donald Trump could be brought down by a porn star? His lawyer’s payment to her to buy her silence about a one-time liaison with the US president may not be the only issue at stake.”

From Project Syndicate:

Last week was a most unusual one for President Donald Trump’s administration. There was no high-level firing: the only dismissal of any note was that of the White House aide in charge of homeland security, who was forced out at the behest of John Bolton, who had just taken over as Trump’s third national security adviser in 15 months. Nonetheless, it may well have been the most turbulent week yet of Trump’s presidency.

Bolton’s appointment was enough to set much of Washington trembling with fear that he would reinforce Trump’s most pugnacious views, for example, that the 2015 Iran nuclear agreement should be scrapped. Still, it has been widely speculated that Bolton, reportedly a bureaucratic whiz, was outmaneuvered by Defense Secretary James Mattis on the question of how far to take the military attack on Syria in retaliation for the latest use of chemical weapons by Bashar al-Assad’s government against its own people. In the end, the attacks by the US, the United Kingdom, and France were restricted to targets believed to be chemical weapons and storage facilities.

Questions are being raised in the Senate about the suitability of Mike Pompeo, a hardliner on Muslims and Russia, to succeed Rex Tillerson as Secretary of State. And with Bolton now ensconced in the West Wing, the consensus is that only Mattis stands between Trump and military overreach. (Mattis supports the Iran deal.)

Trump’s most peculiar recent personnel move – part of an ever-growing list of dismissals – was to fire David Shulkin as head of the Veterans Administration, a Leviathan of an agency, and nominate his personal physician for the job. The number of pending nominations for high-level positions ahead of November’s midterm congressional elections is believed to be one reason for Trump’s reluctance to fire his most controversial appointee, Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency. Pruitt’s determination to reverse the EPA’s achievements in reducing air and water pollution, especially regulations adopted during Barack Obama’s presidency, bespeaks Trump’s own resentment of Obama. In addition, major polluting industries are enthusiastic about Pruitt.

The problem is that in an administration filled with grifters and experts at indulging in first-class air travel and other comforts at taxpayers’ expense, Pruitt is probably the champ. Trump blows hot and cold on Pruitt, and observers have learned not to predict what he might do with regard to any aspect of policy and personnel.

That is also true of the question creating the most tension: whether Trump will try to end the investigation into whether he or his campaign conspired with Russians to try to swing the 2016 election in his favor. The evidence of such collusion is mounting. Trump, according to many observers, has absorbed the idea that firing Special Counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the probe, wouldn’t go down well at all. The supine congressional Republicans, terrified of Trump and his base of devoted supporters, are actually beginning to show some spine and are moving toward backing a resolution that would protect Mueller, who is supported by a large majority of the public.
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Since early this year, it has seemed possible that Trump might be brought down not by his and his campaign’s possible dealings with Russia, but by a pulchritudinous adult film star whose professional name is Stormy Daniels (her real name is Stephanie Clifford). Daniels and her aggressive attorney are fearless toward Trump, on whose behalf Cohen arranged to pay her $130,000 shortly before the election to keep quiet about her one-time liaison with Trump, which occurred early in his marriage to Melania Trump and four months after the birth of his son, Barron.

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The judge in the Michael Comey-Stormy Daniels case is perfect

Judge Kimba Wood is trying a case with a porn star in the courtroom and the president’s secrets at stake but “she’s used to the celebrity spotlight in a world in which it is increasingly difficult to draw the line between politics and entertainment” and is totally unfazed.

From Politico:

The blog — now defunct — was called Underneath Their Robes, the poll was on “Superhotties of the Federal Judiciary,” and the winner in the female category was a New York judge named Kimba M. Wood. After that, things could have gone totally off the rails. The blogger behind the poll, a Yale Law graduate named David Lat, found himself on a panel a few years later with Judge Wood and braced himself for a lecture. She was a very senior jurist; he was an upstart who had named her a “bodacious babe of the bench.”

Instead, when Wood found out who he was, she tossed her head back and started cackling.

“That’s your website? What a hoot!” Wood told him.

As of this week, Wood sits at the center of the nation’s most important legal drama, deciding just how much attorney-client privilege President Donald Trump will be granted as prosecutors rifle through the files of his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen. Last week, federal officials seized papers, cellphones, a tablet, a laptop and a safe deposit box from Cohen’s office and hotel room. Cohen’s lawyers say that material is protected, and Wood is adjudicating their request. She is, friends and colleagues say, the perfect judge for the unfolding political drama that has washed up on the steps of the federal courthouse in Lower Manhattan, complete with porn actress Stormy Daniels showing up at a hearing.

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North Korea halts nuclear and missile tests ahead of planned Trump summit

Assuming it’s even a genuine commitment, did Kim Jong-un’s apparent change of heart come about as a result of his meeting with Xi Jinping during his recent surprise visit to China, or did Trump finally manage to put the wind up him?

From The Guardian:

North Korea has said it will end its tests of nuclear weapons and intercontinental ballistic missiles, and shut down its nuclear test site, in a dramatic development ahead of a much-anticipated meeting between its leader, Kim Jong-un, and Donald Trump.

The suspensions went into immediate effect on Saturday, according to state-run KCNA news agency.

The US president greeted the news in a tweet. “This is very good news for North Korea and the World – big progress!” Trump wrote.

The news comes less than a week before Kim meets the South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, for a summit in the demilitarized zone that divides the peninsula.

It goes a long way towards meeting US demands for denuclearisation, as Pyongyang and Washington work to agree on when and where Kim will meet Trump for historic talks that barely seemed possible just a few months ago.

The decision to suspend nuclear tests and missile launches came at a plenary meeting of the ruling party’s central committee, which had convened on Friday to discuss a “new stage” of policies – prompting speculation that the regime would move towards denuclearisation.

“As the weaponisation of nuclear weapons has been verified, it is not necessary for us to conduct any more nuclear tests or test launches of mid- and long-range missiles or ICBMs,” Kim told the meeting.

“The northern nuclear test site has completed its mission,” he added at the meeting, according to KCNA.

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Democratic Party files lawsuit alleging Russia, the Trump campaign and WikiLeaks conspired to disrupt the 2016 campaign

Shades of a successful legal tactic the Democratic Party used against former president Richard Nixon’s reelection committee during the Watergate scandal.

From The Washington Post via msn:

The Democratic National Committee filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit Friday against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization alleging a far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump.

The complaint, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, alleges that top Trump campaign officials conspired with the Russian government and its military spy agency to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump by hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and disseminating stolen material found there.

“During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy, and it found a willing and active partner in Donald Trump’s campaign,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.

“This constituted an act of unprecedented treachery: the campaign of a nominee for President of the United States in league with a hostile foreign power to bolster its own chance to win the presidency,” he said.

The case asserts that the Russian hacking campaign — combined with Trump associates’ contacts with Russia and the campaign’s public cheerleading of the hacks — amounted to an illegal conspiracy to interfere in the election that caused serious damage to the Democratic Party.
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The lawsuit echoes a similar legal tactic that the Democratic Party used during the Watergate scandal. In 1972, the DNC filed suit against former president Richard Nixon’s reelection committee seeking $1 million in damages for the break-in at Democratic headquarters in the Watergate building.

The suit was denounced at the time by Nixon’s Attorney General, John Mitchell, who called it a case of “sheer demagoguery” by the DNC. But the civil action brought by former DNC chair Lawrence F. O’Brien was ultimately successful, yielding a $750,000 settlement from the Nixon campaign that was reached on the day in 1974 that Nixon left office.

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The GOP’s problems are bigger than Trump

Contrary to what a bunch of pundits have concluded, “President Trump’s hold on the Republican Party is overstated.”

From The Atlantic:

“What the Republican establishment now knows,” Corey Lewandowski proclaimed, what they’ve “learned in the last year,” is that Trump is the GOP’s leader. “He is the one who sets the tone of what takes place in Washington, he is the leader of our country … both politically and from a legislative side of things.”

But is that really so?

Yes, Trump beat a big field to become president, he is more popular among GOP voters than any rival, many elected Republicans fear publicly crossing him at the moment, and he is influential in setting the tone in Washington. Still, the conclusion that he has taken over the Republican Party is overstated and premature.

Consider these counter-points:

First, Trump’s position is unusually shaky for a first-term president. His influence will take a huge hit if the GOP loses big in the 2018 midterms. And it could suffer if investigations into Trump or his associates expose a significant new scandal. Neither of those outcomes is assured. But both are very plausible.

Second, if Trump starts to seem like he’s hurting the GOP’s popularity more than he is helping it, he has no reserve of personal goodwill or substantive support for his ideas on which to fall back. Trump’s unpopularity was illustrated most colorfully by an unnamed GOP representative quoted by conservative commentator Erick Erickson. “I say a lot of shit on TV defending him,” the legislator said. “But honestly, I wish the motherfucker would just go away. We’re going to lose the House, lose the Senate, and lose a bunch of states because of him. All his supporters will blame us for what we have or have not done, but he hasn’t led. He wakes up in the morning, shits all over Twitter, shits all over us, shits all over his staff, then hits golf balls. Fuck him. Of course, I can’t say that in public or I’d get run out of town.” The unnamed congressman even declared of the president he has defended on television, “If we’re going to lose because of him, we might as well impeach the motherfucker.”

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North Korea wants total denuclearization, says Seoul

While “South Korea’s president says Pyongyang has not attached any conditions such as US troop withdrawal,” North Korea has confirmed nothing so far. It therefore remains to be seen just how committed to a denuclearization deal Kim Jong-un actually is.

From The Guardian:

North Korea has expressed a desire for the “complete denuclearisation” of the Korean peninsula without attaching preconditions such as the withdrawal of US troops, the South Korean president has said.

The statement, unconfirmed by North Korea, comes before a summit between the leaders of the two countries on 27 April, to be followed in May or June by a meeting between Kim Jong-un, the North Korean leader, and Donald Trump.

The US president on Wednesday pledged to meet Kim “in the coming weeks” but said he was prepared to walk away if the talks were not fruitful.

The key question at any summit between Trump and Kim is whether the North Korean leader is serious about dismantling his regime’s nuclear weapons, and what he would demand from the US in return.

The South Korean president, Moon Jae-in, told reporters that North Korea had not “attached any conditions that the US cannot accept, such as the withdrawal of American troops from South Korea. All they are expressing is the end of hostile policies against North Korea, followed by a guarantee of security.”

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Trumpism without Trump

“Good-bye Paul Ryan, hello to a new Republican Party that embraces the president’s politics but not his person.”

From Politico:

A little more than six months from now, on November 7, the sun will rise on a political landscape wrecked by President Donald Trump’s first midterm election. Thanks to a map that puts more Democratic than Republican seats at risk, our party will still cling to control of the Senate, but GOP House members lack insulation: They will crawl out from the smoking rubble of a 40- to 50-seat pounding to find they have lost their majority.

Paul Ryan will be gone. The former Great White Hope of the Republican Party sneaked out of town before reveille, leaving his troops facing extinction. Our remaining soldiers, stunned or wounded, will also have blown the bugle of retreat, fleeing to the shelter of the party’s shrunken conservative base. Our eyes will turn to those survivors, the leaders of a broken party, one only they can restore. They will determine where the Republican Party goes next. How do we renew our party in the Age of Trump?

We don’t have to wait for November’s cataclysm. We can begin now with a strategy to harness Trump’s base and add swing voters, even as we remain faithful to our principles.

To begin, we need to recognize that, although Donald Trump often appeals to the worst in us, the fears that fueled his election are legitimate. They need to be respected. We need a Republican Party as big as those fears and as great as America’s challenges. We need a Republican Party to address the twin concerns that rocketed an inexperienced businessman past both irrelevant political parties and made him president of the United States.
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It is unremarkable, at this point, to note that good Americans turned to Donald Trump, not because of his many flaws, but despite them. Trump’s threat and his appeal are identical: He is the undistilled reptilian brain.

Trump is all id, the oldest and most primitive part of our brain, concerned only with the evolutionary basics: sex, sustenance and survival. His brain is not filtered by our social and emotional brain, much less by the rational, pre-frontal cortex. He has no Jeb Bush brain to digest facts and figures, issues and policy. Instead, Trump is a predator. When something enters his world, he either eats it, kills it or mates with it. That is all his predatory instincts can do.

The president’s primitive nature is the root of his narcissism. Trump’s immediate and voracious appetites allow no concern for others or understanding of tomorrow. He reacts instinctively, not emotionally, morally or intellectually. He is insensitive to truth and incapable of discipline or strategy.

Yet Americans elected this predator, this T. rex president, as their last resort, in a desperate attempt to protect themselves from the horde of smaller, slimier predators in Washington who were on the verge of devouring them.

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