Posts Tagged ‘James Comey’

FOLLOW THE MONEY

The media continues to follow Robert Mueller’s investigation into the relationship between Donald Trump and Russia. A fuss was made this past week about Trump knowing that his national security advisor, Gen. Michael Flynn, lied not only to Vice President Mike Pence but also to an FBI agent before Trump fired him. Don’t get excited. This represents some of the what of the matter. But it’s just part of the story.

The investigation will bear fruit only when we understand why Trump turned his back on, and even condemned, the United States’ top security agencies for reporting that Russia interfered with the 2016 presidential election. Why he admires Putin and his governing style yet has chided leaders of allied governments. Why he fired FBI head James Comey. And why, early this week, he trashed the FBI.

We know Trump believes good relations with Russia can be to our advantage. But that’s like advocating mom and apple pie. It’s always preferable to establish good relations with all nations— even those with whom we have conflicts, such as Iran and North Korea. But Trump has never assumed the role of statesman and geopolitical thinker. He has never written or delivered cogent speeches or position papers detailing the ways American-Russian engagement can make the world safer and freer.

So back to the key question: Why all the contacts between Trump’s people and Russia? Why did members of the Trump team mention the easing of sanctions imposed by Barack Obama before the inauguration? Why the guilty pleas from Trump team members, which may cripple or end the careers of those who entered them? And why the constant discovery of more questionable contacts between the Trump campaign and transition teams, and Russia?

Follow the money!

On Tuesday, Thompson Reuters reported Mueller subpoenaed global banking giant Deutsche Bank for information regarding Trump and his family’s accounts and transactions. Might this relate to past New York Times and Vanity Fair articles on Russians laundering money through Trump condominium projects in New York and Florida? Will it reveal other Trump-Russian financial arrangements? Whatever, this form of inquiry represents the search for key answers.

It’s also critical to know why Trump refused to release his tax returns as all other candidates have over the last forty years. Look for Mueller’s team to review Trump’s tax returns soon—if they’re not doing so now. Their examination will go way past the tasks performed by the IRS. A tax expert told me that the IRS doesn’t look for illegal activities when individuals or entities state appropriate revenues, claim reasonable deductions and pay appropriate taxes. Additionally, sources of revenue and recipients of expenses don’t draw attention. It’s all about the numbers.

Mueller’s forensic accountants and investigators will dig deep. They’ll search for sources of revenue and recipients of financial obligations not listed on Trump’s returns. They’ll seek to uncover layers of shell companies to find the real people and organizations behind Trump’s business dealings.

When Mueller and his staff reach conclusions, they’ll know if Trump sought to enable Russians to profit from equity positions in some of his projects and to collect on large debts he owes Russian banks, oligarchs and mobsters. The truth is out there. To find it, Mueller will follow the money.

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LANGUAGE AND MEANING

Most people recognize the first verse of the Book of Genesis: “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.” Clear? Not really. Commentators and scholars translate the Hebrew word B’reishit—“In the beginning”—in several ways. This gives rise to multiple insights into God’s actions. Language—in translation or out—often fails to accurately convey meaning. We might apply this principle to the June 8 testimony of former FBI director James Comey before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Re Genesis, the Soncino Press (1993) translation stays with “In the beginning.” The Stone Chumash (printed Torah) offers: “In the beginning of God’s creating…” The Jewish Publication Society (1999) and the scholar Robert Alter prefer “When God began to create…”. Everett Fox chooses “At the beginning…” As Nahum Sarna notes, “The mystery of divine creativity is, of course, ultimately unknowable.”

Congress and the American people face another mystery—the meaning in President Trump’s words regarding an investigation into General Michael Flynn, Trump’s fired national security advisor. Former FBI director James Comey, also fired by Trump, testified that Trump told him: “I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go.” Because Comey said he met in private with Trump, liberal commentators and Democrats exclaim, “Obstruction of justice!” Conservative commentators and Republicans respond, “No way!”

During Comey’s testimony, Senator Jim Risch (R–Idaho), skeptical that Trump did anything wrong, focused on the word hope. Risch asked Comey if was aware of any successful prosecution of someone who hoped something illegal was done. Comey said no. But that, despite Risch’s efforts, hardly ends the matter.

Read Comey’s words, and important details of his conversation with the President go missing. Hope, Risch suggested, represents wishful thinking. Trump, in private, simply shared his yearning that Flynn, “a good guy,” not face prosecution. But which word follows hope? You. If Trump uttered these words, he spoke not to himself but directly to Comey. “I hope you can see your way clear…” It’s hardly a stretch to interpret this as Trump telling Comey to drop the investigation without saying the precise words, “You drop the investigation.” Personally, I’ve never said, “I hope you can…” to anyone without expressing a clear intent that they do what I for all intents and purposes asked. In this context, I hope creates an expectation.

I mentioned missing details. Whatever words Mr. Trump uttered, we lack a recording, which Trump hinted at having, although he may not. What tone of voice did he use? We don’t know. Intonation colors any word or set of words. Trump’s tone could indeed have indicated wishful thinking. Or it could have projected a presidential order. We also lack an eye on such critical factors as Trump’s facial expression and body language. All these help make us understood. For that matter, we can’t see Comey’s physical response.

Will Comey’s memo regarding Trump’s hope be accepted by Robert Mueller, the Justice Department’s special investigator, as proof of wrongdoing? We’ll see. Will President Trump testify before the Senate subcommittee? We’ll see about that, too. But I doubt we’ll see a smoking gun.

Still, a pattern seems to be emerging. Each day, it becomes more disturbing. And when I write disturbing, let there be no doubt about what I mean.

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LEVITICUS AND THE PRESIDENCY

This week, Jews studying Torah are completing the Book of Leviticus. Its copious laws include animal sacrifices, sexual unions, physical impurities and dietary restrictions. While not necessarily the writers’ intentions, Leviticus also informs us about the American presidency.

The last portion of Leviticus offers the Tochechah or Admonition (essentially repeated in Deuteronomy). If the Israelites obey God’s commandments, they will live in peace and prosperity. If not, they will suffer calamities, including starvation (even cannibalism), war and exile among the nations. God, however, doesn’t intend to punish the Israelites on a whim. God wants them to exercise their free will (the Rabbis discuss free will at length) and make proper choices.

Granted, many of Leviticus’ biblical injunctions seem archaic. But the essence of the Tochechah, even for atheists, is simple. A community or nation enjoys the best odds for tranquility and good fortune when it chooses to do right. A society of just laws reinforced by compassion will—eventually—outperform one riddled with anarchy or tyranny and selfishness.

Where does this leave the United States? We pride ourselves on our democracy, imperfect though it may be. We believe that in regularly choosing our leaders, we promote life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But as God warns Israel, we can make good choices or bad ones. The latter can bring dire consequences.

Last November, America chose a new president. The popular vote went to Hillary Clinton, but as provided by the Constitution, the Electoral College determined the winner. That was Donald Trump. Many Trump supporters had no idea what his policies would be; Mr. Trump apparently had no idea either. But many voters liked that “he says what he thinks.” Mr. Trump said a lot, including calling his opponent “Crooked Hillary.”

Since taking office, Mr. Trump referred to his predecessor Barak Obama as a “Bad (or sick) guy!”, called the media—a bulwark of democracy—a “disgrace” for spreading “fake news,” and labeled James Comey, the FBI director looking into Trump campaign connections to Russia, a “showboat” and “grandstander.” That was after he allegedly asked Mr. Comey to go easy on fired national security advisor Mike Flynn—and before Mr. Trump revealed sensitive intelligence concerning ISIS airline bomb plots to two senior Russian officials.

On Wednesday, the Justice Department appointed former FBI director Robert Mueller as special counsel to determine if the Trump campaign engaged in collusion with Russia. Mr. Mueller will be given wide latitude, including the power to bring criminal charges. Mr. Trump issued a brief statement welcoming the special counsel. Then he backtracked, calling the investigation a “witch hunt.”

Mr. Mueller may find no grounds to impeach Mr. Trump. (Trial in the Senate would follow.) Impeachment doesn’t concern popularity or competence. I suspect, however, that the special investigator’s report will highly damage Mr. Trump’s presidency, very possibly to the point of inducing resignation.

As to Leviticus, it’s not all doom and gloom. God promises that even after being severely punished, Israel can choose to return to the commandments. If it does, God will restore the people to their land. Going forward, Americans and their representatives in Congress will have to make difficult choices regarding chaos in the White House—chaos we chose to inflict on ourselves.

You can purchase The Odd Plight of Adonis Licht directly from me or at Amazon. If you enjoy these posts, suggest to family and friends that they check out davidperlstein.com. Post something on Facebook, too.

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