Posts Tagged ‘Russian election interference’

DRESS REHEARSAL IN PORTLAND

Something ominous has been happening in Portland, Oregon. But Donald Trump’s sending camouflage-uniformed, armed and unidentified federal personnel to attack protestors represents only half the story.

Portland mayor Ted Wheeler and Oregon governor Kate Brown responded with anger. Oregon attorney general Ellen Rosenblum sought a restraining order against the Department of Homeland Security. It was denied.

Two days ago, an agreement seemed to be reached with DHS. Oregon State Police would secure the federal courthouse. Federal agents would withdraw. As of last night, the feds hadn’t.

Mayhem is counterproductive. Said Rachelle Dixon, vice chair of the Multnomah County (Oregon) Democrats and Black community organizer, “My life is not going to improve because you broke the glass at the Louis Vuitton store.” Violent protestors may seek to discredit Black causes. (See Justin Phillips’ sfchronicle.com column.)

Regardless, Trump found an excuse to stage a dress rehearsal for Election Day.

If/when Portland cools down, Trump can evaluate the nation’s reaction and whether Americans will accept federal security personnel overriding local law enforcement as a new normal. There’s a reason for such audacity.

Badly trailing Joe Biden in poll after poll, Trump is in panic mode. Playing to his base, he identifies threats coming from everywhere—except, of course, Russia.

One “threat” is manipulation (not Russian) of the presidential election. The boogeymen (not Russian cyber invasions) are non-citizen voters and voting by mail. The barbarians stand at the gates. How to beat them back?

Send federal agents bearing assault weapons to secure polling places and mail-collection points. Also, slow down the Postal Service. All a euphemism for harassing minority voters and interfering with legally cast ballots.

Upping the ante? Trump could make an offhand request that citizen-militias join the feds and brandish weapons in open-carry states. Trump will hail their patriotism for assuring a free and fair election while helping him steal it. Shades of Vladimir Putin and all autocrats undermining democracy—or openly mocking it.

Americans—including the media—must pressure Congress, governors, secretaries of state and local officials to uphold the Constitution and the right of all Americans to cast their vote free from intimidation. Governors, mayors, police chiefs and sheriffs must pledge to prevent federal and militia goons from hijacking Election Day. The very police so many demonstrators abhor must show that they take their oaths of service seriously—as so many do—and earn their communities’ respect.

This November could present us with the stuff of fiction and film. In the Oval Office sits a president so inept and lacking compassion he chose not to urge Americans to wear masks to protect against spreading the COVID-19 virus until nearly six months and 142,000 Americans had passed. (The toll now numbers more than 150,000.)

Facing being dumped on the ash heap of history, Trump may try anything. On July 19, Fox’s Christopher Wallace asked Trump if he would accept the results of the election. Trump said he didn’t know. Yesterday, a Trump tweet questioned whether the election should be delayed. (He lacks authority to do that.)

Abraham Lincoln warned that you can’t fool all of the people all of the time. He was right. There is a light at the end of the tunnel. But the tunnel is very dark. And still very long.

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AFTER MUELLER—WHAT?

Attorney General William Barr recently reviewed Special Commissioner Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. Some Americans believe that Barr’s four-page letter to Congressional leaders provides satisfactory answers. Given that Mueller’s report exceeds 300 pages, I have questions.

I note first that a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday reveals that 84 percent of respondents want the report made public. Also, 75 percent of Republicans surveyed favor the report’s release.

As to the attorney general’s letter, Barr declared that Mueller saw no collusion by Donald Trump. Yet Barr wrote that Mueller “did not draw a conclusion — one way or the other — as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction” and quotes Mueller that “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”

Barr also writes, “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.” Barr states that such proof must be beyond a reasonable doubt. All well and good. That’s our legal system.

But why did Trump refuse to acknowledge American intelligence and security agencies’ findings that Russia manipulated social media and stole Democrat emails? He conjectured that the culprit might have been a 400-pound guy in a New Jersey basement. The joke was ill-conceived.

Why did Trump, on national TV, ask Russia to provide Hillary Clinton’s missing 30,000 emails? Another joke? If so, it was on the American people. Presidential candidates know—or should—when such “levity” is totally inappropriate. And why did Trump later accept Vladimir Putin’s word that Russia had not engaged in nefarious activities, again throwing U.S. intelligence and security professionals under the bus?

I can think of two reasons. 

First, Trump couldn’t stomach the thought that Russian interference might tarnish his “overwhelming” victory (with 46.1 percent of the popular vote; Barack Obama had 52.9 in 2008, 51.1 in 2012). Did Russia give Trump his victory in the Electoral College? We’ll never know. But Hillary Clinton topped Trump by three million votes. Trump claimed fraud—as he claimed his inauguration crowd was bigger than Obama’s. Lies. 

Second, Trump didn’t want to upset business relationships in Russia. During the campaign, he said he had no business with Russia. Another lie. Trump representatives discussed a Trump Tower project in Moscow before, during and even after the campaign. Aside from the Miss Universe contest, did Trump have other dealings with Russia? If so, did some or all violate U.S. law? We’ll see where other investigations lead.

Until the full report becomes public, we have no idea just how unethical—if not illegal—Trump’s position on Russia has been. But if legal standards for criminal prosecution are high, so should be the moral/ethical standards of a president. 

The Talmud (Yevamot 121b) states that God is most feared by those nearest to Him—the righteous—because He is more exacting of them. Leaders are held to a higher standard. 

Whatever the Mueller report states, Donald Trump has demonstrated a clear failure to uphold the standards expected of leaders and continually demonstrated his contempt for the United States. The Mueller report will never clear him of remaining mired mouth-deep in the swamp he promised to drain.  

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SCHULTZ VS. TRUMP

Last Sunday, Howard Schultz of Starbucks renown announced he would explore a presidential run as a third-party centrist. Democrats attacked: He’d siphon away enough voters to give Trump a victory. Trump supporters celebrated. But let’s look closer.

While Schultz stands head and shoulders above Trump as a human being (and businessperson), I’m also not thrilled he’s exploring a presidential run. Of course, he’ll be his own man beholden to no one; he has enough money to fund his campaign. But Howard Schultz isn’t prepared to be president no matter how noble his thoughts and how civil his demeanor.

Disclosure: In my novel San Café, I drew on Starbucks for Mobys, the coffee-hustling corporation that seeks to control the affairs of the Central American nation of San Cristo. I presented Mobys’ chairman as a right-wing megalomaniac. He was not patterned on Howard Schultz. 

That said, Schultz has no experience in government. To many voters, that’s attractive—a man uncorrupted by the system. It’s also folly. Lack of government experience—witness Donald Trump—can be disastrous despite soundness of character (Schultz, not Trump). Example: several days ago, Trump called his senior intelligence officials “naïve.” Government’s complexities far exceed those of a private company or corporation. So do the consequences of its failings.

Michael Bloomberg, former Democratic mayor of New York, advised Schultz that he has no shot as an independent. Bloomberg may throw his hat in the ring as a Democrat. Yes, he’s a business titan (also way more successful than Trump). but 12 years in New York’s city hall offered preparation to take on the office’s challenges.

So, by this fall or winter at the latest, Howard Schultz will—pardon me—wake up and smell the venti-cinnamon-shortbread-latte-whipped-cream-for-sure.  He’ll also be done promoting his new book.  Howard Schultz will not run against Donald Trump. 

No one will.

“Donald Trump 2020” may cause the hearts of his MAGA base to flutter, but Trump is toxic. And you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. The Office of the Special Commissioner, aka Robert Mueller III, is tightening the noose on Trump and those closest to him. This is no rush to judgment. Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker said this week that Mueller is close to wrapping up his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election. If Whitaker thinks Mueller’s report will appear in February or March, he’s wishing under the influence. 

The end, however, is approaching. Mueller obtained seven indictments against Trump sidekick Roger Stone. Stone approached WikiLeaks when requested by a “senior campaign official.” That official was prompted by a “higher up.” Mueller knows who they are. They know Mueller knows. Expect more indictments at the highest levels, very possibly including one or more of the Trump family—Donald Jr., Eric, Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner. 

When will Mueller release his report? May, June or early September. Summer’s a bad time. The report will provide American voters and politicians what they need to go forward. I suspect it also will reveal that Trump instructed someone to pursue the Russia-WikiLeaks connection or was advised about it and remained silent. Result: His resignation sometime between impeachment—unless he wakes up and smells the coffee (from McDonald’s)—and trial in the Senate. 

That will leave him even farther on the sidelines than Howard Schultz.

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