COMEY TESTIMONY AND MULTIPLE INQUIRIES MAY SPELL TRUMP’S SELF DESTRUCTION.

By

Harry C. Blaney III

          On Thursday we heard former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony which highlighted a possible effort to obstruct justice or at least efforts by Trump to hide something which he feels threatens his presidency or worse. We can expect over time additional hearings and witnesses of other participants in this sad and tawdry story tell their own story. Further the work of the new Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III seems to be focused on a wide range of issues related to the Trump Camp-Russian connection and they have the authority to find criminal actions and prosecute which Congress can’t.

The Trump twitter may continue but the drum beats are for a reckoning while that may up set Trump’s presidency as vulnerable either for impeachment or self disintegration or severely injured. There are some signs that GOP lawmakers are concerned of what they see at the White House, but there is a great reluctance to jump ship for a host of reasons, most dealing with saving their own careers.

More and more of leaders of both parties are worried, the media of all stripes paying more attention, and the well informed public are increasingly fearful and concerned that our nation is in a dangerous downward cycle within and abroad. For example, according to a recent poll the percentage of Americans who “strongly” approve of the president has continued to go down – from 30 percent this spring to about 20 percent now. Many polls show opposition to Trump’s actions notably rejection of the Paris Accord.

Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee largely corroborated much of what is known about the relationship between Trump and Comey and highlighted a key reason why he was fired, namely he would not bow to Trump’s intimidation for dropping the Flynn-Russian investigation.

There is no doubt that Trump tried several times to demand “loyalty” and sought to close down the investigation which, while aimed publicly at former NSC head Mike Flynn, likely involved other members of the Trump team. There reality also is that during the campaign and after the election but before Trump was president, about seven of Trumps associates were in some contact with Russian agents according to press reports. The question is whether they were acting on Trump orders or that of his family or high level staff.

Comey made clear in his testimony that Russia had hacked into our election process, that they had a long history of such activity and likely will continue, and it was vital that America protect itself against such action that impact our democracy. He accused President Donald Trump of lying when he said in the aftermath of Comey’s firing that the bureau was in disarray and that its agents had lost confidence in its leader. “Those were lies, plain and simple,” Comey said to the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Comey in giving an account of his dismissal and said there was “no doubt” that he had been fired “to change the nature of the Russia investigation,” of the FBI’s investigation of Kremlin-backed meddling in the 2016 election.

That probe’s key element includes an examination of whether Trump aides colluded with the Kremlin campaign to hack into American political organizations and leak stolen documents. On Thursday, while Comey refused to say in an open hearing whether he believed Trump colluded with that effort, the weight of reported evidence of broad active efforts by his associates and family to make these contacts and keep them “secret” from our key agencies, and in the case of Jared Kushner suggesting using Russian communication modalities for contacting Putin increasingly moves into dangerous territory and wide implications.

My own feeling given the pressure Trump applied, his own statements, not least the words “fake news” and disparagement of Comey before the Russia’s ambassador to the United States, Sergey Kislyak, and Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov, where he indicated that the action would take the pressure off of him. Further, his irrational and counterproductive tweets, efforts to pressure intelligence agencies heads to influence Comey, plus his demands that top Justice Department officials provide some pretext for reasons for the firing of Comey, all raise doubts about his motives and actions which in the end he acknowledged were also due to the Russian probe. Important also is that Trump felt investigators would get too close to himself.

Comey made the point that the bureau’s investigation of Flynn was criminal in nature and focused on Mike Flynn’s statements regarding contacts with Russian officials. Trump fired Flynn allegedly because he had lied to Vice President Mike Pence about the content of his conversations with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak, but continued to seek a halt of the investigation of him by the FBI.

Based on these factors, it is my view likely that the inquiry could lead in some way to Trump himself. I sense that neither Michael Flynn, nor especially Jared Kushner would have undertaken, or kept to themselves and from Trump, such communications with the Russian agents on highly sensitive matters. They clearly wished to keep this activity from the public and especially other US officials including our intelligence agencies. It reaffirms the high likelihood that Trump either knew about these activities or ordered them. That could be the “smoking Gun.” The other “smoking guns” are a proved effort at obstruction of Justice, or proof of nefarious collusion with the Russians.

The question in open and unclassified session gave some insights on Comey’s thinking and concerns, it also give insights on how the Senate Committee might behave as they proceed to look into the classified data in closed session and demand to see FBI and intelligence agency documents. What is unknown is how far has the FBI probe under now Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller gotten and what is yet to be found out. Certainly, the Trump people have been or will be questioned under oath and there my likely be some revelations from this process.

Finally, what we have seen today probably is just the tip of the iceberg and there may be very much more known to the government agencies involved and more perhaps yet to be found out.

We welcome your Comments! (See section below)

The Vice Presidential Debate : The Good, The Bad, And The Very Bad

By Harry C. Blaney III

This debate was in some ways a shame for the commentator who permitted again over talking of the VP candidates especially Pence, and she largely did not question lies and false assertions. The greatest fault of the media has been lack of focus before and after these debates on the substance and meaning of the policies that have a real impact on people’s lives and security. The post debate commentary was strictly the “horse race” rather than on what the policies and statements will mean for the future of our nation. It was a sad example of the lack of  honest oversight by the media.

The good part of this debate is that they did cover international issues. The bad part is they left out climate change, global inequality, and other issues. The really bad was the absence of truth and lack of deep analysis of cost, risks and benefits of proposed policies.

The quotes however provide some insight on how each party and the candidates themselves view the role of America in the world, how exactly they see that world, and finally how they would act if they got in power. The VP debate, while not the main event, still indicates the direction each party would take if they won in November.

It seems clear that like the first debate between Clinton and Trump their divide on realistic assessment, means of solving or not solving problems and challenges is as wide as ever. It also reveals from this perspective how little the Republican candidates know or really understand how to act in the complex, often dangerous and fast moving world we live in.

On the specific foreign affairs and national security issues some short takes:

Nuclear Weapons

Governor Pence: “We need to modernize our nuclear forces and we need an effective American diplomacy that will marshal the resources of nations in the Asian-Pacific rim to put pressure on North Korea, to abandon the nuclear ambitions. It has to remain the policy of the United States of America, the demilitarization of the Korean peninsula… We will go back to the days of peace through strength.”

Senator Kaine: “On the foreign relations committee we just did an extensive sanctions package against North Korea and interestingly enough, the UN did virtually the same package. Often China will use their veto on the security council for that. They are starting to get worried about North Korea as well. So, they supported the sanctions’ passage, even when many of the sanctions are against Chinese financial institutions. So, we are working together with China and we need to. It is competitive and also challenging and we have to be able to cooperate against North Korea. Hillary understands that. She went famously to China and stood up at a human rights meeting and said, against North Korea. “Women’s rights are human rights.” She worked on many important diplomatic deals with China and that is what it will take.”

Clearly once again on the topic of nuclear weapons and associated issues like North Korea and the placement of such weapons in our strategic plans, Gov. Pence seems deeply in the dark. This despite having served on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. He had a hard time defending past irresponsible quotes on this issue from Trump.  The key issue here is which set of candidates will act in the most careful and responsible way and this debate did not change the view that we have in the GOP team — very dangerous people with little understanding of key security issues.

Illegal Immigration

Pence: “Donald Trump has made a plan to end illegal immigration once and for all in this country. We have been talking it to death for 20 years. Hillary Clinton wants to continue the policy of open borders, amnesty, catch and release, sanctuary cities, all of the things driving wages down in this country, senator, and also too often, with criminal aliens in the country, it is bringing heartbreak.

It begins with border security. After we secure the border, not only build a wall, but beneath the ground and in the air, we do internal enforcement. The focus has to be on criminal aliens. We just had a conversation about law enforcement, a conversation about the violence that is the setting our cities. The reality is, there is heartbreaking tragedy that has struck American families because people who came into this country illegally are now involved in criminal and reprise and activity, and we do not have the resources or the will to deport them systematically.

Donald Trump said we are going to move those people out. People have overstayed their visas. We are going to enforce the law of this country and strengthen immigration and customs enforcement with more resources and personnel to be able to do that, and then Donald Trump has made it clear. Once we have done all of those things, then we are going to reform the immigration system that we have in this country.”

Kaine: “Donald Trump believes in deportation nation. You have got to pick your choice. Hillary and I want a bipartisan reform that will keep families together, second, that will help focus enforcement efforts on those were violent, third, that will do more border control, and third, write a path to citizenship for those who play by the rules and take criminal background checks. That is our proposal.”

While Pence had a hard time defending the indefeasible lies and policies of Trump he stood clearly on the side of building the “Wall” which would be as an act of total madness and hurt our relations with every Latin American government let alone many of our citizens and undocumented residents. Senator Kaine gave the right answers about how impossible the Trump stance was and how self-defeating.

On Immigration and Refugees:

Pence: “It really does begin with us reforming our immigration system and putting the interest, particularly in the safety and security of the American people, first. Donald Trump wants extreme vetting for people coming in. Donald Trump and I are committed to suspending the Syrian refugee program and programs in immigration around the world that have been compromised by terrorism. Hillary Clinton wants to increase it.

If you’re going to be critical of me, that is fair game. After two Syrian refugees were involved in the attack in Paris that is called “Paris’ 9/11,” you bet I suspended that program. I stand by that decision. If I am vice president, we’re going to put the safety of the American people first.

The director of the FBI said we cannot know for certain who these people coming are.”

Kaine: “As opposed to violating the constitution by blocking people from coming in based on their nationality, we have different views on refugee issues and immigration. Hillary and I want to do enforcement based on “Our people dangerous?” These guys say “All Mexicans are bad.” With regard to refugees, we want to keep people out of they are dangerous. Donald Trump said “Keep them out if they are Muslim.” An appellate court with three public and judges struck down a pence plan and said it was this majority. It was discriminatory.”

Pence stuck to the Republican platform that opposes admitting refugees from Syria. By echoing Trump’s call for ‘extreme vetting,’ the Governor of Indiana demonstrated a shared ignorance in the robust vetting process already in place. Refugees are screened over a period of two years before they’re admitted into the United States. Kaine used the topic as an opportunity to highlight this week’s court ruling against Pence’s proposal to block refugees settling in his home state of Indiana. Overall, this topic is a choice between base fear, a lack of understanding of current refugee vetting, and xenophobia or accepting our share of the burden in assisting the world’s most helpless victims.

Iran, Iraq, and ISIS

Pence: “Other goal was always that we would only lift the sanctions if Iran terminally renounced their nuclear ambitions. They have not done so. And when the deal’s period runs out, there is no limitation on weapons. $1.7 billion was used in a ransom payment.

Iraq has been overrun by ISIS. They failed to negotiate. Hillary Clinton has failed to renegotiate the status of forces agreement.

The primary threat today is ISIS. Because Hillary Clinton failed to renegotiate a forces agreement that would have allowed some American combat troops to remain in Iraq and secure the hard-fought gains that the American soldier has won, ISIS was able to be literally conjured up out of the desert and it has overrun vast areas.”

Kaine: “Let me come back to talk about — he does not want to acknowledge that we stopped the Iranian nuclear weapons program. He does not want to acknowledge that Taylor was part of the team that got Osama bin Laden… She worked a tough negotiation with nations around the world to eliminate the Iranian nuclear weapons program without firing a shot.

I would like to correct — President Bush said we would leave Iraq at the end of 2011. Iraq did not want our troops to stay. They would not give us the [directive] of our troops. If a nation where our troops are serving does not want us to stay, we are not going to stay —

Here is her plan to defeat ISIL. They have to take out their leaders on the battlefield. She will lead the team that will get the head of ISIS. We have got to disrupt the financing networks.

Third, disrupt their ability to recruit on the internet, in their state havens. Fourth, we also have to work with allies to share intelligence. That is the Hillary Clinton plan.”

On these issues Pence was either badly informed or downright lied, following the tradition of his leader. Sen. Kaine corrected these mistruths. But a campaign based on security issues and especially the Iran one on nuclear issues provided such prevarications beyond acceptable. Most well-read people know that it was President Bush who decided to take our troops out when he could not get immunity for our troops.

Russia and Putin

Pence: “Hillary Clinton’s top priority when she became secretary of state was the Russian reset. After the Russian reset, the Russians invaded Ukraine and took over Crimea. The small and bullying the leader of Russia is now dictating terms to the United States to the point where all the United States of America, the greatest nation on Earth, just withdraws from talk about a cease-fire while that Vladimir Putin puts a missile defense in Syria while he marshaled the forces and begins — look, we have got to lean into this with strong, broad-shouldered American leadership that begins by rebuilding our military… The provocations by Russia need to be met by American strength. If Russia continues to be involved in this barbaric attack on civilians in Aleppo, the US needs to be prepared to strike military targets of the Assad regime, to prevent them from this humanitarian crisis taking place in Aleppo.”

“There is a broad range of other things we ought to do as well. We should deploy a missile defense shield to the Czech Republic and Poland, which had Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama pulled back on. We have to have American strength on the world stage. When Donald Trump becomes president, the Russians and other countries in the world will know they are dealing with a strong American president.”

“What we are dealing with is — there is an old proverb that says the Russian bear never dies, but hibernates. This foreign policy from Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama has awakened a Russian aggression that first appeared a few years ago with their move into Georgia and Crimea and into the wider Middle East. All we do now is pull out our arms and say, “We are not having talks anymore.” We need to marshal the resources of our allies in the region and end the immediate — we need to act and act now to get people out of harm’s way.”

“Strength. We are going to rebuild our military. This whole Putin thing, look, America is stronger than Russia. Our economy is 16 times larger than the Russian economy. Our political system is superior to the corrupt capital system in Russia it every way.”

“When Donald Trump and I observed in Syria and Iran and Ukraine that the bullying leader of Russia has been stronger on the world stage than this administration is stating facts. That is not an endorsement of Putin.”

Kaine: “Consistent with the UN Security Council resolution passed would be a good idea. Hillary Clinton has the way to stand up to Russia. Donald Trump again and again has praised Vladimir Putin.”

“It is clear she has business dealings with Russia and is very connected to Putin. The trump campaign management team had to be fired a month or so ago because of those shadowy connections.”

“Governor Pence made the odd claim, he said, and arguably, Vladimir Putin is a better leader than president Obama. Vladimir Putin has run his economy into the ground and he persecutes LGBT folks. If you don’t know the difference between dictatorship and leadership, then you got to go back to a fifth grade civics class. That offends me.”

“Vladimir Putin is a dictator. He is not a leader.”

“Anyone who thinks otherwise does not know Russian history and they doesn’t know Vladimir Putin. Hillary Clinton knows exactly who this guy is. John McCain, I look at that guy and I see KGB. So, how do you deal with him? We do have to deal with Russia in many different ways. There are areas where we can cooperate.”

Here Kaine held clearly the edge and noted the many weakness of Trump’s and Pence’s understanding and indeed especially of Trump’s admiration for Putin. He weakly defended that position at the same time Putin’s forces were bombing and killing hundreds of innocent civilian including woman and children and hospitals in Syria. This was also not addressed or noted by our clueless moderator. Pence had no decent ground on this issue. Kaine seemed to repeat the argument that are going on within the administration but sadly few on any side have any easy answers.

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