Political Animal

Trump Doesn’t Know Fact From Fiction

Asha Rangappa is a former FBI counterintelligence officer who now lectures at Yale University. She’s written a piece for Politico that explores some fairly obvious points about the damage that can be done to our governmental institutions when we elect someone without good moral character. Her main point is that it’s a very bad thing when, due to the president’s personal flaws, the courts have to get involved in defining and limiting his or her power. A secondary point is that when a president is aggressively investigated by his or her own executive branch’s prosecutors, it divides the country. The president’s supporters lose faith in federal law enforcement.

Not to be mean, but there’s not much more content than this to Rangappa’s piece, which is unfortunate considering the relevancy of her background. The main problem is that she tiptoes around the central problem in our current situation. It’s fine to lament that the nation elected a man with poor moral character which has now produced predictably bad results for the nation––results that are likely to get worse and worse with each passing day. But this is where we are, and the question of whether Donald Trump will willingly submit to an interview from Robert Mueller’s Special Counsel’s office doesn’t hinge on anything too complicated.

The president cannot do an interview with Robert Mueller because he isn’t sane.

I don’t need to sit down with Trump and do a psychological evaluation to know that he has highly peculiar traits, among which is an inability to cleanly divide fact from fiction.  Perhaps he knew that he was peddling bullshit all along when he hyped the birth certificate “controversy” with President Obama. Perhaps he knows that he’s gaslighting people when he says that he’s been tougher on Russian that Obama ever was.  Or maybe one part of his brain knows this, at least initially, and then that part of his brain becomes subsumed by another part of his brain that believe its own lies. What does Trump think about the size of his inaugural crowd? Has he convinced himself that he really, truly never once expressed doubt that the Russians interfered in our election?

If he were more cunning and in control of his own thoughts, it might be possible for him to talk to prosecutors and stick to the truth. This would be highly embarrassing for him because he’d have to admit to telling hundreds of lies that pertain to the Russia investigation. For just one example, he’d have to argue that he of course crafted a  completely dishonest account of the purpose of the Trump Tower meeting his son, son-in-law and campaign chairman had with the Russians, but that it’s his right to lie to the people. He’d have to argue that he knew that this would eventually be exposed as a lie when the relevant emails and telephone records were turned over, and that even though he discussed the prospects of keeping those records hidden from the Special Counsel’s office, that became irrelevant when the documents were procured by other means.

Trump’s not capable of walking that kind of tightrope. He’s too reluctant to admit his own dishonesty. He’s too insecure to allow himself to be humbled this way. And he comes to believe many things that simply aren’t true, which makes it impossible to keep his balance when he’s trying to quarantine his political lies off from his legal vulnerabilities.

He’s bet everything on the hope that Robert Mueller cannot demonstrate the kind of coordination between his campaign and the Russians’ hacking and influence campaign that would warrant impeachment and removal from office. In the process, he’s already created a very threatening obstruction of justice case. If he’s going to survive, he can’t make things worse for himself by committing a hundred acts of perjury.

Like anyone else, the president cannot be compelled to incriminate himself. He won’t want to take the Fifth Amendment, since that would imply he is admitting to wrongdoing. That means that he’ll probably fight a grand jury subpoena in court even though he’s unlikely to win that case in the end. If he ever has to fall back on the Fifth Amendment, he’ll say that his tormentors are so hell-bent on proving something incriminating that they can’t be trusted. More likely, he’ll simply defy the Supreme Court and dare Congress to do anything about it.

In one sense, Trump will do these things because he doesn’t have respect for our institutions and actually benefits when the country is divided and distrusting of our institutions.  But in a much clearer sense, Trump will do these things because he simply cannot tell the truth even when he’s under oath and facing legal consequences if he lies. His lawyers know this and have effectively admitted as much. That’s why they want Mueller to submit written questions. With written questions, the lawyers can write the answers instead of the president.

Even that would be unlikely to work because Trump would never let his lawyers provide answers that are truthful admissions of all the lies he’s told.  This is all the more true because Trump actually has obstructed justice, and an honest account would make that clear.

Rangpappa says:

Electing someone to the presidency with bad moral character isn’t just a 4-year embarrassment. It’s also a constitutional risk, since there’s a good chance these individuals will have little regard for how their actions impact the legacy of the office they hold—especially if they find themselves in the crosshairs of an investigation, like Trump does now.

There’s no reason to dispute any of that, but Trump’s malfunctioning brain is a more immediate and consequential problem than his bad moral character. If Trump has any defense at all, it’s that he simply can’t distinguish between fact and fiction. At a root level, he’s so unconcerned about the distinction that he doesn’t know how to act as if matters.

Trump and His Supporters Prop up His Ego in Light of the Mueller Indictments

For well over a year now, Donald Trump has tried to sow doubt about whether or not Russia attempted to interfere in the 2016 election. Contrary to what Sarah Huckabee Sanders said yesterday, the president hasn’t clearly acknowledged that fact prior to the recent Mueller indictments.

Perhaps the most glaring examples of when the president denied Russian interference came following meetings with Vladimir Putin.

“Every time he sees me, he says, ‘I didn’t do that,’ ” Trump said. “And I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

In typical Trump fashion, he often contradicted himself.

In a December 2016 interview with Time, Trump said two things: He didn’t think Russia meddled, and that it might have.

“I don’t believe they interfered,” Trump said. “That became a laughing point, not a talking point, a laughing point. Any time I do something, they say ‘oh, Russia interfered.’”

But a moment later he said, “I believe that it could have been Russia and it could have been any one of many other people. Sources or even individuals.”

While taking an in-depth look at how the president has responded (or failed to respond) to Russian interference, the Washington Post identified the reason why Trump refused to acknowledge the facts.

In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded — that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real…

But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.

It basically comes down to that whole narcissism thing. Admitting that Russia was involved tarnishes his own view of himself as the “great one.”

With the release of the Mueller indictments against the Russians who were involved in informational warfare, Trump has finally had to admit that they interfered. Now the president has to come up with other excuses to prop up his ego. Both he and his supporters have been busy trying to do that over the last few days. Let’s take a look at what they’ve come up with.

“I was tougher than Obama”

As Philip Rucker and Ashley Parker point out, this is one of Trump’s favorite moves whenever he feels threatened.

To hear President Trump tell it, he is tougher than former president Barack Obama. He is smarter than Obama — more shrewd, more effective, more respected. The 45th president is, by his own accounting, superlative to the 44th in almost every way.

In private and in public, while devising policies and while crafting messages, Trump frequently draws flattering comparisons with his predecessor — and he does not let the truth intrude, as was the case Tuesday.

“I have been much tougher on Russia than Obama, just look at the facts,” Trump tweeted.

Others have attempted to make this argument as well, like Jonah Goldberg and Devin Nunes. But all of that is completely negated by the facts. Obama was briefed on Russian activities in August 2016 and ordered further investigation. He attempted to persuade congressional leaders to release a bipartisan statement on the issue in September, only to be told by Majority Leader McConnell that they would accuse the president of partisan interference in the election if he went public with the intelligence. Nevertheless, the administration released a statement about Russia’s activities on October 7th. After the election, Obama expelled 35 Russians from the U.S., closed two Russian compounds and imposed sanctions on the people involved.

In contrast, the only thing Trump has done is to refuse the implementation of additional Russian sanctions that were approved by congress.

Russia’s real goal was disruption, not to help Trump

Having been forced to admit that Russia interfered, it becomes important for Trump and his supporters to claim that it had nothing to do with helping him get elected. The White House talking points about how this all started in 2014, before he announced his candidacy, are part of that argument. So are the claims that Russian interference didn’t change the outcome of the election. The folks at Investor’s Business Daily took this one a step further.

…if you read the indictments, look at the Facebook ads, the Trump “dossier” and other evidence, it becomes clear that the goal of this meddling wasn’t to elect Trump, but to create anger, hostility, bitterness, and discord in the U.S.

They are right that the goal was to create anger and discord in the U.S. But it is also true that the Russians attempted to accomplish that by both supporting Trump (and Sanders) as well as disparaging Clinton. It is the combination of those goals that is most revealing: creating discord could best be accomplished via support for Trump.

Russian’s didn’t spend much money and their efforts weren’t very effective

Ari Fleisher came up with a response that is quintessentially Republican.

The assumption is that only the expenditure of large sums of money is meaningful. To the extent he really believes that, he is woefully ignorant about social media.

This is essentially the same argument made by Byron York. It is worth noting that his article is titled: “A non-alarmist reading of the Mueller Russia indictment.” In other words, he just told you that if you don’t completely dismiss what the Russians attempted to do, you are an “alarmist.”

None of these arguments have anything to do with the real question that is on the table about whether the Trump campaign was involved with Russian efforts to influence the election. They are all attempts by Trump and his supporters to prop up his ego now that they have had to admit to the facts.

Mueller Ups the Ante on Paul Manafort

When I want to remind myself that Robert Mueller currently knows a lot more than we are aware of about a potential conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians to influence the 2016 election, I think about the fact that Michael Flynn has already reached a plea agreement with the special counsel’s investigation. We have heard absolutely nothing so far about what he has revealed. But his fate (and perhaps that of his son) rests on full cooperation, so there is a lot more to come.

It has become increasingly clear that the other target Mueller is focused on flipping is former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort. Just this week we have seen two things that increase the pressure on him. The first is that Manafort’s former business partner, Richard Gates, is reported to have reached a plea agreement that will be announced shortly. To the extent that Mueller lacked information that could put Manafort away for a very long time, that should fill in the blanks.

Yesterday, Mueller upped the ante even further, perhaps with testimony that has already been provided by Gates.

In a surprise development, a lawyer who worked at the firm that produced a report for Paul Manafort’s Ukrainian lobbying campaign has been charged with lying to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team. The charges were revealed in court documents filed on Friday that became public on Tuesday.

The lawyer, Alex Van Der Zwaan “willfully and knowingly” made “materially false, fictitious, and fraudulent statements and representations” to the investigators about his conversations with Manafort deputy Rick Gates and an unnamed third person, prosecutors alleged in the new court filings.

What we see is that even lawyers are not exempt from charges if they lie to the investigators.

In light of all of this, it is important to keep in mind that the special counsel cut off any possibility of a Trump pardon for Manafort months ago.

Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is working with New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman on its investigation into Paul Manafort and his financial transactions, according to several people familiar with the matter.

The cooperation is the latest indication that the federal probe into President Donald Trump’s former campaign chairman is intensifying. It also could potentially provide Mueller with additional leverage to get Manafort to cooperate in the larger investigation into Trump’s campaign, as Trump does not have pardon power over state crimes.

As a remind of why Manafort’s testimony could be crucial to this investigation, here is what was reported in the Steele dossier:

The “well-developed conspiracy of co-operation” between the Trump campaign and Russian leadership was managed on the Trump side by Paul Manafort. To the extent that Christopher Steele’s sources are correct, Manafort holds the keys to the entire game.

Contrary to what right wing media would have you believe, Sen. Dianne Feinstein recently wrote that “Not a single revelation in the Steele dossier has been refuted.” If this item turns out to be true, it makes sense that Mueller is pulling out all the stops to apply pressure on Manafort to flip.

Quick Takes: “There’s Something Happening Here…”

Over the last several years we seem to have gotten caught in a predictable script after every mass shooting. Republicans offer their thoughts and prayers, suggesting that it is too soon to politicize a tragedy. Democrats call for common sense gun safety measures for a few days and then everybody forgets about it until the next mass shooting.

But these young people from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School have jolted us out of that script and this is the anthem that keeps playing in my head as I read about the impact they’re having.

So far these young people have done countless interviews, travelled to Tallahassee today to push for more gun laws, will participate in a CNN town hall tomorrow, and are busy planning a nationwide “March For Our Lives” on March 24th.

They are also inspiring others.

Earlier this afternoon, George and Amal Clooney responded to their efforts.

“Amal and I are so inspired by the courage and eloquence of these young men and women from Stoneman Douglas High School,” George Clooney said in a statement. “Our family will be there on March 24 to stand side by side with this incredible generation of young people from all over the country, and in the name of our children Ella and Alexander, we’re donating $500,000 to help pay for this groundbreaking event.”

“Our children’s lives depend on it,” he added.

Almost immediately, that commitment was matched by Jeffrey and Marilyn Katzenberg as well as Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw and Oprah Winfrey. As fast as that is all happening, I suspect that we’re just getting started.

Of course the right-wingers are losing their minds over the idea that young people are being empowered to fight for their own safety. People are accusing them of being coached by the “deep-staters” at the FBI; not having their own agency and instead, being manipulated by people like George Soros; and they are being referred to as “traumatized teens” who shouldn’t be allowed to make policy. Anyone else remember David Bowie’s song “Changes?”

And these children that you spit on
As they try to change their worlds
Are immune to your consultations
They’re quite aware of what they’re going through

It strikes me that Republicans, who completely discarded African American voters in the 60’s and have recently done their best to alienate women, Hispanics and immigrants, are now doing their best to ensure that the next generation of voters is committed to their downfall. Contrary to everything they’ve been saying over the last couple of days, it has always been the passion of young people that inspired change. For example:

A Mississippi lunch counter

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Soweto, South Africa

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Tienamen Square, China

Cairo, Egypt

A U.S. presidential election in 2008

Republicans can either pay attention now and learn the easy way, or ignore these young people and learn the hard way what Ms. Ella Baker knew long ago.

The older I get the better I know that the secret of my going on
Is when the reins are in the hands of the young, who dare to run against the storm
To me young people come first, they have the courage where we fail
And if I can but shed some light as they carry us through the gale