The Con Goes On

This weekend brought more evidence of the Emperor’s nakedness; the cynicism of his henchmen; and the dawning awareness among increasing numbers of townspeople that we are trapped in a terrible and dangerous con.

Trump tweets on Saturday morning, before 6 a.m., that his phones had been wiretapped by President Obama in November.  Interestingly – and I’m sure this is pure coincidence – Breitbart published a similar claim on Friday afternoon.  But this is about the secret wiretapping of a candidate for President, who becomes President-Elect, in his own home, on American soil. Surely the President of the United States gets that kind of information from his National Security Adviser, or from the Attorney General, or from his Chief of Staff, even.  Right?

Well, let’s see.  This president’s National Security Adviser had to resign for having lied to Congress; his Attorney General has had to recuse himself from the Russia investigation and is also under pressure to resign for having lied to Congress; and his Chief of Staff is under a cloud for having put pressure on the FBI about how to talk about and whether to pursue the Russia investigation. So Breitbart is looking like a pretty likely source.  Especially when we remember our friend Otto, I mean Steve Bannon, whispering in the Emperor’s ear.

And how does con man/enabler James Comey react to this claim that his FBI might have engaged in illegal surveillance? Why, he tries to save his own skin, of course.  Henchmen enable the con only as long as it serves them.  According to senior American officials, Comey asked the Justice Department to publicly reject Trump’s claim.  Says the New York Times, “Mr. Comey has argued that the highly charged claim is false and must be corrected . . . because it falsely insinuates that the F.B.I. broke the law.”

Oh my goodness, one of the original henchmen is saying the Emperor has no clothes! Wow.  But wait, is James Comey saying that? In that same article, the Times notes, “It is not clear why Mr. Comey did not issue a statement himself. He is the most senior law enforcement official who was kept on the job as the Obama administration gave way to the Trump administration. And while the Justice Department applies for intelligence-gathering warrants, the F.B.I. keeps its own records and is in a position to know whether Mr. Trump’s claims are true. While intelligence officials do not normally discuss the existence or nonexistence of surveillance warrants, no law prevents Mr. Comey from issuing the statement.”

Interesting, right? Is he hedging his bets? We know Mr. Comey is not shy about deviating from the norm when releasing information to the public.  His October 28th Letter to Congress about “new emails” is what secured his position as one of the leading enablers, if not perpetrators, of the con.  So he could certainly make a statement himself about Trump’s assertions.  But he hasn’t, and nor has the FBI.

Indeed, Comey has not been much help in exposing the nakedness of the lie about our free election.  We know now that not only Flynn, and not only Sessions, and not only Paul Manafort and not only Carter Page and not only J.D. Gordon, but also Jared Kushner met with the Russians during the campaign and beyond; and that they talked about stuff they shouldn’t have talked about.  Thanks to the work of diagram makers and chart-fillers like the journalists at the Washington Post, we know all this now – we can see it with our own eyes.

So our representatives in Congress who specialize in National Security are trying to get the full story about the Russia-Trump connection.  The Intelligence Committee asked the head of the FBI – our friend Mr. Comey – to come testify on the matter in a closed door session.  He did so, for over three hours.  And he refused to answer their questions. Said ranking member of the Committee, Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), after the briefing,  “I would say at this point we know less than a fraction of what the FBI knows,”

Rachel Maddow interviewed Schiff on Thursday night after he had made that statement and asked “and the remedy for that is to subpoena the FBI, to compel them to give more information?” To which Schiff replied that “if this persists, I don’t see what option we have left but to subpoena the director.”

Let’s not lose focus, fellow townspeople. The con is still running, and is much more complicated than a fake suit of clothes.  These are powerful and resourceful con artists with a lot to gain and even more to lose.  We have to keep watching what the Emperor and his henchmen do and not be lured into the craziness of what they say.  That craziness, I believe, is part of the con.  Don’t get fooled.  Pay attention!

The Emperor has No Clothes

We all know the story.  Con men tailors come to a city and “sew” the Emperor a “new suit” made from “the finest cloth in all the land” — cloth which cost the citizens a pretty penny.  The tailors end up doing nothing, of course.  They pocket the cash and skip town, leaving the naked Emperor parading down the street, surrounded by his henchmen, all of whom have convinced themselves that he is indeed wearing a beautiful new suit.  They all crow (the Emperor included) that this suit is the most luxurious, most beautiful, most expensive, best suit ever made.  Of course, there is a brave (or stupid?) little boy in the crowd watching the parade who starts to point and giggle.  And pretty soon the whole world joins in and the Emperor and his henchmen are humiliated.

Trump is obviously the vain, greedy, gullible Emperor, but what about the rest of the characters? We all are the townspeople, watching the parade, of course.  And many of us are the brave (or stupid?) little boy who points and giggles (though not because any of it is funny).

I used to think Bannon was the con man tailor, but now one of my fellow townspeople suggests that he is in fact one of the vain, greedy, power-hungry, obsequious henchmen.  On Wednesday, Bill Moyers published a piece by Michael Winship, called “A Fish Called Bannon.” Winship reflects:

“Whenever I read or hear something White House chief strategist Steve Bannon says or thinks, I’m reminded of Otto, the character Kevin Kline plays in ‘A Fish Called Wanda.’ You know, the self-proclaimed ex-CIA hit man who believes he’s super-intelligent but really, really isn’t?  It finally takes Jamie Lee Curtis’ character, Wanda, to put Otto in his place. ‘Let me correct you on a couple of things, okay?’ she tells him. ‘Aristotle was not Belgian. The central message of Buddhism is not Every man for himself. And the London Underground is not a political movement. Those are all mistakes, Otto. I looked them up.’  Am I the only one who hears Otto when Steve Bannon speaks?”

What about KellyAnne Conway? Here is an amazing montage of her ridiculous statements to the press about a variety of issues. She brushed off speculation that she has been sidelined because of statements like these, telling Sean Hannity, “Somebody’s trying to stir up trouble . . . . About 5% of what I’m being asked to do in this White House counsel role is TV, and I think that’s about right.” Huh. What is she doing the other 95%?  Is she one of the con men tailors, or a loyal henchman?

And Jeff Sessions? He lied to Congress about meeting with Russians during the campaign, or did he? Was it a lie or a fudge or an omission or just a brain fart?  Either way, he has recused himself from the Russia investigations — whatever that means — but remains firmly in control of the Justice Department, the highest ranked law enforcement official (i.e. cop) in the country.  Con man or henchman?  And the Republican leadership in congress — they seem like the classic henchmen, don’t they — so determined initially to gain and now to hold on to power that they are happy to go along with the lies, as long as they get reelected.

More people along the parade route are starting to point and scream (we’re past giggling).  More people — in increasingly powerful roles and configurations — are identifying that something seems off.  Indeed, some are even naming the lie.  The “suit of clothes” woven by the likes of Bannon and Sessions and Conway — is that a Trump presidency will preserve and strengthen American democracy and its role in the world.  That is a lie.  And it’s not a funny lie.

The Guardian ran a chilling article last week called “The State of Trump’s State Department,” subtitled: “Anxiety and listless days as a foreign-policy bureaucracy confronts the possibility of radical change.”  Said one mid-level State Department officer, about the empty hallways and lack of activity for the vast majority of staffers and officers,  “This is probably what it felt like to be a British foreign service officer after World War II, when you realize, no, the sun actually does set on your empire. . . . America is over. And being part of that, when it’s happening for no reason, is traumatic.”

“America is over.”  That could be the end result of the con men’s lie.  The time for pointing and giggling has passed.

Who You Gonna Call?

I keep coming up against this — and then backing away from it because it seems either like a rhetorical question, or a question that begs the obligatory “we all are.”  But I really think we need to ask not rhetorically and without assumption about the answer:  who or what is going to stop the blatant undermining of our democracy by the Administration and its enablers?

We know that Russia interfered with our election.  We know that because the press has reported that all 17 of our intelligence agencies have concluded that Russia interfered with our election.

We also know that the FBI and others have been investigating the hacking and other interference since the summer, at least.  And we know that those investigations have not led to prosecutions yet. And we know further that Reince Priebus, the President’s Chief of Staff, has communicated directly with the FBI about how/whether/when to pursue the investigations.

We also know that the FBI has all kinds of information about who knew what when about Michael Flynn’s contacts with the Russians before, during and after the election.  We also know that the FBI knows that Michael Flynn lied to the FBI about these contacts with the Russians.  Which is a felony, by the way.

And we know that the person in charge of deciding whether to bring prosecutions for any of these potential violations of all kinds of federal, state and possibly international laws is our new Attorney General, Jeff Sessions.  And we know that Jeff Sessions was Nominee Trump’s Senior Foreign Policy Adviser, and that he was a vice-chair and senior national security adviser during the Transition.  Did you also know that Senator Sessions’ former staff director at the Senate Judiciary Committee, Brian Benczkowski, helped manage Trump’s Justice Department transition? What are the odds?

And it’s not only the Executive Branch.  Congress too has a role in deciding whether to pursue any of the information the FBI and other intelligence agencies have uncovered.  What is the likelihood of that, given the party loyalists’ weak stomach for opposition; not to mention the White House’s lack of inhibition about putting its thumb on the scale?

And this is not only on the topic of Russia.  The same pattern can be seen when examining how the Muslim ban came about — Sally Yates does her job, she gets fired; the Department of Homeland Security prepares a report whose conclusion is that “country of citizenship is unlikely to be a reliable indicator of potential terrorist activity;” the White House nixes the report (we know about it only through leaks).

What about investigating Trump’s conflicts of interest? His tax returns? What about the new Commerce Secretary’s insane ties with a Cyprus bank run by a Russian billionaire who gave Trump a $60 million windfall back in the mid 2000’s? Who is going to insist on pursuing these things?

We have two potential investigatory bodies — the Justice Department of the Executive Branch and the standing, select and joint committees of the Legislative Branch.   And if that’s not enough, these two investigatory bodies can either or both create or request an independent investigatory body (e.g. special prosecutor, special committee, etc.).

There is, in other words, no shortage of tools.  Just not, it appears, anyone willing or able to use them.

We have a system of checks and balances to protect our great Democracy.  That system depends on everyone — or at least the vast majority —  sharing a unified (if not identical) vision, accepting some basic, fundamental truths about how we want society to function.   Our system of checks and balances is not working because the people in power — both in the White House and in Congress — do not appear to share that vision anymore.  Either for ideological reasons — Steve Bannon’s fight for “deconstruction of the administrative state” — or because they are good loyal soldiers who want to keep their jobs, those charged with defending and protecting our Democracy are failing to do so.

So who, what, where is the Democracy police?