Decline of America

Trump Wags the Dog

By Andrej Mrevlje |

We can all go to bed now. Or, as I wrote last week, we can turn our TV sets off.  When it happens, we will hear it. People will talk about it. Perhaps even, on that particular day, we may go out to buy a newspaper. They will write about it. As in the old days, the headlines will read in cubical letters: “President Trump resigns,” and “ Congress Impeaches the President.” Maybe even, “Former President Trump took into custody.” The latter, of course, may only occur if Trump is impeached and stripped of the presidential immunities that protect him from criminal prosecution.

Why do I think we are better off now, safe to go back and do what we like to do without anxiety; sleep without worrying that this president might start another world war, or sell another piece of this country in some secret deal that will make him richer? Why indeed, when he is ordering the people to work without pay, shutting down the government for the most extended period in history, simply paralyzing the jobs and livelihoods of 800,000 people, threatening the daily existence of many more? Why now?

I am saying this not only due to my understanding that the end of Trump presidency is near, but also because I am convinced that the coming change will come without bloodshed. There will be no lynching of this president, no uproar of passionate Congressional leaders, no riots on the streets. To my mind, the U.S. system of justice is working well enough to be able to disclose Trump’s election coverup and safeguard its democracy. Therefore, there’s no need to be glued to the cable networks doing their job, but which can nonetheless, with their deliberate inconclusiveness, damage one’s mental health. So walk away, see friends, walk your dog, read your book and be convinced that the eventual removal of Trump is maturing within national democratic institutions. You will recognize that day by a silence: they will shut down Trump’s microphones, and his Twitter account. Wouldn’t that be nice?

But let me do some explaining. Late in the evening on January 17, just two days before the second anniversary of Trump’s presidency, BuzzFeed published an investigative report claiming, “President Donald Trump directed his longtime attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress about negotiations to build a Trump Tower in Moscow, according to two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter.” The world inhaled, sharply.

When I read that the presumed BuzzFeed sources are “two federal law enforcement officials involved in an investigation of the matter,” I was almost sure that the leak must have come from Robert Mueller’s entourage. The deteriorating social and security situation caused by the President’s protracted shutdown tightened public opinion and triggered a chain reaction within the institution responsible for the normal functioning of the country, I assumed.

The Food and Drug Administration, which usually examines operations at about 160 domestic manufacturing and food processing plants each week, and inspects food companies for bugs, rodents, mishandled food, improper preparation, and other hazards, reported that 41 percent of the staff had been furloughed. The lack of a workforce is creating a high risk of an explosion of food-borne diseases.

For the same reason, 420,000 Transport Security Administration (TSA) agents and screening personnel at airports have been working without pay for an entire month. They are now calling out sick, either in protest or to make up for lost wages. The situation is not much better within the Coast Guard and air traffic control centers. In short, the regular functioning of the entire Department of Homeland Security is showing cracks, weak spots that any hostile force to this country could take advantage of.

According to The Atlantic, the damage the shutdown has created will have lasting effects on national security. For example, can they tell the networks of foreign informants and spies on contract with the CIA and other American intelligence agencies to stop working and wait until the money arrives? Don’t they remember what happened in Iraq after the U.S. abandoned their spy network? What about the frustration in the hearts of the NASA engineers, unable to repair one of the Hubble Space Telescope’s main instruments?

There are also more terrestrial, crime-investigating issues. As Quartz informs us, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) is now operating at only 5.8 percent capacity, optimal conditions for the proliferation of insider trading and other types of fraud. The shutdown of the government is a particularly appealing circumstance for wrongdoers, Quartz concludes.

How could the president of the once-strongest country in the world decide to shut down the government, merely because the Congress did not approve his budget request to build his promised wall? How can the commander in chief sit peacefully in the Oval Office, watching as his country sinks? Considering the record duration of this shutdown, the primary interest of this president seems to be to keep the country in a state of emergency, which he intentionally creates to sow chaos and dysfunction. It’s the same pattern Trump uses from day one of entering the White House.

He wags the dog; “he purposely diverts attention from what would otherwise be of greater importance, to something else of lesser significance. By doing so, the lesser-significant event is catapulted into the limelight, drowning proper attention to what was originally the more important issue.”

With this president, the most crucial issue is always his ego. Two years ago, he proved he was capable of nuking North Korea to protect himself, as the White House tried to distract the public from the news that the president was under scrutiny for alleged secret communications and possible collusion between his campaign and the Russians. It was at that point that President Trump ordered a massive attack on the airbase in Syria, presumably a response to the sarin bomb attack Bashar al-Assad approved on his inert opposition. Fifty-nine Tomahawk missiles is a lot of firepowers, even for an exuberant president. The dust of the bombing had hardly settled, and talks with Moscow were just short of reaching fever pitch when the White House dropped a 22-thousand-pound bomb on Afghanistan.

What, exactly, is the president trying to cover-up with his order to shut down the government?  

In the context of current disintegration of the United States, the New York Times published a front-page piece announcing: F.B.I. Opened Inquiry Into Whether Trump Was Secretly Working on Behalf of Russia. This explosive headline reads as if the FBI suspected that Trump might be a Russian agent:

In the days after President Trump fired James B. Comey as F.B.I. director, law enforcement officials became so concerned by the president’s behavior that they began investigating whether he had been working on behalf of Russia against American interests, according to former law enforcement officials and others familiar with the investigation.

The inquiry carried explosive implications. Counterintelligence investigators had to consider whether the president’s own actions constituted a possible threat to national security. Agents also sought to determine whether Mr. Trump was knowingly working for Russia or had unwittingly fallen under Moscow’s influence.

The long piece in the New York Times analyzes the indices that are now being scrutinized by investigators. The Times does not quote its sources directly. It makes an effort to connect many not-yet corroborated pieces of information that indicate the president’s special relationship with Moscow.  Just two days after the Times hinted that Trump is now under direct investigation, lead by counterintelligence agents, the Washington Post published another piece in the same direction:

President Trump has gone to extraordinary lengths to conceal details of his conversations with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin, including on at least one occasion taking possession of the notes of his own interpreter and instructing the linguist not to discuss what had transpired with other administration officials, current and former U.S. officials said.

The constraints that Trump imposed are part of a broader pattern by the president of shielding his communications with Putin from public scrutiny and preventing even high-ranking officials in his own administration from fully knowing what he has told one of the United States’ main adversaries. As a result, U.S. officials said there is no detailed record, even in classified files, of Trump’s face-to-face interactions with the Russian leader at five locations over the past two years. Such a gap would be unusual in any presidency, let alone one that Russia sought to install through what U.S. intelligence agencies have described as an unprecedented campaign of election interference.

As the New York Times doesn’t single out the sources, nor does the Washington Post. The latter  indicates that the investigators are aware of the president’s possession of interpreter’s notes that may reveal the content of the secret face-to-face interactions between Trump and Putin. Can the Post’s piece be understood as a message from investigators to Trump? Are they informing Trump, who refuses to be questioned by Mueller, that they or the Congress may seek court subpoenas requesting the notes? If so, how close and how similar is this investigation to Watergate, when Nixon refused the congressional subpoena to release his tapes? Nixon’s refusal triggered the articles of impeachment and led to his subsequent resignation.

With every new day, investigators are tightening the circle around Trump. One notices that the White House reaction to the growing pressure is getting more confused and incomplete. When BuzzFeed came out with their report, the White House and even Trump went silent for hours. There was no reaction, no general denial, no accusatory presidential tweets. For almost 24 hours, politicians, members of Congress and historians were stating that, if true, if Trump was instructing his former lawyer Michael Cohen to lie to the Senate about his Russia negotiations, then in legal terms this is called suborning perjury — the very essence of a coverup. Trump should be impeached. End of discussion.

It was too soon and too early. After 24 hours of pondering and verifying numerous elements of his team and investigation, Mueller’s office issued the chilling note: “BuzzFeed’s description of specific statements to the special counsel’s office, and characterization of documents and testimony obtained by this office, regarding Michael Cohen’s congressional testimony are not accurate.”

But, Mueller’s note does not mean that the special counsel denies the allegations. There are many theories about which part of the BuzzFeed report Mueller considers inaccurate. To my mind, what Mueller is saying is that, categorically, the leak is not coming from his squad, as the BuzzFeed report suggested. In its answer, BuzzFeed did not surrender its stance, instead of saying, “We are continuing to report and determine what the special counsel is disputing. We remain confident in the accuracy of our report.”

So, who are “the federal law enforcement officials” who fed BuzzFeed? It could be that the leaks came directly from the FBI, and not from Mueller’s team. It has happened before. The source of Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s Washington Post investigation into the Nixon administration was Deep Throat, who turned out to be FBI Deputy Director Mark Felt.

There is no damage if BuzzFeed relies on its own Deep Throat. Mueller, for tactical reasons, needed to underline that the declarations of Trump’s lawyer are not his source of evidence of presidential malfeasance. It is not that the allegations are untrue, but that he does not agree with their attribution. Mueller is not ready to lay out his corroborations, which will prove whether this president is a Russian agent or a simple idiot. I think that Trump is neither of the two. He just wanted to build his Trump tower in Moscow, unable to understand why it is inappropriate. Now, he is angry and ready to destroy the world for his misunderstanding. Trump is our very own Dr.Strangelove.

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