February 13, 2020

Since the Senate acquitted him of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, Trump seems to feel untouchable, and he is trying to consolidate his power.

On his calendar today was that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo was to meet with him at the White House, and Trump used the occasion to threaten the governor. Before the meeting, Trump tweeted that Cuomo “must understand that National Security far exceeds politics. New York must stop all of its unnecessary lawsuits & harassment, start cleaning itself up, and lowering taxes. Build relationships, but don’t bring Fredo!”

This is alarming.

Trump is referring here to two things: the fact that his administration has stopped New York’s ability to participate in the Global Entry and other programs available to international travelers on the one hand; and New York’s many lawsuits against Trump and his businesses, on the other. The New York state attorney general Letitia James has subpoenaed Trump’s financial records from Deutsche Bank, the only bank willing to lend to him after his many bankruptcies, an institution linked to money laundering. She has just won a $2 million settlement from his disbanded “charitable foundation” for misusing funds, and is also looking into Trump Organization business practices. Trump is clearly suggesting that he will retaliate against New Yorkers unless its officials back off.

This is precisely what the House impeachment managers warned of in their impeachment trial brief: “An acquittal would… provide license to President Trump and his successors to use taxpayer dollars for personal political ends ... Presidents could also hold hostage federal funds earmarked for States — such as money for natural disasters, highways, and healthcare — unless and until State officials perform personal political favors,” and the House impeachment managers called it out. Jerrold Nadler, chair of the House Judiciary Committee tweeted: “Dear @SenateGOP, This is what another quid pro quo by the President of the United States looks like.”

Also today, the fallout continued from Attorney General William Barr’s interference in the sentencing recommendations for Trump’s associate and self-proclaimed dirty trickster Roger Stone. The outcry against this politicization of the Department of Justice has increased pressure on the administration. Jessie Liu was the US attorney who oversaw Roger Stone’s prosecution. She left for the Treasury Department with the promise of a Senate-confirmed position after being replaced by one of Barr’s proteges, Timothy Shea. But the White House yanked her nomination for the position of under secretary for terrorism and financial crimes on Wednesday. Today we learned that she has resigned from the Treasury Department, effective last night.

In the wake of this crisis, Trump’s former Chief of Staff, General John Kelly, let loose on the president in a speech at Drew University in New Jersey. He defended Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, who testified about the content of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky: “We teach them, Don’t follow an illegal order. And if you’re ever given one, you’ll raise it to whoever gives it to you that this is an illegal order, and then tell your boss,” he said, indicating that Trump’s phone call with Zelensky undercut U.S. policy and national security. In a comment reflecting that people are moving away from association with Trump, Kelly suggested that he had worked for the president only to protect the country.

Piling on, today the Senate, in a bipartisan vote, agreed to limit the president’s ability to go to war with Iran without congressional approval. Despite Trump’s tweet saying “We are doing very well with Iran and this is not the time to show weakness. If my hands were tied, Iran would have a field day. Sends a very bad signal. The Democrats are only doing this as an attempt to embarrass the Republican Party”— the vote was not even particularly close, 55-45.

Barr seems fully aware of how damaging this event has been to the credibility of both the Department of Justice and to himself. He did an interview today with ABC News, in which he appeared to lambast the president for his tweets about Stone’s sentencing. He said that Trump “has never asked me to do anything in a criminal case,” (an interesting hedge), but that his tweets made it “impossible for me to do my job.” He said “I’m not going to be bullied or influenced by anybody.”

It sounded noble, but Barr’s interview was clearly damage control.

Trump gave away the game when White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, who has yet to hold a press conference, by the way, although she’s been on the job since July 1 of last year, said Trump has "full faith and confidence in Attorney General Barr to do his job and uphold the law" and he "wasn’t bothered by the comments at all and he has the right, just like any American citizen, to publicly offer his opinions."

Watch what people do, not what they say. If Barr were really interested in rebuking the president, he could’ve done so forcefully, in private. So why a sudden interview when he has been carrying water for Trump since he took office, as I outlined last night? He and the White House are clearly concerned about how much pushback this Interference into the Stone sentencing recommendation has attracted.

Trump did not stop, though, and went after the forewoman of the jury that found Stone guilty, tweeting: “Now it looks like the fore person in the jury, in the Roger Stone case, had significant bias. Add that to everything else, and this is not looking good for the 'Justice' Department." The Fox News Channel began to claim that the forewoman was an anti-Trump Democratic activist. And tonight, on his show on the Fox News Channel, personality Tucker Carlson revealed the Twitter handle of that forewoman, along with the portrait on that Twitter bio, insisting that “this was not a neutral person, this is not a person capable of judging this trial fairly.” He claimed that “Roger Stone is facing life in prison because an Obama-appointed judge allowed this woman to run the jury.”

Right-wing media personalities are ramping up calls for Trump to pardon Stone. On the Fox News Channel, Newt Gingrich complained about the prosecution of Stone when there had been “no action” against Hillary Clinton and her staff or against the FBI agents associated with the Mueller investigation. Jesse Watters insisted that Stone’s conviction was the result of a “hoax investigation” and proves that America is a “banana republic.”

The attempt to convince viewers that America is divided and collapsing is the same message Russian propaganda is spreading. And, in Kansas City, Missouri, you can hear the Russian message directly from Russian state media. There, Radio Sputnik has begun broadcasting their message of American decline on a local right-wing radio channel whose owner liked both their message and their money. “They are paying for airtime and I make a percentage,” the man who brokered the deal said in an interview.

The Russians are still attacking America, and some of us appear to be welcoming them. It is vital to remember that Stone was apparently the link between the Trump campaign and the Russians feeding hacked emails to Wikileaks. Stone has plenty of information Trump does not want made public. Trump's determination to protect Stone might be seen as… a quid pro quo.

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Notes:

Carlson:

Financial subpoenas: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/11/nyregion/deutsche-bank-trump.html

NY quid pro quo: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/02/13/trump-new-york-investigations-114991

Kelly: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/02/13/john-kelly-defends-vindman-114801

https://www.theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2020/02/why-john-kelly-speaking-out-now/606514/

Barr: https://abcnews.go.com/Politics/barr-blasts-trumps-tweets-stone-case-impossible-job/story?

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/13/us/politics/william-barr-trump.html

https://www.washingtonpost.com/national-security/barr-pushes-back-against-trumps-criticism-of-justice-dept-says-tweets-make-it-impossible-for-me-to-do-my-job/2020/02/13/7ff5f308-4e7c-11ea-9b5c-eac5b16dafaa_story.html

Liu: https://www.cnn.com/2020/02/13/politics/jessie-liu-trump-administration/index.html

https://www.mediamatters.org/roger-stone/right-wing-media-go-bat-donald-trumps-politicization-justice-department

Radio Sputnik: https://www.nytimes.com/2020/02/13/us/russian-propaganda-radio.html?action=click&module=Top%20Stories&pgtype=Homepage&fbclid=IwAR0aqCUm6zMNVr3qXrRAr8wySGX3jjBvzvWjr4cxiQ0AtNGl_Tt3WuD1oLE

War powers: https://www.politico.com/news/2020/02/13/cotton-amendment-war-powers-bill-114815