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LESSONS IN DISLOYALTY—GOTTI AND TRUMP: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 12, 2018 at 12:04 am

President Donald Trump shares more than a few striking similarities with John Gotti, who, for five years, ruled as the boss of the most powerful Mafia family in the United States: The Gambino Family. 

Among those similarities: A complete lack of loyalty to anyone. 

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Donald Trump

Unknowingly speaking into an FBI electronic bug, Gotti charged that Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, his underboss, or second-in command, was too greedy. He also blamed him for the murders of three Mafiosi whom Gotti had ordered hit.

When Gravano learned of these slanders at a pretrial hearing, he agreed to testify against Gotti and other Mafiosi in exchange for a five-year prison sentence. 

And just as Gotti’s disloyalty ultimately destroyed him, the same may yet prove true for Trump.

Consider the case of attorney Michael Cohen.

  • An executive of the Trump Organization, Cohen acted as “Trump’s pit bull.” “If somebody does something Mr. Trump doesn’t like,” he told ABC News in 2011, “I do everything in my power to resolve it to Mr. Trump’s benefit.”
  • In 2015, a reporter for The Daily Beast asked Cohen about Ivana Trump’s charge (later recanted) that Trump had raped her while they were married. Cohen: “I’m warning you, tread very fucking lightly, because what I’m going to do to you is going to be fucking disgusting.”
  • In 2016, while Trump was running for President, Cohen acted as the go-between for a $130,000 hush-money payoff to porn star Stormy Daniels. The reason: To prevent her from revealing a 2006 tryst she had had with Trump.  

In April 2018, the United States Attorney for the Southern District of New York began investigating Cohen. Charges reportedly include bank fraud, wire fraud and violations of campaign finance law.

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Michael Cohen

By IowaPolitics.com (Trump executive Michael Cohen 012) [CC BY-SA 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)%5D, via Wikimedia Commons

On April 9, 2018, the FBI, executing a federal search warrant, raided Cohen’s office at the law firm of Squire Patton Boggs, as well as his home and his hotel room in the Loews Regency Hotel in New York City. Agents seized emails, tax and business records and recordings of phone conversations that Cohen had made.

Trump’s response: “Michael Cohen only handled a tiny, tiny fraction of my legal work.”  

Thus Trump undermined the argument of Cohen’s lawyers that he was the President’s personal attorney—and therefore everything Cohen did was protected by attorney-client privilege.

Then there’s Paul Manafort—a lobbyist, political consultant and lawyer.

  • He joined Trump’s  presidential campaign team in March 2016 and was campaign chairman from March to August 2016. He attended the Republican Convention in July, where Trump was officially nominated as the GOP candidate for President.
  • On June 9, 2016, Manafort, Jared Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and Donald Trump Jr. met with Russian Intelligence agents at Trump Tower. The reason: The Russians claimed to have “dirt” on Democratic Presidential nominee Hillary Clinton.

In March, 2017, news broke that Manafort, in his work as a lobbyist, had represented Oleg Deripaska, a Russian oligarch and close associate of Russian president Vladimir Putin. The story fueled growing controversy over the Trump campaign’s documented ties to Russia,

Trump’s response: 

“The President was not aware of Paul’s clients from the last decade,” White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer told reporters.

Describing Manafort’s role as chairman of the Trump campaign, Spicer said that he “played a very limited role for a very limited amount of time.” 

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Paul Manafort

An April 19, 2018 headline in Esquire magazine warned: “If the Water is Rising, Donald Trump Will Throw You Overboard.” 

The article read in part:

“No matter how long or how intimately you’ve known Donald Trump, you’re one news cycle away from being tossed overboard….

“An old friend becomes a needy acquaintance; a campaign chairman becomes someone you got from the temp agency; a national security adviser becomes a ‘volunteer.'” 

Trump’s desertion of his former allies places them in jeopardy—but it also endangers him.

Cohen wasn’t just Trump’s lawyer. He was his fixer, a man who made problems “go away” with threats and bribes. He knows many—if not most—of Trump’s darkest secrets.

And he may be preparing to reveal them.

In a recent off-camera interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Cohen warned: “I will not be a punching bag as part of anyone’s defense strategy” if Trump or his attorneys try to discredit him.

And unlike Trump—who has repeatedly asserted that Russia didn’t interfere with the 2016 Presidential election—Cohen said he believed it did.

As for Manafort: He resigned as Trump’s campaign manager when news broke that he had received $12.7 million from then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Puttin lackey.

Given Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s focus on Trump’s ties to Russia, Manafort—through his own ties there—can deliver a mother-lode of secrets if he so desires.

Donald Trump now faces the dilemma—and possibly the same fate—of John “Teflon Don” Gotti: Faced with increasing evidence of his blatant criminality and possibly even treason, does he:

  • Stand by those whose secrets can destroy him? or
  • Throw them to the wolves, hoping they will still not betray him?

LESSONS IN DISLOYALTY—GOTTI AND TRUMP: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 11, 2018 at 12:11 am

On December 11, 1990, FBI agents and NYPD detectives raided the Ravenite Social Club in Manhattan.

They had arrest warrants for John Gotti, boss of the Gambino Mafia Family, and his two lieutenants: Sammy “The Bull” Gravano, his underboss, or second-in-command, and Frankie Locascio, his Consigliere, or adviser.

Gotti had become boss of the Gambino Family in December, 1985—by arranging the execution of its then-boss, Paul “Big Paul” Castellano, on December 16.

Since then, he had moved his headquarters from Queens to the Ravenite. And, like a king holding court, he had ordered all of his captains to report to him at the Ravenite once a week.  

Word quickly reached the FBI—and agents in vans shot video as they staked out Prince Street. 

Gotti had handed the FBI a mob organization chart.

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FBI Seal

It was only a matter of time before the FBI’s Technical Surveillance Squad (TSS) breached the security of the Ravenite. 

In 1989, the TSS planted a hidden microphone in an apartment above the Ravenite where Gotti held his secret meetings. Tape recorders were running when he bragged that he had ordered three murders—and was running a criminal enterprise: The Gambino Mafia Family.

When he wasn’t bragging, Gotti was badmouthing virtually everyone—past and present—in the Mafia: Paul Castellano, Carlo Gambino, Vincent “The Chins” Gigante. And, most fatally, his own underboss: Sammy “The Bull” Gravano.

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John Gotti

On December 12, 1989, the electronic bug picked up the following conversation between Gotti and his Consigliere, or adviser, Frankie Locascio. 

The subject: The murders of three former Gambino Family mobsters: Robert “Deebee” DiBernardo, Louis Milito and Louis DiBono.  

DiBernardo had been murdered over Gravano’s objections. A fellow mobster had told Gotti that DiBernardo had made “subversive” comments behind Gotti’s back.

But that wasn’t the way Gotti told it.

GOTTI: “Deebee, did he ever talk subversive to you?”

LOCASCIO: “Never.”

GOTTI: “Never talked it to Angelo, never talked it to [Joseph Armone] either. I took Sammy’s word that he talked about me behind my back….I was in jail when I whacked him. I knew why it was being done. I done it anyway. I allowed it to be done anyway.”

Next Gotti focused on the murders of Louis Milito and Louis DiBono. Milito had been “whacked” for questioning Gotti’s judgment. And DiBono had been hit because he refused to answer a Gotti summons

But Gotti was determined to lay the blame on Gravano. He claimed that both men had been killed because Gravano had asked for permission to remove his business partners.

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Sammy “The Bull” Gravano

GOTTI: “Every time we get a partner that don’t agree with us, we kill him. [The] boss kills him. He kills him. He okays it. Says it’s all right, good.” 

And there was more: Gotti accused Gravano of excessive greed—and hoarding money for himself at the expense of the Family. 

GOTTI: “That’s Sammy….Every fucking time I turn around there’s a new company poppin’ up. Building. Consulting. Concrete.  Where the hell did all these new companies come from?  Where did five new companies come from? 

“Paul [Castellano, the Gambino Family’s previous boss] sold the Family out for a fucking construction company. And that’s what Sammy’s doing now.  Three, four guys will wind up with every fuckin’ thing. And the rest of the Family looks like waste.” 

He accused Gravano of creating “a fuckin’ army inside an army,” adding: “You know what I’m saying, Frankie? I saw that shit and I don’t need that shit.” 

Gotti’s effort to rewrite history soon came back to haunt him.

At a pretrial hearing following the arrests of Gotti, Gravano and Locascio, prosecutors played the FBI’s tapes of Gotti’s unintended confessions—including his badmouthing of Gravano. 

Gravano suddenly realized that his future in the Mafia was nil. 

Gravano, Gotti and Locascio were all facing life imprisonment as targets of RICO—the Racketeer Influenced Corrupt Organizations Act.

And if the Feds didn’t send him to prison, mob gunmen—sent by Gotti—would eventually get him. Gotti clearly planned to make him the fall guy—in court or in a coffin—for murders that Gotti himself had ordered

Only John Gotti was shocked when Gravano agreed to testify against him—and other Mafiosi—in exchange for a five-year prison sentence.

Gravano, as Gotti’s second-in-command, had literally been at the seat of power for five years.  He knew the secrets of the Gambino Family—and the other four Mafia families who ruled New York.

On April 2, 1992, a jury convicted Gotti of five murders, conspiracy to murder, loansharking, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice, bribery and tax evasion. He drew a life sentence, without possibility of parole.  

Gotti was incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, in virtual solitary confinement. He died of throat cancer on June 10, 2002, at the age of 61.    

Donald Trump resembles his fellow New Yorker, John Gotti, in more ways than he would like to admit: In his greed, arrogance, egomania, love of publicity and vindictiveness. 

So far, he has survived his lifelong hubris.  But he may not survive his lifelong dedication to “looking out for Number One.”

TEFLON DON, MEET TEFLON PRESIDENT: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on July 5, 2018 at 12:02 am

In August 1983, two members of John Gotti’s “crew” were arrested for dealing heroin.

Paul Castellano, the most powerful Mafia boss in the nation, had continued the Gambino Family’s longtime “deal and die” policy against trafficking in narcotics. Castellano threatened to “whack” Gotti and his entire crew. 

For Gotti, it was literally a case of kill-or-be-killed. 

On December 16, 1985, four gunmen, wearing white trench coats and black Cossack Diplomat hats, shot Castellano as he exited his car to enter Sparks Steakhouse in downtown Manhattan. With him died his underboss, or second-in-command, Thomas Bilotti.

Gotti and his closest associates pretended they didn’t know who ordered the execution. But nearly all of the Family’s capos knew it was Gotti. Gotti assumed the position of “acting boss,” but nobody dared challenge his leadership.  

Suddenly, Gotti burst into the public’s consciousness. He swaggered down streets, gave impromptu press conferences to reporters, partied at discos and nightclubs. He delighted in being approached by average citizens on streets and in restaurants. 

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John Gotti

Old-style Mafia bosses like Carlo Gambino had carefully avoided publicity. During the 1950s, newspapers didn’t have photos of Gambino in their files. 

Gotti moved his headquarters from Queens to the Ravenite Social Club in Manhattan. Like a king holding court, Gotti ordered all of his captains to report to him at the Ravenite once a week. Word quickly reached the FBI—and agents in vans shot video as they staked out Prince Street.

Gotti handed the FBI a mob organization chart. 

Like other mobsters, he often found himself under indictment. Unlike other mobsters, he didn’t claim physical infirmity to avoid prison. He claimed he was a victim of anti-Italian prejudice. He taunted the FBI agents he knew were stalking him.

He swaggered into courtrooms and smirked as his attorney, Bruce Cutler, viciously attacked the prosecution’s witnesses. And he emerged victorious in three high-profile trials in a row.

Local and Federal prosecutors didn’t realize his secret: Jury tampering and witness intimidation.

The press dubbed him “The Teflon Don.”  

In 1989, the FBI planted a hidden microphone in an apartment above the Ravenite where Gotti held his secret meetings. Tape recorders were running when he bragged that he had ordered three murders—and was running a criminal enterprise: The Gambino Mafia Family.

When he wasn’t bragging, he was badmouthing virtually everyone—past and present—in the Mafia: Paul Castellano, Carlo Gambino, Vincent “The Chins” Gigante. And, most fatally, his own underboss: Sammy “The Bull” Gravano.

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Sammy Gravano

Gotti charged that Gravano was too greedy—and tried to frame him for the murders of three Mafiosi Gotti had ordered hit.

On December 11, 1990, FBI agents and NYPD detectives raided the Ravenite, arresting Gotti and Gravano. At a pretrial hearing, prosecutors played the FBI’s tapes of Gotti’s unintended confessions—including his badmouthing of Gravano. 

Gravano, enraged, agreed to testify against Gotti and other Mafiosi in exchange for a five-year prison sentence. 

On April 2, 1992, a jury convicted Gotti of five murders, conspiracy to murder, loansharking, illegal gambling, obstruction of justice, bribery and tax evasion. He drew a life sentence, without possibility of parole.  

Gotti was incarcerated at the United States Penitentiary at Marion, Illinois, in virtual solitary confinement. In 1998, he was diagnosed with throat cancer.  He died on June 10, 2002, at the age of 61. 

Donald Trump resembles his fellow New Yorker, John Gotti, in more ways than he would like to admit:   

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Donald Trump

  • He craves publicity like a drug.
  • His egomania long ago reached psychotic heights: In a 1990 interview with Playboy magazine, he offered his worldview: “The show is Trump, and it is sold-out performances everywhere.” 
  • He impulsively and brutally badmouths virtually everyone—in press conferences and on Twitter. 
  • He brags constantly—about his wealth, his intelligence, his sexual prowess, his achievements: “My fingers are long and beautiful, as, it has been well documented, are various other parts of my body.”  
  • He has bought his way out of legal trouble: Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi personally solicited a political contribution from him while her office deliberated joining an investigation of alleged fraud at Trump University and its affiliates. After Bondi dropped the case against Trump, he wrote her a $25,000 check for her re-election campaign. 
  • He repeatedly threatens violence against his opponents: On March 16, 2016, he warned Republicans that if he didn’t win the GOP nomination in July, “I think you’d have riots….I think bad things would happen.” 
  • Although not a member of the Mafia, he has often been linked—directly or indirectly—to men who are, such as “Fat Tony” Salerno and Paul Castellano.
  • He prizes being seen as a tough guy: “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” At a Las Vegas rally in 2016, he said about a protester: “I’d like to punch him in the face.”
  • He has no loyalty to anyone: In April, 2018, his longtime attorney, Michael Cohen, came under investigation for bank fraud, wire fraud and violations of campaign finance law. Trump’s reaction: Cohen handled  only a “tiny, tiny little fraction” of Trump’s overall legal affairs.

History still waits to learn if the hubris that struck down John Gotti will overtake Donald Trump.

TEFLON DON, MEET TEFLON PRESIDENT: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on July 4, 2018 at 1:08 am

He was tall, broad-shouldered and bushy-haired.  He spoke in a heavily New York-accented voice, and his speech was often laced with crudities and obscenities.

He loved to strut in public, wearing $2,000 custom-made suits, and surrounded by a phalanx of tough-looking bodyguards. He loved being noticed, especially in restaurants and discos, by “my public.”  Making the cover of Time magazine was probably the greatest thrill of his life.

And he loved to brag: He was the toughest, the smartest, the guy nobody dared cross.  And when he wasn’t bragging about himself, he was disparaging even his closest associates.

He was rumored to be implicated in a long string of felonies. He knew the FBI was watching him. But he continually met openly with his cronies at the same place—a social club in Little Italy. 

He ordered his subordinates to be extremely cautious when they talked on the phone. But he totally ignored his own advice—and created a litany of incriminating tapes that would destroy him.

No, he wasn’t Donald Trump.

He was John Gotti, once the boss of the most powerful crime family in America.

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John Gotti’s 1990 mugshot

And he shared more than a few striking similarities with Donald Trump—another New Yorker who has since become President of the United States.

Like Trump, Gotti spent a good portion of his time in court—although Trump’s 3,500 lawsuits (filed by and against him) completely dwarf Gotti’s four high-profile trials.

Like Trump, he seemed invincible in court: He won three of those legal confrontations—and thus earned the nickname, “The Teflon Don.”

And, like Trump, he loved to taunt the FBI agents he knew were stalking him. After each court victory he gave a press conference, claiming he had been framed by FBI agents who hated Italians.

Warned to knock it off, to show humility instead of arrogance, Gotti told his would-be protectors to go to hell. He wasn’t going to be anything but what he was.

Years afterward, the FBI learned the reason for the Teflon: Gotti had used jury tampering and witness intimidation to beat the rap.  

It was the fourth trial that did him in—and sent him away for life.

Unlike Trump, he wasn’t born into a wealthy family, with a father who gave him $200 million to start his own real estate business. Instead, he grew up in poverty, resenting a father who worked as a day laborer and liked to gamble. 

He was born on October 27, 1940—almost six years before Trump (June 14, 1946). He turned to crime at the age of 12, working with street gangs affiliated with the New York City Mafia. By 1966 he had been jailed twice.

He hijacked trucks at John F. Kennedy Airport.  Arrested three times for hijacking, he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to three years at Pennsylvania’s Lewisburg Federal Penitentiary.

Paroled in 1972, Gotti’s big break came in 1973.  Emanuel Gambino, the nephew of the Mafia’s “Boss of all Bosses” Carlo Gambino, was kidnapped and murdered. Gambino sent a trio of hitmen—one of them Gotti—after the culprit: James McBratney. Although not the actual killer, Gotti was identified by eyewitnesses as a participant.  

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Carlo Gambino

Through a plea bargain arranged by attorney Roy Cohn, Gotti received a four-year prison sentence for attempted manslaughter. 

Cohn had earned an infamous reputation as chief counsel for Red-baiting Wisconsin United States Senator Joseph R. McCarthy in the 1950s. After leaving government service in 1954, Cohn went into private practice. Among his clients: Mafia bosses “Fat Tony” Salerno and Carmine Galante—and real estate mogul Donald Trump.

Released from prison in July, 1977, after only two years, Gotti finally received his dream gift: He was fully initiated as a “made man” into the Gambino Family. 

Gambino himself had died of natural causes in 1976, and was now succeeded by his son-in-law, Paul “Big Paul” Castellano.

Gambino had represented the “old-school” Mafia: Men who shunned publicity like the plague and cultivated the image of a harmless small businessman. Although he had ordered his “soldiers” to steer clear of the drug trade, which brought too much heat, Gambino reaped millions from loansharking, extortion, hijacking, bookmaking and labor racketeering.

Castellano sought to “legitimize” the Mafia by moving it into legitimate business. He launched Dial Poultry, a poultry distribution business that once supplied 300 butchers in New York City. He profited as well by supplying construction concrete. No one could pour concrete for a project worth more than $2 million without the approval from the “Concrete Club”—a mob-controlled enterprise. 

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Paul Castellano

“Big Paul,” who had never “whacked” anyone, didn’t see himself as a gangster. He liked socializing with bankers and even once told his maid (with whom he was having an extramarital affair) that “I could even do a favor for a President.”

John Gotti, by contrast, was neither publicity-shy like Gambino nor seeking to enter the legitimate business world like Castellano. There was no point, he reasoned, in being a gangster if you weren’t going to act like one. 

For Gotti, those two traits—his love of publicity and desire to be “a real gangster”—would prove a fatal combination.

THE FBI’S BIGGEST THREAT: THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary, Uncategorized on July 3, 2018 at 10:32 am

From 1965 to 1974, Americans watched “The FBI,” a highly fictionalized TV drama supposedly based on real stories from the files of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

J. Edgar Hoover, the legendary director of the Bureau since 1924, made certain the series reflected the image of the FBI that he wanted seen. 

FBI agents:

  • Didn’t smoke or swear, never used illegal bugs or wiretaps, and seldom fired a gun.
  • Never cheated on their wives.
  • Never planted illegal bugs or wiretaps,
  • Never suffered marital problems from the strains of an FBI career.
  • Could summon a helicopter—like the show’s hero, Inspector Lewis Erskine—with the snap of their fingers.

Yet none of this mattered to the millions who tuned in every week to make this one of the highest-rated series on TV. 

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After decades of a generous self-advertising campaign, Americans generally saw the Bureau as not simply incorruptible but infallible. When agents zeroed in on a criminal—a bank robber, terrorist or member of the Mob—he was as good as caught.  

So it would have been unimaginable to such an audience that the greatest threat to the Bureau would come not from the KGB or Mafia hitmen, but from the President of the United States.

Yet, 53 years after “The FBI” premiered on the ABC network in 1965, that is exactly the case.

On May 9, 2017, FBI Director James B. Comey was brutally fired without warning by President Donald Trump. Trump has since given several explanations why he did it. But the most convincing was the one he gave in the Oval Office to Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I.,” Trump told the two dignitaries. “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”  

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James Comey

Trump had three reasons for firing Comey:

  1. Comey had refused to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump. Trump had made this “request” during a private dinner at the White House in January. After refusing to make that pledge, Comey told Trump that he would always be honest with him. But that didn’t satisfy Trump’s demand that the head of the FBI act as his personal secret police chief.
  2. Trump had tried to coerce him into dropping the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, for his secret ties to Russia and Turkey. Comey had similarly resisted that demand.
  3. Comey had recently asked the Justice Department to fund an expanded FBI investigation into contacts between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents. 

During that meeting where he disparaged Comey, Trump gave the Russian dignitaries sensitive Intelligence on ISIS that had been supplied by Israel. 

On December 16, 2016, Comey and Director of National Intelligence James R. Clapper Jr. had agreed with a CIA assessment that Russia intervened in the 2016 election in part to help Donald Trump win the White House. 

Trump, however, has steadfastly denied any such role by Russia: “I think it’s ridiculous,” he told “Fox News Sunday.” “I think it’s just another excuse. I don’t believe it….No, I don’t believe it at all.”   

Since the FBI launched its counterintelligence investigation into collusion between Trump’s campaign and Russian Intelligence agents, Trump has repeatedly attacked the American Intelligence and law-enforcement communities. But he has yet to condemn Moscow for its election interference.

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FBI Seal

In fact, he has—at least publicly—accepted Russian dictator Vladimir Putin’s assertion that the Kremlin did not interfere in the 2016 election. 

On February 17, 2018—three days after a gunman killed 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas Douglas High School, in Parkland, Florida, Trump tweeted: 

“Very sad that the FBI missed all of the many signals sent out by the Florida school shooter. This is not acceptable. They are spending too much time trying to prove Russian collusion with the Trump campaign – there is no collusion. Get back to the basics and make us all proud!”

This ignored that:

  • The shooting was not a Federal crime, since it didn’t happen on Federal property nor involve Federal officials.
  • Trump has steadfastly opposed any efforts at gun control—while accepting $21 million from the NRA during the 2016 Presidential race. This was the largest contribution the NRA has ever made to a Presidential candidate.

On May 20, 2018, he tweeted: “I hereby demand, and will do so officially tomorrow, that the Department of Justice look into whether or not the FBI/DOJ infiltrated or surveilled the Trump Campaign for Political Purposes – and if any such demands or requests were made by people within the Obama Administration!”

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Donald Trump

Trump was demanding that information about an FBI confidential source—in a probe directly relating to himself—be revealed to his cronies in the Republican party.

Trump was desperate to derail the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller into proven ties between Russian Intelligence agents and members of his 2006 Presidential campaign.  So now he was creating a false charge—that he had been illegally spied upon by the FBI—to divert public attention from that investigation.

With July 4—the 242nd anniversary of America’s Declaration of Independence—fast approaching, the outcome of Trump vs. the FBI remains to be seen.

ROBERT MUELLER SUFFERED FOR YOUR SINS: PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Social commentary on May 24, 2018 at 12:04 am

On April 27, 2018, the House Intelligence Committee, after a sham “investigation,” concluded there had been “no collusion” between Russian Intelligence agents and members of the Trump Presidential campaign.

Among the evidence ignored: The now-infamous meeting at Trump Tower, in June, 2016, between Donald Trump’s son, Donald Jr.; his son-in-law, Jared Kushner; and his then-campaign manager, Paul Manafort, with Russian Intelligence agents.

The reason for the meeting: The Russians claimed to have dirt to offer on Hillary Clinton.

The “no collusion” verdict was inevitable, since the committee was chaired by California’s Republican Representative Devin Nunes, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Trump. Nunes had even improperly shared “secret” committee documents with the President. 

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Devin Nunes

The Senate Intelligence Committee, on the other hand, agreed with the conclusions previously reached by the American Intelligence community (CIA, FBI, National Security Agency): The Russians had worked to subvert the American political process and elect Trump over Clinton.

March 17, 2018, marked the start of the second year of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation to uncover “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”

By that date, Mueller had:

  • Indicted 19 people—including four former Trump campaign advisers.
  • Indicted three Russian companies.
  • Obtained five guilty pleas—and the cooperation of all five defendants.
  • Unveiled Russians’ determination to elect Trump over Hillary Clinton.
  • Revealed that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed removing sanctions against Russia with then-Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the transition period. 
  • Discovered that Trump associates knew about Russian outreach efforts during the campaign. 

By contrast:

  • Republicans spent four years investigating the 2012 attack on the United States embassy in Benghazi, Libya. Their goal: To derail the presumed 2016 Presidential candidacy of then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. But no indictments followed.
  • Republicans spent two years investigating Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server while Secretary of State. Again, no indictments followed.

It’s past time for Republicans to remember the lesson taught by High Noon, the classic 1952 Western starring Gary Cooper and Grace Kelly.

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Town marshal Will Kane (Cooper) has just married Amy Fowler (Kelly) a Quaker. It should be the happiest day of his life. But shortly after the ceremony, word comes that Frank Miller—a notorious murderer Kane once sent to prison—has been released.

Even worse, Miller—joined by three other killers—is coming into town on the noon train to kill Kane.

Kane’s first instinct is to flee: He and his wife get into a buggy and dash out of town. But then his sense of duty takes over. He returns to town, intending to recruit a posse.

But this proves impossible—everyone is scared to death of Miller and his gang. And everyone Kane approaches has a reason for not backing him up.

Even Amy—a fervent believer in non-violence—threatens to leave him if he stands up to Miller. She will be on the noon train leaving town—with or without him.

When the clock strikes noon, the train arrives, and Kane—alone—faces his enemies. He shoots and kills two of them.

Then, as he’s pinned down by the third, he gets some unexpected help—from his wife: Amy shoots the would-be killer in the back—only to be taken hostage by Miller himself.

Miller tells Kane to leave his concealed position or he’ll kill Amy. Kane steps into the open—and Amy claws at Miller’s face, buying Kane the time he needs to shoot Miller down.

At that point, the townspeople rush to embrace Kane and congratulate him. But he’s now seen them for the cowards they are and holds them in total contempt.

Saying nothing, he drops the marshal’s star into the dirt. He and Amy then get into a buggy and leave town.

Fred Zinnemann, the film’s director, intended the movie as an attack on those frightened into silence by Joseph McCarthy, the infamous Red-baiting Senator from Wisconsin.

Will Kane fought to protect himself and his town from a gang of murderous outlaws.

Robert Mueller is fighting to discover the truth behind Russian subversion of the American political system.

The difference between these two conflicts is this: We know how Kane’s fight ended—with a good man defeating evil men.

We do not know if Mueller will ultimately triumph over his—and America’s—mortal enemies. 

Robert Mueller—as a soldier, prosecutor, FBI director and now Special Counsel—took an oath to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic.” 

So did Donald Trump when he was inaugurated President. And so did every member of the House of Representatives and the Senate. 

The difference between Robert Mueller, and the overwhelming majority of Republican Congressional members who have refused to support him, is this: Mueller, like a compass pointing True North, has always stayed faithful to that oath

In doing so, he is carrying on his shoulders the burdens created when millions of racist, hate-filled Americans deliberately sent a Russian-backed egomaniac and would-be dictator to the White House.

ROBERT MUELLER SUFFERED FOR YOUR SINS: PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Social commentary on May 23, 2018 at 12:20 am

Altogether, four Russian oligarchs—Len Blavatnik, Alexander Shustorovich, Andrew  Intrater and Simon Kukes––contributed $10.4 million from the start of the 2015-16 election cycle through September 2017. Of this, 99% went to Republicans.   

As Senate Majority Leader, Kentucky United States Senator Mitch McConnell participated in high-level intelligence briefings in 2016. From agencies such as the FBI, CIA and the code-cracking National Security Agency, he learned that the Russians were trying to subvert the electoral process.

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In October, 2016, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence (DNI) issued a joint statement: The Russian government had directed the effort to subvert the 2016 Presidential election.

Two weeks later, McConnell’s PAC accepted a $1 million donation from Blavatnik.

On March 30, 2017, McConnell’s PAC accepted another $1 million from Blavatnik. This was just 10 days after former FBI Director James Comey testified before the House Intelligence Committee about Russia’s efforts to subvert the 2016 election.

Billionaires don’t give huge sums to politicians without expecting to get something in return. And this is especially true—and frightening—when the contributors are linked to a former KGB agent like Vladimir Putin, whose aggressive intentions are increasingly on display.

So Special Counsel Robert Mueller is facing increased hostility from Republicans who no doubt fear their own ownership by Moscow will become a focus of his investigation.

But there is another powerful reason why so many Republicans have closed ranks with Trump against him: 

#2: Republicans fear enraging Trump’s fanatical base.

On August 30, 2017, an article in Salon sought to explain why President Donald Trump was so popular among his supporters.

Its headline ran: “Most Americans Strongly Dislike Trump, But the Angry Minority That Adores Him Controls Our Politics.”

It described these voters as representing about one-third of the Republican party:

“These are older and more conservative white people, for the most part, who believe he should not listen to other Republicans and should follow his own instincts….

“They like Trump’s coarse personality, and approve of the fact that he treats women like his personal playthings. They enjoy it when he expresses sympathy for neo-Nazis and neo-Confederate white supremacists.

“They cheer when he declares his love for torture, tells the police to rough up suspects and vows to mandate the death penalty for certain crimes. (Which of course the president cannot do.)

“…This cohort of the Republican party didn’t vote for Trump because of his supposed policies on trade or his threat to withdraw from NATO. They voted for him because he said out loud what they were thinking. A petty, sophomoric, crude bully is apparently what they want as a leader.”

And keeping that cohort constantly stirred up is the Right-wing Fox News Network. This is not a source of legitimate news but the propaganda arm of the Fascistic Right and the Republican party.

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Donald Trump

On May 18, 2018, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks offered this political commentary on The PBS Newshour: “I would just say, I observe politically, I do think if Trump fired Mueller tomorrow, the Republican Party would back him. 

“Because I think FOX News has created a predicate. They have done thousands of surveys and investigations about Mueller as a political operative.” 

And Brooks’ fellow political commentator, liberal syndicated columnist Mark Shields, echoed those sentiments: “At the same time, I think what we learned is that the defense of Donald Trump, led by himself and [his attorney] Rudy Giuliani, is to savage and torment, denigrate, vilify and libel Bob Mueller.

“Bob Mueller happens to be an American who turned down an eight-figure income to be a major corporate lawyer, instead became a public servant. He’s a man who volunteered and carries the wounds of battle from having been a Marine platoon leader in Vietnam.

“He is a public servant. He has not said a word. He has not given an interview. He has not leaked to anybody. And he stands vilified by Trump and Giuliani and their cohorts and their outriders. It is indefensible.

“And they are trying to exact the same damage upon the Justice Department of the country, the FBI and this country that Joe McCarthy did on the State Department, which has never fully recovered from his libelous attacks.”

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David Brooks and Mark Shields

According to a Pew Research Center survey, that one-third of Republicans who fanatically support Trump comprise only 16% of the population. That leaves 65% of Republicans who are revolted by Trump’s personality and behavior.

But that 65% of Republicans are being advised by GOP political consultants to vigorously support him.

“Your heart tells you that he’s bad for the country,” one anonymous consultant told the Salon reporter. “Your head looks at polling data among Republican primary voters and sees how popular he is.”

It’s precisely these hard-core Fascists who come out in mid-term elections—and they’re scaring the remaining 65% who make up the GOP establishment.  

The highest priority of that establishment, after all, is to hold onto their privileged positions in the House and Senate. And anything that might jeopardize that—including what’s best for the country—can go hang.  

ROBERT MUELLER SUFFERED FOR YOUR SINS: PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on May 22, 2018 at 12:02 am

On November 6, 2016, millions of racist, hate-filled Americans took “revenge” on the nation’s first black President—by deliberately voting a Russian-backed egomaniac and would-be dictator into the White House.

By doing so, they set in motion events that would lead Robert S. Mueller to assume the consequences—and burdens—of their brutal, Fascistic desires.

On May 9, 2017, President Donald Trump abruptly fired FBI Director James Comey.  

By doing so, he hoped to derail the Bureau’s investigation of documented ties between Russian Intelligence agents and high-ranking officials of the 2016 Trump Presidential campaign.

A national firestorm erupted—unprecedented since President Richard M. Nixon had fired Watergate Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox on October 20, 1973.

To squelch it, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein moved quickly.

On May 17, 2017, he appointed Robert S. Mueller 111 to serve as Special Counsel for the United States Department of Justice. 

Rosenstein charged Mueller to investigate “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump, and any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.” 

Trump has claimed from the outset that there was “no collusion” between him and members of Russia’s Intelligence community. But he has acted like a guilty man desperate to stop the investigation before it uncovers the full extent of his criminality. 

Since then, Trump, his shills in Congress and Right-wing Fox News have relentlessly attacked Mueller’s integrity and investigative methods. 

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From the outset of that investigation, there have been widespread fears that Trump would fire Mueller, just as he did Comey. Those fears increased over the weekend of March 17-18, 2018, when Trump spewed a series of angry tweets on Twitter: 

  • “The Mueller probe should never have been started in that there was no collusion and there was no crime. It was based on fraudulent activities and a Fake Dossier paid for by Crooked Hillary and the DNC, and improperly used in FISA COURT for surveillance of my campaign. WITCH HUNT!” 
  • “Why does the Mueller team have 13 hardened Democrats, some big Crooked Hillary supporters, and Zero Republicans? Another Dem recently added…does anyone think this is fair? And yet, there is NO COLLUSION!”
  • “A total WITCH HUNT with massive conflicts of interest!”

In “High Noon,” Marshal Will Kane faced death at the hands of four cold-blooded killers. At least for the moment, Mueller does not seem to be facing that.

Trump presumably believes that ordering the murder of a Special Counsel—assuming he could find someone willing to carry it out—wouldn’t be tolerated, even in a country that has already accommodated Trump’s countless brutalities and corruptions.

So Mueller conducts his investigation every day under the shadow of being fired by a President who has repeatedly praised Russian dictator Vladimir Putin. And who has “joked” about how great it would be if the United States, like China, had a “President-for-Life.”

House and Senate Republicans have almost universally refused to speak out against threats by Trump to fire deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and/or Special Counsel Robert Mueller.  

Or, more importantly, to take action to prevent or punish him for doing so.

On April 17, 2018, Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said he would not allow legislation to protect Robert Mueller’s independent investigation into Russian subversion of the 2016 Presidential election to reach the Senate floor.  

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Mitch McConnell

“I’m the one who decides what we take to the floor. That’s my responsibility as majority leader. We’ll not be having this on the floor of the Senate,” the Kntucky Republican said in an interview on Fox News.                

Earlier that day, another Republican, Speaker of the House Paul Ryan, claimed that legislation to protect Mueller was “unnecessary.”

“It would not be in the President’s interest to [fire Mueller] and I think he knows that,” said the Wisconsin Congressman.

Why have so few Republicans dared to stand against Trump?  

Two major reasons:

#1: Because many House and Senate Republicans received millions of dollars in “campaign contributions” from Russian oligarchs who are answerable to Russian dictator Vladimir Putin.

In short: Bribe monies

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The Kremlin

The following data comes from the Federal Elections Commission.

One major Russian contributor is Len Blavatnik. During the 2015-16 election cycle, he proved one of the largest donors to GOP Political Action Committees (PACs).

Blavatnik’s net worth is estimated at $20 billion. In 2016, he gave $6.35 million to GOP PACs.

In 2017, he gave millions of dollars to top Republican leaders—such as Senators Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio (Florida) and Lindsey Graham (South Carolina). Specifically, Blavatnik contributed:

  • A total of $1.5 million to PACs associated with Rubio. 
  • $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee.
  • $1 million to McConnell’s Senate Leadership Fund.
  • $3.5 million to a PAC associated with McConnell. 
  • $1.1 million to Unintimidated PAC, associated with Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. 
  • $200,000 to the Arizona Grassroots Action PAC, associated with Arizona Senator John McCain. 
  • $250,000 to New Day for America PAC, associated with Ohio Governor John Kasich.
  • $800,000 went to the Security is Strength PAC, associated with Senator Lindsey Graham.

Another Russian oligarch, Alexander Shustorovich, contributed $1 million to Trump’s Inaugural Committee. 

A third oligarch, Andrew Intrater, contributed $250,000 to Trump’s Inaugural Committee.

And a fourth, Simon Kukes, contributed a total of $283,000, much of it to the Trump Victory Fund.

ROBERT MUELLER SUFFERED FOR YOUR SINS: PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on May 21, 2018 at 12:26 am

His face is lined and his gray hair is topped with a black hat. This is clearly not a young man. If he’s seen his share of violence, he doesn’t talk about it.

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He’s about to face four armed and vicious criminals who intend to murder him. And he’s going to do it without support from the very citizens he’s sworn to defend.

His name: Will Kane, as played by Gary Cooper. And he’s the local marshal of an anonymous Western town.

“High Noon,” the 1952 movie in which this story takes place, won a Best Actor Academy Award for its star, Cooper. It was nominated for another six Academy Awards and won four (Actor, Editing, Music-Score, and Music-Song).

Its opening tune, “Do Not Forsake Me, Oh My Darling,” played incessantly on radios throughout the United States. President Dwight D. Eisenhower added his kudos to the movie, and often hummed its  theme in the White House.

Fast forward to an America 66 years later.

A similar morality play is now occurring—in real life, not on a movie set. At stake isn’t simply the life of one man but perhaps the future of American democracy.

Carrying that burden is Robert Swan Mueller III.

Like the Gary Cooper character in “High Noon,” he is not a young man—born on August 7, 1944. And, like Cooper’s Will Kane, he is tall, gray-haired and tight-lipped.

But while Cooper never saw military service, Mueller did. A 1966 graduate of Princeton University, he served as a Marine Corps infantry platoon commander during the Vietnam War.

Wounded in combat, among the military awards he received were:

  • The Bronze Star Medal with Combat “V” for heroism (for saving a wounded Marine while under enemy fire).
  • The Purple Heart Medal (awarded for wounds in combat).
  • Two Navy and Marine Corps Commendation Medals with Combat “V”.
  • Combat Action Ribbon.
  • National Defense Service Medal.

Having given three years of his life (1968-1971) to the Marines, Mueller devoted the rest of his life to law enforcement.

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Robert Mueller

A 1973 graduate of the University of Virginia Law School, Mueller served as:

  • United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts (1986-1987);
  • United States Assistant Attorney General for the Criminal Division (1990-1993);
  • United States Attorney for the Northern District of California (1998-2001);
  • United States Deputy Attorney General (January 20, 2001– May 10, 2001).

On September 4, 2001—seven days before Al Qaeda’s monstrous 9/11 attacks on Washington and New York—President George W. Bush appointed him director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Widely praised for his integrity and effectiveness, he served his full 10-year term—the legal maximum. 

But when President Barack Obama took office in 2009, he asked Mueller—a lifelong Republican—to stay on for an additional two years until a suitable replacement could be found.

Mueller agreed—and was succeeded by a fellow Justice Department colleague named James Comey.

Retiring from the FBI in 2013 at age 69, Mueller’s 27-year career as a dedicated law enforcer seemed at last to be over. 

Then, on May 9, 2017, President Donald Trump fired Comey as FBI director. There were three reasons for this:

  • Comey had refused to pledge his personal loyalty to Trump. Trump had made the “request” during a private dinner at the White House in January.
  • Comey told Trump that he would always be honest with him. But that didn’t satisfy Trump’s demand that the head of the FBI act as his personal secret police chief—as was the case in the former Soviet Union.
  • Trump had tried to coerce Comey into dropping the FBI’s investigation into former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, for his secret ties to Russia and Turkey. Comey had similarly resisted that demand. 
  • Comey had recently asked the Justice Department to fund an expanded FBI investigation into well-documented contacts between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents.
  • The goal of that collaboration: To elect Trump over Hillary Clinton, a longtime foe of Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

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James Comey

On May 10—the day after firing Comey—Trump met in the Oval Office with Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov and Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. 

Kislyak is reportedly a top recruiter for Russia’s SVR foreign intelligence agency. He has been closely linked with Jeff Sessions, now Attorney General, and fired National Security Adviser Mike Flynn. 

“I just fired the head of the F.B.I.,” Trump told the two dignitaries. “He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” 

And on May 11, Trump, interviewed on NBC News by reporter Lester Holt, said: “And in fact when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said ‘you know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story, it’s an excuse by the Democrats for having lost an election that they should have won.'”       

YOUR FRIENDS AS YOUR WORST ENEMIES: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 9, 2018 at 12:13 am

President Donald Trump has two major legal problems.

First, he’s under investigation by Independent Counsel and former FBI director Robert Mueller, who’s armed with top-flight investigators and an unlimited budget.

And, second, his attorney, Rudolph Giuliani, is rushing from one TV talk show to another, making incriminating statements that Mueller can use against Trump.

Giuliani is a former United States Attorney and United States Associate Attorney General. So he should know that the more he speaks about Trump, the more potential leads he provides Mueller’s investigators to follow.

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Rudolph Giuliani

Thus, he said, on Fox News’ “Sean Hannity” program, that Trump paid back his personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, the $130,000 in hush money that Cohen paid porn actress Stormy Daniels.

The reason: To ensure her silence over an alleged affair with Trump.

Giuliani’s statement, on May 3, contradicted Trump, who had previously denied knowing about the payment. It also contradicted Cohen’s February statement that Trump did not reimburse the $130,000.

Not content to stop there, Giuliani added: “Imagine if that came out on October 15, 2016, in the middle of the last debate with Hillary Clinton“—thus giving a political motive to the action.

Donald Trump

Giuliani, appearing on a Right-wing Fox News show, clearly felt comfortable. After all, he wasn’t being interrogated by a reporter for CNN or The New York Times.

It’s precisely that sense of safety that experienced cross-examiners hope to instill in witnesses—just before they lower the hatchet.

But Hannity—an ardent supporter of Trump—wasn’t trying to ensnare Giuliani. 

Hannity asked if Trump would testify before Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

GIULIANI:  “Well, right now, a lot of things point in the direction of, they made up their mind that [former FBI Director James] Comey is telling the truth and not the president.

“When you look at those questions about what does the president think, what does the president feel, what does the president really desire, those are all questions intended to trap him in some way and contradicting what is in fact a very, very solid explanation of what happened.

“He fired Comey because Comey would not, among other things, say that he wasn’t a target of the investigation. He’s entitled to that. Hillary Clinton got that. Actually, he couldn’t get that. So, he fired him and he said, I’m free of the guy, and he went on Lester Holt.”

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James Comey

Later in the interview, Giuliani returned to the Cohen payment of $130,000 to Stormy Daniels:

GIULIANI: “Having something to do with paying some Stormy Daniels woman $130,000, I mean, which is going to turn out to be perfectly legal. That money was not campaign money, sorry, I’m giving you a fact now that you don’t know. It’s not campaign money. No campaign finance violation.”

HANNITY:  “They funneled it through a law firm.”

GIULIANI: “Funneled it through a law firm and the president repaid it.”

HANNITY:  “I didn’t know he did.”

GIULIANI:  “Yes. Zero.”

HANNITY:  “So the president—“

GIULIANI:  “Just like every, Sean—“

HANNITY:  “So this decision was made by—“

GIULIANI: “Sean, everybody—everybody was nervous about this from the very beginning. I wasn’t. I knew how much money Donald Trump put in to that campaign. I said $130,000. You’re going to do a couple of checks for 130,000.

“When I heard Cohen’s retainer of $35,000 when he was doing no work for the president, I said that’s how he’s repaying—that’s how he’s repaying it with a little profit and a little margin for paying taxes for Michael.”

HANNITY:  “But do you know the president didn’t know about this? I believe that’s what Michael said.”

GIULIANI:  “He didn’t know about the specifics of it as far as I know. But he did know about the general arrangement that Michael would take care of things like this. Like, I take care of things like this for my clients. I don’t burden them with every single thing that comes along. These are busy people….

A settlement payment which is a very regular thing for lawyers to do. The question there was, the only possible violation there would be wasn’t a campaign finance violation, which usually results in a fine by the way, not this big storm troopers coming in and breaking down his apartment and breaking down his office.

“That was money that was paid by his lawyer, the way I would do out of his law firm funds or whatever funds, it doesn’t matter. The president reimbursed that over a period of several months.”

HANNITY:  “But he had said he didn’t, I distinctly remember that he did it on his own—“

GIULIANI:  “He did….”

**********

So, Giuliani:

  • Admits that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey for patently illegal reasons. [Comey accuses Trump of demanding a pledge of personal loyalty; Trump denies this.]
  • Exonerates Michael Cohen for acting as a fixer to buy the silence of a porn actress about an extramarital affair.
  • Claims that arranging hush money payments is a routine practice among lawyers (“Like, I take care of things like this for my clients”).

If Trump were a reader, he might now recall the famous warning by the French philosopher Voltaire: “Lord, protect me from my friends. I can take care of my enemies.”

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