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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.”

WHY SETTLE FOR PRESIDENT WHEN YOU CAN BE COMMISSAR?

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on January 15, 2018 at 1:07 am

On January 17, Arizona United States Senator Jeff Flake is expected to do the unthinkable.

According to CNN, he will deliver a speech on the floor of the Senate where he will compare President Donald Trump’s attacks on the news media to the poisonous rhetoric of former Soviet dictator Joseph Stalin.

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U.S. Senator Jeff Flake

In one of those attacks—on February 17, 2017—Trump had called the press “the enemy of the American people.”

“The FAKE NEWS media,” he tweeted, “(failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!”

A day earlier, during a press conference in the East Room of the White House, Trump had delivered an unhinged rant, full of anger, personal attacks, self-pity and self-glorification.

Among the topics he covered was his all-out hatred for the press: “….The press has become so dishonest that if we don’t talk about it, we are doing a tremendous disservice to the American people. Tremendous disservice. We have to talk about it to find out what is going on, because the press, honestly, is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.”

Both during his 2016 Presidential campaign and since his inauguration, Trump has called for “opening up” the libel laws to penalize reporters and authors with draconian fines. He has repeatedly attacked any story he dislikes as coming from the “fake media.”

Donald Trump

On the other hand, he has lavishly praised such Right-wing media as Breitbart and Fox News Network. These have steadfastly supported him despite overwhelming evidence that his 2016 Presidential campaign received subversive support from Russian Intelligence officials.

“Mr. President,” says an excerpt of Flake’s upcoming speech made available to CNN, “it is a testament to the condition of our democracy that our own President uses words infamously spoken by Joseph Stalin to describe his enemies.

“It bears noting that so fraught with malice was the phrase ‘enemy of the people,’ that even Nikita Khrushchev forbade its use, telling the Soviet Communist Party that the phrase had been introduced by Stalin for the purpose of ‘annihilating such individuals’ who disagreed with the supreme leader.

Joseph Stalin

“This alone should be a source of great shame for us in this body, especially for those of us in the president’s party. For they are shameful, repulsive statements.

“And, of course, the president has it precisely backward—despotism is the enemy of the people. The free press is the despot’s enemy, which makes the free press the guardian of democracy.

“When a figure in power reflexively calls any press that doesn’t suit him ‘fake news,’ it is that person who should be the figure of suspicion, not the press.”

Flake—or someone acting on his orders—had clearly leaked an advance text of the speech to the media.

On the January 14 edition of “This Week,” ABC News Chief Anchor George Stephanopoulos already knew about Flake’s plan to deliver the speech.

“What are you trying to do?” Stephanopoulos asked.

“What I’m trying to say,” replied Flake, “is you can talk about crowd size, and that is pretty innocuous if there is a falsehood there. But when you reflexively refer to the press as the ‘enemy of the people’ or ‘fake news,’ that has real damage. It has real damage to our standing in the world.”

This will be part of a series of speeches Flake intends to give about Trump’s relationship with the truth and the press.

It is especially ironic that a Republican should condemn another Republican as following in the footsteps of an infamous Soviet dictator.

From the end of World War 11 to the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1991, Republicans slandered every Democratic Presidential candidate as a witting or unwitting agent of “the Communist conspiracy.”

Trump, however, has repeatedly praised Russian President Vladimir Putin, both during his Presidential candidacy and since taking office. In fact, Putin remains the only major public figure that Trump has never criticized.

Perhaps his most infamous defense of Putin came on the December 18, 2015 edition of MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

The host, Joe Scarborough, was upset by Trump’s praise for Putin: “Well, I mean, [he’s] also a person who kills journalists, political opponents, and invades countries. Obviously that would be a concern, would it not?”

TRUMP: He’s running his country, and at least he’s a leader. Unlike what we have in this country.

SCARBOROUGH: But again: He kills journalists that don’t agree with him.

TRUMP: I think our country does plenty of killing, also, Joe, so, you know. There’s a lot of stupidity going on in the world right now, Joe. A lot of killing going on. A lot of stupidity. And that’s the way it is.

There may be more than a little envy on Trump’s part for how Putin has dealt with his media.

On July 2, 2017, Trump tweeted a video showing him punching a man with the CNN logo superimposed on his head during a WWE wrestling match.

And on August 15, the President retweeted a cartoon photo of a “Trump Train” running over a CNN reporter.

Joseph Stalin ordered his critics executed in prison or exiled to Siberia. It’s clear that Donald Trump would like to have that same power.

CHARACTER AND DESTINY: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 3, 2016 at 12:05 am

Republican Presidential nominee Donald Trump recently attacked the integrity of the parents of an Army captain who died heroically in Iraq in 2004.

For this, he has taken heavy fire from Democrats, veterans organizations and even his fellow Republicans.

But an even more damning assessment comes from Niccolo Machiavelli, the 16th-century Florentine statesman whose two great works on politics–The Prince and The Discourses–remain textbooks for successful politicians more than 500 years later.  

Niccolo Machiavelli

Consider Trump’s notoriety for hurling insults at virtually everyone, including:  

  • Latinos
  • Asians
  • Muslims
  • Blacks
  • The Disabled
  • Women
  • Prisoners-of-War

These insults delight his white, under-educated followers. But they have alienated millions of other Americans who might have voted for him.

Machiavelli, on the other hand, advises leaders to refrain from gratuitous insults: 

  • “I hold it to be a proof of great prudence for men to abstain from threats and insulting words towards any one.
  • For neither the one nor the other in any way diminishes the strength of the enemy–but the one makes him more cautious, and the other increases his hatred of you, and makes him more persevering in his efforts to injure you.”  

And Trump’s reaction to the criticism he’s received? 

“I can be Presidential, but if I was Presidential I would only have–about 20% of you would be here because it would be boring as hell, I will say,” Trump told supporters at a rally in Superior, Wisconsin. 

For those who expect Trump to shed his propensity for constantly picking fights, Machiavelli has a stern warning: 

  • “…If it happens that time and circumstances are favorable to one who acts with caution and prudence he will be successful. But if time and circumstances change he will be ruined, because he does not change the mode of his procedure. 
  • “No man can be found so prudent as to be able to adopt himself to this, either because he cannot deviate from that to which his nature disposes him, or else because, having always prospered by walking in one path, he cannot persuade himself that it is well to leave it… 
  • “For if one could change one’s nature with time and circumstances, fortune would never change.” 

Then there is Trump’s approach to consulting advisers:

Asked on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” who he consults about foreign policy, Trump replied;

“I’m speaking with myself, number one, because I have a very good brain and I’ve said a lot of things.”

This totally contrasts with the advice given by Machiavelli:

  • “A prudent prince must [choose] for his counsel wise men, and [give] them alone full liberty to speak the truth to him, but only of those things that he asks and of nothing else. 
  • “But he must be a great asker about everything and hear their opinions, and afterwards deliberate by himself in his own way, and in these counsels…comport himself so that every one may see that the more freely he speaks, the more he will be acceptable.”

And Machiavelli offers a related warning on the advising of rulers: Unwise princes cannot be wisely advised.   

During the fifth GOP debate in the Presidential sweepstakes, host Hugh Hewitt asked Trump this question: 

“Mr. Trump, Dr. [Ben] Carson just referenced the single most important job of the president, the command and the care of our nuclear forces. And he mentioned the triad. 

“The B-52s are older than I am. The missiles are old. The submarines are aging out. It’s an executive order. It’s a commander-in-chief decision. 

“What’s your priority among our nuclear triad?” 

[The triad refers to America’s land-, sea- and air-based systems for delivering nuclear missiles and bombs.] 

Nuclear missile in silo

Trump’s reply: “Well, first of all, I think we need somebody absolutely that we can trust, who is totally responsible, who really knows what he or she is doing. That is so powerful and so important.”  

He then digressed to his having called the Iraq invasion a mistake in 2003 and 2004. Finally he came back on topic:

“But we have to be extremely vigilant and extremely careful when it comes to nuclear. Nuclear changes the whole ballgame. 

“The biggest problem we have today is nuclear–nuclear proliferation and having some maniac, having some madman go out and get a nuclear weapon. I think to me, nuclear, is just the power, the devastation is very important to me.”

Which brings us back to Machiavelli:  

  • “…Some think that a prince who gains the reputation of being prudent [owes this to] the good counselors he has about him; they are undoubtedly deceived.
  • “It is an infallible rule that a prince who is not wise himself cannot be well advised, unless by chance he leaves himself entirely in the hands of one man who rules him in everything, and happens to be a very prudent man. In this case, he may doubtless be well governed, but it would not last long, for the governor would in a short time deprive him of the state.” 

All of which would lead Niccolo Machiavelli to warn, if he could witness American politics today: “This bodes ill for your Republic.”

CHARACTER AND DESTINY: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 2, 2016 at 12:02 am

“He appeared to need enemies the way other men need friends, and his conduct assured that he would always have plenty of them.”

So wrote William Manchester about General Douglas MacArthur in his monumental 1978 biography, American Caesar.  But he could have written just as accurately about Donald Trump, the businessman-turned-Republican-Presidential-nominee.  

Since July 28, Trump has found himself embroiled in a no-win war-of-words with the parents of an American Army captain killed in Iraq in 2004. And the battle shows no signs of ending anytime soon.

Humayun Khan served as a captain in the U.S. Army. On June 8, 2004, a vehicle packed with explosives approached his compound in Iraq.  

Khan ordered his men to seek cover as he ran toward it. Suddenly, the car exploded, killing Khan instantly. He was awarded the Bronze Star posthumously.  

On July 28, his father, Khizr, was a featured speaker at the Democratic National Convention. With his wife, Ghazala, standing at his side, he made a blistering attack on Trump: 

“We are honored to stand here as the parents of Captain Humayun Khan, and as patriotic American Muslims with undivided loyalty to our country.  

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Khizr Khan

“If it was up to Donald Trump, [Humayun] never would have been in America,” Khan said. “Donald Trump consistently smears the character of Muslims. He disrespects other minorities, women, judges, even his own party leadership. He vows to build walls and ban us from this country. 

“Donald Trump, you are asking Americans to trust you with our future. Let me ask you: Have you even read the U.S. Constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.”

Pulling a copy of the Constitution from his pocket he said: “In this document, look for the words ‘liberty’ and ‘equal protection of law.’  

“You have sacrificed nothing and no one.”  

On July 29, the Khans appeared in an interview on MSNBC’s The Last Word. Khan appealed to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky) and House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-Wisconsin) to “repudiate Trump.”

Trump predictably responded during a July 30 interview with ABC News’ George Stephanopoulos. 

“Who wrote that?” he demanded of Khan’s speech. “Did Hillary’s script writers write it?” 

(According to Politico, Khan declined the use of a speechwriter.)

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Donald Trump

“I think I’ve made a lot of sacrifices,” said Trump. “I work very, very hard. I’ve created thousands and thousands of jobs, tens of thousands of jobs.”  

“Those are sacrifices?” Stephanopoulos asked. 

“Sure. I think they’re sacrifices. I think when I can employ thousands and thousands of people, take care of their education, take care of so many things.”

Trump implied that Khan’s wife may not have been allowed to speak because of her religion. 

Ghazala Khan subsequently retorted in an interview that she had been invited to speak but was too upset to do so.  

On July 31, Khizr Khan said on CNN’s State of the Union that Trump had a “black soul.”  

That same day, Trump took to Twitter:  

“Captain Khan, killed 12 years ago, was a hero, but this is about RADICAL ISLAMIC TERROR and the weakness of our ‘leaders’ to eradicate it!”  

And: “I was viciously attacked by Mr. Khan at the Democratic Convention. Am I not allowed to respond? Hillary voted for the Iraq war, not me!”  

On August 1, Khan appeared on NBC’s Today Show: “This candidate amazes me. His ignorance–he can get up and malign the entire nation, the religions, the communities, the minorities, the judges and yet a private citizen in this political process. … I cannot say what I feel?”  

The same day, Trump responded on Twitter: 

“Mr. Khan, who does not know me, viciously attacked me from the stage of the DNC and is now all over T.V. doing the same – Nice!”

And again: “This story is not about Mr. Khan, who is all over the place doing interviews, but rather RADICAL ISLAMIC TERRORISM and the U.S. Get smart!”  

The exchange hasn’t hurt the Khans. But it has inflicted heavy damage on Trump.  

Arizona U.S. Senator John McCain–himself a seven-year prisoner of North Vietnam during the Vietnam war–said: 

“In recent days, Donald Trump disparaged a fallen soldier’s parents. He has suggested that the likes of their son should not be allowed in the United States–to say nothing of entering its service.

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John McCain

“I cannot emphasize enough how deeply I disagree with Mr. Trump’s statement. I hope Americans understand that the remarks do not represent the views of our Republican Party, its officers, or candidates.”   

The Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW), one of the largest and oldest veterans organizations in the country, released its own statement: 

“Election year or not, the VFW will not tolerate anyone berating a Gold Star family member for exercising his or her right of speech or expression. There are certain sacrosanct subjects that no amount of wordsmithing can repair once crossed.

“Giving one’s life to nation is the greatest sacrifice, followed closely by Gold Star families, who have a right to make their voices heard.”

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