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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.

COVERING TRUMP AS HE DESERVES

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 14, 2018 at 12:13 am

On June 8, 2017, James Comey testified before the United States Senate Select Committee on Intelligence.

On May 9, he had been fired as director of the FBI by President Donald Trump.

During his Congressional testimony, Comey revealed that, on February 14,  2017, Trump had ordered everyone but Comey to leave a crowded meeting in the Oval Office.

Michael Flynn had resigned the previous day from his position as National Security Adviser. The FBI was investigating him for his previously undisclosed ties to Russia.

“I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go,” said Trump. “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”

This was clearly an attempt by Trump to obstruct the FBI’s investigation.

Yet Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan rushed to excuse his clearly illegal behavior: “He’s new at government, so therefore I think he’s learning as he goes.”

Paul Ryan's official Speaker photo. In the background is the American Flag.

Paul Ryan

Many reporters who undoubtedly knew better agreed with this excuse: He just didn’t understand the protocols. He’ll get it right next time.

They didn’t dare report the truth: America is being ruled by a dictator in the mold of John Gotti.

Thus, Trump didn’t meet privately with Comey because he didn’t know “how modern government operates.” He wanted a private meeting to make a request he knew was on its face illegal—and he wanted to ensure “plausible deniability” in doing so.

If Comey later told the truth about that meeting—as he later did—Trump could say—as he later did: “It’s just his word against mine. Who are you going to believe?”

Reporters covering the Trump administration need to radically change their methods for doing so.

They should start covering it the way organized crime reporters have long covered the Mafia.

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Donald Trump

First, assume that Trump—and those who serve him—are acting criminally unless they can prove otherwise.

As Niccolo Machiavelli advised in his classic work, The Discourses:

“All those who have written upon civil institutions demonstrate…that whoever desires to found a state and give it laws, must start with assuming that all men are bad and ever ready to display their vicious nature, whenever they may find occasion for it.

“If their evil disposition remains concealed for a time, it must be attributed to some unknown reason, and we must assume that it lacked occasion to show itself.”

Second, report what he and his minions say publicly—but look for well-placed sources in law enforcement for the truth.

Reporters covering John Gotti found him highly quotable copy. But they also cultivated secret sources within the FBI and NYPD to discover what crimes he had committed—and was committing.

And when they wrote stories about him, they stated—unequivocally—that he was the boss of an organized crime family.

Reporters covering Trump should similarly list his own history of conflicts with the law.

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John Gotti

Third, news media should devote fewer resources to covering the public side of Trump—and  more to unearthing the truths he wants to suppress. 

As robber baron J.P. Morgan once admitted: “A man generally has two reasons for doing a thing. One that sounds good, and a real one.”

What’s said during a press conference—whether by Trump or any other of his officials—is strictly the version he wants stated. This could be transcribed by a single pool reporter, who shares whatever’s said with all the major news media.

This, in turn, would free legions of reporters to unearth truths that Trump doesn’t want revealed.

Fourth, recognize that Trump is fighting an all-out war on the media—and have the courage to publicly state this.

In 1976, Arizona Republic reporter and organized crime expert Don Bolles, was killed by a car bomb. Legions of reporters from across the country descended on Arizona to prove to mobsters: Attacking reporters is as dangerous as attacking cops.

Donald Trump has labeled established news media as “fake news.” He has called reporters “the enemy of America.” On at least one occasion, he told a CNN reporter: “You’re fake news.”

Yet no reporter—for CNN or any other news outlet—has called him a “fake President.” Nor has any reporter dared to call him a pathological liar with dictatorial ambitions.

CNN has started running an ad featuring a shiny red apple, while a voice-over intones:

“This is an apple. Some people might try to tell you that it’s a banana. They might scream banana, banana, banana over and over and over again. They might put BANANA in all caps. You might even start to believe that this is a banana. But it’s not. This is an apple.”

Unfortunately, many viewers might mistake the “apple” for Apple. Thus, a more effective ad could feature a picture of Trump in an SS uniform, and the following message:

“This  is a Fascist. Some people might try to tell you that he’s a Republican. They might scream Republican, Republican, Republican over and over and over again. They might put REPUBLICAN in all caps. You might even start to believe that he is a Republican. But he’s not. This is a Fascist.”

“MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE” COMES HOME

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 24, 2018 at 12:15 am

According to the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency (which cracks codes and listens to the telephone conversation of foreign leaders) it’s clear that Russian trolls and Intelligence agents played a major role in subverting the 2016 Presidential election.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller III, assigned in May, 2017, to investigate charges of Russian interference, believes there was collusion. He has secured criminal charges against 19 people, including five guilty pleas. And more are undoubtedly coming.

Director Robert S. Mueller- III.jpg

Robert Mueller

And 65% of Americans believe that Mueller should be allowed to continue his investigation.

Apparently, most Americans don’t like having their elections subverted by enemy nations.

Subverting the governments of other countries is a right that Americans have long reserved for themselves. Among those regimes that have been toppled:

  • Between 1898 and 1934, the United States repeatedly intervened with military force in Central America and the Caribbean.
  • Americans staged invasions of Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925 to defend U.S. interests. These were defined as Standard Oil and the United Fruit Company.
  • The United States occupied Nicaragua almost continuously from 1912 to 1933. Its legacy was the imposition of the tyrannical Somoza family, which ruled from 1936 to 1979.
  • The United States occupied Haiti from 1915 to 1934. American banks had lent money to Haiti and requested American government intervention.
  • In 1918, 13,000 American soldiers joined armies from Europe and Japan to overthrow the new Soviet government and restore the previous Tsarist regime. By 1920, the invading forces proved unsuccessful and withdrew.

Wladiwostok Parade 1918.jpg

Allied troops parading in Vladivostok, 1918  

  • From 1946 to 1949, the United States provided military, logistical and other aid to the Right-wing Chinese Nationalist Party of Chiang Kai-shek. Its opponent were Communist forces led by Mao Tse-Tung, who ultimately proved victorious.
  • In 1953, the Eisenhower administration ordered the CIA to overthrew the democratically-elected government of of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh. His crime: Nationalizing the Iranian oil industry, which had been under British control since 1913. He was succeeded by Mohammad-Reza Shah Phlavi. Whereas Mossadeddgh had ruled as a constitutional monarch, Phlavi was a dictator who depended on United States government support to retain power until he was overthrown in 1979 by the Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini.
  • In 1954, the CIA overthrew the democratically-elected government of Guatemalan President Jacobo Arbenz. His crime: Installing a series of reforms that expanded the right to vote, allowed workers to organize, legitimized political parties and allowed public debate. Most infuriating to American Right-wingers: His agrarian reform law, which expropriated parts of large land-holdings and redistributed them to agricultural laborers. The United Fruit Company lobbied the United States government to overthrow him—and the CIA went into action. Arbenz was replaced by the first of a series of brutal Right-wing dictators.
  • From 1959 until 1963, the United States government was obsessed with overthrowing the revolutionary Cuban government of Fidel Castro. Although not democratically elected, Castro was wildly popular in Cuba for overthrowing the dictatorial Fulgencio Batista. On April 17, 1961, over 1,400 CIA-trained Cuban exiles invaded Cuba at the Bay of Pigs. Cuban military forces crushed the invasion in three days.
  • Infuriated with the failure of the Bay of Pigs invasion, President John F. Kennedy authorized “Operation Mongoose” to remove Castro through sabotage and assassination. The CIA, wanting to please Kennedy, teamed up with the Mafia, which wanted to resurrect its casinos on the island. Among the tactics used: Hiring Cuban gangsters to murder police officials and Soviet technicians; sabotaging mines; using biological and chemical warfare against the Cuban sugar industry. None of these proved successful in assassinating Castro nor overturning his regime.

Ernesto “Che” Guevera and Fidel Castro

  • In 1970, President Richard M. Nixon ordered the CIA to prevent Marxist Salvador Allende from being democratically elected as president of Chile. When that failed, he ordered the CIA to overthrow Allende. Allende’s crime: A series of liberal reforms, including nationalizing large-scale industries (notably copper mining and banking. In 1973, he was overthrown by Chilean army units and national police. He was followed by Right-wing dictator Augusto Pinochet, who slaughtered 3,200 political dissidents, imprisoned 30,000 and forced another 200,000 Chileans into exile.

And how did Americans react to all these attempts—successful and unsuccessful—at regime change?

Through indifference or outright support.

The popular 1960s TV series, “Mission: Impossible,” regularly depicted a CIA-type agency supporting regimes “we” liked or toppling those “we” didn’t.

Americans generally assume their Presidents and Congress know best who is a “friend” and who is an “enemy.”  America’s friends often turn out, for the most part, to be Right-wing dictators like Chiang Kai-Shek, Fulgencio Batista, Augusto Pinochet and Mohammad-Reza Shah Phlavi.

And its enemies often turn out to be liberal reformers like Augusto Sandino, Mohammad Mosaddegh and Salvador Allende. 

Americans tend to favor intervention for the flimsiest of reasons. In 2003, President George W. Bush claimed Iraq’s dictator, Saddam Hussein, had plotted 9/11 with Osama bin Laden. There was absolutely no proof to substantiate this, yet Americans overwhelmingly supported Bush’s unprovoked invasion of Iraq. 

But now the shoe is on the other foot. Except for President Donald Trump and his fanatical supporters, Americans are furious that a foreign power has dared to install “regime change” on them.

Americans are now tasting the medicine they have dished out to so many other countries. And they find it as repugnant as those countries have found the American brand.

A POIGNANT ANNIVERSARY FAST APPROACHING

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on April 5, 2018 at 12:09 am

Fifty years ago, the Reverend Martin Luther King was shot to death as he stood on a balcony in Memphis, Tennessee. He had come there to lead a march of striking garbage workers.

New York United States Senator—and now Presidential candidate—Robert Francis Kennedy had been scheduled to give a speech in Indianapolis, Indiana, before a black audience.

Just before he drove into the city to deliver his address, he learned of King’s assassination. There was a real danger that rioting would erupt. Police who had been assigned to protect him said they wouldn’t accompany him into the inner city.

Kennedy drove off anyway, leaving behind his police escort.

Standing on a podium mounted on a flatbed truck, Kennedy spoke for just four minutes and 57 seconds.

His waiting audience hadn’t yet learned of King’s death. Kennedy broke the news to gasps, and then gave an impromptu speech eulogizing the slain civil rights leader.

For the first time since the assassination of his brother, President John F. Kennedy, in 1963, he spoke publicly of that killing. He noted that JFK—like King—had also been killed by a white man.

And he called upon the crowd to “dedicate ourselves to what the Greeks wrote so many years ago: to tame the savageness of man and to make gentle the life of this world.”

Riots erupted in 60 cities following King’s death—but not in Indianapolis.

Fifty years ago, Robert Kennedy aroused passions of an altogether different sort from those aroused by Donald Trump.

Kennedy had been a United States Attorney General (1961-1964) and Senator from New York (1964-1968). But it was his connection to his beloved and assassinated brother, President John F. Kennedy, for which he was best known.

In October, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, his wise counsel helped steer America from the brink of nuclear war with the Soviet Union. As a U.S Senator he championed civil rights and greater Federal efforts to fight poverty.

Robert F. Kennedy campaigning for President

Millions saw RFK as the only candidate who could make life better for America’s impoverished—while standing firmly against those who threatened the Nation’s safety.

As television correspondent Charles Quinn observed: “I talked to a girl in Hawaii who was for [George] Wallace [the segregationist governor of Alabama]. And I said ‘Really?’ [She said] ‘Yeah, but my real candidate is dead.’

“You know what I think it was? All these whites, all these blue collar people who supported Kennedy…all of these people felt that Kennedy would really do what he thought best for the black people, but, at the same time, would not tolerate lawlessness and violence.

“They were willing to gamble…because they knew in their hearts that the country was not right. They were willing to gamble on this man who would try to keep things within reasonable order; and at the same time do some of the things they knew really should be done.”

Campaigning for the Presidency in 1968, RFK had just won the crucial California primary on June 4—when he was shot in the back of the head.

His killer: Sirhan Sirhan, a young Palestinian furious at Kennedy’s support for Israel.

Kennedy died at 1:44 a.m. on June 6.  He was 42.

On June 8, 1,200 men and women boarded a specially-reserved passenger train at New York’s Pennsylvania Station. They were accompanying Kennedy’s body to its final resting place at Arlington National Cemetery.

As the train slowly moved along 225 miles of track, throngs of men, women and children lined the rails to pay their final respects to a man they considered a genuine hero.

Little Leaguers clutched baseball caps across their chests. Uniformed firemen and policemen saluted. Burly men in shirtsleeves held hardhats over their hearts. Black men in overalls waved small American flags. Women from all levels of society stood and cried.

A nation says goodbye to Robert Kennedy

Commenting on RFK’s legacy, historian William L. O’Neil wrote in Coming Apart: An Informal History of America in the 1960′s:

“…He aimed so high that he must be judged for what he meant to do, and, through error and tragic accident, failed at….He will also be remembered as an extraordinary human being who, though hated by some, was perhaps more deeply loved by his countrymen than any man of his time.

“That too must be entered into the final account, and it is no small thing. With his death something precious disappeared from public life.”

America has never again seen a Presidential candidate who combined toughness on crime and compassion for the poor.

Republican candidates have waged war on crime—and the poor. And Democratic candidates have moved to the Right in eliminating anti-poverty programs.

RFK had the courage to fight the Mafia—and the compassion to fight poverty. At a time when Americans long for candidates to give them positive reasons for voting, his kind of politics are sorely missed.

PRESENTING—SENATOR HYPOCRITE

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Politics, Social commentary on January 4, 2018 at 12:10 am

At the end of the 1987 movie, “The Untouchables,” a reporter accosts Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner): “Mr. Ness, they’re saying that Congress will repeal Prohibition. If that happens, what will you do?”

And Ness—who has just spent the entire movie trying to put arch-bootlegger Al Capone out of business—replies: “I think I’ll have a drink.”

“The Untouchables” (1987)

In 1920, America went “dry”—officially.

The reason: Congressional passage of the Volstead Act—named after Andrew Volstead, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee who managed the legislation.

For Americans generally, the law had a shorter name: Prohibition.

For 12 years—from 1920 to 1932—the United States Treasury Department declared war on the manufacture and sale of alcoholic beverages throughout the country.

It was a losing war. Untold numbers of local police officers gladly turned a blind eye—for a price—to the bootleggers operating in their midst. So did legions of agents of the Treasury Department’s Prohibition Bureau.

And police weren’t the only ones willing to ignore the law. So were politicians at all levels. At the highest level: Warren G. Harding, 29th President of the United States.

Warren G. Harding

Harding allowed bootleg whiskey to be served to his guests during after-dinner parties.  His wife, Florence, known as “The Duchess,” mixed drinks for the visitors.

Many of those public officials (and private citizens) who regularly indulged felt the law was needed to enforce “morality” onto others—especially the poor and immigrants.

Prohibition ended in 1932—to the sorrow of two major organizations. The first was anti-alcohol groups such as the Women’s Christian Temperance Union. The second was the Mafia—which had raised millions of dollars via the sale of forbidden spirits.

Today Americans (except those living in officially “dry” states like Florida, Georgia and Alabama) can easily and legally obtain all the booze they can afford to buy.

But even in “wet” states, it’s illegal to drink and drive—as third-term United States Senator Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) found out in 2012.

Mike Crapo

Crapo had been elected to the House of Representatives in 1992. After three terms in the House he successfully ran for the Senate in 1998.

On December 23, 2012, Crapo was arrested in Alexandria, Virginia, for driving under the influence. Crapo was pulled over after an officer saw him run a red light.

According to CBS News, Crapo failed several field sobriety tests and was taken into custody without incident. He was later released on an unsecured $1,000 bond.

On January 4, 2013, Crapo pleaded guilty to a drunk driving charge and was sentenced to a  $250 fine and court costs, one-year suspension of his driver’s license, and court-ordered alcohol education and awareness classes.

But there’s more to this tale than mere political embarrassment. There’s also a story of religious hypocrisy to be told.

Crapo is a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints—the Mormons. He graduated from the church’s Brigham Young University in 1973  with a B.A. in political science.

Among those acts that Mormons are forbidden to partake in is the drinking of alcohol. It’s part of the “Word of Wisdom” embraced by staunch church members: A ban on any use of alcohol, tobacco, coffee and tea.

Indulging in any of these won’t get you excommunicated (as will, say, adultery or murder, which the church puts on the same level of evil). But it can get you banned from entering a Mormon temple, reserved for only the most devout members.

It is in their temples that Mormons perform such rituals as wedding ceremonies and proxy “baptisms for the dead.”

This inevitably came as a huge embarrassment for a man who represents Idaho, a state:

  • Where government maintains a monopoly over sales of beverages with greater than 16% ABV;
  • Where beer can be sold in grocery stores but not wine;
  • Where the sale of distilled spirits is allowed only in certified Liquor Dispensary stores;
  • Where 414,182 Mormons comprise the largest single religious group—at 26% of the population.

Thus, Crapo quickly released the following statement:

“I am deeply sorry for the actions that resulted in this circumstance.  I made a mistake for which I apologize to my family, my Idaho constituents and any others who have put their trust in me.

“I accept total responsibility and will deal with whatever penalty comes my way in this matter.  I will also undertake measures to ensure that this circumstance is never repeated.”

In November, 2016, Crapo was re-elected to a fourth Senate  term. 

Among his legislative accomplishments: 

  • Opposing President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which makes access to health care available to all Americans.  He did so after being diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1999 and undergoing surgery to remove all or part of the prostate gland in January 2000.
  • Opposing expanded background checks for all gun buyers.  
  • Chairing the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, where he attacked the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
  • Urging President Donald Trump to withdraw the United States from the climate-change Paris Agreement.
  • Chairing the Committee on Banking, Housing and Urban Affairs, where he sought repeal of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Created by the Dodd-Frank financial reform law, its purpose is to prevent a repeat of the 2008 Wall Street “meltdown” caused by the unchecked greed of speculators.

IT’S MUELLER TIME FOR THE GHOST OF J. EDGAR

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on December 18, 2017 at 2:41 am

J. Edgar Hoover was appointed director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation in 1924.  His 48-year reign ended only with his death on May 2, 1972.

Niccolo Machiavelli advised would-be princes to be both loved and feared.  Hoover took this to heart—and ensured that he was both.

To gain love, he shamelessly advertised himself as the Nation’s foremost guardian against crime and espionage–especially the Communist variety.

He did so through

  • A relentless series of interviews with favored journalists and book authors;
  • “Authoring” several ghostwritten books; and
  • Sponsoring comic books, radio programs and even a high-rated TV series to tout the glories of the FBI.

Millions of Americans believed that only Hoover and his ace G-men stood between them and the threat of crime and/or Communist subversion.

J. Edgar Hoover

Members of the House and Senate Judiciary Committees supposedly oversee the operations of the Justice Department—of which the FBI is the biggest part. Yet they competed with one another to fawn over Hoover and his agency and to give him even greater appropriations than he asked for.

But it wasn’t just popularity that kept Hoover in power for almost a half-century. While he reveled in feeling loved by the public, he did not rely entirely on this as a guarantee of longevity.

“In large measure, Hoover’s power rested on the information he had squirreled away in his secret files,” wrote investigative journalist David Wise in his 1976 bestseller, The American Police State.

“Put simply, the famous Director of the FBI, the cereal boxtop, G-man hero of generations of American youth, was a blackmailer. Hoover collected and filed away facts, tidbits, gossip, scandal and dark secrets that gave him leverage over members of Congress, the Cabinet, even Presidents.”

“He has a file on everybody,” a terrified President Richard Nixon told White House Counsel John Dean.

It was the major reason why Nixon—and Presidents John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson—never dared fire him.

Hoover learned, for example, of the sexual relationship between JFK and “party girl” Judith Campbell.  Aside from the politically explosive matter of Kennedy’s adultery, Campbell was also bedding Sam Giancana, the most notorious Mafia boss in Chicago.

Fearing that his superior, Attorney General Robert Kennedy, meant to fire him, Hoover, in 1962, let President Kennedy know that he was in on the secret.  Hoover quit worrying about involuntary retirement after that.

John F. Kennedy, J. Edgar Hoover and Robert F. Kennedy

Similarly, LBJ told aides he would never fire Hoover: “It’s better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in.”

Now, fast forward to Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller’s assignment to investigate well-documented links between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Donald Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign.

On May 9, President Trump fired FBI Director James Comey for doing the same thing.  When Mueller was appointed to continue that investigation, Trump made clear his anger at the decision.

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

This despite the fact that Mueller was appointed by Republican President George W. Bush and served with an impeccable reputation for 12 years as FBI director (2001-2013).

From the outset of Mueller’s investigation, there have been widespread fears that Trump would fire him, just as he did Comey.

On December 15, Rep. Jackie Spier (D-Calif.) said: “The rumor on the Hill when I left yesterday was that the President was going to make a significant speech at the end of next week. And on December 22, when we are out of D.C., he was going to fire Robert Mueller.”

A member of the House Intelligence Committee, Spier said that Trump was trying to shut down Congress’ own investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.

So: How should Robert Mueller respond?

Two methods are open to him.

The first is to follow the straight-arrow path he has always traveled: Keep pressing on with his investigation and wait to see what happens.  And if Trump fires him, hope that, somehow, the probe goes on.

The second is to summon up the ghost of J. Edgar Hoover.

As described by William C. Sullivan, Hoover’s one-time number-three man and the director of his Intelligence Division:

William C. Sullivan

“The moment he would get something on a Senator, he would send one of his errand boys up and advise the Senator that we’re in the course of an investigation and by chance happened to come up with this data on your daughter.

“But we wanted you to know know—we realize you would want to know it. But don’t have any concern—no one will ever learn about it. Well, Jesus, what does that tell the Senator?  From that time on, the Senator’s right in his pocket.”

Reports have circulated that many of those Congress members now demanding Mueller’s firing are recipients of financial (and possibly intelligence) support from the Kremlin.

Perhaps it’s time for Mueller to send one of his own “errand boys” up to Capitol Hill for a quiet exchange with such leaders.

Once they realize how much they stand to lose by backing a Kremlin-owned President, they may well change their tunes.

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