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Posts Tagged ‘MICHAEL COHEN’

A TALE OF TWO TAPINGS

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on August 13, 2018 at 12:16 am

In April, 1945, Berlin, capital of the Third Reich, was being menaced by the British and Americans from the West. Meanwhile, from the East, an even more dreaded enemy—the Russians—was fast approaching the besieged city. 

On April 20—Adolf Hitler’s 56th birthday—his two most important ministers visited him for the last time. 

One minister was Hermann Goring, who still commanded the remnants of the once-powerful German air force, the Luftwaffe

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Hermann Goring

Bundesarchiv, Bild 102-15607 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de 

The other was Heinrich Himmler, absolute ruler of the Schutzstaffel, or “Protection Squadron.” His empire encompassed the black-uniformed secret police and a network of extermination camps throughout Eastern Europe.

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Heinrich Himmler 

Bundesarchiv, Bild 183-R99621 / CC-BY-SA 3.0 [CC BY-SA 3.0 de 

During the final meeting in the ruins of the Reich Chancellery, Himmler and Goring swore unswerving loyalty to Hitler. 

So the Fuhrer was understandably startled—and enraged—when, on April 23, Goring sent him a telegram. It proposed that, with Hitler trapped in Berlin, the Reichsmarshall, as his designated successor, should assume leadership of the Reich.

Hitler, furious, refused permission and ordered Goring’s arrest and execution. But Goring eluded the SS units and surrendered to the Americans.

Then, on April 28, the BBC reported that Himmler had tried to open surrender negotiations with the Western Allies.

Hitler had long considered Himmler (“The true Heinrich”) as second only to Propaganda Minister Joseph Goebbels in loyalty.

Now Hitler screamed that Himmler had committed the worst treachery he had ever known—and ordered his arrest. 

On April 29—one day before he committed suicide—Hitler declared Goring and Himmler traitors and stripped them of all their Nazi party and state offices.

Both would commit suicide by poison—Himmler before he could be tried as a war criminal, and Goring after being convicted as one.

Now, fast forward 73 years later.  

Attorney Michael Cohen had long been Donald Trump’s fixer. “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.”

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Michael Cohen

Then, 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.

On April 9, 2018, the FBI, executing a federal search warrant, raided Cohen’s law office, his home and his hotel room. Agents seized emails, tax and business records and recordings of phone conversations that Cohen had made.

While the media speculated that Cohen was expecting a Presidential pardon, President Trump responded: “Michael Cohen only handled a tiny, tiny fraction of my legal work.”  

On July 25, Cohen apparently offered a response of his own: A leaked tape of a phone conversation he had had with Trump before the latter became President.

It focused on buying the rights to a Playboy model’s story where she claimed to have had an affair with Trump years earlier.

Trump, furious, blasted Cohen in a tweet: “What kind of a lawyer would tape a client? So sad! Is this a first, never heard of it before? Why was the tape so abruptly terminated (cut) while I was presumably saying positive things? I hear there are other clients and many reporters that are taped – can this be so? Too bad!” 

The revelation that he had been secretly taped by his own lawyer proved especially embarrassing for Trump. On March 4, 2017, he had accused the Obama administration of illegally wiretapping his phones during the 2016 election.

Without citing any evidence to back up his libelous claim, he tweeted: “Terrible! Just found out that [Barack] Obama had my ‘wires tapped’ in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!” 

Subsequent investigations by the Justice Department turned up no evidence to substantiate Trump’s claim.

But after the release of the Cohen tape, even worse was to come.

Omarosa Manigault had become a Trump favorite by generating huge ratings for his “reality series” The Apprentice during its first, seventh and 13th seasons on NBC. 

Omarosa Manigault

By Glenn Francis of PacificProDigital.com

Her behavior toward other contestants was marked by insults, egomania and ruthlessness. As a result, she soon became the “woman America loved to hate.” 

TV Guide included her in its 2013 list of “The 60 Nastiest TV Villains of All Time.”

During Trump’s Presidential campaign, she was named Director of African-American Outreach.  In an interview with Frontline, she boasted: “Every critic, every detractor, will have to bow down to President Trump. It’s everyone who’s ever doubted Donald, who ever disagreed, who ever challenged him.”

In January, 2017, Omarossa moved into the White House—where she became as antagonistic toward her government colleagues as she had those on The Apprentice

On December 12, she was forcibly removed from the White House grounds.

Trump tweeted her a goodbye: “Thank you Omarosa for your service! I wish you continued success.” 

Apparently he didn’t expect her to attain that success at his expense.

On August 8, 2018, news broke that Omarosa had secretly taped Trump during several phone conversations in the White House. And that she planned to use these to promote an upcoming—and highly critical—book on the President. 

The book—Unhinged-–will be released on August 14.

THE KGB COMES TO THE WHITE HOUSE: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 26, 2018 at 12:08 am

More than a year and a half after taking office, President Donald Trump remains haunted by “the Russian connection.”   

Throughout 2016, the CIA, FBI and National Security Agency (NSA) found numerous ties between officials of the Trump Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents.  

And many of those he has appointed to office have strong ties to the government of Russian President Vladimir Putin.

One of these was Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. In 2013, as the chief executive of ExxonMobil, he was presented with the 2013 Order of Friendship award. He had just signed deals with the state-owned Russian oil company Rosneft. Its chief, Igor Sechin, is a loyal Putin lieutenant.

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Rex Tillerson

Another such official is Attorney General Jeff Sessions. During the 2016 campaign, Sessions—then serving as a surrogate for Donald Trump’s campaign—twice spoke with Russian Ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

But during his Senate nomination hearings, Sessions denied that he had had “communications with the Russians” during the campaign.  

The discovery of numerous contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian Intelligence agents led the FBI to investigate Russia’s efforts to subvert the 2016 Presidential election. That investigation is still ongoing.

So did the House and Senate Intelligence Committees.

On March 30, 2017, Clinton Watts, an expert on cyber warfare, testified before the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence. As part of his testimony, he presented a prepared statement on “Disinformation: A Primer In Russian Active Measures And Influence Campaigns.” 

Image result for Images of the seal of the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence

FROM WATTS’ STATEMENT: Russia certainly seeks to promote Western candidates sympathetic to their worldview and foreign policy objectives. But winning a single election is not their end goal.

Russian Active Measures hope to topple democracies….from the inside out [by] creating political divisions….

[Their ultimate goals are]  the dissolution of the European Union and the break up of the North American Treaty Organization (NATO).  

Achieving these two victories against the West will allow Russia to reassert its power globally and pursue its foreign policy objectives bilaterally through military, diplomatic and economic aggression.

On July 22, 2016, Wikileaks released 19,252 emails and 8,034 attachments hacked from computers of the highest-ranking officials of the Democratic National Committee (DNC). Early reports traced the leak to Russian hackers. 

On July 27, at a press conference in Doral, Florida, Trump declared: “Russia, if you are listening, I hope you are able to find the 33,000 emails that are missing—I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.”  

This was nothing less than treason—calling upon a foreign power, hostile to the United States, to interfere in its Presidential election.  

On numerous occasions, Trump has fiercely denied any Russian connections. For example:  

July 27, 2016: “I mean I have nothing to do with Russia. I don’t have any jobs in Russia. I’m all over the world but we’re not involved in Russia.”

January 11, 2017: “Russia has never tried to use leverage over me. I HAVE NOTHING TO DO WITH RUSSIA – NO DEALS, NO LOANS, NO NOTHING!” 

February 7, 2017: “I don’t know [Russian President Vladimir] Putin, have no deals in Russia, and the haters are going crazy.”

Yet, in 2008, Donald Trump, Jr. said at a New York real estate conference: “In terms of high-end product influx into the US, Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets.  Say, in Dubai, and certainly with our project in SoHo, and anywhere in New York. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

And Trump’s son, Eric, has been quoted as saying in 2014: “Well, we don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia. We’ve got some guys that really, really love golf, and they’re really invested in our programs. We just go there all the time.”

The Moscow Project is an initiative of the Center for American Progress Action Fund. Its objective: “Analyzing the facts behind Trump’s collusion with Russia and communicating the findings to the public.”

According to its March 21, 2018 report (updated on July 10): “In total, we have learned of 80 contacts between Trump’s team and Russia linked operatives, including at least 23 meetings.

“And we know that at least 24 high-ranking campaign officials and Trump advisors were aware of contacts with Russia-linked operatives during the campaign and transition. None of these contacts were ever reported to the proper authorities. Instead, the Trump team tried to cover up every single one of them….

“The Trump campaign issued at least 15 blanket denials of contacts with Russia, all of which have been proven false.”   

Members of the Trump team who had contacts with Russians during the campaign or transition include:

  • Michael Cohen
  • Roger Stone
  • Donald Trump Jr.
  • Jeff Sessions
  • Paul Manafort
  • Jared Kushner
  • Carter Page
  • Michael Flynn
  • Erik Prince
  • George Papadopoulos
  • Anthony Scaramucci
  • Rick Gates 

Flynn and Papadopoulos have pleaded guilty to making false statements about their contacts with Russians to investigators.

Manafort faces trial for money-laundering relating to his work for the government of Putin-supported government of Ukraine.  

In July, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller charged 12 officers of the GRU, Russia’s military intelligence agency, with crimes committed to the high-profile hacking and leaking emails from the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 campaign.

As trials begin and indicted men begin to sweat, expect more revelations to come.

THE KGB COMES TO THE WHITE HOUSE: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 25, 2018 at 12:09 am

On July 16, President Donald Trump attended a press conference in Helsinki, Finland, with Russian President Vladimir Putin. 

There he blamed American Intelligence agencies—such as the FBI, CIA and National Security Agency—instead of Putin for Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election. 

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Donald Trump, Vladimir Putin in Helsinki

“Just now President Putin denied having anything to do with the election interference in 2016,” Associated Press Reporter Jonathan Lemire said to Trump. “Every U.S. intelligence agency has concluded that Russia did. My first question for you, sir, is who do you believe?” 

Trump chose to attack Democrats and the FBI as partners in a conspiracy: “You have groups that are wondering why the FBI never took the server, why haven’t they taken the server? Why was the FBI told to leave the office of the Democratic National Committee?  

“…Where is the server? I want to know where is the server and what is the server saying….

“I have President Putin. He just said it’s not Russia. I will say this: I don’t see any reason why it would be, but I really do want to see the server.”

Clinton Watts is a consultant and researcher on cyberwarfare. He has served as

  • An FBI Special Agent on a Joint Terrorism Task Force (JTTF);
  • The Executive Officer of the Combating Terrorism Center at West Point (CTC); and
  • As a consultant to the FBI’s Counter Terrorism Division (CTD) and National Security Branch (NSB). 

In a statement he prepared for the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, Watts outlined cyberwarfare measures that Russia used to subvert the 2016 Presidential campaign. 

He delivered this on March 30. 2017. Part of this reads as follows: 

Through the end of 2015 and start of 2016, the Russian influence system….began pushing themes and messages seeking to influence the outcome of the U.S. Presidential election.

Russia’s overt media outlets and covert trolls sought to sideline opponents on both sides of the political spectrum with adversarial views toward the Kremlin. The final months leading up to the election have been the predominate focus of Russian influence discussions to date.

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Clinton Watts

However, Russian Active Measures were in full swing during both the Republican and Democratic primary season and may have helped sink the hopes of candidates more hostile to Russian interests long before the field narrowed. 

The final piece of Russia’s modern Active Measures surfaced in the summer of 2016 as hacked materials from previous months were strategically leaked.

On 22 July 2016, Wikileaks released troves of stolen communications from the Democratic National Committee and later batches of campaign emails. Guccifer 2.0 and DC Leaks revealed hacked information from a host of former U.S. government officials throughout July and August 2016.

For the remainder of the campaign season, this compromising material powered the influence system Russia successfully constructed in the previous two years.

Meanwhile, Donald Trump—as the Republican nominee for President—steadfastly refused to acknowledge the efforts of Vladimir Putin’s government to ensure his election:  

October 24, 2016: “I have nothing to do with Russia, folks, I’ll give you a written statement.” 

December 11, 2016 “They have no idea if it’s Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place. I mean, they have no idea.” 

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

Even after the release of this Intelligence statement, Trump continued to deny that Russia had played a role in his election. 

On February 16, 2017, as President, he tweeted: “The Democrats had to come up with a story as to why they lost the election, and so badly (306), so they made up a story – RUSSIA. Fake news!”

FROM WATTS’ STATEMENT: This pattern of Russian falsehoods and social media manipulation of the American electorate continued through Election Day and persists today.

Many of the accounts we watched push the false Incirlik story in July now focus their efforts on shaping the upcoming European elections, promoting fears of immigration or false claims of refugee criminality.  

They’ve not forgotten about the United States either. This past week, we observed social media campaigns targeting Speaker of the House Paul Ryan hoping to foment further unrest amongst U.S. democratic institutions, their leaders and their constituents. 

As we noted two days before the Presidential election in our article describing Russian influence operations, Russia certainly seeks to promote Western candidates sympathetic to their worldview and foreign policy objectives.

But winning a single election is not their end goal. Russian Active Measures hope to topple democracies through the pursuit of five complementary objectives: 

  1. Undermine citizen confidence in democratic governance;
  2. Foment and exacerbate divisive political fractures;
  3. Erode trust between citizens and elected officials and democratic institutions;
  4. Popularize Russian policy agendas within foreign populations;
  5. Create general distrust or confusion over information sources by blurring the lines between fact and fiction.

From these objectives, the Kremlin can crumble democracies from the inside out creating political divisions resulting in two key milestones:

  1. The dissolution of the European Union and 
  2. The break up of the North American Treaty Organization (NATO).

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.

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.”

YOUR FRIENDS AS YOUR WORST ENEMIES: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Politics, Social commentary on May 8, 2018 at 12:02 am

It’s a truth well-known to cross-examining attorneys: The best way to obtain the truth is often to “kill your opponents with kindness.”

Witnesses always expect the opposing counsel to immediately start screaming at them. But that only causes the witness to stay alert and say as little as possible.

So the smart attorney comes on as courteous, friendly, even sympathetic.

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A classic example of this: A laborer claimed to have permanently injured his shoulder in a railway accident, leaving him unable to work. He claimed he could no longer raise his arm above a point parallel with his shoulder.

The railway’s attorney asked him a few sympathetic questions about his injuries. And the witness quickly volunteered that he was in constant pain and a near-invalid.

“And, as a result of the accident, how high can you raise your arm?” asked the attorney.

The witness slowly raised his arm parallel with his shoulder.

“Oh, that’s terrible,” said the attorney.

Then: “How high could you get it up before the accident?”

Unthinkingly, the witness extended his arm to its full height above his head—to the laughter of the judge, jury and spectators.

Case dismissed.

In politics, sometimes your best friends turn out to be your worst enemies.

Kevin McCarthy proved this during his September 30, 2015 appearance on Fox News.

McCarthy, the Republican member of the House of Representatives from Bakersfield, California, was undoubtedly feeling relaxed.

After all, he wasn’t being interviewed by such “enemies” of the Right as The New York Times or MSNBC political commentator Rachel Maddow.

He was being interviewed by Sean Hannity, a Right-wing political commentator whose books included Conservative Victory: Defeating Obama’s Radical Agenda and Deliver Us From Evil: Defeating Terrorism, Despotism, and Liberalism.

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Sean Hannity

The topic under discussion: Who would be the next Republican Speaker of the House, now that John Boehner had announced his decision to leave not only the Speakership but the House itself in November?

Now Hannity wanted to know what would happen when the next Republican Speaker took office. And McCarthy—who was in the running for the position—was eager to tell him.

“What you’re going to see is a conservative Speaker, that takes a conservative Congress, that puts a strategy to fight and win.

“And let me give you one example. Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?

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Kevin McCarthy

“But we put together a Benghazi special committee. A select committee. What are her [poll] numbers today? Her numbers are dropping. Why? Because she’s untrustable. But no one would have known that any of that had happened had we not fought to make that happen.”

In 51 words, McCarthy revealed that:

  • The House Select Committee on Benghazi was not a legitimate investigative body.
  • Its purpose was not to investigate the 2012 deaths of four American diplomats during a terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya.
  • Its real purpose was to destroy the Presidential candidacy of Hillary Clinton.
  • To accomplish this, its members spent 17 months and wasted more than $4.5 million of American taxpayers’ funds.

On October 8, 2015, Republicans were expected to choose their nominee for Speaker. On that same date, McCarthy announced that he was withdrawing his name from consideration:

“Over the last week it has become clear to me that our Conference is deeply divided and needs to unite behind one leader. I have always put this Conference ahead of myself. Therefore I am withdrawing my candidacy for Speaker of the House.”

When reporters asked McCarthy if his revelation was the reason he withdrew, he replied, “Well, that wasn’t helpful.”

But then he quickly replayed the official Republican version: “But this Benghazi committee was only created for one purpose: to find the truth on behalf of the families for the four dead Americans.”

On October 29, 2015, Republicans—holding the majority of House members–elected Paul Ryan, (Wisconsin) the 54th speaker of the United States House of Representatives.

Democrats and Republicans were united in their anger that the real reason for the Benghazi “investigation” had been revealed.

Democrats were furious that McCarthy, in an unguarded moment, had revealed that their major Presidential candidate had been the victim of a Republican smear campaign disguised as a legitimate inquiry.

And Republicans were furious that McCarthy, in an unguarded moment, had revealed that the “legitimate inquiry” had been nothing more than a Republican smear campaign.

For McCarthy, the Benghazi Committee had legitimately served the nation—not by uncovering relevant details about a terrorist act but by causing Hillary Clinton’s poll numbers to drop.

In 1981, President Ronald Reagan had attacked the leaders of the Soviet Union thusly: “They reserve unto themselves the right to commit any crime, to lie, to cheat.”

McCarthy’s comments demonstrated that the Republican Party had adopted the same mindset and tactics as the dictators of the former Soviet Union.

Two years and six months after Kevin McCarthy revealed himself and his party as ruthless hypocrites, Republicans suffered a similar outbreak of truth.

But this time, the stakes were higher—involving Donald J. Trump, the 45th President of the United States.

NUREMBERG FOR TRUMP, COMEDY FOR REPORTERS

In History, Humor, Politics, Social commentary on April 30, 2018 at 12:06 am

It was the second annual White House Correspondents dinner of the Donald Trump administration.

Traditionally, it’s been an occasion where Washington’s political and media elites enjoy dinner and trade barbed quips at one another.

Barack Obama—President for eight years—never missed one of these occasions. And with his comedic timing—and help from sharp-witted speechwriters—he starred in them.

But Donald Trump has chosen to skip not only one but two such dinners so far. And he’s likely to skip the rest of those given during his term as President.

Why?

Because Trump—who delights in insulting others—has too delicate a skin to put up with having even harmless jokes aimed at him.

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Donald Trump

As both a Presidential candidate and President, he has repeatedly used Twitter to attack hundreds of real and imagined enemies in politics, journalism, TV and films.

From June 15, 2015, when he launched his Presidential campaign, until October 24, 2016, Trump fired almost 4,000 angry, insulting tweets at 281 people and institutions that had somehow offended him.

The New York Times needed two full pages of its print edition to showcase them.

But Trump skipped the White House Correspondents dinner to attend a “campaign rally” of fanatical followers in 2017. And skipping the dinner this year, he attended another Nuremberg-like rally in Washington, Michigan.

His speech featured attacks on immigrants, former FBI director James Comey, the European Union, Democratic members of Congress—and the news media.

Trump complained that the media hadn’t given him deserved credit for making possible the April 27  meeting between the leaders of North and South Korea.  He claimed  he had “everything” to do with it.

He attacked the media as composed of “very, very dishonest people” who put out “fake news.”

Meanwhile, at the correspondents dinner, comedian Michelle Wolf was on a roll. Among the barbs she aimed at the Trump administration:

  • “I actually really like [Press Secretary] Sarah [Huckabee Sanders]. I think she’s very resourceful. She burns facts and then she uses that ash to create a perfect smoky eye. Like maybe she’s born with it, maybe it’s lies. It’s probably lies.”
  • “If you don’t give [White House spokeswoman Kelleyanne Conway] a platform, she has nowhere to lie. It’s like that old saying, if a tree falls in the woods, how do we get Kellyanne under that tree?”
  • “There’s also, of course, Ivanka [Trump].. She was supposed to be an advocate for women, but it turns out she’s about as helpful to women as an empty box of tampons. She’s done nothing to satisfy women. So, I guess like father, like daughter.”
  • “It’s 2018 and I’m a woman, so you cannot shut me up. Unless you have Michael Cohen wire me $130,000.”

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Michelle Wolf

This was an all-too-accurate reference to the payment of $130,000 to porn actress Stormy Daniels by Trump’s lawyer/fixer, Michael Cohen, to prevent her from talking about her 2006 tryst with the future President.

Taking a shot at Fox News—which functions as a propaganda arm of the Republican party—Wolf cracked: “Fox News is here. So you know what that means, ladies. Cover your drinks”—a reference to men who spike women’s drinks with “roofies.”

Wolf couldn’t resist noting that the man who would otherwise star at the dinner—President Trump—had refused to attend: “Of course, Trump isn’t here, if you haven’t noticed. He’s not here. And I know, I know, I would drag him here myself, but it turns out the president of the United States is the one pussy you’re not allowed to grab.”

Once again, a painful reference (for Trump supporters) to Trump’s infamous remark that, when you’re a celebrity, “you can do anything” with women: “Grab them by the pussy. You can do anything.”

But Wolf had sharp words for Democrats, too:

“Democrats are harder to make fun of because you guys don’t do anything. People think you might flip the House and Senate this November, but you guys always find a way to mess it up. You’re somehow going to lose by 12 points to a guy named Jeff Pedophile Nazi Doctor.”

Those who weren’t Trump fans enjoyed Wolf’s routine.  Among these:

Michael Avenatti, Stormy Daniels’ attorney, said he thought Wolf was “really funny.” And actor Rob Reiner said that although Wolf’s routine wasn’t going over well but that he believed “she spoke the truth.”

But Trump devotees had a different reaction.

Former White House press secretary Sean Spicer called the event “a disgrace.” 

New York Times White House Correspondent Maggie Haberman reacted on Twitter:

“That @PressSec sat and absorbed intense criticism of her physical appearance, her job performance, and so forth, instead of walking out, on national television, was impressive.” 

To which Wolf tweeted in reply: “Hey mags! All these jokes were about her despicable behavior. Sounds like you have some thoughts about her looks though?” 

According to the Fox News website: “Apparently offended by many of the comedian’s jabs at President Donald Trump and members of his administration, many attendees sat in silence, or simply got up and walked out.” 

All of which amounted to a Right-wing chorus: “Legitimacy—and humor—are for us. Not for you.”

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