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THE INDISPENSABLE MAN: ROBERT MUELLER—PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 15, 2019 at 12:04 am

On May 17, 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert S. Mueller III to serve as Special Counsel for the United States Department of Justice. 

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

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

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

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

In High Noon, Marshal Will Kane faced death at the hands of four cold-blooded killers. 

For Mueller, the threat was different. Every day he conducted his investigation under the shadow of being fired by a President who had: 

  • Already fired an FBI director for investigating proven links between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents;
  • Repeatedly praised Russian dictator Vladimir Putin; and
  • Who has “joked” about how great it would be if the United States, like China, had a “President-for-Life.”

Mueller faced another distressing possibility: Even if he were allowed to complete his investigation, his final report might be suppressed by Trump under a claim of “executive privilege.”

And, on October 30, 2018, details emerged about a Right-wing plot to discredit the probe by falsely accusing Mueller of sexually abusing or harassing women. 

The Special Counsel’s office issued the following statement: “When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the Special Counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation.” 

On October 29, Jacob Wohl, a Fox News contributor and Trump supporter, tweeted: “Several media sources tell me that a scandalous story about Mueller is breaking tomorrow. Should be interesting. Stay tuned!” 

Then, on October 30, Jennifer Taub, a law professor at Vermont Law School, told The Atlantic that a man working for Surefire Intelligence, a private investigative agency, had offered to pay her if she could provide dirt on Mueller.

She didn’t respond and forwarded the information to the Special Counsel’s office.

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Jennifer Taub

Nor could Mueller, a lifelong Republican, count on protection from Republicans in the House and Senate.

Almost universally, they refused to speak out against threats by Trump to fire him or deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.  

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

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

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Mitch McConnell

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

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

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

Why have so few Republicans dared to stand against Trump?  

Two major reasons:

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

In short: Bribe monies

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The Kremlin

The following data comes from the Federal Elections Commission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE INDISPENSABLE MAN: ROBERT MUELLER—PART ONE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on July 12, 2019 at 12:24 am

On March 22, 2019, Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III delivered a 448-page report of his findings about Russian subversion of the 2016 Presidential election to Attorney General William Barr.

Two days later, Barr sent a four-page letter to Republican and Democratic members of the United States Senate and House of Representatives.

Purporting to summarize the major findings of the Mueller report, Barr wrote:

  • “The Special Counsel did not find that the Trump [Presidential] campaign, or anyone associated with it, conspired or coordinated with the Russian government….”
  • “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”

But on May 29, Mueller gave a totally different reason for why Trump hadn’t been indicted for obstruction-of-justice: “Under long-standing department policy, a President cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office. That is unconstitutional.”  

On July 17, Mueller finally will explain before Congress how he reached the conclusions outlined in his report.

At the center of this controversy is a 74-year-old man who assumed the burdens created when millions of racist, hate-filled Americans deliberately sent a Russian-backed egomaniac and would-be dictator to the White House.

That man is Robert Swan Mueller III.

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

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

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

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

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

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Robert Mueller

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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James Comey

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JUNE 6: THE GLORY AND THE AGONY

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 6, 2019 at 12:16 am

“For it is the doom of men that they forget.”
—Merlin, in “Excalibur”

June 6—a day of glory and tragedy.

The glory came 75 years ago—on Tuesday, June 6, 1944.

On that morning, Americans awoke to learn—from radio and newspapers—that their soldiers had landed on the French coast of Normandy.

In Supreme Command of the Allied Expeditionary Force: American General Dwight D. Eisenhower. Overall command of ground forces rested with British General Bernard Law Montgomery.

Operation Overlord, the Allied invasion to liberate France from Nazi Germany, proved one of the pivotal actions of World War II.

Shortly after midnight, 24,000 American, British, Canadian and Free French troops launched an airborne assault. This was followed at 6:30 a.m. by an amphibious landing of Allied infantry and armored divisions on the French coast.

Field Marshal Erwin Rommel—the legendary “Desert Fox”—commanded the German forces. For him, the first 24 hours of the battle would be decisive.

“For the Allies as well as the Germans,” he warned his staff, “it will be the longest day.”

The operation was the largest amphibious invasion in history. More than 160,000 troops landed—73,000 Americans, 61,715 British and 21,400 Canadians.

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Omaha Beach – June 6, 1944

Initially, the Allied assault seemed likely to be stopped at the water’s edge—where Rommel had insisted it must be. He had warned that if the Allies established a beachhead, their overwhelming numbers and airpower would eventually prove irresistible.

German machine-gunners and mortarmen wreaked a fearful toll on Allied soldiers. But commanders like U.S. General Norman Cota led their men to victory through a storm of bullets and shells.

Coming upon a group of U.S. Army Rangers taking cover behind sand dunes, Cota demanded: “What outfit is this?”

“Rangers!” yelled one of the soldiers.

“Well, Goddamnit, then, Rangers, lead the way!” shouted Cota, inspiring the soldiers to rise and charge into the enemy.

The command also gave the Rangers the motto they carry to this day.

The allied casualty figures for D-Day have been estimated at 10,000, including 4,414 dead. By nationality, the D-Day casualty figures are about

  • 2,700 British
  • 946 Canadians
  • and 6,603 Americans.

The total number of German casualties on D-Day isn’t known, but is estimated at 4,000 to 9,000.

Allied and German armies continued to clash throughout France, Belgium and Germany until May 7, 1945, when Germany finally surrendered.

But Americans who had taken part in D-Day could be proud of having dealt a fatal blow to the evil ambitions of Adolf Hitler’s Third Reich.

So much for the glory of June 6.  Now for the tragedy—which occurred 51 years ago, on Thursday, June 6, 1968.

Twenty-four years after D-Day, Americans awoke to learn—mostly from TV—that New York Senator Robert F. Kennedy had died at 1:44 a.m. of an assassin’s bullet.

He had been campaigning for the Democratic Presidential nomination, and had just won the California primary on June 4.

This had been a make-or-break event for Kennedy, a fierce critic of the seemingly endless Vietnam war.

He had won the Democratic primaries in Indiana and Nebraska, but had lost the Oregon primary to Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy.

If he defeated McCarthy in California, Kennedy could force his rival to quit the race. That would lead to a showdown between him and Vice President Hubert Humphrey for the nomination.

(President Lyndon B. Johnson had withdrawn from the race on March 31—just 15 days after Kennedy announced his candidacy on March 16.)

After winning the California and South Dakota primaries, Kennedy gave a magnanimous victory speech in the ballroom of the Ambassador Hotel in Los Angeles:

Robert F. Kennedy, only moments from death 

“I think we can end the divisions within the United States….We are a great country, an unselfish country, and a compassionate country. And I intend to make that my basis for running over the period of the next few months.”

Then he entered the hotel kitchen—where Sirhan Sirhan, a 24-year-old Palestinian from Jordan, opened fire with a .22 revolver.

Kennedy was hit three times—once fatally in the back of the head. Five other people were also wounded.

Kennedy’s last-known words were: “Is everybody all right?” and “Jack, Jack”—the latter clearly a reference to his beloved older brother, John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

Almost five years earlier, that brother—then President of the United States—had been assassinated in Dallas on November 22, 1963.

Then Robert Kennedy lost consciousness—forever, dying in a hospital bed 24 hours later.

Kennedy had been a U.S. Attorney General (1961-1964) and Senator (1964-1968). But it was his connection to President Kennedy for which he was best-known.

His assassination—coming so soon after that of JFK—convinced many Americans there was something “sick” about the nation’s culture.

Historian William L. O’Neil delivered a poignant summary of Robert Kennedy’s legacy in Coming Apart: An Informal History of America in the 1960′s

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“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 vanished from public life.”

“AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM” IS KILLING US: PART TWO (END)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 5, 2019 at 12:05 am

In his 2015 book, American Reckoning: The  Vietnam War and Our National Identity, Christian G. Appy describes the way Americans saw their country before the war: 

“The United States [was] a unique force for good in the world, superior not only in its military and economic power but in the quality of its government and institutions, the character and morality of its people, and its way of life….. 

“It was still unimaginable to most Americans that their own nation would wage aggressive war and justify it with unfounded claims, that it would support undemocratic governments reviled by their own people, and that American troops would be sent to fight in countries where they were widely regarded not as liberators but as imperialist invaders.”

For millions of Americans, writes Appy, the Vietnam war forever shattered that tremendously appealing self-image.

Yet for millions more, the United States remains an exemplary nation with a divine mission to lead other nations—willingly or unwillingly—to follow its example.  For these Americans, the corruption and dictatorships that plague many countries “can’t happen here.”

This refusal to accept the lessons of history blinds many Americans to the dangers posed by the Donald Trump Presidency. 

Since assuming office on January 20, 2017, Trump:

  • Repeatedly attacked the integrity of the American Intelligence community for confirming Russian subversion of the 2016 Presidential election—while siding with Russian President Vladimir Putin that this didn’t happen.
  • Fired FBI Director James Comey for investigating that subversion. 
  • Fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates after she warned him that National Security Adviser Michael Flynn had misled the FBI about his Russian contacts.
  • Forced House Republicans to release a memo falsely accusing the FBI of pursuing a vendetta against him. 

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  • Repeatedly attacked his Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, for recusing himself from investigations into ties between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign. On November 7, 2018, Trump fired him.
  • Repeatedly attacked the integrity of the FBI, raising the possibility of his firing more of its senior leadership for investigating that subversion.
  • Accused those who participated in that investigation of committing “treason”—as if he were the monarchical embodiment of the state.
  • (The Constitution does not define “treason” as disloyalty to the President—or a private citizen, which Trump was when he ran for President. It defines “treason” as “levying war” against the United States, or giving “aid and comfort” to countries or entities that have declared war on the United States.)

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  • Attacked and alienated America’s oldest allies, such as Canada and Great Britain.
  • Repeatedly praised brutal Communist dictators Vladimir Putin and Kim Jong-Un.
  • Falsely accused former President Barack Obama of illegally “spying” on his 2016 campaign.
  • Repeatedly asked aides to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller—but was finally persuaded that this could lead to his impeachment.
  • Slandered Federal judges whose rulings displeased him.
  • Spoken admiringly of American Nazis and Ku Klux Klansmen.
  • Shut down the United States Government for over a month, imperiling the lives of 800,000 Federal employees, to extort money from Congress for a worthless wall on the U.S.-Mexico border.
  • “Joked” that the United States—like China—should have a “President-for-Life.”
  • Repeatedly attacked the free press as “the enemy of the people.” 
  • Encourages his followers to violently attack those he hates in the press. On July 2, 2017, he tweeted a video of himself punching a man with the CNN logo superimposed on his head during a WWE wrestling match. 

  • Used the Presidency to further enrich himself, in violation of the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution.
  • By March 17, 2019, had said or tweeted 9,179 lies or misleading statements—an average of 11.6 lies a day. 
  • Requires his Cabinet members and lesser appointees to fawn over him with over-the-top flattery previously reserved for notorious dictators.
  • Appointed William Bar as Attorney General to replace William Sessions—after Barr sent a fawning 20-page memo to the Justice Department criticizing the foundation of the Special Counsel investigation.
  • Authorized Barr to investigate the Federal law enforcement and Intelligence agencies that legally investigated links between Russian Intelligence agents and members of Trump’s Presidential campaign.
  • Plans to turn the traditional nonpartisan July 4 celebration on the National Mall into a Trump campaign rally that celebrates himself. 

* * * * *

Donald Trump isn’t crazy, as many of his critics charge. Nor is he a political innocent who “simply doesn’t know better,” as his Republican allies have repeatedly claimed.

He knows exactly what he’s doing—and why.

He intends to strip every potential challenger to his authority—or his version of reality—of legitimacy with the public. 

If he succeeds, there will be:

  • No independent press to reveal his failures and crimes.
  • No independent law enforcement agencies to investigate his abuses of office.
  • No independent judiciary to hold him accountable.
  • No independent military to dissent as he recklessly hurtles toward a nuclear disaster.
  • No candidate—Democrat or Republican—to challenge him for re-election in 2020.
  • No candidate—Democrat or Republican—to challenge his remaining in office as “President-for-Life.”

The absurd faith that “America is different from other great powers” brought us the Vietnam war—and the 58,000 needless dead that will forever be its legacy.  Now that same faith threatens to bring us an absolute Right-wing dictatorship.

“AMERICAN EXCEPTIONALISM” IS KILLING US: PART ONE (OF TWO)

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on June 4, 2019 at 12:05 am

“Who are we?” asks Christian G. Appy  in the opening of his 2015 book, American Reckoning: The  Vietnam War and Our National Identity.

For Appy, it’s impossible to understand the enormous impact of the Vietnam war on the United States without first understanding the image that Americans had of themselves before that conflict. And he describes that image as:

“The broad faith that the United States [was] a unique force for good in the world, superior not only in its military and economic power but in the quality of its government and institutions, the character and morality of its people, and its way of life…..

“It was still unimaginable to most Americans that their own nation would wage aggressive war and justify it with unfounded claims, that it would support undemocratic governments reviled by their own people, and that American troops would be sent to fight in countries where they were widely regarded not as liberators but as imperialist invaders.”

Appy contends that, for millions of Americans, the Vietnam war dealt a mortal blow to that tremendously appealing self-image.

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Yet for millions more, the United States remains an exemplary nation with a divine mission to lead other nations—willingly or unwillingly—to follow its example. And those Americans become furious when anyone—especially a foreigner—dares question that belief.

On September 11, 2013, the New York Times published an Op-Ed (guest editorial) from Russian President Vladimir Putin, entitled: “A Plea for Caution from Russia: What Putin Has to Say to Americans About Syria.”

To no one’s surprise, Putin strongly opposed an American air strike on Syria. Its “President” (i.e., dictator) Bashir al-Assad, is a close ally of Russia. Just as his late father and dictator, Hafez al-Assad, was a close ally of the Soviet Union.

And Putin is a former member of the KGB, the infamous secret police which ruled the Soviet Union from its birth in 1917 to its collapse in 1991.

In his September 11 guest editorial in the New York Times, Putin offered the expected Russian take on Syria:

  • Poison gas was used in Syria.
  • It wasn’t used by the Syrian Army.
  • “Opposition forces [used it] to provoke intervention by their powerful foreign patrons.”
  • “There are few champions of democracy in Syria. But there are more than enough [al] Qaeda fighters and extremists of all stripes battling the government.”

But it’s the concluding paragraph that enraged American politicians the most—especially Right-wing ones. In it, Putin took exception with American “exceptionalism.”

Referring to then-President Barack Obama, Putin wrote:

“And I would rather disagree with a case he made on American exceptionalism, stating that the United States’ policy is ‘what makes America different. It’s what makes us exceptional.’

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation. There are big countries and small countries, rich and poor, those with long democratic traditions and those still finding their way to democracy. Their policies differ, too.

“We are all different, but when we ask for the Lord’s blessings, we must not forget that God created us equal.”

Vladimir Putin

Putin has never publicly shown any interest in religion. But by invoking “the Lord,” he was able to turn the Christian beliefs of his Western audience into a useful weapon.

Americans’ outrage quickly erupted.

“I was insulted,” then-House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) told reporters when asked for his blunt reaction to the editorial.

“I have to be honest with you, I was at dinner, and I almost wanted to vomit,” said U.S. Senator Bob Menendez (D-New Jersey).

Putin had dared to question the self-righteousness of American foreign policy—and those who make it.

Making his case for war with Syria, Obama had said: “America is not the world’s policeman….But when, with modest effort and risk, we can stop children from being gassed to death, and thereby make our own children safer over the long run, I believe we should act.

“That’s what makes America different. That’s what makes us exceptional. With humility, but with resolve, let us never lose sight of that essential truth.”

In short: Because we consider ourselves “exceptional,” we have the divine right to do whatever we want.

It’s not necessary to see Putin as a champion of democracy (he isn’t) to see the truth in this part of his editorial:

“It is extremely dangerous to encourage people to see themselves as exceptional, whatever the motivation.”

From 1938 to 1969, the House Un-American Activities Committee sought to define what was “American” and what was “Un-American.” As if “American” stood for all things virtuous.

Whoever heard of an “Un-French Activities Committee”? Or an “Un-German” or “Un-British” one?

The late S.I. Hayakawa was a professor of semantics (the study of the relationship between words and what they stand for).

In his bestselling book, Language in Thought and Action, he observed that a person has four ways of responding to a message:

  • Accept the speaker and his message.
  • Accept the speaker but reject the message.
  • Accept the message but reject the speaker.
  • Reject the message and the speaker.

Americans might want to consider #3 where “American exceptionalism” is concerned.

PRESIDENTS: WHY SOME ARE LOVED, SOME HATED, SOME FORGOTTEN

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on February 18, 2019 at 12:54 am

Why are some Presidents remembered with affection, while others are detested—or forgotten altogether?

Generally, Presidents who are warmly remembered are seen as making positive contributions to the lives of their fellow Americans and being “people-oriented.”

Among these:

  • Abraham Lincoln
  • Theodore Roosevelt
  • Franklin Roosevelt
  • John F. Kennedy

Among the reasons they are held in such high regard:

  • Abraham Lincoln ended slavery and restored the Union. Although he ruthlessly prosecuted the Civil War, his humanity remains engraved in stories such as his pardoning a soldier condemned to be shot for cowardice: “If Almighty God gives a man a cowardly pair of legs, how can he help their running away with him?”

An iconic photograph of a bearded Abraham Lincoln showing his head and shoulders.

Abraham Lincoln

  • Theodore Roosevelt championed an era of reform, such as creating the Food and Drug Administration and five National Parks. Popularly known as “Teddy,” he even had a toy bear—the teddy bear—named after him.
  • Franklin D. Roosevelt successfully led America through the Great Depression and World War II. He was the first President to insist that government existed to directly better the lives of its citizens: “The test of our progress is not whether we add more to the abundance of those who have much; it is whether we provide enough for those who have too little.”

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Franklin D. Roosevelt

  • John F. Kennedy supported civil rights and called for an end to the Cold War. He challenged Americans to “ask what you can do for your country” and made government service respectable, even chic. His youth, charisma, intelligence and handsomeness led millions to mourn for “what might have been” had he lived to win a second term.

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John F. Kennedy

Presidents who remain unpopular among Americans are seen as unlikable and responsible (directly or not) for mass suffering.

Among these:

  • Herbert Hoover
  • Lyndon B. Johnson
  • Richard M. Nixon

Among the reasons they are held in such low regard:

  • Herbert Hoover is still blamed for the 1929 Great Depression. He didn’t create it, but his conservative, “small-government” philosophy led him to refuse to aid its victims. An engineer by profession, he saw the Depression as a machine that needed repair, not as a catastrophe for human beings. This lack of “emotional intelligence” cost him heavily with voters.
  • Lyndon B. Johnson is still blamed as the President “who got us into Vietnam.” John F. Kennedy had laid the groundwork by placing 16,000 American troops there by the time he died in 1963. But it was Johnson who greatly expanded the war in 1965 and kept it going—with hugely expanding casualties—for the next three years. Unlike Kennedy, whom he followed, he looked and sounded terrible on TV. Voters compared JFK’s wit and good looks with LBJ’s Texas drawl and false piety—and found him wanting.

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Lyndon B. Johnson

  • Richard M. Nixon will be remembered foremost as the President who was forced to resign under threat of impeachment and removal from office. Like Herbert Hoover, he was not a “people person” and seemed remote to even his closest associates.  Although he took office on a pledge to “bring us together” and end the Vietnam war, he attacked war protesters as traitors and kept the war going another four years. His paranoid fears of losing the 1972 election led to his creating an illegal “Plumbers” unit which bugged the Democratic offices at the Watergate Hotel. And his attempted cover-up of their illegal actions led to his being forced to resign from office in disgrace.

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Richard M. Nixon

Which brings us to the question: How is Donald J. Trump likely to be remembered?

Historian Joachim C. Fest offers an unintended answer to this question in his 1973 bestselling biography Hitler:

“The phenomenon of the great man is primarily aesthetic, very rarely moral in nature; and even if we were prepared to make allowances in the latter realm, in the former we could not.

“An ancient tenet of aesthetics holds that one who for all his remarkable traits is a repulsive human being, is unfit to be a hero.”

Among the reasons for Hitler’s being “a repulsive human being,” Fest cites the Fuhrer’s

  • “intolerance and vindictiveness”;
  • “lack of generosity”; and
  • “banal and naked materialism—power was the only motive he would recognize.”

What Fest writes about Adolf Hitler applies just as brutally to President Trump: Intolerant and vindictive. Lacking generosity. Nakedly materialistic.  

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Donald Trump

Since taking office two years ago, he has:

  • Viciously attacked the nation’s free press for daring to report his growing list of crimes and disasters, calling it “the enemy of the American people.”
  • Publicly attacked Federal judges whose rulings displeased him. 
  • Attacked the FBI and CIA for accurately reporting that Russian President Vladimir Putin had intervened in the 2016 Presidential election to ensure Trump’s victory. 
  • Fired FBI Director James Comey for pursuing an investigation into Russia’s subversion of the 2016 Presidential election.  
  • Shut down the Federal Government for 35 days because Democrats refused to fund his “border wall” between the United States and Mexico. An estimated 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay.

At this stage, it’s hard to imagine Trump joining that select number of Presidents Americans remember with awe and reverence.

A LOST LEGACY: GOVERNMENT BY RATIONALITY

In Bureaucracy, History, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 18, 2019 at 12:17 am

Fifty-five years ago, on November 22, 1963, two bullets slammed into the neck and head of President John Fitzgerald Kennedy.

It has been said that JFK left his country with three great legacies:

  • The Nuclear Test Ban Treaty;
  • The Apollo moon landing; and
  • The Vietnam war.

Of these, the following can be said with certainty:

  • The Test Ban Treaty has prevented atmospheric testing—and poisoning—by almost all the world’s nuclear powers.
  • After reaching the moon—in 1969—Americans quickly lost interest in space and have today largely abandoned plans for manned exploration. For America, as for JFK, beating the Russians to the moon was the end-goal.
  • Under Presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon, 58,000 Americans died in Vietnam; 153,303 were wounded; and billions of dollars were squandered in a hopeless effort to intervene in what was essentially a Vietnamese civil war. 

But there was a fourth legacy—and perhaps the most important of all: The belief that mankind could overcome its greatest challenges through rationality and perseverance.

 White House painting of JFK

At American University on June 10, 1963, Kennedy called upon his fellow Americans to re-examine the events and attitudes that had led to the Cold War. And he declared that the search for peace was by no means absurd:

“Our problems are man-made; therefore, they can be solved by man. And man can be as big as he wants. No problem of human destiny is beyond human beings.

“Man’s reason and spirit have often solved the seemingly unsolvable, and we believe they can do it again.”

Today, politicians from both parties cannot agree on solutions to even the most vital national problems.

Since December 22, 2018, President Donald J. Trump shut down the Federal Government because Democrats would not agree to spending $5.6 on a symbolic “border wall” between the United States and Mexico. As a result, 380,000 government employees were furloughed and another 420,000 were ordered to work without pay.

By January 13, 2019, the shutdown had reached its 22nd day.

President Kennedy insisted on being well-informed. He speed-read several newspapers every morning and nourished personal relationships with the press. These journalistic contacts gave Kennedy additional sources of information and perspectives on national and international issues.

During the 2012 Presidential campaign, Republican Presidential candidates celebrated their ignorance of both.

Former Godfather’s Pizza CEO Herman Cain famously said, “We need a leader, not a reader.” Thus he excused his ignorance for why President Barack Obama had intervened in Libya.

Texas Governor Rick Perry (and now Secretary of Energy) showed similar pride in not knowing there are nine judges on the United States Supreme Court:

“Well, obviously, I know there are nine Supreme Court judges. I don’t know how eight came out my mouth. But the, uh, the fact is, I can tell you—I don’t have memorized all of those Supreme Court judges. And, uh, ah—

“Here’s what I do know. That when I put an individual on the Supreme Court, just like I done in Texas, ah, we got nine Supreme Court justices in Texas, ah, they will be strict constructionists….”

In short, it’s the media’s fault if they ask you a question and your answer reveals your own ignorance, stupidity or criminality.   

And President Donald Trump has gone even further—attacking the free press as “the enemy of America” for exposing his lies and criminality. 

His senior adviser, Kelleyanne Conway, set the tone of his administration’s approach to the truth right at the outset. Asked why then-White House press secretary Sean Spicer had lied about the size of the crowd at Trump’s inauguration, Conway replied: 

“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving—Sean Spicer, our press secretary—gave alternative facts.” 

“Alternative facts aren’t facts, they are falsehoods,” Chuck Todd, the moderator on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” properly responded.

During the height of the Cuban Missile Crisis, Kennedy spoke with aides about a book he had just finished: Barbara Tuchman’s The Guns of August, about the events leading to World War 1.

He said that the book’s most important revelation was how European leaders had blindly rushed into war, without thought to the possible consequences. Kennedy told his aides he did not intend to make the same mistake–that, having read his history, he was determined to learn from it.

Republicans attacked President Obama for his Harvard education and articulate use of language. Among their taunts: “Hitler also gave good speeches.”

And they resented his having earned most of his income as a writer of two books: Dreams From My Father and The Audacity of Hope. As if being a writer is somehow subversive.

When knowledge and literacy are attacked as “highfalutin’” arrogance, and ignorance and incoherence are embraced as sincerity, national decline lies just around the corner.

During the 2016 Presidential campaign, Donald Trump infamously chortled after winning the Nevada Republican primary: “We won with poorly educated. I love the poorly educated.”

And, that November, “the poorly educated” elected him President. He is their ideal of what a President should be.

In retrospect, the funeral for President Kennedy marked the death of more than a rational and optimistic human being.

It marked the death of Americans’ pride in choosing reasoning and educated citizens for their leaders.

The Eternal Flame at the grave of President John F. Kennedy

“MAN OF THE YEAR” FOR 2018: ROBERT S. MUELLER—PART FOUR (END)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 7, 2019 at 12:02 am

On November 8, 2016, millions of racist, hate-filled Americans took “revenge” on the nation’s first black President—by deliberately voting a Russian-backed egomaniac and would-be dictator into the White House. 

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

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

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

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

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

Devin Nunes.jpg

Devin Nunes

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

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

By October, 2018, Mueller had:

  • Indicted 31 people—including 26 Russian nationals and four former Trump campaign advisers.
  • Indicted three Russian companies. 
  • Obtained six guilty pleas.
  • Unveiled Russians’ determination to elect Trump over Hillary Clinton.
  • Revealed that former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn discussed removing sanctions against Russia with then-Russian ambassador, Sergey Kislyak, during the transition period. 
  • Discovered that Trump associates knew about Russian outreach efforts during the campaign.

By contrast:

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

* * * * *

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

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

High Noon poster.jpg

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The townspeople rush to embrace Kane and congratulate him. But he’s disgusted with their cowardice and holds them in total contempt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“MAN OF THE YEAR” FOR 2018: ROBERT S. MUELLER—PART THREE (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 4, 2019 at 12:06 am

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Donald Trump

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

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

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

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

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

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

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David Brooks and Mark Shields

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

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

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

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

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

“MAN OF THE YEAR” FOR 2018: ROBERT S. MUELLER—PART TWO (OF FOUR)

In Bureaucracy, Entertainment, History, Law, Law Enforcement, Military, Politics, Social commentary on January 3, 2019 at 12:01 am

On May 17, 2017, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointed Robert S. Mueller III to serve as Special Counsel for the United States Department of Justice. 

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

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

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

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

In High Noon, Marshal Will Kane faced death at the hands of four cold-blooded killers. 

For Mueller, the threat is different. Every day he conducts his investigation under the shadow of being fired by a President who has: 

  • Already fired an FBI director for investigating proven links between Trump’s 2016 Presidential campaign and Russian Intelligence agents;
  • Repeatedly praised Russian dictator Vladimir Putin; and
  • Who has “joked” about how great it would be if the United States, like China, had a “President-for-Life.”

Mueller faces another distressing possibility: Even if he’s allowed to complete his investigation, his final report might be suppressed by Trump under a claim of “executive privilege.”

And, on October 30, 2018, details emerged about a Right-wing plot to discredit the probe by falsely accusing Mueller of sexually abusing or harassing women. 

The Special Counsel’s office issued the following statement: “When we learned last week of allegations that women were offered money to make false claims about the Special Counsel, we immediately referred the matter to the FBI for investigation.” 

On October 29, Jacob Wohl, a Fox News contributor and Trump supporter, tweeted: “Several media sources tell me that a scandalous story about Mueller is breaking tomorrow. Should be interesting. Stay tuned!” 

Then, on October 30, Jennifer Taub, a law professor at Vermont Law School, told The Atlantic that a man working for Surefire Intelligence, a private investigative agency, had offered to pay her if she could provide dirt on Mueller.

She didn’t respond and forwarded the information to the Special Counsel’s office.

Jennifer Taub - VERMONT LAW SCHOOL

Jennifer Taub

Nor can Mueller, a lifelong Republican, count on protection from Republicans in the House and Senate.

Almost universally, they have refused to speak out against threats by Trump to fire him or deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein.  

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

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

Mitch McConnell portrait 2016.jpg

Mitch McConnell

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

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

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

Why have so few Republicans dared to stand against Trump?  

Two major reasons:

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

In short: Bribe monies

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The Kremlin

The following data comes from the Federal Elections Commission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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