Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Trump's New Strategy: The Chicago Way

Yesterday we saw the first elements of Trump's new strategy for escaping the clutches of Robert Mueller.  It was inspired by the movie The Untouchables.  Remember that scene where Sean Connery's character explains "the Chicago way" to Eliot Ness?

He pulls a knife, you pull a gun.  He sends one of yours to the hospital, you send one of his to the morgue.  That's the Chicago way, and that's how you get Capone!

You can follow the evolution of Trump's strategy by reviewing the make up of his legal team.  It started off with people he knew like Marc Kasowitz, and Jay Sekulow.  These guys were not really ready for prime time.  They may have known their way around New York real estate sharks, but they were clearly out of their league in the DC swamp.  Then Trump brought in folks from outside his circle like John Dowd and Ty Cobb who presented a more establishment approach to the problem.  The early days of the Trump-Mueller interaction were characterized by cooperation.  Trump and Trump surrogates often cite the 1.2 million documents that Trump has provided upon request.

But as the months passed and the Mueller strategy got more aggressive, think the Manafort and Cohen raids, Trump fell back to his instincts.  He brought in Rudy Giuliani as part of his legal team, and empowered the more pit bull surrogates like Dan Bongino, Joe DiGenova and the panoply of FoxNews talking heads to try to discredit Mueller.

Then a clearer picture of the forces arrayed against him started to emerge.  Evidence began to surface that elements within the Department of Justice (DOJ), the FBI, and the Intelligence Community (IC) had had the Trump campaign under surveillance during the presidential campaign in 2016.  These elements of the so called "deep state" were the same ones who had gone easy on Hillary Clinton during the investigation of her private email server.  They were the same ones who were now stonewalling Congressional committees and individual Congressmen and Senators and refusing to release documents that would make their actions in these disputed matters more transparent.

I think Trump has decided to fight fire with fire.  The push is now on to create a new Special Counsel.  Nineteen Congressmen in the House led by Representative Lee Zeldin, a Republican from New York's First Congressional District, have proposed a resolution to establish a second Special Counsel with a mandate to investigate whether or not elements in the FBI, DOJ, and the IC engaged in a politically motivated attempt to enhance Hillary Clinton's chances of winning the 2016 presidential election and to undermine a legitimately elected president Trump.  Some of those nineteen Congressmen held a 50 minute press conference yesterday to make their case.  It's a long video, but it paints a pretty comprehensive picture of the circumstances justifying a special counsel. 

Members of the press were keen to learn whether any of the proponents of the resolution had spoken to president Trump about requesting the Attorney General to appoint a second Special Counsel.  They all denied having spoken to the president, but the press were clearly skeptical.

In a possibly related development yesterday, former Trump campaign official Michael Caputo appeared in an interview with FoxNews' Neal Cavuto claiming that in May of 2016, he had been approached through an intermediary by someone identified as a contractor for a US Government agency offering to provide missing Clinton emails that were in the possession of that agency.  Caputo declined to name the contractor, the agency or the intermediary in the Cavuto interview.  On the previous night, Caputo had appeared on Laura Ingraham's Fox show where he first indicated that he had been approached in 2016 by someone whom he now thought might have been acting on behalf of the FBI as had Stefan Halper, the American professor from Cambridge University who has been the focus of so much attention recently for his suspicious contacts with at least three members of the Trump campaign in 2016.  Caputo expressed reluctance to offer any further specifics while he discussed alternatives with his attorney.  In his follow up interview with Neal Cavuto the next day (yesterday), Caputo claimed he had not accepted the offer for the emails out of concern that he may have been put in a position of having accepted classified documents, thereby making himself and the Trump campaign subject to criminal charges.  He suggested the source take advantage of whistle blower statutes to expose the existence of the emails.  Caputo further claimed that this alleged attempted contact was particularly significant since it was coming from a second person other than Stefan Halper, and the incident occurred in early May, 2016, almost three months from the 31 July date the FBI claims marked the beginning of the Trump/Russia counterintelligence investigation.

Then in a truly bizarre turn of events, late yesterday evening, Michael Caputo recanted the claims he had made on Fox with Laura Ingraham and Neal Cavuto.  In a written story from the Daily Wire's Ryan Saavedra, Caputo claims the who thing was just a misunderstanding.  WTF!!  If you listen to this Caputo/Cavuto interview (as if this whole story isn't confusing enough), you'll be hard pressed to explain how Caputo could have gone from such certainty about the nature of the contact to believing it was all just a misunderstanding.  UNLESS...

I have two theories.  Theory One is somebody got to Caputo to convince him to shut up.  Somebody from the FBI, or the CIA, someone on Mueller's team or some other tentacle of the "deep state" threatened him with prosecution, jail time, financial ruin, or worse if he didn't abandon his story.  That's possible, but I don't believe it. 

Theory Two is that having gotten the story out there without specifically naming any names or identifying the agency involved, he was insulated from any direct retribution.  And in the retraction story from the Daily Wire, reporter Saavedra names the intermediary, a friend of Caputo's named Kirk Bell.  Saavedra also describes a conversation he had with the alleged contractor though Saavedra does not name the contractor or the agency he worked for.  The contractor says it was all a big mistake.  A misunderstanding.  He didn't have direct knowledge of any Hillary emails, but had simply overheard some vague conversation.

I can't help but wonder if this was some subtle way for Caputo to break the story without names, thereby shielding himself from direct consequences, and then revealing the name of the intermediary in a story where he claims it was all a mistake.  Caputo is never on record as having claimed person X and Agency YYY are involved in suspicious outreach to the Trump campaign and yet, the story is out there, and at least one journalist knows the identity of the suspicious email "vendor".  Is it only a matter of time before the name becomes more widely known and more journalists begin investigating the background of said vendor?  This story might be starting to get even more interesting.

So what have we got?  We have an embattled president starting to feel some heat from Robert Mueller.  One can have differing opinions about whether that heat is justified.  What's important is Trump's perception and Trump's reaction.  Past efforts to end the affair only lead to escalation on Mueller's part.  Trump decides to go all Eliot Ness on the Democrats.  They want to put him in the hospital?  He'll put them in the morgue.  Out go the pit bulls to tarnish Mueller's reputation and his conduct of the investigation.  Republicans in the House are uncovering some serious, and very real evidence of malfeasance on the part of the investigators.  The Caputo piece may or may not further this narrative.  Michael Horowitz, the DOJ IG is due to publish a report in the next week or two which by most reports will be quite damning to the reputation of the FBI and the DOJ, and conveniently timed to coincide with that report we have a push by House Republicans to put another Special Counsel in place with some real teeth to hit Trump's opponents at least as hard as they are trying to hit him.  Trump has decided to bring a gun to a knife fight.  He may be just a local boy from Queens, but he has learned what he needs to know about the Chicago Way.

How does this all end?  Here's how I hope it ends.  I hope we get a second Special Counsel.  I hope they chase Bill and Hillary Clinton and the Clinton Foundation down every rabbit hole they find.  If they are guilty of using their power and influence to enrich themselves and their vast phalanx of cronies and hangers on, then I hope every one of them gets prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.  As Reagan aide Lyn Nofziger once said, "Once a year we should hang someone in government as an example to his fellows."  And if the "deep state" is found to have let political concerns rather than justice drive their investigation of Trump and the Russians, then I hope every one of them ends up in the dock with Team Hillary.

And if Mueller is actually pursuing a counterintelligence investigation like he is supposed to be doing, then I hope he continues until he is done.  If that entraps Trump in some way, then so be it.  If, as I suspect, the Mueller investigation is more political than counterintelligence, then I hope he is persuaded to go away as soon as possible.  Maybe the current trajectory of the politics of this affair are swinging enough in Trump's favor to the point where Mueller abandons the investigation as counter productive to his political objectives.

Here's how I'm afraid this story might end.  Trump only wants the new Special Counsel as leverage to castrate Robert Mueller.  Trump either abandons that pursuit in return for Mueller ending his investigation, or he gets his Special Counsel and they clandestinely negotiate a resolution where "little people" go to jail as scapegoats, and the big fish get away scott free while patting themselves on the back about how justice was served on both sides.  All the while, the average American will be barely be able to tear himself away from Dancing With the Stars long enough to even notice.  Think I'm too cynical?  I like this quote from Lily Tomlin. 

"No matter how cynical I get, I just can't keep up."

Or, in the words of Yakov Smirnoff, "America!  What a country!"


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