Thursday, May 03, 2018

Eavesdropping on Cohen, and more

I'm doing some work on my aging computer, which may make posting difficult for a while. Right now, I feel compelled to offer my two cents on a misleading story that -- briefly -- had everyone in the Resistance salivating like Pavlovian puppies.

Earlier today, all liberals were abuzz over a report that the feds had eavesdropped on Michael Cohen. From the start,  I had strong doubts that we were being given the truth, and those doubts increased after I heard Giuliani's immediate response.

NBC now says that Cohen was not tapped but subjected to a "pen register." This technique is less intrusive, although it can still reveal a treasure trove of information: The names of those whom Cohen called, the times of the calls, and the content of SMS messages. The actual voice conversations were not overheard or recorded.

Giuliani spoke as though the original report resulted from a leak in Mueller's office. Unlikely. What would Mueller gain from de-bagging that particular cat? Team Mueller does not have a reputation for leakage. Team Trump does -- and in all likelihood, they allowed this particular bit of info to slip out.

Why (you may ask) would Team Trump do such a thing?

To answer that poser, perhaps we should draw a parallel to another recent controversy. Remember when everyone was talking about the list of questions that Mueller supposedly intended to ask Trump? We later learned that those questions were written by Jay Sekulow, Trump's lawyer, and that Team Trump -- not Team Mueller -- was the source for the NYT's scoop.

Here's the problem: Not everyone knows this.

Many Americans heard the original story, but did not learn about the follow-up involving Sekulow. The original story gave Giuliani and others grounds for asserting that the Mueller was a madman, that his probe was out of control, and that his team was leakier than a diaperless baby. The original story was a propaganda coup for the Trumpers.

All of which brings us to a key fact which most Democrats do not want to talk about: The Mueller probe is losing support.

The last poll I saw had support at 54%, substantially lower than was the case six months ago. If the number goes down another five points or more, it may be politically tenable for Trump to shut down the probe altogether.

54% approval today. 53% tomorrow. 52% the day after. Drip, drip, dropped. Trump has no choice but to fight for every point.

We must also consider the question of Mueller's interview with the president. Giuliani has made it clear that he does not want that interview to occur, even though Trump has said in the past that he welcomes such an encounter. It is also clear that Trump's legal team intends to fight a subpoena. I don't know what argument Trump's lawyers will make, but they must have come up with a strategy that they think will prevail, or will at least stand a chance.

Bottom line: Giuliani is looking for a face-saving way for Trump to duck the promised interview. If Mueller forces a Grand Jury appearance, it is in the interest of Team Trump to put it off until after the November election.

(A historical note: When Bill Clinton's Grand Jury testimony was broadcast on TV, his approval ratings went sharply up -- a fact which many people forget. And yes, that testimony included the famous "meaning of 'is'" remark, which actually seemed pretty reasonable when heard in context. If Trump offers Grand Jury testimony, it may well be broadcast ASAP, and I strongly doubt that he will make as good an impression as Clinton did.)

Expect more dirty and semi-dirty tricks, similar to the one involving Sekulow's list of questions. These people will use any strategy, fair or foul, to further their primary goal: Making Mueller look bad.

In my view, the leak about the Cohen "wiretap" was one such trick.

More Giuliani weirdness: Rudy also told an interviewer that Trump fired Comey because Comey refused to declare that Trump was not a target of an investigation -- a service which he (Comey) supposedly provided to Hillary Clinton. Giuliani's statement is bizarre on at least five different levels.

Level 1. In his "you're fired" letter to Comey, Trump claimed that Comey did say -- three times -- that Trump was not a target.

Level 2. The president has given several contradictory rationales for firing Comey -- and none of the previous rationales match up with Rudy's recent assertion. Trump told the Russian ambassador that Comey was nuts. Trump told Lester Holt (truthfully) that he fired Comey to end the Russia investigation. Trump originally claimed that he fired Comey because Rod Rosenstein said that Comey had treated poor Hillary so unfairly.

(The administration returns to the Rosenstein rationale from time to time, even though doing so conflicts with the most deeply-held beliefs of Trump's hard-core supporters, who think that Hillary Clinton is a Satanic pedophile deserving of imprisonment and execution.)

Level 3. Even if Trump were provably innocent (which he isn't), nothing obligated the FBI Director to offer the exonerative statement that Trump demanded.

Level 4. Comey did not make a statement "clearing" Hillary Clinton until after the investigative work was completed.

Level 5. Has Christopher Wray, Comey's replacement, offered a declaration of exoneration? No, he has not. So why hasn't Trump fired Wray?

Giuliani is obviously brighter than Donald Trump. (Can you imagine Trump taking the bar exam? At any point in his life?) But the two men have this in common: They are both just plain weird. At this point, I'd be hard-pressed to say which one was weirder.
I was wrong about Rudy?
Him spilling the beans on the Comey canning and Hookergate gets it out and the public acclimated to the next revelation?
My understanding is Robert Mueller doesn't indict Trump but turns the results of the investigation over to congress. Dose he make the findings public or must we wait?
Wishing you well keeping body and computer in working order.

Weird is as weird does. Weird that Giuliani, Trump's Transition Team, and current admin all have links to this FBI flipper, Reza Zarrab, via Flynn and his son's Turkish consulting payments. Weird that Giuliani is rumored to have meddled w/Albany FBI to push Comey to re-open the Clinton investigation, then rips into the agency (can you hear the axe grinding?). Weird that Giuliani represented Zarrab. Weird that Giuliani keeps a low profile until immediately after Zarrab cuts a deal, and then joins the Trump Admin. If FBI have the fixer's call and/or SMS records, would they link Cohen or Rudy to comfort services Zarrab was ordering from jail?

"Case U.S. v. Zarrab, 15-cr-867, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York (Manhattan). Court records unsealed Tuesday show Zarrab pleaded guilty on Oct. 26 to all six original charges against him including conspiracy, sanctions violations, bank fraud and money laundering. He also pleaded guilty to an additional count of bribery and possession of contraband in a U.S. detention center, stemming from his plot to pay corrections officers to smuggle mobile phones and alcohol into the jail where he was being held."

"Rudy Giuliani played a still-hazy role in rigging the election in Donald Trump’s favor by conspiring with current or former FBI agents in the bureau’s Albany field office. That made him too controversial to survive a Senate confirmation process, so Trump ended up not appointing him to a cabinet position. Instead, Giuliani went on to provide legal representation to a Turkish citizen named Reza Zarrab, who was awaiting trial in the United States. Giuliani went so overboard that he got in trouble with the judge – and then he really did disappear (from public view)."

Is Zarrab's changed status the real reason Judith she filed now (not Rudy's tasteless Hillary jokes)? Who can blame a wife for trying to cash out on marital assets (e.g. two $4mil condos) before legal fees and possible forfeit of assets? If a marrying fool is a legal eagle, what's the pre-nup?

This is the third recent filing for divorce in Trump's immediate circle: Vanessa & Eric Trump, Jennifer & Dan Scavino (Trump Soc Med Dir), Judith and Rudy. Who's next?
Giuliani/Trump’s new story can’t be the truth. They’re trying to launder the real provenance of the Stormy money, by attributing it to Trump himself. But the way this is supposed to have happened (the preposterous "retainer" tale) is equally implausible as Cohen’s previous claim of having used his own home credit line. I strongly suspect the money came from somebody else. And it must be somebody very bad, given that Trump is now apparently forced to stand in for him, despite the political and legal cost.
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