Winter is coming. Christmas is coming – and we’ve never had an Ebenezer Scrooge in the White House before – a president who is suspicious of everyone and everything. He has made that clear. Everyone wants our stuff. Donald Trump has told America that everyone is out to get us. He told America to sneer at the rest of the world – to get angry and get tough. The world was laughing at America – and he can fix that. When someone hits you, hit them back ten times harder. We’ll build that wall and Mexico will pay for it. Muslims will be banned from entering the country – once he gets a few more judges who see things his way. Hit back ten times harder. That way no one messes with you ever again. That’s the way America should deal with the world. He also pulled the United States out of the TPP and will pull us out of NAFTA – which will decimate our auto industry and ruin most American farmers, especially corporate agribusiness, but such details don’t matter when everyone is out to get you. We’ll enter no multilateral trade agreements. We’ll do one-off trade deals with individual nations, screwing over every nation that has be screwing us over for years and laughing at us. They have been laughing at us, even our allies. Everyone is screwing us over – everyone! Everyone is out to get us! It will be America First – a heroically paranoid America, led by an obsessive paranoiac.
Donald Trump wouldn’t put it that way. He’s a man of the people, but Richard Hofstadter warned America about this. The return of what Hofstadter called “the paranoid style in American politics” was inevitable. Obama was the exception, not the rule. Maybe that’s why Donald Trump spent years doing that Birther thing, trying to prove that Obama wasn’t really an American. Trump may have been right.
That makes Donald Trump Ebenezer Scrooge – a man who trusts no one, a man who gives nothing away unless he gets something worth ten times more in return. That’s the Art of the Deal. That has nothing to do with charity. Tiny Tim might qualify for Medicaid. Medicaid is going to be cut. That’s the only way to pay for all those tax cuts or large corporations. Those like Tiny Tim have other options. “Have they no refuge, no resource? Are there no prisons? And the union workhouses… are they still in operation? No? If they would rather die, they had better do it, and decrease the surplus population.”
Donald Trump really isn’t that mean. He’s not Ebenezer Scrooge. He’s something else:
President Donald Trump’s charitable foundation, which last year admitted violating federal rules on “self-dealing,” is in the process of dissolving, according to newly filed documents reviewed by NBC News.
The move fulfills a promise Trump made last December, when he said he would wind down the Donald J. Trump Foundation to avoid conflicts of interest. New York’s attorney general ordered the foundation to stop soliciting contributions in October 2016.
It seems that our Ebenezer Scrooge got caught running a charity that solicited funds for worthy causes, including himself:
In its previous tax filing in 2015, the foundation acknowledged violating a legal prohibition against a “self-dealing” that bars nonprofit leaders from funneling their charity’s money to themselves, their businesses or their families.
In one section of the 2015 form, as The Washington Post first reported, the IRS asked whether the Trump Foundation had transferred “income or assets to a disqualified person.” A disqualified person could be Trump — the foundation’s president – or a member of his family or a Trump-owned business, The Post reported.
In 2015, the foundation checked yes. For 2016, the foundation checked no.
Then the foundation just gave up, for good reason:
One of President Trump’s golf courses paid back more than $158,000 to Trump’s charitable foundation this year, reimbursing the charity for money that had been used to settle a lawsuit against the club, according to a new tax filing.
The March 2017 payment came after New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, a Democrat, launched an investigation into how the Donald J. Trump Foundation collects and disburses funds. The inquiry is ongoing.
The Washington Post reported last year that Trump had used the charity for questionable purposes, including making a political contribution, to settle legal matters involving his for-profit companies and to buy a large portrait of himself that he hung at one of his golf resorts.
And there’s much more:
Of the additional reimbursements, it appears that $25,000 relates to a payment that the Trump Foundation made in 2013 to a Florida political committee called “And Justice For All.” The committee supported state Attorney General Pam Bondi (R).
Charities are not allowed to give to political committees.
After The Post reported the gift to Bondi’s group last year, Trump repaid the money and paid a $2,500 penalty tax to the IRS.
And the Trump Foundation gave nothing to any Tiny Tim. Some worthy causes did get some money – to make this look like a charitable foundation – but this was a scam. Give nothing away unless you get something worth ten times more in return. Scrooge lives. New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman doesn’t like Ebenezer Scrooge. He put an end to this.
This sort of thing should make for an interesting Christmas at the White House. Don’t expect talk of “peace and good will to all men” – not when everyone has been screwing us over – everyone. Not when everyone is out to get us. There will be a tree and all the rest, but Donald Trump will not wake on Christmas morning a changed man. He’ll still be Scrooge. Expect nothing more than a long winter.
That’s because the White House is not filled with the Christmas Spirit. The Washington Post reports that the White House is filled with this:
Six months into a special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, White House aides and others in President Trump’s close orbit are increasingly divided in their assessments of the expanding probe and how worried administration officials and campaign aides should be about their potential legal peril, according to numerous people familiar with the debate.
Some in the West Wing avoid the mere mention of Russia or the investigation whenever possible. Others take solace in the reassurances of White House lawyer Ty Cobb that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III will be wrapping up the probe soon and the president and those close to him will be exonerated. And a few engage in grim gallows humor, privately joking about wiretaps.
These people have other things to worry about:
The investigation reached a critical turning point in recent weeks, with a formal subpoena to the campaign, an expanding list of potential witnesses and the indictments of former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates. Some within Trump’s circle, including former chief of staff Reince Priebus, have already been interviewed by Mueller’s investigators, while others such as Hope Hicks – the White House communications director and trusted confidant of the president – and White House counsel Donald McGahn are expected in coming weeks.
One Republican operative in frequent contact with the White House described Mueller’s team “working through the staff like Pac-Man.”
“Of course they are worried,” said the Republican, who insisted on anonymity to offer a candid assessment. “Anybody that ever had the words ‘Russia’ come out of their lips or in an email, they’re going to get talked to. These things are thorough and deep. It’s going to be a long winter.”
It’s going to be a long winter with no Christmas, although the nation’s Scrooge is hopeful:
The president himself, however, has warmed to Cobb’s optimistic message on Mueller’s probe. Cobb had initially said he hoped the focus on the White House would conclude by Thanksgiving, but adjusted the timeline slightly in an interview last week, saying he remains optimistic that it will wrap up by the end of the year, if not shortly thereafter.
Trump’s lawyers have also repeatedly said the president himself is not personally under investigation.
He is personally under investigation of course:
The reassurances from Cobb and others – which seem at least partially aimed at keeping the president calm and focused on governing – are viewed by others as naive.
“The president says, ‘This is all just an annoyance. I did nothing,'” said one person close to the administration. “He is somewhat arrogant about it. But this investigation is a classic Gambino-style roll-up. You have to anticipate this roll-up will reach everyone in this administration.”
And a classic Gambino-style roll-up goes like this:
In any white-collar probe, investigative pressure on low-level officials can lead to guilty pleas and cooperation, generating new evidence and leads about those higher on the chain of command, these people noted. And while that process can stall out if people refuse to cooperate or offer nothing of interest to investigators, there’s no indication that has happened in the Russia investigation.
“I don’t think there’s any reason to believe this is almost over,” said Randall Eliason, a former federal prosecutor who now teaches law at George Washington University. “Based not just on what we’ve seen but also what we know about white-collar investigations generally, this seems to me like it is just getting started.”
And there’s this:
Three separate congressional committee investigations into Russian interference in the election sometimes overlap and track over Mueller’s probe, and pose high-risk complications for Trump aides, politically and legally.
The Senate Judiciary Committee last week alleged that it appeared Jared Kushner had withheld some documents about a Russian gun rights’ activist’s effort to connect a Putin ally and the Trump campaign. Kushner’s lawyers said the committee never asked their client for records of proposed meetings that never happened – but the episode gave the impression Kushner had something to hide.
That does tend to dampen any Christmas spirit:
One White House official said the ongoing investigation has now just become a frustrating part of daily reality for aides, and they attempt to soldier on knowing they personally did nothing wrong.
But some suspect that Mueller’s probe may weigh more heavily on some of their colleagues, especially those who have been compelled to testify before Congress or Mueller’s investigators. More than a dozen, including Donald McGahn [the current White House Counsel] and Vice President Pence, have had to hire lawyers, and some junior aides fear their legal fees will rise to three or four times their annual salaries…
And sometimes, gallows humor creeps into the West Wing.
“When the staff gathers in the morning at the White House now, they jokingly say: ‘Good morning. Are you wired?'” one person close to the administration said.
Jonathan Chait adds this;
When you read histories of the more successful presidential administrations in American history, a phrase you don’t usually come across is “Gambino-style roll-up.”
However, in the face of this mounting evidence and the warnings of some allies, Trump has remained – by Trump’s standards – fairly calm. Obviously, by the standards of a normal president, he is acting like a complete lunatic. But given Trump’s patterns of spewing indiscriminate rage and abuse and lashing out at his enemies in wildly counterproductive fashion, he has conducted himself with notable restraint. Despite his barely concealed impulses, Trump has refrained from mass pardons or attempting to fire Mueller.
The apparent reason for his serenity is that his lawyer, Ty Cobb, has placated Trump with promises that Mueller’s probe would be over soon. “The president himself, however, has warmed to Cobb’s optimistic message on Mueller’s probe. Cobb had initially said he hoped the focus on the White House would conclude by Thanksgiving,” the Post reports.
Thanksgiving – it will all be over by Thanksgiving.
Or maybe not:
By this point, three days before Thanksgiving, it should be relatively clear Mueller’s work is not going to be completed before the turkey is served. The Post notes that Cobb “adjusted the timeline slightly in an interview last week, saying he remains optimistic that it will wrap up by the end of the year, if not shortly thereafter.”
Chait thinks that is nonsense:
The obvious question arising from this report is what happens when Mueller fails to meet the deadline Cobb has arbitrarily set for him? If Cobb has bought time with Trump by blowing sunshine up his ass, at some point Trump will stop believing his lawyer’s absurdly copacetic analysis and start believing the people who are warning him about the Gambino-style roll-up under way. That point might come after Thanksgiving. It might come at New Year’s, or perhaps early next year. At some point, Trump is going to blow.
It’s going to be a long tense winter, but is Donald Trump going to “blow” like some volcano is a cheesy disaster movie? (Think of this one that destroys the local neighborhood here.) Trump can’t be the complete lunatic that Chait says he is. Trump is merely Ebenezer Scrooge.
Trump may be more than that, as BuzzFeed’s Joseph Bernstein reports here:
National Security Adviser H.R. McMaster mocked President Trump’s intelligence at a private dinner with a powerful tech CEO, according to five sources with knowledge of the conversation.
Over a July dinner with Oracle CEO Safra Catz – who has been mentioned as a candidate for several potential administration jobs – McMaster bluntly trashed his boss, said the sources, four of whom told BuzzFeed News they heard about the exchange directly from Catz. The top national security official dismissed the president variously as an “idiot” and a “dope” with the intelligence of a “kindergartner,” the sources said.
A sixth source who was not familiar with the details of the dinner told BuzzFeed News that McMaster had made similarly derogatory comments about Trump’s intelligence to him in private, including that the president lacked the necessary brainpower to understand the matters before the National Security Council.
McMaster couldn’t have said that, and there were the walk-backs:
Both Oracle and the Trump administration heatedly denied the comments that Catz later recounted… Oracle’s top DC operative, who attended the dinner with Catz, also denied that McMaster made the comments his boss later recounted to others. The meeting, Oracle senior VP for government affairs Ken Glueck said, was about China, and “none of the statements attributed to General McMaster were said.” Glueck added that Catz “concurs entirely” with his account of the dinner.
Someone is lying, but no one should be surprised:
Along with White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, McMaster – a three-star general – is often seen as a moderating influence on the president and a steadying hand in an administration staffed with political newcomers and anti-establishment bomb-throwers. Because of their perceived influence over the president, both men and in particular McMaster are widely distrusted by Trump’s base and some loyalist aides and former staffers, and have been the perceived target of attacks in the press.
McMaster’s allegedly dismissive comments are the latest suggestion that at least some of Trump’s senior-most aides see their jobs as containing a president who isn’t up to the task. In October, NBC News and other outlets reported that Secretary of State Rex Tillerson called the president a “moron” in a July meeting at the Pentagon. Also in October, Republican Sen. Bob Corker told the New York Times that a group of senior administration officials have banded together to try to keep Trump under control.
Trump may be the complete lunatic that Chait says he is, because he has the intelligence of a kindergartner, but there are other players here:
News of the July dinner first surfaced in August, when Axios reported that Republican mega-donor Sheldon Adelson decided to support a campaign alleging that McMaster was anti-Israel after speaking with Catz about her meeting with the national security adviser. That decision stemmed, multiple sources tell BuzzFeed News, from comments McMaster made to Catz praising President Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran and describing Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory as a major problem…
Catz, who has donated widely to both Republicans and Democrats, and McMaster, who has long been a target of the pro-Trump media and the nationalist wing of the administration for his mainstream positions on foreign policy and his purge of staffers hired by his predecessor, Michael Flynn, are both establishment figures. And yet, according to sources, Catz was so alarmed by the tenor of McMaster’s comments about President Trump and Israel that she confided her concerns to several administration officials, as well as Adelson.
Something is up, and Christopher Woody adds this:
Shanon Weinberger, executive editor at Foreign Policy, suggested the story had been pitched to other outlets, noting on Twitter, “This story is like expired milk. Pushed to enough potential buyers at increasingly discounted price, someone will eventually buy it. But it still tastes bad.”
Kate Brannen, deputy managing editor at Just Security, noted that Ezra Cohen-Watnick – whose ouster from the National Security Council spurred efforts by Trump loyalists to force McMaster out – took a job at Oracle in September. Oracle also hired Josh Pitcock, former chief of staff for Vice President Mike Pence.
“This story smells a bit funky,” noted Jenna McLaughlin, an intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy, adding, “At some point, if you’ve got a bunch of Oracle sources who did not attend an event they’re speaking about, with a history of hating McMaster, telling you things…”
Josh Marshall tries to straighten this out:
McMaster also criticized Steve Bannon, Rex Tillerson and said presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner has no business being involved in national security issues at all. According to Buzzfeed, Catz told one source “the conversation was so inappropriate that it was jaw-dropping.”
Now, let’s stipulate that the President is a dope, many of his top aides are dopes and Jared Kushner has no business being in any position in government at all.
But there’s a detail here that seems pretty germane to understanding the story.
That would be this:
McMaster was brought in to clean up the Mike Flynn mess and over time he fired most or maybe now all the Flynn loyalists as his power in the job grew. Public reports suggest that his biggest and most consistent antagonist was a Flynn protégé named Ezra Cohen-Watnick, a guy who seems to have worked with Rep. Devin Nunes in Nunes’ ‘unmasking’ escapade. McMaster tried to fire him shortly after he took over from Flynn but was blocked by Kushner and Bannon.
Finally, in early August, McMaster canned Cohen-Watnick.
So where did Cohen-Watnick land after finally getting bounced from the National Security Council? Funny you’d ask! He went to work in the DC office of Oracle.
So this was a hit job, but then that may not matter much at all:
To be clear, this doesn’t mean the report is not true. I suspect something like it is true. It may be verbatim true. Who knows?
No one will ever know. Winter is coming. Christmas is coming, and we’ve never had an Ebenezer Scrooge in the White House before, and now we do, perhaps with the intelligence of a kindergartner, and this Scrooge will not wake on Christmas morning a changed man. That will just be another day. It’s going to be a long winter. It may never end.