The news week started on Wednesday. This was a matter of moving all the pieces into place. Pakistan has nuclear weapons – lots of them – and no one is quite sure who runs their government at any given moment. India has nuclear weapons – lots of them – and worries about Pakistan. The British left in 1947 and left the Hindus in India and put the Muslims in Pakistan – the responsible thing to do. They were never going to get along, but the Brits weren’t thorough. They didn’t decide who got the province of Kashmir and control of the Khyber Pass between the two countries. And now it could be war, nuclear war. On the last Wednesday in February all the pieces were in place:
In the most ominous military confrontation between India and Pakistan since both tested nuclear weapons two decades ago, Pakistan said it shot down two Indian military aircraft over its territory Wednesday and launched strikes in Indian-controlled Kashmir, while India claimed it shot down a Pakistani fighter jet in the “aerial encounter.”
An especially volatile aspect of the confrontation was Pakistan’s capture of an Indian fighter pilot. Pakistani military officials posted a photo of him on Twitter sitting in a room, and they said he was being treated “per norms of military ethics.”
But Pakistani television showed a video of the pilot, blindfolded and apparently with blood on his face. India’s Foreign Ministry said it “strongly objected to Pakistan’s vulgar display of an injured personnel” and expected “his immediate and safe return.”
While experts warned that the clash could easily escalate out of control, Pakistani Prime Minister Imran Khan told his nation Wednesday that he wanted to avoid war with India, saying, “Let’s settle this with talks.” There was no public statement, however, by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The United States has made no statement. The Trump administration seems to have no policy in regard to either country. There is no one at State to deal with this either – there’s no Undersecretary for Far Eastern Affairs. Trump left all of those undersecretary posts unfilled. There’s no one reaching out to both parties to get a feel for what’s actually happening – but perhaps these are boring places far away, that no one cares about anyway. This president’s short attention span and lack of any kind of curiosity drive the shape of our government now. Imran Khan and Narendra Modi are boring. Who cares what they’re up to? But all the pieces finally fell in place.
No good will come of this, but a full nuclear exchange between India and Pakistan, while it would wipe out a whole lot of major cities over there, and hundreds of millions of people too, might be contained to the region. This could have nothing to do with us. The deadly nuclear fallout that would wrap itself around the globe is another issue – but it might not come to that. The United States will stand back and watch to see what happens – but the United States will do nothing. This isn’t our problem. And these people are boring. And it is America First now.
But that Kim fellow isn’t boring. His nuclear weapons are exciting. He made them exciting. The tests were provocative. And the delivery system was a new missile that could drop one of the nuclear weapons on Washington or New York or even Mar-a-Lago. Kim made his treats. Trump responded in kind – he could wipe North Korea off the face of the earth any time he felt like it, and he might just do that – as Trump said at the United Nations of all places. But then Trump called for a summit – one on one – just the two of them in Singapore. That’s when Trump surprised everyone and said he both respected and admired Kim. That guy knew how to run a country. He took no crap from anyone. He was a strong leader. People disappeared. Everyone else fell in line. That was so very cool– and Trump said the two of them fell “in love” – or at least he did. He was damned impressed. And he got suckered. Kim sort of agreed to this and that at the Singapore summit, but not really. Trump had announced that the North Korean nuclear threat was over forever. Kim had only suspending testing, for the moment. That was it.
That was a bit embarrassing. Trump wanted a redo. That finally fell into place too, in Hanoi this time, and on the same day a real regional nuclear war seemed likely. Trump’s pieces finally fell into place, but Trump still got played:
U.S. negotiators are no longer demanding that North Korea agree to disclose a full accounting of its nuclear weapons and ballistic missile programs as part of talks this week between President Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un, according to current and former senior U.S. officials.
The decision to drop, for now, a significant component of a potential nuclear deal suggests a reality that U.S. intelligence assessments have stressed for months is shaping talks as they progress: North Korea does not intend to fully denuclearize, which is the goal Trump set for his talks with Kim.
It was all nonsense all along, with details like this:
The White House on Wednesday barred four American journalists from covering President Trump’s dinner with the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-un, in Hanoi, Vietnam, after two of the reporters called out questions to Mr. Trump at an earlier appearance.
Trump wishes he could be more like Kim, so very strong, so he gave it a try:
It is highly unusual for a presidential administration to retaliate against reporters by restricting their access, particularly at a closely scrutinized foreign summit meeting. Given the backdrop – a United States president meeting with the totalitarian leader of a country with no independent media the move sent a starkly different message from those delivered in such settings by Mr. Trump’s predecessors, who often sought to encourage expressions of press freedom when meeting with representatives of autocratic regimes…
The White House ultimately agreed to allow in one print reporter, from The Wall Street Journal. Reporters from The AP, Bloomberg News, The Los Angeles Times and Reuters – whose reporter Jeff Mason asked an earlier question about Mr. Trump’s commitment to denuclearization – were kept out.
That was the wrong question, but perhaps questions are wrong now, and the Associated Press reported this:
The moment was meant to be a grand diplomatic triumph, a headline-dominating spectacle that could lead to the disarmament of a dangerous nation while delivering a vital political victory.
Instead, President Donald Trump’s high-stakes summit with North Korea’s Kim Jong-Un in Vietnam on Wednesday was in danger of being upstaged by a monumental betrayal unfolding half a world away in Washington.
Hours after Trump sat face-to-face with Kim in Vietnam, his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, sat before Congress and testified that his longtime boss was a “conman” and a “racist” who lied about having advanced knowledge of WikiLeaks plans to release an opponent’s stolen emails.
Yes, that was falling into place on the same day too:
Democrats consider Cohen their star witness as they kick off investigations into Trump’s business practices, presidential campaign and embattled charitable foundation, including any payments relating to efforts to influence the 2016 election. He was initially due on Capitol Hill earlier this month, but his appearance was delayed. The president’s son Donald Jr. accused Democrats of timing the hearing to interfere with Trump’s trip abroad.
No, that was just bad luck, but the news week did begin late, on Wednesday, when that dam broke:
The man who once derived his identity from making President Trump’s problems go away turned on his former boss in stunning fashion Wednesday, alleging to Congress that Trump manipulated financial records, paid to cover up extramarital affairs and reacted with glee upon learning the WikiLeaks anti-secrecy organization would release emails damaging to his political opponent.
Michael Cohen, Trump’s former fixer and personal lawyer, cast the president as a mendacious and petty racist who enlisted those around him to propagate a culture of deceit, in business, during his campaign and after winning the White House. In testimony before the House Oversight Committee, Cohen revealed how, in his view, Trump broke the law, even as president, and he suggested ominously that federal prosecutors remain interested in a case involving the president.
That’s the quick overview, with a quick motive here:
Cohen hinted repeatedly at possible legal jeopardy for the president, saying he was willing to tell all now out of fear that if Trump were to lose the 2020 election, “there will never be a peaceful transition of power.”
“My loyalty to Mr. Trump has cost me everything,” Cohen said. “I will not sit back, say nothing and allow him to do the same to the country.”
That sounded noble, but Marc Fisher notes there are two ways of seeing this:
In a divided nation, a divided Congress confronted a star witness from deep inside Trump world Wednesday and found a rare unity: Republicans and Democrats alike agreed that Michael Cohen, the president’s longtime lawyer and fixer, is a cravenly amoral liar.
The president’s supporters concluded from Cohen’s self-avowed record of lying to protect Trump that he cannot be believed, that his late conversion into a severe critic of Trump’s character is proof that Cohen is, as ever, in it for himself.
“You’re a disgraced lawyer… You’re a pathological liar,” said Rep. Paul A. Gosar (R-Ariz.) “There’s no truth to you whatsoever.”
The president’s critics, meanwhile, looked at the same set of facts, the same confessions and apologies from a man they long considered Trump’s vicious bulldog and saw a different reality. Many Democrats decreed Cohen a redeemed truth teller, the first in a series of witnesses they plan to present to lift the curtain on a president they view as Cohen now does – as a “cheat” and a “con man.”
The man was hard to read:
In a marathon performance before the House Oversight Committee, Cohen managed to suppress the angry, righteous, thuggish personality he has shown for years to reporters, lawyers and people doing business with Trump. Instead, he presented as a beaten-down puppy – sad, defeated and remorseful, fearful for his family’s safety, showing only flashes of the feisty, combative advocate who long took pride in his blind loyalty to all things Trump.
Cohen was a man on a mission – to reveal his employer of more than a decade not as the savvy tycoon who ruled a glitzy business empire, but as an ugly racist who lied, cheated and threatened, all to maintain his hold on power. But Cohen also described himself as a man who has taken to walking apart from his wife and children when they’re in public. “I make them go before me,” he said. “I have fear” – of the president and of “those people that follow him and his rhetoric.”
So make of that what you will:
In a country rattled by competing versions of reality and cleaved by political and cultural division, Cohen’s day-long quest for a morsel of redemption played for Republicans as a cynical attack on the president’s character and for Democrats as a vital affirmation of what many in Trump’s inner circle have until now said mostly behind the cloak of anonymity.
There was no evidence that Cohen altered a single opinion in Congress, but his stark language and harsh portrait of the president put some meat on the bones of the long-standing case against Trump.
In short, nothing changes, and this sums it up:
Cohen, who said he threatened people at Trump’s request “probably” 500 times, now presented as a gentle, soft-spoken man with a droopy frown, a disbarred lawyer repeatedly calling for the restoration of the nation’s lost civility, a father who apologized to his children “for the pain that I’ve caused them. And I wish I could go back in time.”
Asked whether he was “a cheat,” Cohen demurred. No, he said, “a fool.”
David Frum doesn’t see it that way:
Michael Cohen’s testimony to the House Oversight Committee was uncontradicted. The former personal attorney of the president of the United States today accused him of a litany of crimes, improprieties, immoralities, and betrayals of national security. And not one Republican member of the committee breathed one word in defense of the leader of their party.
Those Republicans have learned the hard way never to trust President Donald Trump’s denials.
Did he direct payoffs to a porn star? Trump denied it. It was true.
Was the Trump Organization pursuing a hotel project in Moscow while he was running for president? Trump denied it. That was true too.
Did his campaign meet with someone claiming to be an agent of the Russian state to seek dirt on Hillary Clinton? Denied. True.
Was there fraud at the Trump Foundation? Denied. True.
Who wants to be the member of Congress recorded for posterity rejecting Cohen’s testimony that Roger Stone informed Trump in advance of the impending WikiLeaks dump?
Who doubts that Trump helped shape Michael Cohen’s false testimony to Congress? Who wants to take the other side of the bet from Representative Ocasio-Cortez that Trump provided false financial information to insurance companies and local tax authorities? Who feels confident that Donald Trump Jr. did not lie to Congress when he denied that Trump had foreknowledge of the June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting?
Evidently, no Republican on the Oversight Committee.
Representative Mark Meadows did challenge the allegation that Trump regularly disparaged black Americans, by invoking the mute presence at the hearing of an African American Trump appointee to the Department of Housing and Urban Development. But considering the demeaning things Trump has said and tweeted in public, does anyone really want to gamble their reputation that he has not said slightly worse in private?
The whole thing was a farce:
The Republican case against Cohen was to reiterate over and over that Cohen is a convicted liar. As he is. As are Trump’s campaign chairman, Trump’s deputy campaign chair, and Trump’s first national security adviser. It’s bold to cite the criminality of so many of Trump’s associates – and maybe more to come – as proof of Trump’s innocence.
And obviously the Republican committee members know it. None of them would dare say that Trump is truthful in speech or honest in business. None would say it is impossible he said the things about black Americans that Cohen alleges he said. Even the allegations Cohen could not corroborate are all so hideously plausible that the most pro-Trump Republicans on the Oversight Committee shied from gainsaying them.
And that leaves this:
Cohen’s testimony may not all prove correct. But all of it is plausible – and not a word of it has been contradicted, let alone refuted.
Charlie Pierce puts that this way:
On July 24, 1974, a congressman named Thomas Railsback leaned into the microphone in front of him on the broad, curving dais of the House Judiciary. Railsback was a Republican from Moline, Illinois. The issue before him that night was whether to vote to send to the full House of Representatives articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon, a Republican from California who, at that moment, was the President of the United States. You could see the anguish on Railsback’s face the way you can see the current still running in a river that is only thinly iced. “I wish,” Railsback said in a ragged voice, “that the president could do something to absolve himself.” Then, Tom Railsback, Republican of Illinois, voted “Yea” on all three articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon.
I mention this bit of history only to illustrate how utterly and completely the Republican Party disgraced itself on Wednesday when Michael Cohen, the current president’s former king fixer, sat before the House Oversight Committee to describe some of the garish and baroque offenses against the law and the republic committed by Donald Trump. There was not a single Railsback to be found. Not one Republican asked a question about the specific offenses that Cohen had illuminated in his opening statement.
They had other (bad) ideas:
They hammered away at Cohen’s own crimes – which, of course, did nothing but remind the folks watching at home on whose behalf Cohen had told so many lies and paid off so many women. They spent great chunks of their time trying to get Cohen to promise he wouldn’t sign a book deal after he gets out of the federal sneezer in three years. Rep. Michael Cloud of Texas told Cohen that any subsequent book deal would be “kind of sweet,” as though he’d be willing to spend three years in a federal prison if an editor from Random House would be waiting on the day he got out.
That was strange, but now everything is strange:
This was a vivid look into the chronic ward of the prion disease that has eaten away the higher functions of American conservatism – and, thus, those of the Republican Party as well – since Ronald Reagan first served up the monkey brains almost 40 years ago. These are the complete creatures of the talk-show culture, the perfect products of two and three generations of gerrymandered in-breeding. These are the monsters from inside The Bubble. You could see this moment coming during the Obama years, in which the country returned the two worst Congresses in American history, full to the gunwales with Bible-banging crazy people. Sooner or later, this was going to be all that was left, and it was going to have to confront a serious crisis with unserious people. That’s what Wednesday was about.
There a lesson there. Never confront a serious crisis with unserious people, because things fall apart:
President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un abruptly cut short their two-day summit here Thursday after the two leaders failed to reach an agreement to dismantle that country’s nuclear weapons.
Although Kim said he was ready in principle to denuclearize, his talks with Trump collapsed unexpectedly as the two men and their delegations departed their meeting site in Vietnam’s capital city without sitting for a planned lunch and or participating in a signing ceremony.
Trump said he felt he had to “walk” from the negotiating table, in part because Kim wanted the United States to lift economic sanctions on North Korea in their entirety.
“We had some options, but at this time we decided not to do any of the options,” Trump said. He added, “Sometimes you have to walk, and this was just one of those times.
And that was that. After all the hype, Donald Trump just walked away, but he did say they’ll still be friends. He still likes this guy’s style.
And that’s how Wednesday ended. Monday was dull. Tuesday was tedious. And then everything happened all at once, and then it was over, for now. The news started late. Now it gets interesting.