No Faking Now

Bill Clinton sailed through eight years without a major war and a booming economy. He delivered a balanced budget once, with the help of a young Republican congressman from Ohio, John Kasich. When he left office there was an actual federal surplus. Yes, he was impeached, but he survived that and his approval ratings then went up. There were major issues and real problems, and he was a bit of a goofball, but those were a good eight years. So how hard could this job be? Even a randy goofball could do it. George W. Bush could do it. He’d be fine. Al Gore stressed his own unique competence and knowledge and experience. The nation shrugged. So what? That man took himself far too seriously. How hard could this job be? Dubya would do just fine. The nation chose him, or the Supreme Court did. It didn’t matter. He’d do fine. And he had a lot of “adult supervision” around him – Chaney and Rumsfeld of course. And how hard could this be?

George W. Bush was a disaster – two massive new wars, one still in progress, the loss of New Orleans to Hurricane Katrina, and the total collapse of the economy as his second term ended. The job was hard after all. It required real competence in management and in diplomacy and in all sorts of things. You have to know what you’re doing. You can’t “fake it” at all. Try that and the job will bite you in the ass. That’s why the nation elected Barack Obama, without the help of the Supreme Court, and then elected him again. He may have been black, and too thin, and too hip, and far too intellectual – all scary and just not normal – but he was careful and thoughtful and thorough. He didn’t fake much of anything. He dug in and did the job, quietly. He slowly fixed what Bush broke. At the end of eight years things were almost normal again. Obama made America boring again. Thing weren’t perfect, but the economy was humming again, we were out of Iraq, we had something like an actual healthcare system and healthcare policy, Iran had agreed to stop the business with its nukes and we’d talk with Cuba again and see what we could work out. There had been problems. They could be solved, and were solved. Just do the work.

How hard could it be? Obama has made it look too easy – even a skinny black man could do this job. So the nation did it again. Hillary Clinton stressed her own unique competence and knowledge and experience. The nation shrugged. So what? Donald Trump never held political office before and his grasp of how our government (or any government) works is a few steps below rudimentary. He has no experience in foreign policy or in much of anything else – but he was rich and brash and angry. That would do. How hard could the job be?

He found out quickly:

President Donald Trump, reflecting on a first 100 days in office that has featured no major legislative wins and low approval ratings, said Thursday he thought the job would be easier.

“I loved my previous life, I loved my previous life. I had so many things going,” Trump said in an interview with Reuters. “I actually, this is more work than my previous life. I thought it would be easier.”

He found out he couldn’t fake it:

Trump has admitted his surprise at the complexity of some of the issues in his in-tray during his brief time in office so far. In February, he noted with some exasperation the complexity of the nation’s health care laws — which he has vowed to reform as part of a bid to scrap Obamacare.

“Now, I have to tell you, it’s an unbelievably complex subject,” he added. “Nobody knew health care could be so complicated.”

The admission was met with some mirth by opponents.

Trump also marveled at the intricacies of the geopolitics of the Korean peninsula, a subject that China’s President Xi Jinping was happy to tutor him on.

“After listening for 10 minutes, I realized it’s not so easy,” Trump told the Wall Street Journal.

But that was one hundred days into his presidency. He’s stopped admitting the job is harder that he thought it would be. That made him sound like a lost little boy, a loser. He no longer talks that way. He’s got this now. The job is mind-numbingly hard. So make it look easy. Be bold. Fake it. No one will know. Except they do know:

Republican and Democratic U.S. senators blasted President Donald Trump’s proposal for a 23 percent cut in the U.S. budget for foreign aid and diplomacy as “insane” and “short-sighted” on Tuesday, and said it would not pass.

“We’re not going to approve this budget reduction. It’s insane. It makes no sense,” said Republican Senator Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Appropriations subcommittee that oversees the State Department and foreign aid budget.

“I don’t know who writes these things over in the White House, but they clearly don’t understand the value of soft power,” the Republican senator, a close Trump ally on many issues, told a subcommittee hearing on the foreign aid budget.

Graham also called the plan “short-sighted” and said the Appropriations panel would restore funding to previous levels, rather than enacting the 23 percent cut Trump proposed earlier this year.

The move was bold. Who needs diplomacy and embassies and a state department when you have an awesome military ten times more powerful than any other on the planet? It’s quite simple, or not:

Graham also asked Mark Green, the administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development, to send Congress a plan for how it would assist Venezuela in case of a change in government in the troubled South American state.

The hearing took place on Tuesday against a backdrop of upheaval in Venezuela, where Washington’s desire to ship in millions of dollars in foreign aid has been a central theme of the Trump administration’s push for a change in government.

Is anyone at the White House thinking this through? The situation had turned dire:

Violent clashes erupted across Venezuela on Tuesday after opposition leader Juan Guaidó launched what he described as a military-backed challenge to President Nicolás Maduro, summoning thousands of people to the streets to demonstrate against the socialist leader.

It was a high-risk gamble for Guaidó, the leader of the National Assembly, who declared himself interim president of Venezuela in January. And by late Tuesday, it was unclear whether it would succeed.

Trump, however, kept it simple:

President Trump accused Cuban “Troops and Militia” of conducting military operations in Venezuela to cause “death and destruction to the Constitution of Venezuela.” If the alleged activities didn’t immediately stop, Trump tweeted that his administration would impose a “full and complete embargo, together with the highest-level sanctions,” on Cuba.

Cuba is the issue, or it’s the Russians:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said Maduro had been prepared to flee the country for Havana on Tuesday.

“He had an airplane on the tarmac, he was ready to leave this morning as we understand it, and the Russians indicated he should stay,” Pompeo told CNN. He said “senior leaders” loyal to Maduro told U.S. officials that they were prepared to leave.

Well, maybe not:

Making his first public appearance since the chaotic events began to unfold, Maduro went on State TV late Tuesday, looking tired but calm and denouncing what he labeled a “foolish” and “failed” coup instigated by the United States. Flanked by top government and military officials, he called for a mass demonstration of supporters on Wednesday, and denied Pompeo’s claim that Maduro was preparing to leave Caracas on Tuesday.

“Mike Pompeo said – how crazy can things get? – that I, Maduro, had a plane ready to escape to Cuba and that the Russians prohibited me from leaving,” Maduro said. “Mr. Pompeo, please. Such a lack of seriousness. Mr. Bolton gave orders to high-ranking officers to join the coup that was overcome in Venezuela… Dear God, how far will the US go?”

Well, that was the general idea:

National security adviser John Bolton named officials who he said had been in secret talks with Guaidó, including Defense Minister Vladi­mir Padrino López. In an apparent attempt to divide Maduro’s government, he called on Padrino and others to keep their “commitment” to help oust the president.

Bolton said that the United States favored a “peaceful transfer of power” but that “all options are on the table.” He declined to elaborate.

We could go in and take over and set up a representative government for them, making everything all better, just like we did in Iraq. No, wait. This might require more thought.

Lots of things require more thought, as the Washington Post’s Heather Long reports here:

President Trump’s plan to put ally Stephen Moore on the Federal Reserve Board appeared on the edge of failure Tuesday after one Republican senator said she was “very unlikely” to vote for Moore and several others sharply criticized him.

Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) became the first senator to go on record as a likely “no” vote…

Ernst, who said she had shared her views with the White House, said she “didn’t think” Moore would be confirmed if Trump follows through on his plan to nominate the former campaign adviser, adding that “several” senators agree with her on Moore.

Her assessment was affirmed by Sen. Tim Scott (R-S.C.), who said Moore’s best hope was to barely squeak by…

Beyond Ernst, three other female Republican senators – Susan Collins (Maine), Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) and Shelley Moore Capito (W.Va.) – expressed serious concerns about Moore. They cited his comments saying there would be societal problems if men were not the breadwinners in the family, denouncing co-ed sports and saying female athletes do “inferior work” to men.

The guy is a misogynist jerk. Did anyone at the White House vet this guy? Think it through:

If four of the 53 Republican senators reject Moore, his nomination would probably fail, as no Democrats are expected to back him. The White House has yet to formally nominate him, raising the possibility that Moore’s nomination could be finished before it ever officially begins.

And there’s this guy again:

Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), a close friend of Trump’s, expressed concerns of his own.

“It will be a very problematic nomination,” Graham said Tuesday, although he said he is “still looking” at Moore and hasn’t made up his mind on whether to support him.

Trump keeps saying the economy would be even stronger – with higher growth and a higher stock market – if the Fed had not raised interest rates so many times last year. He has been on a quest in 2019 to fill the remaining two spots on the Fed’s board with people who are loyal to him and believe interest rates should be reduced.

No economists agree with that – save the massive stimulus for when things slow down but Trump likes to keep things simple – do it now – do it always. Bring back early 1929 and let the good times roll, but this isn’t going well:

Trump’s other intended nominee – businessman Herman Cain – withdrew from consideration after four GOP senators signaled they would not vote for him.

He knew nothing about the issues and those four sexual harassment cases against him are still active, and then there’s Moore:

The Internal Revenue Service put a $75,000 lien on Moore for unpaid taxes, which Moore says he has now paid and were a result of a small mistake on his tax return a few years ago. Moore was also found in contempt of court in 2013 for failing to pay his ex-wife more than $330,000 in child support and alimony.

Oops. Put these two guys on the Fed? That’s not going to happen. That’s taking faking it too far. But then this isn’t:

Three years ago, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., told comedian Trevor Noah that Donald Trump’s grip on Republicans resembled that of former Ugandan dictator Idi Amin. “I just don’t like what he’s doing to my party and my country,” Graham said of Trump on “The Daily Show.” Three years later, Graham, who is now chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, appeared on television to excuse Trump’s apparent attempts to obstruct justice from the office of the presidency.

“It doesn’t matter,” Graham said of Trump’s steps to thwart the investigation, as outlined in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report. According to the results of Mueller’s two-year probe, Trump ordered his then-White House counsel, Don McGahn, to tell Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to fire Mueller in an effort to stop the latter’s investigation into Russia interference in the 2016 election and the subsequent firing of FBI director James Comey. Despite Mueller’s findings, Graham said that he considers obstruction allegations against the president to be “absurd.”

“I don’t care what [Trump] said to Don McGahn,” Graham told CBS News’ Margaret Brennan on Sunday. “I don’t care what happened between him and Don McGahn.”

According to Graham, Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice are of no concern since they didn’t work.

Follow the logic. Shoot at someone and miss and there’s no crime, because no one was shot. Muzzles flashes and loud bangs are not crimes. That’s just noise. And that’s the legal theory here. Trump did nothing wrong.

That’s absurd. That’s fake legal theory. You can’t “fake it” there. Try that and this job will bite you in the ass. And that just happened:

Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, wrote a letter in late March to Attorney General William P. Barr objecting to his early description of the Russia investigation’s conclusions that appeared to clear President Trump on possible obstruction of justice, according to the Justice Department and three people with direct knowledge of the communication between the two men.

The letter adds to the growing evidence of a rift between them and is another sign of the anger among the special counsel’s investigators about Mr. Barr’s characterization of their findings, which allowed Mr. Trump to wrongly claim he had been vindicated.

This will get hot. Congress will hold hearings. Barr announced that Mueller had cleared Trump of everything. Mueller told Barr that he never said that, and put that in writing, and left that bomb in the department files. Barr can’t make that go away. Bar can only say that he knows what Mueller said and meant and intended and Mueller doesn’t. Congress will want to chat with Barr. And of course Barr will never let Mueller testify to Congress, and can do that because Mueller still works for him, technically. But he would have something to say:

It was unclear what specific objections Mr. Mueller raised in his letter, though a Justice Department spokeswoman said on Tuesday evening that he “expressed a frustration over the lack of context” in Mr. Barr’s presentation of his findings on obstruction of justice. Mr. Barr defended his descriptions of the investigation’s conclusions in conversations with Mr. Mueller over the days after he sent the letter, according to two people with knowledge of their discussions.

This is two old friends arguing, but everyone already sensed that something was wrong:

A central issue in the simmering dispute is how the public’s understanding of the Mueller report has been shaped since the special counsel ended his investigation and delivered his 448-page report on March 22 to the attorney general, his boss and longtime friend. The four-page letter that Mr. Barr sent to Congress two days later gave little detail about the special counsel’s findings and created the impression that Mr. Mueller’s team found no wrongdoing, allowing Mr. Trump to declare he had been exonerated.

But when Mr. Mueller’s report was released on April 18, it painted a far more damning picture of the president and showed that Mr. Mueller believed that significant evidence existed that Mr. Trump obstructed justice.

The report did not match Barr’s report on the report:

Mr. Barr and senior Justice Department officials were frustrated with how Mr. Mueller ended his investigation and drafted his report, according to the three people.

They expressed irritation that Mr. Mueller fell short of his assignment by declining to make a decision about whether Mr. Trump broke the law. That left Mr. Barr to clear Mr. Trump without the special counsel’s backing.

But Mr. Mueller did lay out evidence against the president. After explaining that he had declined to make a prosecutorial judgment, citing as a factor a Justice Department view that sitting presidents cannot be indicted, the special counsel detailed more than a dozen attempts by the president to impede the inquiry. He also left open the door for charges after Mr. Trump leaves office.

“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” Mr. Mueller and his investigators wrote. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

Mueller, in the report, cited that Justice Department view that sitting presidents cannot be indicted. That’s why he made no recommendation for indictment. The words are there in the report. Barr said Mueller never once cited that Justice Department view. He never even mentioned it. Mueller said read the words. Barr said they weren’t there. But they are there for everyone to read. Faking it can only get you so far.

But it was a good try:

Some of the special counsel’s investigators have told associates that they were angry about Mr. Barr’s initial characterization of their findings, government officials and others have said, and that their conclusions were more troubling for Mr. Trump than Mr. Barr indicated in his four-page letter. That proved to be the case.

In one instance, Mr. Barr took Mr. Mueller’s words out of context to suggest that the president had no motive to obstruct justice. In another instance, he plucked a fragment from a sentence in the Mueller report that made a conclusion seem less damaging for Mr. Trump.

Investigators wrote, “Although the investigation established that the Russian government perceived it would benefit from a Trump presidency and worked to secure that outcome, and that the campaign expected it would benefit electorally from information stolen and released through Russian efforts, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

Mr. Barr’s letter quoted only the passage that the investigation had found no conspiracy or coordination.

That’s clever, and that’s also faking it. Barr is in trouble now, and so is Donald Trump. Early on he realized that the job was harder than he ever imagined. And then he realized he really should not have said that. He’s got this. All he has to do is fake things and hope no one catches on. But now they have, so Bob Barr has to cover for him. There was the the release of the Mueller report:

Mr. Barr also said during the news conference that some of Mr. Trump’s efforts to thwart the investigation needed to be put in “context.”

“There is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks,” he said.

The president was frustrated and angered, so cut him some slack. Why? He’s faking it all.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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