All Happy Families

“All happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.” That’s the opening line of Tolstoy’s Anna Karenina – and an eight hundred page masterful and harrowing demonstration of that principle follows. This may or may not be the greatest work of literature ever. But it is convincing. Some families can and do create utterly unique hells. Rich and influential families are particularly good at that, and Donald Trump just walked into a Russian novel.

The Washington Post’s Michael Kranish is their national political investigative reporter and he’s been watching this play out:

It was a rare admission when President Trump told The Washington Post last year that he regretted the way he treated his older brother, Fred Jr., who died of alcoholism. But he insisted that a subsequent financial feud with his late brother’s children had been settled amicably, saying, “We all get along.”

Now, however, Trump’s niece – the daughter of Fred Jr. – has written a book slated to be published in July that could explode the image of a unified Trump family.

In a description of the book posted on Amazon late Monday night, Mary Trump, a clinical psychologist, is said to describe “a nightmare of traumas, destructive relationships, and a tragic combination of neglect and abuse. She explains how specific events and general family patterns created the damaged man who currently occupies the Oval Office, including the strange and harmful relationship between Fred Trump and his two oldest sons, Fred Jr. and Donald.”

Kranish explains all that. Each wanted all the old man’s money. There was back stabbing and real abuse and even death, and Donald Trump turned out to be the best of the lot at that sort of thing. He was beyond nasty but most of what Kranish explains seems a private family matter. This family is indeed unhappy in its own unique way:

Mary Trump plans to reveal the feuds that have long simmered within the family but until now have been largely masked by nondisclosure agreements and the limited public visibility of the president’s siblings, the Daily Beast reported Sunday…

Mary Trump’s book, if it is as critical as has been reported, would mark a rare departure among the president’s three living siblings and extended family members, who have largely refused to comment about him and have stayed out of public view. Its publication threatens to put the Trump family’s internal tensions on prominent display months before the November election.

“They might be polite, but Donald’s personality is one of dominance, and that includes his family,” said Jack O’Donnell, a former Trump casino executive. “That is no fun for anyone.”

A spokeswoman for the publisher, Simon & Schuster, confirmed that the book, called “Too Much and Never Enough: How My Family Created the World’s Most Dangerous Man,” will be published July 28, declining to comment further.

Who cares? This is a private family matter, or not:

Maryanne Trump Barry, the president’s sister, resigned last year as a federal appellate judge in the wake of an investigation into whether she violated judicial conduct rules related to her role in the family company’s tax practices.

The investigation, launched after a New York Times investigation into Trump family finances, became moot when she resigned. Trump once joked that he considered putting her on the Supreme Court. She has said little publicly about her brother during his presidency.

Trump’s other sibling, Elizabeth Grau, a former administrative assistant at Chase Manhattan Bank, has maintained a low profile throughout her brother’s presidency. She could not be reached for comment.

The issue here seems to be probable massive bank fraud and certain massive tax fraud, by family agreement, with the additional agreement that no one will chicken out and rat out the rest of them to the feds just to save their own skin. This looks like a criminal conspiracy, and Mary Trump is about to flip and reveal all. Or perhaps it’s no more than her new mission to warn America that her uncle is an utterly evil man who will get us all killed.

Either way, Trump loses. The Daily Beast reports what comes next:

This past Sunday, news broke that the president’s niece, Mary Trump, was on track to publish a “harrowing and salacious” book this summer about her world-famous uncle. By Sunday night, the president had been privately briefed on what he could expect from the upcoming book. By Tuesday, he had begun discussing siccing his lawyers on his niece.

According to two people familiar with the situation, Donald Trump has told people close to him that he’s getting his lawyers to look into the Mary Trump matter, to explore what could be done in the way of legal retribution – or at least a threat – likely in the form of a cease and desist letter. One of the sources with knowledge of the situation said that in the past couple of days, the president appeared irked by news of her book, and at one point he mentioned that Mary had signed a nondisclosure agreement, years ago.

Mary Trump signed an NDA following a 2001 settlement after litigation disputing Fred Trump’s estate, according to people familiar with the matter. That NDA states she is not allowed to publish anything regarding the litigation or her relationship with Donald, Maryanne and Robert.

It’s not clear what type of response the president or his personal legal team will ultimately pursue.

But this is a serious matter:

In the book, Mary Trump is not only expected to discuss difficult internal family dynamics and offer revelations about a younger Donald Trump; she is also expected to out herself as a primary source behind a Pulitzer-winning New York Times investigation into her uncle’s taxes.

At the time of the Times story’s publication in late 2018, Trump had wondered aloud who the sources were: if it was a leak from within the federal government, or if it could be someone close to him, perhaps even in his family or someone who’d worked at the Trump Organization, according to a former senior administration official who heard him complain about the Times investigation nearly two years ago. In public, the president would decry the story as a “very old, boring and often told hit piece on me,” while not actually denying the key facts in the article on Trump family tax schemes.

But even in the very early days of his ultimately successful 2016 presidential campaign, some of Trump’s staff would come across parts of the Mary Trump story, but shrugged them off as insignificant to the Republican primary.

And now they know better. His niece could ruin him. People publish books all the time. Some nondisclosure agreements may not be enforceable. These people must be stopped:

The Justice Department filed a lawsuit Tuesday asking a federal judge to order former White House national security adviser John Bolton to stop the release of his book, asserting that his much-anticipated memoir contains classified material.

The move sets up a legal showdown between President Trump and the longtime conservative foreign policy hand, who alleges in his book that the president committed “Ukraine-like transgressions” in a number of foreign policy decisions, according to his publisher.

But the Trump administration stopped short of seeking a court order against Bolton’s publisher to stop the distribution of The Room Where It Happened: A White House Memoir which is due to go on sale June 23 and has already been shipped across the country.

Instead, the civil suit, filed in U.S. District Court in Washington, accuses Bolton of breach of contract by violating his nondisclosure agreement and asks the court to order him “to instruct or request his publisher, insofar as he has the authority to do so, to further delay the release date.”

Someone must have told the president that he cannot order a book not be published, there’s the First Amendment and all that, and a good old-fashioned book-burning with the big bonfire in the town square is just too thirties-Germany for these times. Ask that they delay the release date, pending further studies and subsequent court rulings. That should take years.

But while everyone is waiting:

The suit also asks the court to prohibit him from disclosing any information in the book without written permission from the administration and from releasing it in any form, and to order him to notify his publisher that he did not complete the prepublication review process.

In addition, the Justice Department asked the court to order Bolton “to take any and all available steps to retrieve and dispose of any copies of “The Room Where It Happened” that may be in the possession of any third party in a manner acceptable to the United States.”

Finally, it asks the court to follow a step taken in previous cases involving unauthorized disclosures of classified information by former government officials: establishing a trust that would direct any profits from the book to the U.S. Treasury.

But this is nonsense. The book had already been vetted and the matter settled:

Charles Cooper, Bolton’s attorney, said, “We are reviewing the government complaint and will respond in due course.”

Cooper has said that his client’s book does not contain any classified material and that Bolton has worked with the National Security Council since December to vet the manuscript. Bolton’s publisher, Simon & Schuster, has said the former national security adviser spent months doing revisions at the request of the White House.

And it’s too late to stop this now anyway:

In a letter sent to the White House on June 10, Cooper wrote that Bolton has no authority to stop the distribution of the book, which he noted had already been printed and shipped around the country, according to a copy attached as an exhibit in the Justice Department suit.

Simon & Schuster said in a statement Tuesday night that the Justice Department action “is nothing more than the latest in a long running series of efforts by the Administration to quash publication of a book it deems unflattering to the President.”

Legal experts said it was notable that the Justice Department did not file a suit against Simon & Schuster, pointing out that courts are averse to preemptively blocking publication of books, particularly those that deal with political speech.

They’ve got nothing. But they have this:

Rather, in going directly after Bolton, the Trump administration appears to be focused on a different strategy, experts said: using financial pressure to discourage him from disclosing sensitive information without government permission.

Now all they have to do is keep the boss from messing things up:

Trump hinted Monday that he would seek to stop the release of the book, telling reporters that it was “highly inappropriate” for Bolton to write the memoir.

“I will consider every conversation with me as president highly classified,” he said. “So that would mean that, if he wrote a book and if the book gets out, he’s broken the law and I would think that he would have criminal problems. I hope so.”

But he has no clue, and at Slate, Dahlia Lithwick and Scott Pilutik add this:

Now if all that sounds like “frivolous litigation” to your ears, it’s because when Trump – in his capacity as the boss of bosses of the DOJ – uses the state to try to stop a book from being published, well that would be prior restraint. As the Supreme Court noted in 1971 when it allowed for the publication of the Pentagon Papers, “Any system of prior restraints of expression comes to this court bearing a heavy presumption against its constitutional validity.”

There is the additional problem that the Trump administration has been trying to force all sorts of former White House employees, most notably Omarosa Manigault Newman, to comply with laugh-out-loud, unenforceable, and overbroad NDAs. These efforts may have worked to protect Trump on the set of the Apprentice, but they don’t work when you are the head of the executive branch and the NDA covers urgent matters of state. The claim here – that Bolton should have waited out the months long clearance process – is belied by the fact that he did.

The suit itself concedes as much: “On or around April 27, 2020, [Senior Director for Records Access and Information Security Management at the National Security Council Ellen] Knight had completed her review and was of the judgment that the manuscript draft did not contain classified information. Ms. Knight informed NSC Legal of the status of the review.”

So the person in charge of reviewing the book gave it the all clear. It was only when the administration went in for another round of review that the top political appointee at the NSC and Bolton’s replacement, Robert C. O’Brien, ordered the hold-up to begin again.

Now add this:

Further eroding its feeble foundation – and making it reasonable to ask whether this is even a sincere attempt at prior restraint, or just the DOJ once again doing everything in its power short of arresting his enemies to appease the president- is the absence of the publisher as a defendant and the DOJ having declined to even request a restraining order.

This isn’t really an attempt to halt a book; it’s an attempt to bully Bolton into somehow taking it all back under the threat of having to pay massive legal fees and losing income from the book’s publication. As the Knight Foundation was quick to point out, this is just further abuse of an interminable “prepublication review” regime under this administration that has come to serve as de facto prior restraint.

Now add this:

The posturing over money, of course, is just that. This suit, like virtually all of Trump’s countless previous failed lawsuits, is really about vindictiveness. The caption even included Bolton’s home address, when it’s apparently more customary in this judicial district to include the lawyer’s address instead of the defendant’s. That childish rage is why Trump is now threatening to sue his niece Mary to keep her tell-all in the vault as well. For Trump, “winning” has only ever been about his opponents losing.

But, on the other hand, Bolton is a nasty man too:

Let’s be honest: It is a bitter pill to swallow to now be rooting for John Bolton, the man who opted for cashing in over testifying during the impeachment, when his revelations about Trump’s misdealing with foreign governments may have made a real difference. But here we are, not just rooting for the grifter-with-the-moustache against the grifter-with-the-hair, but also profoundly anxious at the fact that the Justice Department, as well as an array of federal prosecutors, have cheerfully lined up behind Barr to go after another one of Trump’s foes.

As John Dean – who knows a thing or two about abuse of power in the executive branch – said, “this is about Barr using the Justice Department as Trump’s law firm.” That we’ve all gone numb to Barr’s willingness to perform precisely this role for some time now makes it all the more troubling. Barr’s gone from Trump’s personal prosecutor general to his bagman in the blink of an eye.

Further contributing to that pill’s bitterness is that this is playing out months after Bolton’s testimony could have been provided to the full Senate at Trump’s impeachment trial, which feels like a century ago but in reality begat this historically wretched year. Bolton’s book jacket tauntingly claims that it’s “game on,” but the real game was played, and lost, in January. Bolton didn’t even bother to show up, or take sides.

So, in the end, none of this can make any difference in the real world now. It’s too late for that. This new book, when it’s finally published, will just fill in a few blanks, which is good of course, but not all that good:

It’s painful to concede that Bolton’s story is still worth hearing. Perhaps, though, if the government ultimately gets to keep Bolton’s profits, it will all eventually add up to a ridiculous booby prize for the whole country.

Is that enough? And how did the nation end up with such an unhappy and nasty and quite uniquely dysfunctional family in the White House? And where is Tolstoy when you need him? Someone really does need to explain this.

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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