Memoirs of the Addams Administration 24.

Republicans struggled forward with the effort to make the Obama administration go away.  In 2010, the Democrats passed the so-called Dodd-Frank Act.  That legislation led to the imposition of about 28,000 new regulations on banks and credit unions, greatly increasing compliance costs.  As a result, many small institutions have been absorbed into larger institutions with deeper pockets.  The Dodd-Frank Bill created an Orderly Liquidation Authority for banks that do fail.  It created a Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.[1]  All of these were wildly unpopular with Republicans.  House Republicans passed the Financial Choice Act.   It exempts banks from many of the Dodd-Frank restriction in return for a requirement that they maintain large cash reserves.  The bill now goes to the Senate.  There it is likely to be subjected to a substantial re-write.[2]  Meanwhile, Republican senators have been trying to create a less-horrible version of the American Health Care Act (ACHA) previously passed by Republican representatives.[3]  The Senate plan postpones cuts to Medicaid for seven years[4] and maintains—at a lower level—the subsidies to low-income earners.[5]

Elsewhere, the World Economic Forum[6] (the folks who bring you Davos) reported that many Western countries—but the United States most of all—are suffering from a huge gap between the savings needed for retirement and actual savings for retirement.[7]  The American gap amounted to $28 trillion in 2015 and is projected to reach $137 trillion in 2050.  Cat food-salad sandwiches and living in an ElderCommune being unlikely to appeal as the “golden years,” one might anticipate a fight among Baby Boomers as the lower 80 percent seek to draw on the savings of the upper 20 percent.[8]

All of these were important developments for good or ill.  However, Americans seem to have focused more tightly on the controversies surrounding President Donald Trump.  To begin with, former FBI director James Comey told the Senate Intelligence Committee (which has been investigating possible collusion between the Russians and the Trump campaign) that the president made him uncomfortable in several private conversations, that he had made detailed notes of these conversations, and that he had arranged for these notes to be leaked to the press after his dismissal in hopes to triggering the appointment of a special prosecutor to investigate the man who had fired him.  Next came Attorney General Jeff Sessions and his porous memory.  Sessions told generally hostile former colleagues that he fired Comey for reasons unrelated to the FBI’s investigation of the “collusion” investigation.[9]   To round-out the week in suitable fashion, New York City’s “Shakespeare in the Park” series ran a version of “Julius Caesar” with a Trump look-alike in the title role.  Back in 2013 a square-state theater company used “Caesar” to imagine Barack Obama slain by right-wingers.  Now a right-winger is portrayed as meeting his death at the hands of women and minorities.[10]

[1] Just for fun, let’s imagine a Consumer Information Protection Bureau with its own “fiduciary  rule” requiring newspapers and other print media and television networks to “act in the best interests of their clients.”

[2] “Issue of the week: Dodd-Frank under fire,” The Week, 23 June 2017, p. 34.

[3] “Trumpcare: The GOPs secret plan,” The Week, 23 June 2017, p. 17.

[4] Actually, this is pretty clever.  Seven years from 2017 would be 2024.  Given the way that the parties alternate in the White House, a Democrat would be walking in the front door just as the Medicaid cuts took effect.

[5] One federal court has held that those subsidies are illegal because the original Affordable Care Act (ACA) made no provision for appropriating the money to pay for the subsidies.  The Obama administration appealed this decision.  The case has not yet reached the Supreme Court.  When/if it does, that will be the end of all subsidies and the whole system of “mandated” insurance for poor people who don’t have employer-supplied medical insurance will collapse in a heart-beat.   Republicans hope to use this as leverage.  Democrats have been blaming the “uncertainty” caused by the Republican repeal-and-replace effort among insurers for the collapse of the health-care market-places.

[6] See: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Economic_Forum

[7] “Retirement: Will Boomers work forever?” The Week, 23 June 2017, p. 32.

[8] See Richard Reeves “America’s hidden class system,” The Week, 23 June 2017, p. 12.

[9] “Comey: did he damage Trump?” The Week, 23 June 2017, p. 6; “Sessions denies collusion as Trump eyes Mueller,” The Week, 23 June 2017, p. 4.

[10] “Julius Caesar: Assassinating Trump on stage,” The Week, 23 June 2017, p. 17.

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Memoirs of the Addams Administration 20.

Many people who did not want Donald Trump to become president have now swung around to the position that he is unfit to remain president.  Since President Trump has obeyed the courts when they contradicted some of his executive orders and most of the rhetorical violence has come from the left, his critics have abandoned the fascist/authoritarian-populist critique.  Instead, they have attacked on the line of his emotional immaturity/impulsiveness/need for adulation.[1]  Certainly, the president provides his critics with a lot of good stand-up material.

In January 2017, when embroiled in a controversy about Russian meddling in the presidential election in which American intelligence agencies appeared to be the source of leaks of classified information intended to discredit the Trump presidency, President Donald Trump asked James Comey, the Director of the EffaBeeEye, for his “loyalty.”  Later, but still early in the Trump administration, the National Security Adviser-designate, General Michael Flynn (ret.), misled Vice President Michael Pence about the nature of his contacts with Russkie government officials.[2]  Then, members of the intelligence agencies, ones with access to state secrets, leaked evidence of Flynn’s contact with the Russkies.  Flynn then had to resign.  The newly-elected and politically-inexperienced president expressed to Comey the hope that his disgraced former National Security Advisor would not be pursued.  “He’s a good guy,” said the president, “I hope you can let this go.”[3]  Director Comey returned to his office, wrote a Memorandum of Conversation (MemCon), and showed it to his chief subordinates.

After President Trump dismissed Director Comey, one of Comey’s subordinates—or more likely one of their sluggers—then leaked selected bits of the MemCon to the press.  The ensuing fire-storm led Ron Rosenstein, the acting Attorney General for Russian matters, to appoint Robert Mueller as Special Something to investigate Russian meddling in the election of 2016.  “And all that implies.”[4]

Soon afterward, it was revealed that President Trump had shared intelligence information about the Islamic State (ISIS) with the Russkie foreign minister and the ambassador.[5]  The intelligence purportedly came from Israel.[6]  One alleged concern arose from the possibility that the Russians would reveal this information to ISIS (with whom they are at war) or use it to blackmail the original source to provide information for Russian attacks on ISIS.  The dependence of American intelligence agencies on foreign service liaisons for much “human intelligence” (actual spies) means that endangering those sources is a really serious matter.  Our “friends” could decide to pull down the blinds.  Who could blame them?

[1] “Trump: Is he unfit for office?” The Week, 26 May 2017, p. 8.  On the other hand, the firing of F.B.I. Director James Comey led to much discussion of the prospect that the president could be forced out of office over a criminal matter.  “Comey: Trump’s ‘Saturday Night Massacre’?” The Week, 26 May 2017, p. 18.  A situationally-helpful comic effect can be achieved by reading these criticisms of the president in conjunction with reviews of Jonathan Allen and Amie Parnes, Shattered: Inside Hillary Clinton’s Doomed Campaign (2017).

[2] “Comey memo triggers new Trump crisis,” The Week, 26 May 2017, p. 6.

[3] If you cannot imagine expressing the same hope to the authorities on behalf of one of your friends, then the federal government is the place for you.

[4] It is possible that the investigations by both Mueller and by House and Senate committees will lead to the leaking of other Comey MemCons, perhaps regarding his investigation of Hillary Clinton.

[5] “Trump’s intelligence sharing with Russia,” The Week, 26 May 2017, p. 7.

[6] The intelligence budget is—purportedly—linked to the defense budget.  When military spending fell after the collapse of the Soviet Union, so did spending on intelligence.  Thereafter, the United States relied ever more heavily upon liaison relationships with foreign intelligence agencies to fill the gaps.  That’s fine so long as foreign intelligence agencies are pursuing the American agenda, rather than the agenda of their own governments.

The Comey Effect.

Did F.B.I. Director James Comey’s public statements about the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s e-mail cost Clinton the election?

On 19 October 2017, Hillary Clinton debated Donald Trump for the final time.  In the immediate aftermath of the debate, polls showed Clinton with as much as a 12 point lead over Trump.  However, by the morning of 28 October 2016, before Comey’s surprise announcement about re-opening the investigation in light of newly-discovered e-mails, national polls showed Hillary Clinton leading Donald Trump by only 6 percent.

Then came Comey’s statement of 28 October 2016.  Polls showed a sharp drop in support for Clinton.  However, some confusion arose and persists.  The results of a number of polls taken before the Comey announcement of 28 October 2016 were not published until after the announcement.  These showed an even sharper drop in support for Clinton than more widely noticed polls revealed.  “In retrospect, there is virtually no evidence to support the view that Mrs. Clinton really had a six-point lead by Oct. 28,…”  Because the findings of the polls were published after the announcement, commentators lumped these results with other polls conducted after Comey made his announcement.[1]  This made it appear that Comey’s announcement had a greater effect on Clinton’s mushy support than was the case.

Obviously this analysis targets only Comey’s second intervention in the election.  The first came with his public announcement that no criminal charges would be pursued against Mrs. Clinton over her use of a private e-mail server.  He went on to excoriate her careless handling of security issues.  Doubtless this incident did Clinton far more harm than did the October announcement.[2]   However, one early account of the Clinton campaign by friendly observers indicts the campaign from first to last as fatally flawed by incompetence and arrogance.[3]  This carnival created the situation in which Comey’s  statements could have such effect.

In any event, James Comey now has time to work on his memoirs.

[1] Nate Cohn, “An Election Review: There’s Reason to Be Skeptical of a Comey Effect,” NYT, 9 May 2017.

[2] On all this, see: https://waroftheworldblog.com/2016/12/13/the-hacked-election/ and https://waroftheworldblog.com/2017/03/31/the-james-comey-show/.

[3] See Michiko Kakutani, “Charting Hillary Clinton’s Course for the Iceberg,” NYT, 18 April 2017; and Barton Swaim, “Hillary the Unready,” WSJ, 18 April 2017.

The James Comey Show.

The F.B.I. has rules against interfering in politics and rules against being interfered with by politicians.  Recent events have shown how difficult it has become to maintain that rule when some politicians have wandered far from normal behavior.  Back in Fall 2016, President Barack Obama’s Attorney General, Loretta Lynch, had to investigate the handling of e-mail messages by former Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton.[1]  Then AG Lynch got into the glue for having had a private meeting with former President Bill Clinton.  She announced that F.B.I. director James Comey would have a free hand to run the Clinton investigation.  In July 2016, at the end of the investigation, Comey held a press conference to announce that Clinton would not be prosecuted, although he condemned her careless handling of sensitive e-mails.  Democrats roundly abused Comey for making his less-than-positive remarks while an election loomed.  Then, in October 2016, Comey announced that the investigation had been re-opened when a bunch of Clinton e-mails were discovered on the lap-top that Clinton aide Huma Abedin shared with her husband.[2]

Shortly before the election, Rudy Giuliani, a Trump supporter, announced that a “pretty big surprise” was coming.  Later Giuliani said that his sources were former, not currently serving, FBI agents.[3]  Several days later, Comey announced that the newly-discovered e-mails were just duplicates of previously examined e-mails.  Again, Democrats roundly condemned Comey for meddling in an election.  Bitter partisan strife followed.

In late January 2017, at the request of Democrats in Congress, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice opened an investigation of how Comey had managed the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s sloppy handling of her e-mail while Secretary of State.[4]  The scope of the investigation included both Comey’s original press conference and his decision to announce the re-opening of the investigation less than two weeks before Election Day.

Early in March 2017, reports circulated of an F.B.I. investigation into allegations of contacts between members of the Trump entourage and various Russians.  White House chief-of-staff Reince Priebus asked Comey to tell the press that no such investigation existed.  The White House also solicited Rep. Devin Nunes, chairman of the House committee investigating the Russian involvement in the election, to tell reporters that the story was bunk.  Comey refused because a) there was an investigation going on and b) politicians—like Priebus—weren’t supposed to interfere.  Apparently, intelligence sources leaked word of the spat to the press.[5]

Three weeks after having refused to deny that there was an investigation, Comey said that “in unusual circumstances, it may be appropriate” for the F.B.I. to comment on an on-going investigation.  Then he confirmed, during public testimony before the House Intelligence Committee, that the F.B.I. is investigating contacts between the Russians and the Trump entourage.[6]  Democrats condemned Comey for having thrown Clinton “under the bus” in Fall 2016.

James Comey has been—repeatedly—thrown into an uncomfortable position by the actions of other people.  So far, none of the complaining gets us closer to the truth(es).

[1] See: “The Hacked Election.”  https://waroftheworldblog.com/2016/12/13/the-hacked-election/?iframe=true&theme_preview=true

[2] Habitually described as the “disgraced… Anthony Weiner.”

[3] So, do current FBI agents meet up with still serving colleagues at various Washington, DC watering-holes to talk about old times and…?

[4] “FBI’s Comey investigated over election conduct,” The Week, 27 January 2017, p. 5.

[5] “Russia investigation: A special prosecutor?” The Week, 10 March 2017, p. 16.

[6] “Comey reveals Trump-Russia probe,” The Week, 31 March 2017, p. 5.