By Robert A. Vella
Former President Barack Obama issued a dire warning to Americans last night at the Democratic National Convention about the very real existential threats President Donald Trump poses to democracy, equality, freedom, and the rule of law in the United States. His remarks stood in stark contrast to the enlightening and hopeful speeches which typified his political career and tenure in the White House. It also marked a dramatic departure from the custom of former presidents resisting criticism of the current officeholder, and the fact that Obama did so reveals how seriously he views the outcome of the 2020 election. Correspondingly, this year will underscore another striking break from political tradition. It will be the first election in living memory in which a president seeking reelection was not endorsed by the former presidents of his own party (in this case, George W. Bush).
Buried deep within the final document of the Senate Intelligence Committee‘s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, which was released on Tuesday, was a redacted reference to possible “kompromat” Russia had on Trump which could be used to blackmail him and to extort control over the U.S. president. Because Trump has been and still is so closely aligned with Vladimir Putin‘s interests, the circumstantial evidence alone strongly validates such suspicions. Since the alleged compromising material is of a personal nature, it would have to be exceedingly damaging to Trump since his shameless behavior seems immune from any public scrutiny. Regardless, this revelation in the report coincides with a story on Twitter fellow blogger John Zande (who is hopefully recovering from an illness) shared with us several weeks ago. If I remember correctly, it predicted that Trump would be forced to resign before the November election in order to prevent the release of the material. Yes, it sounds pretty wild; but, who knows? The story did correctly predict that the report would include details on a suspected “pee tape.”
In related news, Putin’s main political rival is in serious condition after being poisoned, Trump’s former campaign CEO and chief White House strategist Steve Bannon has been arrested for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering, and a former high DHS official is alleging that racial animus was behind Trump’s absurd desire for the U.S. to “swap” Puerto Rico for Greenland.
Obama warns America
* Barack Obama: Yes, the former president is an incredibly talented orator. But we’ve long known that. What mattered most about Obama’s speech on Wednesday was that he did what lots of Democrats have been begging him to do for the last three-ish years: He delivered a stunning takedown of the man who followed him into the White House. Obama said that Trump simply does not take the job “seriously.” He said that Trump uses the government’s vast powers in a purely “transactional way.” And most powerfully, he said this: “Donald Trump hasn’t grown into the job because he can’t, and the consequences of that failure are severe.” Consider what Obama is saying there: As someone who did the job — for eight years — he not only believes Trump cannot rise to the demands of the presidency, but also that there are very real effects of Trump’s deficiency. “This isn’t just the sharpest criticism Obama has made of Trump,” tweeted Politico’s Tim Alberta. “This is the sharpest criticism a former president has *ever made* of a sitting president.”
* Kamala Harris: The vice presidential nominee started slowly — almost certainly the result of nerves — as she delivered the single most important speech of her political life. Even as she recounted her personal story, you could tell that she was still struggling somewhat to find her sea legs. And then she hit this line, when talking about her background as a prosecutor: “I know a predator when I see one.” Harris paused, purposely, after dropping that hammer of a line — and everyone watching knew who she was talking about. From that moment on, Harris was like a different person — confident, powerful and fully aware of the history she was making as the first Black and South Asian woman to be on a national ticket for a major party. Her best line? “There is no vaccine for racism. We have got to put in the work.” If Harris’ speech was a tryout for 2024 (or 2028), she passed it.
Obama, betraying his typically upbeat rhetoric, was very explicit about the stakes, claiming, “I am also asking you to believe in your own ability — to embrace your own responsibility as citizens — to make sure that the basic tenets of our democracy endure. Because that’s what’s at stake right now: our democracy.”
Obama went on to explain:
This president and those in power — those who benefit from keeping things the way they are — they are counting on your cynicism. They know they can’t win you over with their policies. So they’re hoping to make it as hard as possible for you to vote, and to convince you that your vote doesn’t matter. That’s how they win. That’s how they get to keep making decisions that affect your life, and the lives of the people you love. That’s how the economy will keep getting skewed to the wealthy and well-connected, how our health systems will let more people fall through the cracks. That’s how a democracy withers, until it’s no democracy at all.
This gets at something many Democrats have worried about since Trump rose to power. It’s not just that they oppose Trump’s policies — although they do — but they worry that Trump is eroding liberal democracy. Between Trump claiming he’s sabotaging the Postal Service to make it harder to vote by mail and Republicans passing new restrictions on voting for years now, there’s certainly evidence to back up those concerns.
“Kompromat” on Trump
Two decades before he ran for president, Donald J. Trump traveled to Russia, where he scouted properties, was wined and dined and, of greatest significance to Senate intelligence investigators, met a woman who was a former Miss Moscow.
A Trump associate, Robert Curran, who was interviewed by the Senate investigators, said he believed Mr. Trump may have had a romantic relationship with the woman. On the same trip, another Trump associate, Leon D. Black, told investigators that he and Mr. Trump “might have been in a strip club together.” Another witness said that Mr. Trump may have been with other women in Moscow and later brought them along to a meeting with the mayor.
Mr. Trump was married to Marla Maples at the time.
The allegations about Mr. Trump were included in the fifth and final volume of a bipartisan report released on Tuesday by the Senate Intelligence Committee, which presented potentially compromising information that the Russians may have on Mr. Trump and could use against him as leverage.
But at the same time, the committee cast some doubt on the significance of the allegations, saying investigators “did not establish” that the Russian government actually had compromising information on Mr. Trump. The report also said there was no evidence the Russians had sought to blackmail Mr. Trump or others working for his 2016 presidential campaign.
The report justified the inclusion of the salacious details about the president as necessary to understand the threat of a possible foreign influence operation or whether misinformation was spreading that could harm the American political process. The details were in a section of the report about the Russian art of “kompromat,” or disseminating damaging information to discredit a rival or an enemy, which can pose a national security threat by targeting American officials.
Buried in a footnote in Section II B of Volume II of the redacted Mueller report is a single reference to supposed kompromat the Russian government was rumored to have on the president — the infamous “pee tape.” The report confirms that then-FBI director James Comey briefed President-elect Trump about the report in January 2017, but it also reveals that the Trump campaign was privately aware as early as October 2016 — more than two months before BuzzFeed News published the Steele dossier — that embarrassing tapes of then-candidate Donald Trump might exist in Russia.
According to the report, on October 30th, 2016, Trump’s private attorney and fixer Michael Cohen received a text from a Russian businessman involved in the Trump Tower Moscow deal, in progress for more than a year. “Stopped flow of tapes from Russia but not sure if there’s anything else. Just so you know….” Giorgi Rtskhiladze wrote to Cohen. Cohen told investigators he spoke to Trump about the issue after receiving the texts from Rtskhiladze.
Rtskhiladze later admitted he had been told the tapes were fake, but he did not communicate that to Cohen, the report says.
Rtskhiladze’s description of the tapes’ content tracks with the unverified information included in the Steele dossier, which claimed that Trump watched Russian prostitutes urinate in a Moscow hotel room in 2013. “Rtskhiladze said ‘tapes’ referred to compromising tapes of Trump rumored to be held by persons associated with the Russian real estate conglomerate Crocus Group, which had helped host the 2013 Miss Universe Pageant in Russia.”
Putin opponent poisoned
MOSCOW — Groaning in agony from a suspected poisoning before losing consciousness, the Russian opposition leader Aleksei A. Navalny was rushed to a Siberian hospital on Thursday after the plane he was flying on made an emergency landing because of his sudden illness.
Doctors at the No. 1 Clinical Hospital in Omsk, the Siberian city where the plane landed, initially said that Mr. Navalny, a fierce critic of President Vladimir V. Putin, was on a ventilator in “serious condition” but later reported that his condition, though still grave, had stabilized.
Mr. Navalny, who often refers to Mr. Putin as the head of “a party of crooks and thieves,” is the latest in a long line of Kremlin opponents to be suddenly afflicted by bizarre and sometimes fatal medical emergencies. The Kremlin and its supporters have for years regarded him as an enemy because of the investigations he has led into graft by officials — including, most vividly, the former prime minister, Dmitri A. Medvedev. Mr. Navalny has been harassed and jailed numerous times for short periods, but the authorities have, until now, refrained from harsher steps that could elevate his national profile.
Steve Bannon has been federally indicted for conspiracy to commit wire fraud and money laundering in connection to a crowdfunding campaign to build a wall along the U.S.-Mexico border.
Bannon, who was President Donald Trump’s former campaign CEO and later his chief strategist in the White House, was arrested this morning in Washington, D.C. on charges he and others allegedly made false representations about the “We Build the Wall campaign.”
Bannon’s indictment makes him the sixth person person associated with the top echelons of President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign to face federal charges — a list that includes Roger Stone, Michael Flynn, Rick Gates, Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen.
Trump’s racial animus against Puerto Rico
Miles Taylor, a former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff who was recently featured in a political ad from Republican Voters Against Trump, told MSNBC on Wednesday that President Donald Trump asked him and other officials whether the U.S. could swap Greenland for Puerto Rico because, in Trump’s words, “Puerto Rico was dirty and the people were poor.”
The exchange happened in August 2018 before DHS officials went on a disaster recovery trip to Puerto Rico, which had been devastated by hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, Taylor said.