In fun-house mirrors of Trump White House, disarray can look like victory

President Trump’s week ended with the sudden departure of a speechwriter who had been accused of brutally attacking his wife, the president’s defense of another staffer who allegedly assaulted two ex-wives

..  The president learned at a very early age that what humiliates, damages, even destroys others can actually strengthen his image and therefore his bottom line.

.. The White House lets it be known that Kelly is in the doghouse. Yet the president himself goes out of his way to speak publicly in defense of the ousted aide, without so much as a nod toward what the women have suffered.

1) Always double down on your position.

Trump has regularly argued in favor of men on his side who’ve been accused of bad behavior against women, whether that was

  • Senate candidate Roy Moore of Alabama;
  • Fox News figures Roger Ailes and Bill O’Reilly; last week’s case du jour,
  • Rob Porter; or
  • Trump himself. He weathered the “Access Hollywood” tape that many of his aides thought would sink his campaign, and he successfully batted away
  • allegations from more than a dozen women that he was guilty of sexual misconduct toward them.

Saturday morning, the president tripled down. “Peoples lives are being shattered and destroyed by a mere allegation,” he tweeted. “There is no recovery for someone falsely accused — life and career are gone. Is there no such thing any longer as Due Process?”

2) The president must always be the focus of attention. Aides who get too big for their britches won’t be around for long.

.. Whether or not Kelly leaves, he has been knocked down several notches, especially in the public’s view. He’s been shown who’s boss, in case he had harbored any doubts.

Trump, contrary to the caricature he fostered on his reality TV show, “The Apprentice,” rarely excommunicates close aides forever. They almost all remain in his orbit even if he has publicly humiliated them or sent them off for a long vacation.

.. But they must always learn that those who attempt to grab some of the limelight will be dealt with.

.. When erstwhile chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon made the cover of Time — for Trump still a vital marker of making it big, even as the magazine’s influence has severely waned — he was done for, at least for now.

.. He learned in the 1970s from his mentor Roy Cohn that when you face criticism, justified or not, “you tell them to go to hell and fight the thing,” as Cohn said.

.. Trump instead leaned hard on the accelerator, ratcheting up his rhetoric, pressing for a convention lineup that doubled down on appealing to his base — Willie Robertson of “Duck Dynasty,” the chief of Ultimate Fighting Championship, music by Southern, white classic rock acts.

.. In the 1980s, Trump not only didn’t push back when tabloid newspapers turned the collapse of his first marriage into a daily soap opera; Trump actively participated in the scripting of the drama, calling gossip writers, dishing out salacious morsels almost by the hour.

.. “The show is Trump,” he said then, “and it is sold-out performances everywhere.”

.. Trump had discovered in painting oneself as the rich celebrity ordinary Americans aspire to be.

Obama called it “the unfounded optimism of the average American — ‘I may not be Donald Trump now, but just you wait; if I don’t make it, my children will.’ ”

..  he recognized that bad behavior and the notoriety it generated didn’t undermine that image. For many people, it actually enhanced it.

.. visionary business leaders succeed “because they are narcissists who devote their talent with unrelenting focus to achieving their dreams, even if it’s sometimes at the expense of those around them.”

The Memo and the Mueller Probe

If the investigation arose from partisan opposition research, what specific crime is he looking into?

The Steele dossier is 35 pages of opposition research on Donald Trump, described by former FBI Director James Comey as “salacious and unverified.” It was paid for by Hillary Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee, and compiled by Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence agent who had a luminous dislike for Mr. Trump and was also an informant for the FBI.

.. the FBI’s only objection to the House memo at the time of its release was that it was incomplete, not that it disclosed sources and methods.

.. How does possible misconduct by senior FBI officials, which is certainly bad enough, intersect with the Mueller investigation? As follows: The Justice Department regulation that authorizes the appointment of special counsels requires a determination that a “criminal investigation” is warranted, and that there is a conflict or other good reason that prevents ordinary Justice Department staff from conducting it.

.. The letter from Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein appointing Mr. Mueller says he is to “conduct the investigation confirmed by then-Director James Comey before the House Intelligence Committee on March 20, 2017,” which covers “any links and/or coordination between the Russian government and individuals associated with the campaign of President Donald Trump,” and any matters that may arise “directly” from that investigation.

.. “links” or “coordination”—or “collusion,” a word that does not appear in the letter of appointment but has been used as a synonym for coordination—does not define or constitute a crime.

.. By contrast, the Watergate, Iran-Contra and Whitewater investigations, whatever you think of how they were conducted, identified specific crimes. The public knew what was being investigated.

.. none of the charges Mr. Mueller has brought thus far involved “coordination” or “collusion” with the Russians.

.. the public should get access to a carefully redacted copy of the FISA application and renewals, so we can see whether officials behaved unlawfully by misleading a court; and Mr. Mueller’s mandate should be defined in a way that conforms with the legal standard of his office

Devin Nunes’s Nothingburger

The important questions, however, are:

  1. First, did the F.B.I. have solid reasons to suspect that people in Donald Trump’s campaign had unusual, dangerous and possibly criminal ties to Moscow?
  2. Second, did this suspicion warrant surveillance and investigation by the F.B.I.?

.. Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman until August 2016, is credibly alleged to have received $12.7 million in “undisclosed cash payments” from then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, a Russian stooge.

.. Had Manafort not been exposed, he might have gone on to occupy a position of trust in the Trump administration

.. George Papadopoulos, the young adviser who pleaded guilty last year to lying to the F.B.I., spent his time on the campaign trying to make overtures to Russia. In May 2016 he blabbed to an Australian diplomat that Moscow had political dirt on Hillary Clinton — information that proved true and was passed on to U.S. intelligence. This was the genesis of an F.B.I. counterintelligence investigation, as the Nunes memo itself admits.

.. Page happens also to be highly sympathetic to the Putin regime. The Russian phrase for such characters is polezni durak — useful idiot.

No wonder he was invited to give a commencement speech at a Russian university in the summer of 2016. That’s how assets are cultivated in the world of intelligence.

.. Given the profile and his relative proximity to team Trump, it would have been professionally negligent of the F.B.I. not to keep tabs on him.

.. Yet the bureau only obtained a surveillance warrant after Page had left the campaign and shortly before the election, and it insisted throughout the campaign that Trump was not a target of investigation. How that represents an affront to American democracy is anyone’s guess.

.. The memo does seem to have uncovered conflicts of interest at the Justice Department, most seriously by then-Associate Deputy Attorney General Bruce Ohr, whose wife was working for Fusion GPS (and thus, by extension, the Clinton campaign) on opposition research on Trump. The memo also claims this relationship was not disclosed to the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court when the Justice Department applied for a surveillance warrant on Page.

.. Nor does the Nunes memo claim that the information provided by the F.B.I. to the foreign intelligence court was, in fact, false. The closest it gets is a quote from ex-F.B.I. Director James Comey saying the Steele dossier was “salacious and unverified,”

.. The Stormy Daniels story is also salacious and almost certainly accurate. “Unverified” is not a synonym for “untrue.” And since when do pundits who make a living from their opinions automatically equate “bias” with dishonesty?

.. The larger inanity here is the notion that the F.B.I. tried to throw the election to Clinton, when it was the Democrats who complained bitterly at the time that the opposite was true.

“It has become clear that you possess explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisers and the Russian government,” then Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid angrily wrote James Comey in late October 2016. “The public has a right to know this information.”

.. Maybe so. But the G-Men kept quiet about their investigations, and Trump won the election. How that represents evidence of a sinister deep-state conspiracy is a question for morons to ponder.