(apologies in advance for grammar and spelling. Normally I proof my material before I post but I wanted to have this posted before the results started rolling in. And I’ve been beckoned to help a friend get to the hospital.. so off I go.)
In my excess of free time over the last couple years, I had to find things to occupy my mind with. Perhaps what has consumed the most hours is observing, analyzing, and trying my best to understand what’s happening in the world around me. What seems to have fascinated me most was Trump. Not him as an individual, but rather his impact on the world.
In 2015, I started writing a screenplay that was intended to be an action movie with a political backdrop which spoke to so much of what’s happening today. In the script, I had predicted 8 years of Hillary Clinton, followed by a character who had the working title of Nixon 2.0. The deeply corrupt candidate was to take advantage of all the resentment building up from those who felt like they were losing power to equality. I saw it as an natural inevitability.. the pendulum effect. I had to put the project on hold after Trump was elected.
Personally, I thought it was highly likely that Hillary would win that election. It wasn’t about polls or her credentials, but more so about Trump’s complete lack of character. I found it difficult to understand how anyone could think that someone who was so instinctually dishonest and self-serving would be capable of fulfilling the role of leader of the free world. I underestimated the anger, resentment, and latent isms of middle America. I also underestimated the audacity of Trump to fuel that fear, anger, and hatred as a means of mobilizing a rather meaningful voter base. I also underestimated the tribalism that led Republicans to vote for someone who they never would’ve supported had he appeared on a democratic ticket. I also overestimated the character and integrity of the Republican party, thinking that they would maintain their values in the face of a Trump presidency. And perhaps most importantly, I underestimated how effective the Russians’ disinformation campaign would be.
Leading up to the election, my boss at the time was a Trump supporter. It surprised me at first as I knew him as a person of character, and someone who deeply valued things like honesty and integrity in others. It seemed very strange that he would be supportive of someone like Trump, so I had to ask. The answers seemed to shift depending on the day. I heard things like, “His kids are very well put together, he’s clearly a good parent.” Or, “He’s an outsider with a business mind who’s going to drain the swamp.” Or, “look at how successful he was in business, he’ll bring that same success to the country.” I offered a different perspective at the time, but also went and did my homework.
In reading up on Trump’s family life, I saw multiple kids across multiple trophy wives, with Trump continually trading in for a new model. I watched interviews where Trump said that taking care of the kids wasn’t his job. I read about the sworn testimony from his first wife that he had raped her in a fit of rage and Trump’s lawyer rebutting that you can’t rape your spouse. I also watched how their kids behaved when they weren’t ‘on’ and saw the ill-effects of excessive nepotism. His family life was not a reason to find confidence in Trump.
The idea that Trump was an outsider with a business mind was legit. Washington has no shortage of issues and some new blood is perhaps chief among them. I’ve long-since wanted to see a top business mind hold that seat, but I never had confidence that Trump was a top business mind or would serve that role well. Same with draining the swamp. It desperately needed to be done, but I never had any confidence that Trump would be the one to do it. If anything, for me, Trump represented the self-serving, short-sighted, self-preservation nature of the swamp itself.
With respect to his business success, I never paid much attention. I knew he had hotels, The Apprentice, and some other licensing deals but never really saw him as a successful business mind. It was like the difference between Mark Cuban and Kevin O’Leary on Shark Tank. So I decided to do some research on Trump’s history of businesses and discovered: Trump Beverages, Trump: The Game, Trump Airlines, Trump Casinos, Trump Magazine, Trump Mortgage, Trump Steaks, Trump Travel Site, Trump Comms, Trump Tower Tamp, Trump University, and Trump Vodka. They all had two things in common. First was that Trump’s primary strategy was licensing his name as a luxury brand. Second is was that each of these businesses failed. Serial entrepreneurship does not come without failures, but this was different. I also looked into the details of how much money he had inherited and found figures ranging from 200-400 million. Had that money been invested in an SP500 ETF, he would be wealthier today than he is now. I don’t think you get to call yourself a great business mind under these conditions.
So I brought these rebuttals to my boss and he managed to dance around them a bit but ultimately conceded that Trump probably wasn’t a very good person, but that he had good policies. I asked how he knew that when Trump was so inherently dishonest? It seemed like Trump’s primary approach to policy was telling people what they want to hear, when they want to hear it, regardless of whether you have any intentions of following through on it. He seemed to think that Trump was being honest when discussing the policies he wanted to see move forward, and being a politician when said otherwise. It wasn’t hard to see the flaw in that logic… his perspective was indicative of something else that I needed to understand better.
I think the dynamic was, and still is tribalism. He’s never admitted this to me but I suspect his primary source of news is Fox News. He’s also got a friend in the office who’s thinks he’s smarter than he is, passing along pro-trump perspectives. He tried the same thing with me after I had done my homework and it was clear that he was repeating talking points more than he was speaking to something he genuinely understood. Both of them live in small towns and have spent their lives in communities with limited diversity. Both are staunch conservatives. Both are also quite wealthy. The intersection of wealthy conservatives who learn about their world through places like Fox News… that would be the tribe of Trump. When dealing in tribalism, it’s no longer about right or wrong, honest or dishonest, real or not real. It’s not about understanding what’s happening and making the most effective decisions. It’s about loyalty for the sake of power.
Once Trump was elected, both of us were interested to see how it would go. He thought it would go quite well, I thought it would go quite poorly. That said, I was always willing to give him a chance and judge his presidency by how he performed in office, and not something that he had done prior. My personal prediction which I shared with him, was that Trump would ultimately be good for the country, and the world. Not because he would be so good at being president, but because he would be so bad. My hunch was that his deeply corrupted character would lead to deeply corrupted actions and that these actions would expose the worst elements of our government, politics, culture, and etc. And that from those ashes, we could rebuild something better. Something that was genuinely focused on the greater good and left us all well-positioned for the future.
I remember sitting at home watching the votes role in back in 2016 and seeing Trump steal that win. I was surprised, but not that surprised. Perhaps what surprised me most was how much I didn’t understand about the American political system. For example, Hillary had accumulated more than 2.8 million votes more than Trump, but Trump was able to win the electoral college by a score of 306 to 232. The swing states which gave him that electoral college lead were won by less than 80,000 votes. The idea that someone could win a ‘landslide victory’ in the electoral college while receiving 3 million votes less than their opponent, because they won key battle grounds by the slimmest of margins… didn’t strike me as an intelligent application of democracy.
I smelled something fishy. I wasn’t sure what it was exactly… could be politics as usual.. or could be something else. I read about potential hacking of voting machines and shadiness in who owned the voting machines. I learned about Trump’s disinformation campaign the Russian disinformation campaign. I learned about Comey’s role in reopening the investigation at the last minute. And as the variables stacked on, I realized that this was far from a normal election. There was certainly a cultural movement behind those who voted from Trump, but everything I saw suggested that there was more to it than that. But mentioning this to anyone who was a Trump supporter didn’t generate any meaningful conversation. They were filled with a great sense of pride for backing the winning horse and anything that I might have to say sounded like sour grapes to them. So I put my head down and got back to work on trying to understand what really happened.
From my perspective, Trump set the tone of his presidency with Sean Spicer’s report of crowd sizes at Trump’s inauguration. I can’t imagine any modern day president caring enough about the crowd size at his inauguration to instruct Spicer to do what he did. He didn’t just lie or try to slip one by the press, he doubled down on that lie while trying to shout down those who were inclined to point out the truth. I knew then that this was going to be a bumpy ride.
While watching and waiting to see how this presidency was going to play out, I was most keen on the investigation into election interference to see if my spider-sense was accurate. Much like an iceberg, I could only see what had made it to the surface and knew that what had really happened was mostly beneath the surface. But as time went by, a considerable amount of information was released to the public. It didn’t paint a clear picture either way, but it certainly suggested that something extracurricular had happened and it probably had something to do with Russia.
The sequence of events I’ll list next are not speculation. Everything here is on the record:
On January 6th, 2017, the intelligence community concluded with high confidence that Russian had engaged in an influence campaign directed at the election. Later it was confirmed that this campaign was designed to hurt Hillary and help Trump.
On January 10th, Sessions was under oath at his confirmation and said that he did not have contact with Russian officials during the campaign. It was later determined that he did. At a follow up hearing, I watched him say “I do not recall” more times than should ever be acceptable for any Attorney General.
Also on January 10th, the Steele dossier is released. While the author of the dossier seemed credible, it was difficult to verify much of what was written. In going through it.. much of it seemed plausible. Even the pee-tape seemed plausible after seeing Trump’s apparent obsession with that one element of the dossier. The picture that the dossier seemed to paint was that Trump had been compromised through a variety of means. Given the bigger picture, this looked like a plausible scenario.
In late January, Flynn lied to the FBI about conversations with Russian officials relating to the sanctions the Obama administration had placed on Russia. On February 13th, Flynn resigns from his role as National Security Advisor. On the 14th, Trump asks Comey to drop the investigation into Flynn.
On March 1st, it’s reported that Sessions had contacts with Russian officials (Kislyak) during the campaign, effectively demonstrating that he lied under oath during his confirmation hearing. The next day, Sessions recuses himself from any investigations relating to the 2016 presidential election.
On March 20th, Comey announces that he’s looking into any connections between the Trump campaign and Russia which may have influenced the election.
On May 9th, Trump fires James Comey, the person leading the investigation into Russia’s attempt to influence the election. On May 11th, in an interview with Lester Holt, Trump says that the Russia investigation was part of the decision to fire Comey.
On May 17th, The Justice Department appoints Robert Swan Mueller III to lead the investigation into the possible coordination or ties between Russian efforts to influence the election and the Trump campaign. Mueller wasn’t just a war hero, or the prosecutor who took down the Gotti family or Exxon Mobil, or a former director of the FBI with near unanimous bi-partisan support… he was a consummate professional and a class act in every respect. If anybody was going to get to the bottom of this, it was likely to be him.
On July 8th, it’s reported that on June 9th, 2016, Trump Jr., Kushner, and Manafort met with a Kremlin-linked Russian lawyer. This prompts Trump Jr. to release a statement saying that it was a short, introductory meeting with an unknown person for the sake of discussing an adoption program. The next day, it’s reported that Trump Jr. requested the meeting after being promised damaging information on Hillary Clinton.
On July 27th,
On October 5th, George Popadopoulos, a foreign policy adviser to Trump’s campaign pleads guilty to lying to the FBI about his efforts to put Trump in touch with Moscow.
On October 30th, Trump’s former campaign chair, Paul Manafort and his deputy, Rick Gates surrender to the FBI for charges relating to false statements, financial crimes, and lobbying on behalf of foreign entities without proper disclosure.
On November 30th, Flynn pleads guilty to lying to the FBI and agrees to cooperate with the investigation through a plea agreement.
On February 16th, 2018, Mueller’s special counsel charge 13 Russians and 3 Russian entities and 3 Russian entities with conspiring to defraud the United States and interfere with the 2016 presidential election.
On February 22nd, an indictment is filed against Manafort and Gates which contains 32 charges relating to tax and bank fraud. On the 23rd, Gates pleads guilty and agrees to cooperate with the investigation. On the 24th, another indictment is filed against Manafort alleging pro-Ukrainian lobbying efforts.
On April 9th, the office of Michael Coen is raided. Coen was a personal attorney to Donald Trump and by all accounts, filled the role of ‘fixer’. This case is referred to the AG for the southern district of New York.
On July 13th, 2018, the special counsel indicts 12 Russian intelligence officers for their hacks against the DNC and Clinton Campaign, and leaking of emails and documents.
On July 16th, Trump meets with Putin and they hold a joint press conference in which Trump seems to accept Putin’s denial of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. The next day, Trump says that he misspoke.
On July 27th, Trump denies a CNN report that he knew in advance of the Russian meeting between the Kremlin-linked lawyer and Trump Jr., Manafort, and Kushner. Michael Coen, now cooperating with the Mueller probe is reported to be willing to testify otherwise.
On August 1st, Trump write a tweet calling on his Attorney General to end the Mueller probe.
On August 5th, Trump writes a tweet that the Trump Tower meeting in 2016 was to get information on an opponent.
On August 21st, Paul Manafort is convicted on 8 charges relating to tax and bank fraud.
On September 14th, it was reported that Manafort is now cooperating with Mueller’s investigation.
And since then, it’s seems like Mueller has adhered the the long-standing protocol for not making any major decisions or issuing any indictments leading up to a November election. By all accounts, that ends tonight. What happens next will have a profound impact on Americans and the direction of their country.
There’s been wide spread speculation of how Trump will proceed after the mid-term elections. Some think that Jeff Sessions will be removed from the Attorney General role, allowing for someone with Trump’s best interests in mind to take the position. Theoretically, this person may be able to end the Mueller investigation, or at least keep the report from reaching the public. It’s also been speculated that Rod Rosenstein, the man currently overseeing the Mueller probe will be removed. It’s assumed that he reason why Trump wouldn’t have made these moves prior to the election is because it would be perceived as politically unpopular.
When I look at this sequence of events, and the hundreds if not thousands of other details I’ve observed relating to bigger picture, I can calmly say that something here isn’t right. There’s a significant amount of information that I’m not privy to which would prevent me from making any conclusions at this point, but that doesn’t prevent me from making an assessment based on what I know.
From what I’ve seen, Trump will likely be found guilty of conspiracy to defraud the United States relating to Russia’s influencing the 2016 presidential Campaign. He’s also likely to be found guilty of obstruction of justice for a myriad of efforts relating to undermining the investigation into Russia’s involvement in the 2016 campaign. I would also say it’s highly likely that he’s found guilty of peripheral crimes like campaign finance violations, tax fraud, bank fraud, and the like.
Here are some of the softer details which I’ve considered:
On June 9th, 2016, Trump’s son, son-in-law, and campaign manager met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer who had promised compromising information on Hillary Clinton. On July 27th, Trump gave a news conference where he looked directly into the camera and said, “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing.” He brushed it off as a joke or political rhetoric but I think there’s more to it than that. I used to play a lot of poker and I learned to read people’s body language. For most of that conference, his body language was standard Trump. But during that request, things were very different. Both hands are firmly gripping the podium instead of his classic hand gestures. He’s addressing the camera instead of the audience of reporters in front of him. During the request, he maintains eye contact with the camera for all but one moment. And in that moment where he looks away, he’s projecting the body language of someone who is deeply conflicted about what he’s saying. I think he knew it was a genuine request which he was going to try and pass off as political bluster. I also think that there’s a very good chance that this request is a result of the now infamous Trump Tower meeting just a couple weeks prior.
I’m speculating at this point but if I were Putin and interested in supporting Trump over Hillary, I’d be inclined to provide Trump with as much ammunition as possible. I would also want to do that in a manner which was effectively untraceable. That means that I, nor any of my close associates would ever have direct contact with Trump. Preferably, it would those not directly linked to me speaking with his inner circle. And it would be imperative to avoid any physical or traceable hand-off. But despite all this distance, I would still want some personal accountability. Even if it was only a gesture, something from Trump which explicitly said, ‘I want your help’. If nothing else, this would leave Trump deeply compromised and easily influenced. What makes this exercise far less speculative is a detail contained in the indictment of 12 Russian intelligence operatives working to undermine the 2016 election. Immediately after Trump made that request, Russia began to target Hillary’s emails.
If true, Putin wouldn’t need the alleged pee-tape as he would literally have evidence that Russia deliberately interfered in the election at Trump’s request. And this would explain a lot. While Trump has derided just about every political person he’s encountered.. except one. Trump has shown nothing but respect to Putin and if nothing else, it’s out of character. It was also very interesting to see their body language while at the Helsinki conference this summer. For me, I saw someone who looked compromised. I also found it amusing that when Putin was asked if he had any compromising information against Trump, he issued a classic non-denial denial.
The deeper you dive into the connection between Trump and Russia, the more likely this all seems. After Trump’s Atlanta Casino’s went bankrupt and nobody else would lend to him, Trump looked like he had finally run out of luck. But as admitted by his sons, they were miraculously able to get all the funding they needed out of Russia. As Moscow banks have been repeatedly found guilty of large scale money laundering, I suspect there’s a connection here. And I suspect this to be a primary reason for why Trump would not issue his tax returns.
The last soft detail that I’d like to lean on here is an old Shakespeare quote, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.” This quotes illuminates a rather consistent tell from a guilty conscience. If Trump was innocent of ‘collusion’, he would be much less likely to tweet “NO COLLUSION!” on a daily basis. He would also be much likely to embrace the narcissists prayer of there was no collusion. And if there was, it wasn’t that bad. And if it was, it’s not that big of a deal. And if it is, it’s not my fault. And if it was, I didn’t mean it. And if I did, you deserved it.
But this all still lies beneath the surface of what’s publicly known. I don’t think I’ve ever looked forward to something as much as I’ve looked forward to seeing Mueller’s report. For me, Trump represents a great imbalance in the world. The circumstances that allowed for someone as corrupted as Trump to find himself in the highest seat of power within our known universe shouldn’t exist. And if they persist, the world will burn.
I drew an interesting analogy the other day. Trump is to Mueller as Connor McGregor is to Khabib Nurmagomedov. Both Connor and Trump rose to unprecedented levels of power through non-traditional means, and at the expense of the institutions which got them there. Both strut around supremely confident in themselves while ignoring glaring errors in their approach to their craft. Both fully subscribed to their own hype. Last month, I didn’t just think Khabib would win, I wanted him to win for the sake of restoring balance. The UFC has become more about prize fighting than about martial arts and I saw that as a detriment to the sport. When Khabib did what he did (before the Eagle kick), I felt much better about the world. Not only do I hope the same thing for Mueller’s investigation, I am as confident in Mueller as I was in Khabib.
And that leads us to tonight.. Remember Remember the 6th of November. Tonight is perhaps one of the most consequential mid-term elections in our Country’s history. Should the democrats take the House of Representatives, they’ll have the ability to subpoena Trump’s tax returns and begin a slew of investigations into his activities which weren’t possible under a Republican house. If the democrats take the senate, the entire legislative branch of the government will be looking to hold Trump accountable for his actions. Up until now, I would have a hard time describing the republicans as anything other than complicit in Trump’s behavior. Under those conditions, I have a hard time seeing how Trump may last the term.
If the democrats are unable to take the house and or senate, Trump remains in control of three branches of government. Under those conditions, I’m not sure what Trump will do… but I doubt it’ll be good for democracy or the common person.
If I were to estimate how this plays out…
Democrats win the house and republicans retain a 51/49 split in the senate. Trump will fire Sessions and Rosenstein and replace them with those who are genuinely loyal to Trump. Mueller releases multiple indictments in the following days or weeks, including Roger Stone, and Trump Jr. Having hit the inner circle, Trump pulls every lever he has, looking to block the report, ultimately painting himself into a corner. Once the report makes its way to the house, it will inevitably be leaked to the public. The public will then have to decide whether or accept or reject the reality they see. Most will accept it, some will still reject it as a deep state conspiracy. The house will move to impeach, but with a Republican controlled congress, I’m still not confident in impeachment. I think this makes its way to the supreme court. Despite the supreme court being slightly more partisan than intended, I think they’ll appreciate what’s at stake and act in the interests of justice. I think Trump spends most of 2019 and 2020 defending a laundry list of charges ranging from conspiracy, to money laundering, to tax evasion, to violating the emoluments clause. During that time, consumer confidence will reverse course and we’ll enter a recession worse than 2008. It’ll trigger a global recession that will hit countries like the US and China hardest. Every institution from global finance to democracy will be questioned. As it should.
And from those ashes, we will rise.