THE TRUMP RESISTANCE PLAN: A TIMELINE — RUSSIA AND PRESIDENT TRUMP

[This article first appeared on billmoyers.com on February 15, 2017 (updated on on February 17). You can read the earlier installments in my Trump Resistance Plan series here.]

The last installment of the Trump Resistance Plan began with Thomas Paine’s 1776 observation in Common Sense, “Time makes more converts than reason.”

Sometimes, it doesn’t take much time at all. Russia interfered with an American presidential election; Congressional Republicans unwilling to convert and seek the truth no longer have anywhere to hide.

Putin’s 2016 Ticket

Investigative reporters have begun to fill out the Trump/Russia timeline. To keep everything in one location, here’s an updated summary (so far):

— Trump’s efforts to develop business in Russia date to 1987. In 1996, he applied for his trademark in that country. Discussing ambitions for a Trump hotel in 2007, he declared, “We will be in Moscow at some point.”

October 15, 2007, Trump said: “Look at Putin – what he’s doing with Russia – I mean, you know, what’s going on over there. I mean this guy has done – whether you like him or don’t like him – he’s doing a great job.”

September 2008, Donald Trump, Jr. said: “Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets… we see a lot of money pouring in from Russia.”

June 18, 2013, Trump tweeted: “Do you think Putin will be going to The Miss Universe Pageant in November in Moscow – if so, will he become my new best friend?” While at the pageant, Trump said, “I have plans for the establishment of business in Russia. Now, I am in talks with several Russian companies to establish this skyscraper.”

— October 17, 2013: On The Late Show, David Letterman asked Trump, “Have you had any dealings with the Russians?” Trump answered, “Well I’ve done a lot of business with the Russians…” Letterman continued, “Vladmir Putin, have you ever met the guy?” Trump said, “He’s a tough guy. I met him once.”

November 2013, Trump said: “I do have a relationship [with Putin] and I can tell you that he’s very interested in what we’re doing here today [at the Miss Universe Pageant in Moscow]… I do have a relationship with him… He’s done a very brilliant job in terms of what he represents and who he’s represented.”

November 11, 2013, Trump tweeted: “TRUMP TOWER-MOSCOW is next.”

March 6, 2014, Trump said: “You know, I was in Moscow a couple of months ago. I own the Miss Universe Pageant and they treated me so great. Putin even sent me a present, a beautiful present.” On the same day, President Obama signed an Executive Order imposing sanctions on Russia for its unlawful annexation of Crimea.

— June 16, 2015: Trump declares his candidacy for president.

— September 29, 2015, Trump told Bill O’Reilly: “I will tell you in terms of leadership he [Putin] is getting an ‘A,’ and our president is not doing so well.”

November 10, 2015, Trump said: “I got to know [Putin] very well because we were both on 60 Minutes. We were stablemates, and we did very well that night.”

— December 10, 2015: Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn, who would become Trump’s National Security Adviser, sat at Putin’s table for the 10th anniversary gala of Russia’s state-owned television propaganda network, RT. Flynn had made a paid appearance on the network. 

February 17, 2016: As questions about Russia swirled around Trump, he changed his story: “I have no relationship with [Putin], other than he called me a genius.”

— April 20, 2016: Paul Manafort became Trump’s campaign manager. Reports surfaced about his 2007 to 2012 ties to Ukraine’s pro-Putin former president, whom Manafort had helped to elect. 

— July 18, 2016: The Washington Post reported that the Trump campaign worked behind the scenes on a Republican convention platform plank. It gutted the GOP’s longstanding support for Ukrainians’ popular resistance to Russia’s 2014 intervention.

July 22, 2016: On the eve of the Democratic National Convention, WikiLeaks released its first trove of emails stolen from the DNC.

July 27, 2016, Trump said: “Russia, if you’re listening, I hope you’re able to find the 30,000 emails that are missing. I think you will probably be rewarded mightily by our press.” At the same press conference, he insisted: “I never met Putin. I’ve never spoken to him.” In an interview with CBS, he reiterated: “But I have nothing to do with Russia, nothing to do, I never met Putin, I have nothing to do with Russia whatsoever.”

— July 31, 2016: Manafort denied knowing anything about the change in the Republican platform. That afternoon, Boris Epshteyn, Trump’s Russian-born adviser, spouted the Kremlin’s party line telling CNN: “Russia did not seize Crimea. We can talk about the conflict that happened between Ukraine and the Crimea…But there was no seizure by Russia. That’s an incorrect statement, characterization, of what happened.”

— August 6, 2016: NPR confirmed the Trump campaign’s involvement in the Republican platform change on Ukraine.

—August 19, 2016: As reports of Manafort’s financial connections to Ukraine intensified, he resigned from the Trump campaign.

— October 1, 2016: Six days before Wikileaks released emails that the Russians had hacked from John Podesta’s email account, Trump’s informal adviser and surrogate, Roger Stone tweeted: “Wednesday@HillaryClinton is done. #Wikileaks.”

October 4, 2016: Trump tweeted: “CLINTON’S CLOSE TIES TO PUTIN DESERVE SCRUTINY.”

— October 7, 2016: In a joint statement, the Department of Homeland Security and the Director of National Intelligence said, “The U.S. Intelligence Community (USIC) is confident that the Russian Government directed the recent compromises of e-mails from U.S. persons and institutions, including from U.S. political organizations… We believe, based on the scope and sensitivity of these efforts, that only Russia’s senior-most officials could have authorized these activities.” But two other stories dominated the news cycle: WikiLeaks began publishing stolen emails from the account of Hillary Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta, and Trump’s infamous Access Hollywood tapes became public.

October 12, 2016: Roger Stone told NBC News, “I have back-channel communications with WikiLeaks.”

October 19, 2016: During the third presidential debate, Trump dismissed the October 7 U.S. intelligence findings: “[Clinton] has no idea whether it is Russia, China or anybody else… Our country has no idea.” And he said this: “I don’t know Putin. I have no idea… I never met Putin. This is not my best friend.”

— November 9, 2016: After Putin announced Trump’s election victory, Russia’s Parliament erupted in applause.

— November 10, 2016: Russia’s deputy foreign minister admitted that during the campaign, the Kremlin had continuing communications with Trump’s “immediate entourage.”

December 9, 2016: In response to a Washington Post report that the CIA had concluded Russia had intervened in the election to help Trump win, he said, “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. The election ended a long time ago in one of the biggest Electoral College victories in history. It’s now time to move on and ‘Make America Great Again.’ ”

December 11, 2016: Trump praised Rex Tillerson, chairman of Exxon Mobil and recipient of Russia’s “Order of Friendship” Medal from Vladimir Putin in 2013, as “much more than a business executive” and a “world-class player.” Trump said Tillerson “knows many of the players” and did “massive deals in Russia” for Exxon. Two days later, Trump nominated him to be Secretary of State.

— Also on December 11, 2016: Asked about the earlier U.S. intelligence report on hacking, Trump said, “They have no idea if it’s Russia or China or somebody. It could be somebody sitting in a bed some place. I mean, they have no idea.”

December 13, 2016: NBC News’ Richard Engel reported from Moscow on Trump’s secretary of state pick, Rex Tillerson. Former Russian Energy Minister Vladimir Milov told Engel that Tillerson was a “gift for Putin.”

December 29, 2016: On the same day that President Obama announced Russian sanctions for its interference with the 2016 election, NSA-designate Lt. Gen. Flynn placed five phone calls to the Russian ambassador.

December 30, 2016: After Putin made a surprise announcement that Russia would not retaliate for the new sanctions, Trump tweeted, “Great move on delay (by V. Putin) – I always knew he was very smart.”

January 3January 4, and January 5, 2017: Trump tweeted a series of attacks on the integrity of the U.S. intelligence community’s findings that Russia had hacked the election.

January 6, 2017:The CIA, FBI and NSA released their unclassified report concluding unanimously, “Vladimir Putin ordered an influence campaign in 2016 aimed at the U.S. presidential election. The three intelligence agencies agreed that “the Russian Government aspired to help President-elect Trump’s election chances when possible.” The report also stated that Wikileaks had been Russia’s conduit for the effort.

— January 11, 2017: At his first news conference, Trump said, “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia. But I think we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

— Also on January 11, 2017: the final question of Trump’s news conference came from Ann Compton of ABC News:

“Mr. President-elect, can you stand here today, once and for all, and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign?”

Trump never answered her. Away from cameras and heading toward the elevators, he reportedly said, “No,” his team didn’t have contact with Russia.

The Flynn Affair

January 13, 2017: In response to The Washington Post’s article about General Flynn’s December 29 conversations with the Russian ambassador, press secretary Sean Spicer said it was only one call. They “exchanged logistical information” for an upcoming call between Trump and Vladimir Putin after the inauguration.

January 15, 2017: “We should trust Putin,” Trump told The Times of London. Expressing once again his skepticism about NATO, Trump lambasted Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel.

January 15, 2017: Appearing on CBS’s Face the Nation, Vice President Pence said Flynn’s call to the Russian ambassador on the same day President Obama announced new sanctions was “strictly coincidental”: “They did not discuss anything having to do with the United States’ decision to expel diplomats or impose censure on Russia…. What I can confirm, having to spoken with [Flynn] about it, is that those conversations that happened to occur around the time that the United States took action to expel diplomats had nothing whatsoever to do with those sanctions.”

— January 22, 2017: Lt. Gen. Mike Flynn was sworn in as National Security Adviser, a position that did not require Senate confirmation.

January 23, 2017: At Sean Spicer’s first press briefing, he said that none of Flynn’s conversations with the Russian ambassador touched on the December 29 sanctions. That got the attention of FBI Director James Comey. According to the Wall Street Journal, Comey convinced Acting Attorney General Sally Yates to delay informing the White House immediately about the discrepancy between Spicer’s characterization of Flynn’s calls and U.S. intelligence intercepts showing that the two had, in fact, discussed sanctions. Comey asked Yates wait a bit longer so the FBI could to develop more information, including an interview of Flynn that occurred shortly thereafter.

— January 24, 2017: According to a subsequent article in The Washington Post, Flynn reportedly denied to FBI agents that he had discussed U.S. sanctions against Russia in his December 2016 calls with the Russian ambassador.

January 26, 2017: Acting Attorney General Yates informed White House counsel Don McGahn that Flynn had made misleading statements about his late December conversations with the Russian ambassador. Sean Spicer later said that Trump and a small group of White House advisers were “immediately informed of the situation.”

— January 30, 2017: Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates. According to his statement, the reason was that she had “betrayed the Department of Justice” by refusing to defend Trump’s travel ban in court.

February 8, 2017: Flynn told reporters at The Washington Post that he did not discuss U.S. sanctions in his December conversation with the Russian ambassador.

— Also on February 8, 2017: Jeff Sessions, the first senator to endorse Trump’s candidacy and the former chair of theTrump campaign’s national security advisory committee, became Attorney General. Every Republican senator and Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia voted to confirm him. During the confirmation process, Sessions had said he was “not aware of any basis to recuse myself” from the Justice Department’s Russia-related investigations of Trump.

February 9, 2017: Through a spokesman, NSA Mike Flynn changed his position: “While [Flynn] had no recollection of discussing sanctions, he couldn’t be certain that the topic never came up.”

February 10, 2017: Trump told reporters he was unaware of reports surrounding Flynn’s December conversations with the Russian ambassador.

February 13, 2017: The Washington Post broke another story: Then-acting Attorney General Yates had warned the White House in late January that Flynn had mischaracterized his December conversation with the Russian ambassador, and that it made him vulnerable to Russian blackmail. Later that evening, Flynn resigned.

February 14, 2017: The New York Times corroborated the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister’s admission on November 10. Based on information from four current and former American officials, the Times reported, “Members of the Trump campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior intelligence officials in the year before the election.” Meanwhile, advisers to Attorney General Jeff Sessions reiterated his earlier position: Sessions saw no need to recuse himself from the ongoing Justice Department investigations into the Trump/Russia connections.

February 15, 2017: Trump tweeted a series of outbursts attacking the Trump/Russia connection as “non-sense” and diverting attention to “un-American” leaks in which “information is illegally given out by ‘intelligence’ like candy.”

Shortly thereafter, Utah Rep. Jason Chaffetz and other congressional Republicans formally asked the Justice Department’s Inspector General to investigate the leaks, but they and their GOP colleagues resisted the creation of an independent bipartisan commission with the power to convene public hearings and discover the truth about the Trump/Russia connections.

During an afternoon appearance with Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, Trump refused to answer questions about connections between his presidential campaign and Russia. That evening, The New York Times reported that Trump was planning to appoint Stephen A. Feinberg, a billionaire hedge fund manager and Trump ally, to lead “a broad review of American intelligence agencies.” Feinberg has no prior experience in intelligence or government, but he has close ties to Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner.

— February 16, 2017: Trump continued his diversionary twitter assault on intelligence leaks that were intensifying scrutiny of his Russia connections. At Trump’s afternoon press conference, he said: “I own nothing in Russia. I have no loans in Russia. I don’t have any deals in Russia… Russia is fake news. Russia — this is fake news put out by the media.” Reporters asked repeatedly about anyone else involved with Trump or his campaign. “No,” Trump said. “Nobody that I know of… Russia is a ruse.”

Keep Sending the Message

In response to the latest controversy surrounding Mike Flynn and Russia, Trump tweeted a Valentine’s Day diversion: “The real story here is why are there so many illegal leaks coming out of Washington?”

No, the real story is the question Trump ducked on January 11 and deflected repeatedly on February 16: What contact did Trump or anyone on his team have with Russia before the U.S. election?

Stay on message. Tell Republicans in Congress that American democracy requires an answer – under oath – to Ann Compton’s January 11, 2017 question: “Mr. President-elect, can you stand here today, once and for all, and say that no one connected to you or your campaign had any contact with Russia leading up to or during the presidential campaign?”

Putin knows the answer. So does the Russian Deputy Foreign Minister who said in November that the Kremlin had maintained continuing communications with Trump’s “immediate entourage” prior to the election. So do any campaign members and other Trump associates who, according to The New York Times, had “repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election.”

But the American people don’t, and that asymmetry of information could give Putin the power to blackmail the country’s leaders. On January 7, Senator Lindsay Graham urged an investigation “wherever it leads.” A few Republicans want the Senate Intelligence Committee to add the Flynn affair in its ongoing inquiry – but they’re offering too little, too late. At this point, a credible investigation requires the approach that Senator John McCain initially proposed: a bipartisan commission with subpoena power. American democracy can no longer trust Senate Republicans to run this show. Nor can hearings be conducted secretly.

Congress must authorize a special independent 9/11-type commission. Step 2 of The Trump Resistance Plan has contact information for messages to Republicans and Democrats in Congress. The message to all of them is simple: “Step up, stand strong, and save democracy while someone still can.”

 Call, write, email, march, and win.

THE TRUMP RESISTANCE PLAN: STEP 2

[This article first appeared on billmoyers.com on January 23, 2017. It’s the fourth in my series and you can read the first three installments herehere, and here.]

“It is not in numbers, but in unity, that our great strength lies…”

— Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)

Americans acting in good faith are destined to disagree on many issues of public concern. Colonists fighting the Revolutionary War couldn’t agree on much either, but they fought side-by-side for independence from foreign governments and the rejection of official corruption. Those two founding principles formed central pillars of American democracy. They still do.

Facts Are Stubborn Things

The truth is that on a critical issue, we are more united today than most people may realize, but not in a way Donald Trump likes. His approval ratings have plummeted to dramatic and historic pre-inauguration lows:

ABC News/Washington Post: 40% — Compare that to the three most recent presidents-elect immediately prior to their inaugurations: Obama – 80%; G. W. Bush – 72%; Clinton 81%

Every major poll confirms Trump’s dismal standing with the American people:

CBS: 37%

CNN: 40%

Gallup: 44%

NBC/Wall Street Journal: 44%

Quinnipiac: 37%

Trump famously ignores or denies the accuracy of polls that disfavor him, as he did in this January 17 tweet: “The same people who did the phony election polls, and were so wrong, are now doing approval rating polls. They are rigged just like before.”

That’s Trump’s “Three-D’s Strategy” in action: deflect, divert, and distract. Although pre-election polls missed on individual state totals that determined the electoral college results, they got the popular vote outcome about right: he lost by two percent compared to the final average of all pre-election polls that had him behind by three — well within the polls’ three percent margin of error. Giving Trump the benefit of the same margin barely moves the needle.

Former career pollster Kellyanne Conway and Republicans in Congress surely grasp the harsh truth. Already a historic popular vote loser, Trump is rapidly becoming a regret for many who chose him. As the Republican Party’s albatross, he grows heavier by the hour.

It’s time for Americans to demonstrate their unity, strengthen it, and mobilize.

TRP Unity Strategy #1: Unite in Opposition

Abandon the circular firing squad and look at the big picture: Vladimir Putin and Donald Trump played all of us against each other, and they’re still at it. Rather than continue an internecine battle over how the last war was lost, resolve to prevail in this one.

The disenfranchised American majority should stop squabbling with itself. Some Sanders supporters believe that party regulars betrayed them by tilting the playing field against their guy. Some Clinton supporters think Sanders people didn’t respond with sufficient enthusiasm to her nomination. Jill Stein and Gary Johnson voters think that neither party focused on the correct issues. All of them have a point. Acknowledge it, shake hands, join arms, and move forward together.

TRP Unity Strategy #2: Embrace Trump Voters

Most Trump voters are American patriots, and many are now having buyer’s remorse. Welcome them to the Trump Resistance Plan. Loyal citizens take differing sides on many social and political questions. Organized, issue-related, protests should continue in earnest. But unity in the defense of democracy is now a transcendent imperative for all.

TRP Unity Strategy #3: Search for Senate Help

Guarding against foreign interference in our elections and resisting institutionalized corruption in the presidency are central to preservation of the republic. If Trump prevails in his assault on those fundamental principles, party labels will cease to have meaning. Many Republican senators already understand that vital point, which makes them natural allies of the TRP.

Senator John McCain (R-AZ) chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee seeking the truth about Putin’s interference with the 2016 election. He and Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) are leading that charge. Likewise, Senator Richard Burr’s (R-NC) Intelligence Committee is investigating possible connections between the Trump campaign and Russia. Three more Republicans represent states that Hillary Clinton carried: Maine’s Susan Collins, Colorado’s Cory Gardner, and Nevada’s Dean Heller. And another six found candidate Trump’s behavior especially problematic, to say the least: Arizona’s Jeff Flake, Utah’s Mike Lee, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, Ohio’s Rob Portman, and Nebraska’s Ben Sasse.

Contact all of them – as well as the senators from your own state – and demand a relentless search for the truth. Write and repeat. Every week, send a message that conveys this central point:

On the January 8 edition of “Meet The Press,” Senator Graham promised to take the Trump/Russia election investigation wherever it leads, including Trump’s business conflicts of interest. Hold him to that promise and support his efforts.

With Democrats unified, it takes only three Republicans to deprive Trump of his leverage over the Senate. Then he’ll have to deal with those representing a majority of Americans who never wanted him in the Oval Office. Most Republicans in Congress will be reluctant warriors. But love of country and the encouragement of fellow citizens will help them do the right thing. Support the brave and bolster the wary.

Unity Strategy #4: Don’t Forget the House

The House of Representatives poses special challenges. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) heads the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence that could follow the Senate’s lead. But Nunes was also on Trump’s transition team, so send him a message along these lines:

The House must follow the Senate’s lead in pursuing the Trump/Russia election investigation wherever it leads. Choose democracy over the defense of a dangerous president’s reputation.

Even better, give him a call or visit one of his offices. Contact his fellow Republicans on the committee. Encourage Democrats on the committee – especially ranking member Adam Schiff (D-CA) – to remain though and stand strong. In messages to your own state’s representatives who aren’t on Nunes’ committee, express your fear that democracy is in peril.

Unity Strategy #5: Shine a Spotlight on Corruption

Trump’s stonewalling with respect to his financial conflicts of interest undermines the institutional integrity of the presidency. But so far, that crucial norm of democracy has not found strong Republican defenders comparable to Senators McCain and Graham on Russian election interference.

Until a courageous Republican voice emerges, it’s up to Senate Democrats to keep the public focused on the issue. In questioning HUD Secretary-designate Ben Carson, Senator Elizabeth Warren demonstrated skillfully how pervasive Trump’s financial conflict of interest problems are. As Trump’s agenda makes its way through Congress, those problems will become ubiquitous and the spotlight on them must shine ever brighter.

Unity Strategy #6: Think Beyond Your Own Bubble

Regardless of party, support any member of Congress — and anyone else — who stands up to Trump in defending the two central pillars of democracy that he’s attacking. They’re worried about Trump’s branding skills and thinking twice before risking his wrath. That’s a testament to the effectiveness of Trump’s “Bully and Intimidate Strategy.”

As brave patriots step forward – especially those from Trump’s own party and others who voted for him – reward them and rebrand them: America’s New Heroes.

THE TRUMP RESISTANCE PLAN: STEP 1

[This article first appeared on billmoyers.com on January 18, 2017. It’s the third in my series and you can read the first two installments here and here.]

“The king and his worthless adherents are got at their old game of dividing the Continent, and there are not wanting among us, Printers, who will be busy in spreading specious falsehoods…”

— Thomas Paine, Common Sense (1776)

When the victors write history, the resulting narrative often focuses on why things happened. Far more important to the contemporaneous participants is the question of how. Mounting an effective resistance requires understanding an adversary’s strategies. Donald Trump’s most effective delivery system is a duet: Trump and Kellyanne Conway. Tracking a single example reveals their techniques.

Strategy #1: Lie

In the tradition of notorious “Strongmen,” Trump promulgates Big Lies. These outrageous fictions are easier to sell because listeners can’t imagine that the speaker would make them up. Since the election, one of Trump’s biggest has been his supposed “landslide” victory that gives him a mandate. The truth is that Trump’s percentage of the popular vote makes him a historic loser — close to Michael Dukakis in 1988. He ranks in the bottom quartile of Electoral College winners.

Strategy #2: Repeat the Lie

To reinforce the Big Lie, Trump and Conway use repetition to create a false reality. It has worked before. Thanks to Trump’s “birther” Big Lie, 72 percent of Republicans still have doubts about President Obama’s American citizenship. Here is a sample of the same technique in action on the “landslide” Big Lie:

“In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide…”– Trump tweet, Nov. 27, 2016

“Landslide. Blowout. Historic.”– Conway tweet, Nov. 28, 2016

“We had a massive landslide victory in the Electoral College, as you know…”– Trump’s interview with Fox News’ Chris Wallace on Dec. 11, 2016

All independent fact-checking organizations have rated the “landslide” claim false.

Strategy #3: Deflect, Divert, and Distract

After U.S. intelligence agencies concluded unanimously that Trump’s tenuous victory had come with the aid of Vladimir Putin, he and Conway deployed their “Three ‘D’s’” strategy: deflect, divert, and distract.

Trump deflection on Dec. 9: Mocking U.S. intelligence findings, his transition team issued this terse statement: “These are the same people that said Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction.”

No, they aren’t. Discussing Trump’s false assertion and the enormous changes to intelligence gathering and reporting since 2002, CIA chief John Brennan said, “It’s been light years since the WMD report.”

Conway deflection on Dec. 18: “The professional political left is attempting to foment a permanent opposition that is corrosive to our constitutional democracy and ignores what just happened in this election…The left is trying to delegitimize his election.”

No. Republican stalwart Senators John McCain and Lindsay Graham are leading the charge to investigate Russia’s interference with the election.

Conway deflection and diversion on December 18“In response to CBS News’ John Dickerson’s question about President Obama’s sanctions against Russia’s hacking, she said, “It does seem to be a political response at this point, because it seems like the president is under pressure from Team Hillary who can’t accept the election results.”

No. Senators McCain and Graham are among a bipartisan group complaining that President Obama’s sanctions were not sufficient.

— Trump diversion and distraction on Dec. 31“I know a lot about hacking. And hacking is a very hard thing to prove. So it could be somebody else. And I also know things that other people don’t know, and so they cannot be sure of the situation.”

When asked what he knew that others did not, Trump added this cliffhanger: “You’ll find out on Tuesday or Wednesday.” Trump’s big reveal never materialized.

Trump diversion on Jan. 3: “The ‘Intelligence’ briefing on so-called ‘Russian hacking’ was delayed until Friday, perhaps more time needed to build a case. Very strange!”

Senior intelligence officials told NBC News that the briefing was always set for Friday.

Trump deflection and diversion on Jan. 7After receiving the intelligence briefing, Trump tweeted: “Intelligence stated very strongly there was absolutely no evidence that hacking affected the election results. Voting machines not touched!”

No. The report actually says:We did not make an assessment of the impact that Russian activities had on the outcome of the 2016 election. The US Intelligence Community is charged with monitoring and assessing the intentions, capabilities, and actions of foreign actors; it does not analyze US political processes or US public opinion.” (Emphasis supplied)

Trump’s “voting machine” red herring diverted attention from the report’s conclusion: Putin infected America’s body politic with a sophisticated cyber-assault that included propaganda and the daily drip of Wikileaks materials hacked from Democrats’ computer systems.

Conway deflection on Jan. 8: “In terms of Russia…they did not succeed in throwing the election to Donald Trump. That’s very clear in this report…”

No.

Strategy #4: Bully and Intimidate

If someone resists Trump’s Big Lies, he attacks.

Trump on Jan. 4: “@FoxNews: Julian Assange on U.S. media coverage: ‘It’s very dishonest.’ #Hannity ‘More dishonest than anyone knows.'”

The U.S. intelligence report concluded that to help Trump defeat Hillary Clinton, Russian military intelligence used Julian Assange’s Wikileaks as the vehicle for releasing materials Russia had hacked from the DNC.

— Trump on Jan. 8: “Kellyanne Conway went to @MeetThePress this morning for an interview with @chucktodd. Dishonest media cut out 9 of her 10 minutes. Terrible!”

Network news shows editing guest spots is nothing new, especially guests who deflect, divert, and distract.

— Trump distraction on Jan. 9 (3:27 am): After Meryl Streep’s Golden Globe acceptance speech alluding to Trump’s offensive behavior toward a disabled reporter, he tweeted, “Meryl Streep, one of the most over-rated actresses in Hollywood… Just more very dishonest media!”

Strategy #5: Confuse

All strategies morph into an overriding message: Trust Trump and no one else. Unless he blesses it, believe nothing that you see, hear, or read. Those who question the Great Man are unpatriotic, biased liars. The playground bully has become the school principal.

Already exhausted from an ugly campaign, Americans get dizzy on Trump’s accelerating merry-go-round. The faster it goes, the more difficult to get your bearings. When your head is spinning, it’s impossible to keep your eye on the ball.

Future installments in this series will suggest ways to defeat Trump’s assault. I invite readers to share their ideas. Here’s a modest beginning:

TRP Strategy #1: Disconnect from Trump

Unfollow him. Starve him of attention. Drive down his ratings. When he or his minions appear on TV, change the channel.

Take a cue from the entertainment industry: boycott the Inaugural — unless you’re there to protest peacefully. Everyone else should resist the universal human temptation to watch a train wreck unfold. Tell everyone you know to do likewise. Low ratings will send a message. With his ever-changing stories and grandiose plans, missing his speech won’t mean missing anything that matters. If he can’t reach you, he can’t confuse you.

TRP Strategy #2: Seek the Truth

Some citizens weary of partisan bickering view the unprecedented controversies swirling around Trump as more of the same. They prefer to disengage from everything. It’s tempting. But even leading Republicans agree that Trump is different – and not in a good way. An unwillingness to seek the truth allows purveyors of falsehoods to prevail. Facts know no party lines and ignorance is no friend of democracy.

So after Trump takes office, follow this general rule: Keep close tabs on what Trump does to America and the world, but rely on news source(s) that will rigorously fact-check his every utterance. Follow only credible outlets that are willing to call out a Trump lie when they encounter one. Avoid those that repeat his falsehoods as if they were true, or give his minions a platform for lies and the Three “D’s.”

Apply that standard to me. My columns link every factual assertion to a sourced reference. I invite scrutiny.

TRP Strategy #3: Fight Back

Boycott and tweet out the companies sponsoring irresponsible platforms, so they are held accountable for their actions. Take a look at Sleeping Giants. It provides a do-it-yourself approach to influencing companies that advertise on “hate news” sites. Most of the businesses you challenge will be grateful to hear from you because a computer algorithm chooses their ad sites. Literally, these companies don’t know what they’re doing. The strategy works for “fake news,” too.

Throughout the campaign, Trump’s strategies produced ratings that were a media bonanza. Not any more. Remember that your time and your clicks translate into money for media outlets.

For eight years, American colonists fought to win freedom from Great Britain. Every citizen has a duty to preserve and protect it.

 

TRUMP’S CONFLICTS PLAN – Part 1

Someday, Sheri Dillon and her colleagues at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius may regret her performance at Donald Trump’s January 11 press conference. Public relations people saw the event as “beautiful” and “the best thing ever.” It wasn’t. For the legal profession, it was ugly.

Everyone Gets a Lawyer

Dillon represents a controversial client. So did Clarence Darrow. That’s part of any attorney’s job description. Like all citizens, Donald Trump is entitled legal counsel. In fact, the country’s best hope is that he heeds sound advice from lawyers who aren’t afraid to tell Trump when he’s wrong.

Sheri Dillon is Donald Trump’s tax lawyer. Again, that’s fine. His complex financial affairs require capable tax counsel. But on January 11, Dillon allowed herself and her great law firm to become Trump’s prime public defender of a patently insufficient plan to address his business conflicts of interest and wholly separate Emoluments clause problem under the U.S. Constitution.

Future installments in this series will detail the flaws in the Dillon/Morgan Lewis plan. Based on Dillon’s remarks and an accompanying Morgan Lewis memo, here’s a bottom-line preview from Office of Governmental Ethics Director Walter Shaub:

“[T]he plan does not comport with the tradition of our Presidents over the past 40 years.”

The Lawyer’s Role

Like any client, Trump set the parameters of Sheri Dillon’s engagement and the limits of her authority. Faced with those constraints, she did what lawyers do: Dillon created a plan and then defended it. On January 11, she made a closing argument, just as an attorney would to a judge, a jury, or the IRS.

But this time her audience was the American people. And she had no adversary arguing the other side of the case. In fact, her opposition was a central norm of democracy, namely, an Office of the President free of even the appearance of institutionalized corruption. Until Office of Government Ethics Director Walter Shaub responded with his accurate observations of the plan’s wholesale failures, no one was representing that norm.

This is the first in a series that examines the myriad problems with the Dillon/Morgan Lewis plan and Dillon’s effort to defend it. Along the way, Sheri Dillon morphed into yet another public relations spokesperson for Trump’s talking points.

A Summary of the Plan’s Major Failures

The press conference came complete with theatrical props — piles of papers on a large table near the podium. But Dillon did not provide the pubic with any documents implementing the Dillon/Morgan Lewis plan. Without the ability to scrutinize the various trust instruments and related materials, it’s impossible to verify any of the claims she made about her plan’s ability to do any of the things she promised. But even based on her description, a brief summary of the fatal shortcomings include:

— Trump is not divesting. He will retain all benefits that flow from owning assets that create his massive conflicts of interest. Those conflicts compromise the integrity of the Office of the President. While in that Office, Trump and his family will benefit from any increase in the value of those assets.

— Trump’s children remain active managers of his assets.

— Trump plans to resume management of those assets after his presidency.

— Trump’s agreement to give away hotel profits from foreign governments does not solve his wholly separate Emoluments clause problem. And it’s a red herring that doesn’t even attempt to address the issues arising from his numerous other foreign entanglements — bank loans on Trump structures, payments from building tenants, royalties, and the like.

Dillon was more precise, but Trump conflates his conflicts and Emoluments clause problems. He lumps everything together and talks about “conflicts” that he “cannot have” because he’s president. The truth is that the scope and magnitude of both problems remain unknown because Trump has not revealed the detailed financial structure behind his empire. That includes loans, investors, and other information that even his personal tax returns would not disclose.

About Those Tax Returns

Trump hasn’t released those returns, and he probably never will. At his press conference, Trump reiterated, “I’m not releasing the tax returns because as you know, they’re under audit….”

As he spoke, Sheri Dillon stood nearby. She had co-signed a March 2016 letter, stating that the IRS audits had been completed through 2008. He hasn’t released those earlier returns, either. Her letter explaining why probably presages the argument that Trump will make to withhold all of them forever:

“Your returns for these years report items that are attributable to continuing transactions or activities that were also reported on returns for 2008 and earlier. In this sense, the pending examinations are continuations of prior, closed examinations.”

Hers was a lawyer’s argument. And not a particularly good one for a client who was seeking — and now has won — the Presidency of the United States.

Dillon As Trump’s Newest Minion

Dillon’s completed her transformation from legal adviser to just another Trump spokesperson with her concluding lines:

“We believe this structure and these steps will serve to accomplish the president-elect’s desire to be isolated from his business interests and give the American people confidence that his sole business and interest is in making America great again, bringing back jobs to this country, securing our borders and rebuilding our infrastructure.”

The final words in that sentence — “bringing back jobs to the country, securing our borders and rebuilding our infrastructure” don’t appear in the accompanying “White Paper” on Morgan Lewis letterhead. They’re certainly extraneous to any reasoned professional legal opinion. So are Dillon’s concluding sentences:

“The American people were well aware of President-elect Trump’s business empire and financial interests when they voted. Many people voted for him precisely because of his business success.

“President-elect Trump wants to bring this success to all Americans.”

Donald Trump, Kellyanne Conway (who has a JD), or some other Team Trump person probably wrote that ending. But Dillon spoke it, so whatever fees Trump paid Morgan, Lewis & Bockius for this assignment, he got his money’s worth.

Specifically, Dillon confirmed publicly the soundness of a fatally flawed plan. When things go badly for Trump under that plan, he’ll have lawyers to blame. For him, it’s a win-win. For Dillon and the reputation of a great law firm, not so much.

By The Way…

OGE Director Walter Shaub’s reward for his uncommon courage in speaking the truth about the Dillon/Morgan Lewis plan was an immediate summons to the principal’s office of Rep. Jason Chaffetz (R-UT), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform. After the infamous Access Hollywood tape surfaced, Chaffetz declared that he would not vote for Trump. Three weeks later, he reversed himself and reboarded the Trump train, promising years of investigations into Hillary Clinton if she won.

In light of Dillon’s performance at Trump’s press conference, the most ironic sentence in Chaffetz’s letter to Shaub was this: “Your agency’s mission is to provide clear ethics guidance, not engage in public relations.”

Then came the most threatening passage: “OGE’s statutory authorization lapsed at the end of fiscal year 2007 and the Committee has jurisdiction in the House of Representatives for reauthorizing the office.”

Just when you think Trump’s conflict of interest and Emoluments problems can’t descend to some frighteningly new level, they do.

TRUMP AND THE RULE OF LAW – MILITARY EDITION

This is the fourth in what has become an endless series on Donald Trump’s continuing attacks on the rule of law. Those attacks seem to work for him in one respect. Every new one displaces an old one. He’s now relying on “Trump fatigue” — a condition that causes voters to say, essentially, “What stupid thing did he say today?”

Then they discount his offensive, false, or incoherent remark du jour. But his comments over time create a more complete picture and — in the case of the military — a recipe for disaster.

Recipe: Start With An Obnoxious Comment That People Forgive…

A year ago, Senator John McCain learned that he wasn’t a war hero after all.

“I like people who weren’t captured,” Donald Trump said on July 18, 2015, when asked about McCain’s critical comments about him.

He probably thought he was being witty. But it was quite a statement coming from someone who had avoided military service in Vietnam because of a still ambiguous medical condition. Trump said it was minor bone spurs in a foot. Which one? He couldn’t recall. Maybe both.

But don’t worry. His physician assured us in December, “If elected, Mr. Trump, I can state unequivocally, will be the healthiest individual ever elected to the presidency.”

Dr. Harold N. Bornstein didn’t describe how his physical examination of Trump compared with those he’d performed on Thomas Jefferson, Harry Truman, or Dwight Eisenhower.

Add Bigoted Cruelty That Troubled Some…

Having relegated McCain to the “loser” category in Trump’s binary world, he then revealed more completely his attitude about military sacrifice. U.S. Army Captain Humayun Khan received the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for saving the lives of fellow soldiers in Iraq. At the Democratic convention, Khan’s father delivered a tribute to his fallen son. Trump lashed out, invoking stereotypes and generalizations to reinforce his anti-Muslim campaign theme.

“His wife,” Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopolous, “if you look at his wife, she was standing there. She had nothing to say. She probably, maybe she wasn’t allowed to have anything to say. You tell me, but plenty of people have written that. She was extremely quiet and it looked like she had nothing to say.”

Mix In Lawlessness That Has Been Lost In A Crowd Of Outrageous Comments…

Between those July 2015 and July 2016 bookends came a more disturbing episode. During the March 3, 2016 Republican debate, Fox News’ Bret Baier asked Trump about his advocacy of torture. If he made good on his threats, he would be ordering the military to commit illegal acts.

What if they refused?

“They won’t refuse. They’re not gonna refuse me. Believe me.”

“But they’re illegal,” Baier insisted.

“I’m a leader, I’ve always been a leader. I’ve never had any problem leading people. If I say do it, they’re going to do it.”

Stir In Disrespect For The Military Generally… 

Soldiers such as retired four-star General John Allen won’t do it. He made that clear in his address to the Democratic convention, and Trump didn’t like it one bit. Within minutes, he tweeted, “General John Allen, who I never met but spoke against me last night, failed badly in his fight against ISIS. His record = BAD.”

Then Trump followed up personally at a rally in Denver.

“They had a general named John Allen. I never met him, and he got up and started talking about Trump, Trump, Trump… You know who he is? He’s a failed general. He was the general fighting ISIS. I would say he hasn’t done so well, right?”

Earlier, Trump had declared, “I know more about ISIS than the generals do. Believe me.”

Then he claimed that President Obama had “founded” ISIS. For the next two days, he and his media surrogates defended the falsehood as literally true. Then he said he was being sarcastic — “but not that sarcastic, to be honest with you.”

Whatever his intent, the impact has been clear. Within days, Hezbollah’s leader was using Trump’s absurd charge against America. Hassan Nasrallah is a Shiite backer of Syria’s brutal Assad regime, an ISIS foe, and a critic of the U.S. position calling for Assad to step down.

“This is not simple speech,” Nasrallah said in a speech to followers. “This is an American presidential candidate. This was spoken on behalf of the American Republican Party. He has data and documents.”

As Vice-President Biden observed, Trump’s comments caused the danger to military lives in the Middle East to go “up a couple clicks.”

Bake Until Someone Sees The Resulting Danger To The Country…

General Allen explained why he was speaking up when he did: “He’s talked about needing to torture. He’s talked about needing to murder the families of alleged terrorists. He’s talked about carpet-bombing ISIL. Who do you think is going to carpet-bombed when all that occurs? It’s going to be innocent families.”

Allen feared that if Trump actually followed through on his threats, he would be ordering illegal actions.

“I think we would be facing a civil military crisis, the likes of which we’ve not seen in this country before,” he said. “What we need to do is ensure that we don’t create an environment that puts us on a track conceivably where the United States military finds itself in a civil military crisis with a commander in chief who would have us do illegal things.”

Top With Callous Disregard for the Constitution…

Which takes us back to Khizr Khan. The most powerful 90 seconds of his convention remarks occurred when he looked directly into the camera and addressed Trump.

“Let me ask you: have you even read the constitution? I will gladly lend you my copy.”

It’s a serious question. Among legal scholars, Trump has achieved rare bipartisan consensus on his disregard for the rule of law and the limits of presidential power. From unfair “Mexican” judges (born in Indiana) to religion-based discrimination to brazen attacks on the press that include warnings of retribution to the owner of the Washington Post, Trump has been frighteningly consistent.

Everything around Trump exists to serve him and his whim of the moment, whatever it might be. The military is no exception. Fortunately, the men and women wearing the uniform answer to a higher calling.

As General Allen explained, “When we swear an oath to support and defend the Constitution, which is a document and a set of principles and it supports the rule of law, one of those is to ensure that we do not obey illegal orders.”

The Final Product: Digest It If You Can

Trump doesn’t care that his orders would be illegal. In that respect, his world is eerily similar to the bubble in which President Richard Nixon lived. As I noted in an earlier post, three years after precipitating a constitutional crisis that forced him to resign from office, Nixon finally admitted, “Well, when the President does it, that means it is not illegal.”

At least Trump isn’t President… yet.

TRUMP AND THE RULE OF LAW: ECHOES OF NIXON

Two months ago, I wrote an essay, “Trump and the Rule of Law.” I didn’t contemplate that it would evolve into a never-ending series on the subject. This is part three.

Perhaps history doesn’t repeat itself but sometimes it rhymes.

“We must maintain law and order at the highest level or we will cease to have a country, 100 percent. We will cease to have a country. I am the law and order candidate.” – Donald Trump, July 11, 2016

“Law and order is in the interest of all Americans. Let’s just make sure that our laws deserve respect; then, they will be respected by all Americans.” – Richard M. Nixon, 1968

To win the 1968 election, Richard Nixon exploited fear, racial unrest and an unpopular war to exacerbate division. His message resonated with alienated voters who yearned for a bygone time that looked better in hindsight than it had ever been. He offered himself as uniquely capable of fixing anything and everything that was broken.

Shared Disdain For The Rules

Although the differences between 1968 and 2016 are enormous, Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort boasts that his candidate will continue using Nixon’s “law and order” playbook. But the most startling similarity between Nixon and Trump is the divergence of that rhetoric from their common disdain for the rule of law.

Nixon confined his dangerous views to private conversations with confidants; Trump shouts them loudly for public consumption. Those who should be paying closest attention have lost themselves in cynical calculations of personal political self-interest.

“He’ll have a White House counsel,” says Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in explaining why he continues to support Trump. “There will be others who point out that there’s certain things you can do and can’t do.”

Senator John McCain rationalizes his tolerance for Trump’s role as his personal abuser-in-chief: “I still believe we have the institutions of government that would restrain someone who seeks to exceed their constitutional obligations. We have a Congress. We have the Supreme Court. We’re not Romania.”

Senators McConnell, McCain and other Republicans refusing to disavow Trump could benefit by spending some time with President Richard Nixon’s former White House Counsel John Dean.

Magical Thinking Has A Cost

On March 21, 1973, Dean told the President:

“[T]here’s no doubt about the seriousness of the problem we’ve got. We have a cancer within – close to the presidency, that’s growing. It’s growing daily. It’s compounding. It grows geometrically now, because it compounds itself… And that is just – and there is no assurance – ”

Nixon: “That it won’t bust.”

Dean: “That, that won’t bust.”

Nixon: “True.”

A month later, Nixon fired him. It takes little imagination to envision Trump delivering that line with gusto: “You’re fired!” While Nixon fiddled with the levers of power for the next eighteen months, the country burned. The United States languished in its most severe recession since World War II and the business of governing slowed to a crawl.

Reticent Republicans

Then as now, prominent Republicans were slow in reacting to Nixon’s attack on the rule of law. Eventually, a unanimous Supreme Court ordered release of Nixon’s incriminating White House tapes and the House of Representatives passed articles of impeachment. Only then did key Republican leaders, including Senator Barry Goldwater, urge Nixon to step down because – at long last – there were enough Republican votes in the Senate to join Democrats in convicting him.

Nixon lost his fight with Congress and the courts. But the margin was thin and for a year-and-a-half the country suffered immeasurable collateral damage. A search for the origins of current public distrust in government could start with the events culminating in Nixon’s 1974 resignation.

Unabashed Lawlessness

Nixon thought he was above the law, but didn’t admit it publicly until three years after leaving office: “When the President does it, it means it’s not illegal.”

Trump’s similar revelations occur in real-time. Even conservative legal commentators express concern for his unwillingness to acknowledge the limits of presidential power. As University of Chicago/NYU Law Professor Richard A. Epstein puts it, “I think Trump doesn’t even think there’s an issue to worry about. He just simply says, whatever I want to do, I will do.”

The Complete Makeover That Never Will Happen

On April 21, 2016, Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort assured Republican National Committee members that Trump’s antics during the primaries were an act.

“That’s what’s important for you to understand – that he gets it, and that the part he’s been playing is evolving now into the part you’ve been expecting… Fixing personality negatives is a lot easier than fixing character negatives. You can’t change somebody’s character, but you can change the way a person presents himself.”

Since then Manafort’s candidate has devolved in every way.

It Starts And Ends With The Patient

Who was to blame for all of those outbursts? Certainly not Trump himself. On June 20, campaign manager Corey Lewandowski took the fall.

“We’re going to go a little bit in a different route from this point forward,” Trump said. “A little different style.”

Since then Trump has:

  • Described Great Britain’s vote to leave the European Union as good for his Scottish golf course business;
  • Called Senator Elizabeth Warren a racist;
  • Described Jews as unduly sensitive about a campaign tweet slamming Hillary Clinton as corrupt – with dollar bills in the background and the Star of David in the foreground;
  • Invited Putin to hack the computers of Democratic rivals;
  • Smeared the Muslim religion with innuendo about a Gold Star mother of a veteran who’d died saving his fellow soldiers; and
  • Assured the world that Putin is “not going into Ukraine, OK, just so you understand. He’s not going to go into Ukraine, all right? You can mark it down. You can put it down. You can take it anywhere you want” — even though most of the world knows that Putin is already there.

At public events, his audiences cheer. Richard Nixon knew what that was about: “People react to fear, not love. They don’t teach that in Sunday school, but it’s true.”

Where’s The Bottom?

Trump’s apologists cling to the self-deceptive notion that he’s just rejecting political correctness. Here’s the truth: almost daily he says something that is simply wrong — factually, legally, and/or morally. Often he hits the trifecta with a single shot. It’s not a matter of political correctness. It’s a matter of correctness — period.

Manafort misdiagnosed his candidate’s underlying problem as something distinct from character. Trump’s personality is an extension of his character. At age 70, he remains what he has always been and always will be. But don’t take my word for it; take his.

As Trump told the press during his Memorial Day rampage against another frequent Nixon target – the media: “You think I’m going to change? I’m not changing.”

He means it. When it comes to character, decency and respect for the rule of law, Donald Trump is Richard Nixon on steroids with a megaphone and no internal filter. What we see is what we will continue to get until November when the worst reality show ever comes to an end.