Why Did Rudy Giuliani Submarine a BCCI Probe?

The Ties That Blind

A specter that haunted Rudy Giuliani’s first run for mayor in 1989 — the associa­tion of his then law firm, White & Case, with the notorious international drug laun­derers and terrorist boosters at BCCI — is coming back to haunt him. The reason it’s returning is that much of what the former U.S. Attorney said back then to deflect me­dia attacks about the relationship was flat­-out wrong. A Voice reexamination of the issue raises new conflict-of-interest questions both about Giuliani’s late 1988–early 1989 job talks with the firm — whose ties to the world’s most corrupt bank were far more extensive than it has publicly claimed — and his office’s hitherto unre­ported, yet simultaneous, submarining of a BCCI probe.

Giuliani maintained then that he had only asked the firm, which had hired him just a couple of months before he formally announced his candidacy that May, if it represented any clients “under investiga­tion by my office when I served as U.S. Attorney,” not about clients “under investi­gation by other prosecutors.” Concluding that the BCCI prosecutions, which then appeared to be limited to the federal indict­ments in Tampa, had “nothing to do with my office” and “no connection to my work,” Giuliani declared the issue “irrele­vant.” He was so angered by the controver­sy, however, that he stormed off a WNBC­-TV set when asked about it, and, six days after the story surfaced, took a leave of absence from the firm.

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Contrary to Giuliani’s 1989 claims, how­ever, his office did receive a hand-deliv­ered, October 31, 1988, criminal referral about BCCI signed by top Federal Reserve and New York State Banking Department officials, as well as a November 8 follow-up letter listing suspected Panamanian and Colombian drug money deposits then flow­ing through BCCI’s New York office. These letters, as well as at least one November 4 meeting involving high-level Federal Re­serve, state banking, and Giuliani officials, were spurred by the findings of an emergen­cy joint examination of BCCI’s New York office conducted by both regulatory agen­cies immediately after the October 11 Tam­pa indictment of BCCI (surprising the bankers at a fake bachelor party orchestrat­ed by Customs agents made the bust a nationally televised news story). In addition to noting that the joint examination had uncovered apparent violations of the Bank Secrecy Act, the referral letter stated that “a money laundering scheme may be in prog­ress” at the New York branch — about as vivid a declaration as normally staid bank examiners are likely to make.

Giuliani’s office was also indirectly in­volved in the Tampa undercover opera­tion — indeed one of the prime launderers caught in the BCCI net, Robert “the Jewel­er” Alcaino, had been indicted by Giu­liani’s office that September. That is why the press statement issued by U.S. Customs Commissioner William Von Raab the day of the Tampa indictments listed his own and Giuliani’s press representatives as the only media contacts on the story. It is also why one of the Giuliani assistants who at­tended the November 4 meeting with the banking regulators, Steve Robinson, was handling not only the Alcaino case but that of another launderer, Colombian Pedro Charria, who also was charged with running drug money through BCCI.

Despite these many warnings about a bank already charged with $31 million in drug laundering, Giuliani’s office never got back to the bank regulators and never opened a grand jury inquiry. Several months later, a congressional investigator frustrated by Justice Department resistance to any broad-based BCCI investigation went to Manhattan District Attorney Robert Mor­genthau and convinced him to launch one. With the cooperation of the same state and federal banking officials mystified by the lack of response from Giuliani’s office, Mor­genthau indicted and convicted a host of BCCI officials in 1991 and 1992.

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His case included counts that flowed from the money-laundering charges de­scribed in the ignored 1988 referral, which was sent to top Giuliani aide Bruce Baird. Contacted by the Voice, Baird, a Washington lawyer who contributed to Giuliani’s campaign as recently as August, said he doesn’t “have a clue” about what happened in response to the letter, and can’t recall receiving it. Robinson said he was not aware a referral letter had been sent and was not involved in any action the office took after the meeting with the regulators.

The 1988 bulletins about BCCI were ar­riving at Giuliani’s office just as he and his top aide Denny Young, who remained at the U.S. Attorney’s office until the end of January 1989 and joined White & Case (W&C) on February 16, were having their initial discussions about possibly joining the firm. A headhunter long friendly with Giuliani who was the unofficial go-between in these negotiations, Wendeen Eolis, first talked to Giuliani about W&C’s interest in November. The Manhattan Lawyer report­ed at the time that formal Giuliani talks with the firm began in December after a lunch involving Young and a partner there. Eolis says: “In the fall of 1988, there were lots of law firms chomping at the bit to talk partnership to Rudy, but White & Case was one of the select few Rudy and Denny chose to consider.” A source close to the discussions says the early meetings with W&C preceded by weeks their consider­ation of the only other serious bidder, Pros­kauer, Rose, Goetz and Mendelsohn.

While W&C would later claim that its role with BCCI had “never been significant,” figures obtained by the Voice reveal that the firm earned at least $4 million in the fiscal year ending September 30, 1987, from a half dozen BCCI-related clients. Two of the partners who met with Giuliani early in the negotiations and who participated in the four-member management committee vote to offer Giuliani and Young a combined million-dollar package ($780,000 for Giu­liani and $300,000 for Young, with Giu­liani taking almost twice the draw of the average partner) were directly involved in the BCCI-related business — W&C chair James Hurlock, and Eugene Goodwillie Jr. Hurlock became a major Giuliani donor, raising $19,500 while contributing $2000 to the 1989 campaign himself; Goodwillie, the principal partner in charge of the BCCI work, gave $1000; W&C lawyers gave a total of $48,000.

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W&C’s 1987 client billings list $624,302 directly from BCCI and another $429,675 from the booming BCC affiliate in Colom­bia, which had two branches in Medellín, was closely tied to the drug trade and even became the multimillion-dollar depository for druglord Jose Gonzalo Rodriguez. It earned a mere $16,000 from the Republic of Panama that year, but that was a sharp dip from the 1986 total of $109,000, and was on top of the $300,000 Giuliani associates acknowledged in 1989 that W&C had earned over a period of a few years from the Panamanian national bank (BCCI and the Panama bank combined to hide $23 million of Noriega loot). The firm was so deeply involved with Ghaith Pharaon, the now fugitive Saudi tycoon and BCCI share­holder eventually indicted for illegally fronting for BCCI in the acquisition of three American banks, that in 1987 it listed $1.1 million in fees from Pharaon’s holding companies, Redec and Interredec; $643,000 from his oil company Attock; and $98,000 from the Pharaon Group.

W&C also reportedly earned substantial fees over the years involving Pharaon’s bank transactions, including two much-in­vestigated ventures: his sale of the National Bank of Georgia to Clark Clifford’s First American, and the purchase of the Califor­nia-based Independence Bank. Fueled by over $300 million in sometimes secret loans from BCCI, Pharaon spent years scouting and occasionally buying American banks as an apparent agent of BCCI, which was effectively barred by federal regulators from directly taking over one.

A few weeks after Pharaon’s principal representative here, Amer Lodhi, began co­operating with investigators in March 1989, he was told by W&C brass that Pharaon had issued an ultimatum: either it dropped Lodhi, who had recently taken a counsel position at W&C, or Pharaon would walk away from the firm. Lodhi, who was first involved with W&C as a young associate back in the ’70s, was shown the door within weeks of Giuliani’s ironic arrival.

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When Clifford, the legendary Washing­ton lawyer still under indictment with Mor­genthau, appeared before a Senate commit­tee probing BCCI in October 1991, he was asked about his billings to the bank. Distin­guishing it from the mountain of fees he’d collected from the BCCI-backed First American, Clifford said his direct work for the bank was “an occasional matter because they used White & Case.” (Clifford added that BCCI also “sometimes used Sullivan & Cromwell” as well as one California and Florida firm.) “I think, as a matter of fact,” he concluded, “they used them a good deal more than they used us.”

The association was so strong that Assis­tant U.S. Attorney Thomas Zaccaro says it was W&C’s actions in the 1985 Indepen­dence deal that have become the legal hook giving federal prosecutors jurisdiction to bring a still-pending $37 million civil claim against Pharaon in New York courts. Zac­caro also says that W&C is “probably con­flicted out” of the ongoing case because of the role the firm played in the BCCI-con­nected acquisition. A Federal Reserve affidavit in the case spells out two aspects of W&C’s involvement — indicating first that W&C “drafted an investment advisory agreement” naming BCCI as Pharaon’s in­vestment adviser on the deal (a device that concealed the fact that BCCI was actually buying the bank); and second, that W&C then participated in discussions surround­ing Pharaon’s repayment of a loan that had partially financed the “Independence ac­quisition” (the $12 million Pharaon used to repay this loan came from BCCI). The Fed document does not say that W&C had any knowledge of the full scope of BCCI’s hand in this acquisition.

Since W&C represented both Pharaon and BCCI, as well as other apparent fronts for BCCI like the First American Bank of New York (FABNY), investigators have also pondered the question of whether part­ners in the firm were aware of the bank’s or Pharaon’s deceptive practices with regula­tory agencies. These questions have in­volved practices reaching back to the early ’80s when W&C, knowingly or not, helped pave the way for BCCI’s covert entry in the New York market by assisting in the sale of over 35 Bankers Trust branches to FABNY — the key to establishing the new bank as a force in this region (BCCI could only run an office, not a real branch in New York, and was thus barred by regulators from taking domestic deposits here in its own name). Bankers Trust was W&C’s larg­est and oldest client, and FABNY became a client too, paying the firm over $330,000 in fees from 1984 through 1986.

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It was difficult for any observer not to notice the stark signs of BCCI’s involve­ment with FABNY since it was BCCI offi­cials, not First American, who initiated the Bankers Trust purchase, and BCCI that ran a yearly average of $10.6 million through FABNY (more than any other American bank), with 47 BCCI affiliates maintaining accounts there. FABNY was even head­quartered virtually next door to the BCCI agency on Park Avenue and took its top executives from BCCI ranks and recommendations.

No proof of any W&C misconduct in all of these dealings, however, has ever been alleged, and the firm has never even been legally targeted. When The American Law­yer reported in 1991 that Morgenthau and the Fed had subpoenaed documents related to Pharaon from W&C, a W&C spokesman said: “None of the services we have ren­dered to Dr. Pharaon have been called into question, nor do we expect them to be.” He has so far been proven correct. (As some measure of the depth of W&C involvement with FABNY, the firm billed the First American trustee $30,000 for gathering its extensive files related to Morgenthau’s sub­poena, with Hurlock and Goodwillie’s names appearing on the bill.)

But, in view of Pharaon’s still-pending New York and federal indictments, Federal Reserve orders permanently barring him from participating in the banking business in the U.S., and the continuing civil pro­ceedings that involve W&C, it is certainly possible that the firm was concerned in 1989, when it hired Giuliani, that the al­ready spreading BCCI scandal might turn in Pharaon’s direction. Since Hurlock, Goodwillie, the firm’s spokesman, and the Giuliani campaign declined to answer Voice questions about these issues, it is unclear whether any of W&C’s attraction to Giuliani might’ve been connected to con­cerns about the expanding BCCI case.

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It’s also unclear if Giuliani himself knew about the 1988 BCCI referral, follow-up letter, meeting, and other discussions that involved his office. The then deputy attor­ney general at Justice in Washington, Rob­ert Mueller, did a retrospective review in August 1991, though he could not recall how his review began (“I know we had some allegation that a referral wasn’t fol­lowed through on,” he said). The Mueller review came on the heels of several events that presumably embarrassed the Justice Department into trying to come up with some explanation for how it managed to miss the biggest international bank robbery in history. The U.S. Attorney for the South­ern District of New York — under Giuliani or in the years after his departure — was hardly the only federal law enforcement agency in the Reagan/Bush era to look the other way when BCCI appeared on its ra­dar screen.

One event that may have prodded Mueller’s review was Morgenthau’s sweep­ing indictments, virtually all of which have led to convictions, on July 29, 1991, and the D.A.’s press statement at the time, which pointedly thanked the Federal Re­serve and state banking officials who’d met with Giuliani’s staff but never said a word about any cooperation from Justice. Anoth­er was the August 1, 1991, hearing of Sena­tor John Kerry’s Subcommittee on Terror­ism, Narcotics, and International Operations, when Customs chief Von Rabb and Kerry counsel Jack Blum took turns blasting the Justice stonewall on BCCI, and when Federal Reserve counsel Virgil Mat­tingly mentioned for the first time that the 1988 New York referral had been sent.

Newly assigned to oversee Justice’s BCCI investigations, Mueller may have been pushed as well by two House probes. On September 5, New York congressman Charles Schumer released a report that, af­ter several discussions with Mueller, faulted federal efforts, concluding “more could and should have been done to put BCCI out of business, sooner rather than later.” (A year later Schumer issued a much tougher re­view, saying law enforcement secrecy made it impossible to determine if the reason for what he described as pervasive governmen­tal inaction on BCCI was a lack of coordi­nation “or something more ominous, such as the possibility that criminal prosecutions may have been deflected or interfered with for illegal or nonlegitimate purposes.”)

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On September 11, when Clifford testified for the first time in a much-ballyhooed public appearance, House Banking Com­mittee staff distributed a Federal Reserve chronology that spelled out the details of the 1988 referral, as well as a committee minority report that revealed that Fed offi­cials had “briefed Assistant U.S. Attorneys, FBI agents and IRS agents in the Southern District of New York concerning BCCI money laundering” in November of 1988.

In response to Mueller’s 1991 questions, the two Giuliani assistants, Robinson and Mary Lee Warren, who attended the 1988 meeting with the regulators began to put together their own explanation of what hap­pened. Both of them, to varying degrees, tried to minimize what the Fed and state officials told them. Robinson prepared a letter contending that the meeting was a getting-to-know-you session in which gener­al information was exchanged, with BCCI discussed only intermittently and without apparent purpose. “They clearly thought there were irregularities at the bank,” Rob­inson told the Voice, “but they did not suggest we open an investigation.” Un­aware of the referral letter to Baird, Robin­son could not quite figure out what the Fed wanted his office to do, though he says they did make it clear that they could not legally provide the prosecutors with detailed infor­mation on suspect BCCI accounts unless the Southern District “opened a formal in­vestigation” and “issued a grand jury subpoena for the documents.” He said maybe that was a “cryptic suggestion” Giuliani’s office should’ve taken. Insisting that the meeting and the bank were “no big deal” to him at the time, Robinson says that the whole issue just “fell off my map” after the session. He wrote the memo about it at the request of Warren, who was the narcotics chief in Giuliani’s office in 1988 but had become the head of the narcotics division in Washington, working under Mueller, by the time she called Robinson in 1991.

Warren, who is still at Justice and who also talked to Mueller, dismissed the meet­ing as a “hospitality session,” adding that the regulators “might have mentioned a bank” and that it “might have been BCCI” (though she could not recall what, if any­thing was said about any bank, she did remember that the group “ate cold cuts” and that she and Robinson had “a hard time finding” the Federal Reserve office). Angrily declaring that there “absolutely was not” any referral letter sent to Giuliani’s office, and refusing to listen to the three references to it in congressional documents, Warren also claimed to have “no recollec­tion” of the follow-up memo sent to her by the Fed four days after the meeting, which sources say listed specific bank customers who may have committed criminal violations.

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While a Fed participant indicated later that the session was arranged at the request of Giuliani’s office, Warren says it “certain­ly wasn’t us who asked for it” and that the meeting “came out of the blue” — coinci­dentally, just five days after the referral letter. Robinson suggested that the meeting occurred because their Charria and Alcaino probes had resulted in subpoenas for BCCI records that the regulators were aware of, though Warren says she knew nothing at the time about either drug launderers’ use of the bank.

The only aspect of this disputed meeting that both sides agree on is that “nothing ever came of it,” as Warren puts it. Fed officials later told Morgenthau’s office they could not explain why the Southern District never followed through, but Mueller did not question the regulators, nor did he re­view their detailed notes of the meeting. Indeed, he has no recollection of ever see­ing the Fed referral letter or Robinson’s memo. “I can’t tell you I did a thorough investigation,” says Mueller, who nonethe­less says he was “satisifed” that whatever was done was appropriate. “I do recall the question coming up generally why Morgen­thau was doing such a good, aggressive job and yet there was no Southern District in­volvement. Ultimately the answer was that the case was being driven by the Federal Reserve and I don’t know why they weren’t working more closely with the Southern District.” He added that he knew none of the details of the Fed’s early efforts to enlist the Southern District in the probe, but said that he vaguely recalled that whatever was referred to Giuliani’s office “fell within the ambit of the Tampa money laundering probe” and “perhaps” wound up passed along to Florida officials. There is no evi­dence, in fact, that it ever was.

Baird’s memory lapse, Warren’s state­ment that she doesn’t know if she discussed the Fed meeting with any superiors, and Robinson’s fleeting acquaintance with the case leave no one who was associated with it who can answer questions about Giu­liani’s knowledge. Giuliani won’t get on the phone either, but it is hard to imagine that this hands-on prosecutor, with his own press officer listed as fielding questions about BCCI defendants associated with the Tampa operation, had no idea that these BCCI red flags were being waved in his direction. His simple disavowal of any knowledge about the actions of his own top investigator — revealed in last week’s Voice — seemed to be enough to silence any further assessment or exploration in the media.

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Curiously, the press had no such re­sponse in 1989, continuing a drumbeat of stories about W&C clients and internal practices even when Giuliani adamantly denied any knowledge of them. Giuliani was particularly tarred with a Noriega brush in that campaign, though he insisted he had no way to know the firm represent­ed the druglord dictator prior to press revelations. However, the Voice has obtained a W&C prospectus then used to attract new lawyers that specifically said the firm repre­sented “foreign sovereigns” on an array of banking issues and listed Panama as one of 10 such clients. (Indeed the press had no such tolerance in the Liz Holtzman affair this year, hammering away at her though she swore under oath she had no idea her office had selected Fleet Bank as an under­writer, and all that countered her denial were reasonable inferences.)

With Giuliani’s extraordinary record as one of the country’s most effective federal prosecutors, he is certainly due the benefit of the doubt on issues involving his old office. But his service as U.S. attorney is all the public has to evaluate when it considers Giuliani, and, if he is running on that record, it is the press’s job to take a look at its possible underside. His office’s apparent mishandling of solid BCCI leads is fair crit­icism of him whether he did or did not know about it; he missed a golden opportu­nity to examine the so-called Bank of Crooks and Criminals that even loaned $9.5 million to the most ruthless Arab ter­rorist, Abu Nidal, who maintained a $60 million account at BCCI’s fashionable Sloane Street branch in London.

It cannot be emphasized too strongly that no one knew in 1988 when Giuliani’s top staff passed on these BCCI leads that Morgenthau would manage to put the BCCI pieces together inch by inch over a period of years, ultimately bringing this corrupt colossus down. The congressional investiga­tor who came to Morgenthau — just six months after the federal referral to Giu­liani — convinced him to take on this hunt by pointing to all the allegations in his own backyard, from the Fed laundering to the possible false filings involving FABNY. Had Morgenthau not responded, the Southern District stonewall could very well have resulted in protecting BCCI from the death­blow it deserved, leaving the investigation in the hands of the Justice officials else­where who had stopped short.

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Giuliani is also responsible for his choice of a law firm. His deal with W&C was widely assailed in the legal press at the time, which found its price tag inexplicable, especially for a lawyer who was hired to run for mayor by a firm that did no real munic­ipal work (The American Lawyer‘s Steve Brill said Giuliani was using the firm as “a meal ticket and a mail drop”).

It hardly looks now like this potential mayor did the requisite due diligence be­fore going there, and though no one in the media has reminded the public, he went back to the firm — despite all the hard ques­tions — when he lost. He stayed there for half a year, finally drifting away in 1990. All those W&C partners who believed so deeply in his 1989 candidacy that they dug in their pockets for dough have stopped contributing, adding to the curiosity of this temporary marriage.

As Erwin Cherovsky notes in his “Guide to New York Law Firms,” W&C “scarcely resembles the prototypically white shoe law firm which went by that name 15 years ago,” with “business connections and a gentlemen’s club atmosphere” having given way “to the hustle and bustle of a firm on the cutting edge.” Cherovsky concluded that while the firm has been on the upswing in recent years, “it still has not regained the standing it once enjoyed.” The collection of clients detailed here for the first time does little to enrich that reputation; and the vigi­lant Giuliani should’ve noticed.

David Dinkins has a four-year record as mayor to defend; it merits much of the criticism Giuliani has leveled. All Giuliani has is his legal practice — as a public and private advocate. Before we make him mayor, we are entitled to know as much as possible about that record. ■

Research: Jon Bowles, David Carnoy, and Adam Macy  


Laws, Shmaws: Conservatives Contort Selves to Paint Trump as Winner in Manafort-Cohen Cases

It seems like a long, long time ago that conservatives were America’s “law and order” people. Last Tuesday’s revelation that former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen had flipped and was implicating Trump in hush money payments — along with the multiple guilty verdicts obtained against former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort — had the brethren talking down The Man and hatching novel legal defenses like so many jailhouse lawyers.

Manafort’s conviction on eight out of eighteen charges of tax fraud, bank fraud, and financial-reporting irregularities in the first jury trial brought by Russia investigation special counsel Robert Mueller — with a second Manafort trial coming up fast — would seem to be bad enough news for Trump, suggesting as it does that Mueller has plenty in the tank for future prosecutions that could be dangerous for the president. But Cohen’s admission — he stated in court that “a candidate for federal office” (plainly Trump) directed him to pay off adult entertainer Stormy Daniels and model Karen McDougal, and that he had done so “for the principal purpose of influencing the election” — might be interpreted as evidence of a campaign finance violation.

The Manafort and Cohen reports came within minutes of each other, and some conservatives didn’t take the initial shock well. “SO WHEN ARE THEY GONG AFTER ALL THE PEOPLE WHO LIED ABOUT BENGHAZI ONLINE AT THE DIRECTION OF BARRACK OBAMA TO PREVENT HIS LOSING THE 2012 ELECTION?” raved a nostalgic Sarah Hoyt at Instapundit. “But Democrats also have to ask themselves, do they want President Pence? Because that’s what you get if you manage to get rid of Trump,” wrote her colleague Glenn Reynolds, apparently going straight to the bargaining stage.

“If you get your information from the legacy media,” wrote Liz Shield at PJ Media, “you would think that Cohen put the nail in Trump’s coffin with his guilty plea, ‘admitting’ that the president directed him to pay off some (alleged) blackmailing trollops with campaign money. The #resistance is all worked up now because they think this is actually going to happen. When it doesn’t happen, they are going to be angry and, as we have seen, violent.” Clearly these charges were a secret message from Robert Mueller to unleash antifa riots across America. You won’t read that in legacy media!

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But once the initial shock passed, everyone went to their battle stations: The more scholarly types set about splitting legal hairs (“regardless of what Cohen agreed to in a plea bargain, hush-money payments to mistresses are not really campaign expenditures”), while the dimmer lights told us how great this news was for Donald Trump.

“The press thinks yesterday was a bad day for the President. Actually, it was a good day for the President,” wrote Erick Erickson at the Resurgent. In fact, he continued, it “probably helps Trump in 2020,” because even “to the extent this causes voters to put Democrats in charge of the House, it gives the President some group he can more easily vilify.” Now all Trump has to do is lose both houses of Congress by a veto-proof majority, and he’ll have the Democrats right where he wants them.

At the Washington Examiner, Byron York also found Manafort’s conviction good news for Trump: After all, “Manafort was convicted of shady dealing going back a long way. His behavior had been examined by the Obama Justice Department, which took no action against him. It was only because Manafort hooked up with Trump…that Manafort got caught and his foreign money schemes exposed.” So, from a certain perspective, Manafort is Obama’s fault, and the Trump presidency resulted in his conviction. Also, said York, Manafort’s case had given the public “a glimpse into what Washington influence peddlers have gotten away with for decades” — and isn’t Trump all about draining the swamp?

Various volunteer legal advisers used their media venues to tell the president he could beat the rap. Radio shouter Mark Levin, for example, compared Trump’s payoffs to former sexual partners with hypothetical payoffs to “vendors” or “a disgruntled employee,” which in Levin’s view would be “perfectly legal” — though he didn’t stipulate whether, in these hypothetical situations, Trump had also fucked the vendors or disgruntled employee and was trying to keep that a secret for political purposes. (But from what former Trump doorman Dino Sajudin has been telling the press, we may get to test that scenario soon enough.)

At the Federalist, Mollie Hemingway viewed the events of the week from a moral rather than legal perspective, making them easier to spin. On Manafort’s and Cohen’s tax frauds, Hemingway gently chided, “Nobody likes paying onerous taxes, but the way to fight high taxes is through political means, not by lying to the federal government” — as if Manafort and Cohen were conscientious objectors to IRS regulations rather than tax cheats.

Hemingway then redirected her readers’ attention to what she apparently thinks is the real problem: a lack of faith in the justice system, caused by the prosecution of Republicans. “A big problem for federal prosecutors,” she claimed, “is that public trust in their application of the rule of law is low because of how they handle political cases.” Hemingway cited no metric for measuring the “public trust” of prosecutors, which is probably wise, considering how high Robert Mueller’s poll numbers are right now.

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As for Trump paying off co-adulterers, Hemingway allowed that “adultery is wrong” and “spouses are called to live a sexually pure and decent life in what they say and do.” She no doubt hopes Trump has learned a valuable lesson, or at least will say that he has at the next fundamentalist group hug.

At Reason, Clark Nelly predicted that “Trump will emerge from the Michael Cohen kerfuffle more powerful, more energized, and more electable than he was going in,” because “given how complex and abstruse campaign finance laws are, can any candidates be 100 percent confident they committed zero violations?” Surely Joe Sixpack will be able to relate to this legal dilemma.

At American Greatness, Roger Kimball did a J’Accuse over the grave injustice done Manafort and Cohen. “Like a cat toying with an injured mouse, the modern major prosecutor keeps batting his prey about till he stops moving altogether,” he wrote. “For wretched power-drunk commissars like Robert Mueller, the process, because of the punishment, is all the fun. They enjoy tormenting people.” Watch for the day Kimball says anything so sympathetic about a victim of overzealous prosecution who is not a rich, white fixer for Republicans; when it comes, commission a skating rink in Hell.

It got to the point where NRA spokeswoman Dana Loesch was telling people with a straight face that prosecutors were “trying to Al Capone the president,” referring to the gangster’s famous conviction for tax evasion rather than for greater crimes the feds couldn’t make stick. She got a lot of ribbing for that (“Some other resonances between Trump and Al Capone”), but, from the point of view of Trump supporters, it makes sense: It was always obvious that, one way or the other, the criminally connected Trump would wind up in legal trouble as president; the only question is whether he can get off. As more Trump associates flip, his fans seem to think raising the noise-to-signal ratio will help — perhaps by raising the specter of a popular “revolt,” as Rudy Giuliani tried to do. But if they want to convince normal people that their leader should be above the law, they’re going to have to come up with more compelling material.


9-11 Cover Boy No More: Giuliani Transitions to Total Trumpkin

It has been suggested that the long list of formerly semi-respectable Republicans who have debased themselves before loutish grifter Donald Trump, as well as the current crop of Republican candidates who ape his style, show that Trump has corrupted the Party. While there is much to recommend this theory, it misses the significant fact that many, perhaps most — oh, hell, all — key members of the Party, and the conservative movement for which it serves as host body, actually came pre-ruined.

Proof of this can be seen in the recent antics of former “America’s mayor” and current Trump mouthpiece Rudy Giuliani, and the weird, embarrassed reaction of conservatives to his behavior.

The media-proclaimed hero of 9-11 cut quite a swath last week, first revealing in an interview with Trump courtier Sean Hannity that the president had refunded hapless Trump lawyer Michael Cohen for the hush money he’d provided to Trump’s alleged mistress Stormy Daniels, which revelation was highly suggestive of illegalities. Debate ensued as to what Giuliani was thinking. Trump, without disavowing Giuliani’s assertion, claimed he would “get his facts straight.” Then Giuliani ran out and said a bunch of other crazy shit.

It may shock younger readers to learn the pop-eyed goblin on their TV had been, less than a dozen years earlier, the Republican frontrunner for the presidency of the United States. Giuliani was then lauded for presiding as mayor over the beginning of New York’s crime-rate drop — a drop that began before he took office, has persisted long after his tenure, despite abandonment of his most notoriously draconian techniques — and for keeping his shit together during 9-11; but eventually Republicans remembered that as mayor he had been a gun-grabber and noticed that he sounded less sincere in denouncing abortion than propriety demanded, and also that he was a bit creepy, whereupon his candidacy collapsed.

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Giuliani then devoted himself to self-enrichment, appearing only at intervals to pimp other Republicans — but never more enthusiastically, indeed orgasmically, as when Trump, his former drag-act partner, became the GOP nominee. He has spoken for Trump since, his most noteworthy appearance being one in which he appeared to hint that Wikileaks had tipped the Trump campaign to their Hillary e-mails payload — that is, until he blindsided Hannity with the payoff story.

Some Trumpkins tried at first to spin this as Good News for the usual reasons. “The media and the left are going berserk over this interview,” wrote Liz Sheld of PJ Media. “So if you think Trump watched last night and saw lunacy, you have it wrong. He saw the wartime consigliere he wants. /END,” tweeted Commentary editor John Podhoretz. (Then Podhoretz jumped back to add, “One more tweet: Rudy is not acting as Trump’s lawyer,” an analysis not generally shared but possibly retained by Trump fans as a sophistic defense for some future crime.)

Some high-profile Trump fans were nonplussed. National Review’s normally tenacious Trumpkin Andrew McCarthy confessed confusion at Trump going “hammer and tongs” at “small stuff” like Stormy Daniels when he should be relentlessly attacking special counsel Robert Mueller. McCarthy suggested Trump didn’t want to admit guilt, not because he wasn’t guilty — come on, we’re all grownups here — but because “the rules of the game are that Democrats get away with murder while Republicans get murdered,” so Trump had to fear receiving “the Dinesh D’Souza treatment” — that is, actual if modest punishment for campaign finance violations. (The idea of Trump in a run-down halfway house is, I must admit, piquant.)

Eventually Giuliani released a gnomic three-point statement apparently meant to reflect his fact-straightening. “Giuliani clarifies statements on Stormy payment, Comey firing,” Fox News dutifully reported; an equally sympathetic New York Post called him a “legal newbie.” But the former mayor was treated like a crackpot by most other sources — including not only liberal outlets like ThinkProgress (“Giuliani tries to fix disastrous interview tour, continues to make things worse”) but also conservative ones like Canada’s National Post (“Rudy Giuliani confounds and contradicts…bewildering display”).

Giuliani went on making strange assertions in a variety of forums: telling Judge Jeanine Pirro that, while “not an expert on the facts” in the matters he’d been sent on TV to discuss, he could nonetheless assert “there’s no way this was a campaign finance violation of any kind”; telling George Stephanopoulos that Trump might have paid off other sex partners, and could very well just blow off any Mueller subpoena with a Fifth Amendment plea; and telling a group of Iranian exiles that Trump would renege on the Iran treaty (Giuliani “pantomimed spitting on a piece of paper meant to represent the 2015 nuclear accord, drawing raucous cheers,” reported Bloomberg News).

Some conservatives tried to laugh all this off while offering vague defenses which, they made clear, ought not be taken too seriously lest they explode with the next Rudy appearance.

“New theory: Rudy’s a Democratic plant,” chortled Hot Air’s Allahpundit before shrugging, “What else is he supposed to say when asked if other women were paid off?” — “no” apparently not being an option. “If you’re Rudy,” Allahpundit went on, “there’s no one you can trust to tell you the honest truth about other payoffs. Trump would deny it no matter what, even to his own lawyers.” Apparently not working for a client who constantly hangs you out to dry with falsehoods isn’t an option either.

Some true Trumpkins stood fast. At The Federalist, David Marcus argued that “Rudy Giuliani Knows Exactly What He’s Doing” because as “a bare-knuckles brawler in the rings of both politics and litigation,” Giuliani was “laying down a marker,” demanding of Mueller: “Show your cards. Put up or shut up.”

How was this bare-knuckled hand of cards supposed to force Mueller’s hand? Apart from an assertion that “most Americans would like to see his cards,” a matter unproven and in any case probably of little importance to the stalwart special counsel, Marcus proffered only further macho signifiers as evidence. For example, he portrayed Giuliani butchly asking Mueller “what do you got?” — adding, “it is asked with a New York swagger” — because Giuliani knows Mueller has “bubkis.” Giuliani always “played offense,” Marcus continued, and has “chosen his own ground to fight on and winked at his opponents and detractors, begging them to take the first shot. Come at me is his mantra.” Perhaps the real strategy is to cover Trump’s tracks with a carpet of testosterone.

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The saddest of the lot — and by that I mean funniest — were NeverTrumpers who somehow had the impression Giuliani was better than this and had unexpectedly betrayed their trust.

“To be a prelapsarian conservative in America today — as that creed was understood before 2016 — means getting used to heartbreak,” lamented neocon Max Boot at the Washington Post. Boot paid tribute to the “conservatives that I have admired and respected” who also “failed the Trump test” — intoning “Paul D. Ryan, Marco Rubio, Tom Cotton, Bill Bennett, Chris Christie, Newt Gingrich, Scott Walker” as a lone bell rang in the distance — and told any readers who had not already fled gagging about how Rudy Saved New York from the days of “no radio” car signs, and that “if New Yorkers are being driven out [now], it’s due to high real-estate prices, not urban decay,” which Boot probably considers a twofer.

But with his latest outrageous statements, mourned Boot, Giuliani had damaged his legacy: “One can only imagine,” he asks, “what Mayor Giuliani would have said if someone had called the cops ‘stormtroopers’ — the epithet that he has now applied to his former law-enforcement colleagues who are investigating the president’s personal lawyer.”

Depends — would there have been a career advantage in agreeing with it? If not, no; if so, yes. It’s not hard to figure this stuff out unless you’re sentimental, or in on the con.

While Boot was wetting the Post with his tears, elsewhere at that paper Giuliani was telling reporters he and other members of the administration “all feel pretty good that we’ve got everything kind of straightened out and we’re setting the agenda…. Everybody’s reacting to us now, and I feel good about that because that’s what I came in to do.”

I believe he means this — not in the sense that people were actually assured everything is fine at the White House, but in the sense that he and Trump had demonstrated that it didn’t matter what Trump had done, nor what anyone thought about it. And so Rudy goes into the history books — assuming, perhaps optimistically, that we’re still going to have them.


Nunes Memo Gets Rightbloggers Even More Convinced FBI Is a Liberal Plot

As we discussed last week, the Mueller investigation has made conservatives so paranoid that trifles like the Strzok-Page texts have them convinced the FBI — which for decades has done the right’s bidding by menacing and sometimes murdering leftists like Jean Seberg, Martin Luther King Jr., Vietnam war protesters, the Black Panthers, et alia — had somehow turned into the Hillary Clinton Fan Club.

But last week, the right went full-tilt black-helicopter crazy over the Nunes memo, a formerly classified four-pager released by congressional Republicans and Trump. The memo repeats, under official color, old right-wing charges that the famous Steele dossier was the only relevant evidence presented to the FISA court to support a wiretap on Trump campaign advisor and admitted Kremlin contact Carter Page, and that the court wouldn’t have approved the tap if it had known the Clinton campaign had given Steele money.

Thus, the thinking goes, though the FISA court approves nearly all the warrant requests it receives, since this one was nudged into approval by deceit, the process was corrupted and Mueller should be fired. (There is a Democratic minority report that, Democratic ranking member Adam Schiff suggests, would refute these points, but the Republicans, big shock, have refused to allow its release.)

Trump claimed the memo “totally vindicates” him (though his on-camera yammerings indicate that he has no idea what it actually says); Republican congressmen pulled long faces about this alleged abuse of FISA; and Breitbart hadda Breitbart (“HOW THE NEW YORK TIMES SPINS THE MEMO TO DIVIDE AMERICA,” “STEVE KING’S MEMO WARNING: ‘WATCH CLOSELY FOR BARACK OBAMA’S FINGERPRINTS,’ ” etc.).

Right-wing shock troops demanded everyone be arrested, especially Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who was targeted by an attack ad from — now here’s a blast from the past! — the Tea Party Patriots.

(One of Rosenstein’s lonely defenders on the right was City Journal racial obsessive Heather Mac Donald, who protested that the DAG’s loss would be “dispiriting to anyone who supports the police against the lies of the Black Lives Matter movement.… Rosenstein has unapologetically and forcefully rejected the Black Lives Matter narrative.” Comrades, don’t throw out the racist baby with the Lock-Her-Up bathwater!)

“I don’t think there is any more doubt that the candidacy of Donald Trump terrified top officials of the Obama DOJ and the FBI, James Comey especially,” wrote Victor Davis Hanson at National Review. “Those details seal the sordid legacy of former FBI Director James Comey,” agreed Michael Goodwin at the New York Post. Yes, they’re talking about the same James Comey whose oddly timed pre-election letter sank Hillary Clinton’s campaign. That’s gratitude for you!

“Gorka says FISA memo is 100 TIMES WORSE than what caused the American REVOLUTION!!” raved the Right Scoop. “It is now the most consequential — no question — political scandal in American history,” intoned Fox talking head Dan Bongino.

MAGA Twitter trolls refocused their view of American history through the Nunes lens (“The terror attacks of San Bernardino & Orlando night club might’ve been prevented if the counter intelligence unit of FBI paid more attention to the terrorists instead of busy spying on the candidate Trump”) and howled for blood (“Traitor Rosenstein should start packing for a long vacation at Gitmo or a very short one dangling from the end of a rope. #DrainTheSwamp #MAGA”).

A few conservatives dismissed the memo — not just the usual resisters like David Frum and Jennifer Rubin, but also garden variety wing nuts like the Cato Institute (“The FISA Follies: The Nunes Memo Edition”), whom your cynical correspondent suspects are just covering their asses for the day Trump flees to Moscow with a Cessna full of gold bullion.

But — as we saw last week and, really, every week since the Trumpification of the conservative movement — the most popular position among the brethren was a straddle: on the one hand trying not to associate themselves too closely with the deranged post-Nunes position, while on the other appeasing the mouth-breathers by finding some way to deflect some of this madness onto Democrats.

Some used the old MSM Lies shtick. “Mainstream Media Outlets Banish Contents Of Republican Memo From Front Page Coverage,” claimed Rachel Stoltzfoos at the Federalist — which will seem strange to anyone who has taken ten seconds to put “Read the Nunes memo” into Google and found the full text of the memo at the New York Times, the Huffington Post, CNN, the Washington Post, and — well, every “Mainstream Media Outlet” you can think of. Maybe Stoltzfoos meant they didn’t run the memo on the front page, like Charles Foster Kane’s “Declaration of Principles.”

A popular assertion was that the memo was not proof of malfeasance but that the real crime was Democrats complaining about using classified information as a political tool too strenuously, and while being Democrats.

“Having read the memo twice, I’m still looking for the info that led to the hysteria from Democrats about the memo endangering national security,” harrumphed the Weekly Standard’s Stephen Hayes.

“There’s a lot of talk about how much the Memo was oversold by Republicans,” tweeted National Review’s Jonah Goldberg. “There is not nearly enough scorn being heaped on Dems for their hyped claims that this would do irreparable and catastrophic harm to America as we know it.”

When Andrew Sullivan went into a long rant about the “tribal” behavior of conservatives over the memo, longtime readers who knew what to expect pulled up a chair, made themselves comfortable, and waited for the inevitable bothsiderism: “Meanwhile, the Democrats’ tribalism has also deepened,” Sullivan wrote in paragraph twelve (I know, I thought he’d get to it sooner, too — lost $5 on that bet!). Among Sullivan’s proof points was that Dems “picked an iconic tribal name to present their response to the SOTU, Joe Kennedy, and his speech had the failed theme that Hillary Clinton tried out last year: ‘stronger together.’ ” Yeah, that’s pretty much the same as sabotaging the FBI because you’re afraid they’ll arrest Donald Trump.

National Review editor Rich Lowry — whose journey from mastermind of the “Against Trump” issue to reliable Trump cheerleader would make a wonderful tragic opera — had this takeaway from the memo: “I’m a layman, but I find it difficult to see what in the Nunes memo could possibly endanger our national security. Here is Eric Holder in a good example of the over-wrought warnings of the catastrophic effects of the memo…” Later Lowry wrote: “James Comey might have the most self-righteous account on all of Twitter.… It’s difficult to see how Comey thinks any of this helps his reputation,” he went on, “but I guess he, like everyone else, needs to play to his base.” Haw, game recognize game!

While these guys were talking about how overboard Democrats went, Republican Paul Gosar, a sitting U.S. congressman, declared, “This full-throated adoption of this illegal misconduct and abuse of FISA by James Comey, Andrew McCabe, Sally Yates, and Rod Rosenstein is not just criminal but constitutes treason.” Apparently columnists aren’t the only conservatives sucking up to the trolls!

And the effect of these slurs, unlike tax cuts for the rich, actually trickles down. A new poll shows only 38 percent of Republicans approving of the FBI — which, you gotta admit, would have seemed counterintuitive from America’s Party of Authoritarianism, once upon a time. But these days extremism in the defense of Trump is no vice: Now that they’re dissing the FBI and throwing around classified documents like banana peels to keep Mueller off Trump’s tail, what institution won’t they wreck for him? Maybe that’s why top Republicans won’t condemn even Trump’s most egregious behavior — they’re afraid if they make him mad he’ll do to the party what he’s done to the FBI. Though some of us would argue he’s done that already.


Right Nurses Moore Wounds by Attacking Mueller, Star Wars

I gotta admit, I didn’t know Alabama’s voters had it in them. Well, I knew they had a lot of black people in them, but I thought the GOP’s voter-disenfranchisement shenanigans would keep them from voting, and that tween-girl fan Roy Moore would win the special Senate election last Tuesday.

But he didn’t, and perhaps in consequence the mood among conservatives has been weird and paranoid, with their thoughts inevitably turning toward the Mueller investigation, the threat to democracy they imagine it entails, and the possibility of putting an end to it by any means necessary.

In the closing hours of the Alabama race, Moore made some embarrassing public appearances — including one in which his wife told the haters who’d called Roy an anti-Semite that “one of our attorneys is a Jyew” — then ducked out of sight until it was time to ride his pony to the polls.

As I mentioned earlier in this space, some of the brethren put up a brave show for Moore before the election. In the homestretch, for example, the Federalist assured readers that “Voting For Roy Moore Is Not A Vote For Pedophilia” (assuming, perhaps unfairly, that they cared).

Rod Dreher of the American Conservative quoted an alleged former subject of the Soviet Union who claimed he’d vote for Moore if he could because the accusations against him were just like the ones suffered by refuseniks in the old days (“Did you [sic] neighbor have a better car? Well, you accused him of being a secret adherent of capitalism.… We are not that far from it here”). Why else would a woman complain he’d tried to fuck her while she was underage? Why, in Latvia, any fourteen-year-old would be flattered that a high public official wanted to sex her up — she might get an extra bread ration!

Alas, to no avail. Some of the brethren tried to make lemonade. Fox & FriendsAinsley Earhardt told viewers, “This was not a referendum on Trump. I feel like this was a referendum on Harvey Weinstein.” Who knew a New York Jyew had such power over the minds of white Alabamians?

Lyman Stone told readers of the Federalist that Moore had received the “Lowest White Evangelical Support Of Any Alabama Republican In The 21st Century.” True, he got 80 percent of the white evangelical vote, Stone admitted, but he lost out in the “potential evangelical electorate, as calculated from Census and PRRI.…” So if next time the GOP finds a candidate who loves Jesus as much as jailbait, they’re in!

Some rightbloggers grumbled about the wave of women who had come forward to accuse Moore and men like him; it was one thing when they were taking down Democrats like Al Franken, but now that it was their bull being gelded, it was time to shut that whole thing down.

At the Federalist, D.C. McAllister lamented that “The #MeToo Movement Is Destroying Trust Between Men And Women,” and it sure wasn’t the menfolks’ fault: Thanks to mouthy bitches, “fear of men is legitimized, as accusation is treated as fact,” McAllister said. “Men are seen as ‘the enemy,’ an embodied deviance that must be remolded into the image of a woman.” If you ladies don’t want vagina-men, you’ll shut up about these little boundary-crossings.

As the Alabama race receded into history, the brethren resembled a crowd of surly soccer hooligans, milling outside the stadium after a tough loss, looking for outlets for their anger and frustration, and lashing out at any likely targets.

NRA spokespersons Grant Stinchfield and Dana Loesch, for example, went on “NRATV” to yell at the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for defending the family of the spectacularly unsuccessful New York subway bomber, whose relatives had been grilled on his terror connections. “No one’s gonna sit here and cater to this family,” snarled Loesch, who also yelled at Loyola University students for not getting with Trump’s War for Christmas. “Heaven forbid you take a few days off to worship Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and celebrate his birthday!” roared Loesch. “So because you hate Christmas so bad, do not appropriate my holiday!”

Others mounted the culture-war hobbyhorse made available by the big movie event of last weekend. “It is a period of civil war,” intoned Don Fisher Jr. at American Thinker. “Liberal filmmakers and lawmakers, striking from their elitist enclaves, have won their first victories against the forces of decency and godliness.” The lawmakers gave us the “obscene ruling that same-sex couples may marry,” explained Fisher, and now the liberal artists “race to the screen to indoctrinate audiences into this twisted notion and aid in further enslaving the masses of the planet into their mistaken worldview.” Their latest cruel ploy — Star Wars: The Last Jedi.

The evidence, said Fisher, was that J.J. Abrams and other members of the Star Wars team once said it would be cool if there were gay characters in their movies. It hasn’t happened, but the very thought of it was enough to send Fisher into purple panic: “As with any liberal cause, they will never give up on it,” he muttered like Tim Robbins in War of the Worlds. “They’ll just develop better marketing, such as ‘marriage equality’ instead of ‘legalized sodomy,’ and move forward to their goal.” Sure, “a same-sex relationship is not new for the Star Wars canon, as some were introduced to in a video game and a couple of their novelizations,” admitted Fisher, burnishing his nerd credentials, “but the big screen is the big prize for Abrams and his fellow libs.” It’s not too late, true believers — you can still make your own fan films like Todd Haynes did with Barbie! And when you get sued, you can blame liberal fascism!

But the biggest target for Moore-ose conservatives was the ongoing investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller of Russo-Trump collusion — especially after Trump’s lawyers claimed some of the evidence Mueller is holding was obtained via the “unlawful conduct” of the General Services Administration (GSA), and it was revealed that FBI agent Peter Strzok has called Trump a “douche,” among other things, for which he was fired.

Notwithstanding that experts say Trump’s people had no expectation of privacy in the documents Mueller received, and that calling Trump a “douche” is as clinically accurate as calling the sun “hot,” conservatives darkly hinted that a coup was in progress against their orange overlord, and that Trump would be within his rights to fire Mueller.

“Is the FBI part of the Resistance?” asked Fox News host Jesse Waters. “It’s like the FBI had Michael Moore investigating the president of the United States!… The scary part is we may now have proof the investigation was weaponized to destroy his presidency for partisan political purposes and to disenfranchise millions of American voters. Now, if that’s true, we have a coup on our hands in America.”

Judge Jeanine Pirro demanded Trump “not just fire these people immediately, but to take them out in cuffs.” “A COUP IN AMERICA?” asked a Fox News crawl. “The fix was in against Donald Trump from the beginning, and [Mueller’s team] were pro-Hillary,” claimed White House counselor Kellyanne Conway.

“Unlike Nixon, Trump Will Not Go Quietly,” warned syndicated columnist Pat Buchanan, who, as a former Nixon dead-ender, would know. He blasted “Mueller’s Dump Trump team” for using “prosecutorial bulldogs who had been Clinton contributors,” and claimed “a connection between Hillary’s campaign and Russian spies — to find dirt to smear and destroy Trump and his campaign — has been fairly well established.”

“Time to end Mueller’s wild reign of malfeasance?” asked Renew America. The Washington TimesRowan Scarborough attacked Mueller associate Andrew Weissmann for “hardball tactics, overturned rulings” — referring to Weissmann’s prosecutions of Arthur Andersen and Merrill Lynch, defendants with whom Scarborough seemed to think his readers would sympathize — though, come to think of it, if they love Trump they probably love criminal corporations too.

And it wasn’t just media people: GOP representative Louie Gohmert ranted on the radio that Mueller “wants anti-Trump, Hillary-loving folks on his team. He wants people like [Andrew] Weissmann that said, ‘To heck with the law, to heck with the Constitution.’… We’ve got to stop the coup before it becomes successful and these yahoos throw us into a civil war.”

Throw them into a civil war? Usually, I take this kind of projection by conservatives as a mere political tactic; but, given the stunning reversal represented by a Democratic Senate victory in Alabama, I’m willing to consider that, in this instance, it may be coming out of genuine psychological need.


Bush: ‘I’m Not Making This Up’

WASHINGTON, D.C.—No doubt reassuring millions of Americans, President Bush yesterday defended his program of legally dubious wiretapping at home and strategically dubious regime change abroad for fighting terrorists by insisting he isn’t in la-la land.

Terrorists want to use Iraq as a home base, Bush told reporters on Wednesday. He then added:

“I’m not making this up.”

So now you know: This time it’s for real.

Fighting a credibility gap, the president has steadily insisted he needs the National Security Agency
domestic wiretap program so as to ferret out information on terrorist plans and empower the government to
prevent future attacks. But the kind of power Bush wants amounts to a family coup, carried under the pretense of defending the homeland.

“They attacked us before, they’ll attack us again if they can,” Bush said in San
Antonio over the weekend. “And we’re going to do
everything we can to stop them.”

If Bush is to be king, he’d better get his act and that of his courtiers up to par, at least. All the evidence is that the government knew in one case after another
well before 9-11 that we were going to be attacked and did nothing about it.

The Zacarias Moussaoui fiasco is a prime example. In her
letter to FBI director Robert Mueller of May 21, 2002,
Coleen Rowley, the Minneapolis FBI agent who finally
blew the whistle on the Bureau, points out the
Minneapolis FBI agents figured Moussaoui was a
terrorist threat in the summer of 2001. “The decision to
take him into custody on August 15, 2001, on the INS
‘overstay’ charge was a deliberate one to counter that
threat and was based on the agents’ reasonable
suspicions,” she said in her May 21, 2002, letter to
Mueller. These suspicions were reinforced by reports
from French intelligence, but the FBI HQ refused to
give the Minneapolis agents the go ahead on a search
warrant. From the way Moussaoui was acting, the
Minneapolis agents felt sure he was hiding something.

“The fact is that key FBIHQ personnel whose job it
was to assist and coordinate with field division
agents on terrorism investigations and the obtaining
and use of FISA searches (and who theoretically were
privy to many more sources of intelligence information
than field division agents),” she told Mueller, “continued to, almost inexplicably, throw up roadblocks
and undermine Minneapolis’ by-now desperate efforts to
obtain a FISA search warrant, long after the French
intelligence service provided its information and
probable cause became clear. HQ personnel brought up
almost ridiculous questions in their apparent efforts
to undermine the probable cause. In all of their
conversations and correspondence, HQ personnel never
disclosed to the Minneapolis agents that the Phoenix
Division had, only approximately three weeks earlier,
warned of Al Qaeda operatives in flight schools
seeking flight training for terrorist purposes!”

The Moussaoui case again illustrates the inability
of the FBI to take action in the face of obvious
terrorist threats. The Bureau had been tipped off by one of its
longtime Afghan assets in April 2001 of a planned
attack on New York and Washington using commercial
aircraft. It had an informant in San Diego, who actually
socialized with two of the 9-11 hijackers when they arrived in the
U.S. in 2000 and even rented one of them a room.

None of this failing had anything to do with the slowness
of the FISA court or a lack of intelligence or a lack of ability to gather intelligence. (The
president has 72 hours to wiretap someone before
having to get a search warrant and, in a time of war, 15

Instead, the falling down bore directly on the top officials of the
Bureau, including both Mueller and his successor Louis Freeh,
who did not act when confronted with clear evidence of
a threat. Neither one of them has ever been held
accountable for any of this disaster.


Pols Kowtow to the FBI

Politicians from both parties regularly grovel at the feet of FBI director Robert Mueller. The scene of the 9-11 commissioners kissing his ass during one of its hearings was the most disgusting exhibition so far.

It’s hard to believe that the government can keep on covering up the scandal of the agency’s behavior before, on, and after 9-11.

As everyone by now knows (and knew well before 9-11), the FBI’s abilities to translate languages are severely limited. Most recently, a Justice Department inspector general’s report offered scathing evidence of the bureau’s inadequacy. But there is no critic more persistent than Sibel Edmonds, an American citizen who was born in Iran and brought up in Turkey and is fluent in Farsi and other languages. The government is determined to stop Edmonds from blowing the whistle. But in a letter to Inspector General Glenn Fine earlier this month, she pinpointed specific instances of the FBI’s screwy and malicious intelligence apparatus, resulting in questionable translations. If what she says proves to be true, it’s hard to believe a federal grand jury would even return an indictment based on such material from the FBI, let alone that federal prosecutors would try to use it in court.

Despite pleas from agents in charge, FBI headquarters refused to remove three translators who, Edmonds says, had no proficiency in the languages spoken in the countries they were assigned to and who refused to take FBI proficiency tests to prove their abilities. One person who is still in charge of translations at an FBI field office and who spent time translating at Guantánamo Bay failed all proficiency tests in the languages he was translating.

Edmonds points to top FBI officials who have come forward to describe relationships between translators at the agency’s headquarters covering Pakistan, Afghanistan, and India who had ties to FBI targets in the region. One Arabic translator working for the FBI in Washington, she says, “brought in numerous full-time and contract translators who were family members and friends. Some of these individuals were openly celebrating the terrorist attacks on September 11, several did not possess standard qualifications, and many drew salaries without even showing up for work.”

Additional reporting: David Botti and Laurie Anne Agnese


FBI Whistle-Blowers Go Unheard

WASHINGTON D.C.—Despite the best efforts of the Jersey
Girls, leaders of the 9-11 Family Steering Committee,
no member of the 9-11 commission this afternoon asked
FBI chief Robert Mueller embarrassing questions about
two former FBI translators who claim to have knowledge
bearing on the attacks. One of them says she is being
suppressed and can’t talk because Attorney general
John Ashcroft has placed a gag order on her.

Instead, the commissioners lauded Mueller for his
running of the agency, which only yesterday they were
bitterly attacking as incompetent and
ineffective. Today one commissioner after another
lavished praise on Mueller.

Commissioner Richard Ben-Veniste briefly alluded
to accusations by the translators, and said he would
pursue it in private.

In particular the Jersey Girls wanted the commission to closely question Mueller about Sibel Edmonds, a former FBI translator, who is openly challenging the agency’s veracity in the 9-11 investigation. Attorney General John Ashcroft has put a gag order on Edmonds by making her internal complaint to the inspector general secret. Soon after she came out publicly, Edmonds was fired.

She subsequently told the commission that the FBI had information that an attack using airplanes was being planned before September 11. “Some of our group has met several times with Edmonds, and from what we can tell, we think her claims are extremely credible,” Lori van Auken, one of the leaders of the Jersey Girls, told The Voice. “So much so that some of our group hand walked her in to testify before the 9-11 commissioners.”

They are also eager to find out more about the unconfirmed story of a second FBI linguist, Behrooz Sarshar, who claims he translated for an FBI informant with information on a supposed Al Qaeda plot to attack the U.S. with planes back in April 2001. “Some of the group have also met with Sarshar,” said van Auken. “His claims seem to back up what Edmonds is saying.”

Edmonds came to attention most recently following Condoleezza Rice’s assertion in a Washington Post op-ed piece that the White House had no specific information on a domestic threat or one involving planes as “an outrageous lie. And documents can prove it’s a lie,” according to Edmonds.

Edmonds, a Turkish American, has been a citizen for 10 years and speaks Farsi, Turkish, and Arabic. The FBI assigned her to translate documents seized by agents in its post–9-11 probe. “President Bush said they had no specific information about September 11, and that’s accurate,” says Edmonds. “But there was specific information about use of airplanes, that an attack was on the way two or three months beforehand and that several people were already in the country by May of 2001. They should’ve alerted the people to the threat we were facing.”

In 2002, then–Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Patrick Leahy and Senator Charles Grassley, a senior member, asked John Ashcroft about Edmonds’s statements to the committee in a closed briefing that she was told by a superior “not to translate important, intelligence-related information, instead limiting her translation to unimportant and innocuous information.” She also claimed her superior had previous contacts with one of the people whose work she had been prevented from translating.

The FBI, the senators noted at the time, “verified that this monitor indeed failed to translate certain material properly, but has attributed the failure to a lack of training as opposed to a malicious act.”

The Justice Department inspector general has been looking into the case over the last two years, and still has not produced a report. Ashcroft, on the advice of Mueller in 2002, invoked the “state secret privilege,” making the entire matter secret, “to prevent disclosure of certain classified and sensitive national security information.” That effectively put a gag order on Edmonds.

Among other things, she now suggests one translator sent to Guantánamo by the FBI “was not even qualified in basic English.” She is questioning whether translators handling terrorism-related information are so poorly trained they can’t make competent sense of what they are translating.

A second FBI whistle-blower case involves another former FBI translator, Behrooz Sarshar, who left the agency in 2002. He supposedly translated an interview between an Iranian source, once a member of the Shah’s secret police, with two FBI agents in which the informant told the agents he had heard in Afghanistan of an Al Qaeda plot to attack the U.S. in a suicide mission with planes. Details of the story were first reported by the WorldNetDaily website.


Ashcroft to Mueller to Anybody Else

With Senate and House intelligence committees finally demanding answers for pre-9-11 blunders, the bottom line should be whether even the most skillful attempts at damage control can keep FBI director Robert Mueller or CIA chief George Tenet from losing their jobs. Attorney General John Ashcroft is doing his best to bail a leaking boat dry, but in the end he could sink right along with those he’s now trying to save. “We’re at war,” Ashcroft said on Fox last Sunday, ham-handedly repeating his fear-inducing mantra. “We have 550 million people crossing our borders back and forth every year in the United States. We know that they train tens of thousands of people in the Al Qaeda camps.”

More significantly, Ashcroft talked about the FBI as if it were in some distant country. “You know, we’ve been hearing from the field that FBI agents have suggestions. One of their suggestions is, give us the authority to listen to what’s happening in public places in our community, to surf the Net, for example.” From his pie-eyed naïveté, you’d never have guessed that Ashcroft, as head of the Justice Department, was the FBI’s top dog.

But Ashcroft needn’t fear his former colleagues on Capitol Hill. To D.C. old-timers, the very idea that lawmakers will run an impartial investigation is cause for merriment, because intelligence committees and spy agencies have always been connected by a revolving door. Porter Goss, the Florida Republican who heads the House panel, was a clandestine CIA officer during the Cold War. The staff director of the Senate panel recently left to work as a top aide to Tenet, who himself had been an aide to the committee. And the committees, now operating jointly, had to get rid of their investigations director, Britt Snider, once inspector general at the CIA.

These incestuous relations have led to scandal. John Millis, a 13-year veteran of the CIA, was staff director of the House Intelligence Committee when he committed suicide in June 2000. At the time of his death, he had been suspended with pay and was under investigation by his own committee for reasons never made clear.

Committee members are well aware of the problems the revolving doors can cause. “You know, [House committee chair Goss] is a former CIA employee, and I know he’s close to a lot of people over there,” Richard Shelby, a member of the Senate panel, told Roll Call in October. “I don’t think we should be too close to anybody we have oversight of, because you can’t do your job. You become subverted by the process.”

Yet nothing changes, because the intelligence committees are in essence cozy clubs. They operate largely in secret and are accountable to absolutely no one. They supervise 13 different federal spy outfits and a $30 billion budget. They see all sorts of classified stuff, but aren’t required to undergo background checks. And how could anyone take seriously intelligence-oversight committees that allowed the CIA to field agents who could neither read nor write the languages of the regions on which they were spying?

That’s one reason Senate Majority Leader Tom Daschle’s call for an independent commission is opposed by President Bush and others in Congress. It could cause a dreadful scene, with senior lawmakers and their staffs in the spotlight along with the intelligence chiefs. After all, what did the members of Congress know before 9-11? Might they have forewarned us?

In other times, reorganization of the FBI by conservatives seeking efficiency in government might have worked as damage control. But last week all that notion brought was an angry demand from The Wall Street Journal for Mueller to get out. Peggy Noonan, the Reagan-Bush-era speechwriter, even raised the possibility that there might be a mole (à la Robert Hanssen) at work within the upper echelons of the Bureau. Added Timothy Lynch of the libertarian Cato Institute, “Congress should not accept the hype surrounding this FBI ‘overhaul.’ ”

The White House swiftly distanced itself from both Ashcroft and Mueller. “As you might imagine, a lot of things are prepared within agencies,” said Condoleezza Rice, Bush’s designated hitter, on May 21. “They’re distributed internally, they’re worked on internally. . . . He doesn’t recall seeing anything [about suspected terrorists training at flight schools]. I don’t recall seeing anything of this kind.”

By June 3, Bush was still trying to tamp down the fire. “When you read about the FBI, I want you to know that the FBI is changing its culture,” he told reporters in Arkansas. “[T]hey’re doing a better job of communicating with the CIA. They’re now sharing intelligence.”

The spy agencies’ loudest critics have come from the right, not the left. Republican Shelby was first off the mark. “I can tell you I really believe that George W. Bush—our president—is up to the task,” he told CNN on May 22. “He’s shown that. He’s shown a lot of leadership. . . . What’s failed us and failed him is the FBI, the CIA, and others that have not furnished the requisite intelligence.” He added wistfully, “I believe President Bush, if he had had information to act on, he would have acted on it.”

“There has been an insularity among the FBI,” former House Judiciary Committee chairman Henry Hyde, another Republican, told the Chicago Tribune. “You begin to wonder [about] this premier agency. . . . You begin to believe that their sterling reputation was a hangover from J. Edgar Hoover rather than anything recently accomplished.”

Aside from Daschle and Intelligence Committee member Dick Durbin, the Democrats were mostly covering ass. “The president knew what?” asked Senator Hillary Clinton, whose husband presided over the precipitous decline of both intelligence agencies. “My constituents would like to know the answer to that and many other questions.” Listen to perennial presidential hopeful and longtime House speaker wannabe Missouri congressman Dick Gephardt: “Was there a failure of intelligence? Did the right officials not act on the intelligence in the proper way?” Golly-gee, Dick, that’s a tough one.

You might expect a little heat from North Carolina senator John Edwards, a presidential aspirant and Democratic member of the Intelligence Committee. But asked whether Mueller’s job is on the line, Edwards’s press aide Mike Briggs offered this take on his boss’s tepid views. “Based on what he knows now, he wants to know more about what level of information Mueller had when he made statements that now appear to be not the whole truth. There’s a possibility there’s some answer Mueller could provide that he wasn’t given straight information from people at the FBI.”

And then there’s the ticklish position of a Houston Democrat criticizing his fellow Texan. “On its face, it comes across as startling,” said Representative Ken Bentsen, of allegations the White House could have done more. “But when you step back, you have to give the administration some benefit of the doubt.”

Former House Judiciary Committee chairman John Conyers, the Detroit Democrat, has been pounding away at Ashcroft for his “power grab” gutting of civil rights. Conyers has a frank and kindred spirit in New York Democrat Maurice Hinchey. “I don’t think Ashcroft should be attorney general,” said Representative Hinchey. He “has shown already that he’s not inclined to closely guard the liberties of the American people. . . . Almost anyone under the present set of circumstances could be considered a potential terrorist and therefore subject to unrestricted surveillance and interrogation.”

If there is a smoking gun on Ashcroft, though, it is likely to be found in the minority office of the House Appropriations Committee, where ranking Democratic congressman David Obey has been reaming him for curbing the FBI’s terrorism work. Citing a Newsweek article about the difference between the priorities of former FBI director Louis Freeh and those of the AG, Obey reeled off a list of Ashcroft’s stated aims that now seem nostalgic—items like fighting violent crime and dealing with illegal drugs.

Ashcroft “declined to indicate that combating terrorism was one of his top priorities,” Obey told the House Appropriations Committee. “I am also frankly unhappy about the fact that the attorney general apparently was willing to charter personal planes for himself at the same time that notices were not being given to the general public that there were security reasons that would lead people to be concerned about flying commercial.” Obey added, “I think all of this demonstrates a certain lack of judgment at the Department of Justice that in essence got in the way of the FBI’s trying to get a tighter focus on terrorism.”

With 12 members of the spy committees set to leave when the congressional session ends in October, the panels are in no position to impose a tighter focus now. Those looking for a serious analysis of the 9-11 fiasco might pin their hopes instead on the Senate Judiciary hearings, set to begin this week under the gavel of Vermont’s Patrick Leahy. Or you can wait for Daschle and his mythical independent review. Either way, the dream of a better intelligence system limps on.

Additional reporting: Gabrielle Jackson and Joshua Hersh