La La Land

No, this is not about the Academy Award-winning musical that takes place in a fabled land where fanciful dancers prance on a stalled Los Angeles freeway off-ramp.

This is about a real place that’s becoming less articulate as the weeks pass, where fanciful “facts” are fabricated for the woefully and willfully ignorant. If the Trump presidency were a Hollywood movie, no one would be believe it; NO ONE!

Courtesy Dan Piraro - bizarro.com

Courtesy Dan Piraro – bizarro.com

Last week, President Trump employed his go-to tactic: pay no attention to that issue behind the curtain; blame the “fake” news media.

One week earlier, the issue, General Michael Flynn, President Trump’s hand-picked national security advisor, resigned because he had given “incomplete information” (highly technical White House jargon for “he lied”) to Vice-President Mike Pence.

Besides the fact that Flynn’s actions represent an incredible breech of protocol, they may, in fact, be illegal.

From an ethical standpoint, let me be clear. If you knowingly mislead, deceive, withhold information, offer a half-truth or create any impression that is untrue… it’s a lie. Period.

Flynn had told Pence that he, Flynn, had not discussed the sanctions that President Obama imposed on Russia with Russia’s U.S. Ambassador Sergey Kislyak. According to Pence, it was just coincidental that the conversation took place on the same day sanctions went into effect.

On the CBS News show Face the Nation (Jan. 15), the vice-president responded to journalist John Dickerson’s question regarding the issue this way:

DICKERSON: So did they ever have a conversation about sanctions ever on those days or any other day?

PENCE: They did not have a discussion contemporaneous with U.S. actions on —

DICKERSON: But that still leaves open the possibility that there might have been other conversations about the sanctions.

PENCE: I don’t believe there were more conversations.

It’s still astonishing to me that politicians – Republican and Democrat – seem to be genetically incapable of answering with either a “yes” or “no,” even when the question is reasonably unequivocal.

Meanwhile, The Hill reported (Feb. 17), that FBI Director James Comey met with members of the Senate Intelligence Committee behind closed doors. The FBI has since begun three separate investigations including a probe into financial transactions with Russia that appear to be linked to Trump associates.

Trump, of course, has called all of this a “political witch hunt.”

Nonetheless, the four questions that warrant closer scrutiny: 1) what, precisely, did Flynn discuss with the Russian ambassador regarding sanctions; 2) what did President Trump know about this and when did he know it; 3) how, precisely, are Trump and associates connected to Russia and President Vladimir Putin; and 4) what other individuals in the Trump campaign had contacts with Russian officials before the president was inaugurated?

Politifact offers the clearest overview of Trump’s possible Russian ties to date.

This is not a “fake” or “phony” story. These are serious questions involving possible collusion in our democratic process, not to mention possible conflicts of interest.

What underlines this is the fact that, after President Obama “said [the U.S.] would expel 35 Russian diplomats and close a pair of Russian-owned properties in retaliation for Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election,” Putin took a wait and see attitude, opting to wait before implementing “any further steps” until Trump took office, as reported by The Washington Post, (Dec. 30).

“ ‘Great move on delay (by V. Putin) — I always knew he was very smart!’ Trump wrote in a tweet Friday afternoon, his latest public expression of admiration for the Russian leader.”

In December 2016, CNN reported that intelligence officials confirmed that Putin approved U.S. election hacking.

“The intelligence community,” a senior intelligence officer reports, “has assessed that in order for this operation to have been executed, it could not have been done without the highest levels of the government, including the President himself.”

CNN added, “The US official said there are two entities in Russia capable of doing this kind of work, but would not name either one. The tools the Russians used are understood by the US and have a unique ‘signature.’ ”

Other intelligence officials have said that Putin’s restraint on counter-measures to U.S. sanctions is completely out of character.

All of this has since been reported to both the Senate and House Intelligence committees.

And the president’s response to all this?

“Russia talk is FAKE NEWS put out by the Dems, and played up by the media, in order to mask the big election defeat and the illegal leaks!” Trump tweeted (Feb. 26).

No, Mr. President, this is about REAL NEWS that you’re trying to “mask” by calling it FAKE.

However, there is something Trump can do to help clear up questions regarding Russian ties. He could voluntarily release his tax returns (which he promised multiple times during the campaign, only to rescind after he was elected) to both intelligence committees, directly.

If Trump is concerned about privacy, he could turn his tax information directly over to the FBI. (The only leaked documents regarding Clinton came from WikiLeaks, not the FBI.)

This would, in fact, go a long way in clearly establishing trustworthiness in the president’s multiple statements about no Russian connection despite Time magazine’s 2016 story that says otherwise.

In June 2014, Trump tweeted this prescient question:

“Are you allowed to impeach a president for gross incompetence?”

In the words of former U.N. Ambassador Adlai Stevenson, “I’m prepared to wait for your answer until hell freezes over!

*          *

The Catholic observance of Lent begins today. Attending 12 years of Catholic school, students were asked to demonstrate sacrifice by giving up something. In that spirit, I will attempt to give up writing any commentaries directly about President Trump.

Lent lasts 40 days and 40 nights. Can I make it?

Pray for me.

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