Author Archives: William H. Freivogel

This isn’t funny

Opinion

by William H. Freivogel

My nephew, a lawyer, said recently that President Trump is hilarious. The press falls right into Trump’s trap by taking him too seriously, he said.

A few days later, my tennis partner, another lawyer, said the same thing. The press takes Trump’s tweets too literally, he said.

Rich Lowry, editor of National Review, wrote last week that the press has easily fallen into its assigned role in the Trump reality show by playing the part of the Evil Empire.

And last Friday, the conservative commentator on NPR’s weekly review of the news defended one of the worst weeks of the Trump presidency with peals of laughter. John Phillips of the Orange County Register said cheerfully,  “I love the speeches. And I love the Twitter feed because it’s just this never-ending festivious airing of the grievances. And look…He ran as a disruptor. He ran as a guy who was going to…drain the swamp.” http://www.npr.org/2017/08/25/546186247/week-in-politics-trump-takes-swipe-at-fellow-republicans

Maybe Trump would seem funny, in some crude way, if he were still a blowhard TV celebrity rather than a blowhard president occupying the most serious job on the planet — the one that protects nuclear codes and the values of what Reagan called a Shining City upon a Hill.

But last week Trump continued his unfunny war on the press, the rule of law and the principle of equality that American patriots declared as the reason to fight the Revolutionary and Civil Wars.

He did all of these things in one stroke by pardoning former Arizona sheriff Joe Arpaio, who had been found guilty of criminal contempt after he ignored the Bill of Rights, defied the federal courts, persecuted Latinos and arrested journalists. https://www.propublica.org/article/sheriff-joe-arpaio-trump-pardon-aside-reporters-long-rap-sheet

Pardoning Arpaio is an apt reminder of Trump’s glaring deficiencies as president.  Arpaio:

  • joined Trump in the racist, untrue birther movement to delegitimize the nation’s first black president.
  • joined Trump in calling for a border wall to keep out Mexicans.
  • ignored the orders of federal courts telling the sheriff to stop violating the Constitution by rounding up Latinos on nothing more than suspicion. Trump saw nothing wrong with the way Sheriff Joe did his job.

Former Sen. John C. Danforth, the founder of the modern Republican Party in Missouri, put Trump in his place in a Washington Post op-ed last week, saying Trump is the antithesis of the first Republican President, Abraham Lincoln.

Danforth wrote, “We are the party of Abraham Lincoln, and our founding principle is our commitment to holding the nation together… Lincoln believed that we were one nation, and he led us in a war to preserve the Union. That founding principle of the party is also a founding principle of the United States.

“Now comes Trump, who is exactly what Republicans are not…. We are the party of the Union, and he is the most divisive president in our history…. It isn’t a matter of occasional asides, or indiscreet slips of the tongue uttered at unguarded moments. Trump is always eager to tell people that that they don’t belong here, whether it’s Mexicans, Muslims, transgender people or another group. His message is, ‘You are not one of us,’ the opposite of ‘e pluribus unum.’ And when he has the opportunity to unite Americans, to inspire us, to call out the most hateful among us, the KKK and the neo-Nazis, he refuses…. Our party has been corrupted by this hateful man, and it is now in peril.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-exactly-what-republicans-are-not/2017/08/24/9909a320-8832-11e7-a50f-e0d4e6ec070a_story.html?utm_term=.c8dd252d1cab

Sen. Danforth is a serious man. He doesn’t seem amused.

No, Mr. President

by William H. Freivogel

Opinion

No, Mr. President, it isn’t true that journalists “don’t like our country.” Our job is to hold our country and our president to the values of freedom, equality and diversity that make America special.

No, it isn’t true journalists are “liars” and “sick people” who write “fake news” and stir up “division” in the country. The news you call fake is real and the sharp divisions since Charlottesville are largely a product of your making. Think about last week’s unhinged press conference in Trump Tower.

No, journalists are not trying to “take back our history and our culture.” And exactly what is it about the culture of the Confederacy and the Old South that you want to celebrate? The treasonous attempt of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee to destroy the United States? The evil and bloody war to preserve the original sin of slavery? The post-war disenfranchisement, segregation and lynchings of African-Americans in carnival-like settings?

No, Mr. President, it isn’t okay to whip up the crowd to get them shouting at the press corps. Journalists have thick skins but it is beneath the office of president to lead your supporters in chants directed at the people who are the eyes and ears of the rest of the nation.

No, you haven’t accomplished more in seven months than any president in history, although your total number of misleading and false claims is a record, now topping 1,000. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/08/22/president-trumps-list-of-false-and-misleading-claims-tops-1000/?utm_term=.b71800c70e16

In one long, rambling speech to shouting supporters in Phoenix Tuesday night, Trump said all of these things in expanding on what has become a perpetual war against “the enemy of the people.”

CNN’s Sara Murray reported “most of the people at these rallies — even ones booing — treat it as a joke,” but added “there are some who treat Trump’s ‘fake news’ diatribes seriously.

“They believe it when Trump lies about the cameras being turned off. They harass reporters and photographers. Trump knows what he’s saying is false. People close to him know it puts journalists at risk just for doing their jobs. He does it anyway.”

Even though Trump has failed to pass signature legislation on health or tax or infrastructure, the seven months of his failed presidency have been remarkable for scandal and dysfunction.

Who would have guessed that by summer Trump would be attacking Sen. Mitch McConnell or that the Senate majority leader would be wondering out loud whether Trump’s presidency could survive the damage the commander-in-chief already had inflicted?

Who would have thought on Inauguration Day that Flynn, Priebus, Bannon, Spicer and Comey all would be gone?

Who would have thought the leaders of industry would resign from Trump’s White House panels because of the president’s failure of moral leadership after Charlottesville?

Who would have thought Robert Mueller would be special counsel delving deeply into the Russia investigation — an investigation that has upset Trump so much he tried to get the FBI director to drop it, tried to get intelligence chiefs to resist it, fired the FBI director over it, dictated the misleading cover story to conceal it and berated Sessions and McConnell for failing to protect him from it?

Mr. President, the press’s job is not to make the nation’s CEO look good. It’s to hold the president and other public officials to the nation’s laws, constitutional principles and core values. If the president makes mistakes, it’s the press’ job to alert the American people. If the other branches of government fail to check presidential abuses, it’s the press’ job to serve as a constitutional check by bringing the abuses to light.

Yes, the press wants to make American great again. Shining a light both on the president’s — or the nation’s — accomplishments and shortcomings is a journalist’s form of patriotism.

The Constitution under stress after Charlottesville

Opinion

by William H. Freivogel

The bloody weekend in Charlottesville, Va. has put enormous strain on President Donald Trump, the First Amendment and constitutional checks on the president.

Trump flunked the stress test spectacularly in his unhinged, red-faced rant of a press conference by failing to speak to the nation with the voice of moral authority.

The First Amendment emerged from the weekend tattered, facing new questions about how to protect protests when demonstrators are hateful and armed.

But the separation of powers held up pretty well. An unprecedented number of top Republicans criticized their own party’s president for failing to call out white supremacists and neo-Nazis. And the mainstream media continued to pepper Trump with hard questions in the face of the president’s repeated and false refrain about “fake media.” People would understand his view on Charlottesville, he claimed, “if the press were not fake and were honest.”

Going ‘rogue’

Trump wasn’t supposed to answer questions after his Trump Tower event on infrastructure on Tuesday, but he went “rogue,” as one staffer put it. Chief of Staff John Kelly stood glumly to one side.

White House economic adviser Gary Cohn, standing near the president, was “particularly displeased” according to Politico, that “the president launched into a rant about the culpability of the ‘alt-left’ while calling some of the protesters at the white nationalist rally ‘very fine people.’”

Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s wife, also was trapped next to Trump. McConnell on Wednesday said simply, “There are no good neo-Nazis.”

Exhibiting the nastiness he shows when backed into a corner, Trump went out of his way to attack Sen. John McCain, R-Az. Asked about McCain’s criticism of the alt-right, Trump shot back, “you mean Sen. McCain who voted against us getting good health care.” Then, in an especially distasteful quip, he added sarcastically, “I’m sure Sen. McCain must know what he’s talking about it.” McCain is under treatment for brain cancer.

By Wednesday the resignations of seven top industry leaders from presidential advisory councils led Trump to dissolve two of them. He didn’t hesitate to blast some of those who quit in protest for failing to bring jobs back to the United States.

Sprinkled throughout the press conference were attacks at the media. “I’m not finished, fake news,” he said when he thought a reporter was interrupting. At another point, he suggested his view would be better understood “if you were honest reporters, which in many cases you are not….”

“Unlike the media before I make a statement I like to know the facts … I had to see the facts, unlike a lot of reporters” — a claim that doesn’t pass the sniff test coming from the president who has lied more often in his first year of office than any other president.

But most disheartening was the ignorance of American history explicit and implicit in his comments. He defended the “very fine people” there because of “the taking down of, to them, a very, very important statue and the renaming of a park from Robert E. Lee to another name.” He said these protests were understandable when “you are changing history, you are changing culture” by taking down Confederate monuments.

Never mind that these “very fine people” were standing next to white supremacists and Nazi’s chanting, “Jews will not replace us.” Never mind that the city had changed the name from Lee Park to Emancipation Park. Never mind that Trump failed to see the difference between Robert E. Lee, a traitor who fought a war to destroy the United States, and George Washington, who fought a war to create it.

First Amendment

After the death of a counter-protester and two police officers, the ACLU and federal courts faced criticism for having forced the city to allow the demonstration in Emancipation Park, rather than another park a mile away.

As a matter of black letter law, U.S. District Judge Glen E. Conrad was right to issue an injunction forcing the city to allow the demonstration in Emancipation Park. The judge noted that the city had tried to move the white supremacists’ rally away from Emancipation Park, but had not revoked the counter-demonstrators’ permits for the area near that park. This amounted to discrimination against the white supremacists based on the content of their speech, which violates the First Amendment. http://ftpcontent.worldnow.com/wvir/documents/kessler-federal.pdf

But Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick and Mark Joseph Stern suggest future First Amendment cases may have to factor in the growth of the Second Amendment and open carry movement. They wrote:

“The judge (Conrad) failed to answer the central question: When demonstrators plan to carry guns and cause fights, does the government have a compelling interest in regulating their expressive conduct more carefully than it’d be able to otherwise? This is not any one judge’s fault. It is a failure of our First Amendment jurisprudence to reckon with our Second Amendment reality.” http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/jurisprudence/2017/08/the_first_and_second_amendments_clashed_in_charlottesville_the_guns_won.html

Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law Houston, made a similar point in the Lawfare blog. He noted that Justice Robert H. Jackson had once cautioned that if the court “does not temper its doctrinaire logic with a little practical wisdom, it will convert the constitutional Bill of Rights into a suicide pact. https://www.lawfareblog.com/first-amendment-grounds-charlottesville

Twitter shaming

Another media-related First Amendment issue emerging from Charlottesville was the Twitter campaign – @YesYoureRacist – to shame white supremacists and neo-Nazis who attended the rally.

A first casualty was Cole White, a cook at a hot dog stand in Berkeley, Calif. who lost his job after he was outed as a demonstrator. White has no First Amendment protection because the amendment does not protect people from a private employer.

But Peter Cvjetanovic, a student and employee at the University of Nevada does have constitutional protection from the 10,000 petitioners who demanded him be expelled for his views.

The university said it rejected his views but added, “there is no constitutional or legal reason to expel him from our University or to terminate his employment.”

The university is right. As despicable as Cvjetanovic’s views are, they cannot be the basis of punishment by a state institution.

Those joining in the Twitter campaign might ask themselves how they would feel about a social media campaign to expel a member of Black Lives Matter or the anti-fascist Antifa group? They also might ask whether they want to be part of an online vigilante attack that sometimes mistakenly singles out lookalikes.

In an online piece of the New Yorker, the insightful journalist Robin Wright asks alarmingly, “Is America headed for a new kind of Civil War?” Wright quotes experts who warn America is not immune from the problems that befall other countries.

http://www.newyorker.com/news/news-desk/is-america-headed-for-a-new-kind-of-civil-war

But that is a risk we should be able to avoid as long as the press and courts check the power of this wayward president, as long as Republicans with the spine of Sen. McCain criticize Trump’s excesses and as long as the First Amendment provides a constitutional way for protesters, right and left, to vent their anger.

Richard B. Dudman – a great American reporter

by William H. Freivogel

Dudman with Elizabeth Pond of the Christian Science Monitor and Michael Morrow of the Dispatch News Service International.  The three were captured together in Cambodia in 1970.

St. Louisans learned about the great events of the second half of the 20th century through the eyes, ears and forceful dispatches of Richard B. Dudman, a great American reporter who led the Washington Bureau of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch from 1969 to 1981.  Dudman died last week at 99.

The Kennedy assassination.  The Bay of Pigs. The Vietnam War.  The Pentagon Papers.  Watergate.  The attempted assassination of Ronald Reagan.  Dudman wrote about them all with a straight-forward, tell-the-truth insight few matched.

He rode a horse to the front when covering a 1954 rebellion in Guatemala instigated by the CIA.  He raised questions about a bullet hole in the windshield of the car in which Kennedy was killed.   Reporting in Vietnam he wrote his editor in 1965, “The war is being lost, and in a hurry.”  About 55,000 Americans died in Vietnam after that assessment.

Dudman and two companions were captured in Cambodia in 1970 and held 40 days – an experience he turned into riveting news stories and a book.

When the United States left Vietnam, Dudman wrote in a special section that the war had ended in “defeat and humiliation.”  Other newspapers called it a tragic end of a “noble effort.”

Dudman had a proud place on Nixon’s Enemies List.  In his story about the Nixon resignation he wrote the president was leaving office “in disgrace” – a truth an editor cut out.

When a federal court ordered The New York Times to stop printing the Pentagon Papers – the secret history of the Vietnam War – Dudman figured out where to get a copy and wrote stories for the Post-Dispatch.  He was dismayed that a top editor submitted to a court order blocking publication.

On a return trip to Cambodia in 1978, Dudman narrowly escaped death by dodging bullets and hiding behind a bed.  Another reporter on the trip was killed.

On his last day at the Post-Dispatch Dudman covered the attempted assassination of Reagan, even though his leg was in a cast.

Dudman retired from the Post-Dispatch but not from journalism.  He became active in the family radio station in Maine and wrote editorials for the Bangor Daily News until he was 94.

In celebrating the life of this great American reporter, we have linked to obituaries in The New York Times, Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Bangor Daily New.  The Times obit is an extraordinary account of Dudman’s career.

Also published here is an autobiographical story that Dudman wrote in 2004, an appreciation my wife, Margaret Wolf Freivogel, wrote upon Dudman’s retirement from the Bangor paper in 2012 and an article I wrote for the journalism review on his 95th birthday.

Dudman played a special role in Margie and my lives by agreeing in 1980 to bring us into the Washington Bureau sharing a job so we could raise our four children while continuing our reporting.  Dudman was skeptical of the arrangement until he asked the opinion of a good friend – Betty Friedan.

Included in the package are photos from Dudman’s life, including one from this spring when he perked up during hospice as he read in the Times about the incredible news from the new administration in  Washington.  We’d all be better off if Dick Dudman were here to cover the Trump presidency.

Leaks reveal important truths about Trump

By William H. Freivogel

Opinion

One theme emerging from this historically chaotic week in the Trump White House is the president’s continued insistence that leaks to mainstream media have created a phony scandal about Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

But President Trump’s effort to downplay the Russia story by delegitimizing the mainstream press seems destined to fail because of three high hurdles.

  1. In trying to persuade Americans the Russia story is fake news, the president contradicts the consensus conclusion of American and other Western intelligence agencies that Russian President Vladimir Putin personally directed the intelligence operation that hacked Democratic National Committee and Clinton campaign emails as part of an effort to defeat Hillary Clinton and elect Trump. The intelligence professionals making this assessment work for the president.
  2. Special Counsel Robert Mueller is an unbiased, professional law-enforcement official. A White House disinformation campaign is not going to derail his investigation into whether the president obstructed justice or his campaign violated election laws by coordinating with the Russians. Mueller’s job is to enforce standards embedded in law, standards immune from White House propaganda.
  3. The New York Times and the Washington Post’s track records for accuracy give great credibility to their disclosures. This is not Fox News, where there was apparent coordination with the White House on its false story on the murder of DNC staffer Seth Rich. (The whole point of the Seth Rich story was to blame the DNC for the leak of the emails while clearing the Russians and thereby Trump.)

Consider what the American people know about the Russia story because of leaked stories published in the Times and Post as part of what media critic James Warren describes as “the last great newspaper war.” Here’s what we know but wouldn’t without the leaked stories:

— Former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn lied about his improper contacts with Russia during the last days of the presidential transition. Acting Attorney General Sally Q. Yates warned the White House about the lies and Flynn’s susceptibility to blackmail on Jan. 26, but the president waited 18 days to remove Flynn, acting only after the Post published the story based on multiple anonymous sources.

— Attorney General Jeff Sessions had failed to disclose to Congress that he had met top Russians officials during the presidential campaign. The information led to Sessions’ eventual recusal, the act that made Trump so angry because Sessions couldn’t protect him from the probe. (In a few days, Sessions will publicize an increase in the number of leak investigations, which may help get him out of Trump’s doghouse.)

— Trump asked FBI Director James B. Comey in an Oval Office meeting in February to “let go” of the criminal investigation of Flynn. The request came after the president had dismissed other witnesses, including Sessions. Comey, after Trump fired him, leaked his account of the meeting, expecting, correctly, it would lead to appointment of a special counsel.

— Trump told top Russian officials in an Oval Office meeting in May that Comey was “crazy, a nut job.” He added, according to a leaked transcript of the encounter, that before firing Comey,“ I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.”

— Trump asked top intelligence officials in March to help him push back against Comey and the FBI on the Russia investigation, an act reminiscent of President Nixon’s effort to use the CIA to block the FBI investigation of Watergate.

— Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower during the presidential campaign to get the dirt on Hillary Clinton. “I love it,” he said at the prospect of getting information.

— President Trump took charge of the drafting of Trump Jr.’s first statement on the meeting as the president flew back from the Group of 20 summit in early July. That statement misleadingly stated: “We primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children that was active and popular with American families….” In ensuing days, Trump Jr. revised the statement several times and finally released emails just before the Times published them. The emails show Trump Jr. was promised “ultra-sensitive “ information on Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

The Post’s story this week about Trump’s direct involvement in the misleading statement about the Trump Tower meeting contradicts the repeated claims by the president’s lawyer, Jay Sekulow, that Trump had nothing to do with drafting the statement. Sarah Huckabee Sanders admitted this week that Trump “weighed in just as any father would.” Hopefully, most fathers wouldn’t help their sons evade the truth. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/07/31/trumps-lawyer-repeatedly-denied-trump-was-involved-in-trump-jr-s-statement-but-he-was/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.2a36be54815c

The development also makes untenable Sekulow’s constant denial that Mueller is investigating the president for obstruction of justice. The Post has reported that Mueller is looking into obstruction and the bare bones of an obstruction case are now in full view:

Ask Comey to drop the Flynn investigation. Fire Comey when he proceeds against Flynn. Ask the intelligence chiefs to push back against the Russia investigation. Direct the drafting of a misleading statement about a meeting confirming Russian’s desire to help Trump by providing dirt on Clinton.

Much of last week’s drama and chaos in the White House was itself connected to White House campaign against leaks. Anthony Scaramucci — whose meteoric rise and burnout set records for brevity as communications director — called New Yorker reporter Ryan Lizza last Wednesday night to find out who had leaked that the president and first lady were dining with Fox’s Sean Hannity and former Fox executive Bill Shine. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/the-fix/wp/2017/07/31/trumps-lawyer-repeatedly-denied-trump-was-involved-in-trump-jr-s-statement-but-he-was/?tid=a_inl&utm_term=.2a36be54815c

Of course Lizza wouldn’t disclose his source and that led to the vulgar rant against then Chief of Staff Reince Priebus and Chief Strategist Steven Bannon — a rant that Trump initially “loved,” according to the New York Post, but used four days later to remove Scaramucci.

Scaramucci demonstrated his and the White House’s hypocrisy about leaks by first threatening to subject Priebus to an FBI investigation for leaking and then defending his rant by saying he was talking to Lizza off the record — in other words, the man fighting a war against leaks was claiming to be leaking himself.

The truth is that much of the leaking has apparently come from the warring factions in the White House. These leaks generally are not illegal and often in the public interest.

Leaking classified information and information hacked from email is illegal, although printing the information is not. But leaking unclassified information from government sources is legal for both leaker and reporter.

Not all leaks are equally just. WikiLeaks’s publication of hacked DNC emails during the election campaign made it an arm of Russian intelligence agents who apparently had obtained them. Had American media known then what they know now about the extent of Putin’s control of the hacks, respectable media outlets, it is hoped, would have provided more context for the stories they published on the DNC/Clinton emails.

But the leaks disclosing deception and wrongdoing in the Trump White House have provided the American people with important information they need to made a judgment about their president. This is the way in which the press serves as an important constitutional check on the president’s power and abuse of power.

Time to send Donald Trump to time-out

By William H. Freivogel

Opinion

Almost every day, President Donald Trump behaves the way parents tell their children never to behave. He lies, boasts, berates friends, threatens foes, acts like a spoilsport, blames others for his failings, objectifies women, demands the spotlight and relishes flouting the norms of public behavior.

To many of his supporters, turning the world topsy-turvy is refreshing, even fun.

But Trump’s rude, crude behavior must be jarring to millions of good, decent people who voted for Trump only to find him violating every rule of good behavior.

Trump’s speech to Eagle Scouts in West Virginia this week was a classic. After promising not to be political, he attacked President Obama, Hillary Clinton and the “fake media.” Somehow he worked into his speech a six-minute story of meeting a failed real estate developer at a Manhattan cocktail party — with references to fabled exploits on his yacht.

Bill Kristol, the conservative commentator, tweeted after the speech, “He’s so far beyond the usual bounds of even vulgar politicians’ vulgarity….” Former CIA Director John E. McLaughlin tweeted, “Trump’s Boy Scout speech had the feel of a third world authoritarian’s youth rally.”

Trump’s everyday actions challenge the Scout motto of “trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” These are not character traits associated with the current president.

Think about the norms parents teach their children.

Don’t lie: This week Trump falsely blamed The New York Times for tipping off the leader of ISIS to a U.S. strike. He also claimed, “So many stories about me in @washingtonpost are Fake News.” These are among the 800-plus lies Trump told during the first six months of office, including fabrications about five million fraudulent voters for Hillary Clinton and Obama tapping Trump Tower.

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/fact-checker/wp/2017/07/20/president-trumps-first-six-months-the-fact-check-tally/?utm_term=.4e3aa4ec041c

Don’t deceive yourself: A year after Russians came to Trump Tower to interfere with the presidential election in their meeting with Donald Trump Jr., the president continues to say he is not convinced the Russians interfered. In a remarkable exchange with CNN’s Jake Tapper, Trump’s new communications director, Anthony Scaramucci, said the Russians are too slick to get caught hacking. “Somebody said to me yesterday, I won’t tell you who, that if the Russians actually hacked this situation and spilled out those emails you would never have seen it,” Scramucci said. “They are superconfident in their deception skills in hacking.”

When Tapper pressed who the anonymous source was, Scaramucci responded, “How about it was the president.”

Be loyal to your friends: Attorney General Jeff Sessions, the first senator to support Trump for president, received a dose of Trump “loyalty” this past week. The president told the New York Times he wouldn’t have appointed him if he had known Sessions would recuse himself from the Russia investigation. In other words, Trump wanted Sessions to protect him from the criminal investigation of Russian interference in the election that threatens his family and his presidency, even though Sessions’ recusal was required by Justice Department policy.

Don’t shift blame to others: After telling the Times last week that Sessions’ recusals was “very unfair to the president,” Trump came back this week with tweets about the “beleaguered AG” whom he then beleaguered with the Tuesday morning tweet: “So why aren’t the Committees and investigators, and of course our beleaguered A.G., looking into Crooked Hillarys crimes & Russia relations?” Later in the day, he labeled Sessions “VERY weak,” something one doesn’t want to be in Trump’s administration of alpha males.

Don’t develop a persecution complex: Trump made it clear in the Times’ interview that the Russia investigation is Fake News pursued as part of a “witch hunt” by the mainstream media. He also criticized the acting director of the FBI, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and Special Counsel Robert Mueller, possibly as a prelude for firing one or more of them. He said Sessions’ recusal was “very unfair to the president.” He revised that Tuesday to say — inexplicably — it was unfair to the presidency, as if the presidency can’t withstand an attorney general’s proper recusal decision.

Don’t showboat: Trump starts most days by tweeting his grudges and grievances and grabbing the nation’s attention. Everything screams “look at me.” Look, I have big hands. Look, I attract the biggest crowds. Look, I’m really, really rich and smart and went to the best schools.

Don’t call people names: Trump has turned around this parental admonition and attached a nasty pejorative to every opponent. Crooked Hillary. Little Marco. Lyin’ Ted. Goofy (Elizabeth) Warren, alias Pocahontas. Low Energy Jeb. Crazy Bernie.

Then there are the norms of public life that Trump flouts.

He threatens to lock up political opponents such as Hillary Clinton. He ridicules cabinet members in public. He writes nasty, graphic tweets about women and their bodies. He refuses to embrace the unanimous conclusion of his intelligence agencies that the Russians tried to influence the election in his favor. He fires the FBI director after demanding loyalty and asking him to block a federal criminal investigation. His son meets with a Russian agent to get dirt on Clinton instead of reporting the contact to the FBI. Trump cuts off support for Syrian rebels, handing Russia a victory in Syria. He blasts federal judges for incompetence when they disagree with him. He calls reputable news organization fake and believes reports of disreputable news organizations. He told a Youngstown, Ohio, audience Tuesday night that he was trying to get beyond the filter of “Fake, fake, fake news.”

At one point in the Youngstown speech, Trump addressed the criticism that he is not presidential.

“Sometimes they say: ‘He doesn’t act presidential,’” Trump told the audience. “And I say: ‘Hey look; great schools, smart guy, it’s so easy to act presidential, but that’s not going to get it done.’ . . . It’s much easier, by the way, to act presidential than what we’re doing here tonight.”

He added, “With the exception of the late, great Abraham Lincoln, I can be more presidential than any president who has ever held this office. That I can tell you. It’s real easy.”

If it’s so easy, Mr. President, give yourself and the American people a breather and try a few months of being presidential.

The lies are catching up with Trump – a presidency imperiled

By William H. Freivogel

Opinion

False and misleading statements from President Donald Trump and the White House pile up day-by-day, week-by-week, steadily undermining the president’s credibility and making him the most unpopular president in modern history at the six-month mark.

Trump claims to have signed more bills than any other modern president. He hasn’t.

He blames the Democrats for killing the GOP health bill when it was the Republicans who couldn’t muster a majority.

His son first denies ever meeting with Russians about campaign issues, then admits meeting a Russian lawyer but says it wasn’t about the campaign, then admits he was promised a Russian government lawyer had dirt on Hillary Clinton, then releases emails expressing delight at the prospect of the dirt, then claims to have told everything about the meeting but leaves out other Russians in attendance.

Trump defends his son’s decision to meet with the Russians tweeting, “Most politicians would have gone to a meeting like the one Don jr attended in order to get info on an opponent. That’s politics!” But political operatives from both parties say it isn’t just politics to collude with agents of America’s chief adversary and the proper response would have been to call the FBI.

Trump’s lawyers say he is not under criminal investigation even though they have no way of knowing and the claim is difficult to believe. Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel after fired FBI Director James B. Comey disclosed the president asked him to drop the investigation of former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn – an act that is arguably obstruction of justice. And now there are reports Mueller is investigating the Trump Jr. meeting.

All of this lying and misleading is in the last 10 days alone. Before that Trump lied about President Barack Obama tapping Trump tower, about millions of illegal voters for Clinton, and of course there was the big lie that was a cornerstone of his campaign – that Obama wasn’t born in the United States.

One might have thought Trump would take a vacation from his refrain about the “dishonest” mainstream media and “fake news” as his son was the source of the documents about the Russia meeting. But there’s no stopping this president who tweeted a day later, “Remember, when you hear the words ‘sources say’ from the Fake Media, often times those sources are made up and do not exist.”

And this week, when the media disclosed that Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin had an undisclosed meeting on the side of the G-20 summit – in which Trump spoke to Putin through the Kremlin interpreter – Trump complained bitterly “The Fake News is becoming more and more dishonest!”

Some of conservative commentators finally have lost patience. Last week Fox’s Chris Wallace said any fair-minded citizen should worry “about the fact that we were repeatedly misled about what this meeting concerned.” And Fox anchor Shepard Smith told Wallace, “Why is it lie after lie after lie? … My grandmother used to say … Oh what a tangled web we weave when first we practice to deceive. The deception, Chris, is mind-boggling.”

Then this week the Wall Street Journal editorial page called for “radical transparency” criticizing the Trumps for having “created the appearance of a conspiracy that on the evidence Don Jr. lacks the wit to concoct. And they handed their opponents another of the swords that by now could arm a Roman legion…. Denouncing leaks as ‘fake news’ won’t wash as a counter-strategy beyond the President’s base, as Mr. Trump’s latest 36 percent approval rating shows.” The brutal realities of Washington, the Journal warned, will “destroy Mr. Trump, his family and their business reputation unless they change their strategy toward the Russia probe.”

It is true that a PPP poll shows more than half of Trump’s supporters think Trump Jr. never met with the Russians, even though he admits it. But Trump’s low approval ratings show the lies have had a cost. As Trump’s overall approval rating has slipped, the percentage of strong Trump supporters has declined while the percentage of strong opponents has grown.

It will take months for Mueller to complete his investigation, but it isn’t too soon to say this presidency is imperiled.

The biggest bombshell: ‘I love it.’

opinion

by William H. Freivogel

The New York Times’ story about Donald Trump Jr.’s enthusiastic reaction to the prospect of getting dirt from Russia on Hillary Clinton is the biggest bombshell among the many big newspaper disclosures published during the first six months of the Trump presidency.

Since the Russian scandal began, Trump has insisted that it was “fake news” and that there had been no collusion between the campaign and the Russians.

Now comes proof his son enthusiastically agreed to meet with a Russian lawyer last summer to get “ultra sensitive” information on Hillary Clinton after he was told explicitly the information was “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.”

If the letter had been sent to Trump Jr. as part of an FBI sting, it couldn’t have been written more clearly:  Russia was trying to elect the presumptive Republican nominee and was ready to give Trump and his father damaging information about the Democrat.

Nor could Trump Jr.’s response have been clearer. “If it’s what you say I love it,” he responded in an email to a trusted intermediary.

Those three words – I love it – will go down in history. The president’s son was ready to accept information from a hostile government as part of that government’s secret intelligence operation to help elect Trump.  Not only did Trump Jr. meet with the Russian, but he also brought along his important brother-in-law Jared Kushner and then campaign chair Paul Manafort.

In their wildest dreams, Clinton campaign officials never imagined such clear proof that the highest levels of the Trump campaign sought to collude with the Russians to beat Clinton.

It’s not treason, as Democratic vice presidential candidate Tim Kaine suggested.  That requires a plot to aid an enemy.  But there are plenty of potential legal violations for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to investigate, including campaign violations for accepting a thing of value from a foreign national.  Mueller already is investigating other aspects of the Russia story and Trump’s firing of FBI director James B. Comey, which raises obstruction of justice questions.

Many Republicans suggested Tuesday that the disclosure of the Trump Tower meeting was a “nothing-burger.” The repetition of the obviously scripted phrase became comical as the day wore on.

Fox’s Martha Martha MacCallum, playing defense for Trump, tried to get conservative commentator Charles Krauthammer to say the meeting was not important because Trump Jr. says he didn’t receive damaging information. Krauthammer wouldn’t play ball:

“It’s a hell of a defense to say your collusion might be incompetent.  If you get a call to go to a certain place in the middle of the night to pick up stolen goods and it turns out the stolen goods don’t show up but the cops show up, I think you’re going to have a very weak story saying, ‘Well, I got swindled here.’”

The White House says the president didn’t know about the meeting.  The president himself tweeted Wednesday that his son is innocent and the victim of “the greatest Witch Hunt in political history. Sad!”

But if it turns out that the president knew his son, son-in-law and campaign manager were meeting the Russian in an office near his in Trump Tower that day in June, the “nothing-burger” email could become a “smoking gun,” like the tape from 45 Junes ago that forced Richard M. Nixon from office.