The Ethically-Blighted Prime Minister of Malaysia–Najib Razak


June 19, 2017

The Ethically-Blighted Prime Minister of Malaysia–Najib Razak

by Dr.M. Bakri Musa, Morgan-Hill, California

Image result for Najib Razak and Rosmah Mansor

As for MO1, his spouse and stepson, they are beyond shame. With the millions if not billions they have already expropriated, they can handle the setback. Malaysians however, would be saddled for generations with 1MDB’s humongous debt. Quite a legacy for the son of the late Tun Razak! As for the Tun, what a legacy to have bequeathed Malaysia with his ethically-blighted son.–M.Bakri Musa

The dismissive attitude of Malaysian officials to the latest US Department of Justice’s (DOJ) civil forfeiture lawsuit targeting expensive assets allegedly acquired with funds illicitly siphoned from 1MDB is misplaced. Their stance is an embarrassing display of gross ignorance.

Yes, civil lawsuits in America are as common as mushrooms after a rainfall. This DOJ action however, is the largest (in dollar value) such forfeitures to date. This second set of lawsuits targeted assets allegedly given to Hollywood celebrities, as well as to the spouse of “Malaysian Official 1” (MO1). The two categories are separate though the latter believe that she is in the same class as the former.

Najib apologists and enablers never fail to point out with unconcealed smugness that the defendants to the lawsuits are not individuals, specifically Najib or his associates and relatives, rather those assets.

That is right, but such sophistry reveals a fundamental ignorance of the American judicial system. Those targeted assets do not exist in vacuo; someone or somebody owns them. They in effect are the defendants.

By targeting those assets and not their owners, DOJ is spared the task of identifying their rightful owners. That can be an arduous and expensive task, what with multiple shell companies involved in dizzying number of foreign jurisdictions. Instead, all DOJ has to do is wait for the owners to come out of the woodwork to identify themselves and lay claim to those assets by challenging the lawsuit. They have to, otherwise they would lose those assets, or at least their share.

One of those owners is Jho Low. He claimed to have bought those assets with his family’s wealth. That at least was believable as he came from a wealthy clan in Penang. Sure enough, his family’s assorted trusts too have contested the lawsuit from faraway New Zealand!

Image result for Reza Aziz and J Lo

Then there is one Reza Aziz, identified as the “stepson of MO1.” Where did this son of a nondescript Malaysian army officer get his wealth? From his mother, the daughter of my parent’s contemporary as a village school teacher in Kuala Pilah? Visit her dilapidated ancestral home back in my kampong, and her current flamboyant lifestyle today would make you puke. As for Reza’s stepfather Najib Razak, that man had spent his entire adult life in government, with its measly pay.

Reza Aziz concocted the idea that the money (some hundred million!) was a “gift” from a benevolent Saudi Sheik. Even the wealthiest corpulent Sheik would not be so extravagant with his favorite toy-boy, yet this Reza Aziz character wants those seasoned DOJ prosecutors to believe his story! Even his American accountants did not believe him.

One other owner has also come forward. Hollywood celebrity Leonardo DiCaprio has not only surrendered the gifts he had received “from the parties named in the civil complaint” but went further and cooperated with DOJ investigators. That cannot be good news for either Jho Low or Reza Aziz.

Any bets whether any of the other “owners,” specifically the alleged recipient of that pink diamond, MO1’s spouse, would return their gifts? It is worth pondering whose actions better reflect the forgiving spirit of Ramadan, hers or DiCaprio’s?

Najib supporters trivialize the DOJ’s lawsuit, citing its lack of “action” after its first filing last year as proof of its political intent. To them, these series of forfeiture lawsuits are yet another albeit more sophisticated American attempt at regime change.  Such commentaries reveal a pathetic lack of the basic understanding of the US justice system.

This asset forfeiture is a civil lawsuit. Unlike criminal ones where the axiom “justice delayed, justice denied” is adhered to, civil suits can and do drag on for years. They go to trial only when all parties are ready, and all extraneous issues as with ownership claims settled. The fact that these forfeiture lawsuits drag on should not be misinterpreted in any way.

There is also the possibility that criminal charges would be filed against specific individuals during the discovery or the trial.

There is only one certainty. Once a lawsuit is filed, those assets are effectively tied up. They cannot be sold, mortgaged, or altered in any way without the court’s consent. DOJ has in effect total control of those assets, meaning, their de facto owner.

These forfeiture lawsuits will not be settled out of court. Those prosecutors have a point to prove, and with unlimited resources to pursue it. That reality has prompted owners like DiCaprio to cooperate with DOJ.

This will not be like a Malaysian trial where prosecutors could be illicitly paid off or where defense lawyers openly brag about having judges in their (lawyer’s) back pockets. The defendants have hired some of the best legal minds including those who had once worked in DOJ and had successfully prosecuted many high profile kleptocrats. It will be far from a walk in the park for the DOJ lawyers.

DOJ does have something in its favor. In a civil suit, unlike a criminal trial, the burden of proof is lower, only the “preponderance of evidence” and not “beyond reasonable doubt.” The burden of proof also shifts from the plaintiff to the defendant. Meaning, the owners have to prove that the funds they used to purchase those assets were untainted. It would be very difficult to convince an American jury that a Middle Eastern sheik would willingly part away with hundreds of millions of dollars to a Malay boy no matter how pretty he looks, for nothing in return.

Regardless of the outcome, this trial would expose to the world all the sordid ugly details of the 1MDB shenanigans. Once those are out, not many would be proud to call themselves Malaysians. They would be downright ashamed for having elected a leader with such unbounded avarice, and then letting him get away with it for so long.

Image result for Najib Razak and Tun Razak

As for MO1, his spouse and stepson, they are beyond shame. With the millions if not billions they have already expropriated, they can handle the setback. Malaysians however, would be saddled for generations with 1MDB’s humongous debt. Quite a legacy for the son of the late Tun Razak! As for the Tun, what a legacy to have bequeathed Malaysia with his ethically-blighted son.

The End of Political Ideology in Malaysia?


June 15, 2017

The End of Political Ideology in Malaysia?

by Norshahril Saat For The Straits Times

Personality politics has led to the fluidity of political party membership. Members join and quit parties simply because they follow their masters or have disagreed with them. The danger is that disagreements are not based on issues or policy outlook. As a result, we have witnessed many political U-turns in contemporary Malaysian politics.– Norshahril Saat For The Straits Times

There was a time when political parties in Malaysia were clearly differentiated by ideology.

UMNO (United Malays National Organisation) struggled for Ketuanan Melayu (Malay supremacy) through affirmative action for Malays and bumiputeras (non-Malay natives), aimed at helping these communities be on equal footing – in economics, business and education – with the Chinese and Indians.

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Tunku Abdul Rahman–Exponent of Ethical Leadership where Values and Ideology Matter

Despite being an ethno- nationalist party, UMNO was willing to share power with the Chinese and Indians, represented by the MCA (Malaysian Chinese Association) and MIC (Malaysian Indian Congress) respectively. This multi-ethnic cooperation formed the backbone of the BN (Barisan Nasional) coalition, which has been in power since Malaysia’s independence in 1957…

Read On:

http://www.straitstimes.com/opinion/the-end-of-political-ideology-in-malaysia?&utm_source=facebook&utm_medium=social-media&utm_campaign=addtoany

 

Legendary Motorcycle Author Robert Pirsig Dies Aged 88


June 8, 2017

COMMENT: What do Farouk A. Peru, a much younger man at least a few decades apart chronologically speaking, and I (78 years old last May) have in common? Well for starters, we are Facebook pals; we  love to read and pen our thoughts in print; we appreciate culture and the arts and all things of beauty; we are unafraid to express our views openly and critically; we are Muslims; we are Malaysians and we enjoyed reading ZEN.

We admire Singapore’s Pak Othman  Wok, and Robert Prisig who wrote Zen And The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (first published  in 1974 and that was when I read it). Both men have since died, and May God Bless their souls.

I stumbled upon Farouk’s article  on Prisig’s magnum opus and also learned of his passing in The Malay Mail this evening (see below).

Like Farouk, I recommend the Zen book (which is subtitled An Inquiry into Values) to my young readers. It is tough reading at first, but it gets easier as you go along with the help of a good English dictionary. But to assist you, I would recommend The Guide Book  To ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE by Ronald L. DiSanto, Ph.d and Thomas J. Steele, S.J., Ph.d (New York: William Morrow, 1990). I congratulate Farouk for reading the book and for his article.–Din Merican

Legendary Motorcycle Author Robert Pirsig Dies Aged 88

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance author Robert Pirsig has died at the age of 88. Pairing motorcycles with philosophy, Pirsig was responsible for inspiring countless motorcycle journeys and road trips.

The book “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” sits on bookshelves all over the world. It’s by no means a book about Zen, nor is it a book that tackles the mechanics of motorcycles – it’s a story about a father and son journey aboard a motorcycle that takes them across the western United States. It’s not necessarily a road trip book either. In fact, it’s hard to classify exactly what the book is, but that doesn’t matter – and that’s the beauty of it. It was a book that appealed (and still appeals) to audiences over the world, and is an essential book for any motorcyclist. If you’ve ever been drawn to the road, you and Pirsig would have a lot in common.

Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenence authot Robert Persig

Robert Pirsig: 1928 – 2017

An announcement by Peter Hubbard, the Executive Editor of William Morrow & Co, recently announced the death of one of our favorite authors. Robert Persig passed away on April 24th 2017, “after a period of ill health.”

Zen was first published back in 1974. Pirsig had been rejected by more than 100 publishers before the iconic, semi-autobiographical book ever hit the stores. Despite the difficulty finding a publisher, Zen became a best seller. Pirsig described the nature of the book as an effort to “set out to resolve the conflict between classic values that create machinery, such as a motorcycle, and romantic values, such as experiencing the beauty of a country road.”

Robert and Chris Pirsig

Born in Minneapolis, Robert Pirsig was very well educated and went on to earn a degree in Philosophy, working as a technical writer and English teacher before suffering from mental illness. His battle with mental illness resulted in a motorcycle trip with this son Christopher in 1968 through the western United States, which would become the inspiration for his story.

The preface to Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance is the best way to sum up his iconic book: “What follows is based on actual occurrences. Although much has been changed for rhetorical purposes, it must be regarded in its essence as fact. However, it should in no way be associated with that great body of factual information relating to orthodox Zen Buddhist practice. It’s not very factual on motorcycles, either.”

Robert Pirsig and his motorcycle

If you haven’t read it, we urge you to pick up a copy and enjoy Pirsig’s journey along with him and his son. It’s a great American story and should be celebrated – and a fantastic read for all of those who appreciate the liberty and freedom associated with the open road.

Here’s to you Robert Pirsig, and thanks for your wonderful insights. You will be missed.

Robert Pirsig

“The test of the machine is the satisfaction it gives you. There isn’t any other test. If the machine produces tranquility, it’s right. If it disturbs you, it’s wrong, until either the machine or your mind is changed.” – Robert Pirsig 1928 – 2017

Read Robert Prisig’s ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENCE

By Farouk A. Peru (April 28, 2017)

Not one but two writers whose works made an impact on me died. It seems that 2017 is doing to authors what 2016 did to artistes! I had written about the death of Othman Wok and now I find out Robert Pirsig has died.

Often at times, authors or film-makers are defined by a single work but that work is a true magnum opus. They never again replicate the sheer tremor of these works but they do not have to. The deed is done; they have imprinted their names in the annals of literary history.

In the case of Robert Pirsig, that work is Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance (henceforth, Zen, first published in 1974 ). This narrative has been available in Malaysian bookshops since my own childhood, as I remember.  However, it was only in the early 90s when I picked up my first copy. It was after my SRP and the bookshop was the MPH in Section 14 which has long since closed down.

It was in the New Age/spirituality/philosophy section and I needed something completely different from the boring schoolwork I had been ingesting since the beginning of 1991.

Image result for robert pirsig dies

Zen was not about actual Zen (the Buddhist originated tradition), as I found out on the bus home. Rather it was about a journey undertaken across the American north from Minnesota to California by the unnamed narrator and his son, accompanied by their friends for the first half of their journey.

It was set in the 60s or early 70s. What attracted me to it at first was the journey itself. I loved narratives of long-forgotten places. America, being the gigantic nation that it is, has plenty of places which are unknown even to Americans themselves.

One could liken the geography and culture to the milieu found in Annie Proulx’s works and the visuals akin to the film Brokeback Mountain. Of course, the tagline of Zen being “An Inquiry into Values”, one would rightly expect a philosophical discussion.

One would not be disappointed either but Pirsig delivers it so surreptitiously that readers would feel as if they had “gone under” in surgery and woken up with some philosophical knowledge!

Pirsig ingeniously used the literary device of a third person, thought to be the alter ego of the narrator. He named him Phaedrus who, like the Phaedrus coined by Plato in his dialogues, was an interlocutor, midwifing the truth for readers through his own experiences.

Phaedrus had mental health issues like Pirsig himself but was a child prodigy. These similarities are obviously telling us who Phaedrus represents.

Rereading this book in 2014 (I had found a milestone edition with an introduction by Pirsig himself), I found that Pirsig may have oversimplified philosophy just a little.  His East/West dichotomy saying Eastern is more intuitive and the West more rational had become too simplistic for my liking. Perhaps if he meant dominant trends in each tradition, I would have been more amenable to his view.

To me, philosophy as a subject cannot be extricated into several self-containing traditions. Rather it is a complex network of ideas which feed off its own nodes which we may not even be aware of.  Plato, for example, may have derived his ideas from Egyptian thought, thus undermining the very idea of Western philosophy!

Be that as it may, I would still highly recommend Zen to anyone who is looking for a digestible story while at the same time expand his philosophical mind. The book has, after all, sold five million copies. No small feat for a manuscript rejected 121 times before finally getting published!

* This is the personal opinion of the columnist.

 http://www.themalaymailonline.com/opinion/farouk-a.-peru/article/why-you-should-read-zen-and-the-art-of-motorcycle-maintenance#sthash.5FDvKLu7.dpuf

James Comey’s Intellectual History


June 8, 2017

James Comey’s Intellectual History

by Nicholas Schmidle

http://www.newyorker.com

More than three decades before the F.B.I. began investigating whether members of Donald Trump’s Presidential campaign had colluded with the Russian government, James Comey—the Bureau’s recently fired director—envisioned a Russian conquest of America. He was then a senior at the College of William & Mary, in Virginia, with a column in the school paper, the Flat Hat. His commentaries satirized everything from crooked politicians to classmates who fretted about life after graduation.

Image result for James Comey-the self righteous

On December 4, 1981, he parodied Cold War appeasers. “One must pause and reflect upon nuclear holocaust,” he wrote. “I doubt many students have taken the time to consider the ramifications of nuclear conflict.” The school’s gym would surely close, he warned; intramural basketball would cease, and a campus film series would end. “The stakes are too high: It’s time we folded. We should unilaterally disarm.” President Ronald Reagan, Comey wrote, should send the Soviet leader, Leonid Brezhnev, a note “offering unconditional surrender.”

Liberals, he implied, would be pleased with a Soviet occupation: “The National Rifle Association would be flushed, crime would decrease, the Pentagon would be a shopping mall, Jerry Falwell would be sadistically tortured.”

Comey is now fifty-six. On Thursday, he is scheduled to testify before the Senate about Russian interference in the 2016 election. He will also likely be asked about the several personal interactions that he had with Donald Trump before May 9th, when Trump fired him. Trump’s view of Comey has oscillated wildly over the past year. In July, he disparaged the F.B.I.’s “phony investigation” of Hillary Clinton after it failed to lead to an indictment. In October, Trump praised Comey’s “guts” for reopening the case. This spring, the President became angry, in part, because in a series of awkward encounters Comey refused to pledge loyalty to him.

On February 14th, Trump cornered Comey after a terrorism-related briefing in the Oval Office. Trump’s national-security adviser, Michael Flynn, had resigned the previous day, and Trump urged Comey to drop the case against Flynn. “I hope you can see your way clear to letting Flynn go,” Trump said, according to remarks Comey prepared ahead of tomorrow’s hearing. Comey did not drop the case. Indeed, because Trump kept meeting with him and discussing the Russia investigation, Comey had become not just a representative for the Bureau but also a kind of witness. Following a meeting at Trump Tower in January, Comey said that he went outside and immediately recorded their conversation on a laptop in an F.B.I. vehicle, adding, “Creating written records immediately after one-on-one conversations with Mr. Trump was my practice from that point forward.”

Comey has told associates that he never tried to lure Trump into improprieties. “It wasn’t like Jim was going to the Mob boss, all wired up, trying to secretly extract a confession,” one associate told me. Yet, in Comey’s view, Trump’s behavior toward him repeatedly crossed the line, making him “an obstructor.” Based on Comey’s prepared remarks, his Senate testimony will lay the basis for this legal claim, without explicitly making the charge.

His testimony is likely to be supremely assured. A senior intelligence official said of Comey, “He likes the stage. He takes politicians’ questions apart. He loves the fact that he’s smarter than them.”

Image result for James Comey-the self righteous

In October, 2003, Comey was asked, at his confirmation hearing to become the Deputy Attorney General, how he might handle a politically charged case implicating an Attorney General who refused to recuse himself. “I don’t care about politics,” he insisted. “I care about doing the right thing.” In a profile published that December in New York, Comey further smudged the lines of his political identity. He said that in his twenties he had been both a Communist and a Reaganite. “I’m not even sure how to characterize myself politically,” he went on. “Maybe at some point, I’ll have to figure it out.”

Over the past year, Comey’s detractors have debated his actions and decisions on normative grounds. Was it proper for him to hold a press conference to announce the F.B.I.’s findings on the Hillary Clinton e-mail case? Should he have sent a letter to Congress, days before the election, notifying them that he was reopening the investigation? Why didn’t he inform voters before November 8th that Trump’s campaign was under investigation for possible collusion with a foreign adversary? Meanwhile, there has been little focus on Comey’s moral and intellectual leanings.

Despite Comey’s protestations that he has no interest in politics, he has signalled some abiding concerns over the years. His college thesis, “The Christian in Politics,” is about power and integrity, and is anchored in a comparison of the political philosophies of Reinhold Niebuhr and Jerry Falwell. Comey concluded that Falwell was a huckster who was inclined to “violate the constitutional separation of Church and State as well as the tax-exempt status of his church.” He was repelled by what he saw as Falwell’s false projection of virtue. Comey considered Niebuhr, however, to be an intellectual giant, one of “the world’s greatest moral and political theologians.” He concurred with Niebuhr that Christians were “essential to the political order,” and that a life led in emulation of Jesus was one “guided by the impossible norm of love,” and that such an existence placed “political institutions under greater possibilities.”

At the same time, Comey noted, Niebuhr recognized that it could be dangerous for a politician to see himself as a moral beacon. “The pretensions of virtue are as offensive to God as the pretensions of power,” Niebuhr said. Earlier this year, Comey, speaking at the University of Texas, echoed Niebuhr’s warning, saying, “John Adams once said to Thomas Jefferson, in one of the great letter exchanges, ‘Power always thinks it has a great soul.’ There’s great danger that I will fall in love with my own virtue.”

Upon graduating, Comey continued to voice political opinions. In May, 1982, the Times published a letter in which Comey criticized an editorial for its “condemnation of Right-to-Lifers” and for its suggestion that the federal government should “pay for abortion through Medicaid.” Comey avoided expressing his personal views on abortion, but he emphasized that Roe v. Wade, in upholding bans on late-term abortions, “explicitly stated that government has an interest in abortion and is therefore justified in exercising authority over the actions of pregnant women.” Comey went on:

The Supreme Court’s 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade gives all women the right to abortion but not a guarantee to the fulfillment of that right. Most of the rights Americans possess do not include such entitlement. We have a right to travel. Not all can afford to travel. Why then do you not criticize the Government for discriminating against the poor by not providing plane tickets? The same could be said of many elective medical procedures. And abortion is an elective procedure.

Two years later, after the Wall Street Journal ran a piece equating smokers’ rights with a woman’s right to alleviate morning sickness with medication, Comey objected, writing, “We may tolerate cigarette smoking because the threat is to the user, but the potential danger of the anti-nausea drug goes beyond the pregnant woman.” He submitted another letter to the Times, criticizing a proposal in the Albany legislature that would require New York supermarkets to sell New York wine. Such a law, he argued, would reveal a “naked preference” for state-specific economies. Comey had voted for Jimmy Carter in 1980, but his evolution into a Reagan Republican was evident.

After graduating from the University of Chicago Law School, in 1985, Comey clerked for Judge John Walker, Jr., George H. W. Bush’s cousin, in the Southern District of New York. Comey became a Republican. In public, however, he portrayed himself as nonpartisan. In 1996, he became the managing Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia’s Richmond office. He soon oversaw a successful program to crack down on guns in the city. He made a point of declaring that the initiative was “totally apolitical.”

Comey remained a conservative, but he carried an aura of political independence into the next two Administrations. In March, 2004, he became the acting Attorney General when John Ashcroft went into the hospital. After Comey learned that the N.S.A. had established a warrantless domestic-wiretapping program—and that the legal standing for the program was dubious—he told President George W. Bush that he was being “poorly served” by advisers. Prepared to resign over the matter, he quoted Martin Luther: “Here I stand, I can do no other.” In the end, resignation wasn’t necessary: Bush embraced his counsel. Later that year, Comey scolded Thomas DiBiagio, the U.S. Attorney in Maryland, who had pressed his staff to generate “front-page” indictments of Democrats before Election Day; DiBiagio, Comey said, had allowed politics to “taint” the Justice Department’s work. Before Comey left the Bush Administration, in 2005, he appointed a special prosecutor to lead an investigation of leaks that ultimately resulted in the conviction of Scooter Libby, the chief of staff for Vice-President Dick Cheney.

Four years later, Obama reportedly considered Comey for a Supreme Court vacancy. After Comey became the F.B.I. director, in May, 2013, he publicly contradicted the Administration on several issues. He told Congress that he saw no reason why survivors of the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya, couldn’t testify on Capitol Hill. This undermined the position of the Justice Department, which had argued that such public discussions could jeopardize the F.B.I.’s criminal investigation. Senator Lindsey Graham, who was eager to have high-profile hearings on Benghazi, said, “I was very pleased to hear these comments by the F.B.I. director.”

In 2014, at a forum at the University of Chicago Law School, Comey contradicted Obama and Attorney General Eric Holder by endorsing the idea of the “Ferguson effect”—the notion that crime rates in America were rising, in part, because police were being circumscribed by activist groups, such as Black Lives Matter, which used video evidence to document violent abuse of citizens. “Something deeply disturbing is happening in places across America,” Comey said. “Far more people are being killed in many American cities, many of them people of color, and it’s not the cops doing the killing.” He went on, “Part of the explanation is a chill wind that has blown through law enforcement over the last year, and that wind is surely changing behavior. In today’s YouTube world, are officers reluctant to get out of their cars and do the work that controls violent crime?” Amnesty International called Comey’s comments “outrageous.”

It wasn’t the first time that Comey had stumbled when addressing racial politics. In 1980, at William & Mary, he set off a campus-wide controversy when he published a series of articles in the Flat Hat about the school’s struggle to increase minority enrollment. The articles were generally balanced, but, in the opening paragraphs of the series, he noted, “There are those at the College who feel that William & Mary does not need to attract more black students, and is in fact practicing ‘massive reverse discrimination.’ ” Comey then quoted a tenured white supremacist in the sociology department, Vernon Edmonds, describing him as “one of a group of social scientists nationwide who believe in the strong possibility of a genetic intelligence gap between races.” (Edmonds was later exposed as a financial supporter of David Duke.) Edmonds, Comey wrote, believed that “affirmative action is a futile attempt only tolerated because ‘social concerns are dominated by feeling, not science.’ ” The Flat Hat received many letters of protest. Professors in the sociology department disavowed Edmonds’s remarks, saying, “We consider Professor Edmonds’s views to be unfounded, ill-advised and clearly insensitive.” Comey responded by suggesting that his reporting was rigorously impartial: “I do not agree with Professor Edmonds’ views. They are intelligently presented by him, however, and are crucial to the issue of affirmative action. Such opinions, though they are in an extreme minority at the College, do exist and must be presented in any balanced piece.”

Comey’s ambition to seem free of political bias was perhaps most tested by the Hillary Clinton e-mail-server case. When two of Comey’s top advisers first told him that classified material might have been at risk, Comey recognized that the case would place the Bureau in a precarious situation. If agents found evidence to prosecute Clinton, the F.B.I. would infuriate half the country; if they failed to find anything, the Bureau would infuriate the other half.

Comey had been acquainted with some of the scandals that had swirled around the Clintons. In the nineteen-nineties, he worked briefly as a counsel on the Senate Whitewater Committee investigation. And in 2002, while serving as the U.S. Attorney in Manhattan, Comey directed the investigation of President Bill Clinton’s last-minute pardon of Marc Rich, the fugitive businessman whose wife had donated four hundred and fifty thousand dollars to the Clinton Library between 1998 and 2000. Comey took the pardon as a personal affront. In 1992, he had flown to Moscow and Zurich, attempting to lure Rich back to the U.S. to face trial. When he learned that Clinton had pardoned Rich, perhaps as a favor for the campaign donations, he told the Richmond Times-Dispatch, “It takes your breath away.”

A year into the Hillary Clinton server probe, F.B.I. agents on the case concluded that they were unlikely to find evidence to prove criminal intent. Comey held a press conference to announce that the case against Clinton was closed, but—perhaps in a clumsy bid to seem impartial—chastised her for being “extremely careless” with her e-mails. Louis DiGregorio, an F.B.I. agent in the New York office at the time, was stunned by the press conference, feeling that the announcement had put the F.B.I. in an awkward bind. (He recently retired.) “I don’t give two shits about politics in Washington,” he told me. “We rarely announce any status of our investigations in public. We might call a target’s or a subject’s lawyer and say, ‘We’re not working on this anymore,’ but we always leave the door open. If you stray from that road, you can come back, but you’ll pay the consequences.”

After the press conference, Breitbart News went on the attack against Comey, suggesting that he was a liberal in disguise. Before joining the F.B.I., Comey had been the general counsel at Lockheed Martin. One Breitbart report noted that he had earned six million dollars the same year that Lockheed Martin had donated money to the Clinton Foundation. This clearly implicated Comey, Breitbart declared, in Washington’s “big-money cronyism culture.”

During the election cycle, it was apparent that the political divisions in the country at large had permeated the F.B.I.’s New York office. “People there really hated Hillary Clinton,” a federal law-enforcement officer told me. (The F.B.I. is more than eighty per cent white, and predominantly male.) The TVs were often locked on Fox News. DiGregorio considered the office, like the rest of the F.B.I., to be “very conservative,” adding, “You’re not going to get Abbie Hoffman signing up for this kind of work.” James Kallstrom, a former F.B.I. agent in charge of the New York office, went on the radio and derided the Clintons as a “crime family,” and called their foundation “a cesspool.” (Kallstrom is a former marine, and his foundation, the Marine Corps-Law Enforcement Foundation, had received a million-dollar check from Trump.)

In October, Comey learned that agents in the New York office had found thousands of Clinton e-mails on a laptop seized from Anthony Weiner, the former congressman, whose wife, Huma Abedin, was the vice-chairman of Clinton’s campaign. Comey conferred with his aides. Normally, the F.B.I. would conduct such an investigation in silence; secrets were the Bureau’s “lifeblood,” Comey once said. But, according to personal and F.B.I. associates of Comey’s, he was concerned that someone in the New York office might leak this development to the press.

Since Comey had declared the case closed, in July, he felt compelled to announce that it was being reopened. If he did not, he feared, and the news was leaked by Clinton’s many opponents in the Bureau, it could seem as if Comey had been trying to protect her. Comey’s executive assistant for national security, Michael Steinbach, told the Times, “In my mind, at the time, Clinton is likely to win. It’s pretty apparent. So what happens after the election, in November or December? How do we say to the American public: ‘Hey, we found some things that might be problematic. But we didn’t tell you about it before you voted’? The damage to our organization would have been irreparable.” (Comey apparently wasn’t as worried about liberals in the Bureau leaking the news that the Trump campaign was under investigation for possibly colluding with the Russian government.)

On October 28th, Comey sent a letter to Congress revealing that he was reopening the server case. The document almost immediately became public. On Fox News, Rudy Giuliani, the former New York mayor, suggested that the internal threat Comey had felt was real. “Did I hear about it?” Giuliani said about the laptop discovery. “You’re darn right I heard about it.” He added that former agents at the Bureau had told him that “there’s a revolution going on inside the F.B.I., and it’s now at a boiling point.” (The special agent in charge of the Bureau’s criminal division in New York has recently referred to stopping internal leaks as a primary focus of his job, promising to deliver “heads on sticks.”)

Nine days after Comey sent his letter to Congress, the Bureau revealed that the e-mails on Weiner’s laptop amounted to nothing. But during this period the national press fixated on the spectacle, and Clinton’s lead dropped significantly—and, perhaps, decisively—in national polls.

Comey has said that he has no regrets over the server investigation. His testimony on Thursday will no doubt underscore his belief that—no matter what people say about him—he is a figure of impartial justice. In April, USA Network aired the first episode of a six-part documentary titled “Inside the FBI: New York.” Comey, who agreed to let a film crew embed in the New York office for a year, has appeared in several episodes. In a scene deleted from the televised series, he said, “We are never on anyone’s side. Sometimes, in a polarized world, it’s hard for people to even conceive of that.”

 

Donald Trump and The Art of Deceit


May 18, 2017

Donald Trump and The Art of Deceit

by David Remnick@www.newyorker.com

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The Master of Deceit

Donald Trump, who may well have attempted to obstruct justice within just a few weeks of taking his oath of office, came to the Presidency with a wealth of experience in the art of deceit. He may know little of domestic or foreign policy, he may be accustomed to running an office of satraps and cronies, and he may be unable to harness an institution as complex as the executive branch, but experience told him early on that he could dodge any accusation and deny any aggression against the truth

As Trump’s biographers Marc Fisher and Michael Kranish tell the story, Roy Cohn, who lived for decades under various indictments for bribery, extortion, and other sins, and yet always managed to escape conviction, first instructed Trump more than forty years ago in the dark arts of counterattack and an over-all “go to hell” philosophy. Cohn, as a devious young lawyer, had been the protégé of Joe McCarthy, during the anti-Communist witch hunts of the fifties. He met Trump at a club called—seriously—Le Club, and began to tutor this eager young scion of an outer-borough real-estate family in the art of what’s what. Nothing delighted Trump more than to learn that prosecution did not necessarily follow from wrongdoing.

“When Cohn boasted that he had spent much of his life under indictment, Trump asked whether Cohn had really done what was alleged,” Fisher and Kranish write. “ ‘What the hell do you think?’ Cohn responded with a smile. Trump said he ‘never really knew’ what that meant, but he liked Cohn’s toughness and loyalty.”

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Trump knew very well what Cohn was telling him, and he lived by that lesson. As a businessman, he distinguished himself as a disreputable con; he was spurned by the New York business community less for his cartoonish flamboyance than for his essential dishonesty, his meanness of character. He routinely stiffed contractors and workers. He screwed creditors. He violated casino regulations. He bragged of charitable contributions that he never made. He promoted scams such as Trump University. In the nineties, as his bankruptcies mounted, he lost the ability to obtain credit from the largest and most reputable American banks. In foreign deals, brandishing an inexplicably attractive marketing name, he ignored his legal obligations to carry out due diligence and did deals with flagrantly corrupt business partners. In Azerbaijan, he was party to a deal whose only real enterprise might have been the laundering of money. And yet he always avoided serious legal peril, not least because he played by the lessons imbibed from Roy Cohn. And all the while he lived it up, acquiring the life-style decorations of a third-world dictator or a second-world oligarch. His excess was his brand

As a politician, Trump has had little reason to discover the qualities of modesty, scrupulousness, or seriousness. Throughout the primary and Presidential campaigns, he succeeded in no small measure because of his defiance of convention. Emboldened by his astonishing early exposure on cable television and his first wins in the primaries, he came to see himself as invulnerable.

Nothing could hurt Trump. Even he seemed stunned by this stubborn fact. “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters,” Trump said, while campaigning in early 2016. And he was, for a long time, right

Until now. In the past two weeks, a Presidency of ideological meanness and unsurpassing incompetence has moved into another, more recognizable realm. The usual comparison is with the Watergate era.

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I actually think the comparisons at this point obscure more than they reveal. Nixon was just so shrewd, so strategic: it’s simply inconceivable he would get caught with his pants down implicating himself on the record, like Trump now does almost daily,” Rick Perlstein, the author of “Nixonland,” told me. “My favorite Nixon maxim was ‘Never get mad unless it’s on purpose.’ But the words ‘on purpose’ and ‘Donald Trump’ now feel like matter and antimatter; with him, it’s all impulse. Nixon was so obsessed with preparation he used to memorize answers to likely press conference questions, questions he’d delegate to staffers like Pat Buchanan to dream up. Can you imagine!? And, look, when Nixon fired Archibald Cox, he was truly backed into a corner, his king in check: that was the only move he had before the world discovered, via the tapes, that everything he’d been saying about the scandal since June, 1972, was a lie. But, even then, he managed to keep moving pieces around the board for ten more months!

“Both, of course, were authors of their own predicaments,” Perlstein went on. “But Nixon was so much the smoother criminal: everything was buffered through intermediaries and cutouts. An example that comes to mind: on the famous meeting with John Dean of March 21, 1973, Nixon, realizing he’d said too much, maneuvering Dean near the microphones to say something along the lines of ‘. . . But that would be wrong.’ Can you imagine Trump with that kind of situational awareness?”

Despite the shrewdness gap, Nixon once paid Trump an encouraging compliment. In 1987, when Trump was thinking about politics for the first time, the disgraced ex-President heard from his wife, Pat, that Trump had put in an entertaining performance on “The Phil Donahue Show.” Nixon wrote to Trump, “Dear Donald, I did not see the program, but Mrs. Nixon told me you were great. As you can imagine, she is an expert on politics and she predicts that whenever you decide to run for office, you will be a winner!”

Nixon himself was never a political mentor to Trump, but one of his aides, the original dirty trickster Roger Stone, was. Stone was as instrumental in creating Trump’s political career as Roy Cohn had been in forming Trump’s moral behavior in business. (Watch the new documentary “Get Me Roger Stone,” starring my colleagues Jeffrey Toobin and Jane Mayer, and you will understand the current craziness more deeply.) It was Roy Cohn who introduced Stone to Trump, and Stone was instantly enamored.

“I was like a jockey looking for a horse,” Stone says in the film. “And he’s a prime piece of political horse flesh in my view.”

Stone helped Trump see the political advantage in many sleazy tactics and alliances. He pushed him on birtherism (which was for Trump what the Southern strategy was for Nixon); he led him toward conspiracy mongers like Alex Jones and Infowars, and operatives like Paul Manafort, who led the campaign for a while and is now a source of intense investigation for his associations in Russia and Ukraine.

Over the years, Trump has been the focus of investigations on housing discrimination, bribery, corruption, dealings with the mob, misleading earnings reports, fraud, and improper campaign contributions. (Of his behavior with women we shall not speak.) But that was nothing compared to the hard light that is on him now from the F.B.I., Congress, the press, the public, and various other realms of civil society. Discussion of Trump’s Presidency ending before his four-year term is up is no longer an oppositional fantasy. The events of these recent days­­—the Comey firing; the opera-buffa intel giveaway with the Russian delegation to the Oval Office; and now the news of the Comey memos—just may be the point of no return for a Presidency that has been a kind of emergency of chaos, incompetence, injustice, and deception from its first days.

But it will be a complicated road, legally and politically. To prove obstruction of justice, the subject must know that there is an investigation against him and take an action to obstruct that investigation with corrupt purpose. The next step, clearly, will be for Congress to inspect James Comey’s memos regarding his meetings and conversations with the President, which were written about Tuesday in the Times. Jason Chaffetz, the chair of the House Oversight Committee, has said that he is prepared to subpoena those memos if they exist.

We are likely to learn a great deal more about Trump’s behavior from those documents. Comey might have been grotesquely mistaken in his judgment regarding the Hillary Clinton e-mail case, but he has a reputation for righteousness and honesty. In Comey’s account, as relayed in the Times, the President, over dinner, demanded an oath of loyalty; Comey promised only his honesty. At the Valentine’s Day meeting in the Oval Office, Trump told the Vice-President and the Attorney General to leave the room before asking Comey to end the investigation into Mike Flynn’s relations with the Russian government. Trump even suggested to Comey that he consider prosecuting and jailing journalists for publishing classified material.

Is it conceivable that Trump made these requests with innocent purpose? Or was he attempting to obstruct justice? The same questions apply to the President’s insistence on firing Comey. First, he asked Comey to shut down the investigation, and, when he refused, the President fired him. Can one contrive an innocent motive in that? And if there are, indeed, tapes of White House conversations, what are the odds that Trump’s version is closer to the truth than Comey’s?

The point is that Trump has a long record of lying, shady business practices, public deception, and crossing legal lines. His instructors in this include Roy Cohn and Roger Stone and other base figures. Comey’s memos are far more likely to bury Trump than to exonerate him.

As Evan Osnos has pointed out, Trump will survive until he loses the Republican Party. Mitch McConnell and Paul Ryan are not likely to act out of an attack of moral conscience. But at some point, and it may come soon, they will begin to feel political pressure—pressure from Republican constituents in swing states and districts; pressure on their own reputations—and their patience with Trump will run out.