De-Le-Git-I-Mizing Trump: Hillary and the permanent campaign

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The media are reporting that the Hillary Clinton campaign is supporting calls by some members of the Electoral College for an intelligence briefing on President-elect Donald Trump’s ties with Russia ahead of their Dec. 19 vote.

Huh? The Clinton campaign still exists? Thirty six days after the presidential election?

Of course, because unlike with past presidential candidates, Clinton’s team see themselves as part of a permanent campaign to delegitimize the winner.

It began with the campaign’s support for the effort to discredit Trump’s win by echoing accusations that Trump wasn‘t the “real” winner because even though he won the electoral votes, Clinton won more actual votes

It continued with the campaign supporting the recount effort in three states by Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein. On Medium, the Clinton campaign’s counsel, Marc Elias, said that while the campaign wasn’t going to contest the results itself, it had decided to take part in the effort to “ensure that it is fair to all sides.” Oddly enough, in Wisconsin, the one state which completed its recount, Trump’s margin of victory over Clinton increased by 131 votes.

Clinton’s campaign kept up the barrage by endorsing calls by some electors for CIA briefings on Russia’s role in the election. On Dec. 12, 10 electors published a letter to Director of National Intelligence James Clapper asking for an intelligence briefing before their Dec. 19 vote.

John Podesta, chairman of the 2016 Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, followed up with a statement saying, “The bipartisan electors’ letter raises very grave issues involving our national security,” Podesta said. “Electors have a solemn responsibility under the Constitution and we support their efforts to have their questions addressed.”

“We now know that the CIA has determined Russia’s interference in our elections was for the purpose of electing Donald Trump. This should distress every American,” Podesta added, leaving out that there is no unanimity on this point among the government intelligence agencies. The FBI, for example, has suggested that the CIA’s assessment so far lacks definitive evidence.

Leftist New York Times columnist Paul Krugman has gone so far as to call the presidential election “illegitimate” and “tainted” by Russian interference and the actions of FBI Director James Comey.

“So this was a tainted election,” Krugman wrote on Dec. 12. “It was not, as far as we can tell, stolen in the sense that votes were counted wrong, and the result won’t be overturned. But the result was nonetheless illegitimate in important ways; the victor was rejected by the public, and won the Electoral College only thanks to foreign intervention and grotesquely inappropriate, partisan behavior on the part of domestic law enforcement.”

“Did the combination of Russian and F.B.I. intervention swing the election?,” Krugman aid. “Yes. Mrs. Clinton lost three states — Michigan, Wisconsin, and Pennsylvania — by less than a percentage point, and Florida by only slightly more,” Krugman wrote.

“If she had won any three of those states, she would be president-elect. Is there any reasonable doubt that Putin/Comey made the difference?”

And if pigs could fly all would be well.

Norman Eisen and Richard Painter, chairman and vice chairman, respectively, of Citizens for Ethics and Responsibility in Washington, D.C., have piled on, asserting in the Washington Post that Trump needs to create a blind trust for his assets in order to assure the electors that he won’t be violating the Constitution when he’s sworn in.

“Above all, Trump’s refusal to create a blind trust — and his procrastination in providing a credible plan to solve the constitutional issues his business plans pose — is not fair to the electors who must cast ballots on Dec. 19, before Trump’s “busy times” will allow him to explain his arrangements in January,” they wrote. “ “He needs to assure the electors now that his businesses will not receive payments from foreign governments. That is necessary so that both Trump and the electors can do their jobs as required under the Constitution.

It’s tempting to assume that the Clinton partisans are little more than a ship of fools bitter at the results of the presidential election, but more is at work here. The agitators are trying to delegitimize Trump from the outset, setting the stage for years of hard-edged conflict.

Buckle your seat belts, America.

The Manafort mess: I’m shocked, shocked!

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“I’m shocked, shocked to find that gambling is going on in here!,” said Captain Renault in Casablanca, as a croupier handed him a pile of money.

I feel the same way about comments from political figures in the U.S., including Hillary Clinton, who have expressed astonishment and dismay over allegations that Trump’s campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, provided campaign assistance to Ukraine’s former president, Viktor Yanukovych. Yanukovych was forced to flee from Ukraine to Russia in 2014 after violent several months of political crisis and violent protests.

I’m equally unsurprised by attempts to tar Manafort as a villain because he has lobbied in the U.S. for Mobutu Sese Seko of Zaire and Ferdinand Marcos of the Philippines

Hillary Clinton’s campaign leapt at the chance to draw blood. “Donald Trump has a responsibility to disclose campaign chair Paul Manafort’s and all other campaign employees’ and advisers’ ties to Russian or pro-Kremlin entities, including whether any of Trump’s employees or advisers are currently representing and or being paid by them,” said Clinton’s campaign manager Robby Mook.

Good grief. Everybody’s in such high dudgeon.

But wait a minute.

We’re not all rubes, as so many politicians and media outlets assume. We know that Washington, D.C. is packed with public relations professionals and lobbyists who work for foreign governments and special interests, many of them with reputations for corruption and human rights abuses.

Take John Podesta, the Chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign.

In 1988, he and his brother, Tony, founded Podesta Associates, Inc., a Washington, D.C., government relations and public affairs lobbying firm. The firm later changed its name to the Podesta Group, Inc.

According to the Sunlight Foundation, which works to make our government and politics more accountable and transparent, the Podesta Group has been a registered agent, or lobbyist, for a number of foreign governments, including the Government of the Arab Republic of Egypt, the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan, the National Security Council of Georgia, the Republic of Kosova, the Government of Albania and the Kingdom of Thailand.

In 2013, for example, the Podesta Group reported being paid $840,196.21 by the Embassy of the Republic of Azerbaijan.

The previous year, the corruption watchdog Transparency International awarded the crown of “Corrupt Person of the Year” to Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev. “Despite its massive oil resources, … Azerbaijan is plagued by endemic corruption that prevents ordinary Azerbaijanis from sharing in their country’s natural wealth and is a significant barrier to Azerbaijan’s development,” the organization said.

That same year, public protests against human rights abuses led to brutal crackdowns, arrests, and undemocratic trials.

2013 was another awkward time for the Government of Azerbaijan when election authorities released vote results re-electing Aliyev – a full day before voting had even started. The announcement followed intimidation of activists and journalists and free speech restrictions.

Freedom House, a promoter of global human rights, lambasted the country’s government. “Azerbaijan is ruled by an authoritarian regime characterized by intolerance for dissent and disregard for civil liberties and political rights,” the organization said in 2013.

The federal  Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA) requires persons acting as agents of foreign principals in a political or quasi-political capacity to make periodic public disclosure of their relationship with the foreign principal, as well as activities, receipts and disbursements in support of those activities. There are about  2,000 foreign agents registered under the Act representing more than 100 countries.

Late last year, the Center for Public Integrity released a study, “The hired guns who advocate for the world’s worst human rights abusers” – a research report that highlighted the PR firms that make the most money representing clients that violate human rights.

The study said FARA records revealed that “that the 50 countries with the worst human rights violation records have spent $168 million on American lobbyists and public relations specialists since 2010.”

The study said the leader of the pack was Omnicom-owned Ketchum PR, which made $37 million representing human-rights violators, followed by Qorvis Communications/MSL Group at $20.6 Million dollars.

In 2013, Ketchum was behind a Vladimir Putin-led PR push tied to Syria. When the New York Times ran a highly visible op-ed about Syria submitted by Russian President Putin in Sept. 2013, Ketchum arranged it (and likely wrote it).

“From the outset, Russia has advocated peaceful dialogue enabling Syrians to develop a compromise plan for their own future,” Putin said. “We are not protecting the Syrian government, but international law.” The op-ed went on to say, “Millions around the world increasingly see America not as a model of democracy but as relying solely on brute force…”

According to ProPublica and Ketchum reports, Russia paid $1.3 million for Ketchum’s professional services for the period ended in May 2013.

In 2014, the New York Times reported how Angus Roxburgh, a former Ketchum consultant and journalist for the BBC and The Economist, recounted his experiences working with Ketchum. “The Russian officials…were initially convinced they could pay for better coverage, or intimidate journalists into it,” Roxburgh told the Times. “They were eventually persuaded to take reporters to dinner instead.”

According to the Times, Roxburgh told The Daily Beast that Ketchum’s aim “means helping them (Russia) disguise all the issues that make it unattractive: human rights, invasions of neighboring countries, etc.”

Last year, Saudi Arabia, under fire for human rights abuses, hired a cornucopia of U.S. PR/lobbying firms to tell its story in a favorable way and influence legislation.

In March, the Saudi Royal Embassy retained DLA Piper and Pillsbury Winthrop Shaw Pittman. That same month, it also hired Targeted Victory, which uses expansive data to put together digital campaigns for political clients, and Zignal Labs, which uses big data analytics, media monitoring and business intelligence to provide insights that drive public outreach efforts. In September 2015, the Saudi government expanded its efforts further by signing contracts with PR leviathan Edelman and the Podesta Group.

Just a few things to remember when attack dogs and establishment politicians, including Hillary Clinton, feign surprise and horror at amoral U.S. PR and lobbying firms doing business with foreign governments and foreign leaders with bad reputations.

Don’t be shocked.

 

Addendum

On 8/25/16, PoliticoPlaybook reported that the FBI and DOJ are looking into the Podesta Group’s work in Ukraine:

K STREET WATCH  The FBI and DOJ’s probes into the Podesta Group’s work for a non-profit tied to the former Ukrainian government are sending shockwaves downtown, where the investigation into the firm’s work for the European Centre for a Modern Ukraine has led to widespread nervousness. Reps from multiple firms who lobby for foreign entities think this might be a tipping point, and the feds might take a much broader look at other firms and clients. “It’s right in the purview of the DOJ – they don’t need a referral,” said one lobbyist.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stop the madness: Obama’s extravagant Presidential Center

Now we have a number. $1 billion. That’s what The Obama Presidential Center in Chicago is expected to cost.

“Eight years is only the beginning,” the Obama Foundation, which is driving creation of the Center, says on its website. “As President Obama has said, the change we seek will take longer than one presidency. The Obama Foundation is where the work we started together will continue.”

I’m reminded of an observation by Anthony Clark in his book, The Last Campaign: How Presidents Rewrite History, Run for Posterity, and Enshrine Their Legacies: “We once held the office of president, as well as its occupant, in high regard. As we have lowered our opinions of both, presidential libraries, consequently, have grown larger and more powerful—and, not incidentally, less truthful.”

Do we really need another extravagant, pretentious library and a recklessly large foundation funded by influence seekers and built by a legacy-hungry ex-president?

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It seems like our presidents are getting more and more concerned about their legacy and continued influence.

The New York Times reported, for example, that on election night in 1992, James L. “Skip” Rutherford, was celebrating in Little Rock, Ark., when he felt the hand of Herschel Friday, a member of the Clinton finance committee, on his back. “Hey, Skip,” Rutherford, recalled the lawyer saying. “Now we have to start thinking about that presidential library.”

Unfortunately, each successive administration seems to think its library needs to be more extravagant than its predecessor.

The 135,000 sq. ft. John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, including endowment of an Institute at Harvard for the study of politics and public affairs, cost $20.8 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be $72,143,125.55.

The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Center for Public Affairs, the largest of all the presidential libraries, cost $60 million. Adjusted for inflation, that would be equivalent to a little more than $130 million now.

Obama’s $1 billion project would be twice what George W. Bush raised for his library and its programs.

It is also far more than the $165 million spent on William J. Clinton’s Presidential Center and Park in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Like the Clintons, if Obama hopes to raise $1 billion, he’ll have to hit up moneyed interests, a lot of them, and do a lot of backscratching.

Obama and his people say he plans to raise most of his haul after his presidency, but he’s already on the hunt. According to a report filed with the IRS by the Barack Obama Foundation, in 2014 Obama raised $5,434,877 million from 12 donors.

The donations ranged from $100,000 to $1 million. Michael J. Sacks, a Chicago businessman, gave $666,666. Fred Eychaner, the founder of Chicago-based Newsweb Corp., donated $1 million. Mark T. Gallogly, a private equity executive, and James H. Simons, a technology entrepreneur, each contributed $340,000.

The Foundation reported raising another $1.9 million in 2015, leaving it with a balance of $2.6 million after expenses and a massive fundraising effort needed to reach its goals. Major contributors in 2015, according to the Foundation’sForm 990 report to the IRS, included: the Gill Foundation (Tim Gill) , $347,000; Impact Assets Inc., $250,000; the Sacks Family Foundation, $333,334; Lisa Strickler and Mark Gallogly, $330,000; Marilyn and Jim Simons, $330,000; David and Beth Shaw, $250,000.

Meanwhile, like slimy remoras that attach themselves to sharks, connected Democrats are already at the money trough.

The Foundation’s 2014 expenses include $476,551 to the Smoot Tewes Group, a Washington, D.C. fundraising consultant. Julianna Smoot, served as Obama’s chief campaign fund-raiser in 2008 and 2012. Paul Tewes served as the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee’s National Coordinated Campaign Director in 2001-02 and its Political Director in 2003-04. He also directed Obama’s victory in the 2008 Iowa Caucus campaign.

$230,436 went to SKDknickerbocker, a Washington, D.C. public relations and political consulting firm that specializes in working for Democratic Party politicians. The firm collected another $182,865 in 2015.

SKDknickerbocker is a veritable cornucopia of Democratic operatives, including: Anita Dunn, former Obama White House Communications Director; Jessica Bassett, who has done press and site advance for Michelle Obama, Hillary Clinton and Bill Clinton; Bill Burton, former deputy White House press secretary for Obama and co-founder of the super PAC Priorities USA Action during Obama’s 2012 reelection campaign; and Stephen Krupin, former chief speechwriter to Secretary of State John Kerry, director of speechwriting on Obama’s re-election campaign, and chief speechwriter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid.

While Obama is still president, it’s clear that he, his Foundation and these firms are already hard at work pressing the 1% to donate to the Obama Foundation. And this is surely only the beginning of what will become a massive fundraising effort, likely leading to all the same conflicts and questions associated with the Clinton Foundation.

This is all getting completely out of hand. It’s time to stop this arms race of ever-expanding presidential libraries and foundations.

The way we’re headed, presidential centers will surpass Egypt’s pyramids as monuments to the egos of leaders. Given that many of the pyramids entombed not only the deceased, but also the deceased’s servants, Obama’s current and former advisors like Valerie Jarrett, John Podesta, David Plouffe and David Axelrod may have reason to be concerned.