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DEC 26, 2018[URL=""]

Could This Be Our Best Hope of Removing Trump From Office?

[Image: 29273256122_d39aa27603_z.jpg]President Donald Trump. (Gage Skidmore / [URL=""]Flickr

The dog whistle couldn't have been any clearer. When Donald Trump said two weeks ago that "the people would revolt" if he were impeached, his extremist base of neo-Nazis, Klan members, right-wing militias and sympathetic service members likely heard the following: "Feel free to attack Democrats, liberals, leftists and progressives if the coming Democratic Party-run House of Representatives acts on its constitutional right to impeach me."
Impeachment alone probably wouldn't trigger a right-wing uprising. But impeachment followed by the unlikely prospect of removal, which requires 67 votes in the Republican-majority U.S. Senate, might well make it happen. So too could invoking the 25th Amendment on the grounds that Trump is incapable of performing his presidential duties.
Officially, the Democratic Partyled by corporate allies like Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosiisn't interested in moving ahead with either of these constitutionally available processes. That could change, however, if and when the report from special counsel Robert Mueller directly implicates Trump. But even if the party's efforts proved successful, America would be left with President Mike Pencean honest-to-goodness Christian fascist.
The case for Trump's ouster grows stronger by the week. Beyond his possible obstruction of justice, criminal acceptance of foreign emoluments while in office and felonious campaign finance violationsany one of which could provide grounds for legal proceedings against himthe president has routinely embraced authoritarian rulers around the world and engaged in obvious appeals to violence. He has, at every turn, revealed himself to be entirely unfit for office.
Ironically, the most effective means of achieving his removal may be to revolt, albeit in a fashion radically different from the one the president has envisioned. America must instead engage in civil unrest that targets not just the current inhabitant of the Oval Office but the entire bipartisan ruling class that birthed his monstrous presidency. Forget Watergate; think sit-down strikes and the march from Selma to Montgomery, Ala.
The gilets jaunes (yellow vests) in France have given us a taste of what's required. Among their list of demands is a real and functioning democracypopular self-rule. Further to that, they have called for a referendum whereby 700,000 citizen signatories would force the French Parliament to debate and vote on a given law within one year. Evoking the French Revolution of 1789, there have even been calls for a Constituent Assembly to draft a new constitution meant to create a new French governmenta Sixth Republic based on popular sovereignty and majority rule rather than the demands of a de facto corporo-financial dictatorship. Imagine!
That Trump has never had a functioning democracy to overthrow is evidence enough that this kind of activism is long overdue. Released in the early spring of 2008, Sheldon Wolin's classic study "Democracy Incorporated: Managed Democracy and the Specter of Inverted Totalitarianism" revealed that the U.S. was no longer a "democracy," if it ever had been. America, Wolin found, had mutated into a new sort of totalitarian regime wherein economic power and state power were conjoined and virtually unchecked by a demobilized, atomized and politically disinterested populace, conditioned to stay that way. "At best," Wolin determined, "the nation has become a managed democracy' where the public is shepherded, not sovereign."
"Should Democrats somehow be elected," he prophesied, they would do nothing to "alter significantly the direction of society" or "substantially revers[e] the drift rightwards. … The timidity of a Democratic Party mesmerized by centrist precepts points to the crucial fact that for the poor, minorities, the working class and anti-corporatists there is no opposition party working on their behalf."
Sure enough, a nominal Democrat was elected president along with Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress in 2008. What followed under Barack Obama (as under the prior Democratic administration of Bill Clinton) was standard-issue neoliberal rule in the service of big-money bankrollers and their global empire. The nation's first black president implemented the preferred policies of Wall Street and the Pentagon more effectively than wealthy white Republicans like John McCain or Mitt Romney could have ever hoped to. America's "inverted totalitarianism" was rebranded, to deadly effect. Fed by a widespread and easily exploited sense of abandonment and betrayal, the country's rightward shift grew more pronounced, as the Democrats depressed and demobilized their purported base. Over a period of eight years, the party lost more than 1,000 elected offices nationwide, including the U.S. presidency.
Along the way, its power brokers managed to stamp out a progressive insurgency from Bernie Sanders through dubious means, clearing the field for a deeply unpopular candidate in Hillary Clinton. And in so doing, they handed the populist torch to a far-right reactionary in a change election.
We should expect a similar outcome from the Democrats' presidential nomination process in 2020. The smart money is on anti-populist Joe Biden or the telegenic faux-progressive Beto O'Rourkethis despite the continued popularity of Sanders and his progressive agenda.
One year after Hillary's ignominious defeat, the distinguished liberal political scientists Benjamin Page (Northwestern) and Marin Gilens (Princeton) published their expertly researched book "Democracy in America?" The volume's key finding: "The best evidence indicates that the wishes of ordinary Americans actually have had little or no impact on the making of federal government policy. Wealthy individuals and organized interest groupsespecially business corporationshave had much more political clout. When they are taken into account, it becomes apparent that the general public has been virtually powerless. …"
Whether we vote or not, Mammon reigns in the United States, where, as Page and Gilens note, "government policy … reflects the wishes of those with money, not the wishes of the millions of ordinary citizens who turn out every two years to choose among the preapproved, money-vetted candidates for federal office" (emphasis added). Plus ça change, plus c'est la même chose. ("The more it changes, the more it's the same thing.")
Perhaps our only hope is a mass movement for "the radical reconstruction of society itself"what Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. called "the real issue to be faced"and the replacement of the unelected and interrelated dictatorships of capital and empire by popular sovereignty and workers' control. As Chris Hedges wrote earlier this year:
"The Trump administration did not rise, prima facie, like Venus on a half shell from the sea. Donald Trump is the result of a long process of political, cultural and social decay. He is a product of our failed democracy. The longer we perpetuate the fiction that we live in a functioning democracy, that Trump and the political mutations around him are somehow an aberrant deviation that can be vanquished in the next election, the more we will hurtle toward tyranny. The problem is not Trump. It is a political system, dominated by corporate power and the mandarins of the two major political parties, in which we don't count. We will wrest back political control by dismantling the corporate state, and this means massive and sustained civil disobedience. … If we do not stand up, we will enter a new dark age." (Emphasis added.)
"A new dark age" may ultimately prove euphemistic. The original Dark Ages concluded with the planet still habitable. Humanity now faces the near-term historical threat of extinction thanks to the grave "ecological rifts" generated by a global profit system upheld by both ruling parties that is turning earth into a great, big Greenhouse Gas Chamber. "The uncomfortable truth," philosopher Istvan Meszaros rightly argued 17 years ago, "is that if there is no future for a radical mass movement in our time, there can be no future for humanity itself."
Sustained civil disobedience in the United States could provoke a response far bloodier than anything seen in France. But while the human costs of revolution are great, none can compare with the ecocidal rule of capital.

[URL=""]Paul Street


January 20, 2019/103 Comments/in 2016 Presidential Election, Mueller Probe /by emptywheelOver the last few days the following happened:
  • Buzzfeed published a story stating what the evidence already shows: Trump suborned perjury
  • Mueller's spox Peter Carr issued an unprecedented rebuttal to a specific story
  • WaPo, in a story presenting DOJ's side of events, revealed that someone from Rod Rosenstein's office (probably Ed O'Callaghan, who has managed most interactions with Mueller's office) called to ask them if they were going to issue such a statement
I am not certain whether the call from Rosenstein's office violated Special Counsel regulations protecting the Special Counsel from day-to-day interference in the office, but it certainly is something Jerry Nadler's committee should inquire about.
And while I think Mueller's office can make a very good case they needed to respond to Buzzfeed's story for prosecutorial reasons, Rosenstein's involvement seems far more suspect, particularly since he's the guy who set the new DOJ standard that even warning a journalist off a story, as former FBI General Counsel Jim Baker did, may get you disciplined or referred for prosecution. By all appearances, Peter Carr was playing by Rosenstein's rules in his interactions with Buzzfeed, so Rosenstein is the last person who should weigh in if he doesn't like the outcome.
But in addition to House Judiciary Committee (HJC) asking DOJ about contacts between Rosenstein's office and Mueller's, as well as contacts between Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker and Rosenstein and contacts between the White House and either one Congress has a means of pursuing this question that should not harm Mueller's investigation: Subpoena the information that Cohen, Felix Sater, the Trump Organization, and the campaign withheld from the House Intelligence Committee so as to sustain Cohen's false testimony through March 22, 2018.
I've put the section of the House Intelligence Report that deals with the Trump Tower deal below, with the claims we now know to be false underlined. In addition to a caveat that the findings in the section are based on the documents turned over to the committee, the section includes the following claims we now know to be false given Cohen's statement of the offense and/or Buzzfeeed's extensive report on the deal:
  • The report claims the deal died in January but communications (which may or may not be limited to text messages) between Sater and Cohen show that it continued (at least) through June and Buzzfeed suggests the communications extended into July. Rudy Giuliani today stated publicly it may have gone through November.
  • The report claims Cohen was working with Sater's company, which may or may not be true. But Buzzfeed makes it clear there should be an October 2015 email between Sater and Cohen sent weeks before Trump signed the Letter of Intent showing that VTB, a sanctioned bank, would provide financing. A December 19, 2015 communication (it's unclear whether email or text) would have showed VTB would host Cohen. On December 31, 2015, Sater sent an image showing another sanctioned bank, GenBank, would instead provide financing. There would also be a letter dated late January from Andrey Ryabinskiy, a Russian mortgage tycoon.
  • The report claims Cohen never received a response from anyone associated with the Russian government. But Cohen received a January 20, 2016 email from Dmitry Peskov's personal assistant, and his call records would reflect a 20 minute call to the number she provided him to call her on.
  • Sater claimed to HPSCI that his claims about Putin's involvement was "mere puffery" and that "neither President Putin nor any element of the Russian government was actually directly involved in the project." Yet on January 21, Sater wrote Cohen, "It's about [Putin] they called today," which would show still more response to Cohen from the Russian government. And a May 5 text message from Sater to Cohen conveyed Dmitry Peskov's invitation to attend the St. Petersburg Forum, at which Cohen could discuss the deal with Peskov and he might meet Putin personally.
  • The report says the deal failed because the due diligence failed and Trump Organization's representative (it's unclear whether this would be Cohen, Sater, or someone else) lost confidence in the licensee. That's almost certainly not consistent with whatever reason Cohen gave Sater on June 14, three hours after WaPo reported that Russia had hacked the DNC, to say he would not be traveling to St. Petersburg after all. There may well be discussion of the WaPo report in the four texts Sater sent Cohen. There also may be communication reflecting Cohen's assurances that "We'll go after Cleveland."
  • The report says the potential licensing deal was not related to the campaign but Cohen, "asked a senior campaign official about potential business travel to Russia." It's unclear whether there's a paper trail of that or not. But there are communications reflecting Cohen's consideration of other campaign events definitely the Convention and probably the WaPo report on the DNC hack. And there should be communications showing it go through November, only to be halted or rather, moved under Segei Millian and George Papadopoulos once Trump got elected.
While it's possible the House Intelligence Committee (HPSCI) received the 2015 communications indicating that Trump contemplated working with sanctioned banks during the time he was running for President (in which case it would be scandalous that the Republicans suppressed that detail, and the one that a former GRU officer was involved), much of the rest of these communications could not have been turned over to HPSCI when they requested documents in 2017. While some of the communications are limited to texts between Sater and Cohen, at least some of this paper trail (including Cohen's meetings with Trump and Don Jr about it) would either reside at the campaign or Trump Organization (or both).
Remember, when SDNY got a warrant one naming "many" thus far uncharged people to raid Michael Cohen a month after subpoenaing Trump Organization, they explained there was a concern that documents would get destroyed.
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One of the filings on Cohen (I'm still trying to chase down this reference) suggests Mueller had to get his communications on this matter from someone else. It seems likely Mueller had to get the text messages from Sater's phone (or perhaps even from forensics on Cohen's own phone).
Nevertheless, the public record identifies an abundant paper trail that should have been turned over to HPSCI, Senate Intelligence Committee (SSCI), and Senate Judiciary Committee (SJC), but could not have been, given what HPSCI reported last March. Additionally, Don Jr's testimony to HPSCI is necessarily inconsistent with his SJC, yet still appears to include false claims about the Trump Tower deal (though some got cleaned up between his September testimony to SJC and his December testimony to HPSCI).
While Cohen was initially formally subpoenaed (though possibly only for Steele dossier documents), Trump Organization, Felix Sater, and the campaign were not.
Adam Schiff's committee can make an important first step to clear up questions about the degree to which Trump only tacitly permitted Cohen, Sater, and his spawn to lie to Congress, or whether as was the case with the June 9 response his lawyers worked directly with witnesses to craft a false message to the public and Congress. If the June 9 response is any indication, there should be communications directly between Alan Futerfas or Garten with Cohen as he crafted his false story, which would go a long way to showing that their ultimate client suborned perjury.
Rosenstein's intervention with Mueller's office regarding Friday's statement suggests that he, the Big Dick Toilet Salesman, or their boss, may be trying to tamp down discussions about Trump participating in Cohen's lies. But because the discovery to HPSCI was so obviously incomplete, that committee has an available significant first step that could answer that question themselves, with little opportunity for DOJ to prevent that (and, given that the documents have already been identified in Buzzfeed's story already, probably little risk of damaging the Mueller investigation in the way that further Cohen testimony might).
It may not be the kind of showboat witness testimony Schiff seems most interested in right now. But he has the ability to demand all the documents that show what details Cohen, Sater, and the President's company and campaign knew to withhold to sustain Cohen's lies. That and a request for any communications about this matter, both in 2017 and in the wake of last year's raid on Cohen would go a long way towards answering a question that only Congress can deal with anyway: the degree to which Donald Trump orchestrated his lawyers' lies about his ongoing business negotiations with Russia while Russia was helping him get elected.


In approximately September 2015, he received a separate proposal for Trump Tower Moscow from a businessman named [Sater] According to Cohen, the concept of the project was that "[t]he Trump Organization would lend its name and management skills, but It was not going to borrow any money and it would not have any resulting debt for the purchase of the land and the building of the facility.";~ Cohen worked on this idea with [Sater] and his company, the Bayrock Group, a real estate consultancy that had previously worked with the Trump Organization.
[gratuitous paragraph on what a colorful fellow Sater is]
(U) After signing a letter of intent with a local developer in October 2015,36 Cohen and [Sater] exchanged a number of emails and text messages in late 2015 detailing their attempts to move the project forward. For instance, in December 2015, [Sater] tried to get Cohen and candidate Trump to travel to Russia to work on the project.
(U) Several of [Sater's] communications with Cohen involved an attempt to broker a meeting or other ties between candidate Trump and President Putin, and purported to convey Russian government interest in the project. Perhaps most notably, [Sater] told Cohen in a November 3, 2015, email, "[b]uddy our boy can become President of the USA and we can engineer it." 39 [Sater] continued that if "Putin gets on stage with Donald for a ribbon cutting for Trump Moscow, . .. Donald owns the republican nomination." 10 This assertion apparently arose from [Sater's] rather grandiose theory that cementing a deal with a hostile U.S. adversary would increase candidate Trump's foreign policy bona fides.41
(U) Sater testified that his communications with Cohen regarding President Putin were "mere puffery," designed to elicit a response from the · Trump Organization to move the project along.42 [Sater] explained that "[u]ntil the bank writes the check, it's all salesmanship and promotion to try to get many, many, many parties towards the center to try to get the deal done." 43 Cohen similarly characterized [Sater] as "a salesman" who "uses very colorful language."44
(U) When the project started proceeding too slowly for the Trump Organization,45 Cohen and [Sater] began to exchange acrimonious text messages. 46 As part of those text messages [Sater] told Cohen that President Putin's people were backing the deal, including "this is thru Putins [sic] administration, and nothing gets done there without approval from the top," as well as meetings in Russia with "Ministers" and "Putins [sic] top administration people."] [Sater] also mentioned Dmitry Peskov (President Putin's spokesman) would "most likely" be included. 48
(U) Cohen thus attempted to reach out to members of the Russian government in an attempt to make the project proceed, but apparently did not have any direct points of contact. for example, Cohen sent an email to a general press mailbox at the Kremlin in an effort to reach Peskov.49 Cohen's message notes that he has been working with a local partner to build a Trump Tower in Moscow and that communications have stalled with the local partner.50 The email further seeks contact with Peskov so they may " discuss the specifics as well as arrang[e] meetings with the appropriate individuals."51 Based on the documents produced to the Committee, it does not appear Cohen ever received a response from anyone affiliated with the Russian government.
(U) [Sater's] testimony likewise made clear that neither President Putin nor any element of the Russian government was actually directly involved in the project. For instance, in one exchange, [Sater] testified he was offering the Trump Organization access to one of his acquaintances. This acquaintance was an acquaintance of someone else who is "partners on a real estate development with a friend of Putin's." 52
[Sater] testified that he was unaware of "any direct meetings with any [Russian] government officials" in connection with the Trump Tower Moscow project.53 In addition, neither candidate Trump nor Cohen traveled to Russia in support of the deal.54
[U] It appears the Trump Tower Moscow project failed in January 2016.57 Trump Jr. testified that, as of early June 2016, he believed the Trump Tower Moscow project was dormant.53 The project failed because "[t]he due diligence did not come through" and the Trump Organization's representative "lost confidence in the licensee, and [he] abandoned the project."59 In fact, the Trump Organization did not have a confirmed site, so the deal never reached the point where the company was discussing financing arrangements for the project.60 The Committee determined that the Trump Tower Moscow project did not progress beyond an early developmental phase, and that this potential licensing deal was not related to the Trump campaign.61
As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I'm going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post.
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Tags: Adam Schiff, Alan Futerfas, Alan Garten, Dmitry Peskov, Ed O'Callaghan, GenBank, George Papadopoulos, Jerry Nadler, Jim Baker, Peter Carr, Rod Rosenstein, Rudy Giuliani, Sergei Millian, VTB


January 20, 2019/51 Comments/in 2016 Presidential Election, Mueller Probe /by emptywheel
In this post, I suggested that Rod Rosenstein's call to Mueller's office to see if they were going to release a statement pushing back against Buzzfeed's story on Michael Cohen's testimony might be a violation of SCO regulations protecting against "day-to-day supervision" by DOJ.
In his appearance on Jake Tapper's show today, Rudy Giuliani (starting at 14:25) appears to take credit for SCO's statement. After agreeing with Tapper that the NYT had corrected their claim that Paul Manafort had shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik with the intent that it in turn get shared with two Ukrainian oligarchs he worked for, he noted that the NYT had not issued the correction on their own. He then said that the Special Counsel's office had not, either.
Rudy: Originally the NYTimes ran with the story [about Paul Manafort sharing polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik] again, fake news that he shared it with a Russian, not true. [note: actually it is true, because Kilimnik himself is a Russian citizen]
Tapper: They corrected that. They corrected that.
Rudy: They did correct that. They didn't correct that my friend, they didn't correct that, they didn't correct that just completely on their own by the way. The same thing with Special Counsel. That didn't happen spontaneously.
At the very least, this undermines WaPo's claim that Mueller already had a correction of Buzzfeed in the works before Rosenstein's office called.
In the advanced stages of those talks, the deputy attorney general's office called to inquire if the special counsel planned any kind of response, and was informed a statement was being prepared, the people said.
Worse still, it seems to suggest he or someone from the White House was involved.
The WaPo story suggested that the statement was issued because Democrats were discussing impeachment.
[W]ith Democrats raising the specter of investigation and impeachment, Mueller's team started discussing a step they had never before taken: publicly disputing reporting on evidence in their ongoing investigation.
I've since heard the same.
It is not appropriate one way or another to issue a statement that otherwise would not have gotten made solely to tamp down discussion about impeachment as opposed to reestablish what Special Counsel claims it can prove with regards to Cohen's lies. If Trump suborned perjury about his own doings with Russia and Congress already had abundant evidence that he had done so before Buzzfeed's story then that is grounds to discuss impeachment. That is a proper function of Congress. It is not the function of the Deputy Attorney General's office to suppress perfectly legitimate discussions of impeachment.
But if the White House or Trump's personal lawyer demanded that DOJ interfere in the day-to-day supervision of Mueller's office with the specific goal of silencing talk about impeachment, as Rudy seems to suggest, that is a far more egregious intervention. That would mean Rosenstein's office (either with or without the intervention of Big Dick Toilet Salesman Matt Whitaker) did what they did because Trump demanded it, which led them to take action that is arguably outside their permissible role with Mueller, all for the political purpose of squelching legitimate congressional discussion about impeachment.
The Special Counsel's office declined to comment for this post.
As I disclosed last July, I provided information to the FBI on issues related to the Mueller investigation, so I'm going to include disclosure statements on Mueller investigation posts from here on out. I will include the disclosure whether or not the stuff I shared with the FBI pertains to the subject of the post.
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Tags: Konstantin Kilimnik, Matt Whitaker, Michael Cohen, Peter Carr, Rod Rosenstein, Rudy Giuliani
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Roger Stone and My Friend "Person 2"
By Greg Palast

The unnamed "Person 2" in the Roger Stone indictment is my friend: comic and journalist Randy Credico. I've been in constant contact with Credico for two years as Stone tried to bully him into perjury.
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Trump stooge Stone is a bucket of pus. And he lied to the House Intelligence Committee, as the indictment states. But, frankly, this is small potatoes, not evidence of collusion with Russia. In fact it's evidence of Stone's slapstick, self-promoting failed attempts to collude.

What concerns me is that this indictment reveals Mueller's real targets are what he terms "Organization 1," Wikileaks, and Julian Assange.

Let's not get tangled up in debates about Assange's unsavory personality or conduct. WikiLeaks is an important investigative news service, giving us Chelsea Manning's inestimably vital evidence of official, deadly misconduct; US State Department cables about oil company crimes I've used in my own reporting and yes, those Democratic Party emails about operations to subvert the Bernie Sanders campaign in possible violation of federal elections law.

By providing a haven for whistleblowers, WikiLeaks has successfully exposed crimes against our democracy. And Mueller, true to his FBI roots, can't stand it.

Did Russian hackers slip the DNC emails to Wikileaks to help their buddy Trump? Well, no sheet, Sherlock. I can tell you now that not every source of inside documents I receive is from a selfless informer. Everyone, including your mom, has an agenda. But neither Putin nor Assange forged the emails; isn't that correct, Mr. Blumenthal? Are we afraid of the truth, of the facts?

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Credico co-hosted a half dozen radio shows with Assange and visited him in Ecuador's London Embassy. That Mueller hauled Credico before a grand jury to ask about his contacts with Wikileaks should scare those of us who are trying to hold on to the last shreds of Freedom of the Press.

While I enjoy seeing that reptile Roger Stone get his time in the barrel, I am sickened watching Democratic pols and too many progressives, all in the name of cutting up Trump, applaud the return of a witchhunt against journalists and investigative journalism using tropes about foreign influence worthy of Joe McCarthy. Calls from mainstream media to shut down fake news sites have a price: My own sites and outlets face real threats of electronic blockade and censorship.

The memory of my uncle, the Black-listed writer Oliver Crawford, for years in hiding from the precursor of Adam Schiff's Committee, stands as an ever-admonishing warning, that, as journalist Ben Franklin said, "Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety." Or to purchase a temporary political advantage against an odious President.

I admit to a little thrill watching the CNN footage of FBI agents made-for-TV dawn raid on Stone's home. But I worry that, in the not too distant future, the door they knock on will be mine.
On Friday, federal agents raided the home of President Trump's ally and former adviser Roger Stone. Prosecutors from special counsel Robert Mueller's team charged the longtime Republican operative with obstruction, witness tampering and lying to Congress about his communications with WikiLeaks. An indictment, unsealed Friday, reveals a senior Trump campaign official was directed to contact Stone ahead of the 2016 election to see what other leaks about Hillary Clinton and the Democratic National Committee were coming from WikiLeaks. Roger Stone was released later Friday on a $250,000 bond and spoke to the press.
ROGER STONE: I will plead not guilty to these charges. I believe this is a politically motivated investigation. I am troubled by the political motivations of the prosecutors.
AMY GOODMAN: Roger Stone will be arraigned on Tuesday. Stone and Donald Trump share a unique history: Both were heavily influenced by the infamous attorney Roy Cohn, who served as a chief counsel to Senator Joseph McCarthy during the Red Scare in the 1950s and would later become a leading mob attorney. Roy Cohn represented Donald Trump for years and once claimed Trump considered him to be his best friend.
Roy Cohn is the subject of a new documentary here at the Sundance Film Festival titled Where's My Roy Cohn? I spoke to the film's director, Matt Tyrnauer, on Sunday. I began by asking him to explain who Roger Stone is and his connection to Roy Cohn.
MATT TYRNAUER: He was a protégé of Roy Cohn. He has something in common with Donald Trump other than being a friend and off-and-on political adviser to Donald Trump. He and Trump were both the protégés of Roy Cohn. Their origins in politics, and really in all of the way they deal with life and business, come from the same place. And that's the late Roy M. Cohn.
AMY GOODMAN: So, before we go to the late Roy M. Cohn, talk about your feelings on Friday, on that day that began with a raid of Roger Stone's house, and just who Roger Stone is.
MATT TYRNAUER: Roger Stone is a political dirty trickster whose methods and persona really dovetail with and presage the Trump administration. They're cut from the same cloth. And again, they had the same mentorI can't overstate the importance of that. This comes from the dirty pool kind of illegitimate political world that Roy Cohn personified, Richard Nixon toiled in. And Donald Trump is a kind of delayed re-emergence of this dirty pool transactional type of politics that now really is verging onto a type of fascism, that I think has been incipient in our republic for a long time but has emerged. And the point of the film is that the seeds for this were planted long ago, and Roy Cohn was a major sower of those seeds.
AMY GOODMAN: Let's go to a clip of Roger Stone from your film, talking in the same way you're talking, interestingly, about Roy Cohn, Donald Trump and, well, Roger Stone himself.
ROGER STONE: Roy would always be for an offensive strategy. Those are the rules of war. You don't fight on the other guy's ground; you define what the debate is going to be about. I think Donald learned that from Roy; I learned that from Roy.
AMY GOODMAN: That's Roger Stone talking about Roy M. Cohn. So, Matt Tyrnauer, take us there. Take us to who Roy M. Cohn is and how you became so fascinated with him.
MATT TYRNAUER: Roy Cohn would have been, I think, a very bold footnote in American history, if it hadn't been for the surprising result of the election of 2016. He was, at a very young age, the handmaiden of Joseph McCarthy in the early '50s on through the mid-'50s. He was most famous for those photographs of him whispering into the ear of McCarthy during the infamous Senate subcommittee witch-hunting hearings, where McCarthy, demagogue of his era, was trying to root out mostly imaginary communists in the State Department and other branches of the government.
Cohn was a son of great privilege, who would became an attorney. In fact, he graduated from law school so young, he couldn't take the bar exam for another year. He was a prodigy, and he was a very brilliant man. It turned out, through the course of his life, he used his brilliance for mostly the dark arts of manipulation and self-enrichment, and certainly, later in his career, even literally mafia activities. He became the number one mob lawyer in this country. But he was also the greatI call him the CEO of the Favor Bank. He was the great political fixer of his time.
AMY GOODMAN: So, well, the mob is where Donald Trump comes in, in his early years of being a developer in Manhattan. But go back even further, to the Rosenbergs, from before the McCarthy hearings.
MATT TYRNAUER: Sure. Roy Cohn cut his teeth in public life as the junior prosecutor in the Rosenberg spy case, which was an infamous trial of two Jewish Americans, Julius and Ethel Rosenberg, who were accused of and convicted of sharing atomic secrets with the Soviet Union.
AMY GOODMAN: Conspiring to.
MATT TYRNAUER: Yes. And Cohn was among a group of Jewish lawyers and judges who were appointed to give the impression that it was not an anti-Semitic prosecution. He proved himself to be incredibly aggressive and very, very savvy at gaining publicity for himself and for the cause that he was pushing. And he is perhaps most famous in this for engaging in a very questionable collusion with the judge, who was Judge Kaufman. And Judge Kaufman, legend has it, would call Roy Cohn, the prosecutor in the case, outside of his synagogue, Park Avenue Synagogue in New York, to ask Roy Cohn, the junior prosecutor, for guidance on what kind of sentencing he should hand down. Roy Cohn
AMY GOODMAN: And just to be clear, ex parte communications between a judge and a prosecutor are illegal.
MATT TYRNAUER: You said it. And Cohn was encouraging him, by Cohn's own admission, to give the death penalty not only to Julius, who, it turned out, was indeed guilty, and Ethel, who wasno one's ever proven guilt for. The couple were sentenced to death and executed in the electric chair. It was a truly traumatic moment for certainly the Jewish community of the United States, but also really the United States at large. And the film unearths footage, contemporary footage, that was actually very shocking to me. I didn't realize how violent and emotional the protests were in the streets of New York City on the day of the execution.
AMY GOODMAN: And this was what? June 21st, 1953?
MATT TYRNAUER: That's right. And Cohn at the time was, I believe, 23.
AMY GOODMAN: And, of course, the message that was sent all over the country with the execution of this couple at Sing Sing, of putting them in the electric chair. Interestingly, you have a clip of Roger Stone, that we want to turn to right now, remembering what Roy Cohn said to him about their execution.
ROGER STONE: When you would try to get him to talk about Joe McCarthy or the Army-McCarthy trials or that whole period, J. Edgar Hoover, you couldn't get much out of him. On the Rosenbergs, I asked him how he felt about itI told him I'd read the caseand he saidand I quote"If I could have pulled the switch, I'd have done it myself." That doesn't sound like remorse. I think Roy was a hard-liner to the end.
AMY GOODMAN: That's Roger Stone, from the documentary, Where's My Roy Cohn?, talking about Roy M. Cohn and the execution of the Rosenbergs. Matt Tyrnauer?
MATT TYRNAUER: It seemed to me that someone in their early twenties who had killed a mother of two, who was almost certainly not guilty of the crime for which she was convicted and murdered by the state, might have some feelings of remorse for this later in life, as he was on his own deathbed, for instance. I asked Stone that, and Stone gave the answer that you just saw in the film clip.
AMY GOODMAN: So let's move forward, down to the McCarthy hearings in Washington. Roy M. Cohn becomes his right-hand man, famouslyand you show this so beautifully in the filmconstantly in the ear of McCarthy. You've got two sets of hearings. You've got the original McCarthy hearings, going after communists, and then you've got the Army-McCarthy hearings. And you describe this as an early reality TV, very Trumpian. Explain what took place.
MATT TYRNAUER: Army-McCarthy is a byword in our culture. The McCarthy era, of course, is the dictionary definition of witch hunting and demagoguery and the big lie in politics. The Army-McCarthy hearings' details and the nuances, I really feel, have been lost to history and lost in the very porous education system we have in this country that just doesn't teach history thoroughly. So I wanted to show a granular portrayal of this peculiar episode that occurred, that really riveted the nation at the dawn of the age of television.
What happens in the complex Army-McCarthy scenario is that Cohn is McCarthy's protégé. Cohn, as a string puller and a favor doer, wants to do a particular favor for someone, a certain someone special to him, and that is a young man named G. David Schine, who was the scion of a wealthy hotel family and was just Roy Cohn's type, sexually speaking, it turns out. Cohn, we haven't mentioned yet, was gay and very deeply in the closet in this period. He clearly has a romantic crush on David Schine and gets him on Joseph McCarthy's committee as a junior aide. At a certain point in the Korean War period, David Schine is drafted into the Army as a private. This incenses not only David Schine, but Roy Cohn. So, Cohn, who was powerful at the time, but not as powerful as he thought he was, did what every wealthy, spoiled child might do, except this one happened to be occupying a Senate post: He called the secretary of the Army, and he threatened the secretary of the Army. And he said, "Either David Schine is given a commission as a general, not a private, and posted in the penthouse of the Waldorf Astoria hotel in New York," the city that Roy Cohnhappened to be his hometown, "or weRoy Cohn and Joseph McCarthywill go after the Army and accuse them of being run by a secret gay, communist cabal."
The Army didn't react well to this bizarre threat coming from a relative political nobody, the one with great connections and a connection to the leading demagogue of the day, Joseph McCarthy. So the Army pushed back. And we have to remember also that the president at the time was an Army man: Dwight Eisenhower was a general. And he didn't say much at the time, but behind the scenes wasdidn't like these accusations being leveled against his branch of the military.
So, what unfolds then is, I believe, the first instance of reality televisionunwitting reality television. I think TV, in its infancy, was trying to find its footing, and whatever was good spectacle and whatever would get people to tune in flew at the time. This was an open, televised hearing with a sensationalistic charge and a secret homosexual subplot. It made the stuff of perfect television drama, really, although no one really knew what was going to happen. It was an open-ended narrative, which really is the definition of reality TV.
AMY GOODMAN: So, talk about thereally, the climax of these hearings, with the counsel for the secretary of the Army.
MATT TYRNAUER: What ended up happening was the Army lawyered up and went after McCarthy and Cohn. And they hired a very good lawyer, a very folksy, telegenic, avuncular man who was a Boston Brahmin attorney named Joseph Welch. Welch played his cards beautifully on TV and in the hearing room here, and he paced himself. He sort of let his fellow questioners pick apart this bizarre scenario. McCarthy and Cohn are demagoguing and trying to show that there are communists and gays in the Army and that they're bad for the United States and bringing down the republic and the democracy, basically. The Army was able to poke holes in that.
Eventually, near the end, McCarthy sees he's losing this battle, and he wants to fight back. There had been a backroom deal made at a certain point that one of the people that they were going to drag through the mud was an associate of Welch's in his Boston law firm who may or may not have been a member of a group that may or may not have had some communist leanings. It wasn't even a communist front. It was really nothing, as most of the charges McCarthy leveled were. And Cohn had told Welch, "I'll trade you not implicating this guy for something else." And McCarthy missed that meeting, and he started to bring this young man's name into the hearings on television.
And Welch realized that he had broken the agreement, and went after McCarthy. And he says words that turned out to be immortalvery few words, but they'll always be remembered among anyone who is a student of history and even people who were casual TV viewers of the time. And it'sI'll miss some of these words, but it was basically, "Senator, you've done enough." And he's sort of winding up like a pitcher would wind up. "At long last, have you no sense of decency?"
JOSEPH WELCH: Look, you have done enough. Have you no sense of decency, sir? At long last, have you left no sense of decency?
MATT TYRNAUER: The Senate roomit's the Russell hearing room of the Senate, which was where Anita Hill's trialhearing took placebursts into applause. You can see McCarthy's face just collapses, basically. He goes pale. And this caught the conscience of an entire nation, because of television, and it led to the very quick discrediting and downfall and eventual censure of Joseph McCarthy in the Senate. And it destroyed Roy Cohn, as well, as a Senate aide. And that really ended the McCarthy eraJoseph Welch. It should have ended Roy Cohn, but it did not.
AMY GOODMAN: That's Matt Tyrnauer, director of the new documentary Where's My Roy Cohn? When we come back, we'll talk about how Roy Cohn ended up representing a young New York real estate developer named Donald Trump in the 1970s and how they became best friends. Stay with us.
AMY GOODMAN: "Everybody Wants to Rule the World" by Tears for Fears. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I'm Amy Goodman. We're broadcasting for the week from the Sundance Film Festival here in Park City, Utah, as we continue to look at the new documentary Where's My Roy Cohn? It looks at the man who mentored Donald Trump and Roger Stone. The film just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival.
After Roy Cohn left Washington in disgrace in the 1950s, he became a prominent attorney in New Yorka prominent mob attorney. His clients included the mob and a future president. Let's go back to my interview with director Matt Tyrnauer.
AMY GOODMAN: Let's leap forward to his relationship with Donald Trump, how he came to know Donald Trump.
MATT TYRNAUER: So, Cohn has an immediate success as a lawyer in New York. And people have said to me, journalists have asked me, "How could someone so discredited worm his way to the top echelons of New York society after having crashed and burned so badly and humiliated himself and everyone around him in the McCarthyin the Army-McCarthy period?" My answer is: Have you ever met New York society? It's the most transactional place in the world. And Roy Cohn was the king of transactional relationships. I call him the CEO of the Favor Bank. And that's the way he operated, and to great success, all through the '60s, all through the early '70s.
And there comes a day, a fateful day, when Roy Cohn, powerbroker, mob lawyer, meets a young man who was the just-starting-out son of a major real estate developer in Queens and Brooklyn named Donald J. Trump. Trump was pure outer-borough material. He had the money, but he didn't have the status. He was considered to be very uncouth and was not welcome in the important places in New York City business and society, but he had a burning aspiration to rise to those levels. He did find his way to a chic nightclub at that time called Le Club, kind of Midtown East in Manhattan, which existed until relatively recently, in fact. In that kind of swingy, proto-disco environment, he meets the famous Roy Cohn.
At that precise moment, the Justice Department was going after Trump's father and Trump himself, who was a junior partner in the Trump family real estate business, for racial discrimination. At the time, it was very provable that the Trump housing company was taking the rental applications of minority applicants and marking them with a code word, which was C for colored, and then denying them rental apartments. The Justice Department was going to come down very hard on them, and Trump was worried and wanted to help his father and help himself out of this nasty predicament. He explained the predicament to Roy Cohn that night and said, "Hey, can you help me get out of this?" And Cohn said, "Absolutely. Come see me tomorrow morning." Trump did. And Cohn, in the room with him, outlined a strategy for conquering this Justice Department suit against them, which really was the game plan that Trump followed every day for the rest of his life and into our own lives, in our daily lives now.
AMY GOODMAN: Fully provable that they were engaging in racist practices, but they never admitted it.
MATT TYRNAUER: That's right. So, they settled. And settling is not technically an admission of guilt. Now, Trump says he never settles, but of course he settles all the time. And Cohn says he never settled or never pleaded, and he pleaded and settled all the time. But Cohn's premise was never admit guilt, and a settlement isn't an admission of guilt. And if you don't admit guilt, you can go to the press and claim victory. Pure Roy Cohn.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Roy Cohn was not only his lawyer that he turned to, one of his lawyers, but he considered him one of his best friends.
MATT TYRNAUER: He was his consigliere and best friend. In Cohn's eyes, he, in the film, on an interview that he gives in the early '80s, brags that Donald Trump, in a letter to him, says that he's his best friend.
AMY GOODMAN: When Trump buys the Bonwit Teller Building, this massive concrete building, historic, and then, in its place, builds Trump Tower, talk about the blueprint, basically, that involves the mob and Roy Cohn.
MATT TYRNAUER: The Trump Tower story is exemplary. It just sets the pattern for the way Trump and the Trump Organization did business. And again, it's torn from the playbook of Roy Cohn. It probably didn't need to be this way, but corners were cut to generate maximum profits. And I think it was also in that time in New York, just part of what you did as a skullduggerer to kind of get the mafia involved and, you know, get special privileges to speed up construction, etc., etc., etc. So, this was a really corrupt project. And I want to give credit to the journalist David Cay Johnston, who was doing this reporting in real time back in the '80s and has been chronicling the bad business dealings of the Trump Organization for years. And we rely on an interview with David Cay Johnston in the film to explain how something was very peculiar about the construction of Trump Tower, which Roy Cohn helped Donald Trump achieve and engineer. And Trumpor, rather, Cohn shows off a letter from Trump thanking him for allowing the fast realization of the Trump Tower project.
A few things in particular, though. Trump Tower is built of concrete. Buildings in the '80s in New York were very rarely built of concrete. They were built of structural steel usually, which was a much more efficient way to build. And one reason it was more efficient was that the mob at the time controlled the poured concrete contract business, and you need to pay off the mob. And also the mob, in a bit of subtle skullduggery, controlled the unions, so the unions could close the construction fences and keep the cement mixers waiting to come into the construction site and ruin your cement and cost you, you know, millions of dollars, basically. But, indeed, this building went up made of concrete, because Roy Cohn, according to Johnston's reporting, introduced Trump to all of his mafioso connections, that allowed this project to go forward without any interruptions.
There was another very famous thing, which also, I believe, Hillary Clinton brought up in the campaign, which was that the Bonwit Teller Building, which was the building that preceded Trump Tower on that site, was demolished by a group of illegal immigrants called the Polish Brigade, that were brought down to New York City from Rochester, New York. Trump never paid them. So, not only was he employing illegal immigrants and not paying appropriate taxes and having any accountability on that way back in the '70s and '80s, but he was also stiffing people. Again, pure Roy Cohn. Cohn was an expert tax evader and a stiffer of contractors. And he, Trump, Donald Trump, really learned this, it's thought, from Cohn.
AMY GOODMAN: So we take this story, decades later, to just this week, where The New York Times and Washington Post are reporting on undocumented immigrants who work at the Westchester golf course of President Trump. And though they were honored for being best employee repeatedly, one by one, they were called in, and they were fired. They are speaking out and saying the Trumps full well knew that they didn't have the proper documents.
MATT TYRNAUER: Yes. I mean, so much of the film really is connecting the dots and giving even more truth to the famous George Santayana aphorism, "Those who do not remember history are condemned to repeat it." I also like to quote Gore Vidal, who used to say we live in the "United States of Amnesia." All of this has precedent, and sometimes very literal precedent. The same people perpetrating the same misdeeds or crimes are telling the same lies and untruth. They've been proven and reported on for years, and yet it's occurring again, now on an international scale with really terrifying long-term consequences.
AMY GOODMAN: So, let's go back to your interview with Roger Stone in 2017, where he once again quotes Roy Cohn.
ROGER STONE: Roy famously argued that all of the expenses of his law firm wereyou know, were deductible. The IRS did not see it this way. Roy told me that the whole point of dealing with the IRS was to die owing them as much as humanly possible.
AMY GOODMAN: That's Roger Stone. Matt Tyrnauer?
MATT TYRNAUER: So, there's a great interview with Mike Wallace and Roy Cohn, where Wallace says to Cohn, "You're a tax avoider," and Cohn indignantly says, "We're all tax avoiders. The president is a tax avoider." Of course, the president that Cohn's talking about at that moment was Ronald Reagan. But when you watch it now, it has a certain resonance and ring to it. And then Wallace brilliantly says, "Well, you're better at it than others." And then Cohn says, "Well, don't blame me for your inadequacies."
Trump did the same thing in the debate with Hillary Clinton, where she assailed him of tax evasion, and he then leaned into the microphone and said, "That makes me smart." And at that moment, my heart sank, because I thought, I could see that that would be a very populist one-liner in a debate, actually. Cohn got that. I mean, there's something about the public that loves a scoundrel. And Cohn played that to the hilt. And I think Trump also took that persona from his mentor, Roy Cohn.
AMY GOODMAN: So now take us back to Roger Stone, the man who's now just been indicted in the Mueller inquiry, and talk about the triumvirate hereRoy Cohn, Roger Stone and Donald Trump.
MATT TYRNAUER: One of the people I spoke to off camera about Roy Cohn and his relationship with Trump said to me, not jokingly, "Donald Trump is Roy Cohn." And you could say that about Roger Stone. I think Roger Stone might say it about himself, actually. They swallowed Roy Cohn whole, in a certain way, and absorbed all of his incredible abilities at practicing the dark arts of manipulation of politics and media, and understanding the nexus between politics and media and how to operate those levers for really dark and selfish purposes. That's really what Cohn's mastery ended up being.
AMY GOODMAN: I think what you convey very well in this film is not just their manipulativeness, whether we're talking about Trump or Stone or Cohn, but the utter cruelty, Roy Cohn willing to destroy lives, whether in his anti-communist crusade, his anti-LGBTQ crusade, even though he himself was a gay man. Ultimately he would die of AIDS, though he denied this, right? That he was dying of AIDS.
MATT TYRNAUER: Yes, he denied it consistently. He denied it on camera, off camera, publicly and privately.
AMY GOODMAN: Now, President Reagan and Nancy were his dear friends.
MATT TYRNAUER: That's right.
AMY GOODMAN: President Reagan wouldn't mention AIDS for something like seven years of his presidency. But in the very end of Roy Cohn's life, you report that they got him into a special drug trial at the National Institutes of Health?
MATT TYRNAUER: Yes. I mean, this is one of the most bitter ironies and just really diabolical truths of Cohn's life. He spearheaded, with McCarthy, the lavender scare in the '50s, ruining the lives of LGBTQ people in government. Of course, he himself was one. So, that was bad enough. He, according to Nancy Reagan, helped her husband get elected, and actually was, perhaps, the key person, for a variety of reasons. The Reagans had many gay friends, but they were publicly and on a policy level as bad as you can be for gay rights and handling the HIV/AIDS plague at the time. Cohn appealed to them for special treatment as he was secretly dying of the disease. And Ronald and Nancy Reagan got him into an experimental treatment program at the NIH that very few people could get into. There are telegrams that we show on screen of Ronald Reagan, blithely ignoring the greatest public health crisis of our time, telegramming Roy Cohn, wishing him good health and godspeed as he gets out of the hospital and goes back home after a round of experimental treatment.
AMY GOODMAN: And then talk about how Donald Trump, the man who called Roy Cohn his best friend, how he dealt with Roy Cohn suffering from AIDS.
MATT TYRNAUER: Many people who were witnesses to the relationship cite that Trump did back away from Cohn when he was on his deathbed. At the same time, Cohn was disbarred, very late in his life, with almost, I think, weeks left to live. They managed, after decades of trying, at different levels of government, to get him disbarred. It was achieved. He had late-stage HIV illness at that time. And there are many accounts of him appealing to Trump for certain kinds of help and being nervous about what Trump would think. And then Trump did, according to his cousins, who were very much present at the time of Cohn's illness, back away.
AMY GOODMAN: Left him to die alone, as many of Cohn's friends did.
MATT TYRNAUER: Yes. I think this is the moral of the story of being a transactional person, in many ways. Cohn had many friends, but how true were these friends? They were friends that were gained through being a master of transactional living, transactional politics. He was a total transactional figure. When he had this terrible disease, which was a deeply ironic thing for him to die of, he lost a lot of friends, who were, I think, backing away because of these dual crises in his lifedisbarment and an assured death of a terrible and, at that time, we have to remember, really extremely terrifying disease that was very little understood.
AMY GOODMAN: Which brings us now to the title of your film, Where's My Roy Cohn? Talk about how you came up with it.
MATT TYRNAUER: "Where's my Roy Cohn?" is not a question, it's a complaint, issued by Trump in the White House in 2017, when I think he first felt the walls of the Mueller investigation closing in on him. I don't think he could have predicted the length of this. I think he thought he would short-circuit it, and he was hoping that a Roy Cohn type would help him short-circuit it.
He was not able to find that in the person of his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, or his White House counsel, both of whom have left office. It's a fundamental misunderstanding of someone in the executive branch that the attorney general or the White House counsel serves him personally: These are the employees of a dictator; these aren't the employees of an elected president of the United States. The attorney general represents the people. The Justice Department represents the interests of the United States. The people are sovereign in the United States. The president is not sovereign. I'm not sure anyone's been able to explain that to Donald Trump.
But Roy Cohn taught him that he was sovereign. Roy Cohn behaved as if he was sovereign, Roy Cohn was sovereign. And he convinced Trump that if you follow that playbook of ultimate selfishness and ends justifying means, that you could get away with anything. Roy Cohn almost did. It's Shakespearean and irredeemable, his end, but he has given us this delayed re-emergence of demagoguery that is the result of a seed he planted in the early '80s, I would say, and has come back to haunt us in a really unimaginable way.
AMY GOODMAN: Matt Tyrnauer, director of the new documentary Where's My Roy Cohn? It just premiered here at the Sundance Film Festival.
AMY GOODMAN: The United States is continuing to ratchet up pressure on the Venezuelan government in an attempt to topple President Nicolás Maduro. On Tuesday, the State Department announced it's giving control of Venezuela's U.S. bank accounts to opposition leader Juan Guaidó, who declared himself president of Venezuela last week.
This came a day after the U.S. imposed a de facto embargo on oil from Venezuela's state-run oil company, PDVSA. The new sanctions include exemptions for several U.S. firms, including Chevron and Halliburton, to allow them to continue working in Venezuela.
Meanwhile, the U.S. has also refused to rule out a military invasion of Venezuela. On Monday, national security adviser John Bolton was photographed holding a notepad on which he had written the words "5,000 troops to Colombia."
Earlier today, Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro tweeted, quote, "People of the U.S., I ask for your support to reject the interference of Donald Trump's government in making My Homeland a Vietnam in Latin America. Don't Allow It!" he tweeted. President Maduro told a Russian news network Wednesday he was open to negotiating with the opposition.
Major opposition protests are planned for today. On Tuesday, the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights criticized the Venezuelan government for cracking down on earlier protests. According to the U.N., at least 40 people have been killed and 850 detained since the recent round of anti-government protests began.
On Tuesday, Vice President Mike Pence met with members of the Venezuelan opposition at the White House. Trump's new special envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, also took part in the meetings. Elliott Abrams is a right-wing hawk who was convicted in 1991 for lying to Congress during the Iran-Contra scandal, but he was later pardoned by President George H.W. Bush. Abrams defended Guatemalan dictator General Efraín Ríos Montt as he oversaw a campaign of mass murder and torture of indigenous people in Guatemala in the 1980s. Ríos Montt was later convicted of genocide. Abrams was also linked to the 2002 coup in Venezuela that attempted to topple Hugo Chávez.
Well, today we spend the hour looking at the crisis in Venezuela and the appointment of Elliott Abrams as special envoy. We're joined by the award-winning investigative journalist Allan Nairn, who has closely tracked Elliott Abrams' record for over three decades. Allan Nairn is two-time winner of the George Polk Award, a recipient of the Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Award for International Reporting. Allan spoke with us earlier this week from Jakarta, Indonesia. He began by talking about the significance of the appointment of Elliott Abrams.
ALLAN NAIRN: What his appointment emphasizes, re-emphasizesit was already obviouswas that the U.S. is trying to overthrow the government of Venezuela and that it will be willing to use violence, to use military force, if necessary. That's what Abrams, and indeed U.S. policy, has been all about.
I think their first preference would be to have a successful covert operation. Mike Pompeo, when he was in charge of the CIA, all but stated it publicly. At one point when he was speaking in Aspen at one of those gatherings of the elite, he gave the rough outlines of an operation, in coordination with U.S. allies like Colombia, to topple the Maduro government in Venezuela. And now, just recently, the night before Guaidó declared himself as the new president of Venezuela, he was on the phone with Mike Pence directly. Pence wasThe Wall Street Journal broke the story. Pence was directly talking to him, and the next day he comes out and declares himself as the president of Venezuela. And now they're askingthey're offering incentives to Venezuelan Army officers to come over to their side and hoping that the U.S. can re-establish control of Venezuela in that manner.
But if that fails, I think there is a chance that the U.S. would consider an invasion of Venezuela. This would not be the first or even the second or third preference of the Pentagon or the CIA or the State Department. But it might be very attractive to Donald Trump, for several reasons.
In 2016, during the campaign, speaking of Iraq, Trump said, "To the victor belong the spoils. You have to go in and take the oil." You could call this a Trump doctrine. And Venezuela has the world's largest oil reserves. Now, very often oil is used as the explanation for the motive for U.S. invasions and foreign policy, and I think its role is usually way overblown. People give it too much weight in the analysis. But in this case, it might turn out to be very relevant, given that Trump has that doctrine and is now personally in power.
Secondly, politically, Trump needs a new war. Trump has been stuck with, for him, being in the embarrassing position of just being able to continue the old W. Bush and Obama wars. There's a consensus among U.S. mainstream historians that no president can be great unless he has a war. They say this all the time. And Trump now, of course, is in some political difficulty.
So, for him, an action where the U.S. went into Venezuela in spectacular fashion, did it quick, in the style of the U.S. invasions of Grenada or Panama, didn't get bogged down, but just went in, say, for a few weeks, killed without restraint, which is the doctrine Trump is now applying to U.S. forces worldwideI mean, he's basically told the CIA and the Pentagon, "Don't worry about any constraints on civilian casualties that may have existed before. Do what you will." In fact, in Afghanistan, he celebrated the dropping of what was called the mother of all bombs, this massive explosive which is the closest conventional explosive that you can get to a nuclear weapon. This was dropped in a mountainous region of Afghanistan, and Trump was crowing about it afterwards. So, a quick invasion with massive force that succeeds in toppling the Maduro government, and then where the U.S. gets out quickly, is the kind of thing that could, in theory, be attractive to Trump. And it's also the kind of thing that, I guarantee you, would be praised to the heavens on CNN and on MSNBC. And this would be a sweet political victory for Trump.
Now, whether it's actually possible to pull off a quick successful military invasion of Venezuela is entirely a different question, because it would face major resistance even if, you know, some of the Army had already switched sides to the U.S. side. There would be a lot of people who would want to resist it.
But it is the case that the reality in Venezuela today is very different than it has been during earlier years of the Bolivarian movement in Venezuela. The U.S. has alwaysand this is an important point for understanding U.S. contextthe U.S. doesn't care at all about elections. They don't care at all about the poor. Completely fake elections are fine with them. The U.S. just, you know, not long ago, finished ratifying a fraudulent election in Honduras, where Hernández imposed himself for re-election, and he did that with the assistance of Mike Pence and others. They don't care about the poor. They targeted Hugo Chávez and the Bolivarian movement from the beginning. In 2002, even though Chávez had, not long before, been re-elected in a clean vote, a completely clean votefor years, the Carter Center, and other international monitors who went to Venezuela, was reporting that their electoral system was, in that erathey did a clean count. They were not rigged elections. Despite that, despite the fact that the Chávez administration was making great strides in raising living standards for the poor, starting to lower the levels of malnutrition, starting to raise the levels of general healthor maybe because of thatthe U.S., in 2002, backed a coup against Chávez, that briefly removed him but was ultimately unsuccessful, because the population and much of the security forces rallied to Chávez's side and they thwarted the U.S. effort to oust him.
Today it's a different situation. The U.S. has been trying to undermine the Venezuelan government ever since the Chávez years, as has the Venezuelan oligarchy. In fact, not long after the brief failed coup, which was backed by the U.S., the rich of Venezuela, the business owners, went on a capital strike. They purposely shut down their businesses, and it had huge impact. They succeeded in shaving something like 27 percent off the gross domestic product of Venezuela, which is just astonishing, catastrophic, in a short time. But even that failed to topple Chávez.
But in the conditions we have today, where Maduro does not have near the popular support that Chávez did, where he's really been running the country into the ground and has been using the fact that the U.S. is trying to undermine the government as a universal excuse for everything, for his own incompetence and corruption and brutality against protesters in the streets, this government, the Maduro government, is in a rather weak position. And it appears that the population is now becoming rather divided. For years, the opposition in Venezuela was kind of a classical rightist Latin American force, with the rich, the very rich, the oligarchs, the top businesspeople aligned with many sectors of the middle class. But now it seems that opposition has spread, and there are many poor people who are part of it. So, this means this Maduro government is rather weak and is vulnerable to being toppled. It is possible. It's not impossible, as it was in previous years under Chávez.
Butand this is important to noteeven though much of the U.S. news coverage and many of the U.S. analysts note the fact that a lot of poor people are now joining and going into the streets protesting against Maduro, there is absolutely no way that the U.S. will allow a poor people's movementlet's say, a newimagine if such a thing came into being, a poor people's movement in Venezuela that did want to oust Maduro but replace it with a new policy that was also pro-poor and sought to gain justice. There's no way the U.S. would tolerate that. The U.S. will insist that a new opposition that comes to power be controlled by the far-right elements who represent the very rich and are willing to take instructions from Washington, as was clearly illustrated in the case of Pence and the newly proclaimed president ofself-proclaimed president of Venezuela. So, it's a very dangerous situation right now.
And I think what the proper role for the U.S. at this moment is, one, to lift the sanctions, lift the stranglehold that is currently increasing the level of hunger. There's a level of misery in Venezuela that was already caused by the incompetence of this government, but the U.S. has done everything it can to increase it. Just in the past few days, for example, the U.S. has been moving legally to block the Venezuelan government from using $1.2 billion worth of gold, which it has stored in London. And in doing this, they're being backed by the opposition, by Guaidó. And this will mean less money available in Venezuela to buy basic provisions, basic supplies, food, medicine, etc. So, first, lift the stranglehold.
And secondly, disavow the invasion option, and then step back. You know, some people in the Democratic Party, for example, in the United States float the idea of the U.S. trying to facilitate, be the mediator, in finding a political solution for Venezuela. But that's not appropriate. The U.S. has no standing to be a mediator, a disinterested third party. The U.S. is on one side. They're on the side of the right and the rich in Venezuela who are trying to topple this government, and the U.S. is trying to overthrow the government. They can't be a mediator. It's somewhat comparable to Israel-Palestine, where, for years, the U.S. has claimed to be an honest broker between Israel and the Palestinians, when in fact, everyone knowsit's self-proclaimedthe U.S. is on the side of the Israelis and against the aspirations of the Palestinians to have their legal rights under international law enforced and to regain their political sovereignty. And yet they claim to be a mediator. So the U.S. should not try to insert itself and claim to be a political mediator in Venezuela, either.
For that, you would need an outside party that has some credibility, maybe, you know, a figure like the pope or some outside countries who could play that role. A couple of years ago the pope was involved in such an effort, but he received no backing from the U.S. at the time, because they don't really want a political solution that leads to a truly open political field where all options are available, where perhaps, you know, maybe a different government, but one that is pro-poor and anti-U.S., could gain power. You know, if you had a genuinely open political process in Venezuela, a political outcome like that is certainly not inconceivable. But the U.S. would never tolerate that.
So they're now trying to engineer a way for the U.S. to regain control. And to do that, they'll be willing to use violence as necessary, if necessary. And for that, Abrams is the perfect man for the job.

ALLAN NAIRN: Abrams was the key man in Reagan administration policy toward Central America, when that administration was abetting what a court recently ruled was a genocide in Guatemala, when the U.S. was backing the army of El Salvador in a series of death squad assassinations and massacres, and when the U.S. was invading Nicaragua with a Contra force that went after what one U.S. general described as "soft targets," meaning civilians, things like cooperatives.
Abrams later came back during the George W. Bush administration, joined the National Security Council and was a key man in implementing the U.S. policy of backing Israeli attacks against Gaza, when the U.S. refused to accept the results of the Gaza elections, where Hamas defeated Fatah in a vote, and instead Abrams and company backed a war operation to overturn the results of the election, backing the forces of Mohammed Dahlan.
Some commentators have said, "Well, Abrams is not a Trump guy. He represents traditional, established U.S. foreign policy." And that's true. The problem is that that U.S. policy has been to abet genocide when the U.S. feels it's necessary.
In the case of Guatemala, Abrams and the Reagan administration were approving the shipment of weapons, money, intelligence and the provision of political cover to the army of Guatemala as they were sweeping through the northwest Mayan highlands, wiping out 662 rural villages, by the army's own count, decapitating children, crucifying people, using the tactics that in this era we associate with ISIS. In one particular case, in 1985, an activist for the relatives of the disappeared, named Rosario Godoy, was abducted by the army. She was raped. Her mutilated body was found alongside that of her baby. The baby's fingernails had been torn out. The Guatemalan army, when asked about this atrocity, said, "Oh, they died in a traffic accident." When Elliott Abrams was asked about this accident, he affirmed also that they died in a traffic accident. This activist raped and mutilated, the baby with his fingernails pulled out, Abrams says it's a traffic accident.
It's very parallel to the stance Abrams took on Panama. When Noriega, the CIA-backed dictator of Panama, who was involved in the drug traffic, who the U.S. later decided to overthrowwhen the forces of Noriega abducted the Panamanian dissident Hugo Spadafora and cut off his head with a kitchen knife, Jesse Helms, of all people, tried to investigate in the U.S. Congress, and Elliott Abrams stopped him, saying, "No, we need Noriega. He's doing a very good job. He's working with us."
In the case of El Salvador, after the massacre in El Mozote, where a U.S.-trained battalion massacred more than 500 civilians, slitting the throats of children along the way, Abrams took the lead in denying that such a thing had ever happened. And he later described the results of the Reagan administration policy, his policy, in El Salvador as a fabulous achievement. He said this even after the El Salvador Truth Commission had issued a report saying that more than 85 percent of the atrocities had been committed by the armed forces and its death squads, death squads which had a particular practice of cutting off the genitals of their victims, stuffing them in their mouths and putting them on open display on the roadsides of El Salvador.
When I appeared on the Charlie Rose TV show with Elliott Abrams, I suggested that he be put on trial, that he be brought before a Nuremberg-style tribunal and tried for his role in facilitating war crimes and crimes against humanity. He dismissed the idea of him being put on trial as "ludicrous," but he did not actually deny any of the facts of what he has donewhat he had done. He said it was all necessary in the context of the Cold War. So, this is Elliott Abrams, who has now been put in charge of key aspects of the U.S. policy toward Venezuela.
AMY GOODMAN: Allan, let's go to that clip. This was in March of 1995, when you and Elliott Abrams were on PBS on the Charlie Rose show. It begins with you.
ALLAN NAIRN: I mean, I think you have to beyou have to apply uniform standards. President Bush once talked about putting Saddam Hussein on trial for crimes against humanity, Nuremberg-style tribunal. I think that's a good idea. But if you're serious, you have to be even-handed. If we look at a case like this, I think we have to talkstart talking about putting Guatemalan and U.S. officials on trial. I think someone like Mr. Abrams would be a fita subject for such a Nuremberg-style inquiry. But I agree with Mr. Abrams that Democrats would have to be in the dock with him. The Congress has been in on this. The Congress approved the sale of 16,000 M-16s to Guatemala. In '87 and '88
CHARLIE ROSE: All right, but hold on one second. I justbeforebecause the
ALLAN NAIRN: They voted more military aid than the Republicans asked for.
CHARLIE ROSE: Again, I invite you and Elliott Abrams back to discuss what he did. But right now, you
ELLIOTT ABRAMS: No, thanks, Charlie, but I won't accept
CHARLIE ROSE: Hold on one second. Go ahead. You want to repeat the question, of you want to be in the dock?
ELLIOTT ABRAMS: It is ludicrous. It is ludicrous to respond to that kind of stupidity. This guy thinks we were on the wrong side in the Cold War. Maybe he personally was on the wrong side. I am one of the many millions of Americans who thinks we were happy to win.
CHARLIE ROSE: All right, I don't
ALLAN NAIRN: Mr. Abrams, you were on the wrong side in supporting the massacre of peasants and organizers, anyone who dared to speak, absolutely.
CHARLIE ROSE: What I want to do is I want to ask the following question.
ALLAN NAIRN: And that's a crime. That's a crime, Mr. Abrams, for which people should be tried. U.S. laws
ELLIOTT ABRAMS: Why don't youyes, right, we'll put all the American officials who won the Cold War in the dock.
AMY GOODMAN: So, Allan, that was Elliott Abrams responding to you on PBS, on the Charlie Rose show. Your response?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, I think what he said in our exchange speaks for itself. But I should note that just last September, last September 26, a genocide trialat a genocide trial in Guatemala, a trial in which I testified and gave evidence, the court ruled that what the Guatemalan army did in Guatemalain the case of that particular trial, what they did to the Mayan Ixil people, but they also did it to others of the Mayan population in Guatemalathe court formally ruled that that constituted genocide. And in their rulingand this is quite importantthey said that this genocide was carried out by the Guatemalan army in accord with, and essentially at the behest of, U.S. policy, U.S. interests. So, as strong as the case was back in the
90s, when I argued on the Charlie Rose show that Abrams should be put on trial, now it's even stronger, because you have the predicate of this genocide finding by the Guatemalan court saying that that genocide derived from U.S. policy. And that's not even getting into what he did with El Salvador and Panama and Nicaragua and Palestine and other places.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me play for you what Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said when he announced that Elliott Abrams would be the point person on Venezuela.
SECRETARY OF STATE MIKE POMPEO: Elliott's passion for the rights and liberties of all peoples makes him a perfect fit and a valuable and timely addition. … Elliott will be a true asset to our mission to help the Venezuelan people fully restore democracy and prosperity to their country.
AMY GOODMAN: Allan Nairn, your response?
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, Abrams indeed had passion. He had a lot of passion. And he is also very intelligent. So, when the U.S. was backing the Guatemalan army in what has now been ruled was genocide, when it was helping to back, train, even in some cases do joint interrogations with the death squads that the U.S. originally created, Abrams was very passionate in seeing that the weapons and the money got through, and in persistently going on American television, on shows like Nightline, and really crushing the weak-kneed Democrats who would be brought in to debate against him, because Abrams would always make a principled case for what was, in effect, this U.S. support for mass murder and genocide in Central America.
At that time, for example, in El Salvador, one of the immediate political issues was the government of President Duarte, and the army behind Duarte was being essentially facilitated, all but run by the United States, and rebels were challenging Duarte, trying to overthrow him. And Abrams would say to the Democrats, "Oh, so are you saying that we should let President Duarte fall? Is that what you're saying? And let El Salvador go communist?" And the Democrats would crumble in the face of his argument and say, "Oh, no, no, we're not saying that. We're saying you have towe have to keep President Duarte in power." And then Abrams would say, "Well, how can you keep Duarte in power if we don't back the Salvadoran army?"
So, he was always very passionate and committed. Committed to what? Committed to mass killing in the service of what could be defined as U.S. interests or even U.S. whim, because, in fact, although it was being portrayed by Abrams and others at the time as a battle to prevent El Salvador and Guatemala and Nicaragua from becoming wings of the Soviet Union, anyone familiar with the facts on the ground knew that that was ridiculous. That was not at all what was at stake. What was at stake was a battle between local oligarchies, who were driving the poor peasant and small working-class majorities in those countries to the brink of hunger, and in some cases over the brink. Half of children in the poorest areas were dying before the age of 5. People who dared to speak up against the oligarchs who were imposing these economic conditions, or against the army, were snatched, abducted by U.S.-backed death squads. The guy who was the creator of the Salvadoran death squads, General Chele Medrano, described this to me in great detail, in 13 hours of interviews. He actually showed me a silver medal which was presented to him in the Oval Office for what was called exceptionally meritorious service, originally starting in the administration of President Lyndon Johnson, and this continued all the way up into the time of Abrams. That's what the U.S. was doing. And that's what he was passionately defending. And it had nothing to do with defending the liberties of people. It's more like defending the liberties of generals and corporations and dictators.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let's go to John Bolton, the national security adviser, on Fox Business.
JOHN BOLTON: We're in conversation with major American companies now that are either in Venezuela or, in the case of Citgo, here in the United States. I think we're trying to get to the same end result here. You know, Venezuela is one of the three countries I call the troika of tyranny. It will make a big difference to the United States economically if we could have American oil companies really invest in and produce the oil capabilities in Venezuela. It'd be good for the people of Venezuela. It'd be good for the people of the United States.
AMY GOODMAN: So, that's the quote of John Bolton on Fox. And at the same time, you have the United States imposing sweeping new U.S. sanctions on Venezuela's state oil company.
ALLAN NAIRN: Well, that statement from Bolton is remarkable. And it sounds like he's implementing the Trump doctrine of "to the victor belong the spoils, take the oil," because what Bolton is proposing there is not just to overturn the policy of the Bolivarians, the Chávez movement; he's talking about overturning the oil policy that existed before Chávez came to power, under the previous U.S.essentially, U.S.-directed conservative governments in Venezuela. When Chávez came to power, the oil company in Venezuela was already nationalized. He inherited that. He did not suddenly nationalize an oil industry that was controlled by American corporations. It was already done by his predecessors. So, he's actuallyBolton is actually proposing a radical change in the traditional economic policy of Venezuela.
And also, by the way, the idea that the Venezuelan oil company is some alien force to Americans is not true. Many of your viewers have probably been to what used to be called Cities Service, what now are called Citgo, gas stations across the United States. These are the stations of Citgo, which is the American subsidiary of the Venezuelan state-owned oil company, and they've been doing business, you know, in a normal business fashion in the United States for decades upon decades.
And another thing that's interesting about that comment from Bolton is it doesn'tif you really study it, it doesn't even have an economic rationale. Let's say if you're just thinking in strictly self-interested economic terms for the United States as an entity, that wouldn't even make sense, because in today's world, your worst enemy will still sell you oil at the market price. And there's not a whole lot of difference economically between controlling the oil fields yourself and buying the oil that's produced by them on the open market, regardless of who does the production. The discipline of the market ensures basically a uniform price that's determined by the market and not by the political wishes of the oil producer. That's the way it works in today's world.
So, the reason for Bolton advocating having the U.S. companies coming in and seizing the oil is more political, makingone, giving the U.S. a source of leverage, deciding where that oil can go and where thehow the oil revenues can be used, because, up to now, first under Chávez and continuing, to a certain extent, under Maduro, the Venezuelan government, the Bolivarian government, has used those oil revenues for several political purposes. One is to fund social programs that have helped the poor. And, in fact, that was the specific reason that the rich, after '02, went on strike against Chávez, trying to bring down the economy, because they objected to the oil revenues being used for social programs for the poor. They wanted the oil revenue to flow somehow into their pockets.
And secondly, Venezuela has sometimes used that oil revenueor, that oil for foreign political purposes. For example, they assisted Haiti, in providing oil to Haiti and cancelingannouncing a cancellation of Haiti's oil debts, a number of years back, under Chávez, when Haiti was in particularly desperate straits. Even in the United States, even in Boston, Congressman Joe Kennedy, the former congressman, years ago, established a program in Boston to provide low-cost heating oil to his lower-income constituents in the Boston area, and part of the way he did that was by making an arrangement with the Venezuelan oil company.
So, if you had American corporations in control of the Venezuelan oil, these kind of political choices could of course be reversed. But in raw economic rationale terms, it wouldn't make sense at all. It's a very bold, I think very revealing, initiative by Bolton, and it shows where the U.S. is going on Venezuela now. It shows that the U.S. is seeking to impose what is really a radical-rightist revolution now on Venezuela, because they're not just proposing to overturn the economic legacy of Chávez, but even of his more conservative predecessors, if they're talking about privatizing the oil.
And by the way, the economic policy of Chávez, and later Maduro, it's depicted in the U.S. press as being, you know, communist or even socialist, to a very strong extent. But it actually isn't. If you look at the figures of how thestructurally, how the Venezuelan economy operates, the government controls about a third of the private corporate equity in Venezuela. The level of government spending for social programs in Venezuela is not that much higher. It's only about two points higher than the level in the United States. There are all sorts of private businesses that operate freely. And then, in fact, in the past few years, as the crisis has intensified, while many of the private businesspeople, oligarchic types have been funding the opposition, othersand maybe even some of the same people, behind the scenes, have been cozying up to the Maduro government, and there have been number ofthere have been a number of deals between them.
But what Venezuela basically has is a mixed economy, where there's been a big emphasis on doing things like encouraging cooperatives and so on. But in recent years it's been run into the ground, in part by bad decisions by the government. For example, there was just a catastrophic monetary policy that they adopted for quite a few years, where Venezuela, on what they said were anti-imperialist, revolutionary grounds, they essentially adopted the monetary policies proposed by the U.S. right-wing politician Ron Paul, and they kept the currency exchange rate fixed, with catastrophic consequences, creating this massive gap between the official exchange rate and the black market. And that ended up benefiting rich people, who hadwho were able toit helped them to buy imports. But it completely disrupted the rest of the economy. So, it's been very far from a leftista far-leftist government.
Daniel Estulin likes Trump. Of all the ways Trump is understood, this one stands out for being pretty sophisticated and ultimately wrong. For me, Trump is a part of a constructed drama of controlled dialectic advancing the NWO.

Estulin is a very strange if intelligent person. Some of his analysis seems logical to me - other parts not at all. I don't find Trump any different 'animal' then a standard far right type (other than his manner and lack of knowledge of politics, history, or command of the English language - and morality [even faking it]). When Estulin spoke demeaningly of Ocasio-Cortez, I turned it off - I think she's great. He's a strange bird - he admits his ?former? ties to Russian intelligence and I'm not sure what his game is, but it is much, much more complex that appears on the surface. Again, he's very intelligent and some of his analysis is on the mark IMHO...while other analyses are not at all. I am not sure if his goal is to explain or to create new 'narratives' for people to follow. Thesis, synthesis or propaganda all seem to be rolled into his dialogue. Complex, but I'm not about to join his 'religion'. FWIW