James Comey: How Trump Co-opts Leaders Like Bill Barr

New York Times Op- Ed, James Comey May 1, 2019

People have been asking me hard questions. What happened to the leaders in the Trump administration, especially the attorney general, Bill Barr, who I have said was due the benefit of the doubt?

How could Mr. Barr, a bright and accomplished lawyer, start channeling the president in using words like “no collusion” and F.B.I. “spying”? And downplaying acts of obstruction of justice as products of the president’s being “frustrated and angry,” something he would never say to justify the thousands of crimes prosecuted every day that are the product of frustration and anger?

How could he write and say things about the report by Robert Mueller, the special counsel, that were apparently so misleading that they prompted written protest from the special counsel himself?

How could Mr. Barr go before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Wednesday and downplay President Trump’s attempt to fire Mr. Mueller before he completed his work?

And how could Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general, after the release of Mr. Mueller’s report that detailed Mr. Trump’s determined efforts to obstruct justice, give a speech quoting the president on the importance of the rule of law? Or on resigning, thank a president who relentlessly attacked both him and the Department of Justice he led for “the courtesy and humor you often display in our personal conversations”?

What happened to these people?

I don’t know for sure. People are complicated, so the answer is most likely complicated. But I have some idea from four months of working close to Mr. Trump and many more months of watching him shape others.

Amoral leaders have a way of revealing the character of those around them. Sometimes what they reveal is inspiring. For example, James Mattis, the former secretary of defense, resigned over principle, a concept so alien to Mr. Trump that it took days for the president to realize what had happened, before he could start lying about the man.

But more often, proximity to an amoral leader reveals something depressing. I think that’s at least part of what we’ve seen with Bill Barr and Rod Rosenstein. Accomplished people lacking inner strength can’t resist the compromises necessary to survive Mr. Trump and that adds up to something they will never recover from. It takes character like Mr. Mattis’s to avoid the damage, because Mr. Trump eats your soul in small bites.

It starts with your sitting silent while he lies, both in public and private, making you complicit by your silence. In meetings with him, his assertions about what “everyone thinks” and what is “obviously true” wash over you, unchallenged, as they did at our private dinner on Jan. 27, 2017, because he’s the president and he rarely stops talking. As a result, Mr. Trump pulls all of those present into a silent circle of assent.

Speaking rapid-fire with no spot for others to jump into the conversation, Mr. Trump makes everyone a co-conspirator to his preferred set of facts, or delusions. I have felt it — this president building with his words a web of alternative reality and busily wrapping it around all of us in the room.

I must have agreed that he had the largest inauguration crowd in history because I didn’t challenge that. Everyone must agree that he has been treated very unfairly. The web building never stops.

From the private circle of assent, it moves to public displays of personal fealty at places like cabinet meetings. While the entire world is watching, you do what everyone else around the table does — you talk about how amazing the leader is and what an honor it is to be associated with him.

Sure, you notice that Mr. Mattis never actually praises the president, always speaking instead of the honor of representing the men and women of our military. But he’s a special case, right? Former Marine general and all. No way the rest of us could get away with that. So you praise, while the world watches, and the web gets tighter.

Next comes Mr. Trump attacking institutions and values you hold dear — things you have always said must be protected and which you criticized past leaders for not supporting strongly enough. Yet you are silent. Because, after all, what are you supposed to say? He’s the president of the United States.

You feel this happening. It bothers you, at least to some extent. But his outrageous conduct convinces you that you simply must stay, to preserve and protect the people and institutions and values you hold dear. Along with Republican members of Congress, you tell yourself you are too important for this nation to lose, especially now.

You can’t say this out loud — maybe not even to your family — but in a time of emergency, with the nation led by a deeply unethical person, this will be your contribution, your personal sacrifice for America. You are smarter than Donald Trump, and you are playing a long game for your country, so you can pull it off where lesser leaders have failed and gotten fired by tweet.

Of course, to stay, you must be seen as on his team, so you make further compromises. You use his language, praise his leadership, tout his commitment to values.

And then you are lost. He has eaten your soul.

James Comey is the former F.B.I. director and author of “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership.”

Kushner’s Relationship With Trump Tested as Russia Accusations Swirl

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By GLENN THRUSH, MAGGIE HABERMAN and SHARON LaFRANIERE

WASHINGTON — The most successful deal of Jared Kushner’s short and consequential career in real estate and politics involves one highly leveraged acquisition: a pair of adjoining offices a few penny-loafer paces from his father-in-law’s desk in the White House.

Over the past week, Mr. Kushner, who at age 36 occupies an ill-defined role somewhere between princeling and President Trump’s shadow chief of staff, has seen his foothold on that invaluable real estate shrink amid revelations he is under scrutiny in a federal investigation into whether there was collusion with Russian officials during the presidential campaign.

Mr. Kushner, an observant Jew, spent the Sabbath in fretful seclusion with his wife, Ivanka Trump, at his father-in-law’s resort in Bedminster, N.J., unplugged, per religious custom, from electronics. But he emerged defiant and eager to defend his reputation in congressional hearings, according to two of his associates.

What is less clear is how Mr. Kushner’s woes will affect his hard-won influence on a mercurial father-in-law who is eager to put distance between himself and a scandal that is swamping his agenda and, he believes, threatening his family.

Some Democrats are calling on the president to revoke Mr. Kushner’s security clearances. Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and a chairman of the House committee investigating Russian efforts to sway the 2016 election, suggested in an interview on Sunday that the recent news reports about Mr. Kushner have brought the investigation from the periphery of the Trump campaign and transition teams into the Oval Office.

“If these stories are accurate” in their description of Mr. Kushner and Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s ousted national security adviser, “were they acting at the behest of Mr. Trump, then-candidate, or President-elect Trump? But whether they were or not, they’re still significant.”

In a statement Sunday night, Mr. Trump praised his son-in-law and the work he has done in the White House.

“Jared is doing a great job for the country,” he said. “I have total confidence in him. He is respected by virtually everyone and is working on programs that will save our country billions of dollars. In addition to that, and perhaps more importantly, he is a very good person.”

But in recent weeks, the Trump-Kushner relationship, the most stable partnership in an often unstable West Wing, is showing unmistakable signs of strain.

That relationship had already begun to fray a bit after Mr. Trump’s dismissal of the F.B.I. director, James B. Comey, which Mr. Kushner had strongly advocated, and because of his repeated attempts to oust Stephen K. Bannon, Mr. Trump’s chief strategist, as well as the president’s overburdened communications team, especially Sean Spicer, the press secretary.

It has been duly noted in the White House that Mr. Trump, who feels that he has been ill served by his staff, has increasingly included Mr. Kushner when he dresses down aides and officials, a rarity earlier in his administration and during the campaign.

The most serious point of contention between the president and his son-in-law, two people familiar with the interactions said, was a video clip this month of Mr. Kushner’s sister Nicole Meyer pitching potential investors in Beijing on a Kushner Companies condominium project in Jersey City. At one point, Ms. Meyer — who remains close to Mr. Kushner — dangled the availability of EB-5 visas to the United States as an enticement for Chinese financiers willing to spend $500,000 or more.

For Mr. Trump, Ms. Meyer’s performance violated two major rules: Politically, it undercut his immigration crackdown, and in a personal sense, it smacked of profiteering off Mr. Trump — one of the sins that warrants expulsion from his orbit.

In the following days during routine West Wing meetings, the president made several snarky, disparaging comments about Mr. Kushner’s family and the visas that were clearly intended to express his annoyance, two aides said. Mr. Kushner did not respond, at least not in earshot.

His preppy aesthetic, sotto voce style and preference for backstage maneuvering seemingly set him apart from his father-in-law — but the similarities outweigh the differences. Both men were reared in the freewheeling, ruthless world of real estate, and both possess an unshakable self-assurance that is both their greatest attribute and their direst vulnerability.

Mr. Kushner’s reported feeler to the Russians even as President Barack Obama remained in charge of American foreign policy was a trademark move by someone with a deep confidence in his abilities that critics say borders on conceit, people close to him said. And it echoes his history of sailing forth into unknown territory, including buying a newspaper at age 25 and developing a data-analytics program that he has said helped deliver the presidency to his father-in-law.

He is intensely proud of his accomplishments in the private sector and has repeatedly suggested his tenure in Washington will hurt, not help, his brand and bottom line.

That unfailing self-regard has not endeared him to the rest of the staff. Resentful Trump staff members have long talked about “Jared Island” to describe the special status occupied by Mr. Kushner, who, in their view, is given license to exercise power and take on a vague portfolio — “Middle East peace” and “innovation” are its central components — without suffering the consequences of failure visited by the president on mere hirelings.

Adding to the animus is Mr. Kushner’s aloof demeanor and his propensity for avoiding messy aspects of his job that he would simply rather not do — he has told associates he wants nothing to do with the legislative process, for instance. He also has a habit, they say, of disappearing during crises, such as his absence on a family ski trip when Mr. Trump’s first health care bill was crashing in March.

Mr. Bannon, a onetime Kushner ally turned adversary known for working himself into ill health, has taken to comparing the former real estate executive to “the air,” because he blows in and out of meetings leaving little trace, according to one senior Trump aide. Just as Mr. Trump does, Mr. Kushner quickly forms fixed opinions about people, sometimes based on scant evidence. But Mr. Kushner is quicker to admit when he has misjudged a situation, and to change course.

Despite the perception that he is the one untouchable adviser in the president’s inner circle, Mr. Kushner was not especially close to his father-in-law before the 2016 campaign. The two bonded when Mr. Kushner helped to take over the campaign’s faltering digital operation and to sell a reluctant Rupert Murdoch, the chairman of Fox News’s parent company, on the viability of his father-in-law’s candidacy by showing him videos of Mr. Trump’s rally during a lunch at Fox headquarters in mid-2015.

When asked by friends and associates to describe the source of his influence over the president, Mr. Kushner has offered explanations rooted in loyalty, family and, above all, his acceptance that Mr. Trump is a 70-year-old man of fixed habits who cannot be easily diverted from a course of action.

Mr. Kushner is fond of telling friends that he does not have “any vested interests” beyond seeing his father-in-law succeed. Many of the people working for Mr. Trump are not “looking out for the boss, but I am,” Mr. Kushner told a visitor recently.

“My job is to put him in a good place,” Mr. Kushner told another person he spoke to before embarking on the Middle East leg of Mr. Trump’s trip, which he planned.

Often, that entails soothing Mr. Trump. Other times, he serves as a goad, as he did in urging Mr. Comey’s ouster and assuring Mr. Trump that it would be a political “win” that would neutralize protesting Democrats because they had called for Mr. Comey’s ouster over his handling of Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server, according to six West Wing aides.

Mr. Kushner’s war with Mr. Bannon has been a damaging distraction. Several upper-level staff members said Mr. Kushner has made it plain to them that they needed to choose sides or be iced out from an increasingly influential team that includes Gary D. Cohn, the director of the National Economic Council, and a handful of other Kushner-allied power brokers like Dina Powell, a national security official.

Mr. Kushner remains infuriated by what he believes to be leaks about his team by Mr. Bannon, who has privately cautioned Mr. Trump against being “captured” by liberal, New York “globalists” associated with his son-in-law, according to three people close to the president.

Mr. Trump, however, has had enough. He recently chided Mr. Kushner for continuing to call for Mr. Bannon’s ouster, saying he would not fire his conservative populist adviser — who has deep connections with Mr. Trump’s white, working-class base — simply because Mr. Kushner wanted him out, according an administration official.

Mr. Kushner appears to be modifying his centrist stances. Instead of urging the president to keep the United States in the Paris climate accord, as he sought to months ago, he has come to believe the standards in the agreement need to be changed, a person close to him said.

Mr. Trump admires Mr. Kushner’s tough streak, and shares his taste for payback, especially in defense of his family. Over the years, former employees said, Mr. Kushner has quietly sought revenge on enemies whom he sees as hostile to another scandal-buffeted man in his life — his father, Charles Kushner, a New Jersey-based real estate tycoon who was imprisoned for, among other crimes, efforts to retaliate against his sister for cooperating with a federal inquiry targeting him.

As owner of The Observer, a once-edgy, salmon-hued broadsheet he purchased when he was 25, Mr. Kushner pushed for negative articles his editors viewed as vehicles for personal animus. The Observer’s targets included The Star-Ledger in Newark, whose coverage of Charles Kushner’s case angered the family; a little-known banker who apparently had irked the elder Mr. Kushner; and a lender who had refused Jared Kushner’s request to forgive part of the family’s debt on a Fifth Avenue skyscraper.

Ken Kurson, a friend of Mr. Kushner’s who until this month was the editor in chief of The Observer, said accusations about personal score-settling were “complete nonsense,” adding that story ideas “can and should come from anywhere.”

Mr. Kushner sees his role as a freelance troubleshooter, but he has focused on foreign policy, friends say, because he saw a gap in the White House structure in that area.

Top administration officials know the importance of cultivating him: Last month, he traveled to Iraq at the invitation of Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, and he serves as a sounding board for officials like Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, according to Elliott Abrams, a Republican foreign policy veteran whom Mr. Trump vetoed for a job in the State Department.

“I hear more worries about the president than about Jared,” he said. “In fact, I never hear complaints about Jared.”

Jason D. Greenblatt, the White House adviser on international negotiations, said that on the Middle East, at least, Mr. Kushner is not just a sounding board, but an adviser who helps shape policy options for the president. Together with Secretary of State Rex W. Tillerson and others, he said, Mr. Kushner helps shape policy decisions to put before the president. He said Mr. Kushner deserves a substantial part of the credit for Mr. Trump’s recent trip to the Middle East. “Jared put together all the moving parts,” he said. “It went great.”

With a staff of about a half-dozen, Mr. Kushner has also created an office for innovation that is tackling a disparate array of projects, from promoting apprenticeship programs as an alternative to four-year college degrees to modernizing how the government buys software.

Eric Schmidt, the executive chairman of Alphabet, Google’s parent company, said in an email, “His passion on this is very real.”

So far, on some issues, the innovation office’s role seems mostly advisory. David Shulkin, the veterans affairs secretary, said he meets with Mr. Kushner about twice a month to discuss his plans to modernize the agency.

Asked for a concrete example of how Mr. Kushner’s office has helped him, Mr. Shulkin said aides were pulling together corporate leaders who hired a lot of veterans, “and that’s important.”

But the Russia investigation has shaken Mr. Kushner, friends and associates say. When news broke last week, Mr. Kushner and his wife at first discussed getting a statement denying the report issued through the White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II — who told them that it was not a good precedent to set and that it was a job for a personal attorney.

While Mr. Kushner has said he and his wife might move back to Manhattan if it were best for their family, he appears, for now, willing to stay and fight.

Senator Bob Corker of Tennessee, the chairman of the Foreign Relations Committee, said in an appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday that White House officials had reached out to reassure him that Mr. Kushner was willing to cooperate in the inquiry into possible collusion between the Russians and Trump aides. “He seems to be a very open person,” Mr. Corker said of Mr. Kushner. “I’d let him speak for himself when the time is right.”

Thursday – The Quiet before the Deep Freeze

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The weather, as we speak, is going where it has not gone yet this season. Double digit Minuses which will last for the next 48 hours or so, with another dump of snow coming over the weekend.

But this IS Canada, don’t ya know !

It has been said that Winter has come much earlier than forecasters had told us it would, or that they had expected …

And I have to be out tomorrow afternoon, Christmas shopping.

It snowed the beginning of the week, enough that the plows and dump trucks have been out two nights in a row. And the bane of our existence, are those trucks with the sirens on them, that drive up and down, SOON TO BE PLOWED streets, alerting the owners of cars parked in PLOW zones, that they must be moved immediately or else be towed at the owners expense.

It has been a quiet week. Another quiet week on the front that really needs some noise. I am beginning to believe that, people who don’t want to see you, or won’t make time to see you, are not worth waiting for, any longer. This saga has been going on for two months with no resolution.

I’m just not hedging my bets any longer that I am going to get the answer I seek. And the other day a good friend of mine that I studied with, and he played the organ at our wedding said this to a question posed …

How many sins must one repent and atone for, before God accepts our sacrifices to Him ? And the answer was stern and swift ….

You don’t have to. He has made the sacrifice; offering himself to God and to man. Live your life. As for those who cannot accept you, “leave that place and shake the dust off your feet as a testimony against them.” Their stubborn pride is their shame, not yours.

I also listened to the advice given to me a few days ago about taking care of my self and my spirit. I have been doing that. I’ve spent time with people I enjoy being with, I had coffee with an elder last Friday night, and I’ve devoted much of my Christmas to my friends and people I care about.

It’s funny really, our Christmas Lists are very short. Hubby does not ask for anything for himself, it always has to do with cooking or food. Hence, home.

I don’t really need anything that much, because I have everything that I need. And today was pay day and I had errands to run, and gifts to get into the mail first thing this morning. I did my grocery shopping, I got my hair cut, and finally came home.

I trolled every site that sells stuff that I think I need. And after that run, of so called “Window Shopping,” figured out that I really did not want to buy anything.

My friend Lisa says this about shopping soberly …

  • Do I need this ?
  • Do I really need this ??
  • Really, Do I need this ???
  • If you answer No to any one of these, then don’t buy it.

I only have one running list of BOOKS, I would like.

I have found the ease and cheaper pricing of Amazon.Ca. I bought a couple of books from them, but my heart rests firmly at Indigo Book Sellers, right up the Green Line.

Twitter is wonderful for news and shopping aggregation.

The New York Times Best Sellers List, The New York Times, Best Books of 2016, are great, and the popular Indigo Recommendation page is also good. I gave hubby a list of books I wanted to add to my library, and in case he gets me a gift card, I can use it online to buy all the books that are presently collected in my virtual shopping cart.

  • The Return by Hisham Matar
  • The Dispossessed by Szilard Borbely
  • Barbarian Lost – Travels in the New China by Sasha Trudeau (Brother of the PM)
  • Israel and Palestine by Alan Dowty – EXPENSIVE at $80.00 cad
  • Where Memory Leads by Saul Friedlander
  • Fragrant Harbour by John Lanchester

All of these come highly recommended, so they are currently, like I said, sitting in my cart. And at night I get that little email saying … “We think you left something in your cart, are you going to buy them?” Hopefully, one way or another …

With Christmas, I either get maudlin and angry and resentful, or I can turn it around and remember that I have the choice to do what is good for myself and my friends.

I chose the l latter of the two.

This afternoon I did some laundry and around 5, I was gonna take a nap, but that did not happen, because my mind was racing. I’ve been re-reading Ben Ehrenreich’s … The Way to the Spring, Life and Death in Palestine again.

I wanted a Kaffiyeh, Because Rafa has one that is beautiful. Thank you Amazon. I also ordered a book,

“Palestine, Drowning in the Tears of God,” by Rev. Anthony J. Mucciolo D.D.

There is so much terrible in the world, and innocent civilians, men, women, and children and young men, are dying by the tens of thousands because of war and strife.Not All Men are created in the image of a terrorist. And outright killing everybody, is a WAR CRIME for sure.

The question of Palestine and Israel is a subject I rarely talk about, because it is complex and fraught with complications, that dipping my toe in the water of education, would take decades. But I know enough to know where to stand in this debate.

Firmly in the Middle of the road …

Like my best friend, and probably because of the way HE sees the world, he encourages me to study the hard truths. And So I’ve been slowly doing that, reading good books, by good authors. Ben Ehrenreich was on the ground, in the thick of it, when he wrote his book about the conflict from the Palestinian side of the equation.

So that is a thing …

After that I decided to to some serious heavy lifting here on the blog. My first blog has been sitting dormant for almost a decade that I’ve been paying for upkeep, space and domain. Why pay for two blogs when I only use one.

That First Blog, has been exported off the main frame, and imported into this one. There are close to 4,000 entries now indexed in the back end. And over a thousand images sitting in my image bank now. When I attempted to do this a few years ago, images would not transfer across, now they do. I purchased an image bank upgrade to complete the import, so for those electronically inclined, there is fifteen years of blog in the archives.

Tomorrow, well, in a few hours from now, when temps will be in the MINUS double digits, my intrepid lady friend who lives across town is meeting me for a shopping extravaganza trip so that I can shop for Baby Mama and Baby Lu Lu.

My quest is simple. I need to find the perfect Christmas Present that will knock to socks off of a two year old little girl. Not to mention her mother as well.

Christmas is coming to those I love dearly this year.

It will be merry and bright for sure …