Crack all the jokes you want about Michael Cohen making a mockery of the Trump campaign’s rhetoric about draining the swamp. I am totally in awe of the man.
For starters, he took Essential Consultants, a company he created in October 2016 to funnel $130,000 in hush money to porn actress Stormy Daniels, and turned it into a business opportunity: selling insights about his client, the surprise winner of the following month’s presidential election. That’s agile leadership.
Even better, he persuaded some deep pocketed corporations to pay heavily for Essential’s services, even though he appears to have little to no expertise in the relevant fields. Novartis, the Swiss drugmaker, ponied up $1.2 million for a year’s worth of insights about the new administration, but says it met with Cohen only once. Nice!
Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released more than 3,500 Facebook ads purchased from 2015 to 2017 by the Kremlin-backed Internet Research Agency. A few things are apparent right away — the oddly formal phrasing that reads almost like the work of a machine, the hostility to the establishment, the thread of outrage or division (often expressed as racial, ethnic or regional pride) running through every post, regardless of the topic.
The overall impression isn’t just cynical manipulation, though. It’s nihilism. It reminded me of this sequence from “The Dark Knight”:
Sure, the Internet Research Agency’s minions practiced some of the usual negative-campaign tactics, running ads that directly attacked Hillary Clinton in the run-up to the election (and afterward). But a more enduring aim, evidently, was to make Americans more discontented, less united and less confident in U.S. institutions.
Its longtime prime minister, the late Lee Kuan Yew, jailed political opponents yet was widely regarded as a “benevolent dictator.” His eldest son is the country’s current prime minister. Granted, the United States has seen a few political dynasties of its own, but none wielding the singular power of Singapore’s leader.
Before Gina Haspel testified at the long-awaited hearing on her nomination to be director of the CIA, I was willing to give her the benefit of the doubt. From all accounts — including her own Wednesday morning — she’s been the consummate spy, having clandestinely collected intelligence in back alleys and dead drops in unspecified countries, then rising up the ladder at CIA headquarters in Langley, Va. If in the course of her career she ran a black site in Thailand where terror suspects were tortured, maybe there was a way she could convincingly disavow what she did.
Instead, I was offended by her refusal to answer Sen. Kamala Harris’ straightforward, crucial question: Did Haspel think what happened at those black sites was immoral? You could hear Haspel winding up the pitch for the long, meandering non-answer (an infuriating tradition among candidates for jobs at their confirmation hearings) when Harris (D-Calif.) cut her off with a blunt, “I’d like a yes or no answer.” Harris tried again, and Haspel dodged until finally saying she thought she had answered the question and Harris reminded her that she hadn’t.
We know that, as of this moment, it’s against the law for the CIA to run those kinds of interrogations and subject people to torture. And Haspel did say at her hearing that it wouldn’t happen again on her watch. Well, sure, that’s the least she needed to say.
Numerous Democrats and media outlets have accused Republicans of making it easier for car dealers to discriminate against racial minorities by pushing a resolution through Congress to disapprove a guidance document issued in 2013 by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
But the CFPB under the Obama administration picked a fight with Congress on this issue, and it’s not really surprising that it lost. Yet the move doesn’t give lenders a green light to charge minorities more for car loans.
When Congress created the bureau in the 2010 Dodd-Frank act, it specifically exempted conventional auto dealers from the bureau’s jurisdiction. Nevertheless, the CFPB sought to work around that restriction by holding the lenders that finance car sales liable for dealers’ decisions to mark up or discount loan rates for individual customers.
Thanks to diligent reporting by Times reporters, we now know the names on the list of finalists to replace Los Angeles police Chief Charlie Beck when he retires next month. And while I’m sure all of the three men on the list are talented law enforcement professionals, it’s still a great disappointment that all of them are men.
The next LAPD chief, it seems, will definitely not be a woman.
Too bad. I thought it was high time a woman take charge of one of the largest and most storied police departments in the nation, if not the world. Not just as a sop to gender diversity, but because a woman would probably manage the department differently. And, yeah, if that meant putting the finger on the scale for a woman in this case, so what? The scale has been unfairly tipped toward male police chiefs for as long as the job title has existed.
As if there weren’t enough Russia-related stories about Team Trump already, another one emerged Tuesday: According to CNN and the Daily Beast, Michael Cohen — Trump’s personal attorney and self-described fixer — allegedly took half a million dollars from a Russian oligarch over the first nine months of 2017.
The source of the allegations is Michael Avenatti, the lawyer representing porn star Stormy Daniels (nee Stephanie Clifford) in her dispute with Cohen and Trump. So preserve your skepticism. Nevertheless, CNN and the New York Times have both reported that the oligarch, Viktor Vekselberg, has been questioned by investigators for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, who is probing alleged Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign.
Bloomberg ranks Vekselberg as the 75th-richest man in the world, with $15.5 billion in assets. He chairs a multinational investment company whose holdings include a stake in Russia’s biggest aluminum company, according to Bloomberg. Notably, the Trump administration slapped him with sanctions last month along with other oligarchs accused of “malign activities,” including meddling in the 2016 election.
If there was any doubt that President Trump intended to repudiate the international agreement that placed limits on Iran’s nuclear program, he dispelled it on Tuesday.
As expected, Trump announced that he would not waive economic sanctions as the United States is required to do under the 2015 agreement, rejecting the advice of America’s closest allies and turning a blind eye to his own defense secretary’s conclusion that the agreement has allowed for robust monitoring of Iran’s activities.
But as alarming as the action the president took was, so was the deceitful and demagogic speech in which he attempted to justify it. It was virtually indistinguishable from the sort of rant he delivered a year and ago on the campaign trail, utterly uninformed by the sort of wisdom and appreciation of complexity that experience confers on most occupants of the Oval Office.
The Twitterverse has been reveling in the delicious reversal of fortune for newly former New York Atty. Gen. Eric Schneiderman, who resigned Monday just hours after the New Yorker published a story in which four women accused him of verbal and physical abuse during romantic relationships.
Oh, the hypocrisy. The self-styled feminist hero who was suing Harvey Weinstein’s company and professed disgust at the alleged mistreatment of women by the movie producer is having a #MeToo moment himself.
But is he?
It’s a reasonable question that I’m sure is on many people’s minds. Isn’t the movement a response to sexual harassment in the workplace? The answer is yes, of course, but it’s also a whole lot more.