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Inauguration Day

Rat in Mi Kitchen
By Skip Kaltenheuser

f the as yet unverified and unsubstantiated report on Russian spies with Trump scandals in their pockets turns out to be even half true, I’ll be gobsmacked. It would be hard to comprehend that when Trump – a global traveler with insights into the underworld and anything-goes weasels like Roy Cohn – was traveling in Russia he didn’t quickly grasp that many hotels, loaded with hookers with mobster supervisors, would have rooms wired for surveillance. That could only be ignored by someone with no control over his appetites and/or is a risk-adrenaline junkie and/or is an exhibitionist on an unimagined scale.

Donald Trump and Roy Cohn

Roy Cohn and Joseph McCarthy

Many years ago I stayed in the Cosmos, originally built for the 1980 Moscow Olympics, legendary for KGB surveillance targeting guests throughout the massive 1,777 room hotel. No idea if anyone there now watches the lives of others, but when I was there my jaw dropped at hookers – stunning, roped in from Slavic regions, the Ukraine, Georgia, the Balkans, etc... – parading back and forth on a narrow path along the sides of the huge lobby and up on to a balcony walkway and around and back down to a lobby bar to linger for a tea and conversation before their reverse migration up and around and to a different bar. They weren’t allowed to traverse the main area of the lobby so guests wouldn’t panic. Elevators were watched by guys in suits with long scars on their face who kept tabs on their temptresses and watched the clock to make sure that after their original mission they didn’t linger upstairs for a freelance quickie – girls still tried, adding new context to "elevator pitches." The Chinese are more subtle, but they pull those stunts, too. Perhaps they share a lending library with the Russians. Nothing new here, friends in China swear to me that the Chinese have the goods on a Nixon dalliance from when he passed through Hong Kong. Nothing would surprise.

But I’ve been skeptical about Putin’s hack/leaks involvement, been hard to fully embrace it. Now we’re all parsing Buzzfeed’s offering, which left me in danger of drifting from my anchor of healthy skepticism. Keep reminding oneself that as of this writing, the reports are still not verified and authenticated. I trust legions of journalists are now taking that on, I hope with more success avoiding echo-chambers that trapped them during the election season. Consider this bright yellow caution in the New York Review of Books, Russia, Trump & Flawed Intelligence by Masha Gessen. And this essay by Scott Ritter, Exposing the Man Behind the Curtain, in the Huffington Post.

Listening now to Trump’s press conference, the denials came across as spirited and initially somewhat nimble, though parts of the conference were retreats into retreads from campaign speeches. But there seems to be a time limit or pressure point after which Mr. Hyde surfaces, as when Trump jumped down a CNN reporter’s throat. He dodged questions on contacts between his associates and Russia, then concluded the press conference when that question circled back.

Trump’s legal eagles make initially plausible-sounding defenses of non-divestment trust strategies for family business interests. They were stepped on by Trump's claim that if he had to he had the ability to ably run both his company and his country, and no doubt several alternate Earths as well. But some of that defense amounted to throwing everything into a ball of confusion and implying well, what’s a wild and free-roaming mogul to do? I look forward to seeing conflict-of-interest experts tackle it. The longer one reflects that Trump’s apples don’t bounce far from his tree, the more the inadequacy of his separation from his business interests, putting two of his sons in charge, comes into view. Consider points made by Richard Painter, former White House ethics lawyer under George W. Bush, from 2005 to 2007.

Here’s some WaPo fact-checking on Trump’s press conference. And here’s the NY Times fact-check take. Here’s the transcript and video if you want to try your hand.

Back to hack, I can’t help but observe that recently Trump often wears an expression like he’s been kissed by a Russian caviar sturgeon. Still, I could round up other usual suspects, from the Chinese moguls Howie has detailed here – some of whom might catch a good deal if Trump suddenly had to do a major divestment; to Likud sympathizers/ operatives – thrilled at the prospect of a US ambassador as extremist and whacky as they are; to Wall Streeters with indictable histories – who feared the pressure Sanders and Warren might put on Hillary; to a DNC or Clinton Foundation insider who couldn’t stomach what was going on, going rogue. And there’s always the fall back on ? and the Mysterians. But if it can be demonstrated that there’s a big whoopsie going on within the Kremlin, that scenario will intrigue. Until then, this writer will continue to have it both ways.

But why a whoopsie in the Kremlin? Putin ought to be thrilled as revelations pour forth. Credibility of both Hillary and Trump is aflame. Both major parties are hamstrung and weakened, much of mainstream media has been shamed, and the US political establishment is revealed to be as flaky, corrupt and hypocritical as anyone imagined. I hear China is letting in more news reports as cautions against corrupt democracy.

Win-Win for Putin.


Unless Putin fears retaliation of a different sort than continued sanctions and a time-out. A few years ago I asked a former ambassador to the Balkans why the US didn’t take the obvious path to undermine Putin and start pushing a Gatling gun of items onto the Internet, in Russian, detailing how much Putin and his cronies stole from their countrymen while Russian life expectancies plummeted, particularly for depressed men. Include how the Putin crowd stole it and where they stashed it. And put up Russian translations of books like Putin’s Kleptocracy: Who Owns Russia, by Karen Dawisha. The ambassador thought it a swell idea. That it hasn’t happened makes me wonder if there is some sort of Mexican standoff with US intelligence. Or if there’s fear of a wounded Putin bear with nothing to lose. Maybe now a steady stream of revelations on a kleptocrat without peer will become unavoidable. Perhaps Putin's recipe for radioactive soup.

Meanwhile, I’m intrigued at the prospect of Foreign Corrupt Practices Act violations in Russia by Trump’s outfits, though again that asparagus whiff is in the unverified, unauthenticated leak in Buzzfeed. But if it’s there, and investigators can crack open the shells, there might be lurking dynamite to launch Trumpster to the dumpster. Maybe the Demo’s will eventually again cheer the Comey cha-cha. But consider Trump’s nominee to run the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission, Walter Clayton, from a law firm of Goldman Sachs minions, a lawyer who worked on the public offering of China’s Alibaba Group Holding Company, which was reported to be undergoing an SEC look-see. Clayton has argued for damping down FCPA enforcement.

With some irony, I note that Trump has again been handed a timely distraction from very critical issues – his cabinet nominees from the Goldman Sachs and Koch networks of revolving doors, for instance – that will now get less scrutiny as we become transfixed on every morsel of uncertain origin tumbling from Russia.

Hey, have you ever seen the art of Mark Lombardi? Really sorry he’s not with us now, could sure use him as Washington’s artist-in-residence for narrative structures that chronicle the incoming titans of influence, connecting the dots in their tangential shadow worlds. If you have some time, sit down and watch this amazing, mind-blowing documentary about Lombardi, Death-Defying Acts Of Art And Conspiracy.

LP and cover for UB40's Rat in Mi Kitchen

Is it too soon to bring back UB40’s "Rat in Mi Kitchen," written for Margaret Thatcher, to become the theme song for the incoming Trumpocalypse? Here’s a version that dropped a lyric but throws in a Herb Albert trumpet solo that’ll put you right. I see anthem potential. Good for marching with pitchforks and torches. And for Trump voters turning on a dime once they feel betrayed, just as many did with the Clintons.

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