Monday, June 25, 2018

Last Call For It's Mueller Time

Time to check in with the Mueller probe as the investigation continues to close in on Donald Trump, and while last week I mentioned that former Blackwater CEO (and brother of current Education Secretary Betsy DeVos) Erik Prince is now cooperating with Mueller on Prince's role brokering meeting between the Trump campaign and foreign interests, it seems this Prince is now singing as prolifically as his late musical namesake.

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is digging deeper into Trump ally and Blackwater founder Erik Prince, according to multiple sources with knowledge of the matter.

Prince, America’s most famous private military contractor, acknowledged last week that he “cooperated” with Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election after falling under scrutiny amid questions about an alleged effort to establish a backchannel between the Trump administration and the Kremlin, something Prince has vehemently denied.

ABC News has since learned that Mueller is also reviewing Prince’s communications. In response to questions from ABC News, a spokesperson for Prince released a statement noting that Prince has provided Mueller with “total access to his phone and computer.” 
“As Mr. Prince told the Daily Beast he has spoken voluntarily with Congress and also cooperated completely with the Special Counsel’s investigation, including by providing them total access to his phones and computer,” the spokesperson said. “Mr. Prince has a lot of opinions about the various investigations, but there is no question that they are important and serious, and so Mr. Prince will keep his opinions to himself for now and to let the investigators do their work. All we will add is that much of the reporting and speculation about Mr. Prince in the media is inaccurate, and we are confident that when the investigators have finished their work, we will be able to put these distractions to the side.”

Prince knows full well what Mueller and his team are capable of wringing out of him, and those meetings in the Seychelles are looking more and more like serious pay-for-play action with foreign powers.  That may be cool when you buy and sell wars all over the globe, but being, say, frozen out of Pentagon contracts for being a felon is bad business.

Prince also isn't taking the fall for Trump, and he knows he has enough to be useful to Mueller in exchange for a deal.Dying on Trump's hill isn't profitable, after all.  He wants this done with ASAP so he can get back to being, you know a respectable international arms dealer and James Bond villain.

He also figures he's smart enough to get out of this mess, and that Trump isn't.  He's more than likely correct on both accounts.

We'll see.

Trump Trading Blows, Con't

Iconic American motorcycle brand Harley-Davidson makes bikes right here in the US, but it looks like it will make far fewer bikes here in 2018 as Trump's trade war is forcing the company to move production  -- and potentially hundreds, maybe thousands of jobs -- overseas.

The European Union on Friday began rolling out tariffs on American imports like bourbon, peanut butter and orange juice. The EU tariffs on $3.4 billion worth of U.S. products are retaliation for duties the Trump administration is imposing on European steel and aluminum. 
President Donald Trump has used Harley-Davidson as an example of a U.S. business that is being harmed by trade barriers. Yet Harley has warned consistently against tariffs, saying they would negatively impact sales. 
Harley-Davidson Inc. sold almost 40,000 motorcycles in the Europe Union last year, generating revenue second only to the United States, according to the Milwaukee company. 
The maker of the iconic American motorcycle said in a regulatory filing Monday that EU tariffs on its motorcycles exported from the U.S. jumped between 6 percent and 31 percent, which translates into an additional, incremental cost of about $2,200 per average motorcycle exported from the U.S. to the EU. 
“Harley-Davidson maintains a strong commitment to U.S.-based manufacturing which is valued by riders globally,” the company said in prepared remarks. “Increasing international production to alleviate the EU tariff burden is not the company’s preference, but represents the only sustainable option to make its motorcycles accessible to customers in the EU and maintain a viable business in Europe. Europe is a critical market for Harley-Davidson.” 
Harley-Davidson will not raise its prices to avert “an immediate and lasting detrimental impact” on sales in Europe, it said. It will instead absorb a significant amount of the cost in the near term. It anticipates the cost for the rest of the year to be approximately $30 million to $45 million. 
Harley-Davidson said that shifting targeted production from the U.S. to international facilities could take at least nine to 18 months to be completed. 
The company is already struggling with falling sales. In January, it said it would consolidate its Kansas City, Missouri, plant into its York, Pennsylvania, facility. U.S. motorcycle sales peaked at more than 1.1 million in 2005 but then plummeted during the recession. 

So Trump is happily wrecking Harley-Davidson in order to win his trade war.  US automakers are next, when it becomes cheaper to make cars and car parts in Europe and Asia, that's where production lines will be headed, and they'll take a whole lot of American jobs with them when plants here are mothballed.

I keep warning that there's plenty of red flags that Trump's trade war, in combination with his massive and increasingly unpopular tax cuts for the rich, is going to help cause a recession.  Whether or not that becomes obvious by November is still up in the air, but by 2019 things are going to starting becoming increasingly grim economically, and this time we won't have Obama around to try to fix it.

By this time next year, we're going to be hurting.  Of course, by this time next year we'll be deep in a Constitutional crisis from the Mueller report on Trump's misconduct, so who knows.

Mad Dog In The Doghouse

Not that Trump's decision Friday to officially drop joint military exercises between the US and South Korea didn't already prove this beyond a doubt or anything, but yes, Defense Secretary James Mattis is clearly getting the Rex Tillerson treatment these days as his Pentagon tenure appears to be increasingly in trouble.

Defense Secretary James Mattis learned in May from a colleague that President Donald Trump had made the decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal, and scrambled to get his boss on the phone before a formal announcement was made. It wouldn't be the last time he was caught off guard by a presidential announcement.

A month later, Mattis was informed that Trump had ordered a pause in U.S. military exercises with South Korea only after the president had already promised the concession to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Last week, Trump again blindsided and overruled his defense secretary by publicly directing the Pentagon to create a sixth military branch overseeing operations in space.

The way these recent presidential decisions on major national security issues have played out, as detailed by current and former White House and defense officials, underscores a significant change in Mattis's role in recent months. The president is relying less and less on the advice of one of the longest-serving members of his cabinet, the officials said.

"They don't really see eye to eye," said a former senior White House official who has closely observed the relationship.

It's a stark contrast to Trump's early enthusiasm for the retired four-star Marine general he proudly referred to as "Mad Dog." And while the two men had disagreements from the start — on the use of enhanced interrogation techniques on terrorism suspects, for instance — Trump still kept Mattis in the loop on major decisions and heeded his counsel.

"He's never been one of the go-tos in the gang that's very close to the president," a senior White House official said. "But the president has a lot of respect for him."

In recent months, however, the president has cooled on Mattis, in part because he's come to believe his defense secretary looks down on him and slow-walks his policy directives, according to current and former administration officials.

The dynamic was exacerbated with Trump's announcement in March that he had chosen John Bolton as national security adviser, a move Mattis opposed, and Mike Pompeo's confirmation as secretary of state soon after.

The president is now more inclined to rely on his own instincts or the advice of Pompeo and Bolton, three people familiar with the matter said.

There's no question now that Bolton and Pompeo are running our military policy on the Middle East, North Korea, Iran, China, Russia and Europe.  Whether or not he'll make enough noise on the way out the door may play a role, but at this point there's no reason to believe that Mattis has any clout anymore.  This is exactly what happened to former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson.

Also, compare Mattis, who is repeatedly overruled and marginalized by Trump, to EPA head Scott Pruitt, who by all rights should have been fired months ago for his obvious corruption and incompetence, but he's still riding high as Trump loves the guy because he's doing what Trump wants.

Maybe Mattis will survive the way Trump's Chief of Staff John Kelly has, by keeping his mouth shut and rolling over.  But Kelly, Mattis and Tillerson were supposedly the "adults in the room" keeping Trump's authoritarian impulses in check.  If anything, Trump is riding roughshod over them, and they are doing nothing while Trump calls for the end of due process.

Tillerson is gone, replaced by the totally subservient Pompeo.  Kelly has rolled over completely, not that he wasn't a seething racist to begin with like his boss.  Now we learn Mattis has effectively been replaced by John Bolton's mustache.  The "moderating influences" on Trump by the professionals are completely gone.

Now we have Trump unleashed upon the world.


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