Today, Barr testified/spun before Congress. A perfect example: Sen. Dianne Feinstein asked Attorney General William Barr what is it about Trump ordering his White House counsel Don McGahn to fire Mueller (as well as demanding that McGahn lie that Trump had ever asked to fire Mueller) that is not obstruction of justice. Barr’s response was to spin a picture of Trump, with his brilliant legal mind, requesting a closer look at Mueller’s conflict of interest; and Trump never outright made such a crude demand as saying, “Fire Mueller!” Huh? Which is more likely, that Trump was simply expressing a legal opinion or that he barked out what he wanted? Feinstein followed up with the question: “So, what was the conflict of interest?” Barr never ever answered that question! He proceeded to tap dance byway of speaking on legal theory to run out the clock. And that is just one example of Barr’s technique. Don’t expect Don McGahn to ever get a chance to testify himself. If he does, that would be well worth seeing.
Meet Trump’s New Fixer: The Attorney General of the United States. Illustration by Henry Chamberlain.
Working for Trump is not the first time that Attorney General William Barr has been called upon to clean up a mess. Barr had the very same job of Attorney General under George H.W. Bush where he presided over making the Iran-Contra scandal fade away. Papa Bush, with Barr’s whole-hearted support, pardoned six key people from the Reagan administration who were involved, including former Defense Secretary Caspar Weinberger.
If Barr saw no problem in absolving players in Iran-Contra, one of the biggest scandals since Watergate, then he certainly has no problem in helping to somehow make the Mueller report go away; clear Trump & Co. of any and all charges; and just perform his role as a smug little henchman doing his master’s bidding.
Berlin is a monumental work in comics. Few cartoonists will come close to such an achievement–and it couldn’t have been created by a nicer guy. What came across, over and over, during this talk is the fact that Lutes is very accessible and down to earth. That open approach plays into part of what makes his landmark work so special. It all began when teenager Jason Lutes wanted to make sense of a documentary about the holocaust he was suddenly exposed to in a high school history class. The teacher for that class was an alcoholic who made no effort to hide his struggles. He literally set up the movie for his class and left to get a drink. That abrupt and careless action ultimately triggered an in depth exploration of Weimar Germany through a creation of an expansive work in comics that would take 22 years to complete.
#ProtectMueller march in Seattle on 8 Nov. 2018
It was not lost on anyone during Lutes’s talk related to the dismantling of the German government of the 1920s that concerned citizens, just outside on the streets of Seattle, were protesting Trump’s own inroads into dismantling the U.S. government. Timing is everything. That Thursday night book talk directly coincided with protests across the country in support of protecting the Robert Mueller investigation after Trump installed a loyalist as acting Attorney General of the United States. Details are everything. If you follow the characters and the rich narrative of Berlin, you can’t help but get an eerie sense of having a mirror held up to the past and to the present.
Cartoonists holding each other’s works: Jason Lutes with David Lasky
Authenticity is everything. What is so appealing about comics by Jason Lutes is the solid storytelling. That involves a dynamic use of the comics medium: a crisp consistency in step with strategically placed visual elements that are pleasing to the eye and move the story forward. A quick example: I was standing in line to get my copy of Berlin signed and I made a point of poring over each page as I flipped my way through. Right around the midpoint, there is a page made up of wordless panels showing a mysterious figure in a row boat. He reaches the shore to find what looks like a vicious snake. He picks it up by its jaws and overpowers it. That same character reappears in the book as does the snake, both providing just the right doses of symbolism as well as pure entertainment. It’s important to note that, while Lutes referred to vast amounts of research and reading, he also fondly recalled the influence of key works in pop culture. Berlin Alexanderplatz, a novel about Weimar Germany, by Alfred Döblin, holds as much importance to Lutes as his viewing of the original Star Wars movie as a kid. Altogether, what you have in Berlin is an honest look from an individual processing and distilling at a meticulous level.
Cartoonists Revisit: Jason Lutes with Jennifer Daydreamer
For many in the audience that night, it was an opportunity to revisit a respected work and commiserate with a friend and colleague. Seattle is a lightning rod for countless creative people and that includes a high number of independent cartoonists. There’s a certain sensibility to the alt-comics artist with Jason Lutes being a prime example. As he discussed in his lecture, it was Seattle that he gravitated to in the 1990s. After attending the Rhode Island School of Design, Lutes moved to Seattle and worked for the comics publisher, Fantagraphics. He subsequently worked for the alt-weekly, The Stranger, just as it began publication in 1991. During this era, Lutes became part of a group of cartoonists that went on to form an integral part of the Seattle comix scene. That group included some members that were in attendance that night: Megan Kelso, David Lasky and Jennifer Daydreamer. It was a treat to have part of the gang together again on such a special occasion.
TRUMP DEMANDS COMEY’S LOYALTY–BUT DOES NOT GET IT. illustration by Henry Chamberlain
“The wicked flee when no one pursues.”
James Comey speaks up for the truth in his new book, “A Higher Loyalty,” and he tackles his subject from many angles: giving the reader his life’s story, providing compelling examples of the demise of infamous liars, and saying it all with wit, grace, and a good dose of honest humor. This book has a lock on being timeless. A hundred years from now, people will still find it engaging while something like “Fire and Fury” will have become considerably dated. The name Donald Trump will elicit a mild groan in a hundred years while the name of James Comey will draw out favorable comparison with Jimmy Stewart’s character in “Mr. Smith Goes to Washington.” Indeed, in James B. Comey we have a real life Jefferson Smith.
This is not a heavy book in the sense of being meant for only the most high-minded of readers. In fact, it is very accessible. The full title, “A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership,” is a valuable frame for an assortment of insights. Comey presents the facts and we see patterns emerge involving grocery store clerks, Mafia dons, American presidents, and law enforcement at the highest levels. Tell the truth and reap the rewards. Tell lies and face the consequences. What is so extraordinary is how often Mr. Comey finds himself in the middle of a number of historically significant events right up to our present crisis. I’m talking real American hero stuff where I’m left wondering if Tom Hanks will star in a movie as both Bob Mueller and James Comey.
For you kids too young to remember, Bob Mueller and James Comey go way back. In fact, in the Bush administration, Mr. Mueller was the FBI Director and Mr. Comey was the Deputy Attorney General. This was in the heyday of the U.S. War on Terror, led by mad dog Veep Dick Cheney. One of the most notorious programs of that era, code name “Stellar Wind,” allowed for wholesale spying on Americans, the law be damned. At the eleventh hour, on what may have been Attorney General John Ashcroft’s deathbed, there was a race between Comey and the President’s men to reach Ashcroft to get the final word on continuing the Stellar Wind program. Ashcroft had recently sided with Comey on putting the brakes on it. At that critical moment, just as Comey reached Ashcroft’s hospital bed, heavily guarded by the FBI, Comey put in a call to Mueller requesting that, under no circumstances, was he to be removed by Bush’s people. Without missing a beat, Mueller approved it. That is just a taste. There is more to this episode and it all hinges upon the essential value of integrity and honesty.
JAMES COMEY. illustration by Henry Chamberlain
Another example that is quickly digestible by young and old alike is Mr. Comey’s indictment of Martha Stewart for insider trading. This is a perfect example of how telling the truth would have cut one path while telling a lie led down another path, a path that secured jail time for Martha Stewart. As Comey explains time and time again, his job is to make a case and that rests on finding credible evidence of wrongdoing. Once evidence is secured that the suspect has lied with intent of obstruction of justice, the suspect has been trapped in a corner and will have to pay the price.
We can cut to the chase now and look at an example involving Donald Trump. The one thing that kept rising to the top in conversations that Trump forced upon Comey was Trump’s denial of having anything to do with prostitutes performing urinating acts for his delight in a Moscow hotel. If it was not clear the first time, Trump felt compelled to repeatedly deny this incident. Based upon a lifetime in law enforcement, Comey could not help but bring up the fact that when suspects repeatedly deny something, there is a good chance that they’re lying, which establishes patterns of behavior.
Among the observations by Comey most anticipated by readers are his views on the investigation of Hillary Clinton’s mishandling of classified emails. One specific wrinkle in this case that is quite telling involved the spin desired by the Obama administration. Attorney General Loretta Lynch made explicitly clear, in front of staff, that she wanted Comey to describe what was happening with Clinton’s emails and the FBI as a “matter.” This really made no sense. As one colleague wryly said to Comey, “Yeah, sure, you are after all, the Federal Bureau of Matters.” Comey used the term “matter” once in a press conference and then let it go. From there on, it was what it was, an investigation.
Contrary to what is widely believed, Comey did not go it alone and reopen the Clinton email investigation all by himself weeks before the election. What happened involved following procedure, logic, and plain ole common sense. You can’t just dismiss thousands of new Clinton emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Again, Comey worked as part of a team. He ended up having to be the face of that team.
The point is, whether it is an investigation involving Democrats or Republicans, the FBI must under no circumstances be swayed into one camp or another. The Justice Department and the FBI are there to protect the American people and the Constitution of the United States. The FBI Director is not to be part of a closed group of friends as Trump would have it. Time and again, Comey speaks to what is in his heart, the people who have inspired him, the ideas and core values that have shaped his life. Sadly, he sees very little, if anything, guiding Trump. It is not said to mock Trump. We live in a crazy Trump-addled time. To say that Trump lacks a moral compass cannot be said enough. Any act that reminds us of how things are not okay, not normal, is a good thing.
Having been fired by Trump, yanked out of the job he loved, all for brazenly political reasons, it makes sense that Comey would ultimately speak out. That he has chosen to write such an even-tempered book, and of value for us now and generations to come, speaks well for the man, the institution of the FBI, and for the country.
“A Higher Loyalty: Truth, Lies, and Leadership” is a 312-page hardcover published by Flatiron Books, an imprint of Macmillan Publishers. You can pick up a copy by simply clicking the icon below:
Michael Wolff’s political bombshell, “Fire and Fury,” is like a “Harry Potter” book event: mana for political junkies as well as a breakout book for a much wider audience. It has certainly proven to be an excellent go-to book on my nightstand these past couple of weeks. I felt it in my gut, from the start of the media campaign, that here was something that would hold up to a full reading. Wolff is not Carl Bernstein but he proves to be the right man in the right place and time. Some of the book’s juiciest bits that were placed under the media spotlight helped to distort the narrative. However, it’s not farfetched at all to find that Wolff has compiled something credible. Just don’t tell that to Sarah Huckabee since she swears the whole thing is a “fantasy,” not worthy of the American people.
January 17, 2018: Trump with communications director Hope Hicks and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders. (Reuters/Kevin Lamarque)
What I find most useful is that, by and large, Wolff has neatly organized and presented the machinations of all the oddball characters running amok: the mighty Steve Bannon; the royal duo, Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner, or Jarvanka; assorted misfits and minions such as Kellyanne Conway and Sean Spicer; and especially both Hope Hicks and Stephen Miller, highly unqualified special assistants to the president. The important blocks of activity add up for the big picture: Jared Kushner’s highly suspicious dealings around the globe; the inept advice of Jarvanka to POTUS taking its toll; how all things Trump cannot help but inevitably fall like a house of cards. Time will tell just how much Wolff got right. It is in his best interest that the book holds up as it would make for a great movie. In his favor, he has a credible and lengthy acknowledgements list at the back of the book.
One day prior to FIRE AND FURY book release, Jan 4, 2018: Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was flanked by two large television screens as President Donald Trump delivered a video message on stock market increases and economic gains.
This is much more than just about Trump sneaking a cheeseburger into bed or Steve Bannon’s pontificating. It is about a White House in crisis, even before it started, one stoking an international crisis. It is definitely about an accidental presidency, one that repeatedly abuses power, and is illegitimate. While that may sound too harsh for some hardcore Trump supporters, this book lays out the case for why the whole Trump phenomena is a shell game with players who shamelessly want to hang on to power. And it’s surprising how often Steve Bannon comes out sounding like the more sensible one in the bunch–but not for the reasons his supporters might think. The main reason he seems to have any sense is because he knew what a mistake it would be for Trump to fire FBI Director James Comey.
As Bannon explains it, it was Ivanka Trump and Jared Kushner (he nicknamed them, “Jarvanka”) who pushed Trump into firing Comey. This Jarvanka push was triggered by the fact Kushner was part of Comey’s investigation into Russian meddling. And it just gets worse from there. Forget about Russian meddling for a moment. It’s all this Jarvanka meddling that’s pretty scary in and of itself. As the following excerpt demonstrates, despite the tabloid style to this book, Wolff puts together a narrative that most likely will be confirmed over and over again, especially by special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation:
“Most problematic of all, Hicks and Miller, along with everyone on the Jarvanka side, were now directly connected to actions involved in the Russian investigation or efforts to spin it, deflect it, or, indeed, cover it up. Miller and Hicks had drafted–or at least typed–Kushner’s version of the first letter written at Bedminster to fire Comey. Hicks had joined with Kushner and his wife to draft on Air Force One the Trump-directed press release about Don Jr. and Kushner’s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower.”
From left to right: White House counselor Kellyanne Conway; Hope Hicks, White House director of strategic communications; and Omarosa Manigault, director of communications for the Office of Public Liaison, listen during a daily press briefing at the James Brady Press Briefing Room, at the White House, on February 14, 2017. White House press secretary Sean Spicer discussed various topics, including the resignation of Michael Flynn from his position as National Security Adviser. Hicks is now one of six past and current Trump administration aides whom Robert Mueller reportedly wants to question. ALEX WONG/GETTY IMAGES
A key player in the Jarvanka faction is Hope Hicks who provides some good grist for this book. A former model and aspiring actress, Hicks finds herself in the improbable position of being an essential link between the press and the leader of the free world. Hicks regularly provides digestible pits of information to Trump. She was responsible, for instance, in giving Trump a recap on the famous piece in The New Yorker that first connected the dots on Michael Flynn and Russia–except she failed to mention Michael Flynn. Hicks has no qualms over sending out disparaging leaks to the press about anyone deemed a problem, including Attorney General Jeff Sessions and members of Trumps legal team, Mark Corallo and Mark Kasowitz. It is no surprise that Robert Mueller is interested in questioning her.
And it all goes on, getting worse and worse. Just as one scandalous scene plays out, another rears its head to fill an endless news cycle. So, plenty of opportunity to deflect, distract, confuse, and alarm. It was just that strategy that led Trump to threaten to unleash “fire and fury” upon North Korean leader Kim Jong-un. It is a well-documented fact that Trump said this since we can clearly view it on numerous news feeds. Unlike some other comments and activities by Trump & Co., there is no hiding behind the trickery of the Trump White House in this case. Wolff does an admirable job of exposing this spin doctor trickery. Sorry, Sarah, this book is significant and so far removed from your claim that it is mere “fantasy.”
If you’ve seen any of the segments Wolff has done during his book tour, he makes a compelling case: after being embedded in the White House for most of 2017, an informative book results, one that makes sense out of the political crisis of our time. Now, I will be the first to admit that Wolff seems just a little bit out of his depth. It’s like a fisherman going out to make a catch and snagging Moby Dick. And I did see his appearance with Bill Maher where he suggests Trump is currently having an affair with UN Ambassador Nikki Haley. He doesn’t come right out and say that and only hints that he would only say as much if he had absolute proof. It’s that whiff of the salacious than can take away from an otherwise even-tempered book. Ultimately, it doesn’t take away much of anything.
“Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House” is a 336-page hardcover published by Henry Holt and Company. For more details, visit Henry Holt and Company right here. And you can get this book at Amazon by just clicking the image below: