A story got released this afternoon that the Justice Department says there are no plans for Robert Mueller to deliver his report next week. As readers of these pages know, I’m not surprised. As I wrote in article yesterday, I noted why I didn’t think the rumors were true. What I do think is possible, though -- totally a guess -- is that we might get some new indictments next week. There's been an odd occurrence, which could be a total coincidence -- or not -- of Mueller releases some form of news when Trump is out of the country on some pointless, but problematic mission. Purely an idle thought on my part, but we'll see...
The Mystery Guest on this very early episode of What's My Line? is Bette Davis. Two things stand out: the first is the funny voice she uses to hide here highly-recognizable one. And the other is that this episode is so early in the show's life -- from 1952 -- that while Bennett Cerf is on the panel, he's not in his traditional seat at the end. It's a shame that there's no chat afterwards, but it's still very enjoyable. You can jump right to it at the 17:28 mark.
Yesterday I was having a conversation with a friend who was bewildered by the White House announcing that they were going to have a Climate Change panel. The only thing he could figure was that it had some connection to the liberal Green New Deal, but didn't know how. Maybe that they were trying to get ahead of it.
I said he was likely right for the foundation, but I doubted the reason. Given that Trump doesn't believe in Climate Change, it didn't seem probable that he was now on board. More likely is that they didn't want it to gain any steam and want some way to try and discredit it.
Then came this story later about the man reported to be Trump's choice to head the committee, William Happer, a Princeton professor. One would think that his disbelief in Climate Change would be the worst and most damning part of the story. But this is the Trump administration, so of course there's more. And that "more" is (and I swear this is true, there's video of him saying it) he compares reaction towards deniers to how Nazis treated Jews!
Okay, look, for starters, the mere fact that as a Climate Change denier he is simply...well, alive should be proof enough that such a view of the Nazi treatment of Jews is reprehensible. That beyond this he's also a tenured college professor is just bonus evidence. Of course ultimately he appears to be a perfect choice by Trump, given that he seems adept at denying pretty much anything he finds inconvenient.
At the very least, though, I do think we have our answer for why the committee. And Option #2 looks like a winner.
And once more, we head back to the wonderful folks at the Dodo whose description in their tweet explains this quite nicely. Or to put it another way, this is perhaps the star of a new party game called "Duck -- duck -- duck -- duck -- ...DOG!"
There were stories swirling yesterday that, based on a variety of clues, Robert Mueller may be wrapping up his investigation within a week or two. Of course, there have been such reports over the past six months (and longer), so such rumors don't carry a great deal of weight. However, the current "clues" are offering more weight than usual.
The two most notable are the timing of a new Attorney General who is on the record as being against the Special Counsel investigation, and also that quite a few members of Muller's team have apparently contacted their old firms about getting their jobs back.
While coincidences of timing are rare, I also think it's important to look at this "clue" of a new Attorney General as being the horse before the cart. It's not that there is actual, known movement to end the investigation -- but rather a case of people seeing the new Attorney General and therefore drawing a conclusion by imposing that on other perceived "clues." A dog barked and the sun rose -- therefore the dog barking must have caused the sun to come up. In addition, there have been other times when lawyers in the Special Counsel's office have re-applied to their own firms. And at those times it wasn't because the Mueller investigation was ending (obviously), but rather because one portion of the investigation was concluded. And freed of that focus, Mueller then was able to move on to another part of it. Is that the case here? No idea, but the concept should at least be considered.
There's also the "clue" that Michael Cohen will be testifying next week, which some analysts are suggesting wouldn't happen if Mueller wasn't finishing and therefore he gave his approval. Lost in this reasoning, though, is that Cohen was supposed to have testified weeks ago, but called it off himself. And only now he has agreed again to testify in public.
And left out of almost all the analysis is a "clue" as to why the investigation is not ending. And that comes from a comment by, I believe, legal expert Harry Littman who said there are areas of the investigation that we know are active but not anywhere near concluded, most especially that Mueller hasn't yet interviewed Roger Stone, along with all the avenues of investigation that would come from that,
So, we'll have to see how this all plays out and what the reality is.
Amid all the discussion of this is angst over whether -- if the investigation is ending -- it is being shut down by the new Attorney General at the behest of Trump.
For the sake of argument, let's say both issues are true. If so, yes, that would be awful in terms of the legal process (though perhaps another notch on the obstruction of justice belt). But I'm not sure if the situation would be as angst-ridden in terms of the evidence. Keep in mind that Robert Mueller has been conducting this investigation for over two years. Shutting down early doesn't mean that all that massive material doesn't exist. It's in stacks just waiting to be released. And it's hard to imagine that that massive material isn't focused on Trump, Don Jr., Jared Kusher and other White House insiders. That Mueller hasn't indicted any of them yet (or named Trump as an unindicted co-conspirator, doesn't mean he doesn't have the information to do so. It could mean that, but it could just as likely -- if not more so -- meant merely that he hasn't done so yet because he's building his cases to be even stronger by going down as many avenues as possible.
And then, of course, there are the Justice Department's investigations by the Southern District of New York, and the growing piles of investigations by a growing range of House committees.
So, if the Special Counsel's investigation is ending, and if it's because the Attorney General is shutting it down, there should be great anger, but no angst. There is a tsunami coming from a wide range of directions, I'm certain of it. How much of it we'll see, no one can be certain. But tsunamis leave devastation in their wake. The SDNY's report and indictments will be known. The House hearings and reports will be known. And even if the Attorney General blocks the Special Counsel's report, I suspect at least some of that will make its way out. The American public would be too utterly outraged by a total blackout. Some may leak out to elected officials by members of the Justice Department furious at the obstruction of justice. Some will get subpoenaed by the House committees. Some will be dug out by reporters going for a Pulitzer Prize. Some may get released in redacted form. And...in the end -- most of it may ultimately see the light of day and get released.
Or not. But for all those reasons above and more, I suspect it just doesn't stand a chance of being fully or even mostly hidden
Tsunamis leave devastation in their wake.
Earlier, I mentioned that back over 30 years ago in 1986 I had written a 50th anniversary song for my much-older, wonderful relatives, Margie and Stanley Kohn, who lived on the Indiana Dunes. I posted two lines from the song, written to the tune of an old 1920s song, "Margie," which I said got the biggest laugh of anything I've ever written, a line about not tracking in sand (which was Margie's huge bugaboo for every visitor).
Well, I tracked down the full song, and I thought I'd post the lyrics here -- along with a recording of the real song so that those of you so inclined could sing along.
As I noted, Stanley was a wonderful guy -- as soft-spoken and decent and gracious a man as you'd like to find, who loved to fish, especially for coho salmon in Lake Michigan. Meanwhile his dear wife Margie was talkative, outgoing, and directly blunt -- and nurturing to everyone, and who took no guff from anyone. They remained active their whole lives, and late in their life they would take several round-the-world trips for several months on merchant ships.
(This above is the front of their anniversary invitation for the party in Crown Point, Indiana. I scanned it as best I could, though it's not as crisp an image as ideal.)
The song was written with only one day's notice, when my brother John suggested it at the last minute. But he'd been practicing his guitar part, so it was no skin off his nose...
I tried to find an instrumental version but couldn't. So instead you'll have to forego my brother's guitar and sing along with Fats Domino who had a hit with the original song in the 1950s, and just overlap his joyful version. The syncopation should match up reasonably well, but our rendition would not have made the Hit Parade.
Hit "Play" below and then scroll down to the lyrics underneath. Yes, I know this is odd, but Stanley and Margie were wonderful and any chance I get to wander even far off the beaten path to them, I'll take it.
"Margie and Stanley"
For one half century
You make it all adventury.
'Round the world or home at the lake.
Always growing. All it takes is
You've been an inspiration
All you're whole life through.
Now let's all strike up the band
And not track in any sand
For Margie. Margie. For you.
I'll keep this verse real quiet.
Oh, well, at least, I'll try it.
But, it's hard to keep my voice low
When I want
The whole wide world around to know
That Stanley --
You're really something special
And it's time you knew.
Now you may not say too much,
But life has a brighter touch
With Stanley. Stanley, it's true.
And Stanley, what a pleasure.
And Stanley, it's a treasure.
Living life its fullest. And yet --
Like raising Tony and Nanette.
And Stanley, getting praises
Up from high above.
And you know what life is for.
Now here's hoping 50 more
For Margie and Stanley with love.
Yesterday, I saw a tweet from CNN that mentioned how the National Park Service had just announced the newest National Park to the system, one that was located in northwest Indiana. I was scratching my head because I know that area very well. It's not only up in the corner of Indiana that basically borders Chicago, but I grew up with a lot of relatives there, in Gary. My grandmother Rose lived there -- and I spent lots of vacation time with her on the lakeshore in area called Miller Beach -- and the family had a department store, H. Gordon & Sons. Down the sandy road from Grandma Rose was her brother, my Uncle Ben and Aunt Esther, and next door were their kids the Kaplans, who are my cousins. (The youngest son, Jim, lives out here now. In fact we're having lunch on Thursday.) And down the street from them were Stanley and Margie Kohn, wonderful people, who are cousins, too. And then others in the city itself.
So, as I said, I know that area well. And I couldn't think of what in the world would be a National Park. I knew there was the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore, which is centered around where they live and then up the Indiana coast of Lake Michigan. But nothing else -- so other than turning the deserted steel mills into a National Park, I was flummoxed.
Side note. The Indiana Dunes are wonderful. And some of the family was even involved to a slight degree fighting for them to get some sort of protected status, since it's a very fragile ecosystem. Oddly, an Illinois senator back in the 1950s, the great Paul Douglas, worked hard for protecting the Indiana Dunes, and Stanley Kohn was involved, as well, working with Sen. Douglas. So, it was a huge deal when the 15,000-acre dunes area finally got recognized with National Lakeshore status in 1966. Stanley was a great guy -- he worked at H. Gordon & Sons, and was as quiet and gentle and nice a man as you'd like to find. Tall and lanky, he was the opposite of his dear wife Margie, who was a pistol -- open, honest, outspoken, directly blunt and nurturing to all, I think she did social work and a lot of community service. They lived on the Dunes, and had an open-air porch separate from their house where I just looooved having barbecues.
By the way, I think Margie's favorite food was popcorn. And one year, probably about 50 years ago, she'd heard about this local popcorn company in northeast Indiana that supposedly had the best popcorn anywhere. So, she had to drive out and find it. It took her a while to track the place down, and finally getting there she knew she had to buy a huge sack of kernels in major bulk, since this wasn't a trip she'd make often. She brought it all back, and sent packages of popcorn around to family and friends -- including us. And that was the first time I'd heard of this small, local company that hadn't yet gone national called Orville Redenbacher.
Another diversion. It was for Margie and Stanley's 50th anniversary party that I got the biggest laugh of anything I've ever written. My brother John had the idea that since I wrote parody songs, I should write one to the tune of the old song, "Margie," made famous in the 1920s by Eddie Cantor, and he'd accompany me on guitar. While I knew a bit about Margie and Stanley, I asked my mom for some additional details, since she grew up with Margie as her older cousin when a little girl. (Though they were second cousins to me, they were significantly older, probably in their 60s when I barely hit my teens.) Anyway, one thing my mother mentioned is that something that drove Margie crazy was that -- living on the Lake Michigan dunes -- people's shoes always had sand on them, and that acts like...well, sandpaper when one walks through a house, shredding the floor, so Margie insisted that people take off their shoes before entering the house, and if you were going to put them on later, you'd darn well better smack them around good and get every grain off. Anyway, armed with my memories and notes, I went off to write the song.
Came the night of the anniversary, our family drove to Indiana for the event, held in some town south of Gary that had a nice French restaurant. (I'll always remember that, this being Indiana, the nice French restaurant had a basketball hoop in the employee lot behind the place.) When it came time for the song, my brother played, and I did my best singing. It went fine, the room of about 75 people seemed appreciative, and then I got to one verse which ended --
And let's all strike up the band
And not track in any sand
For Margie, Margie. For you.
Well...I got to the words -- "...in any sand..." -- and couldn't go any further. The room exploded with the most laughter I've ever gotten for, as I said, anything I've ever written. My brother and I just had to sit there for about 15 seconds before we could continue.
But I digress...
Okay, so I had to figure out what in the world the National Park Service had found there in northwest Indiana to add to their list as a National Park.
And it was -- the Indiana Dunes National Lakeshore!!!! They upgraded its status. It never even occurred to me that they would do so. It was such a long battle just to get National Lakeshore status that moving it to any greater designation just didn't seem possible. But it is.
I sent a note to my cousin Jim -- who grew up on the Dunes -- and asked him if he'd heard the news. He hadn't and was overjoyed. Me, too. Mainly for Sen. Paul Douglas...and Stanley Kohn. And Margie. And all the other relatives involved and people of the area who grew up on the Dunes.
You can read an article about it here. But mainly, I love this tweet and photo that the National Park employees sent out today with their new "sign" covering up the old "Lakeshore" designation.
We have a new song from Randy Rainbow, this time channeling Madonna rather than Broadway. The song is fun, though I don't think one of his top efforts -- but it's particularly appropriate, and has some good interchange between him and Trump.
Yesterday, I was exchanging some notes with my friend Michael Shoob, who is an accomplished filmmaker of such films as the drama Driven and the wonderful documentary Bush's Brain, based on the book about Karl Rove. We were discussing Roger Stone's ill-advise, egregious Instagram threat towards the judge overseeing his case, and Michael off-handedly mentioned that, as he put it, "My Dad was a pretty gentle, tolerant guy (and a Federal Judge for 37 years), I feel sure that he would have sent the Marshalls out there to pick him up and Stone would have been back in jail."
As low-key and modest about his pretty gentle and tolerant dad as Michael was, the larger story is that Marvin Shoob was the Atlanta judge who oversaw the infamous BNL bank scandal case in 1992 about the $5 billion unauthorized bank "loan" to Iraq laundered by the GHW Bush Administration -- and who, as a result of it all, publicly criticized the U.S. Attorney General for not pursuing the case with an independent counsel. That Attorney General? William Barr, just nominated by Trump and approved by the GOP Senate...
That's of note because, as Rachel Maddow devoted a long story on her show yesterday, Barr now oversees the Special Counsel and has been publicly critical of the investigation. So, it's uncertain and understandably concerning to people what the future holds for Robert Mueller and his team.
With that in mind, this article from (as whimsy has it) yesterday, as well -- it was a busy day yesterday, though this came first thing in the morning -- in Politico, written by Darren Samuelsohn, about major difficulties for Trump and his circle face regardless of what happens to the Special Counsel investigation. The story, "Trump can't run the Mueller playbook on New York feds" is a detailed look at how how Robert Mueller has passed off a good amount of his investigation to another division in the U.S. Justice Department, federal prosecutors in the Southern District of New York. And the SDNY (also known sardonically as the "Sovereign Districst of New York) is renowned for its independence -- and has no parameters constricting what it investigates, unlike the mandate for the Special Counsel. Further, what it does investigate is large state-related, and most charges it can come up could be outside the purview of a presidential partner. Moreover, they are so independent they may not feel constrained by department policy and could therefore indict a sitting president if they felt it was justified.
(As John Sale, a former SDNY and Watergate prosecutor says in the article, “I’m thoroughly convinced the SDNY will make its own evaluation. They will not say that’s a department policy. They’re obviously looking at the president and I wouldn’t rule out that they could decide you can indict a sitting president.”)
Among the areas they are currently investigating are the Trump inaugural, Michael Cohen and the Trump Organization. And many of the people they have as cooperating witnesses are among those who have known and worked with Trump the longest, like Cohen, Trump organization chief financial officer Allen Weiselberg, and David Pecker, CEO of AMI, the owner of National Enquirer.
The article notes that Trump's difficulties with the SDNY are compounded because, unlike his personal attacks on Mueller, in an effort to discredit the Special Counsel in the eyes of his base, he will be challenged to do with same with the SDNY. Not only is there not a single personality to focus on, but their investigation is not centered on Trump's time in the White House but before, so there can be no claims of Executive Privilege nor charges of "witch hunts" against supposedly non-existent collusion with Russia. And their investigations can (and likely will) go on long past whenever Robert Mueller delivers his own report.
The article is terrific and interesting on its own merits, but for anyone kept up sleepless at night about whether Robert Mueller is fired and what will happen to his report, the piece is like an electrocharge jolt to a weak heart, giving it strength, joy and a new, long life
You can read it all here.
John Oliver returned last night with the new season of his Last Week Tonight. After my recent move, my cable subscription changed -- since I was grandfathered in with my old Time-Warner subscription, and my new Spectrum account includes several premium channels at pretty much the same price. And this includes HBO which means I finally got to see Oliver's entire show for the first time, rather than just segments.
I've long been a huge John Oliver fan -- no, seriously, a huge fan beyond the norm, even recommending him to a movie producer only six weeks after his first appearance as a "correspondent" on The Daily Show (going so far as having a friend who was a writer on the show put together a reel of Oliver's best work). So, this was a long-awaited treat. And happily, the show did not disappoint. It was quite wonderful.
But at the center was his look at what will happen with the deadline for the official Brexit only weeks ago. It was deeply detailed and informative, highly entertaining, and (at its core, of course, this being a comedy show) incredibly funny.
Side Note: The film project I recommended him for never ended up going forward, so it wasn't a case of him "rejected" by the producer. Just normal Hollywood Development Hell. So, the movie world's loss was HBO's gain.
Robert J. Elisberg is a two-time recipient of the Lucille Ball Award for comedy screenwriting. He's written for film, TV, the stage, and two best-selling novels, is a regular columnist for the Writers Guild of America and was for the Huffington Post. Among his other writing, he has a long-time column on technology (which he sometimes understands), and co-wrote a book on world travel. As a lyricist, he is a member of ASCAP, and has contributed to numerous publications.
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