The New York Times now has Donald Trump’s income tax returns “extending over two decades”. They say that the returns come from a person who had legal access to them. The Times’s first article provides eighteen takeaways. They promise more to come. Each takeaway is a string that other news organizations can pull.
Trump runs through money and then manages to find yet another source to bankroll him. At this point, he owes $421 million to unknown parties. There are hints and guesses about connections to a hotel deal in Azerbaijan that appears to have laundered money for Iran’s Revolutionary Guard and to Deutsche Bank through Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy’s son.
Dicey connections and unknown sources of money point to possible influence over Trump. We don’t know enough about them. At one time, there seems to have been an FBI counterintelligence investigation into these influences. Then, it was said, that investigation (or those investigations) were folded into the special counsel investigation led by Robert Mueller. We have learned, however, that Mueller deliberately avoided the counterintelligence implications.
Was there ever a counterintelligence investigation? Is there one now? This goes back to that New York Times October Surprise in 2016: Investigating Donald Trump, F.B.I. Sees No Clear Link to Russia. The Times has never apologized for or explained this article, nor its concurrent fascination with Hillary Clinton’s emails. If there was an investigation, what happened to its materials? Rod Rosenstein seems like a person who might know.
Shortly after the Times article on Trump’s taxes appeared, Brad Parscale was taken to a hospital by police officers called by his wife. He was threatening suicide after beating his wife. Since he’s a white guy, he wasn’t shot by police as so many Black people are. Demonstrations for Breona Taylor and Black Lives Matter continued through the week after no charges were brought against the police for her death.
Covid-19 continues to kill more than 200,000 people as Trump spreads disinformation. Trump has largely pushed Anthony Fauci and Deborah Birx out of his planning circle, if such still exists. Trump’s preference is clearly to pretend that there is no problem, that people are not dying. Republican governors eager to toady up to him are allowing bars and restaurants, major spreading sites, to open up. Trump, of course, has been having close-spaced, no-mask rallies, although he has conceded to the need for air circulation by holding many of them outdoors or in airport hangers. People infected now will by dying shortly before the election. Seems like a bad strategy.
Fauci and Birx have been replaced by Scott Atlas, a Fox commentator who actually is a doctor, but in radiology, a specialty far removed from infectious disease. Like a lot of armchair epidemiologists (largely financially well-off white men), he believes that it’s best to infect the population and see who survives. The total death toll for that, by a number of estimates, would be in the range of two million. Even Robert Redfield, another Trump creature, is concerned about Atlas’s advice. Trump is going in this direction as experts point out that a vaccine will not be ready before the election.
Trump also continues his disinformation campaign against the election. Although Russia in particular, and to a smaller degree, China and Iran are spreading disinformation, the largest and loudest source of disinformation is Trump’s tweets. Voting by mail is safe, although it is wise to do it as early as possible because of Postmaster General Louis De Joy’s vandalism. Trump seems to have subsided from his refusal to endorse a peaceful succession. He is unlikely ever to do that, but he is a coward.
Weekend polls show Joe Biden in the lead by 7 or so percentage points. Those polls were taken before the news of Trump’s tax returns broke. Biden continues to pick up endorsements – from almost 500 former military and national security officials, Tom Ridge, and Dwayne Johnson (“The Rock”). Senatorial races are moving well for Democrats also; Jaime Harrison has been getting a steady stream of money while Lindsey Graham has had to beg for money on Fox. The first debate between Trump and Biden is Tuesday night, and Trump is raving about drug tests. Nancy Pelosi is urging supporters to look at races that will tilt state representation Democratic in preparation for Trump funny business that throws the election into the House.
In other news, the administration is trying to run out the time to renew the New START Treaty, the only arms control treaty they have not destroyed. Russia is willing to extend the treaty, but the adminstration negotiator, Marshall Billingslea, continues to insist that China be a party and that Russia accept a number of conditions. Neither will happen. The treaty extends a couple of weeks after January 20, so it is possible that if Biden is elected, the treaty could be extended, although it will be very close.
Almost two months ago in Belarus, Alexander Lukashenka lost an election to Sviatlana Tsikanouskaya. Large demonstrations have taken place in all the main Belarusian cities since then. Lukashenka has begged Vladimir Putin for help, but Lukashenka has been cool to Putin’s desires for the two countries to effectively merge in the past, so what Putin has provided has been very limited. It’s also likely that Putin doesn’t want to be associated with a bloodbath, which is what it would take to end the demonstrations. Lukashenka had himself inaugurated as president in a private ceremony, but over the weekend Tsikanouskaya was inaugurated by the people in a large outdoor ceremony. European nations support Tsikanouskaya, and the US has even made a statement in her favor.
Tanks are rolling between Armenia and Azerbaijan, with Turkey supporting Azerbaijan and Russia taking Armenia’s side. The point of dispute is Nagorno-Karabakh, an Armenian enclave within Azerbaijan, not contiguous with Armenia. The territory has been a point of conflict since at least 1994. Syrian rebels are signing up to fight with Azerbaijan, but not many seem to be there yet.
Alexei Navalny is recuperating in Germany from Novichok poisoning, obviously by the Russian government, although their position is “Who us?” They have also seized his apartment, so it’s clear they don’t want him back.
Trump is in trouble. No candidate, according to various experts, has ever come back from a 7-point deficit at this time in the campaign, and Trump seems uninterested in broadening his appeal. It’s hard to see how the tax revelations help him, nor that he can turn around a stunning debate. Still, there is the electoral college and the willingness of some governors to aid and abet vote suppression.
He may also be in trouble for likely crimes represented in his tax returns. Although no crime has been proved by the Times articles, they document a number of questionable activities and coincidences. The question of Trump’s creditors hangs over all. Will the counterintelligence investigation be resumed? It seems important to know who the creditors are. They have enormous power over him, whether they are foreign or domestic.
Putin has troubles too. In addition to the demonstrations against his (flawed) man in Belarus, demonstrations are taking place in several cities in Russia. Now there’s another war in the south Caucasus. An arms race, which it looks like we’re heading into, benefits neither side.
My big-picture, 40,000-feet take is that we’re going to make it through to the inauguration of Joe Biden in January. But it won’t be pretty along the way.