Good Friday Morning! I’m back this week and getting back into the swing of writing again. The vacation was excellent, as was the new Marvel movie: Avengers: Infinity War. If you haven’t already, see it. It’s a fantastic film. And make sure to stay until the last credits roll, there’s a great end credits scene.
This week I’m focusing on two topics: Israel’s information dump on Iran and the Stormy Daniels saga, which got interesting this week. We’ll start with Rudy Guiliani’s interview on Fox News which revealed the interesting tidbit that Trump repaid Michael Cohen, his lawyer, for the settlement payout for Stormy Daniels. That threw a whole new wrench into everything that we need to cover. Links follow.
New this week at the Conservative Institute
The progressive fascination with power proves correct Lord Acton, who famously said, “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
The government should not have the power to censor speech. There’s a reason the First Amendment is listed first: because free and open discourse is essential in a republic of liberty. Allowing state censorship threatens all forms of expression.
When you choose some types of censorship to approve, with no qualifications on how you got there, you’re implicitly granting government the power to target and censor any speech. That’s not something it should have, even if you think the ultimate end of the censorship is right.
Our newly minted social media age is one in which everyone — and their brand — is commodified down to the last pixel. But in the process of doing this, we’ve superimposed false notions over our reality; we’ve displaced our humanity with the vanities of the age, and lost something in the process.
William Ralph Inge, Dean of Divinity at Cambridge during the late 19th and early 20th centuries, had a pithy observation along these lines. He said, “Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next.”
What to make of Trumps “Retainer” with Cohen
This entire story and case are ridiculous in complexity and in the assuredness with which people make pronouncements on it. If you’ve not followed this story count yourself blessed.
Trump had a sexual encounter with Stormy Daniels, a porn actress, in 2006. During his campaign for President, Trump and his lawyer Michael Cohen reached a settlement for $130,000 with Stormy Daniels for her to remain quiet and not reveal the encounter.
The question, up until now, is, did Cohen’s payment constitute an in-kind contribution to the Trump campaign? Or can you separate it out into a private, personal matter? The facts and law are gray in this area. Making things more confusing are the PR campaigns launched by Trump’s team and Stormy Daniels’s lawyer, who have combined to say just about everything. You can get a flavor of the stupidity by lawyer Ken White (aka Popehat) who attended one of the proceedings and described what he saw.
Enter Rudy Guiliani, who made an already complicated situation even more insane by claiming to Sean Hannity on Fox News that Trump reimbursed Cohen for the settlement via a “retainer.” Here’s a brief set of facts from ABC News:
President Trump’s newly-minted lawyer Rudy Giuliani might have trained a fresh legal spotlight on Trump when he told Fox News host Sean Hannity on Wednesday that the president reimbursed his long-time fixer Michael Cohen for the $130,000 payment to adult-film actress Stormy Daniels.
Appearing to contradict repeated denials from the White House, Trump himself, and his legal team that the president was aware of the payment to Daniels, Trump sent a tweet out on Thursday reiterating Giuliani’s characterization of his reimbursement to Cohen. “Mr. Cohen, an attorney, received a monthly retainer, not from the campaign and having nothing to do with the campaign, from which he entered into, through reimbursement, a private contract between two parties, known as a non-disclosure agreement, or NDA,” Trump tweeted.
Legal experts told ABC News that if Trump reimbursed Cohen for the six-figure payoff just days before the 2016 election, he might have violated federal election laws if the payoff was determined to be an unreported campaign contribution. If Daniels’ settlement is deemed a “campaign contribution” then Trump might have also violated a law that prohibits election donations in the name of someone other than the actual donor, a practice known as a “straw donor” scheme.
But whether any laws were broken hinges first on whether the alleged hush money was paid primarily for personal reasons – perhaps to hide allegations of an affair from Trump’s wife, protect Trump’s name, or help his business image – or to help Trump win the election, which would make it a “campaign contribution.” Under federal election laws, a payment is not a campaign contribution if it “would have been made irrespective of the candidacy.”
Here’s the million dollar question: was this payment/retainer part of the campaign? Or was it personal? Complicating matters more is that we don’t know what Guiliani meant when he said “retainer.” Ken White had a solid thread on Twitter describing the various nuances of a retainer here. I’m not going to jump in that deep because the ultimate question is whether or not the payment and repayment is part of the campaign.
I don’t know the answer to that question because it involves intent and fact-specific inquiries. What did Trump know, when did he know it, was it part of campaign calculus? Who knows at this stage. Anyone confidently claiming one way or another is ignoring the facts or lack of thereof in this case.
In legal circles, a similar example people point to is John Edwards, who was charged with campaign finance violations over accusations his financial backers helped pay off a mistress during his 2011 campaign. The jury deadlocked and the DOJ eventually dropped the charges.
Smart legal minds on both sides of the aisle think the same way on this point. Rick Hansen, campaign finance lawyer, and Alan Dershowitz, famed litigator, both agree that any charges would be highly fact specific. And we don’t have enough details to know what, if any, laws were violated.
We do know Guiliani likely made things more difficult for Trump as they appear to change legal strategies yet again.
But maybe not, we’ll see. NBC News had to issue a significant correction after they reported Michael Cohen was the subject of a wiretap and that the Feds were listening to all his calls. It turns out that what the Feds have is a pen register on Cohen, which reveals the “To,” “From,” and length of time on the calls. Before that correction Guiliani told reporters the story was false — and he ended up being right. So maybe he has more information regarding the Stormy Daniels/Cohen saga, we’ll see.
Israel’s New Evidence Against Iran
I have a column coming out either Friday or this weekend, depends on editors, about Iran and the new evidence Israel provided the US on Iran’s nuclear ambitions.
The Iran Deal is coming up, and to a head, because the six-month reauthorization of the Iran Deal, or Joint Plan of Action, is up. Eli Lake has the best answer for why Israel’s information dump is essential:
In the George W. Bush administration, for example, U.S. intelligence agencies relied on data from a stolen laptop to prove Iran was building a weapon. Weapons inspectors had found traces of highly enriched uranium on Iranian equipment as well. But the best argument for why Iran was building a weapon was that it endured rounds of international sanctions and censure to build uranium enrichment facilities hidden from the IAEA. If all the mullahs wanted was nuclear power, why build a centrifuge cascade deep inside a mountain?
The Israeli intelligence haul would provide far more specifics about Iran’s weapons program than have previously been known to Western intelligence agencies. For example, Netanyahu on Monday showed slides of warhead designs, a map of potential test sites and other details that had previously been inferred, but not verified by Western intelligence. Some intelligence analysts had assessed that Iran had done warhead design work, but the Israelis now claim to have the proof.
David Albright, the president and founder of the Institute for Science and International Security, told me Monday that the new intelligence, if verified, would fill many of the holes in the West’s knowledge of Iran’s weapons program.
But Albright said it does more than that. If verified, the intelligence also reveals Iran’s intention to eventually build a nuclear weapon. “The most significant thing is that this is a warehoused collection intended to be used later for reconstitution,” Albright said. “They could have destroyed these documents. But these were being carefully protected and hidden with the intention to reuse them when they launch their weapons program.”
I’m also not inclined to believe any of the critiques from Obama-era officials. As a reminder, these are the same people who knowingly let Hezbollah off the hook from US law enforcement to pass the deal. And they’re led by Ben Rhodes, a guy who gave a lengthy interview where he spent time bragging about the false echo-chamber he built to drown out all opposition to the Iran Deal (many of those same reporters are now trotting back out faithfully to enforce the party line). In other words, a bunch of liars and hacks are trying to build another echo-chamber to save what they consider to be the crowning achievement of their time in office.
And you can get a sense for how deranged they are by some of their attacks. Ex-NSC Obama spokesman Tommy Vietor claims Israel and Trump are cooking the intel to go to war. And his friends say the same:
How, then, might supporters of the deal—including some of the men and women who helped sell the agreement to the American public while serving in Barack Obama’s administration—react to this inconvenient development? In more than one case, prominent defenders of the nuclear deal are arguing that the evidence is somehow being faked.
“After years of bashing US intelligence agencies for getting Iraq WMD wrong, Trump is now cooking up intel with the Israelis to push us closer to a conflict with Iran,” tweeted podcaster and former National Security Council spokesperson Tommy Vietor, who of course offered zero evidence that anyone had “cooked” or fabricated anything. As with all conspiracy theories, this one is so enormous and so obvious that it requires no proof: The US-Israeli cooking of intel was, Vietor continued, “A scandal hiding in plain sight.”
Ali Vaez, the director of the Iran project at the International Crisis Group, speculated that Israel “has probably hacked the @iaeaorg and gathered some new details from what Iran responded to the agency to close the outstanding issues in 2015.” We’re admittedly at a very early junction, but there is currently no evidence to support Vaez’s theory. If Israel really did hack the IAEA, then the cover story of pilfering physical documents from Tehran would be a perilously easy fiction to dispel, but Vaez wasn’t the only one in the pro-deal firmament who picked up on this unfounded conspiracy theory and ran with it. Trita Parsi, director of the National Iranian American Council, tweeted that “As others have suggested, seems like Mossad raided the IAEA and not Tehran.”
These aren’t experts. They’re hacks. Ignore them. And know that places like CNN present these hacks on their networks as experts but don’t reveal the apparent conflict of interest to have one administration official on defending their policies under the new administration.
Links of the week
Hezbollah chief’s censored speech reaffirms group as Tehran’s arm in Lebanon – Amir Toumaj, Long War Journal
Nonsensical critics are accusing an 18-year-old girl of cultural appropriation and racism — and they’re missing something much bigger – Daniella Greenbaum, Business Insider
Fact Check: Did Charles Krauthammer Write an Op-Ed Arguing for ‘Trump the Pragmatist’? – Holmes Lybrand, The Weekly Standard
An Open Letter to Trump’s Evangelical Defenders – David French, National Review
America is more diverse than ever — but still segregated: The United States is on track to be a majority-minority nation by 2044. But census data show most of our neighbors are the same race. – Aaron Williams and Armand Emamdjomeh, The Washington Post
Black Gun Owner Will Give Birth in Prison After Trying to Protect 2-Year-Old Daughter from Assailant: Siwatu-Salama Ra used a legally purchased firearm to protect her family. She was sentenced to 2 years in prison. – Robby Soave, Reason Magazine
The Redistribution of Sex – Ross Douthat, The New York Times
Russia Isn’t Just Interfering in Elections Around the World. It’s Doing Something Far Worse – Maxim Eristavi, The Atlantic Council
Vanity Fair’s Hilariously Bad Account of the ‘Red-Pilling’ of Kanye West – Jonah Goldberg, National Review
RedState Is No More – Erick Erickson, The Resurgent
How They Do ‘Journalism’ at New York Magazine – Kevin D. Williamson, The Weekly Standard
Dear DNC: We Need To Talk About RICO – Ken White, Popehat.com
Satire piece of the week
BALTIMORE—Challenging decades of mainstream academic thought, a group of Johns Hopkins University researchers released a report Tuesday indicating that the late Soviet Union leader Joseph Stalin was only one great purge away from creating a communist utopia. “Our research demonstrates that if Stalin had shipped a mere 100,000 more people to Siberia, the whole communist experiment would have worked out perfectly,” said historian and report co-author Franklin Morrison, adding that all of the USSR’s corruption, hunger, and disease would have disappeared overnight if Stalin had simply been able to let a few million more Ukrainians starve to death. “It’s a shame, because in 1953 the Soviet Union was really on the precipice of becoming a perpetual workers’ paradise devoid of all poverty and want. Unfortunately, Stalin passed away before he could round up just one last group of intellectuals and make them dig their own mass graves.” Morrison also noted that Stalin likely came closer to creating a communist utopia than any other leader in world history besides China’s Mao Tse-tung, who actually achieved it.
Thanks for reading!