Wednesday, April 5, 2017

Trump and the Pathology of Narcissism Wednesday April 5th, 2017 at 10:47 AM

Trump and the Pathology of Narcissism

At 6:35 a.m. on the morning of March 4th, President Donald Trump did what no U.S. president has ever done: He accused his predecessor of spying on him. He did so over Twitter, providing no evidence and – lest anyone miss the point – doubling down on his accusation in tweets at 6:49, 6:52 and 7:02, the last of which referred to Obama as a "Bad (or sick) guy!" Six weeks into his presidency, these unsubstantiated tweets were just one of many times the sitting president had rashly made claims that were (as we soon learned) categorically untrue, but it was the first time since his inauguration that he had so starkly drawn America's integrity into the fray. And he had done it not behind closed doors with a swift call to the Department of Justice, but instead over social media in a frenzy of ire and grammatical errors. If one hadn't been asking the question before, it was hard not to wonder: Is the president mentally ill?
It's now abundantly clear that Trump's behavior on the campaign trail was not just a "persona" he used to get elected – that he would not, in fact, turn out to be, as he put it, "the most presidential person ever, other than possibly the great Abe Lincoln, all right?" It took all of 24 hours to show us that the Trump we elected was the Trump we would get when, despite the fact that he was president, that he had won, he spent that first full day in office focused not on the problems facing our country but on the problems facing him: his lackluster inauguration attendance and his inability to win the popular vote.
Since Trump first announced his candidacy, his extreme disagreeableness, his loose relationship with the truth and his trigger-happy attacks on those who threatened his dominance were the worrisome qualities that launched a thousand op-eds calling him "unfit for office," and led to ubiquitous armchair diagnoses of "crazy." We had never seen a presidential candidate behave in such a way, and his behavior was so abnormal that one couldn't help but try to fit it into some sort of rubric that would help us understand. "Crazy" kind of did the trick.
And yet, the one group that could weigh in on Trump's sanity, or possible lack thereof, was sitting the debate out – for an ostensibly good reason. In 1964, Lyndon B. Johnson had foreshadowed the 2016 presidential election by suggesting his opponent, Barry Goldwater, was 
too unstable to be in control of 
the nuclear codes, even running 
an ad to that effect that remains 
one of the most controversial in 
the history of American poli
tics. In a survey for Fact magazine, more than 2,000 psychiatrists weighed in, many of them 
seeing pathology in Goldwater's supposed potty-training woes, 
in his supposed latent homosexuality and in his Cold War paranoia. This was back in the Freudian days of psychiatry,
 when any odd-duck characteristic was fair game for psychiatric dissection, before the Diagnostic and Statistical Man
ual of Mental Disorders cleaned 
house and gave a clear set of 
criteria (none of which includes 
potty training, by the way) for a 
limited number of possible dis
orders. Goldwater lost the election, sued Fact and won his suit.
 The American Psychiatric Asso
ciation was so embarrassed that 
it instituted the so-called Goldwater Rule, stating that it is "un
ethical for a psychiatrist to offer 
a professional opinion unless he 
or she has conducted an examination" of the person under question.
All the same, as Trump's candidacy snowballed, many in the mental-health community, observing what they believed to be clear signs of pathology, bristled at the limitations of the Goldwater guidelines. "It seems to function as a gag rule," says Claire Pouncey, a psychiatrist who co-authored a paper in The Journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and Law, which argued that upholding Goldwater "inhibits potentially valuable educational efforts and psychiatric opinions about potentially dangerous public figures." Many called on the organizations that traffic in the psychological well-being of Americans – like the American Psychiatric Association, the American Psychological Association, the National Association of Social Workers and the American Psychoanalytic Association – to sound an alarm. "A lot of us were working as hard as we could to try to get organizations to speak out during the campaign," says Lance Dodes, a psychoanalyst and former professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School. "I mean, there was certainly a sense that somebody had to speak up." But none of the organizations wanted to violate the Goldwater Rule. And anyway, Dodes continues, "Most of the pollsters said he would not be elected. So even though there was a lot of worry, people reassured themselves that nothing would come of this."
But of course, something did come of it, and so on February 13th, Dodes and 34 other psychiatrists, psychologists and social workers published a letter in The New York Times stating that "Mr. Trump's speech and actions make him incapable of safely serving as president." As Dodes tells me, "This is not a policy matter at all. It is continuous behavior that the whole country can see that indicates specific kinds of limitations, or problems in his mind. So to say that those people who are most expert in human psychology can't comment on it is nonsensical." In their letter, the mental health experts did not go so far as to proffer a diagnosis, but the affliction that has gotten the most play in the days since is a form of narcissism so extreme that it affects a person's ability to function: narcissistic personality disorder.
The most current iteration of the DSM classifies narcissistic personality disorder as: "A pervasive pattern of grandiosity (in fantasy or behavior), need for admiration, and lack of empathy, beginning by early adulthood and present in a variety of contexts." A diagnosis would also require five or more of the following traits:
1. Has a grandiose sense of self-importance (e.g., "Nobody builds walls better than me"; "There's nobody that respects women more than I do"; "There's nobody who's done so much for equality as I have").

2. Is preoccupied with fantasies of unlimited success, power, brilliance, beauty or ideal love ("I alone can fix it"; "It's very hard for them to attack me on looks, because I'm so good-looking").
3. Believes that he or she is "special" and unique and can only be understood by, or should associate with, other special or high-status people or institutions ("Part of the beauty of me is that I'm very rich").
4. Requires excessive admiration ("They said it was the biggest standing ovation since Peyton Manning had won the Super Bowl").

5. Has a sense of entitlement ("When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy").
6. Is interpersonally exploitative (see above).

7. Lacks empathy, is unwilling to recognize or identify with the feelings
and needs of others ("He's not a war hero . . . he was captured. I like people that weren't captured").

8. Is often envious of others or believes that others are envious of him or her ("I'm the president, and you're not").

9. Shows arrogant, haughty behaviors or attitudes ("I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody, and I wouldn't lose any voters").
NPD was first introduced as a personality disorder by the DSM in 1980 and affects up to six percent of the U.S. population. It is not a mood state but rather an ingrained set of traits, a programming of the brain that is thought to arise in childhood as a result of parenting that either puts a child on a pedestal and superficially inflates the ego or, conversely, withholds approval and requires the child to single-handedly build up his or her own ego to survive. Either way, this impedes the development of a realistic sense of self and instead fosters a "false self," a grandiose narrative of one's own importance that needs constant support and affirmation – or "narcissistic supply" – to ward off an otherwise prevailing sense of emptiness. Of all personality disorders, NPD is among the least responsive to treatment for the obvious reason that narcissists typically do not, or cannot, admit that they are flawed.
Trump's childhood seems to suggest a history of "pedestal" parenting. "You are a king," Fred
 Trump told his middle child, while 
also teaching him that the world
 was an unforgiving place and that 
it was important to "be a killer." Trump apparently got the message: He reportedly threw rocks 
at a neighbor's baby and bragged
 about punching a music teacher in
 the face. Other kids from his well-
heeled Queens neighborhood of Jamaica Estates were forbidden from playing with him, and in school
 he got detention so often that it
 was nicknamed "DT," for "Donny Trump." When his father found 
his collection of switchblades, he
 sent Donald upstate to New York Military Academy, where he could be controlled while also remaining aggressively alpha male. "I think his father would have fit the category [of narcissistic]," says Michael D'Antonio, author of The Truth About Trump. "I think his mother probably would have. And I even think his paternal grandfather did as well. These are very driven, very ambitious people."
Viewed through the lens of pathology, Trump's behavior – from military-school reports that he was too competitive to have close friends to his recent impromptu press conference, where he seemed to revel in the hour and a half he spent center stage, spouting paranoia and insults – can be seen as a constant quest for narcissistic supply. Certainly few have gone after fame (a veritable conveyor belt of narcissistic supply) with such single-mindedness as Trump, constantly upping the ante to gain more exposure. Not content with being the heir apparent of his father's vast outer-borough fortune, he spent his twenties moving the Trump Organization into the spotlight of Manhattan, where his buildings needed to be the biggest, the grandest, the tallest (in the pursuit of which he skipped floors in the numbering to make them seem higher). Not content to inflict the city with a succession of eyesores bearing his name in outsize letters, he had to buy up more Atlantic City casinos than anyone else, as well as a fleet of 727s (which he also slapped with his name) and the world's third-biggest yacht (despite professing to not like boats). Meanwhile, to make sure that none of this escaped notice, he sometimes pretended to be his own publicist, peppering the press with unsolicited information about his business conquests and his sexual prowess. "The most florid demonstration of [his narcissism] was around the sex scandal that ended his first marriage," says D'Antonio. "He just did so many things to call more attention to it that it was hard to not recognize that there's something very strange going on." (The White House declined to comment for this article.)
Based on the "Big Five" traits that psychologists consider to be the building blocks of personality – extroversion, agreeableness, openness, conscientiousness and neuroticism – the stamp of a narcissist is someone who scores extremely high in extroversion but extremely low in agreeableness. From his business entanglements to his preference for the rally format, Trump's way of putting himself out in the world is not meant to make friends; it's meant to assert his dominance. The reported fear and trembling among his White House staff aligns well with his long-standing habit of hiring two people for the same job and letting them battle it out for his favor. His tendency to hire women was spun as a sign of enlightenment on the campaign trail, but those who've worked with him sensed that it had more to do with finding women less threatening than men (a reason that's also been posited as to why Ivanka is his favorite child). Trump has a lengthy record of stiffing his workers and dodging his creditors. And nothing could be more disagreeable than the way he's dealt with detractors over the years, filing hundreds of frivolous lawsuits, sending scathing letters (like the one he sent to New York Times columnist Gail Collins with her photo covered by the words "The face of a dog!"), and, once it was invented, using Twitter as an instrument of malice that could provide immediate narcissistic supply via comments and retweets. In fact, while studies have found that Twitter and other social-media outlets do not actually foster narcissism, they have turned much of the Internet into a narcissist's playground, providing immediate gratification for someone who needs a public and instantaneous way to build up their false self.
That Americans weren't put off by this disagreeableness may have come as a surprise, but in a country that has turned its political process into a glorified celebrity marketing campaign, it probably shouldn't have. America was founded on the principles of individualism and independence, and studies have shown that the most individualistic nations are, predictably, the most narcissistic. But studies have also shown that America has been getting more narcissistic since the Seventies, which saw the publication of Tom Wolfe's seminal "Me Decade" article and Christopher Lasch's The Culture of Narcissism. In 2008, the National Institutes of Health released the most comprehensive study of NPD to date and found that almost one out of 10 Americans in their twenties had displayed behaviors consistent with NPD, versus only one in 30 of those over 65. Another study found narcissistic traits to be rising as quickly as obesity, while yet another showed that almost one-third of high school students in America in 2005 said that they expected to eventually become famous. "If there were no Kardashians, there would be no President Donald Trump," says Keith Campbell, a professor of psychology at the University of Georgia who co-authored the book The Narcissism Epidemic. "And Trump decided to do it Kardashian-style, with no filter. When Trump and Kanye had that meeting in Trump Tower, I was like, 'I should just quit. My work here is done.'"

Still, Campbell would not label Trump with NPD. A final DSM criterion for the disease is that it must cause "significant" distress or impairment, which has been a sticking point for many mental-health professionals. "He's a billionaire who's president of the United States," points out Campbell. "He's functioning pretty highly."
Others maintain that making diagnoses without a formal interview is not just unethical, but impossible – that the public actions of a public persona may not align with who that person is when they're alone at home. After Dodes' op-ed appeared in the Times, Frances Allen, the psychiatrist who wrote the NPD criteria for the DSMIV, followed up with a letter to the editor the very next day, arguing that it was unfair and insulting to the mentally ill to lump them with someone like Trump, and that doing so would give the president a pass he doesn't deserve. "No one is denying that he is as narcissistic an individual as one is ever likely to encounter," Allen tells me. "But we tend to equate bad behavior with mental illness, and that makes us less able to deal with the bad behavior on its own terms."
Others have been less circumspect, implying that if the DSM wouldn't diagnose someone like Trump with NPD, then maybe it's the DSM that's wrong. "It's just that one pesky impairment thing," says Josh Miller, Campbell's colleague and a professor and director of the clinical training program at the University of Georgia who specializes in psychopathy and narcissism. "Maybe the DSM isn't thinking about this in exactly the right way by ignoring when something causes such widespread problems to those around them." More specifically, Miller believes that Trump's wealth could have shielded him from impairment that would otherwise be more pronounced. "He gets to present himself as an incredible businessman despite multiple bankruptcies, despite lots of signs that he is not as astute or as successful as he might be otherwise," Miller says. "We might know more about his relational functioning if his ex-wives didn't sign the sort of thing where getting a nice sum of money from a divorce is contingent upon not discussing the person's behavior. He's able to keep sycophants around him because of his money. If he was your average politician, it might be that the impairment would be much, much more apparent."
At the very least, the growing debate over Trump's mental health raises the question of what having an NPD president would mean. "I hated President Bush, but it never occurred to me or any of my colleagues that he was mentally ill," says John Gartner, a psychologist who taught in the department of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins University Medical School for 28 years and who has been one of the most vocal critics of upholding the Goldwater Rule in this case, going so far as to say that Trump suffers from "malignant narcissism," a term for the triumvirate of narcissistic, paranoid and antisocial personality disorders (with a little sadism thrown in for good measure) that was invented to describe what was wrong with Hitler. "Even though I disagree with everything he believes in, I would be immensely relieved to have a President Pence," Gartner says. "Because he's conservative. Not crazy."
Of course, having a mental illness, in and of itself, wouldn't necessarily make Trump unqualified for the presidency. A 2006 study published in the Journal of Nervous & Mental Disease found that 18 of the first 37 presidents met criteria for having a psychiatric disorder, from depression (24 percent) and anxiety (eight percent) to alcoholism (eight percent) and bipolar disorder (eight percent). Ten of them exhibited symptoms while in office, and one of those 10 was arguably our best president, Abraham Lincoln, who suffered from deep depression (though, considering the death of his son and the state of the nation, who could blame him?).
The problem is that, when it comes to leadership, all pathologies are not created equal. Some, like depression, though debilitating, do not typically lead to psychosis or risky decision-making and are mainly unpleasant only for the person suffering them, as well as perhaps for their close friends and family. Others, like alcoholism, can be more dicey: In 1969, Nixon got so sloshed that he ordered a nuclear attack against North Korea (in anticipation of just such an event, his defense secretary had supposedly warned the military not to act on White House orders without approval from either himself or the secretary of state).
When it comes to presidents, and perhaps all politicians, some level of narcissism is par for the course. Based on a 2013 study of U.S. presidents from Washington to George W. Bush, many of our chief executives with narcissistic traits shared what is called "emergent leadership," or a keen ability to get elected. They can be charming and charismatic. They dominate. They entertain. They project strength and confidence. They're good at convincing people, at least initially, that they actually are as awesome as they think they are. (Despite what a narcissist might believe, research shows they are usually no better-looking, more intelligent or talented than the average person – though when they are, their narcissism is better tolerated.) In fact, a narcissist's brash leadership has been shown to be particularly attractive in times of perceived upheaval, which means that it benefits a narcissist to promote ideas of chaos and to identify a common enemy, or, if need be, create one. "They're going to want attention, and they're going to get attention by making big public changes and having bold leadership," says Campbell. "So if things are going well, a narcissistic leader's probably not what you want. If things aren't going well, you're like, 'Eh, let's roll the dice. Let's get this person out there to just make some big changes and shake things up.' And then we pray to God it works."
It doesn't always. Ironically, for 
a man who ran on the platform to 
"Make America Great Again," narcissists may have a better chance 
of getting elected when things are going poorly, but they actually appear to perform better when things are going well – and they can take the credit. One of the questions on the Narcissistic Personality Inventory, which is used to assess narcissistic personality traits, asks respondents to choose between two statements: (1) The thought of ruling the world frightens the hell out of me, and (2) If I ruled the world, it would be a better place. Narcissists obviously tend to pick the latter, but that overconfidence actually works against them: One of the highest predictors of success is conscientiousness, but if you think you're already the best, then why would you bother to take the time to get better? It's easier, instead, to point fingers. "Narcissistic people externalize blame," says Miller. "I mean, Trump's going to fire [Sean] Spicer, and then it's going to be the Cabinet. When is he going to say, 'I should have read that more carefully. I should have taken more time to know what this treaty was'? That is not part of a narcissistic individual's makeup, to assume responsibility for their own missteps."
Despite the obvious risks, having a narcissistic president doesn't always end in disaster. "Democracy's always based in trying to work through conflict," says Sean Wilentz, a professor of history at Princeton and contributor to Rolling Stone. "And a person who has a dominant personality sometimes can actually be very effective." LBJ, who scored the highest in that study that ranked the narcissistic tendencies of U.S. presidents, had the aggressiveness necessary to push through the Civil Rights Act, but he also didn't (or wouldn't) do an about-face to get the country out of Vietnam. When a group of reporters pressed him for an explanation of this, he reportedly unzipped his pants, pulled out his penis and declared, "This is why."
Likewise, Andrew Jackson, who ranked third, was considered the nation's first demagogue – a rabble-rouser who fought at least a dozen duels throughout his life, who contemporaries thought would trash the White House with his unruly mob, and whose "jackass" tendencies were the inspiration for the symbol of the Democratic Party – but he paid off the national debt and pushed the nation's expansion westward (though his Indian Removal Act led to the deaths of tens of thousands along the Trail of Tears). "Narcissistic leaders are really good and bad, meaning that they often get a lot done, but they're also viewed as ethically challenged," says Campbell. Meanwhile, "nice guy" presidents like Jimmy Carter are well-liked, but they aren't viewed as particularly potent.
So how might Trump measure up? According to the 2013 study, while run-of-the-mill narcissism conveyed some benefits, NPD traits usually did not, and were furthermore "related to numerous indicators of negative performance: having impeachment resolutions brought up in Congress, facing impeachment proceedings, placing political success over effective policy, and behaving unethically." Nixon, probably our most unethical president, was ranked second in the study, but even he knew to conduct attacks covertly. His form of narcissism was more adaptive, more Machiavellian. In fact, many narcissists see the world as a chess game in which they must think ahead in order to maintain the advantage they feel they deserve. For this reason, impulsivity is not considered a classic trait of narcissism. Trump's obvious rashness, then, allows for an unfortunate combination of traits. "The impulsivity and the lack of deliberate forethought about things," warns Miller, "paired with the overconfidence, are the most troubling parts for me."
Another problem for narcissists on the more extreme end of the spectrum is that the skills needed to get elected are not, and have never been, identical to the skills needed to govern. "Just because you get a big job doesn't mean that you can't have a psychiatric disability that interferes with your ability to confidently perform it," points out Gartner. Individuals with NPD are notoriously bad at regulating their behavior or tailoring it to the situation at hand. "Every situation feels like a competition to win," explains Aaron Pincus, a professor of psychology at Penn State who researches pathological narcissism. "Every situation feels like a stage in which to show people that 'I'm superior, better, and they're going to admire me for it.'" As former Democratic Congressman Barney Frank describes his impression of Trump, "I have never seen anybody in public life so focused exclusively on the trivial aspects of his own persona. I certainly have never seen anything like it in a person with a lot of responsibility."
This makes narcissists particularly vulnerable to sycophants, or at least those who feed their narcissistic supply by telling them what they want to hear. Whether Steve Bannon actually is the evil mastermind he's been made out to be doesn't change the fact that even Republicans seem wary of Trump's susceptibility to him. Unelected officials gaining power through a destabilizing characteristic of a mental disorder is the sort of thing our political system was set up to combat. "It's a sign, actually, of how severely we need functioning parties," Wilentz says. "Because when they work, they are in fact a check on the emergence of this kind of character. You can't get where Trump is now in a functioning party system. It took this particular political crisis, which was a political crisis, to produce a president who has this trait. Normally, we can weed them out."
For many in the mental-health field, the most troubling aspect of Trump's personality is his loose grasp of fact and fiction. When narcissism veers into NPD, it can lead to delusions, an alternate reality where the narcissist remains on top despite clear evidence to the contrary. "He's extremely quick, like nanoseconds quick, to discern anything that could conceivably threaten his dominance," says biographer Gwenda Blair, who wrote The Trumps: Three Generations of Builders and a President. "He's on it. Anything that he senses – and he has very sharp senses – that could suggest that he is anything except 200 percent total winner, he's got to stomp it out immediately. So having those reports, for example, that he did not win the popular vote? He can't take that in. There has to be another explanation. It has to have been stolen. It has to have been some illegal voters. It can't be the case that he lost. That's not thinkable."
But having verifiable facts be "unthinkable" is, Dodes explains, "a serious impairment 
of what we call 'reality 
testing,' so it creates an obvious risk for somebody whose job it is to
 gather information and 
make decisions. It creates an inability to know 
where you have gone
 wrong because you can't 
let yourself self-correct
 by hearing contrary evidence." This is particularly true when the information is viewed as an ego blow, which goes a long way toward explaining Trump's first day in office, his blustering assertions of superiority, the speed with which he turns on former allies, and his selection of a wealthy and inexperienced Cabinet – a so-called narcissistic bubble from which anyone or anything that questions his dominance is ejected.
"When it comes to negative information about themselves, narcissists devalue it and they denigrate it and they don't accept it," says Pincus. "They'll push it away, they'll distort it, they'll blame it on somebody else, they'll lie about it, because they need to see that superior, ideal image of themselves, and they can't tolerate the idea that they have any flaws or imperfections or somebody else might be better than them at something." This not only means that Trump has no qualms about lying (a PolitiFact tally of candidates' statements during the 2016 campaign found that only 2.5 percent of the claims made by Trump were wholly true and that 78 percent were mostly false, false or "pants on fire"), but it also means that he will continue to cater to his minority base, which, Pincus continues, "happen to have his ear and tell him he's great. Then he's shocked when courts and states have a different opinion, and he has to denigrate the courts and the states rather than question his own position." It means that he will continually recast negative events in his favor: "All four corporate bankruptcies, were they a sign of failure for him during the debates?" asks Blair. "No, they were a sign he was smart." And he will continue to double-down on delusions, like having been wiretapped by Obama, despite all evidence to the contrary.
That's what concerns Wilentz. "We've had some very troubled presidents in our past, but their troubles are things like alcoholism, paranoia, you know, sort of garden-variety psychological maladies," he tells me. "This is different. This shows a dissociation from reality. We just haven't seen anything like this before." Gartner's take is even more pointed: "He's acting crazy, and he's mad that other people aren't seeing and believing what he's making up in his own head."
This dissociation from reality, paired with Trump's knee-jerk need to assert his dominance, has led many mental-health professionals to feel that, no matter what the specific diagnosis, the traits themselves are enough to render Trump unfit for office, and that a shrink's "duty to warn" overrides the Goldwater Rule in this instance. "Psychiatrically, this is the worst-case scenario," says Gartner. "If Trump were one step sicker, no one would listen to him. If he were wearing a tinfoil hat, if he were that grotesquely ill, he wouldn't be a threat. But instead, he's the most severe and toxic form of mental illness that can actually still function. I mean, in his first week in office, he threatened to invade Mexico, Iran and Chicago. And thank God someone finally stood up to Australia, you know? Glad someone had the balls to put them in their place."
Indeed, it was Gartner's fear that "Trump is truly someone who can start a war over Twitter" that led him to start a petition on January 26th that called on mental-health professionals to "Declare Trump Is Mentally Ill and Must Be Removed," invoking Section 4 of the 25th Amendment to the Constitution, which states that the president should be replaced if he is "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office." Gartner's petition currently has 40,947 signatures. Congresswoman Karen Bass' petition, #DiagnoseTrump, has 36,743.
Not that any of these petitions are likely to make a difference. In order for Section 4 to be invoked, Congress or the vice president along with a majority of Trump's handpicked Cabinet would have to call for his removal, which has never happened under any presidency. And even if Trump did something that warranted impeachment, 25 Republicans in the House would have to break ranks to pass the resolution on to the Senate, where two-thirds of that body would have to condemn him, meaning that no fewer than 19 Senate Republicans would need to vote in favor of an ouster. Many of those Republicans come from districts where #MAGA is practically gospel, meaning that these numbers are not just daunting, they're all but unthinkable.
On June 29th, 1999, Trump gave a eulogy at his father's funeral at Marble Collegiate Church in Manhattan. Others spoke of their memories of Fred Trump and his legacy as a man who had built solid, middle-class homes for thousands of New Yorkers. But his middle son, according to most accounts, used the time to talk about his own accomplishments and to make it clear that, in his mind, his father's best achievement was producing him, Donald.
Presidents unite nations under narratives of what they stand for, whether true or false. But a president with NPD would stand for nothing but himself, offering no narrative other than the "false self" he created. An NPD president would expect Americans to go along with his rhetoric and ignore that behind the self-aggrandizing, the unyielding drive for more and more confirmation of the myth of his own greatness, he may only have his own emptiness to offer. "'We're going to do this thing, it's going to be fantastic, amazing,'" Pincus paraphrases. "But there's no substance to what he says. How are you going to do that? How is that going to be achieved?"
The answer is we don't know. The White House leaks portray an angry man who wanted to become president, but never really wanted to be president. Trump may have stormed into the Oval Office poised to make sweeping changes, but unlike LBJ or Jackson or even Nixon, he doesn't have the political expertise or historical perspective to see the long game. The rumblings in Congress suggest widespread fears that Trump will view policy through the prism of pathology rather than in any rational, methodological, bipartisan way. So far, as Barney Frank points out, even with a Republican House and Senate, "Trump hasn't done very much." His immigration bans have been blocked, his budget has been ridiculed, and his rage against the GOP to repeal and replace Obamacare, or else (and with a plan that would take health care away from millions of Americans while making it more expensive for most of the rest of us), turned into nothing more than a game of chicken – which he lost – with House Republicans. "Trump's time horizon with regard to things that affect him appears to be about 13 minutes," Frank says. "There is an inverse relationship between people who are more focused on how things affect them personally than on public policy and their effectiveness in Congress. You can't work with those people."
If Trump does have NPD, and the setbacks to his agenda keep coming, his magical thinking about the limitlessness of his power will only continue to clash with reality, and many in the mental-health field believe that would only exacerbate the problem. "I think we're actually looking at a deteriorating situation," says Gartner. "I think he's going more crazy." As Dodes' letter to The New York Times states, Trump's attacks against "facts and those who convey them … are likely to increase, as his personal myth of greatness appears to be confirmed." Still, no matter how monumentally he fails in the next four years, says biographer Gwenda Blair, "there's no doubt he's going to think he's done a great job. That isn't even open to question." 
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The Rasmussen Reports daily Presidential Tracking Poll for Tuesday shows that 43% of Likely U.S. Voters approve of President Trump's job performance. Fifty-seven percent (57%) disapprove. The latest figures include 27% who Strongly Approve of the way ...

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Are Trump and Tillerson Letting Syria's Assad Off the Hook? - Newsweek

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Are Trump and Tillerson Letting Syria's Assad Off the Hook?
Syria-watchers, including members of the United States Senate, reacted critically to statements by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson and Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley about the Trump administration's position on the status of Syrian ...
McCain calls White House policy on Syria 'disgraceful chapter' in US historyPolitico
Conference on Syria overshadowed by chemical attackReuters
EU says Assad regime responsible for 'awful' Syria attackNews24
The Hill -Middle East Eye -Huffington Post
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Islamic State says US is "being run by an idiot" - Daily Mail

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Daily Mail

Islamic State says US is "being run by an idiot"
Daily Mail
The terror group addressed Trump for the first time since he assumed office; 'You are bankrupt and signs of your demise are evident to every eye... There is no more evidence than (that) you being run by an idiot,' an ISIS spokesman said; While it was ...

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ISIS Reacts to Trump's 'Idiot' Presidency In First Ever Official Comments - Newsweek

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ISIS Reacts to Trump's 'Idiot' Presidency In First Ever Official Comments
The Islamic State group, also known as ISIS, has criticized President Donald Trump, insulting his intelligence and political leadership in the global jihadist organization's first official comments on the leader since he took office earlier this year.
'Jihadi cool': How ISIS switched its recruitment and social media master planFox News
ISIS Says US 'Being Run By An Idiot'Huffington Post
ISIS calls President Trump “an idiot who does not know what Syria or Iraq or Islam is”Salon
New York Post -The Hill -Washington Times
all 37 news articles »

Islamic State calls US President Donald Trump an 'idiot' in new audio message

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The Islamic State of Iraq and Syria (ISIS) called the United States President Donald Trump an "idiot" in a new audio message released on Tuesday. The group reportedly used an Arabic term for Trump in the message which means "idiot," according to media reports.
This is seemingly the first time the jihadist group has directly referred to Trump since he formally assumed US Presidency in January. ISIS, which controls swathes of Iraq and Syria, is currently being targeted by a US-led coalition in Iraq.
The 36-minute audio message was released by the Islamic State spokesperson Abu Hasan al-Muhajir on Tuesday. The group's previous spokesperson Abu Muhammad al-Adnani was killed in an US airstrike in Syria last year, the Pentagon had said.
The ISIS also called the United States "bankrupt", and ruled by a "stupid idiot."
"The sign of your elimination are now clearer to everyone, as the most clear of signs is that you are now ruled by a stupid idiot who does not know what Sham and Iraq are, or what Islam is, who continues to express his hatred and war against," the message said. ISIS used the term 'Al-sham' to describe a region which includes Syria.
Other translations of the message replaced the word "idiot" with "riff raff" or "harebrained", according to NBC. Although the ISIS statement did not directly refer to Trump's travel ban on six Muslim-majority countries, the message however said the US President has expressed his "hatred and war" against Islam.
Trump has pledged to "totally obliterate ISIS" , and the White House in January had said the Trump adminstration is taking decisive steps to "defeat and destroy" the Islamic State.
"The United States must take decisive action, and the President is taking the necessary steps," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer had said.
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Islamic State Used Mosul Museum As...

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Islamic State reportedly releases first message targeting Trump

Fox News - ‎6 hours ago‎
The Islamic State reportedly released its first message targeting President Trump Tuesday, saying the U.S. has “drowned” and the country is “being run by an idiot.” "America you have drowned and there is no savior, and you have become prey for the ...

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IS calls Trump 'idiot' in message

Yahoo News - ‎5 hours ago‎
Washington, April 5 (IANS) The Islamic State (IS) terror group in a new audio released has used for US President Donald Trump an Arabic term that means "idiot" according to various translations, a media report said. The terror group also said that ...

ISIS Calls Trump 'Idiot' in First Message Addressing New President -

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ISIS Calls Trump 'Idiot' in First Message Addressing New President
The terror group ISIS in new audio released Tuesday called President Donald Trump an Arabic term that means "idiot" and said he doesn't know anything about Islam, according to various translations. It appears to be the first time the terror group has ...
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More About Felix Sater — the Problematical Friend Trump Forgot

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Note to Readers: Our recent 6,500-word exclusive on Donald Trump and Russia was, admittedly, long. But based on the tremendous response, you liked it a lot. We still weren’t able to fit in everything important, so in the coming days we’ll be publishing supplementary pieces with noteworthy material and additional reporting and analysis. Here is one such piece.
WhoWhatWhy’s March 27 exclusive on Donald Trump, the FBI, Russia, and the mob focused on several key figures. One was Felix Sater, a Trump associate and prized FBI informant. We delved into his criminal past, his company, Bayrock, and its work with the Trump Organization.
Sater was even more intimately involved with Trump and his fortunes than we initially realized. According to a sworn 2008 deposition in a suit Trump filed against the author Timothy O’Brien, the developer gave Sater’s company, Bayrock, an exclusive on all development deals in Russia.
Sater expanded on the point of how central their relationship was.
“It’s highly unlikely I’ve had conversations prior to the end of 2005 with almost any developer where I didn’t use my ‘Trump card’ — my ‘Trump card’ was what is my value added, my competitive advantage. My competitive advantage is anybody can come in and build a tower. [But] I can build a Trump Tower, because of my relationship with Trump.”
Sater had even proposed to take the Mar-a-Lago brand global, to pitch a “high-end resort situation.” He was going around the world selling Trump’s name while playing to Trump’s megalomaniacal instincts.
Because of his close relationship with Trump, understanding more about Sater may prove illuminating as the story continues to unfold. Let’s go back to the beginning for some background — as well as previously unreported information on figures at Sater’s first employer who later showed up in the recent Trump political orbit.

“The Shabby Side of the Street”

Felix Sater was born in 1966 in what was then the Soviet Union. Sater’s father, who had been born in Kiev, Ukraine — then a republic of the Soviet Union — moved the family to Israel when Sater was a child. In the 1970s, the Saters emigrated to the United States and joined the expanding enclave of Russian-speaking immigrants in Brooklyn.
Sater took some classes at Pace University, and from about the age of 20 he went to work at a series of brokerages, eventually landing at Gruntal & Co. in 1988.
By the 1980s, the once-staid Gruntal was known for its “anything goes” atmosphere on the “shabby side of the street,” where the emphasis was on volume of sales rather than profits for customers, and punctuated by charges of racial and sexual harassment — an “Island of Misfit Toys” where no one seemed in control.
Regulators nearly shut it down in 1995. “The culture at Gruntal was to push as much product as possible, whether the client makes money or not,” notes an unnamed former executive quoted in a 2003 Fortune profile of Gruntal by Richard Behar.
Despite its less-than-sterling reputation, a number of future well-known financiers cycled through Gruntal. The future billionaire “activist investor” Carl Icahn (now President Trump’s special adviser on regulatory reform) created the options department at the firm in the late 1960s before its reputation took a turn for the worse in the 1970s.

Another Fox in the Hen House

Here’s another Sater contemporary: Steven A. Cohen. He went to work for Gruntal straight out of college in 1978; Cohen became part of the options arbitrage department and was managing his own pool of funds by 1984, when he bragged about making $100,000 a day.
Cohen — who is invariably described as “secretive” — finally left Gruntal in 1993 to found SAC Capital Management, going on to run what again was referred to as “a highly secretive and stupendously successful” group of hedge funds worth $4 billion by 2003. He became one of the wealthiest men on Wall Street, despite a later years-long effort by US Attorney Preet Bharara to make a case against him for alleged criminal insider trading. He was never charged with a crime, though SAC agreed to pay $1.8 billion in fines.
We were intrigued by the connections between Kevin J. O’Connor and Cohen. Trump brought O’Connor, formerly Number 3 in George W. Bush’s Department of Justice (DOJ), onto his transition team to help oversee DOJ picks. He had worked for Trump supporter Rudy Giuliani’s law firm, Bracewell & Giuliani, and then, in 2015, began serving as Cohen’s own general counsel — a position he continued to hold during his transition advisory role about DOJ.
With Cohen having cut a deal in 2013 with the DOJ, and with Trump bringing in Cohen’s guy for advice on picking prosecutors and then firing Cohen’s nemesis Bharara, it seems clear who has — thus far — won.

Stephen Feinberg, Also in Trump’s Ear

Another previously unreported connection between Sater and Trump World is Gruntal alum Stephen Feinberg, who also worked at the firm at the same time as Sater. Feinberg joined Gruntal in 1985 and left in 1992, when he co-founded Cerberus Capital Management. This extremely successful private equity firm is deeply involved with outside contracts in military and intelligence work. As Bloomberg noted, “Feinberg has bought companies that refuel spy planes, train Green Berets, make sniper rifles and watch America’s foes from space.”
By 2017, Feinberg was worth about $1.2 billion, according to Forbesand Cerberus managed over $30 billion in assets. Feinberg, one of Trump’s largest campaign contributors, was a member of the economic advisory team during the transition, and early on he was tapped by Trump to lead a review of intelligence agencies, with the backing of advisors Steve Bannon and Jared Kushner, it was reported. That plan was later walked back; no reporting on the topic mentioned a possible connection to Felix Sater.
(Neither Cohen nor Feinberg could immediately be found in the broker-listing database maintained by the Financial Industry Regulatory Authority [FINRA], at Gruntal or elsewhere; standard biographies indicate that both Cohen and Feinberg “managed” funds at Gruntal, thus precluding their need to be registered as brokers. However, in a 2003 Bloomberg Businessweek profile, a former boss notes that Cohen made $8,000 profit there “his very first day.”)

A Cutting Remark

Late in 1991, Sater was at a chic upper East Side restaurant-bar with Salvatore Lauria, a friend from Gruntal, celebrating Lauria’s success at passing the brokerage exam. (Lauria had been trading quite successfully, but illegally, before he passed his exam, apparently a not-uncommon practice at Gruntal, according to The Scorpion and the Frog, by Lauria and journalist David S. Barry.)
According to Lauria, Sater flew into a sudden rage at comments made by a man at the bar about a woman, in a scene to which he would remain forever tied. He smashed a martini glass on the bar and shoved its stem into the man’s face, severing a nerve, resulting in injuries that required more than 100 stitches.
For that crime, Sater not only spent a year in jail, but the National Association of Securities Dealers barred him for life from working as a broker or otherwise associating with firms that sell securities to the public.
Yet by 1994, Sater, Lauria, Gennady Klotsman, and another Gruntal trader controlled the brokerage White Rock Partners and Company, which in 1995 changed its name to State Street Capital Markets Corporation. They brought in a number of traders who had worked at Gruntal as well as other, mobbed-up brokerages, including members and associates of four of the five major New York City organized crime families, such as the nephew of mobster Carmine “the Snake” Persico and the brother-in-law of Gambino hit man Sammy “the Bull” Gravano. Klotsman, like Sater, had been born in the Soviet Union and was connected to the Russian mob.
White Rock existed only to defraud its customers. For the few years it was in existence, its illegal profits reached an astounding $40 million to $60 million and it fleeced thousands (some of whom were Holocaust survivors). The scams centered around “pump and dump” schemes: artificially inflating the price of stocks, selling them to unsophisticated, often elderly, buyers — usually through cold calls and using high-pressure tactics — and then walking away with the commission.
It did so by gaining control of certain “house stocks” and then hiking their prices through various illegal schemes, including paying off complicit brokerages to sell them, and then aggressively selling those stocks. There were also phony investment opportunities in companies whose shares White Rock insiders and other associates secretly controlled. Barred, unregistered, and non-compliant brokers, and brokers with long histories of complaints also found a home at White Rock. The principals then laundered the funds.
One of White Rock/State Street’s scams was a phony investment scheme for a casino in Colorado near Black Hawk, about an hour west of Denver, associated with Country World Casinos, an over-the-counter stock based in Pennsylvania. State Street and affiliated brokerages touted the stock, while complicated shell companies shuffled the funds back to the principals.
In 1999, Country World roped in Max Baer, Jr., who played “Jethro” on “The Beverly Hillbillies,” in an agreement to create “Jethro’s Beverly Hillbillies Mansion and Casino;” Baer had long nurtured hopes of founding a chain of casinos after he had secured a licence to use the Beverly Hillbillies name. The casino never happened, of course.
Another company, Holly Products, bought a small electronics manufacturer and moved it to a Navajo reservation near Shiprock, New Mexico; tribal officials contributed the collateral so that the company could obtain a loan to renovate a manufacturing site there. The tribe lost the collateral — $600,000 — when the factory closed. Frank Coppa Sr., identified by the government as a captain of the Bonanno organized crime family, owned Holly Products.
Semion Mogilevich
Alleged Russian organized crime boss Semion Mogilevich.
Photo credit: Mark Nilstein / Getty Images
White Rock’s rise very much coincides with the arrival in the US in 1992 of Vyacheslav “Yaponchik” Ivankov, an associate of Russian boss Semion Mogilevich. Ivankov promptly went to work brutally organizing the Russian mob in the US. Soon he launched a number of complicated large-scale money laundering operations. When the Feds finally tracked Ivankov down (after he skipped out of his Trump Tower pad and abandoned his haunts at the Trump Taj Mahal in Atlantic City), the Feds arrested him in an early morning raid in Brooklyn in 1995.
By 1996, the Feds had begun to close in on State Street. According to court documents, State Street stopped operating that year, and Sater and Lauria left the country. Eventually, Sater, Lauria, and Klotsman signed agreements to serve as “cooperating witnesses” against the 19 other defendants; Sater signed his agreement in December 1998.
Sater never served any time, nor was he forced to pay any restitution to his victims, as his cooperation agreement mandated: $60 million. Just a few years later, Sater was working at the real estate firm Bayrock, in Trump Tower, a floor below the Trump Organization, making deals with Donald Trump himself.
A request to Sater’s attorney for an interview received no reply by publication time.

Related front page panorama photo credit: Adapted by WhoWhatWhy from Felix Sater (Mark Von Holden / WireImage), Sater Business card (Boing Boing – CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) and Trump Soho (Juan Ramos / Flickr – CC BY-NC 2.0).

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Why FBI Can’t Tell All on Trump, Russia

Why FBI Can’t Tell All on Trump, Russia

The FBI cannot tell us what we need to know about Trump's contacts with Russia. Why? Because doing so would jeopardize a long-running, ultra-sensitive operation targeting mobsters tied to Putin — and to Trump. But the Feds’ stonewalling risks something far more dangerous: Failing to resolve a crisis of trust…
March 27, 2017
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Mobbed Up: Is Trump as Clean as He Claims?

Mobbed Up: Is Trump as Clean as He Claims?

Here is a primer on Donald Trump’s relationship with Felix Sater and others with connections to the mob. The perfect video to watch before or after reading the WhoWhatWhy exposé on the president’s Russia connections.
March 30, 2017
In "Video"
Behind-the-Scenes Interview on Exclusive Trump-Russia-FBI Story

Behind-the-Scenes Interview on Exclusive Trump-Russia-FBI Story

WhoWhatWhy’s investigation of how the FBI may not be in a position to reveal all it knows about Donald Trump’s Russia connections caused quite a splash. Find out why it matters and get a behind-the-scenes look in this interview with two of the story’s authors.
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In "Podcast"


Read the whole story
· · · · · · · · · · ·

Trump Gives Military New Freedom. But With That Comes Danger.

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Beyond that, many foreign policy experts point out that giving the military freedom over short-term tactics like raids and strikes means little without a long-term strategy for the region, including what will happen after the Islamic State is routed, as the Pentagon expects, from Iraq and Syria.
“Moving decision-making on small tactical issues from the White House to commanders in the field is positive, but commanders’ autonomy doesn’t help accomplish strategic goals,” said Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East Program for the Center for Strategic and International Studies.
During the Obama administration, the military had to follow standards set by the president in 2013 to carry out airstrikes or ground raids in countries like Somalia, where the United States was not officially at war. Those rules required that a target had to pose a threat to Americans and that there be near certainty that no civilian bystanders would die. Under the Trump administration’s new rules, some civilian deaths are now permitted in much of Somalia and parts of Yemen if regional American commanders deemed the military action necessary and proportionate.
The Obama administration process frustrated many in the military.
First there was the initial proposal from the Pentagon. From there it went to a policy coordinating committee, composed of lower-level officials from the Pentagon, State Department and White House, who reviewed the proposal’s every aspect. Defense officials likened the process to a subcommittee review of a bill on Capitol Hill.
If the proposal cleared the policy committee, it then went to the National Security Council’s deputies committee, composed of middle-level White House, State Department and Pentagon staff members, who in turn decided if they would kick it up to their cabinet-level bosses, among them President Barack Obama’s national security adviser, Susan E. Rice, who often sent proposals back with multiple questions.
Finally, the full National Security Council — with the president in attendance — met on the proposal. At that point, Mr. Obama often had his own questions to ask.
“We had limiting principles that applied to everything,” recalled Ben Rhodes, Mr. Obama’s deputy national security adviser. “What were the risks to civilians on the ground? American service members? Overall national security interests?”
Sometimes the arguments over proposed military strikes went in circles. Derek Chollet, an assistant defense secretary during the Obama administration, recalled the debate about whether to provide lethal or nonlethal aid to the Ukrainian military after Russia annexed Crimea in 2014. Wary of signaling a deeper American commitment to the war effort in Ukraine, which would most likely be viewed as a hostile move by Russia, the administration, after extended debate, decided it would send only “nonlethal” aid — clothes, food, medicine — to the Ukrainian military.
Officials even made sure not to send the aid in American military planes, for fear that television coverage of the planes landing at the airport in Kiev would be “escalatory,” Mr. Chollet recalled.
“There was endless deliberation,” he said in an interview. “Then, lo and behold, at the Kiev airport, there were two gigantic U.S. Air Force C-17s” — an easily recognizable American military transport aircraft — on hand for a trip to plan an upcoming visit by Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., making a mockery of all the careful planning.
Fast forward to now. In the Trump administration, so far there have been few, if any, meetings of the policy coordinating committee, in large part because there are still vacancies across the government. Lt. Gen. H. R. McMaster, the national security adviser, is still building up his staff after Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser, Michael T. Flynn, was fired in February. In the Eisenhower Executive Office Building, home to the National Security Council staff, it remains eerily quiet, and many nameplates next to office doors are empty.
Sheik Jamal al-Dhari, leader of the Iraqi Sunni tribe al-Zoba, said on Tuesday in Washington that he had been in the city for 10 days but had not been able to meet with anyone in the Trump administration to talk about what will happen in Iraq after the fight against the Islamic State is over. So he has focused his trip on visiting House and Senate leaders on Capitol Hill. “Obviously it would be better to have meetings with the N.S.C.,” he told reporters. “But maybe during my next visit.”
In the meantime, General McMaster, a former military commander in both Iraq and Afghanistan, has indicated that he wants to push more decision-making authority to the Pentagon, although associates say he understands the limits and perils of military force.
Adm. James G. Stavridis, a former NATO commander who is now retired from the military, said it was unclear whether the new Trump rules would be effective.
“It is simply too early to make a judgment about whether they will go too far and end up conducting impulsive operations, or whether they will manage to find the sweet spot between excessive caution but also following the idea that fortune so often favors the bold in military operations,” he said.
Other analysts say Mr. Trump’s new command style is already coming into focus.
“Obama was cautious, he was analytical, he always wanted to see all the sides of the story before he took any action — possibly to a fault,” said David Rothkopf, the chief executive and editor of the Foreign Policy Group and the author of “Running the World: The Inside Story of the National Security Council and the Architects of American Power.”
“I think Trump is the opposite of all those things,” Mr. Rothkopf said. “Also to a fault.”
Continue reading the main story
Read the whole story
· · · ·

The WhatsApp Chat That Nails Putin’s Mafia State

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New evidence in the so-called Magnitsky Affair shows the rot at the core of the Russian regime.
It was a digital conversation never intended for public consumption. Yet what it discloses is nothing short of damning evidence about a decade-old conspiracy between the Russian mob and officials in Vladimir Putin’s government to steal $230 million from the Russian people, then frame and kill the whistleblowing tax attorney who uncovered the crime.
But here it is: Evidence that leaves little room for doubt that Sergei Magnitsky, the murdered lawyer, was right all along. There was collusion between members of organized crime and the Russian government to perpetrate the original theft and then cover it up. In fact, the cover-up continued years after Magnitsky’s violent end in pretrial detention, where he was beaten to death.
To understand the evidence and its import—the extent to which it exposes the rot at the core of the Russian system run by Vladimir Putin—it’s necessary to revisit the admittedly complicated details of the conspiracy, at least as they have been corroborated by the U.S. Congress, the U.S. Department of Justice (PDF), and the European Parliament, all of which have upheld Magnitsky’s findings—even if his own government has not.
In June 2007, officers of the Russian Interior Ministry raided two offices in Moscow. The first belonged to Hermitage Capital, then the largest investment vehicle in the Russian Federation; the second was Hermitage’s law firm Firestone Duncan. The officers seized stamps and certificates for three subsidiaries belonging to the firm. In effect, with those bits of rubber, ink, and paper, they purloined those three companies, although no one knew it at the time.
Months later, Hermitage received a phone call from a St. Petersburg court informing it that it was liable for hundreds of millions of dollars in judgments levied against those same three stolen companies. At which point, Hermitage hired a young tax attorney at Firestone, Sergei Magnitsky, to find out what had happened.
He discovered that the documents seized by the Interior Ministry were actually used to re-register the Hermitage subsidiaries in three jurisdictions all over Russia and that a lawyer named Andrey Pavlov turned up in concurrent civil court cases representing the companies. Pavlov, who in another instance also represented the plaintiff company, pleaded guilty in the cases, costing the purloined subsidiaries more than $1 billion in phony liabilities. The subsidiaries then sought a collective tax refund for $230 million, citing losses from the previous tax year as a result of the liabilities. The entire refund was processed in 24 hours on Christmas Eve 2007.
This is the kind of thing that may sound complicated at first glance, but is quite easy to arrange if a government and a criminal enterprise are colluding.
When some of the details were exposed, the European Parliament sanctioned Pavlov as a member of the transnational Russian organized crime syndicate known as the Klyuev Group, headed by ex-convict Dmitry Klyuev. Members of this mafia, according to the U.S. government, include the very Interior Ministry policemen who raided Hermitage and its law firm, as well as the tax officials who processed the $230 million refund, and members of other law enforcement bodies assigned with investigating the fraud.
To date, no one credibly implicated in the conspiracy has been brought to book in Russia. Many members of the Klyuev Group have been awarded state honors or given promotions or reassigned or have taken early retirement.
Magnitsky, meanwhile, was arrested on charges of tax evasion, then blamed for the conspiracy he uncovered, then denied urgent medical care in pretrial detention, then beaten to death in an isolation cell in Moscow, as the Russian Presidential Human Rights Commission concluded in a summarily ignored post-mortem.
In the last several years, much of the $230 million—which, again, was taken not from Hermitage Capital but from Russian public coffers and therefore Russian taxpayers—has been located in a host of foreign bank accounts and real-estate markets, including that of Manhattan where an ongoing and increasingly surreal federal money-laundering case is being prosecuted by the U.S. Southern District of New York, until recently the demesne of Preet Bharara.
Key witnesses involved in the Magnitsky affair have gone silent. One Western government informant was poisoned in England. The lawyer representing the Magnitsky family mysteriously fell (or was pushed) out of his fourth-floor apartment building in Moscow a day before he was due to testify in Russian court about the latest developments in the case.
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Pavlov is not one of them. But Oleg Urzhumtsev, a senior Russian Interior Ministry official who allegedly helped orchestrate the Magnitsky affair, is. He left his government job in or around 2011, a few years after having investigated the tax fraud and questioned Pavlov (whom he did not charge with any crime) and after he signed decrees that shifted blame for the crime onto Magnitsky himself.
Which makes it all the more interesting that in a tranche of hacked and publicly leaked emails belonging to Pavlov, the alleged consigliere is shown conversing with Urzhumtsev in 2013 (six years after the original crime) and giving him instructions as to how to retroactively exonerate the Klyuev Group.
Pavlov confirmed the authenticity of the emails in a legal complaint he filed in Moscow to try and prevent independent newspaper Novaya Gazeta from publishing them. They contain several days’ worth of WhatsApp communications between the consigliere and the ex-Interior Ministry official, which go a long way toward vindicating Magnitsky’s gumshoe exposé.
On Feb. 18, 2013, Andrey Pavlov messages his friend Oleg Urzhumtsev on the encrypted platform WhatsApp: “I have a very serious and important matter for you. Baldy told me that I should assign it to you.” Baldy here appears to refer to the glabrous Dmitry Kluyev. And the task is to tamper with state evidence in order to exonerate the Klyuev Group from any criminal activity. It entails commissioning a fake forensic “study” to demonstrate that the three Hermitage seals stolen by the Interior Ministry in 2007 did not match those used in Pavlov’s civil cases. If they didn’t, after all, the Klyuev Group can’t have been guilty of any financial fraud.
Gaining access to the confiscated seals, however, means navigating various competitive arms of Russian law enforcement including the courts, the sub-agencies and departments within the Interior Ministry, and the Investigative Committee. And that in turn means seconding a series of “small bosses,” or mid-level officials, who might not be so willing to grant such access for an elaborate and unlawful scheme.
What follows is a revealing five-day dialogue between Pavlov and Urzhumtsev, chronicling, often in colorful language, every vicissitude of their project to rewrite their own criminal histories.
On Feb. 18, Pavlov messages Urzhumtsev to tell him that all three seals are in an evidence box with the Russian Interior Ministry’s Department for the Central Federal District. “The documents are with the court in [St. Petersburg], as I remember you were the one who had seized them.” Urzhumtsev, now out of a job at the Interior Ministry, nonetheless replies that he thinks he can arrange for the study to be commissioned using active officers in the ministry, but that he isn’t quite sure how to get hold of the seals from the Central District.
Later that day, he appears to have figured out a way. He tells Pavlov that he has tasked someone called “the Cossack”—an epithet used in the exchange to refer to an unidentified officer in the Interior Ministry’s Organized Crime and Corruption Investigations Department—with overseeing the request for access and the photocopying of the seals.
Pavlov thanks Urzhumtsev for sorting out the scheme. “I’ve always known that if you want, you can kick the brains out of anyone. :) Thank you!”
Urzhumtsev affirms that he is “coaching” the Cossack on how to handle everything.
After a 48-hour delay, Pavlov expresses his frustration that even if the bogus study is successfully commissioned, Magnitsky family lawyer Nikolai Gorokhov and Hermitage Fund lawyer Alexander Antipov “have to be notified of it” and “it would be a clusterfuck.” No doubt this is because Gorokhov and Antipov would be in positions to examine and scrutinize this newly minted expert analysis and possibly discredit it.
Later, on Feb. 21, Urzhumtsev confirms that the Cossack “will come by in the morning, and will sign all the documents.”
Pavlov replies: “Oleg, you are saving me :). I owe you!”
The following day, Feb. 22., Urzhumtsev tells Pavlov that he spent the entire night composing “the full set of documents” for the Cossack required to gain access to the evidence box.
Later that day, Urzhumtsev confirms to Pavlov that “the full set of documents for the study is with Vityok,” referring, evidently, to the Interior Ministry officer overseeing the study. “The only thing, I haven’t had a chance to identify for him the objective for the study. But I think it could wait until [Monday.]” Pavlov replies: “He knows the objective, I told him, but it should be repeated,” thereby acknowledging that the conclusion of study has been predetermined.
The timing of the WhatsApp conversation, the transcript of which Pavlov emailed to himself, is also telling. It occurred exactly a month before Russia’s FBI-like Investigative Committee not only shuttered its case into the death of Magnitsky in custody, citing a “lack of crime,” but also charged the slain lawyer posthumously with perpetrating the very fraud he uncovered. Other Russian state officials, including judges and Interior Ministry officers now under U.S. sanctions for their role in the Magnitsky affair, are also referenced in Pavlov and Urzhumtsev’s discussion.
Even more disturbing is the allusion to Magnitsky family attorney Nikolai Gorokhov, who was either defenestrated or suffered an unfortunate and ill-timed accident on March 21 this year, a day before he was due to appear before the Moscow City Appeals Court to argue on behalf of a complaint filed by Magnitsky’s mother.
That complaint was to overturn a previous court ruling that Pavlov’s leaked emails, and this WhatsApp conversation in particular, didn’t constitute grounds to reopen the criminal investigation into her son’s suspicious death.
In an interview with Pavlov published last week in Novaya Gazetathe outlet he has unsuccessfully tried to prevent from publishing his hacked emails, Pavlov told the newspaper: “But what do you see in [the WhatApp messages]? That both a lawyer and an investigator do know each other and discuss criminal cases? I see that some people are collecting material for the criminal case. Here is the most important question: was the expertise falsified or did someone just want it to be held?”
This quaint interpretation obviously elides the prima facie evidence demonstrated in the conversation: Pavlov, a former subject of a state investigation into the fraud against Hermitage, is asking Urzhumtsev, a former state official tasked with investigating that fraud—and therefore Pavlov, whom he interviewed and then exonerated as part of that investigation—to interfere with an existing case file four weeks before that case was definitively closed. No court in the world would deem this an innocent colloquy between “a lawyer and an investigator.” Novaya Gazeta remarked that during the course of the interview, Pavlov seemed to be offering the newspaper “a proposal to abandon the story of his emails in exchange for some valuable documents.”
What the WhatsApp conversation constitutes is hard documentary proof that Sergei Magnitsky died for being correct. He exposed a sophisticated and cynical swindle by the mafia state Vladimir Putin has spent close to two decades constructing and protecting.
The conversation also shows that Western legislatures, facing a fierce lobbying campaign by agents of the Kremlin and pushback from bureaucracies in their own governments, have been right to honor Magnitsky’s memory by blacklisting the crooks, thieves, and thugs responsible for bleeding their country dry while terminating this patriotic lawyer to save their own hides.
Read the whole story
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He told us who he was: The L.A. Times discovers Donald Trump’s vileness — why was any of it a surprise?

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To great acclaim and praise, the Los Angeles Times has made a great discovery. In the opening salvo of a four-part series of essays about Donald Trump, the paper’s editorial board made the following pronouncement:
It was no secret during the campaign that Donald Trump was a narcissist and a demagogue who used fear and dishonesty to appeal to the worst in American voters. The Times called him unprepared and unsuited for the job he was seeking, and said his election would be a “catastrophe.”
Still, nothing prepared us for the magnitude of this train wreck. Like millions of other Americans, we clung to a slim hope that the new president would turn out to be all noise and bluster, or that the people around him in the White House would act as a check on his worst instincts, or that he would be sobered and transformed by the awesome responsibilities of office.
Instead, seventy-some days in — and with about 1,400 to go before his term is completed — it is increasingly clear that those hopes were misplaced.
It would seem that the editorial board of the Los Angeles Times has finally found its spine. But alas, this is all too little and much too late. One must wonder — and this is true not just of one newspaper but of the American news media in total — how could Donald Trump’s behavior as president possibly be surprising?
Past behavior is an excellent predictor of future behavior. Donald Trump has shown himself to be a neo-fascist, a professed sexual abuser and adulterer who boasts of grabbing unsuspecting women’s genitals. He is proudly ignorant and does not read books. He is a bully. He may be a clinical narcissist. He has surrounded himself with white supremacists and encouraged violence against his political opponents. He is a bigot and a racist. He has open disdain for democracy, admires autocrats and dictators, and asked a hostile foreign power to intervene in the 2016 presidential election to help his cause. He is a serial liar who has bragged about being able to kill people in the street without consequences. He has publicly discussed how he finds his daughter sexually desirable. He has cheated contractors and employees. He curries the favor of criminals and members of organized crime. He publicly encouraged a lynching of the five (innocent) black and Latino men known as the Central Park Five, and is beloved by white supremacists and neo-Nazis.
Donald Trump is 70 years old. He is unlikely to change. This is who Trump is as president of the United States. This is who he showed himself to be during his many years in public life before taking the oath of office in January.
Why is Donald Trump’s behavior as president at all surprising? 
Perhaps the Los Angeles Times did not hear the alarms sounded by political commentators and analysts such as Matt Taibbi, Henry Giroux, Charles Pierce, Charles Blow, Joan Walsh, Chris Hedges, Michael Moore and Amy Goodman about the impending doom that would be a Donald Trump presidency? Maybe those who are somehow shocked by the unapologetic and grand vileness of Donald Trump’s presidency did not read the many essays and columns warning of that fact either in the foreign press or at places like Alternet, Truthout, Common Dreams, the Atlantic and Salon? Even more worrisome, perhaps the Los Angeles Times did not take its own writing about Donald Trump as a presidential candidate seriously.
The use of the words “us” and “we” in the Los Angeles Times’ recent editorial are very important. They signal to how the Times, like too many other parts of the “mainstream” or “elite” news media were willfully blind and deaf to those others — people of color, women, Muslims, gays and lesbians, and members of other communities — who immediately recognized the clear and present danger to the United States embodied by Donald Trump and the revanchist reactionary Republican Party he represents.
Again, why is Donald Trump’s behavior as president at all surprising? 
There remains the forensic question: how did the Los Angeles Times and the American news media as a whole get the threat posed by Donald Trump so wrong? There are several answers. None of them are comforting for what they suggest about the health of the fourth estate in the United States.
Donald Trump was good for business. The American news media gave him at least $5 billion in free coverage during the 2016 presidential campaign.
The American news media chose to focus on personality related issues, downplayed Trump’s lies and demonstrated incompetence, minimized Trump’s connections to Vladimir Putin, and magnified non-stories such as Hillary Clinton’s emails in order to maintain the appearance of “fairness” and “balance”. These obsessions gave Donald Trump an advantage.
The American news media created narratives that were in search of facts, such as that Trump’s rise was not driven by racism and nativism but instead by the economic anxiety of the “white working class.”
The American news media was lazy. It relied on old scripts and expectations that Trump would ultimately “pivot” back to the “mainstream” and become “presidential.” Donald Trump has utter contempt and disregard for such norms. He is a performance artist, con man and “postmodern” political personality for the age of reality TV, social media and the internet. By comparison, the traditional American news media were using telegrams and mimeograph machines — and still are.
As a social and political institution, the modern American corporate news media helps to set the national agenda. To that end, its leading figures are affluent and influential. And in that role they are committed to a certain reality and set of habits and expectations. The more it became clear that Trump was manipulating those rules to his advantage, the more the corporate news media desperately clung to them.
Linguist and media scholar Noam Chomsky described the news media’s relationship to power in 1997 in his essay “What Makes Mainstream Media Mainstream”:
Okay, you look at the structure of that whole system. What do you expect the news to be like? Well, it’s pretty obvious. Take the New York Times. It’s a corporation and sells a product. The product is audiences. They don’t make money when you buy the newspaper. They are happy to put it on the worldwide web for free. They actually lose money when you buy the newspaper. But the audience is the product. The product is privileged people, just like the people who are writing the newspapers, you know, top-level decision-making people in society. You have to sell a product to a market, and the market is, of course, advertisers (that is, other businesses). Whether it is television or newspapers, or whatever, they are selling audiences. Corporations sell audiences to other corporations. In the case of the elite media, it’s big businesses.
Well, what do you expect to happen? What would you predict about the nature of the media product, given that set of circumstances? What would be the null hypothesis, the kind of conjecture that you’d make assuming nothing further. The obvious assumption is that the product of the media, what appears, what doesn’t appear, the way it is slanted, will reflect the interest of the buyers and sellers, the institutions, and the power systems that are around them. If that wouldn’t happen, it would be kind of a miracle.
In all, the American corporate news media gave Donald Trump, the political arsonist, a can of gasoline and a box of matches. They then act shocked when he burns down an orphanage.
Donald Trump is one of the greatest villains in American life. In that role, he is transparent and direct. Most importantly, Donald Trump has done nothing which he did not already promise to do during the 2016 presidential race: There is nothing subtle about his mendacity or his plans for America and the world. To be surprised or shocked by Donald Trump is to admit that you played yourself for a fool.

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