Trump, Comey, & the crisis in the US ruling class

May 12, 2017

It is not necessary to have any illusions in the role of the FBI or to believe conspiracy theories about the 2016 election, to recognize that Trump's firing of James Comey is part of a dangerous power grab by the executive branch and that the US ruling class is now in the middle of its biggest internal crisis since Watergate. --PG

Follow Critical Reading on Twitter: @CriticalReading. Subscribe to Critical Reading's public updates on Facebook.

Comey Affair Sign of a Fractured American State
The Real News Network

May 10, 2017

Historian Gerald Horne and Paul Jay dig deeper into Trump's firing of FBI Director James Comey and the forces driving great divisions in the elites, the political class and the state apparatus

Dr. Gerald Horne holds the John J. and Rebecca Moores Chair of History and African American Studies at the University of Houston. His research has addressed issues of racism in a variety of relations involving labor, politics, civil rights, international relations and war. Dr. Horne has also written extensively about the film industry. His latest book is The Counter-Revolution of 1776: Slave Resistance and the Origins of the United States of America. Dr. Horne received his Ph.D. in history from Columbia University and his J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley and his B.A. from Princeton University.

TRANSCRIPT

PAUL JAY: Welcome to The Real News Network. I'm Paul Jay in Baltimore.

According to the New York Times on Tuesday evening, Rod Rosenstein, the Deputy Attorney General of the United States, writes a memo to the President of the United States, Donald Trump of course, recommending the firing of James Comey, the Head of the FBI. This is over the way he handled the Clinton emails during the election campaign. Donald Trump has said that Comey was no longer able to lead the FBI, that he had lost the confidence of the Democratic party and the Republican party, and that was it for James Comey.

Now joining us to talk about the significance of this Comey firing, because in my mind this is the tip of an iceberg where many, many forces are fighting and playing out a great struggle that's taking place amongst the American elites, a struggle that includes geopolitics, that includes partisan politics in DC, and sometimes even just personal feuds.

So again, now joining us to talk about this is Gerald Horne. Gerald teaches at the University of Houston in Texas. I'm sorry, University of Texas in Houston. He now joins us from Chapel Hill, North Carolina. Thanks for joining us, Gerald.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you for inviting me.

PAUL JAY: I was saying in a staff meeting earlier, analyzing what's going on here is like analyzing a game of multi-dimensional chess. There are so many different chess games going on at the same time. You've got the geopolitical struggle of the United States and Russia and particularly that being driven by the industrial military complex, and people like John McCain who are spokesmen for that who need this big, aggressive, in their terms aggressive at any rate, enemy to justify billions of dollars, a trillion dollar military budget and so on. You've got the Democratic party leadership, much of whom are in bed with the industrial military complex and want the same kind of scenario. They need a big, bad Russia to fight.

But also on just straight partisan politics have found this Comey affair a great way to draw blood on Trump and the whole, of course, the Russia affair and the election interference. We're going to try to dig into all of this with Gerald, but let me just start with one thing, which I've said before on The Real News. If you look at the Russian interference, if there actually was such a thing ... They still deny it and I don't know how much real evidence has been put forward publicly about this. Not so much. But on the face of it if Russia did what they say they did then what it meant is they hacked into the DNC and to Clinton and Podesta emails and gave this stuff to Wikileaks.

Because of all that we found out how corrupt the DNC was and how much the DNC had interfered in the primary with Bernie Sanders. We found out other things. I wouldn't want to list it all now, but much of it's stuff that was quite important in the public domain to know. So even if the Russians were trying to hurt Clinton, what's the bigger crime here? The DNC deliberately undermining Bernie Sanders's campaign or what the Russians did? I mean, let's start with that Gerald, and then we'll start to kind of dig into the rest of it.

GERALD HORNE: Well, there's so many issues involved with that particular issue. First of all, the firm that was hired by the DNC to investigate the alleged hacking of the emails of John Podesta, a high ranking official in the Clinton election team, this firm CrowdStrike is not necessarily renowned for its competence. For various reasons that perhaps we can get into later, the DNC was not able to get the FBI to investigate this and so there are questions still looming and hanging out there with regard to whether or not there were Russian digital fingerprints on the Podesta email hack. Then there's the question of so called fake news. That is to say that the Russians or individual Russians flooded the United States with fake news stories favoring Donald J. Trump.

Now, if the New York Times journalists would read their own newspaper they could go back for a few months and read the story about how a good deal of the fake news stories actually came out of Macedonia. That is to say not Greek Macedonia, but the former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia. It was a commercial enterprise, and so far as to begin with, according to the New York Times, these fake news stories were targeting Clinton and Trump alike. They discovered in Macedonia that stories targeting Clinton actually got more clicks and therefore generated more revenue, and so therefore they started flooding the internet with more stories with regard to Clinton. That speaks to the question of how the Trump base is more maniacal than the so called Clinton base. Not only that, they have more money so they can waste money on click bait. Now, that's the story that should be pursued that is not being pursued.

PAUL JAY: Again, if in fact the DNC hack, which was the one that raised the issues in the first place in the campaign ... There's been so little in the press made. Of course, the Democratic party leadership don't want to make the issue, but it was about ... The most important thing was how corrupt the DNC was, how they weren't following their own rules and guidelines on impartiality in the primary. Whether it was Schultz or Donna Brazile, these are far more grave than releasing this information. I mean, the point they're trying to get at here in terms of the investigations is was there some direct connivance between the Trump campaign and the Russians on this. But I would have thought it's far more serious what the DNC did.

Now, all that being said it seems to me there's like two buckets here one can examine. One bucket is the way the Democrats are making such an issue out of the Comey firing because it's in their partisan interest, when as it's been said on much of the corporate media these days they were the ones calling for Comey's head not very long ago. But there's one bucket on the interference in the elections, and that's good for propaganda value for the Democratic party. But the other bucket is the myriad of financial connections Trump actually does have with Russian oligarchs and much of that could lead to some kind of corruption and/or blackmail and/or pressure or other things on the Trump administration. It's not like the Russian connection has no foundation that people should be concerned about.

GERALD HORNE: Well, certainly there are many aspects of the Trump-Russia connection that are worthy of investigation. First of all there are stories already that have been published concerning properties owned by Mr. Trump in south Florida that were sold to Russian interests for 100% profit or more at the same time that similar properties in that region were not sold for so handsome a profit. Then there's the question of Russian oligarchs buying condos in Trump properties and paying a pretty penny for same. Then there's stories about one of Mr. Trump's sons talking off the cuff about Russian capital flooding into Trump golf courses.

Now, all of this is worthy of investigation and I dare say that one of the reasons why Mr. Comey was fired was not only because he was asking for more resources to investigate this kind of connection, but also it's fair to say that the Senate and House Committees have not been sufficiently staffed. That is to say certainly they have not been staffed to the same extent as the so called Benghazi Committee that investigated Secretary Clinton last year. In any case, there is a question as to whether or not the Senate and House staff are competent to investigate what the FBI was doing. That is to say the FBI was conducting a counter-espionage investigation, which is a particular kind of expertise, and apparently there's not staff in Congress that is competent to do so.

So it's possible that by firing Mr. Comey after he asked for more resources, Mr. Trump might have staved off at least for the time being a deeper investigation into all of these very questionable connections between himself and Moscow. This is all the more the case given the fact that Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate Republican leader, has already said that he is opposed to an idea of a special prosecutor independent council to look into this very suspicious circumstance of Trump and Russia. So for the time being Mr. Trump seemingly has attained a victory. But I think I must say that what concerns me among other things is the fact that many Republicans feel that if they turn against Mr. Trump and join the Democrats in a cry, in a call for an independent council, they'll be subjected to a primary in 2018 and they'll lose their jobs. This speaks to the hard-right nature of the Republican party base, which is the formidable problem that we all have to confront sooner rather than later.

PAUL JAY: As I said in the beginning, it's multi-dimensional chess. But I think the bigger battle that's going on here is between those forces that represent large sections of the military arms manufacturer and such, and sections of finance that are connected with that, who want Russia as a main antagonist, that it's needed to justify. This is not to say Russia's a complete innocent in all this. Russia is a big capitalist country. The oligarchs are as vicious oligarchs as American oligarchs are and so on. But in terms of if you're going to compare levels of threat and aggression to people of the world there's no comparison. The American state and the American oligarchs have done far worse than anything the Russians have done.

That being said, they need this enemy. You can't build aircraft carriers in order to fight Al Qaeda. You can't spend the kind of money you need on massive weapon systems if your enemy is just jihadists. You need an existential threat and right now ... Maybe some day it will be more targeted on China, but right now the commercial relations with China are just too entwined to make China the enemy, so Russia fits the bill. Trump's strategy, and probably because of his deep connections with the Russian oligarchs and Tillerson's connection on the energy side, they represent a section of the elites that want to calm things down with the Russians because they want to make money out of oil and other shenanigans going on there. There seems to be a serious division there.

The face of the military industrial complex, as I was saying earlier, is not the Democratic party. It's John McCain and his allies, and they have a tremendous hate on for Trump, not only just at the level of this geopolitical issue, but John McCain brought Robert Mercer, who is the billionaire connected to Renaissance Technologies ... If you follow The Real News we've done many stories and a whole documentary film on how Robert Mercer backed Trump and made him President. Bannon worked for Mercer, Kellyanne Conway worked for Mercer.

Well, Mercer is Co-CEO of Renaissance Technologies. When McCain called the Co-CEO of Renaissance to testify over almost $7 billion tax bill that Renaissance is fighting with with the IRS, McCain became the enemy of Robert Mercer. So what happens? Fast forward to the primaries when McCain is running in the last primary. Donald Trump supports the opponent of McCain and Robert Mercer finances the opponent of the campaign. So McCain has tremendous hatred and opposition at a personal level and in terms of the geopolitics with Trump. So yeah, I think there's going to be some real allies to go after Trump on this Russia issue within the Republican party.

GERALD HORNE: That's possible. First of all, McCain just got reelected to a six-year term, so hopefully he has more flexibility when it comes to going after Donald J. Trump. There's already talk about Marco Rubio, who you may recall was subjected to scurrilous and perhaps even slanderous attacks by Donald J. Trump during the 2016 race, there is talk about Marco Rubio challenging Trump in a primary for the Republican party nomination for the 2020 nod to run for President. There are so many splits that they're difficult to keep track of. Another split that you have to focus on with regard to Comey is the split in the FBI.

It's no secret that in the run up to the November 8, 2016 election there was a very strong and formidable faction in the FBI office in New York City that was clamoring for Hillary Rodham Clinton's scalp. According to sources what happened is that James Comey decided to surrender to that clamorous faction when he gave his now infamous October 28 press conference announcing that he was reopening the investigation into Senator Clinton's emails. Of course, Senator Clinton now says that the so called Comey Effect was a signal factor in helping to explain why she's not US President.

PAUL JAY: Which is a fairly dubious argument, I would say, but go on.

GERALD HORNE: To be sure, but in any case in the United States there are many who go along with that, not least in the corporate media. And so that particular argument will get traction. Then of course, there are splits in the Republican party not only with regard to what McCain and Rubio may do, but also as revealed on the healthcare bill between the so called hard right of the Freedom Caucus and the so called moderate Republicans in the Tuesday Group. When you stir all of this together you get an idea of why there are so much hair pulling, why there are so much hyperventilating about this Comey affair, because there are so many factions that already are at each other's throats.

PAUL JAY: Let's go up 50,000 feet now or 100,000 feet and look at this thing. Why do you think there are so many divisions and splits? There always have been, but I think it's unprecedented what's going on now. It even started with the Trump fight with the CIA. Now the FBI is split, the CIA apparently was split at that time. Some of the other intelligence agencies ... The American state and its relationship to the political class, the whole thing seems quite dysfunctional. I've said in other commentaries this class is not fit to rule, but boy it's becoming very overt.

GERALD HORNE: Well, I think a lot of it has to do with the fact that the liberal interventionists who had put their money on Hillary Rodham Clinton were subjected to a shocking and surprising defeat. Recall that most of the polls, as you know, suggested that Hillary Rodham Clinton would win in a romp. She did not. What Donald J. Trump's victory has revealed is that the liberal interventionists really do not have a firm electoral base of support, which jeopardizes their future. That is to say that with this hostile takeover of the Republican party and its base in the white working class and the white middle class, Mr. Trump showed that that particular base was up for grabs. So the liberal interventionists cannot count on that base in the future. Of course, this is in part their fault because they were paying much more attention to interventions in Afghanistan, Iraq and Libya than to the living standards of the white working class and white middle class not to mention the working class and middle class as a whole. What that means is that they are in jeopardy going forward. Certainly they can't rely on the black working class.

Let me point your viewers and listeners to the current issue of Foreign Affairs, which is published by the Elite Counsel on Foreign Relations, which is sort of the Bible of the liberal interventionist faction of the US ruling elite. This issue was published before Mr. Trump's April 2017 turnaround when he launched the Syrian missile strike, when he announced that there was a significant downturn in relations with Moscow, when he cozied up to China, all of which was reassuring to many in the ruling class. But this issue went to press before that particular train of events took place. What you'll see in that issue of Foreign Affairs is really hysteria about Mr. Trump, really hysteria about the future of the United States, and I think that because of that you get an idea of why there is so much hysteria today, so many men running around with their hair on fire about this Comey firing, because there are real issues at play.

PAUL JAY: The other thing I think that's happening with this constant soap opera about the Russia issue is that many of the really terrible deeds that are being done by the Trump administration are barely being talked about. 3,000 more troops in Afghanistan suggests that's just the beginning of a new military, increased military intervention in Afghanistan. Handing essentially the reigns of foreign policy over to the Pentagon is the way it seems to be being described. Trump, we've made this point a few times, Trump in his State of the Union speech, his speech to the CIA not long after that talked about fighting without reserve, without control, taking the handcuffs off the military. What does that mean? It means be more capable of killing civilians. It means in bombing attacks and other kinds of military operations not worry so much about civilians as supposedly there was worry in the past. I guess there was some.

Even just something relatively small in the context of all these things, but it should be a big story, Sinclair Broadcasting based in Baltimore has now become the largest broadcaster in the United States in terms of ownership of television stations because the Trump appointed Head of the FCC, they're relaxing ownership, concentration of ownership regulations. They're going to allow more or less a free for all of concentrated buying surge, a surge in monopolization of the media even further than it already is. There's a whole myriad, of course, on climate change. There's a myriad of things going on in the Federal Government right now but all anyone's talking about really is the Russia thing.

GERALD HORNE: Well, not only that but once again back to this issue of splits, there is another one that's worthy of inspection. According to Eli Lake in Bloomberg View, there is total and complete alienation between the National Security Advisor who replaced Michael Flynn, I'm speaking of General McMaster, and Donald J. Trump personally. In other words, the man who was supposed to be coordinating US foreign policy is at odds with the man who is responsible ultimately for US foreign policy, speaking of Donald J. Trump. An issue that your listeners and viewers may want to focus on is the recent election in South Korea.

Keep in mind that a liberal candidate won that election with 41% of the vote. Now, what's striking about that is that many of us had interpreted the fact that Mr. Trump was ratcheting up tensions with regard to North Korea as part of a strategy to affect and impact the South Korean election in favor of the right wing candidate. But then just before the election Mr. Trump went off script and he threatened to tear up the South Korea and US Free Trade Agreement. He suggested that South Korea should pay for this multi-$100 million so called missile defense system that was just installed in South Korea supposedly to target North Korean missiles, but actually has a sort of nest of spying and nest of surveillance against China.

This outraged a good deal of the South Korean electorate who then went into the voting booth and pulled the lever for Moon Jae-in who is the liberal candidate. Many in the US ruling elite were upset about that turn of events. They saw it as the downside of Mr. Trump's unpredictability and his impulsiveness, and it further strained his relations not only with General McMaster, but with a good deal of the US ruling elite. That is the backdrop and the background for this Comey controversy.

PAUL JAY: Well, all I can say is I hope this crazy level of dysfunctionality continues because if this government actually got its act together, I think what they would do would be even worse than what's happening in the midst of all this chaos. Anyway, thanks very much for joining us, Gerald.

GERALD HORNE: Thank you.

PAUL JAY: And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.

E-mail alerts

Today's Stories

From the archives