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Monday, December 09, 2019 {{ new Date().getDay() }}

'Master Class': A One-Act Play

Donald Trump is poolside at Mar-a-Lago, waving to guests as they go by.

GUEST #1: Mr. President!

TRUMP: See you at the fundraiser for J.D. Vance tonight. Have the steak.

GUEST #2: Stop the steal!

TRUMP: Have the steak!

An aide walks up to inform him he has a telephone call and hands him a cell phone.

AIDE: It’s Kevin McCarthy.

TRUMP: Again? Should I tape it?

He takes the phone.

TRUMP: My Kevin! You should call more.

McCARTHY: So, Mr. President, now they’ve subpoenaed me.

TRUMP: The Academy Award.

McCARTHY: I’m not accepting it.

TRUMP: Don’t go up there and slap them. You tell me, which is worse and which is more dishonest, the Oscars or the Emmys? Should have won the Emmy. A con game. An irrelevant show. Can you believe that The Apprentice lost to The Amazing Race? No credibility. Low ratings. A joke. Should have gotten it. Stolen.

McCARTHY: They want to ask me about what I said on that tape.

TRUMP: Just say it’s fake.

McCARTHY: I did already. When it came out, I said, “The New York Times’ reporting on me is totally false and wrong.”

TRUMP: You’re on the tape saying, “What Trump did is unacceptable. Nobody can defend that and nobody should defend it.” And you told Liz Cheney you were going to tell me to resign. It’s on the tape.

McCARTHY: I told Fox News, “I never told the president to resign.”

TRUMP: And what else?

McCARTHY: I told Fox, “It was a conversation that we had about scenarios going forward.”

TRUMP: Kevin, you know what your problem is?

McCARTHY: But I told Fox, “What was brought to me, it said I called the president to say that – to resign. I never called the president to say ‘resign.’” Now they say I’m a liar.

TRUMP: They only believe you’re telling the truth if you’re lying.

McCARTHY: But I said I never told you to resign.

TRUMP: Don’t kid a kidder. You couldn’t lie your way out of a traffic ticket.

McCARTHY: So, what do you suggest?

TRUMP: You want some lessons, my Kevin? Let’s go to the tape. First thing, you say the New York Times reporting is wrong. Right?

McCARTHY: It’s two New York Times reporters with a tape.

TRUMP: That’s your first mistake. The tape is a phony, it’s fake, it’s made up, somebody forged it, it’s a counterfeit.

McCARTHY: Deny the tape? With my voice on it?

TRUMP: Until they’re willing to say who gave it to them, it’s a fake. And, guess what, they’ll never say where they got it, never name their source. You win, it’s a fake.

McCARTHY: And resign, asking you to resign?

TRUMP: Resign? Nobody was on that call but you and me. You tell me what you said. So, you’re not lying if I say you’re not lying. What do you think I should say? I’m your friend, aren’t I, Kevin? But there are others who are not your friends.

McCARTHY: Liz says she didn’t leak the tape.

TRUMP: Listen, Pollyanna, it’s someone else who wants to put a knife in your back, wants to shove your corpse to the gutter so they can be Speaker. It’s replacement theory. Liz can’t be Speaker. Didn’t you love it when Elise Stefanik blamed the Democrats as “pedo grifters” for the baby formula shortage? A gift for words. A girl after my own heart.

McCARTHY: Are you suggesting Stefanik leaked that tape?

TRUMP: She’s got purity of heart. Not a dropout, like, well, not personal. You know, I like Matt Gaetz. I like Marjorie Taylor Greene. Don’t forget Jim Jordan. He’s subpoenaed, too. No tapes with him so far. But Elise, she went to Harvard. If I were you, Kevin, when I sit down, I’d make sure my back is against the wall. Make sure you can see who’s coming and going.

A guest walks by.

GUEST #3: Let’s go Brandon!

Trump gives a thumbs up.

TRUMP: Get the steak!

McCARTHY: Yeah, I’ll have a steak tonight, rare.

TRUMP: Well done.

McCARTHY: Thanks.

TRUMP: I mean the steak.

McCARTHY: And I’m not going to testify.

TRUMP: If you do, they’ll refer you for perjury.

McCARTHY: Not if I tell the truth—not that I’m testifying.

TRUMP: Nobody believes you’re telling the truth unless you lie all the time. When you lie all the time, that becomes the truth. Then people will believe you. But if you tell the truth and then lie, nobody will ever believe you if you tell the truth, or believe you when you lie. And for the people who don’t believe you, if you lie all the time, they have to say that you think that you’re telling the truth—“on the one hand, on the other hand.” If you get to be “on the other hand,” that’s the truth. The pundits can say “on the one hand,” but if you’re “on the other” you’re just as true. If it’s two truths, you’re still the truth. If you lie all the time, you’re “on the other hand” at the worst, which means that it’s true. Maybe “on the one hand” is true, but maybe it’s a lie, but because of “the other hand” is true. If you lie all the time, that’s the reality, and reality is true, it’s reality, so that’s the truth, but only if you’re lying, that is, all the time.

McCARTHY: I’m trying to follow.

TRUMP: On the one hand, you said something on that tape, and on the other hand you said it’s false. Might be too late for you, my Kevin. Flunked acting. The problem is you have to lie all the time.

McCARTHY: But I am subpoenaed. If I talk and I lie, they’ll say I’m lying. What do I do now?

TRUMP: Don’t talk.

Sidney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has published three books of a projected five-volume political life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel ,and All the Powers of Earth. His play This Town, about a scandalous White House dog, was produced in 1995 by LA TheatreWorks. This is the fourteenth in his "Trump Cycle" series of one-act plays published in The National Memo, including The Pardon, Epstein's Ghost, Ivanka's Choice, Sunset Boulevard, The Exclusive, The Role Model, A Modest Proposal, The Exit Interview, The Hitler Gospel, Father Knows Best, The Gold Medal Winner, All I Want For Christmas Is Melania’s Non-Fungible Token, and Puppet Theater.

'Puppet Theatre': A One-Act Play

Former congressman Devin Nunes, now the chief executive officer of Trump Media and Technology Group, enters Donald Trump’s office at Mar-a-Lago.

NUNES: Ta, da! Triumph!

TRUMP: Yeah, two prosecutors quit from the Manhattan’s DA’s office. A thing of beauty. The new guy doesn’t care. Ha, ha. Those stupid accountants who dropped me, if they’d only waited. Wait this out, that’s the thing. They’ll get lost in the numbers.

NUNES: Yes, Boss. But I mean Truth Social.

TRUMP: They kicked me off Twitter. Now you’re supposed to put them out of business. Get me out of Twitter jail with our own app. Love that instead of tweets it’s going to be “truths.” Retweets, “retruths.” Perfect. Not alternative facts—truths. But—what the fuck?—the launch, thirteen hours outage, 300,000 people couldn’t get on.

NUNES: Yes, Boss. We’re building it from scratch. If you build it, they will come. And up and working, Don, Jr.’s tweet is out there. “Get Ready! Your favorite President will see you soon!” Sorry, I don’t mean tweet. Truth.

TRUMP: Melania won’t even use it to sell the NFT of her eyes and her hat. You’re killing us, Devin.

NUNES: Yes, Boss. But we’re rolling. Big news. I blocked my first account.

TRUMP: Now you’re talking. Block them just like they block us. Who’d you ban, Mitch McConnell? Keep the Old Crow from reaching our base.

NUNES: Check this out. “Your account @DevinNunesCow has been banned.”

TRUMP: Turn him into a Trump Steak. But we need this app to get out of the barnyard. We’ve got a big agenda.

NUNES: Yes, Boss.

TRUMP: We’re finally going to get what we need out of Ukraine. That’s why we need Truth Social, to get the truth out about it. We’re going to get the goods at last. Putin’s a genius, he’s savvy. You know what this invasion is really about, don’t you? I mean, really.

NUNES: No, Boss.

TRUMP: When Putin takes over, we’ll be proven right all along. Putin should have invaded a long time ago. I’d still be president. No question. Ukraine is at the bottom of it all. A lot of it had to do, they say, with Ukraine. It’s very interesting. They have the server, right? From the DNC, Democratic National Committee. The FBI went in, and they told them, ‘Get out of here, we’re not giving it to you.’ They gave the server to CrowdStrike, or whatever it’s called, which is a company owned by a very wealthy Ukrainian, they say he’s not, but I say he is, and I still want to see that server. You know, the FBI has never gotten that server. Deep state, out to get me. That’s a big part of this whole thing. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company? See, it wasn’t Russia that hacked the DNC. It was Ukraine. And Putin will find that server and deliver it to us. That’s what the word is.

NUNES: Genius.

TRUMP: When we get that server from Ukraine, then after the Republicans get control of the House after the midterms—guess what?—we’ll get that impeachment, the first one, wiped away. I want you to call Jim Jordan.

NUNES: Yes, Boss.

TRUMP: Zelensky, that’s what I asked him, that’s what the phone call was about. That's what I asked actually in my phone call, if you know. I mean I asked it very point blank, because we’re looking for corruption. There’s tremendous corruption. We're looking for—why should we be giving hundreds of millions of dollars to countries when there’s this kind of corruption? I asked for the server. And the investigation into Biden. I would like you to do us a favor. Perfect phone call.

NUNES: Yes, Boss.

TRUMP: If Zelensky had done the right thing, Biden would have been toast. Election, easy. No January 6th. No second impeachment. We’d have had the server. No first impeachment. Zelensky caused all this trouble. Zelensky didn’t cooperate. Now Putin will deal with him. Putin knows what Zelensky did. Zelensky will have to answer to Putin for what he did to me. Perfect phone call.

NUNES: When do we get the server, Boss?

TRUMP: It’s there. It’s in Kyiv. Some basement. Once Putin gets there, he’ll get it. And all the information on Biden is there. Promise. You’ll see, Rudy will be off the hook. Sent him to Ukraine to get the proof on Biden. If Putin gets to it soon enough, we’ll get it to Rudy, and he can bring it to that phony January 6th Committee, and they’ll have to shut down. Putin’s a genius. Stand back and stand by.

NUNES: How will Putin get it to us, Boss?

TRUMP: There’s going to be a new president of Ukraine. Zelensky is a fraud, a hoax. Putin will put in the right guy who should have been there from the start. Maybe Paul Manafort can go back to advise him. The pardon was perfect.

NUNES: Savvy, Boss.

TRUMP: I’ve got it all worked out. The right guy in place, think about this, Trump Tower Kyiv.

NUNES: Perfect.

TRUMP: It begins with the server. And then Biden will be gone like Zelensky. The House will impeach him. Just make that call to Jim Jordan. And we’ll put a stop to all these investigations. Puppet, puppet, who’s the puppet?

Sidney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has published three books of a projected five-volume political life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel ,and All the Powers of Earth. His play This Town, about a scandalous White House dog, was produced in 1995 by LA TheatreWorks. This is the thirteenth in his "Trump Cycle" series of one-act plays published in The National Memo, including The Pardon, Epstein's Ghost, Ivanka's Choice, Sunset Boulevard, The Exclusive, The Role Model, A Modest Proposal, The Exit Interview, The Hitler Gospel, Father Knows Best, The Gold Medal Winner, and All I Want For Christmas Is Melania’s Non-Fungible Token.

All I Want For Christmas Is Melania’s Non-Fungible Token: A One-Act Play

Melania Trump is speaking on her cell phone from her bedroom at Mar-a-Lago.

MELANIA: I love it, Marc-Antoine. Love is the only word. You are the master, the artist. Your work, your oeuvre, should have its own room at the Louvre. Your Elizabeth Taylor, your Ava Gardner, and this—perfection!

MARC-ANTOINE COULON: Ma chère. Melania, but one has only to paint a few strokes—suddenly, it is your cobalt blue eyes, your eyelashes, your mascara, your eyebrows. It is only you. What do they say? The eyes are the windows to the soul. C’est vrai, ma chère Melania.

MELANIA: What are we charging? One SOL, one Solana blockchain for the non-fungible token, which comes to $182.54.

MARC-ANTOINE: I am honored to collaborate with you in this operation, ma chère Melania. You are—what is the word?—a philanthropist!

MELANIA: For the foster children, to train them in the computers when the fostering is finished. My Be Best initiative. Think of all the people who will contribute and be on my list.

MARC-ANTOINE: It is your vision.

MELANIA: You were so brilliant to add the audio to the NFT.

MARC-ANTOINE: It is the vision complete. Your beautiful words in your own beautiful voice.

MELANIA: “My vision is…look forward with inspiration, strength, and courage.”

MARC-ANTOINE: Ideal words. The pause is ideal. Then the inspiration.

MELANIA: My vision is… And on the website, “an amulet to inspire.”

MARC-ANTOINE: You evoke Cleopatra. And now we will paint the next. Like Cleopatra. We have made the eyes famous. Now le nez, your nose, in profile, like an Egyptian queen. Immortelle!

MELANIA: One SOL or two?

MARC-ANTOINE: Let us see how we do on the eyes.

MELANIA: I would love to see you do your watercolor of Ivanka’s nose. Two watercolors. Before and after.

MARC-ANTOINE: For that we could charge four SOLs.

MELANIA: And the breasts, before and after?

MARC-ANTOINE: Je pense, cinq SOLs. So naughty, ma chère.

MELANIA: Have you been watching the new series of Sex in the City?

MARC-ANTOINE: Je sais il est votre favori.

MELANIA: So sad. The husband, he is “Big,” he dies.

MARC-ANTOINE: Quelle surprise!

MELANIA: This Carrie goes to a party instead of to the Hamptons with her husband. This “Big” stays home. He rides a Peloton. She returns home, he is lying on the floor, holding his chest. Il est mort. He is dead from the bicycle.MARC-ANTOINE: Quel dommage! Tragique!

MELANIA: That is not the tragedy. His will leaves one million dollars to his first wife. She did not know.

MARC-ANTOINE: Impossible!

MELANIA: No prenup.

MARC-ANTOINE: Incroyable!

MELANIA: Can you imagine that? And this “Big,” the actor who plays this “Big,” he is now accused of the sexual harassments. Can you imagine that?


Donald Trump enters the room.

TRUMP: Can you get off the phone with your girlfriend? We have an event to do.

MELANIA: Another?

TRUMP: We’ve brought in $463,000 already for just nine of these. Republican candidates lined up around the block, can’t wait to give us their money hand over fist. Sliding scale. More for the personal appearance, more for the photo-op. And more for you, sweetheart. So, get off, put on those stilettos and do a runway walk for us.

MELANIA: Who is it tonight?

TRUMP: Can’t remember. Mo Brooks, Marco Rubio, Sarah Huckabee Sanders.

MELANIA: I’ll be right there, Donald.

TRUMP: I’m going out to mingle and I’ll give you a big hand when you come in like a million dollars and you give us the big smile.

Trump exits.

MELANIA: I must go, Marc-Antoine, to another of the so dull fundraisers. I will be thinking the whole time of your next portrait of me.

MARC-ANTOINE: Le profil, pour la reine. Notre queen! Je t’aime. Au revoir.

MELANIA: Sarah Huckabee Sanders…

MARC-ANTOINE: What is a Huckabee Sanders?

MELANIA: Carrie should have had the prenup. Love you. Bye.

Sidney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has published three books of a projected five-volume political life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel ,and All the Powers of Earth. His play This Town, about a scandalous White House dog, was produced in 1995 by LA TheatreWorks. This is the twelfth in his "Trump Cycle" series of one-act plays published in The National Memo, including The Pardon, Epstein's Ghost, Ivanka's Choice, Sunset Boulevard, The Exclusive, The Role Model, A Modest Proposal, The Exit Interview, The Hitler Gospel, Father Knows Best, and The Gold Medal Winner.

'The Gold Medal Winner': A One-Act Play

Donald Trump is in his study at Mar-a-Lago on the telephone.

TRUMP: Marjorie?


TRUMP: Could you speak a little louder?

GREENE: Mr. President!

TRUMP: I called to hear your voice.

GREENE: Kevin McCarthy has me still stripped of my committee assignments.

TRUMP: Terrible, just terrible, but love when you say that. So, remember the last call, when I told you to demand that Kevin strip those nasty Republicans who voted for the infrastructure bill of their assignments?

GREENE: Strip them RINOs!

TRUMP: Can’t wait for that cartoon. Loved you in Gosar’s cartoon carrying the big sword.

GREENE: Me and Lauren Boebert, right alongside Paul Gosar. Off with their heads!

TRUMP: You’re my super-heroes.

GREENE: They censured Gosar—stripped him of his committee assignments.

TRUMP: Now he’s almost up there with you. But see how Kevin had to crawl. He promised you and Gosar would get your assignments back if he’s Speaker. He didn’t start out there when he took yours away. He’s moving. Just not on two feet. Crawling.

GREENE: But he made Lauren apologize for that joke about that towelhead Omar being a terrorist with a backpack.

TRUMP: She hit it out of the park.

GREENE: McCarthy made her apologize about Islamophobia.

TRUMP: If you can’t have that phobia, what phobia can you have?

GREENE: Vaccine Nazis! Mask mandates! You know, we can look back at a time in history where people were told to wear a gold star, and they were definitely treated like second class citizens, so much so that they were put in trains and taken to gas chambers in Nazi Germany. And this is exactly the type of abuse that Nancy Pelosi is talking about. This woman is mentally ill.

TRUMP: When I ripped off my mask on the Truman Balcony after returning to the White House after having Covid it was a Clark Kent into Superman moment.

GREENE: Super-hero, Mr. President!

TRUMP: And they jumped all over you about the gold star.

GREENE: The same ones who voted for the infrastructure bill.

TRUMP: First they came for you, then they voted for the infrastructure bill.

GREENE: They made me apologize—and they made me go to the Holocaust Museum. OK, there’s no comparison to the Holocaust. I believe that forced mask and forced vaccines or vaccine passports are a type of discrimination, and I'm very much against that type of discrimination. It’s more like Jim Crow than the Holocaust.

TRUMP: Speaking of Black Lives Matter, that was genius of you and Matt Gaetz to compete about which one of you would hire Kyle Rittenhouse as an intern. Genius.

GREENE: Matt started it.

TRUMP: Kyle, I got to know him a little bit. Really a nice young man. He wanted to know if he could come over and say hello because he was a fan.

GREENE: I went Matt one better. I nominated Rittenhouse for the Congressional Gold Medal.

TRUMP: If that’s not self-defense, nothing is! How can that not be a Gold Medal?

GREENE: I looked it up. George Washington, Winston Churchill, Harry Truman, Jackie Robinson. And--can you believe it--the Capitol Police who supposedly “protected” the Capitol on January 6. So, yeah, Kyle Rittenhouse. Gold Medal, not gold star, Gold Medal.

TRUMP: Think about adding Ashli Babbitt for a Congressional Gold Medal. Truly incredible person. I did a video for her birthday. She just wanted Make Pence to do the right thing. If this happened to the ‘other side,’ there would be riots all over America.

GREENE: Matt wouldn’t get on board with the Gold Medal. He put out a statement: “We are concerned that awarding Kyle with a Congressional Gold Medal will give him a big head during the internship with our office.” Yeah, he’s going to be in my office. We’re going to have to flip a coin.

TRUMP: Keep it all up. It’s working.

GREENE: The apologies? Or the Gold Medal?

TRUMP: Every time Kevin makes you apologize, or Boebert apologizes, or Gosar is censured, he loses. You gain, he loses. It’s all working. The Gold Medal works. Everything you do works. They’re making you the martyr. Everyone’s a martyr. That dead Ashli, that nice Kyle, Gosar with his cartoon, Boebert with her phobia, and you with your Holocaust. And that just means you’re like me because nobody is a bigger martyr. Watch closely. You know why Kevin said he’d get you and Gosar your assignments back? Flop sweat. Fear. Panic. Angst.

GREENE: What’s angst?

TRUMP: It’s your perfume. I can smell it a thousand miles away. Maybe getting Covid even helped my sense of smell.

GREENE: Yeah, own the libs.

TRUMP: It’s really about owning the Republicans. When they crucify you, you’re Jesus. When you’re the martyr, they follow you.

GREENE: Only you’re not Jesus.

TRUMP: The meek do not inherit the earth. Nice guys finish last. Suckers get what they deserve.

GREENE: You have a way with words.

TRUMP: Take Kevin—the more he’s frightened, the more he’s our slave. He knows you’re me. If he makes you a martyr, he gives you power over him. Just because I’m there. You’re my little terrorist. That’s how we are going to keep him as “My Kevin.”

GREENE: But what about Mark Meadows saying you should be Speaker?

TRUMP: Marjorie, sweetheart, that was Mark having a little fun with Kevin. Dance, Kevin, dance. I don’t need to be Speaker to be Speaker. Not when I have you. You win the medal. You’re the Speaker.

GREENE: Mr. President!

Sidney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has published three books of a projected five-volume political life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel ,and All the Powers of Earth. His play This Town, about a scandalous White House dog, was produced in 1995 by LA TheatreWorks. This is the eleventh in his "Trump Cycle" series of one-act plays published in The National Memo, including The Pardon, Epstein's Ghost, Ivanka's Choice, Sunset Boulevard, The Exclusive, The Role Model, A Modest Proposal, The Exit Interview, The Hitler Gospel, and Father Knows Best.

"Father Knows Best": A One-Act Play

"MEDICAL TYRANNY" reads the screaming headline in large red letters behind Tucker Carlson as he broadcasts his show on Fox News.

CARLSON: It's purely about obedience, it's hardly about medicine. More than 150 health care workers in that Houston hospital system were fired just because they wouldn't be vaccinated, so remember that the next time they tell you there's a health care shortage in this country. This is lunacy. We should not go along with it. It has nothing to do with medicine. It is a terrifying precedent that, if we let solidify, we will deeply, deeply regret. This is not about Covid, this is about the existence of rational decision-making in this country and personal autonomy. Most people are going along with this because they are afraid. A few brave souls are not.

He shuffles his papers and puts them aside.

CARLSON: Ta-ta-da, da, da, da da! That's all folks!

VOICE OF PRODUCER: Thanks, Tucker! Another wrap.

CARLSON: Just a couple more weeks from this studio for the season. Love this place. Wish I could spend all my time here. On Bryant Pond. Maine. Bliss. A studio of my own, next to a summer place of my own. All my own.

VOICE: Florida, Tucker.

CARLSON: The studio will be up and running at my Florida house when I get there in September. Live, from Gasparilla Island in Grande Boca! Maine man becomes Florida man!

VOICE: Are we ever going to see you in D.C. or New York again?

CARLSON: Now why would I do that? Would that be quote rational decision-making unquote? Sold the big Washington house for that reason. They'd make me go into the Fox studio on the Hill. Half the technicians aren't vaccinated. It's a leprosy ward. Covid has made all my home studios possible. Who knew before the pandemic you could do this? What a breakthrough! And it's completely safe and sound. I owe this whole setup to Covid. It's a godsend. Plus, a tax write-off.

VOICE: We're all vaccinated now and we even have vaccine passports to get in the building.

CARLSON: I don't trust it. Some of those guys, I know them, would fake the passports. I'm in my studios so long as Lachlan says so.

Carlson leaves his custom studio in the cottage on his property, walks a short distance to his house and as he enters his daughter Hopie greets him.


HOPIE: Daddy, my girlfriends love what you brought me from Hungary. The dolls, the nesting dolls. What do they call them?

CARLSON: Matryoshka dolls. The prime minister Viktor Orban, gave them to me as a gift. And I told him that it had your name on it.

HOPIE: First, there's Putin. Then when you open him, there's Orban. And when you open Orban, there's Donald Trump. And then when you open Trump—surprise!—there's you, Daddy! I love you as a little doll. How did they know to put you inside all of the others?

CARLSON: They made that one in my honor. There's only one of these. It was like a state visit. And during state visits the leaders give each other presents. They always gave Trump paintings of himself. And this was the special gift for me. Only more clever.

HOPIE: Hand painted. It's the old you. With a bow tie.

CARLSON: So, are you almost ready to go back to school? Got all your clothes picked out?

HOPIE: Yes, Daddy.

CARLSON: And your proof of vaccination? I read the student vaccine requirement. "All students who live, learn, or work in person at the University of Virginia during the 2021-2022 academic year must be fully vaccinated." Don't forget your vaccination card.

HOPIE: (Exasperated) Daddy!

CARLSON: I'm just worried about you. I want you to be safe.

Enter Susan Carlson, Tucker's wife and Hopie's mother.

SUSAN: Tucker, there were two calls while you were broadcasting. Lachlan Murdoch and Donald Trump.

CARLSON: Susie, please make sure Hopie has her vaccination card to take to school.

SUSAN: All under control, right Hopie? Come with me, let's pack some more and leave Daddy to make his calls. Tucker, Trump seemed pretty urgent.

CARLSON: I've got to call Lachlan.

Susan and Hopie exit. Carlson punches in a number on his phone.

CARLSON: Lachlan!

LACHLAN: Tucker, so glad you called.

CARLSON: Everything cool down under?

LACHLAN: Swimming with the sharks at Bondi Beach, mate. Just checking in on my numero uno. The show on "Medical Tyranny," brilliant, mate. And brilliant about how we're going to be "invaded" by Afghan refugees. Turned that invasion bit inside out. We're being invaded! Heh, heh.

CARLSON: Heh, heh.

LACHLAN: The numbers remain spectacular, mate. Sky high. I'll take that instead of the woop woop to outer space with Richard Branson and Jeff Bezos. Now, about this Covid stuff, mate…

CARLSON: (Slightly anxious) I should stick with it, don't you think?

LACHLAN: You said there's no new variant killing people, zero chance. You said, Fauci is taking away our liberty, forcing people to take medicine they don't want. You said, college kids shouldn't get the shot, a bigger risk for them than Covid.

CARLSON: Is that a problem?

LACHLAN: It's a bloody beauty. No drama. Good on ya. Put another on the barbie. Keep going to never never. Never let the truth get in the way of a good story. Flat out. That's not me blowing smoke up your ass. The numbers never lie. You're Braveheart.

CARLSON: I'll ramp it up on Fauciism. How's Rupert? Where is he these days, London, Sydney, New York?

LACHLAN: When the Delta variant hit, Dad got the booster and went back to Bel Air in L.A., like he did in the first wave after he got an early shot. It's a world in itself there. The house is on the Moraga Vineyards, fourteen acres in the middle of Bel Air, up in the Santa Monica Mountains. Once owned by Victor Fleming, directed Gone With The Wind and The Wizard of Oz. Now who's the wizard from Oz? Makes ace wine. I'll ship you a case or two. Red or white?

CARLSON: Mix it up.

LACHLAN: Two cases of each. Make it three.

CARLSON: Send it to the Florida address.

LACHLAN: And I'm sending you a doctor to give you a booster to go along with the cabernet. Don't say no. You don't have a choice. The wine and the doctor will be there to meet you. Keep it going, mate.

CARLSON: Best to your father.

LACHLAN: Your biggest fan. Catch you later.

Carlson punches another number in his phone.

CARLSON: Mr. President?

TRUMP: Watched your show. Love "Medical Tyranny." How are the numbers? Still a winner, Tucker?

CARLSON: Top of the line, Mr. President.

TRUMP: I was just on Fox Business, told them that the booster sounded like a money-making operation for Pfizer and that the whole thing is just crazy. Why would you need another one? It's the Trump vaccine. It's good for life. I could see the dollar signs in their eyes—of that guy that runs Pfizer. You know, the guy that announced the day after the election that he had the vaccine. But we knew that, and I knew that, and the people knew that. A money-making operation, that's what it is. Yeah, a money-making operation.

CARLSON: You would know.

TRUMP: Who else would know better?

CARLSON: Great work, keep it up. So, what should I know, Mr. President?

TRUMP: I had Dr. Ronny come to Bedminster. Lined up everyone—Ivanka, Jared, Don, Jr., Eric, Lara---bing, bing, bing, bing. Everyone gets the booster. Oh, and that annoying Kimberley. Ivanka didn't want to tell her Dr. Ronny was there. Let her die out on the 9th hole.

CARLSON: Mr. President, what you said about the booster is perfect about the elites against the people.

TRUMP: Before I tell you what I think you should be saying, I want to tell you that you have to get the booster. You're vaccinated, Tucker, not like some poor schmuck, like the guy who wanted a shot when they were putting the ventilator on his face? He's begging, give me the shot and they're telling him it's too late, and they clamp on the ventilator. Please, please, the shot…

CARLSON: Pfizer, Mr. President.

TRUMP: Two shots, but maybe not enough. Booster. Take no chances. Take it and run. You're too valuable. You can knock that Pfizer CEO around like I did. It's a charm. My PAC fundraising, off the charts. You want me to send Dr. Ronny?

CARLSON: That's not necessary, Mr. President. I'm using the Murdoch doctor.

TRUMP: But promise me you'll get it.

CARLSON: I promise.

TRUMP: Father knows best.

Sidney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has published three books of a projected five-volume political life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel ,and All the Powers of Earth. His play This Town, about a scandalous White House dog, was produced in 1995 by LA TheatreWorks. This is the tenth in his "Trump Cycle" series of one-act plays published in The National Memo, including The Pardon, Epstein's Ghost, Ivanka's Choice, Sunset Boulevard, The Exclusive, The Role Model, A Modest Proposal, The Exit Interview, and The Hitler Gospel.

"The Exit Interview": A One-Act Play

Donald Trump and Jason Miller, his aide, meet in Trump's office at the Trump National Bedminster Golf Club in New Jersey.

TRUMP: Time for the Presidential Daily Brief. Weisselberg show up for work today?

JASON MILLER: Clockwork. Hasn't miss a day. Blue Mercedes, pulled into his spot, Trump Tower private garage. He's at his desk.

TRUMP: And the fake media said I should have had a pet dog. Pence turned on me. He's no Allen Weisselberg. Send someone to wash his car. A nice surprise. He's so grateful for every little thing—the school tuitions, the car, he'll appreciate the car wash.

MILLER: Weisselberg is never late either. Drives himself from Long Island. He's an on-time airline. The daughter-in-law turned. The ex. Bad divorce. Gave Vance a pile of boxes. But Weisselberg is there every morning.

TRUMP: She's out to screw Allen and both sons. Wants her pound of flesh. You could make millions as a bad divorce consultant, Jason.

MILLER: The new social media company I'm setting up will be your new platform.

TRUMP: We'll work on the name. "Make America Something." Fill in the blank for "something." We'll think of it. We got rid of "From the Desk of Donald J. Trump." "Desk" sounded like something from Ikea. Stay tuned. You're the magician. So, here's the question. How do you get away with $500 a month child support? It's magic.

MILLER: Five hundred bucks. That's right.

TRUMP: Let me get this straight on how you did it. It's the night before my last debate in Vegas with Crooked Hillary. I win, of course. You go to a strip club with some reporters and some campaign aide. You knock her up. Your wife is pregnant.

MILLER: I was separated at the time.

TRUMP: I like the talking point. You learn the other woman is pregnant. Two weeks later your wife gives birth. Then the other woman has a baby. Then I read in "Page Six" of the New York Post that you and your wife are quote "excited to welcome" unquote the other woman's baby quote "into our family" unquote. You place the story. "Page Six," my old stomping grounds when I was John Barron. Class act. Then the other woman says it's all "news to me." Do I have this right? She didn't know there'd be a story. And she went to Harvard!

MILLER: Right. Harvard.

TRUMP: And she tweets—I love the tweeting part!—that you didn't send one dollar or even a gift. Smart strategy. But Tucker Carlson sends a gift. The other woman tweets the gift was "very cool." You know what it was?

MILLER: Maybe a signed copy of his book, Ship of Fools.

TRUMP: Should have been The Art of the Deal. The plot thickens. She strikes back. They always do. Some website publishes that you got some stripper pregnant and drugged her and gave her an abortion pill to wash down with a smoothie. And, just like that, no more little Jason, Jr., and the woman almost goes into a coma, no doubt she's faking it.

MILLER: No doubt.

TRUMP: And you sue the website for $100 million. A nice round number. But the judge says it's a quote "fair and true report" unquote. He dismisses your suit. Totally rigged.

MILLER: Totally.

TRUMP: And you appeal. Good move. Then Teneo, that corporate consulting outfit where you worked, fires you for supposedly hiding income to avoid child support.

MILLER: It was mutual consent. They signed me to a consultant contract. Optics.

TRUMP: This is what I'm getting at, you're terrific as a consultant. And CNN fires you as a commentator. Just an excuse. They don't want anyone to defend me.

MILLER: You got that right.

TRUMP: And the other woman drags you for a deposition and they ask about hookers and rub and tug parlors. And you testify they were "Asian themed." And you say, quote, "I know I am an imperfect person and have made a number of mistakes in my life" unquote. Perfect. All purpose. But you lose the appeal. And the court orders you to pay the fake media company $42,000 in expenses. And you threaten some moron blogger who reports that. And that phony Jake Tapper tweets—he tweets!—and I can't even tweet!—and he tweets that you don't pay your child support. And you tweet that he's a quote "fake news pussy" unquote. Love that, but you had me at hello. What kind of smoothie was it?

MILLER: Fruit.

TRUMP: And you hid payments to your consultant firm and another consultant firm you worked for. Am I keeping track of all this?

MILLER: There was also a group Steve Bannon operated, a nonprofit called Citizens for the American Republic.

TRUMP: Like the name. Make America A Republic Again? What do you think? Nah. We'll come up with something else. And you're still only paying $500 a month. You're a genius. There should be a statue of you in my National Garden of American Heroes. That phony Biden revoked it. Would have been as big as Disney World.

MILLER: Founding Fathers, Dr. Seuss, Whittaker Chambers, Bob Hope, Tecumseh, Alex Trebek, Davy Crockett, John Wayne…

TRUMP: Wayne played Crockett at the Alamo. Now they want to cancel the Alamo.

MILLER: Shirley Temple, Paul Revere, Nat King Cole, Julia Child, Humphrey Bogart, Sacagawea…

TRUMP: And Jason Miller.

MILLER: It's an honor just to serve.

TRUMP: Jason, let's bring in your replacement again. A little twirl. She was the host of The War Room, a podcast for Steve Bannon. Should I have given him the pardon? Not grateful enough.

MILLER: Mr. President, I hosted that podcast first, brought her in to replace me there.

TRUMP: She's always replacing you. Your apprentice.

(Enter Liz Harrington, a young blonde woman)

MILLER: Mr. President, Liz Harrington. Liz, tell the president the title of your best article when you wrote for the Washington Free Beacon.

HARRINGTON: "Libs: Sex Change at 9, Vote at 16, No Smoking Until 21." That's intersectionality.

TRUMP: Jason told you there's no smoking here?

HARRINGTON: I don't smoke, Mr. President.

TRUMP: Intersectionality and no smoking, I like that. Liz, who stole the election?

HARRINGTON: Communists.

TRUMP: Correct.

MILLER: (To Trump) Mr. President, see, what did I tell you?

TRUMP: Who won?

HARRINGTON: You did, in a landslide.

TRUMP: How big?

HARRINGTON: Overwhelming.

TRUMP: Also correct. Philadelphia?

HARRINGTON: Stuffed ballots.

TRUMP: Georgia.

HARRINGTON: Stuffed ballots.

TRUMP: Right and right.

HARRINGTON: And underage voters.

TRUMP: Even better. Who's guilty?

HARRINGTON: The real insurrection was the election officials.

TRUMP: She's brilliant.

HARRINGTON: Systemic fraud.

TRUMP: Systemic! Why didn't you think of that, Jason? Intersectionality and systemic. No smoking.

HARRINGTON: I don't smoke, Mr. President.

TRUMP: I'd avoid the smoothies, too. Jason, tell Liz how many books are going to be published about me.

MILLER: Seventeen.

TRUMP: They all got an exclusive. Whatever I say is an exclusive. Doesn't matter what they say, positive, negative. This is a case of all publicity is good publicity. They're all working for me. That's the scoop they won't print. You'll keep it going, Liz. If you're lucky Tucker will send you a very cool gift.

HARRINGTON: I'll get him on the line for you, Mr. President.

TRUMP: A little later. Tomorrow we'll work on the plans for the reinstatement in August.

HARRINGTON: I can't wait for the Arizona audit to show you won.

TRUMP: Just the start.

(Harrington exits)

TRUMP: One more thing, Jason, check to see if Weisselberg came back to the office after his coffee break.


Sidney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has published three books of a projected five-volume political life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel and All the Powers of Earth. His play This Town, about a scandalous White House dog, was produced in 1995 by LA TheatreWorks. This is the eighth in his "Trump Cycle" series of one-act plays published in The National Memo, including The Pardon, Epstein's Ghost, Ivanka's Choice, Sunset Boulevard, The Exclusive, The Role Model, and A Modest Proposal.

"The Role Model": A One-Act Play

Inside Donald Trump's study at Mar-a-Lago.

JASON MILLER: Mr. President, it's Matt Gaetz calling. Should I put him through? I don't think so.

TRUMP: I've been waiting for his call. And get me a Diet Coke.

(Picks up phone)

TRUMP: Where have you been, Matt? You never write, you never call.

GAETZ: I'm glad Don and Kimberly worked this out. We're such close friends, a real threesome.

TRUMP: No one can accuse her of being seventeen.

GAETZ: Mr. President, you're our greatest president, greatest economy ever, greatest foreign policy, greatest against cancel culture. Remember when I tweeted, "Impeachment is the zenith of cancel culture?" Remember when I called the Democrats' impeachment presentation "an 8th grade book report?"

TRUMP: Was that the first or second?

GAETZ: Second.

GAETZ: The election was a travesty of the cult of cancel culture. First, they came for Dr. Seuss, then they came for Mr. Potato Head. He's going by Potato X. He can't be Mr. Potato, See, to me the whole concept of the Mr. Potato Head was you could move the parts around. Mr. Potato Head was America's first transgender doll and even he got canceled. And then they came for you. You won in a landslide. Biden rigged it on the dead vote, moved around all those dead people.

TRUMP: I only wish I had more defenders like you. You're like a good son.

GAETZ: Like an adopted son. We're both Florida Man. Same place, same family. Florida's like an amazing woman: adventurous, beautiful, mostly sunny, sometimes a little crazy, and always here to encourage and support success. In contrast, New York is like a bad ex-husband. Mean, won't let you go out to dinner. You're less safe. You're spiraling financially downward. And they may kill your grandparents.

TRUMP: Great, great people in The Villages, great retirement community, big vote for me there. Big, big fan of The Villages. Remember how they smeared me because I retweeted a little video of a rally at the The Villages. So, one guy is chanting, "White power!" One guy! Two seconds. It's like when they smeared me because I tweeted I had a "consensual presidency." Consequential!

GAETZ: They love you in Florida. Republicans in Florida would do unspeakable things for the numbers I have with the base. And you have better numbers.

TRUMP: Giant numbers. They couldn't care less about cancel culture. They're vaccinated against it.

GAETZ: I'm your vaccine. That's why I went on Fox News to defend you. And you retweeted the video of that. "President Trump should pardon Flynn, the Thanksgiving turkey, and everyone from himself, to his admin, to Joe Exotic if he has to. The Left has a bloodlust that will only be quenched if they come for those who fought with @realDonaldTrump to deliver for the American people."

TRUMP: "Bloodlust." You've got a way with words. Should have given that blanket pardon. A lot under that blanket. I don't know why I ever listened to those shysters in the White House, not looking out for the president, just plotting about going back to those big jobs in those big, big law firms, you know the kind, rake in the bucks for telling people what not to do to stop them from doing what they should do, telling them what not to say about what they didn't do so they look guilty, and telling them what not to say about what they did do so they can't show they're innocent. Always sending a bill. You're not like them, Matt, you did so much for me, a great, great warrior.

GAETZ: Band of brothers. We did our part over in the House for January 6th.

TRUMP: A lot more than tour guides at the Capitol.

GAETZ: Mr. President, I remember every little thing I did for you, every single thing that group of us in the House did.

TRUMP: I bet maybe your memory is fading about some of that. Believe me. Happens. Can't recall.

GAETZ: So, I was wondering, Mr. President, if you might make a statement for me. I understand about the pardon, but just a statement, a few lines.

TRUMP: You're such a winner, gone to the wall for me. I would want to return a favor. That's the reason I didn't grant you the pardon. Not giving it was the favor. It would have hurt you, thrown a spotlight on you, made you look guilty. No one had heard of anything then. Not me. Never heard. So, pardon, not such a hot idea.

GAETZ: But a statement now…

TRUMP: Been there, done that, take my word. Nobody is accusing you of rape. No pee tape, right? Everybody involved must be happy. I had the beauty pageants, the modeling agency. People are talking about photographs? Are you kidding? Ever see Melania in British GQ? She had a gun, a big gun, a James Bond gun. Bang! But no hula hoop. You still have that picture? The hula hoop photo? So, really, what are we talking about here? You paid for the hotels, the dinners. Sounds like you're a regular gentleman. Am I right? I knew Jeffrey Epstein, you're no Jeffrey Epstein.

GAETZ: That's why I'd like you to offer a character reference.

TRUMP: Why couldn't Tucker remember that dinner with you and the girl? Nothing wrong with a nice dinner. His wife was there, too. She must remember. I bet she does. Tucker can get a little squirrelly. He said I "recklessly encouraged" my followers who protested the stolen election at the Capitol. If Tucker wants to be me, he should choose his words more carefully. He could take a lesson from you.

GAETZ: We could all take lessons from you. We've had "perfect family man" presidents before, after all, and many of those men sold out our country, even if their wives were happy the whole time, We've been lucky to have a president who didn't care for puritanical grandstanding or moralistic preening. America First.

TRUMP: Let me give you some pointers. I could do that. Better than a statement. I've had a lot of experience. I should get paid as a crisis manager consultant. Read me what you put out.

GAETZ: "Matt Gaetz has never paid for sex. Matt Gaetz refutes all the disgusting allegations completely. Matt Gaetz has never ever been on any such websites whatsoever. Matt Gaetz cherishes the relationships in his past and looks forward to marrying the love of his life."

TRUMP: Signed "Matt Gaetz," right? Good branding. Love "the love of his life." What's her name?

GAETZ: Luckey.

TRUMP: No, what's her name?

GAETZ: Luckey, that's her name.

TRUMP: Better be. Now, because I like you like a son I'm going to let you in on the real secret. It's not any statement to the fake media, it's not any tweet, it's not any posting on Facebook, it's not any appearance with Tucker.

GAETZ: The secret? There's a secret? What's the secret?

TRUMP: (Pauses) The fundraising letter.

GAETZ: Do you take Bitcoin?

TRUMP: Maybe I should adopt you.

Sidney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has published three books of a projected five-volume political life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel and All the Powers of Earth. His play This Town, about a scandalous White House dog, was produced in 1995 by LA TheatreWorks. This is the sixth in his "Trump Cycle" series of one-act plays published in The National Memo, including The Pardon, Epstein's Ghost, Ivanka's Choice, Sunset Boulevard, and The Exclusive.

"The Exclusive": A One-Act Play

"Trump set to do at least 12 book interviews in the coming weeks"

--- Politico, March 17, 2021

Seated on a couch in the ornate Great Room at Mar-a-Lago, designed in the style of a Venetian palace, draped with frescoes and spangled with gold leaf, is the 45th President of the United States. His aide, Jason Miller, approaches, with a bald-headed, bespectacled visitor.

MILLER: Michael Wolff, Mr. President. (Miller exits)

TRUMP: The great Michael Wolff! The mentally deranged author! Fake news! Glad you could come. (Signals for Wolff to sit next to him on the couch)

WOLFF: I really appreciate you agreeing to see me for my book.

TRUMP: An exclusive, Michael. Gave you an interview for the first one, too, and that one was not so nice, but I got to hand it to you, big, big bestseller. How much did you make, ten million, twenty? Do a book about me, sells a million copies. The next one will be your biggest. The first title was great. Fire and Fury. Perfect. I said that. Sold like hotcakes.

WOLFF: It was a good title.

TRUMP: Next one, Siege, not so good. Did I ever say, "Siege?" I don't think so. I bet that didn't sell as well. Am I right?

WOLFF: Not quite as well...

TRUMP: So, what's the next title?

WOLFF: "Landslide."

TRUMP: If it means I won the election, that's the truth. Otherwise, terrible title. Do you want to sell this book? You have to have a title that quotes me. We've done the experiment. First book, quotes me, big, big bestseller. Second book, doesn't quote me, not so much.

WOLFF: What do you suggest?

TRUMP: Call it "The Hoaxes and the Lies."

WOLFF: You want me to call it "The Hoaxes and the Lies?" Are you sure?

TRUMP: It's what I said at my January 6th speech at the rally. "The hoaxes and the lies"—they were using them to steal the vote. Great title. Your other title, I have to be honest, it stinks. Think about it, Michael.

WOLFF: About the election…

(A Mar-a-Lago member walks up to the seated Trump to shake his hand)

MEMBER #1: Mr. President, so good to see you!

TRUMP: I want you to meet the great Michael Wolff. He came to interview me for a book.

MEMBER #1: Nice to meet you.

TRUMP: He doesn't have a title yet. Good to see you, Eli. Enjoy your meal. Order the steak. I always have it well done.

(Member #1 exits)

TRUMP: Gave him a pardon. A regular junior Madoff, running a Ponzi scheme with nursing homes. But, you know what, I'm a kind and merciful kind of guy. Dershowitz was his lawyer. Want to know how merciful I am? Dershowitz wouldn't represent me at the second impeachment and I gave his client a pardon anyway. You think Lincoln would have done that? And how did he end up?

WOLFF: Rudy…

TRUMP: Rudy—you've known Rudy forever—am I right?

WOLFF: I just did a podcast series on Rudy.

TRUMP: He deserves it. I said he had "guts" at my rally. But his girlfriend submitted a bill to me.

WOLFF: Sidney Powell? The lawyer?

TRUMP: Bill Barr, my own attorney general, my lawyer, supposed to be my Roy Cohn, you and everyone else called him that—not Roy. You want an exclusive? Barr said he resigned, fired him. Walked the plank. Roy, very, very good, better than good. In the beginning and middle, very good. In the end, not the same Roy. So maybe Bill Barr was my Roy Cohn—very good, very good, then very bad, much, much worse than Roy at the end when I needed him, when it was showtime. And he didn't have AIDS as an excuse.

WOLFF: The courts…

TRUMP: Brett Kavanaugh, stuck a knife in my back. Another rat. If it hadn't been for me, he'd have been overboard to the sharks. He'd be selling hats today. You remember that hat store on 42nd Street next to the Grand Hyatt, my first big project. Not a bad hat store, if you like hats, not that I ever wear a hat, except the MAGA cap, at the rallies, which is not a hat. Kavanaugh, he needs to be impeached. And I may tell you later in the interview how that's going to happen. By the way, slam dunk, he's gone. Deserves it. Let's see how the rest of the interview goes.

WOLFF: The Proud Boys, the Oath Keepers…

TRUMP: Let me ask you something, Michael. Can you recommend to me a good lawyer?

WOLFF: I know several. In New York? Atlanta? Washington?

TRUMP: One that doesn't require a retainer in advance.

(Jason Miller walks up accompanying a new visitor)

TRUMP: (Shouts) Maggie!

MILLER: You next appointment showed up a little early, but I thought you'd like to greet her.

(Another member of Mar a Lago suddenly approaches)

MEMBER #2: Mr. President, sorry to interrupt, but I just wanted to say how good it is to see you.

TRUMP: Jimmy, a pleasure. Let me introduce you to the great Michael Wolff and the great Maggie Haberman. A twofer!

MEMBER #2: You're our president.

TRUMP: God bless you, Jimmy. You give to the PAC?

MEMBER #2: Big time.

TRUMP: Order the steak. Get it well done.

(Member #2 exits)

TRUMP: Jimmy, great guy, a tiny, tiny tax issue. Clemency. Great guy.

WOLFF: Our interview…

TRUMP: Michael, take just a little break while I talk to Maggie. Get yourself some lunch, sit by the pool, stick around, have dinner with me and Melania tonight, what do you say to that? And think about what I asked you.

(Miller leads Wolff off)

HABERMAN: Mr. President, I appreciate that you've agreed to an interview for my book.

TRUMP: What's the title? Not "Landslide?"

HABERMAN: Untitled.

TRUMP: Not much of a title. How about "The Hoaxes and the Lies?"


TRUMP: I said that. That's how they stole it. That's a bestseller. I read a report about your book. "Definitive." "Instant classic." It says you will "draw on a unique and extensive network of sources." Maggie, you know there's only one unique source. That's why they use the word "unique."

HABERMAN: That's why I came.

TRUMP: I have an exclusive for you. You ready? Bill Barr. But first I have a question. Can you recommend to me a good lawyer?

The End

Sidney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has published three books of a projected five-volume political life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel and All the Powers of Earth. His play This Town, about a scandalous White House dog, was produced in 1995 by LA TheatreWorks. This is the fifh in his "Trump Cycle" series of one-act plays published in The National Memo, including The Pardon, Epstein's Ghost, Ivanka's Choice, and Sunset Boulevard.

"Sunset Boulevard": A One-Act Play

The 45th President of the United States is in his gilded study at Mar-a-Lago with his loyal aide Jason Miller.

JASON MILLER: Mr. President, your lawyers are on the line.

DONALD TRUMP: I fired them, tried to gyp me on the expenses.

MILLER: Not those lawyers, your other lawyers. The new ones.

TRUMP: Put them on hold.

MILLER: It's about testifying in your second impeachment trial.

TRUMP: Could be a big cameo.

MILLER: What should I say?

TRUMP: Who cares?

MILLER: Oh, Mike Pence left a message.

TRUMP: Schlong Mike Pence!

MILLER: There's this letter from the disciplinary committee of the Screen Actors Guild and the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists about revoking your membership. I'm not going to answer.

TRUMP: Are you kidding? This is the greatest opportunity to remind them who's the biggest star. Get YouTube up. Let's decide which are the best cameos.

Miller clicks on YouTube on his computer.

TRUMP: The Fresh Prince of Bel Air. Hey, there's Marla with me! Watch, the kid Carlton says, "It's the Donald! Oh my God!" See, he faints. And the mother says to me, "You look much richer in person." Definitely put that one in.

MILLER: A classic.

TRUMP: Sex and the City. Watch how Miranda looks at me in a restaurant where I'm making a big real estate deal. But she doesn't come on to me. Leave it out. How about The Little Rascals? I'm playing a guy named Waldo Johnston II, and I'm talking to my son, Waldo Johnston III, and I say, "Waldo, you're the best son money can buy." That one goes in. How about Suddenly Susan?

Miller taps the video link.

TRUMP: Whoa! How about this line I have? "Make it snappy, I've got a plane to catch." Great line, or what? Then, yeah, here it is, they unveil a new magazine to show me." "We've created a magazine. We give you Skazzy." And how do you like that cover of me: "Our Next President?"

MILLER: That one goes in?

TRUMP: Nah, I am president.

MILLER: Next, Zoolander.

TRUMP: The best. Hey, there's Melania with me! Listen to my line. "Look, without Zoolander male modeling wouldn't be what it is today." That one is a keeper.

MILLER: Should we see the most famous?

Miller hits the link.

TRUMP: Home Alone 2! Here comes the kid lost in the Plaza. He doesn't know who I am. He doesn't know I own the Plaza. "Where's the lobby?" Here's my line: "Down the hall and to the left."

MILLER: Ready? Here it comes—Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps.

TRUMP: Maybe my ultimate best. I walk into a barber shop. Michael Douglas is Gordon Gekko. He's getting his hair cut. "Hey, is this the one and only Gordon Gekko?" I say. And he says, "Hey, Donald." And I say, "This is a great place to get a haircut." And he says, "I love this place. I've been coming since the Eighties." And I say, "The Eighties are no longer, Gordo. How's life, Gordo?" But, guess what, my biggest part ever maybe, I gave them my conditions—don't touch the hair, golden lighting. And they cut the scene! But I had a copy of the scene, put it out in a DVD, so it counts. Put it in.

MILLER: And the letter?

TRUMP: Take this down: "I write to you today regarding the so-called Disciplinary Committee hearing aimed at revoking my union membership. Who cares! While I'm not familiar with your work, I'm very proud of my work on movies…" And put in Home Alone 2, Zoolander and Wall Street: Money Never Sleeps. "…and television shows…" Put in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Saturday Night Live, and of course, one of the most successful shows in television history, The Apprentice – to name just a few!"

MILLER: Perfect. And the close?

TRUMP: "You have done nothing for me."

MILLER: Perfect.

TRUMP: This is my most important document before that impeachment trial. Reminds everybody. I am big. It's the pictures that got small.

The phone rings. Miller picks it up, listens, hangs up.

MILLER: Mr. President, you won't believe this, but Kevin McCarthy is here again. Where should I tell him to wait?

TRUMP: Down the hall and to the left.

Sidney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has published three books of a projected five-volume political life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel and All the Powers of Earth. His play, This Town, about a scandalous White House dog, was produced in 1995 by LA TheatreWorks. This is the fourth in his "Trump Cycle" series of one-act plays published in The National Memo, including The Pardon, Epstein's Ghost, and Ivanka's Choice.

"Ivanka's Choice": A Morality Play In One Act

Scene 1: The Kushner home in the tony Kalorama neighborhood of Washington. Cardboard boxes lie around the living room. The shelves are bare.

IVANKA: Daddy was so sure about Mike Pence. It was all going to go so smoothly. And I can't stand that Kimberley for another minute. Did you see her in the tent before the rally? Dancing to "Gloria." Hate that song.

JARED: I tried to convince him to tell those people to stop. He was watching it on TV upstairs. It took hours.

IVANKA: I know you did, honey. I know you tried.

JARED: We both tried.

IVANKA: Both of us. We're such a good team. Did the Secret Service tell you when the moving van is coming?

JARED: Soon, darling.

IVANKA: I can't believe how Daddy got us into this situation. I tweeted that those people were "American patriots" and had to delete it. So embarrassing. They really are worse than deplorable. So low class.

JARED: That's not your fault. All those people who quit should look to you as an example. Speaking of classy. Stephanie Grisham? Really, can you believe the ingratitude? You heard what my father said: Your father is "beyond our control." We did our best. We all did. We'll all keep trying.

IVANKA: I'm glad you had your father say that. But don't tell Daddy I said that. It was good that Daddy gave your father that pardon before, dear. But is it enough to help us? Your father saying "beyond our control," does "our" include me, even after the tweet?

JARED: Always includes you.

IVANKA: Everything was set up perfectly for my Senate campaign in Florida. Then this. There's no problem with the Israeli and Emirati loans that you arranged for the business, right?

JARED: Whatever else happens, don't worry, I've done it all.

IVANKA: I'm so sorry I couldn't be there for the dedication of the courtyard at the U.S. Embassy in Jerusalem. The Kushner Garden of Peace. So proud of you.

JARED: It includes you, sweetheart.

IVANKA: Don't you think I can still run in Florida? Little Marco, not so loyal to Daddy. Won't be forgiven. Did you call Brad? I can't believe that meltdown he had. No shirt on the street? Did his wife really need to call the police? We picked up his electronics, right? He can still run the campaign?

JARED: Maybe pay him for some data piece of it. How much did he get from your father's campaign before he blew up? I had to remove him after that rally in Tulsa where no one showed.

IVANKA: Daddy was so angry.

JARED: Nobody in the media even talks about how those K-Pop TikTok fans gamed the tickets. Probably cost us the election.

IVANKA: Brad's arrest, so trashy. All those cars and condos he bought with our money. But you've called him, right?

JARED: Don't worry, the base in Florida is under our control. Why shouldn't you win? Rubio is such a little ingrate.

IVANKA: When I'm a senator, this will all be behind us. I'll be Hillary. And Daddy will have his library. Did you speak to MBS about that library contribution?

JARED: I'm doing everything, it's all taken care of.

IVANKA: I can always count on you, honey. Just amazing. In the library there should be a whole exhibit devoted to everything you've done. More than a garden in a courtyard.

A Secret Service Agent enters:

SECRET SERVICE AGENT: Sorry to interrupt, but the van is here. I wonder if I could use the bathroom for a moment.

Scene 2: Office of the Manhattan District Attorney, One Hogan Place, New York City

CYRUS VANCE, JR.: Thank you for appearing here today, Mrs. Kushner. I want to be completely transparent with you and present you with your options.

IVANKA: Nice to see you again, Cy.

VANCE: As you know, in 2012 a case was assembled by the Major Economic Crimes Bureau of this office that you and your brother Donald Trump, Jr. had misled prospective buyers of units in the Trump Soho hotel and condo development, inflating financial figures to lure those buyers. We had dozens of emails as evidence. One witness said there was "no doubt" that you and your brother "approved, knew of, agreed to, and intentionally inflated the numbers to make more sales," and "They knew it was wrong." Your attorney argued that you had exaggerated the numbers but had done nothing illegal. I decided that it was not beyond a reasonable doubt that a crime had been committed, and the case was dropped.

IVANKA: You did the right thing.

VANCE: We have a new situation. In reviewing your father's tax returns serious questions have emerged about your role in a variety of projects. I can tell you that there is no reasonable doubt about your involvement and jeopardy.

IVANKA: Jeopardy? What is this, a game show?

VANCE: It's "Let's Make A Deal."

IVANKA: Making fun of The Art of the Deal. Not funny, Cy.

VANCE: I would prefer that you were a witness rather than indicted.

IVANKA: This is Soho all over again. It's nothing.

VANCE: I would not like to have you do a perp walk. So, here's the deal—I will grant you immunity in exchange for your testimony.

IVANKA: We're talking here about transactional immunity, not limited use.

VANCE: You drive a hard bargain.

IVANKA: I am my father's daughter.

VANCE: You must make a choice. You must provide testimony against either your father or your husband.

IVANKA: How is Jared part of this?

VANCE: Our probe has expanded. Your father or your husband.

IVANKA: What about Melania?

VANCE: She is not a subject of my investigation. The 2017 inaugural committee financial irregularities are being investigated by the U.S. Attorney for the District of Columbia. Your father or your husband.

IVANKA: That's so outrageous, Cy. I'm so disappointed in you.

VANCE: You must decide now.

IVANKA: You know my heart belongs to Daddy.

Scene 3. The Kushner home on Indian Creek Island in Florida. Ivanka enters. Jared embraces her.

JARED: Guess what? I have a surprise for you. Brad's here to discuss your campaign.

IVANKA: Shabbat shalom.

Sidney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has published three books of a projected five-volume political life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel and All the Powers of Earth. His play, This Town, about a scandalous White House dog, was produced in 1995 by LA TheatreWorks. He is also the author of Epstein's Ghost and The Pardon, both one-act plays published previously here.

"Epstein's Ghost": A Play In One Act

Scene 1: The study off the Oval Office. January 19, 2021, 11 p.m.

Trump is alone, gazing at a print called "The Republican Club," showing him as the center of attention of past Republican presidents while they play cards.

TRUMP: I'll have that picture packed up in the morning. The best. Hang it in my presidential library. Sell it at the gift shop. What's Lincoln drinking? They say he was a teetotaler. Looks like a beer. I bet he sneaked a beer. The artist got everything right. I'm drinking a Diet Coke. Lincoln couldn't stop the Civil War. I didn't have a civil war. That thing at the Capitol? A big little nothing. Lincoln couldn't carry Texas. I carried it twice. His wife held seances. They spoke to ghosts. Robert E. Lee drove Lincoln crazy.

Scene 2. The Lincoln Bedroom. Midnight.

Trump is in his pajamas, wearing a bathrobe, sitting up in bed, with a channel changer in his hand, surfing between three TV screens, showing Fox News, Newsmax and the One America Network.

TRUMP: Never spent a night in the Lincoln Bedroom. Creepy. But it's my last chance. (Calls out.) Melania? Gone to her bedroom. We're up at five in the morning to get to Andrews for the big sendoff, twenty-one gun salute, big rally when we land in Florida, beginning of the comeback. (Calls out again.) Melania? Nothing. I'll tweet out my Farewell Address. (He reaches for his cell phone, starts writing.) "My fellow…" God damn it, nothing. Schmucks cut off my twitter. Lorena Bobbitt, Hillary, Kamala. (Calls out.) Miller! Stephen! Stephen Miller! Jason! Jason Miller! (Waits a second.) Nothing. Nobody there.

(Trump feels a slight breeze and a chill, and hears the rustle of something moving. He wraps his bathrobe tighter. Before him stands a familiar figure, with a long trailing orange sheet wrapped around his neck.)

TRUMP: Jeffrey!

JEFFREY EPSTEIN: You don't believe in ghosts, do you?

TRUMP: How long have you been dead?

EPSTEIN: Five hundred and twenty-eight days to be exact.

TRUMP: Didn't see it coming, did you? You can take that sheet off your neck now. You used to be a better dresser.

EPSTEIN: You're the only one who can see me now.

TRUMP: You must have come for a reason. What do you want from me?

EPSTEIN: Too late for a pardon.

TRUMP: I liked you a lot better than a lot of the people I gave pardons. You sure you don't want anything? (Epstein shakes his head.) All right, have it your way. But don't go anywhere. I could use some company. I just have to give my last presidential order. (Trump picks up the White House phone.)


TRUMP: Double cheeseburger, fries and a Diet Coke. (He hangs up.)

EPSTEIN: I've lost my appetite.

TRUMP: Take a chair. Take off that sheet. There's no evidence you exist, Jeffrey, you know that.

EPSTEIN: Evidence? You remember those photographs we took with the girls? They were in my safe at East 91st Street. When the FBI raided they took everything.

TRUMP: You never had much time to talk. I guess you can talk now. So, tell me, what's it like on the other side?

EPSTEIN: Every day I go to your mansion at Mar-a-Lago. You greet me at the door. There's a party going on. The room is filled with a legion of girls, all of them dancing, trying to get our attention. I tell you a joke. You point to one girl and whisper to me, "She's hot." We laugh. Then the cutest of the girls, six of them, come up to me and take me by the hand. They lead me to a room with a massage table. They put a sheet on it, giggle and tell me to take my clothes off. They leave. I lie down on the table. Then nobody ever returns. I just lie there. The next thing I know it's the next day and I'm going to your mansion at Mar-a-Lago. You're at the door. It all happens again exactly the same way.

TRUMP: When you come to my place are you wearing the sheet?

EPSTEIN: Only when I am let out to wander on the wings of the wind.

TRUMP: But why bother me now? No pardon. I don't get it. What's in it for you?

EPSTEIN: I have sat invisible beside you many and many a day. This is the first and last time I will make myself known. A very little more is all that's permitted to me. I cannot rest, I cannot stay, I cannot linger anywhere. My time is nearly gone here, while your time here ticks away. I am here to warn you of your fate. I will be the last to tell you of your chance and hope once you leave this house. It's what I learn over and over again every single day when I visit you at Mar-a-Lago. (Epstein wraps his orange sheet around his neck.)

TRUMP: What is it?

EPSTEIN: There's no happy ending.

Sidney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has published three books of a projected five-volume political life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel and All the Powers of Earth. His play, This Town, about a scandalous White House dog, was produced in 1995 by LA TheatreWorks.

"The Pardon": A Play In One Act

Scene 1: The White House. Oval Office. January 19, 2021. 10 a.m.

President Donald Trump is meeting alone with Vice President Mike Pence.

Trump: You heard Mike Flynn? "Massive landslide."

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: Bigger than the last one.

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: You take out the swing states and I won. But I won the swing states. Statistically impossible to lose. Tremendous cheating. Stolen, rigged, total fraud. All over by 10 o'clock, massive lead. Then the phony ballots. Illegal mail-ins. Fox News calls Arizona. Stab in the back.

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: The Venezuelans, yeah, the Venezuelans. Fixed the voting machines. Flipped the votes. Giant hoax. Hundreds and hundreds of affidavits. Rudy proved it. What was with that cheap hair job? He should have asked me. I would have recommended my guy. Always perfect. Rudy asked me for a pardon, should have asked about the hair.

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: You have to look presidential. I'm more presidential than anyone except maybe Abraham Lincoln with the hat. You think I'm going to wear a hat like that? Or a beard? If Rudy had a beard what do you think, good, bad?

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: Nobody's been treated worse than Lincoln except me. Nobody since Lincoln did more for black people than me.

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: My hand is tired from signing pardons. Every single one of those clients of Alan Dershowitz. Quote "defrauding investors" unquote. Quote "massive government corruption" unquote. Fake and fake. Pardoned!

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: Dershowitz used to have a big Mexican moustache when he was with OJ. I forget, does Dershowitz have a beard now?

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: Maybe not.

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: When you're a president you can pardon anyone. I don't even wait. Roger Stone—loyal, scum, but loyal. Good dresser. He shut up. Mike Flynn—good guy. He shut up. A soldier. Manafort—hardly knew him. He shut up. That Elliott Broidy—putz. A pardon wouldn't shut him up, immunity deal. Michael Cohen even put down my fake name as his fake name on his abortion payoff. Nothing for that traitor Cohen.

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: Firing squad.

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: You have to take care of your family. Family values, right, Mike?

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: Hannity said pardon every one of them and myself. Don, Jr. If a pardon is what you say it is, I love it. Ivanka. Could have been my VP. Smart, beautiful, everybody loves her. But stuck with you, Mike.

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: Jared, too. Package deal. And Melania! Angry woman from the inauguration committee blabbing to a grand jury. Some friend, broke the non-disclosure agreement. Said Melania called Ivanka "Princess." Did you know I called my yacht "Princess?"

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: The lawyers said I couldn't pardon myself during the impeachment. The president… (reading from a piece of paper he's picked up from his desk, words written in bold Sharpie) "…shall have Power to grant Reprieves and Pardons for Offenses against the United States, except in Cases of Impeachment."

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: Did you know Gerald Ford pardoned Tokyo Rose? Talk about shooting someone on Fifth Avenue. Pearl Harbor. Old man Bush, the first one, he pardoned six officials convicted in the Iran-contra scandal. You know who told him he could do that? His attorney general. That's right, William Barr. And they call him my Roy Cohn. But did he ever indict Obama, Hillary, and Biden? Spied on me. Biggest conspiracy in history. Guilty, guilty, and guilty. Now Barr says he hasn't seen any fraud. He says there's no evidence. In a million years never thought he'd be a sellout to the Deep State. Elliott Abrams, running Iran for me. What goes around comes around. Remind me to talk to Abrams about those Venezuelan voting machines. What do you think I should give Tokyo Rose? Maybe ambassador to Japan. Is she alive? And they say I can't pardon myself. As has been stated by numerous top legal scholars, the best, I have the absolute right to pardon myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong? Nixon was a schmuck not to burn the tapes.

Pence: Yes, sir.

(Enter Melania, cell phone in one hand, a piece of paper in the other. She is wearing her jacket: "I Don't Really Care Do U.")

Melania: At least I don't have do another inauguration. And no more Christmas. (Hands Trump the paper. Exits.)

Trump: A pardon's free, not like a prenup.

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: (Reads from the piece of paper.) Section 3, 25th Amendment. "Whenever the President transmits to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives his written declaration that he is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, and until he transmits to them a written declaration to the contrary, such powers and duties shall be discharged by the Vice President as Acting President." Even though Ivanka should be the next president, maybe should have been vice president, it's going to be you. Not Biden. You're number 46. I'm going to make you president. Sort of like Queen for a Day, remember that show?

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: I've got the papers right here. (He opens a folder on his desk.) I sign the one about unable to discharge and you sign the pardon for me. Do us a favor, though. Then in a New York minute I'm back as president. I'm able to discharge again.

Pence: Mr. President…

Trump: When you sign I'll call you Mr. President, then you can call me Mr. President back again. We never need to leave the Oval Office. But you'll always be number 46 in the history books. Maybe not a library.

Pence: Mr. President, I've discussed this with Mother.

Trump: How is your wife?

Pence: Mother says it's not the best idea.

Trump: So, you're listening to Mother instead of the father of your country?

Pence: Yes, sir.

Trump: Treat me like a dog!

Scene 2: The White House. January 20, 2021. 11:59 a.m.

Trump is alone in the Oval Office, talking on the telephone.

Trump: Thanks, Alan! (Hangs up the telephone, signs a piece of paper. Speaks aloud to himself.) Dershowitz says Roy had only two books in his law office, neither of them law books, a checkbook and a Rolodex. Roy said Dershowitz was a kibitzer. I got him pro bono. The best. Pardoned myself! Got to call Hannity. Should have done this to begin with. Melania warned me that Pence would double-cross me. But she said he'd take it and let me hang out to dry. He could have been president, but he blew it. Mother!

He hears distant noises, the approaching sound of running, then barking, louder and louder. Major and Champion, Joe Biden's German shepherds, bark and growl and scratch at the door.

Trump: (Shouts) McEntee! McEnany!

12:01 p.m.

A Secret Service agent enters through the French doors leading to the Rose Garden. The whir of a waiting helicopter is heard.

Secret Service Agent: Mr. Trump…

Trump: Don't ever talk to the President of the United States that way.


Sidney Blumenthal, former senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton, has published three books of a projected five-volume political life of Abraham Lincoln: A Self-Made Man, Wrestling With His Angel and All the Powers of Earth. His play, This Town, about a scandalous White House dog, was produced in 1995 by LA TheatreWorks.

October Surprise Part III: 'Nonpartisan' Johnson Crashes Impeachment As Trump Surrogate

With this third and final installment we complete a series by Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the "Obamagate" conspiracy theory promoted by the Trump White House and its allies -- with particular attention to Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. In the first installment Blumenthal explained how Johnson came to serve as Trump's instrument in the creation of "multiple untruths" to distract from the criminal realities exposed by the Mueller Report and the prosecutions of Michael Flynn and Roger Stone. In the second, Blumenthal examined Johnson's ill-fated intervention in Trump's attempt to coerce the new government of Ukraine to corruptly intervene in the 2020 election. The following article recounts Johnson's role as a Trump surrogate during impeachment -- and how the false narrative he advanced then has served as the template for White House "Obamagate" mythology.

This series was first published by Just Security, an electronic journal based at the Reiss Center for Law and Security at New York University Law School, and is reprinted with permission.

Johnson Serves His Purpose: The House's Impeachment Investigation

Trump's main strategy in dealing with the House impeachment inquiry was to engage in character assassination of the witnesses. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, the Ukraine specialist on the National Security Council, had listened in on Trump's July 25 call with Zelensky and afterward reported it immediately to the White House Legal Counsel. "It is improper for the President of the United States to demand a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen and political opponent," he would testify on Nov. 19. What Vindman would say was well known.

In anticipation of his appearance, Ron Johnson trotted out as Trump's surrogate to trash him. In an 11-page letter dated Nov. 18 addressed to the ranking Republican members of the committee, Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA) and Rep. Jim Jordan (R-OH), Johnson attacked the inquiry "as a continuation of a concerted, and possibly coordinated, effort to sabotage the Trump administration that probably began in earnest the day after the 2016 presidential election," but which he also traced even farther back, omnisciently stating that "my first-hand knowledge and involvement in this saga began with the revelation that former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton kept a private email server."

Throwing in his kitchen sink—the Steele Dossier, the Strzok-Page text messages, and "the false narrative of Trump campaign collusion with Russia"—the discerning Johnson could see that these elements "all fit a pattern and indicate a game plan that I suspect has been implemented once again." Vindman's testimony, according to Johnson, could be understood as part of that very "pattern" and "game plan." His background—coming to America as an immigrant from the Soviet Union at the age of three, his rise within the army from combat officer in Iraq to Russian expert for the Joint Chiefs of Staff to the NSC—was dismissed. Johnson suggested that Vindman's true motive was subversion by acting as an agent of the "Deep State."

"I believe," he accused, "that a significant number of bureaucrats and staff members within the executive branch have never accepted President Trump as legitimate and resent his unorthodox style and his intrusion onto their 'turf.' They react by leaking to the press and participating in the ongoing effort to sabotage his policies and, if possible, remove him from office. It is entirely possible that Vindman fits this profile."

After arranging Vindman into his conspiracy theory, Johnson wandered into further recollections of his August 31 meeting with Trump. He added a new anecdote about Trump that pointed to yet another underlying reason for his withholding aid from Ukraine: his anti-NATO bias and pro-Russian tilt. Trump, in Johnson's telling, "reminded me how thoroughly corrupt Ukraine was and again conveyed his frustration that Europe doesn't do its fair share of providing military aid. He specifically cited the sort of conversation he would have with Angela Merkel, chancellor Germany. To paraphrase Trump: 'Ron, I talk to Angela and ask her, 'Why don't you fund these things,' and she tells me, 'because we know you will.' We're schmucks, Ron. We're schmucks.'"

In his fervent defense of Trump, Johnson seemed blithely unaware that his story of Trump calling the U.S. "schmucks" for playing the leadership role within NATO, in order to explain withholding military aid to Ukraine, only undercut his argument. Johnson didn't appear to grasp how he was further establishing the pattern of Trump's bad faith.

Johnson insisted on adding another story in his letter that he believed would exonerate Trump, this one from his September 5 meeting in Kyiv with Zelensky. "At no time during this meeting—or any other meeting on this trip," he wrote, "was there any mention by Zelensky or any Ukrainian that they were feeling pressure to do anything in return for the military aid, not even after [Senator Chris] Murphy warned them about getting involved in the 2020 election—which would have been the perfect time to discuss any pressure."

Johnson made a mistake in bringing up Murphy. The Connecticut Democrat was not a mannequin. He knew what he had said and what Zelensky replied, and that it was not what Johnson portrayed. The same day that Johnson issued his letter, on November 19, Murphy responded with a letter of his own, addressed to Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), chairman of the intelligence committee, and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY), chair of the oversight committee, conducting the impeachment inquiry.

Murphy wrote that "the most disturbing element of Senator Johnson's letter was his assertion that certain Administration staffers, most notably Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, may be actively working to 'sabotage' the President's foreign policy agenda, despite having no actual evidence of such sabotage." Murphy rejected the "deep state" conspiracy theory, instead describing how "ethical public officials saw corruption occurring" and decided to "tell the truth" about "a shadow foreign policy."

Murphy then recounted some of the recent sordid history of US-Ukraine relations. He criticized the composition of the delegation to Zelensky's inauguration that included Johnson as unfortunately "mid-level" and "partisan." While Murphy wrote that Johnson "did not support the president's decision to withhold military aid to Ukraine," he noted that Johnson was not in the dark but cognizant of the game being played and "was not alarmed like I was about Giuliani's efforts."

In their meeting with Zelensky, it was Murphy who took the initiative in raising "the pressure on Zelensky from Rudy Giuliani and the president's other emissaries to launch investigations into Trump's political rivals—namely the Bidens." Murphy urged Zelensky "to ignore requests from Trump's personal political representatives" and only deal with the United States "through official channels." Murphy described the scene as anxious and fraught. Zelensky was "gravely serious" about the withheld military aid, and Murphy wrote, "I felt the enormous burden this suspension of aid was putting on the new leader of an already fragile democracy."

Johnson, for his part, did not join his colleague in supporting Zelensky against the Giuliani juggernaut, but sat close-lipped. In Johnson's version of this meeting, he denied that Zelensky expressed any concern. Murphy, however, directly contradicted Johnson. With customary senatorial courtesy, Murphy wrote that while he did "not dispute any of Senator Johnson's factual representations…I came to a very different conclusion regarding the way that Zelensky reacted to my comments…. I interpreted Zelensky's answer to my question as a concession of the premise of my question—that he was receiving improper overtures form Giuliani to interfere in the 2020 election."

Murphy then deconstructed Trump's use of the charge of "corruption" as a lever to advance his scheme. He observed that Johnson conveyed to Zelensky "that 'corruption' was a clear concern of President Trump…simply relaying what the president had told him." "But," Murphy explained, "it's clear that in other conversations through the Giuliani back channel, 'corruption' had become synonymous with two specific investigations that would personally benefit the president, and indeed, as we learned later, these were the only two 'corruption' matters that Trump raised directly with Zelensky on the July 25 phone call."

Murphy concluded: "President Trump preyed on a vulnerable foreign nation, dependent on the U.S. for its very survival, and used taxpayer money as leverage to get that nation to work for the personal political benefit of the president." Johnson had no response to Murphy whatsoever.

The Witness and the Juror

At noon on January 16, 2020, the House Managers walked from their side of the Capitol to the Senate to deliver their counts of impeachment and a 111-page memorandum of new evidence that had emerged since the House vote on impeachment on December 18, including the Government Accountability Office's report that Trump's withholding of aid to Ukraine without notifying Congress was illegal. Chief Justice John Roberts swore in the senators in "the trial of the impeachment of Donald John Trump, president of the United States."

Trump attorneys opened their defense on January 25, insisting that there was "no evidence," according to Pat Cipollone, the White House legal counsel, while Jay Sekulow, Trump's chief lawyer, suggested that Ukraine had interfered in the 2016 election.

The next day, on January 26, the New York Times reported of an "explosive account" by John Bolton in an unpublished manuscript that Trump had told him "that he wanted to continue freezing $391 million in security assistance to Ukraine until officials there helped with investigations into Democrats including the Bidens."

The Times also reported that Bolton gave a more detailed version of the May 23 Oval Office meeting where Johnson had been present. Trump "railed about Ukraine trying to damage him and mentioned a conspiracy theory about a hacked Democratic server, according to Mr. Bolton." Trump thundered his denial on twitter: "I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens." Queries to Johnson were directed to a statement he had made in October when the meeting first was revealed: "Senator Johnson does not recall in any meeting or discussion with the president, or any member of the administration, that the term 'quid pro quo' was ever used. Nor does he recall any discussion of any specific case of corruption in the 2016 election, such as Crowdstrike, the hack of the DNC servers, Hillary Clinton campaign involvement, or Hunter and Joe Biden, during general discussions of corruption, which is endemic throughout Ukraine."

"A show-trial spectacle," Johnson called the impeachment trial. "This has been blown so far out of proportion." He yawned that he would "be bored if both sides took 24 hours." He waved away the GAO finding that Trump's impoundment of the funds approved by the Congress for Ukraine was illegal. "I don't think it's particularly relevant." And he showed contempt for the emergence of Bolton as a prospective witness. "The House had an opportunity to call John Bolton," Johnson said. "They decided not to. The House was in such a rush to do this impeachment. They did, from my standpoint, a pretty sloppy job. Now, they want the Senate to do their job for them."

Those glib statements elided the fact that Bolton had threatened to fight any House subpoena in a drawn-out court battle, but had since promised to comply with a subpoena from the Senate. There was, Johnson claimed, "no impeachable offense." He denied that Trump's actions were an attempt to eliminate Joe Biden as a candidate. "I never viewed his desire to find what happened in Ukraine as having anything to do with the 2020 election. It was all a look back, trying to explain in some way, shape or form how he ended up with the special counsel."

Johnson voted against allowing the House Managers to call any witnesses, including John Bolton. At the time, three-quarters of Americans believed that witnesses should be allowed to testify in the Senate trial, according to Quinnipiac polling. Before the closing arguments, Johnson announced there was no case: "That's why I will not vote to convict. I'll vote to acquit." On February 5, Trump was acquitted with only one Republican, Senator Mitt Romney, of Utah, voting guilty on one count of impeachment.

Headlong into "Obamagate"

As soon as the trial without any witnesses ended in his favor, Trump launched a retaliatory purge, firing Lt. Col. Vindman; firing the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, Michael Atkinson; firing the Inspector General of the State Department, Steve Linick, who was investigating alleged misconduct by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo; firing the chairman of the oversight panel of the federal government's economic stimulus fund, Glenn Fine; firing the deputy Inspector General for the Department of Health and Human Services, Christi Grimm, who was probing Trump's failed response to the coronavirus crisis; firing the Inspector General of the Department of Transportation, Mitch Behm, who was investigating irregular contracts awarded by Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, the wife of Republican Senator Majority leader Mitch McConnell.

Johnson dashed to the Green Room to defend Trump's vengeance, appearing on May 17 on CNN's State of the Union with Jake Tapper. "I'm not crying big crocodile tears over this termination," he said about the dismissal of Inspector General Linick at the State Department. Johnson explained that the independence of inspector generals was strictly a fiction. "And so," he said, "they serve at the president's will." Yet under Obama, Johnson had been a champion of inspector generals, declaring it essential that they be "completely independent," warning against "retaliating against people that were issuing reports," and proposing a bill to strengthen the system. Now, he encouraged the wrecking of what he had previously tried to shield.

Johnson was already floating the "Obamagate" scheme, Trump's through-the-looking-glass conspiracy theory to explain the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel and the impeachment as all one connected plot against him, and to weaponize it for the campaign.

Johnson's work started with a letter on May 18 to Barr demanding that a supposedly incriminating email — from Susan Rice summarizing a meeting with President Obama and other officials presumably about unmasking Michael Flynn on January 5, 2017 — be declassified in the interest of "transparency." The next day the mysterious email was released. It showed that Obama had stated that any investigation into Flynn's discussions with Russian officials must be done "by the book." "The only encouraging bit," commented Tim Miller, the former spokesman for the Republican National Committee, "is the realization that if By-The-Book Gate is the best these goobers have got, then it turns out that they're as incompetent as they are corrupt."

The fizzle of the Rice email did not dampen Johnson's zealotry. He shifted into a high gear, publicly releasing his lengthy list of targets of the imaginary perpetrators of "Obamagate." But as Johnson readied his subpoenas, John Bolton finally published his book.

Bolton's memoir, The Room Where It Happened, filled in the gap in Johnson's airbrushed version of his May 23, 2019 Oval Office meeting with Trump. Bolton added additional episodes of Trump bargaining U.S. national security for his reelection effort, for example, with China. And he corroborated the other evidence gathered for Trump's impeachment as an eyewitness to the Ukraine "drug deal," all too late for the impeachment but not for the 2020 election. Bolton's direct account refuted Johnson's cynical credulity about what Trump knew and when he knew it. On August 20, 2019, Bolton wrote, "I took Trump's temperature on the Ukraine security assistance, and he said he wasn't in favor of sending them anything until all the Russia-investigation materials related to Clinton and Biden had been turned over." Case closed.

In anticipation of the "Obamagate" and Durham investigations, Trump appeared on the Christian Broadcasting Network on June 22 to accuse President Obama. "Treason. It's treason," Trump said. "Look, when I came out a long time ago, I said they've been spying on my campaign, I said they've been taping…Turns out I was right. Let's see what happens to them now…100 years ago, or 50 years ago, they would have been executed."

* * *

Charles Sykes was a Republican talk show host in Wisconsin who was responsible for helping to launch Ron Johnson on his political career. After his election to the Senate, Peggy Noonan, the conservative columnist for The Wall Street Journal and President Reagan's former speechwriter, brightly described how a star was born. "A conservative radio host named Charlie Sykes got hold of a speech Mr. Johnson gave at a Lincoln Day dinner in Oshkosh. He liked it and read it aloud on his show for 20 minutes. A speech! The audience listened and loved it. A man called in and said, 'Yes, yes, yes!' Another said, 'I have to agree with everything that guy said.' Mr. Johnson decided to run because of that reaction, and in November he won. This week he said, 'The reason I'm a U.S. senator is because Charlie Sykes did that.'"

"We were a thing," Sykes recalled. He imagined Ron Johnson was an independent free of the Republican "establishment," "very much his own man." Since Trump's election the talk show host and the sorcerer's apprentice have taken different paths. Sykes has been thoroughly disillusioned with the Republican Party, become a leading Never Trumper, written a book titled How the Right Lost Its Mind, and helped found the Never Trumper journal, The Bulwark. "What happened to Ron Johnson?" Sykes asked. "On one level, his story is not all that much different from the rest of the GOP, which has transformed itself into Trumpist camp followers." It turned out that Ron Johnson was not who Sykes thought he was. "He was poised to be very much his own man. Instead, he became Trump's."

Yet, in an interview with Politico on the "Obamagate" investigation, Johnson presented himself as the same old Ron Johnson. "I'm a very nonpartisan guy. I just am," Johnson said in an interview. "I like using the word nonpartisan. I'm not doing anybody's bidding." The record is otherwise.

(Author's note and full disclosure: When Ron Johnson disclosed his list of people he intends to subpoena in his "Obamagate" probe my name appeared on it. Apparently, this involves the most obscure conspiracy theory within the larger conspiracy theory, a "second dossier" to Christopher Steele's Dossier originating with the Clinton campaign. There is, in fact, no such "second dossier," which is not a "dossier" at all but two emails consisting of raw notes of an inquiring journalist that he collected from conversations about Trump's Russian relationships, sent to some friends, including me, which I shared with another longtime friend, who unbeknownst to me happened to share it with his longtime friend, Christopher Steele, who unbeknownst to that friend sent a paragraph he found interesting in one of the emails to the FBI. None of this had anything to do with the Clinton campaign; no one in this chain knew who the next person would share it with; and none of it had any relevance to anything significant that subsequently occurred. I debunked this conspiracy theory in testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on June 16, 2019. It seems that Ron Johnson and his crack staff have failed to properly acquaint themselves with the work of that Republican-led but bipartisan committee.)

Sidney Blumenthal is the author of All the Powers of Earth, the third volume in his five-volume biography, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, published in September 2019 by Simon and Schuster. the first two volumes are A Self-Made Man and Wrestling with His Angel. He is the former assistant and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and senior adviser to Hillary Clinton. He has been a national staff reporter for The Washington Post and Washington editor and writer for The New Yorker. His books include the The Clinton Wars, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment, and The Permanent Campaign. He has been a senior fellow of the NYU Center on Law and Security and is a fellow of the Society of American Historians.

October Surprise Part II: How Ron Johnson Unwittingly Exposed Trump's Ukraine Plot

Today we publish the second article in a three-part series by Sidney Blumenthal on the origins of the "Obamagate" conspiracy theory promoted by the Trump White House, its media allies, and Republicans on Capitol Hill -- notably Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee. In the first installment Blumenthal explained how Johnson came to serve as Trump's instrument in the creation of "multiple untruths" to distract from the criminal realities exposed by the Mueller Report and the prosecutions of Michael Flynn and Roger Stone. It concluded with Johnson's bizarre visit to Moscow in July 2018, where he advanced Trump's coverup of Russian interference in the 2016 election -- and opposed the extension of US sanctions on Russia. The second installment examines Johnson's role in the Ukraine scandal that led to Trump's impeachment.

This series was first published by Just Security, an electronic journal based at the Reiss Center for Law and Security at New York University Law School, and is reprinted with permission.

The Ukraine Scheme

In April 2018, Trump hired Rudy Giuliani, as his personal attorney, who in turn hired two associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, Russian born businessmen living in Florida, where they had contrived a variety of sketchy schemes. (One of Parnas' firms, Fraud Guarantee, which had no identifiable customers or office, paid Giuliani a $500,000 consulting fee.) At a dinner at the Trump Hotel on April 30, Parnas reportedly told Trump that the U.S. ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was "unfriendly to the president and his interests," that her presence stood in the way of the Giuliani operation. Trump vehemently replied that she should be fired.

The effort to discredit and oust Yovanovitch was launched immediately. On May 9, Parnas and Fruman got Congressman Pete Sessions, a Republican of Texas, to write a letter to the State Department demanding her dismissal, claiming she had "spoken privately and repeatedly about her disdain for the current Administration," in exchange for a promise to raise $20,000 in campaign contributions through a pro-Trump super PAC, America First Action. Sessions appeared as "Congressman-1" in the federal indictment of Parnas and Fruman. "Parnas and Fruman committed to raising those funds for Congressman-1. Parnas met with Congressman-1 and sought Congressman-1's assistance in causing the US Government to remove or recall the then-US Ambassador to Ukraine," the indictment stated.

Giuliani's group quickly added new partners, who reportedly met regularly to plan their strategy, using the Trump Hotel as their headquarters. There was, secretly, Congressman Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee with an incorrigible penchant for arcane conspiracy theories, and his aide, Derek Harvey. There were the conservative husband-and-wife team of lawyers, Joseph DiGenova and Victoria Toensing, Fox News talking heads, who represented not only Parnas and Fruman but also the Ukrainian oligarch Dimitri Firtash, who had been Putin's man in Kyiv and was under indictment for corruption by a U.S. federal court. And there was John Solomon, the ubiquitous right-wing journalist, who, according to the Columbia Journalism Review, "has a history of bending the truth to his story line" and "distorting facts and hyping petty stories." As it happened, DiGenova and Toensing were his attorneys, too.

Beginning in March of 2019, the team instigated Solomon to produce a series of convoluted articles in his venue, The Hill newspaper in Washington, that asserted that Ambassador Yovanovitch had conspired with Hillary Clinton's campaign and George Soros and his agents to leak damaging information about Paul Manafort, Trump's campaign chairman and the former political consultant for the Russian backed president of Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovich, and that the ambassador conspired to suppress Ukrainian investigations into corruption in order to cover up Joe Biden's involvement in his son's business. Solomon also wrote that Firtash was a victim of "the Soros group" and framed by Robert Mueller to get "some dirt on Donald Trump." "I said," Giuliani explained, "'John, let's make this as prominent as possible. I'll go on TV. You go on TV. You do columns.'"

Trump's personal assistant, Madeleine Westerhout, provided Giuliani with contact information for Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. "God almighty I have a lot of stuff in writing," Giuliani said, and on March 28 sent over to Pompeo a dossier containing Solomon's articles trashing Yovanovitch. On April 5, six former U.S. ambassadors sent the State Department a letter expressing deep concern about "recent uncorroborated allegations" against here that are "simply wrong."

Yovanovitch sought advice on how to handle Solomon's onslaught from Gordon Sondland, Trump's ambassador to the European Union, a former hotelier who had given Trump's inaugural committee a large donation. Sondland told her, "You need to go big or go home," suggesting that she "tweet out there that you support the president." She also consulted Kurt Volker, the U.S. Special Representative for Ukraine Negotiations. "It will all blow over," he said.

Meanwhile, William Barr, Trump's attorney general, prepared to go where his predecessor, Jeff Sessions, had not.

On April 10, 2019, Barr announced that he was launching an investigation into "both the genesis and the conduct of intelligence activities directed at the Trump campaign," and emphatically added that "spying did occur." Four days later he appointed U.S. Attorney John Durham to conduct the probe. "I think it's a great thing that he did it," Trump said. "I am so proud of our attorney general that he is looking into it. I think it's great." On April 24, Trump told Sean Hannity of Fox News that in fact an investigation had unearthed evidence of a plot on the part of Ukraine to help elect Hillary Clinton, "sounds like big, big stuff, and I'm not surprised." Giuliani tweeted, "Keep your eye on Ukraine."

On April 24, Yovanovitch received an abrupt telephone call from Carol Perez, director general of the State Department's foreign service. "She said that there was a lot of concern for me, that I needed to be on the next plane home to Washington. And I was like, 'What? What happened?' And she said, 'I don't know, but this is about your security. You need to come home immediately. You need to come home on the next plane. And I said, 'Physical security? I mean, is there something going on here in the Ukraine?' Because sometimes Washington has intel or something else that we don't necessarily know. And she said, 'No, I didn't get that impression, but you need to come back immediately.' And, I mean, I argued with her. I told her I thought it was really unfair that she was pulling me out of post without any explanation, I mean, really none, and so summarily."

"I do wonder why it's necessary to smear my reputation falsely," Yovanovitch testified before the impeachment committee, "Shady interests the world over have learned how little it takes to remove an American ambassador who does not give them what they want."

George Kent, the deputy assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian Affairs, confirmed her account in his testimony. "Mr. Giuliani, at that point, had been carrying on a campaign for several months full of lies and incorrect information about Ambassador Yovanovitch, so this was a continuation of his campaign of lies." About John Solomon and his stories, Kent was scathing. "It was, if not entirely made up in full cloth, it was primarily non-truths and non-sequiturs." But the State Department ordered Kent not to complain. "I was told to keep my head down and lower my profile in Ukraine," he said. The intimidation signaled that the Giuliani operation was in charge.

On May 19, Trump gave an interview to Fox News brazenly laying out the conspiracy theory he wanted to be affixed to Biden. "Biden, he calls them and says, 'Don't you dare persecute, if you don't fire this prosecutor'—The prosecutor was after his son. Then he said, 'If you fire the prosecutor, you'll be okay. And if you don't fire the prosecutor, 'We're not giving you $2 billion in loan guarantees, or whatever he was supposed to give. Can you imagine if I did that?"

Johnson's Front Row Seat

A day after Trump's interview on Fox News, Ron Johnson wandered into the scene. On May 20, in Kyiv, he attended the inauguration of the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, in the company of Sondland, Volker, and Secretary of Energy Rick Perry, the former governor of Texas. Perry seems likely to have had his own ulterior agenda. He would secure a lucrative oil and gas deal from Ukraine for two of his political supporters, who also happened to have hired Giuliani's law firm, after Perry proposed that Zelensky take one of them as an "adviser." At the same time, Giuliani was rooting around Kyiv, trolling for disinformation to use against Biden and meeting with people close to Yuri Lutsenko, the prosecutor general, embittered at Yovanovitch and Biden for their anti-corruption efforts. Lutsenko had met previously with Giuliani and Parnas, volunteered himself as a source for Solomon's stories, but finally had a falling out with Giuliani when he failed to initiate an investigation into Biden.

Johnson came to Kyiv brandishing credentials as a close observer of the state of play. Serving as chairman of the Foreign Relations Subcommittee on Europe and Regional Security Cooperation and vice chair of the Senate Ukraine Caucus, he had advocated military aid since the Russians had invaded eastern Ukraine in 2015. He arrived amidst the upheaval at the embassy, the orchestrated publicity campaign against Yovanovitch and her sudden removal under the cloud of a false threat to her security. Johnson was surely aware of the broad nature of these events but apparently made not a murmur of protest. He presented himself as an expert on the ground and influential figure in his own right, but he was beginning his career as an innocent abroad.

Upon the delegation's return to Washington, the four men met on May 23 with Trump in the Oval Office. Their agenda, according to Johnson, was to secure a statement in support of Ukraine, an invitation to Zelensky to the White House and the appointment of a new ambassador with "strong bipartisan support." Trump was having none of it. "He said that Ukraine was a corrupt country, full of terrible people," Volker testified. "He said they 'tried to take me down.' In the course of that conversation, he referenced conversations with Mayor Giuliani. It was clear to me that despite the positive news and recommendations being conveyed by this official delegation about the new president, President Trump had a deeply rooted negative view on Ukraine rooted in the past. He was clearly receiving other information from other sources, including Mayor Giuliani, that was more negative, causing him to retain this negative view." "It was apparent to all of us that the key to changing the President's mind on Ukraine was Mr. Giuliani," Sondland testified. When the meeting was raised during the impeachment, Johnson's mind went blank on Sondland's account. "I am aware that Sondland has testified that Trump also directed the delegation to work with Rudy Giuliani," he wrote. "I have no recollection of the president saying that during the meeting. It is entirely possible he did, but because I do not work for the president, if made, that comment simply did not register with me." After the meeting, Sondland, Volker and Perry, anointed to work with Giuliani, dubbed themselves "the three amigos."

Indeed it was that Oval Office meeting, Ambassador William Taylor testified, in which "the irregular channel began," with the three amigos, White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Giuliani in pursuit of Ukraine investigations of Biden in exchange for military aid and a White House visit.

One other man was present at the May 20 meeting, Charles Kupperman, deputy to National Security Advisor John Bolton, who reported back to Bolton. "It was a classic," Bolton wrote in his memoir, The Room Where It Happened:

"I don't want to have any fucking thing to do with Ukraine," said Trump. "They fucking attacked me. I can't understand why. Ask Joe diGenova, he knows all about it. They tried to fuck me. They're corrupt. I'm not fucking with them." All this, he said, pertained to the Clinton campaign's efforts, aided by Hunter Biden, to harm Trump in 2016 and 2020. Volker tried to intervene to say something pertinent about Ukraine." Trump replied, "I don't give a shit." "Perry said we couldn't allow a failed state, presumably a Ukraine where effective government had broken down." Trump said, "Talk to Rudy and Joe." "'Give me ninety days,'" Perry tried again." Trump interrupted, "Ukraine tried to take me down. I'm not fucking interested in helping them," although he relented to say Zelensky could visit him in the White House, but only if he was told how Trump felt in the matter. "I want the fucking DNC server," said Trump, returning to the fray, adding, "Okay, you can have ninety days. But I have no fucking interest in meeting with him."

Trump's violent obscenities, contempt for Ukraine's precarious security, obsession with conspiracy theories, bottomless sense of personal grievance, and complete knowledge and command of the Giuliani operation somehow escaped Johnson's memory and were airbrushed from his account.

Two weeks earlier, Trump had summoned Bolton to a meeting in the Oval Office with Giuliani. Also present were Trump's chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and legal counsel Pat Cipollone. Trump ordered Bolton to work with Giuliani in dredging up material to be used against Biden and influencing Zelensky to start an investigation. Bolton simply ignored Trump's directive. He wanted no part of what he called a "drug deal." "Even after they became public, I could barely separate the strands of the multiple conspiracy theories at work," Bolton wrote in his memoir.

Giuliani continued his gyrations for an investigation of Biden, but Zelensky did not start a probe and Trump withheld the nearly $400 million in military aid that the Congress had approved. The stalemate led to Trump's notorious "perfect" phone call to Zelensky on July 25. Trump's statement at the top of the conversation was often cited: "I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it." But what followed, the part spelling out the "favor," was his demand for confirmation of his conspiracy theory and for Ukraine to work with Barr to pursue it. "I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you're surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it's very important that you do it if that's possible." In short, the object of the Trump-Zelensky call, a key piece of evidence in Trump's impeachment, is the same object that is central to the overarching conspiracy theory of "Obamagate."

Two weeks earlier, on July 11, Johnson jumped down a rabbit hole to follow the trail of the Trump conspiracy theories. The White Rabbit that Johnson chased was a heavy set and shady Ukrainian named Andrii Telizhenko, a former low-level employee at the Ukrainian Embassy to the U.S. who had parlayed himself into Giuliani's fixer, boasting of smoking fine cigars and sipping expensive whiskey with him from Kyiv to New York. Telizhenko was a man of many dubious deals. He had offered a Ukrainian magazine editor cash to lobby Republican senators on behalf of two pro-Russian media outlets in Ukraine that broadcast propaganda in favor of the Russian invasion of eastern Ukraine, according to a CNN report. Telizhenko was also the consultant for "international relations" for Pavel Fuks, the Ukrainian oligarch who had reportedly been Trump's partner to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. (Fuks was also Giuliani's client.)

Telizhenko was a fertile source of conspiracy theories for Giuliani, which he retailed to an avid Trump, who insisted to everyone from his attorney general to his national security advisor that they prove to his satisfaction. Telizhenko's tales ranged from Biden's corruption to how the Ukrainian ambassador to the U.S. ordered him to work with the Clinton campaign and the Democratic National Committee to dig up damaging information on Paul Manafort. (Telizhenko's talent was featured on numerous programs broadcast by the pro-Trump, far right One America News Network, including "The Ukraine Hoax: Impeachment, Biden Cash, and Mass Murder" and "Ukrainian Witnesses Destroy Schiff's Case – Exclusive with Rudy Giuliani," in which Giuliani interviewed him.) Borys Tarasiuk, Ukraine's former foreign minister, familiar with Telizhenko's antics for years, told the Kyiv Post, "I don't think that this person deserves much attention. He's a crook."

"I was in Washington," Telizhenko recalled, "and Senator Johnson found out I was in D.C., and staff called me and wanted to do a meeting with me. So I reached out back and said, 'Sure, I'll come down the Hill and talk to you.'" Telizhenko told the Washington Post that he and Johnson discussed a whole range of theories, particularly "the DNC issue," focusing on what the Post described as his "unsubstantiated claim" that the Ukraine Embassy directed him to find "incriminating material" on Manafort. Seeking a comment from Johnson, the Post received this strange and uninformative response: "An individual close to Johnson confirmed that staff members for one of his committees met with Telizhenko as part of an ongoing investigation into the FBI and its probes of the 2016 election. The person, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, declined to say whether the senator was involved." Telizhenko resolved that mystery, posting a picture of himself meeting with Johnson on his Facebook page. How Johnson knew that the peripatetic Telizhenko was briefly in Washington was left unexplained.

Johnson returned to Kyiv to meet with Zelensky on September 5, this time accompanied by Senator Chris Murphy, Democrat of Connecticut, and the new U.S. ambassador William Taylor. Zelensky's "first question to the senators was about the withheld security assistance," Taylor testified before the impeachment inquiry. "Both senators stressed that bipartisan support for Ukraine in Washington was Ukraine's most important strategic asset and that President Zelensky should not jeopardize that bipartisan support by getting drawn into U.S. domestic politics." Yet that day Trump extended the hold on the aid.

The whole affair burst open on September 9. Michael Atkinson, the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community notified the House and Senate intelligence committees that a whistleblower had filed a complaint on August 12 about Trump's pressure on Ukraine to investigate Biden as the price for releasing military aid. The House demanded the release of the complaint and announced it would investigate Trump and Giuliani's operation. On September 10, Bolton resigned. On September 11, Trump released the Ukraine aid. On September 25, the White House released a version of Trump's "perfect" call asking Zelensky to "do us a favor, though." On September 27, Volker resigned. That day, Johnson and Grassley sent a joint letter to Barr, citing Telizhenko as their source, demanding, "Are you investigating links and coordination between the Ukrainian government and individuals associated with the campaign of Hillary Clinton or the Democratic National Committee? If not, why not?"

Johnson Digs a Hole

On October 3, Trump held an impromptu press conference on the South Lawn of the White House. "Mr. President, what exactly did you hope Zelensky would do about the Bidens after your phone call?" asked a reporter. "Well," he replied, "I would think that, if they were honest about it, they'd start a major investigation into the Bidens. It's a very simple answer." Then he added, "And by the way, likewise, China should start an investigation into the Bidens because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine." Trump's remarks caused an uproar, taken as a brazen confession about Ukraine and committing another offense in his call for China to interfere for his political benefit.

Visiting the Middleton, Wisconsin Chamber of Commerce, Ron Johnson immediately defended Trump's comments. "I want to find out what happened during 2016," he said, adding about Trump's call for China to investigate Biden, "I don't think there's anything improper about doing that." The next morning, moving on to Sheboygan, Johnson tried to clean up his statement. "No, and I'm not sure that's what's happening," he said, denying Trump was calling on China to interfere in American politics.

Then Johnson leaped into the breach in a valiant effort to absolve Trump. He seemed to believe that by disclosing previously unknown stories he could be the hero. But in two interviews he gave on October 4, one to the Wall Street Journal and the other to the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, Johnson seemed to provide further evidence of Trump's guilt and dissembling, and made himself appear to be playing the fool.

To the Wall Street Journal, Johnson claimed that in a phone call on August 31 Trump flatly denied any quid pro quo of Ukraine political assistance for U.S. military aid. "He said, 'Expletive deleted—No way. I would never do that. Who told you that?" Johnson explained that he had learned about the quid pro quo from Sondland the day before. Sondland, he said, told him Ukraine would appoint a prosecutor to "get to the bottom of what happened in 2016—if President Trump has that confidence, then he'll release the military spending." Johnson went on: "At that suggestion, I winced. My reaction was: Oh, God. I don't want to see those two things combined."

To the Journal-Sentinel, Johnson elaborated on the August 31 call with Trump. "I tried to convince him to give me the authority to tell President Zelensky that we were going to provide that. Now, I didn't succeed." The Milwaukee paper reported, "Trump said he was considering withholding the aid because of alleged corruption involving the 2016 U.S. election. Johnson stood by the president, saying he was sympathetic to his concerns and didn't see any bad motives on his part. 'What happened in 2016? What happened in 2016? What was the truth about that?' Johnson said about Trump's concerns."

With his stumbling interviews, Johnson revealed that he had been aware of the internal discussions about a quid pro quo before they were made public with the disclosure of the whistleblower's complaint, that rather than seek the truth of the matter he accepted Trump's falsehoods, and confirmed that Trump's motive involved not one but two conspiracy theories, one about Biden and the other about DNC server. Johnson also appeared to have inadvertently made himself into a material witness in an impeachment inquiry with a conflict-of-interest in serving as a juror in a Senate trial. "Republican Sen. Ron Johnson just did Trump no favors on Ukraine," ran the headline on an analysis in the Washington Post by Aaron Blake. Johnson "apparently thought [he] might help President Trump weather his Ukraine problem. But what he said was decidedly unhelpful for Trump."

Instead of rescuing Trump, Johnson had created more trouble. His effort to wipe up his little mess trying to justify Chinese interference had led to a bigger mess that seemed to implicate Trump in all the charges against him. Johnson now tried to contain his muddle with more damage control. He booked himself on NBC's Meet the Press for Sunday, October 6. His performance was an overlooked minor absurdist classic, half Samuel Beckett and half Abbott and Costello. Johnson was waiting for Godot to arrive with the answer to his quandaries while explaining who was on first.

The dialogue started with Chuck Todd, the host of Meet the Press, playing himself as an earnest journalist asking the question that should be asked, in other words, the straight man. "Let me start with something you told the Wall Street Journal late last week. You had said when Mr. Sondland — Gordon Sondland seemed to imply that — the frozen military aid was connected to a promise by Zelensky for investigations, you said, 'At that suggestion, I winced. My reaction was, 'Oh God. I don't wanna see those two things combined.'" Why did you wince and what did you mean by 'those two things combined?'"

Johnson's opening lines established a tone of whining victimization followed by a non sequitur. "Well, fir– first of all, your setup piece was –you know, typically, very unbiased. But, you know, le — let me first, before I started answering all the detailed questions, let me just talk about why I'm pretty sympathetic with what President Trump has gone through. You know, I'm 64 years old. I have never in my lifetime seen a president, after being elected, not having some measure of well wishes from his opponents. I've never seen a president's administration be sabotaged from the day after election. I — I've never seen — no– no measure of honeymoon whatsoever. And so what President Trump's had to endure, a false accusation — by the way, you've got John Brennan on — you oughta ask Director Brennan what did [FBI agent] Peter Strzok mean when he texted [FBI agent] Lisa Page on December 15th, 2016?" (Strzok had been removed from the Mueller investigation after his text messages to Page, which contained anti-Trump sentiments, were disclosed.)

With the formalities of throat clearing out of the way, the interview took off. It is worth quoting at some length to convey the full extent of the Trump defender dissolving into dogmatic incoherence in the face of the skeptical reportorial question.

–I have no idea why—
We're gettin'– no, that's– that's—
–a setup. It is entirely—
CHUCK TODD: — why a Fox—
–relevant to this point.
–why a Fox News conspiracy, propaganda stuff is popping up on here.
It is—
I have no idea—
It is not. That is—
I have no idea—
–that is– that is exac—
–why we're going here.
–that is ex– that is—
Senator, I'm asking—
Because this is underlying—
–exactly why—
I'm as—
–President Trump is upset and why his supporters are upset—
All right, w—
–at the news media.
Oh, okay, this—
You know– you know, Chuck—
–is not about the media—
–here's the deal, here's the deal—
–Senator Johnson — Senator Johnson, please!

At this point, Johnson launched into a lengthy discussion of how the Ukraine government supposedly tried to help Hillary Clinton, ending with the assertion, "There is potential interference in– in the 2016 campaign—"

Let me ask you this—
That's what Trump wants to get to the bottom of. But the press doesn't want to.
The people who wrote this article are being pilloried. I'm being called a conspiracy theorist. John Solomon's being called a conspiracy theorist because the press is horribly biased. And Trump and his supporters—
Hey, look—
–completely understand that.
–I understand that a way to avoid answering a question is to attack us in the press. I'm well aware of that.
No, no, well—
And that doesn't work.
–I'm tr– I'm trying to lay—
Let me ask you something—
–the groundwork in order to answer your question—
So Senator, do you– do you not believe the Russians interfered in the presidential elections to benefit Donald Trump?
They– they abs– they absolutely did. They absolutely did. And I don't know to what extent the Ukrainians did. I don't know to what extent DNC and Hillary Clinton campaign were involved in kinda juicin' up the– the Ukrainian involvements as well.
Do you just ask those—
There are a lot of unanswered questions. Chuck, I just want the truth. The American people want the truth.
So, do you not trust the Amer—
Trump– President Trump's supporters—
CHUCK TODD: –do you not trust the FBI?
–want the truth.
You don't trust the CIA? I'm—
No, no I don't—
–I'm just very confused here
Absolutely not—
You don't trust any of those—

Round and round went Johnson, repeating the names of officials of the FBI and CIA he said he did not trust, while Todd vainly attempted to return the interview to a standard question-and-answer format.

No, I don't trust any of these guys in the Obama administration. I don't trust any of 'em.
Senator, let me ask you this.
I– I– I've got—
'Cause one of the things—
–a lotta questions that have remained—
–one of the things—
–not answered.
–that you came on here to do—
I just want the truth, Chuck.
I– so would I—
I just want the ch– truth. No, you—
So would I—
–you — you set this thing up totally biased. I could never really get into the full narrative. We don't have enough time to go through all the things I can talk about in terms of—
You're right. Because you came here—
–my interaction with the president—
–and chose to bring up something about Lisa —
No, you– you s– you started—
–Lisa Page and Peter Strzok.
–the piece with something incredibly biased that– I– I would never be able to get the truth out.
Senator, I– I– I don't know why you just came on here to personally attack the press and avoid answering questions—
Be– because of your setup piece—
–about what's happened here.
Because of your setup piece.
Senator, it's pretty clear– we're only dealing with the facts that we have, not the facts—
No, that– that– that's what I wanna—
–that you wish them to be.
–deal with and I can't get the answers. And I can't get the answers. The American people can't get the answers. Something pretty fishy happened during the 2016 campaign. And in the transition, the early– the early part of the Trump presidency, and we still don't know. Robert Mueller was—
We do know the answer.
–completely blinded and he– he'd never—
You– you're choosing—
–he never looked into any of that.
–you're choosing not to—
And he should've.
Ho– hopefully—
–you're just making a choice—
–hopefully, William Barr will.
You're ch– you're making a choice—
Hopefully, William Barr—
–not to believe—
–will get to the bottom of this.
You're making a choice not to believe the investigations that have taken place, multiple—
No, I'm– I'm trying to get to the truth. I wanna look at the entire truth, Chuck.
Does the truth—
The media doesn't.
And the truth is only when it– when it benefits– when you believe—
No, but that's—
–it politically—
You're totally false—
–comfortable with you? I don't understand—
You're– you're totally incorrect—
–what truth are you looking for—
I want the complete truth.
So– well, so are we—
I want the complete truth.
I'm sorry that you chose—
I doubt that.
–to come on this way, Senator. Thanks very much. Joining me now—
I'm– I'm sorry you started the piece that way.

And, so, Johnson's effort at damage control was concluded, but only at the commercial break. He resumed explaining himself a month later. Once again, attempting to help Trump, he got himself into more trouble.

(To be continued.)

Author's note and full disclosure: When Sen. Johnson disclosed his list of people he intends to subpoena in his "Obamagate" probe, my name appeared on it. Apparently, this involves the most obscure conspiracy theory within the larger conspiracy theory, a "second dossier" to Christopher Steele's Dossier originating with the Clinton campaign. There is, in fact, no such "second dossier," which is not a "dossier" at all but two emails consisting of raw notes of an inquiring journalist that he collected from conversations about Trump's Russian relationships, sent to some friends, including me, which I shared with another longtime friend, who unbeknownst to me happened to share it with his longtime friend, Christopher Steele, who unbeknownst to that friend sent a paragraph he found interesting in one of the emails to the FBI. None of this had anything to do with the Clinton campaign; no one in this chain knew who the next person would share it with; and none of it had any relevance to anything significant that subsequently occurred. I debunked this conspiracy theory in testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on June 16, 2019. It seems that Johnson and his crack staff have failed to properly acquaint themselves with the work of that Republican-led but bipartisan committee.

Sidney Blumenthal is the author of All the Powers of Earth, the third volume in his five-volume biography, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, published in September 2019 by Simon and Schuster. the first two volumes are A Self-Made Man and Wrestling with His Angel. He is the former assistant and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and senior adviser to Hillary Clinton. He has been a national staff reporter for The Washington Post and Washington editor and writer for The New Yorker. His books include the The Clinton Wars, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment, and The Permanent Campaign. He has been a senior fellow of the NYU Center on Law and Security and is a fellow of the Society of American Historians.

October Surprise: Ron Johnson's Journey Through 'Multiple Untruths' To The Fable Of Obamagate

What follows is the first article in a three-part series by Sidney Blumenthal, author and former adviser to President Bill Clinton, revealing the origins of the "Obamagate" conspiracy theory promoted by the Trump White House, its media allies, and Republicans on Capitol Hill. Blumenthal's investigation focuses on the role of Sen. Ron Johnson (R-WI), chairman of the Senate Homeland Security Committee and a central figure in promoting the conspiracy. It is a vital story as the 2020 presidential election approaches – and with it the likelihood of an "October Surprise," based on Obamagate fabrications, emerging from Attorney General William Barr's Justice Department.

This series was first published by Just Security, an electronic journal based at the Reiss Center for Law and Security at New York University Law School, and is reprinted with permission.

The Lugar Center is a fairly recent addition of the sort of traditional institute in Washington that prevailed before Donald Trump. Its mission is to advance an internationalist foreign policy, "bipartisan governance," and bring together experts to "bridge ideological divides." It was founded by one of the last of the moderate Republicans, Richard G. Lugar, the late U.S. senator from Indiana, who once seemed to define the mainstream of a now bygone party, in the forefront of legislation to curb nuclear proliferation, but was purged in a brutal primary, losing to a Tea Party candidate who declared rape that resulted in a pregnancy was a "gift from God."

On May 27, the Lugar Center released its first comprehensive Congressional Oversight Hearing Index, an in-depth study of the due diligence of every committee of the House of Representatives and the Senate in holding the executive branch accountable, concluding with a grade for each committee. "If a House or Senate committee is failing to meet historical standards, because of partisan bias, the inattention of the committee chair, or any other reasons, the COHI will illuminate that shortfall," the Center stated. While many committees received high grades, the lowest grade—an "F" for failure—was awarded to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. The report observed that the committee previously had been "one of the most active in the Senate," but that its hearing schedule had "fallen dramatically." On the Lugar Center's carefully considered Bell Curve, the committee was at rock bottom and its chairman had flunked.

Trump's Senators

Just a week later, on June 4, that chairman, Ron Johnson, Republican of Wisconsin, who had come to power on the Tea Party wave that carried out Richard Lugar, rammed through authorization for 35 subpoenas to fulfill President Donald Trump's reported demand at a meeting on May 19 of Senate Republicans to get "tough" on the "Obamagate" conspiracy, a purported "Deep State" plot of the Obama administration and the intelligence community to destroy his presidency by investigating his campaign's links to and possible collusion with the Russian interference in the 2016 election.

Days before, on May 24, Trump declared, "I'm fighting the deep state…I have a chance to break the deep state. It's a vicious group of people. It's very bad for our country. And that's never happened before…They never thought I was going to win, and then I won. And then they tried to get me out. That was the insurance policy. She's going to win [Hillary Clinton], but just in case she doesn't win we have an insurance policy. And now I beat them on the insurance policy, and now they're being exposed…And a lot of other things are going to come out, but you don't even need other things. What they've done is so corrupt, they've tried to take down a duly elected president of the United States, happens to be in this case, me, but we can never allow it to happen again."

Then he praised Ron Johnson as his champion. "And I want to take my hat off to Ron Johnson. Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin. The job he's doing is incredible…I see that a lot of subpoenas out. So it's a much different thing. We caught them in a very corrupt, you could call it treasonous, because it is, it's treasonous. We caught them in a very corrupt act."

On May 11, when asked at a press briefing to explain the crime Trump was accusing former President Barack Obama of having committed, he said, "It's been going on for a very long time …You know what the crime is. The crime is very obvious to everybody." A short while later, on May 13, Trump tweeted it was "the greatest political scandal in the history of the United States, OBAMAGATE. Fake News@CNN and Concast's own MSDNC are only trying to make their 3 year Con Job just go away."

As Johnson geared up to send out his flurry of subpoenas, Trump tweeted encouragement to his tens of millions of followers, "America is proud of Ron Johnson. He never gives up!" Johnson retweeted, "Thanks, @realDonaldTrump."

Every Democrat on both the Judiciary Committee and the Homeland Security Committee objected to the motion to issue subpoenas in pursuit of Trump's theories. "I can't support this kind of dragnet authority to conduct politically motivated investigations," said Senator Dianne Feinstein of California, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, in response to the push from the Judiciary Committee's chairman, Senator Lindsey Graham, of South Carolina. Senator Gary Peters of Michigan, the ranking member on Homeland Security, called it a "fishing expedition… which did not become a priority until we entered into an election year." Then both committees approved on a Republican party line vote the authority to grant a total of 88 subpoenas to plumb the mysteries of "Obamagate."

Enter Barr's Justice Department

While Trump was furiously tweeting about "Obamagate" and urging on Ron Johnson, Attorney General William Barr stepped from behind his curtain to make a statement on May 18 about the ongoing investigation of the origins of the Russia investigation being conducted by his appointee, U.S. Attorney John Durham. In light of Trump's accusation of criminality aimed at former President Obama, Barr clarified that Obama and Biden would not be targets. "Whatever their level of involvement based on the level of information I have today, I don't expect Mr. Durham's work will lead to a criminal investigation of either man." He added, "Our concern over potential criminality is focused on others." Then he offered misleading words in his usual banal style: "As long as I'm attorney general, the criminal justice system will not be used for partisan political ends. This is especially true for the upcoming elections in November."

But Barr indicated something other than Olympian reserve above the campaign fray. His statement, while intended to make his actions appear purely non-political, laid out the political scenario for when the scheme will reach its crescendo. He pointed Durham to target and prosecute Obama subordinates for "potential criminality." Without naming names, Barr's list consists of those very same former prominent officials on the subpoena lists of Ron Johnson and Lindsey Graham. Those lists are the ramshackle skeleton of the "Obamagate" conspiracy theory: former CIA director John Brennan, former director of National Intelligence James Clapper, former FBI director James Comey, former national security advisor Susan Rice, former ambassador to the United Nations Samantha Power, and a host of former intelligence community officers who have long been hate figures in the Trump demonology. (As a matter of course, the Democrats' request to add the gallery of Trump usual suspects to the subpoena list was blocked: Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, Rudy Giuliani, Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort, Roger Stone, and more.)

An agitated Barr would not allow his signaling in his May 18 remarks to remain his last. "We can't discuss future charges, but …." he said in an exclusive interview on June 10 with Fox News, as he then proceeded to discuss future charges. "But people should not draw from the fact that no action has been taken that taken yet [sic], that that means that people or people are going to get away with wrongdoing." Barr repeated the Trump conspiracy theory including parts that fly in direct contradiction of a Justice Department Inspector General conclusions on the matter: "For the first time in American history, police organizations and the national security organizations were used to spy on a campaign, and there was no basis for it. The media largely drove that, and all kinds of sensational claims were being made about the president that could have affected the election. And then and then later on, in his administration, there were actions taken that really appear to be efforts to sabotage his campaign." Barr promised that Durham was "looking at" a whole range of Obama officials to indict.

The Two Rivers Meet

The summer hearings seem barely disguised as preparation for an October Surprise. Barr has emerged from the shadows just as the previously moribund Senate committees suddenly have stirred to life as "Obamagate" star chambers. In a symbiotic relationship, the Senate operations will orchestrate propaganda for Fox News and the Wurlitzer of right-wing media in an overture to Durham's report and possible indictments that may be sprung during the climax of the presidential campaign. "I'm going to do this through October," Graham tellingly said in a June 5 interview on Fox News. At his hearing authorizing subpoenas, he filled the air with threatening cries. "Comey and McCabe and that whole crowd — their day is coming," he said. He felt compelled to demean Robert Mueller and the Mueller Report as "off script." The lengthy list of names he brandished "need to be fired, they need to be disciplined"—though none are in any current government position from which they could be "fired" or "disciplined"—or, Graham threatened, "they are good candidates to go to jail." Another Republican member of the committee, Senator Chuck Grassley, of Iowa, appearing to have a flashback, railed about Hillary Clinton. "What did Hillary Clinton know about the dossier and when did she know it?" he chimed in. But Hillary Clinton is not on the subpoena list, at least for now.

Ron Johnson's statement at the June 4 meeting of the Homeland Security Committee in which he hammered through his authority to mass produce subpoenas made plain that a good deal of the animating motive and guiding focus of both the Senate and Durham investigations is the case of Michael Flynn, Trump's first and short-lived national security advisor.

Flynn committed perjury by lying to the FBI about his discussions after the election with the Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak, telling him not to retaliate in kind to U.S. sanctions imposed under Obama because there would be a new policy under Trump, an implication that the sanctions would be lifted. Flynn then lied about his conversations to Vice President Mike Pence, who publicly repeated his falsehoods. Through the FBI's "Crossfire Hurricane" investigation into whether Trump's associates were cooperating or conspiring with Russia to influence or interfere in the 2016 election, Flynn's contacts were discovered and exposed. He was fired by Trump, pled guilty twice and then sought to rescind his plea. In December 2019, the Inspector General of the Department of Justice, David Horowitz, issued a report stating that the standard for "predication," opening an FBI investigation into Flynn's Russian ties, was legitimately authorized, based on "an articulable factual basis that [he] may wittingly or unwittingly be involved in activity on behalf of the Russian Federation which may constitute a federal crime or threat to the national security," and finding no evidence of political bias or improper motivation.

What Really Happened with Flynn

On February 14, 2017, the day after Flynn's dismissal, Trump pressured FBI director James Comey not to open an investigation. "I hope you can see your way clear to letting this go, to letting Flynn go. He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go." The Mueller Report concluded that "the circumstances of the conversation show that the President was asking Comey to close the FBI's investigation into Flynn." Trump directed Flynn's deputy, K.T. McFarland, to write a document to "confirm" that Trump had not directed Flynn. She refused and instead wrote a memo to the White House legal counsel to memorialize the "irregular" request that appeared "like a quid pro quo in exchange for an ambassadorship," according to the Mueller Report. When Comey refused to drop the Flynn probe, Trump fired him, triggering the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel to investigate the Russian interference in the election. Trump's personal attorney John Dowd called Flynn and left a voicemail for him: "We need some kind of heads up. Um, just for the sake of…protecting all our interests, if we can, without you having to give up any…confidential information." Then he called Flynn's attorney to warn him that if "there's information that…implicates the president, then we've got a national security issue." Trump refused to provide a written answer to Mueller's question to him about Flynn.

On May 5, Barr's Justice Department filed a motion to dismiss the case against Flynn, who was awaiting sentencing. Barr's filing claimed that the FBI investigation was "conducted without any legitimate investigative basis," Flynn's lies lacked "materiality," he was somehow tricked by the FBI agents into lying, and anyway the FBI really didn't think he was lying. The DOJ prosecutor quit the case in protest. In a report on the DOJ motion on June 10 to the judge overseeing the case, U.S. District Court judge Emmet Sullivan, former federal judge John Gleeson stated that the DOJ's claims "are not credible," and instead are "preposterous," and "riddled with inexplicable and elementary errors of law and fact." "The facts surrounding the filing of the Government's motion to dismiss constitute clear evidence of gross prosecutorial abuse," Gleeson wrote. "They reveal an unconvincing effort to disguise as legitimate a decision to dismiss that is based solely on the fact that Flynn is a political ally of President Trump." On Trump and Barr, Gleeson concluded, "If the Executive wishes for the Judiciary to dismiss criminal charges—as opposed to issuing a pardon or taking other unilateral action—the reasons it offers must be real and credible."

The Tracks of Senator Johnson's Disinformation

Seeking to "dominate the battlespace" for Trump's retribution, Lindsey Graham and Ron Johnson have been assigned the task of serving subpoenas throughout the long hot summer, the equivalent of lobbing flash grenades and tear gas to clear the path for Barr's march to October. Johnson's statement to his committee, amounting to his order of battle, was a haphazard series of distortions, omissions and half-truths, which he claimed were "undisputed," his characteristic method, as he said, to challenge the "false narrative" against Trump.

Well, no, the Steele Dossier, compiled by Christopher Steele, the former MI6 British secret service agent who had spent much of his career doing intelligence work in Russia, was not, as Johnson asserted, ordered up by the DNC and Clinton campaign to produce "fabricated foreign opposition research." Steele was in fact initially hired by the conservative website The Free Beacon and paid by Republican donor Paul Singer to help the Jeb Bush campaign. There has been no proof that the Steele Dossier's principal substantive allegation regarding the Russian effort to assist in Trump's election was false, or that the information was manufactured by the Russian government or its agents deliberately using Steele as its outlet. On the contrary, the U.S. intelligence community as well as the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence have stated that the Russian government and its intelligence services intervened in the election to help Donald Trump. Some of the indisputable facts of that interference are set forth in the Mueller investigation's indictment of 13 Russian agents and three Russian companies, including the Internet Research Agency, which the group itself described as "'information warfare against the United States,'" using "fraud and deceit for the purpose of interfering with the U.S. political and electoral processes, including the presidential election of 2016…. supporting the presidential campaign of then-candidate Donald J. Trump ('Trump Campaign') and disparaging Hillary Clinton." The Mueller Report, moreover, identified 272 contacts between Trump agents and Russian operatives, not one of which was reported to the FBI. Mueller stated, "the investigation established that several individuals affiliated with the Trump Campaign lied to the Office, and to Congress, about their interactions with Russian-affiliated individuals and related matters. Those lies materially impaired the investigation of Russian election interference."

Well, no, despite Johnson's insistence, it was not the Steele Dossier that "was used to instigate an FBI investigation of the Trump campaign and obtain FISA warrants." The origin of the investigation can be traced to the former foreign minister of Australia and ambassador to the UK, Alexander Downer, who was alarmed after Trump campaign adviser George Papadopoulos informed him that Russia indicated to the Trump campaign that the Kremlin could assist in the election through the anonymous release of derogatory information on Clinton. Downer told his government, which in turn related it to the FBI, which then interviewed him.

Well, no, the "unmasking" of "Trump officials by dozens of political appointees in the waning days of the Obama administration"—that is, national security and law enforcement officials—was neither unusual nor illegal. And, as it happened, Flynn, often claimed to have been unmasked, was not after all masked in the FBI document on his conversations with the Russian ambassador.

Well, no, Flynn was not the innocent victim of a "surprise" FBI interview. His perjury cannot be blamed on being startled. No FBI agent instructed him to lie. And, well, no, the case against Flynn would not have been dismissed on the basis of an FBI memo that was suddenly suppressed. And so on.

Johnson's tendentious complaint amounts to a defense of Trump on the curious assumption that the FBI has no legal predicate to engage in counter-intelligence operations against foreign adversaries, particularly Russia in light of its history of corrupting American officials and intelligence officers, not that Johnson or the staffers who wrote his statement grasp the absurdity of their own argument. In order to vindicate Trump—and Flynn—both of them must be the victims of the "Deep State" (i.e., the U.S. intelligence community, State Department and professionals of the Justice Department), who must be the true perpetrators, and the official findings of culpability for those who have committed crimes must be reversed. "The Department of Justice has a solemn responsibility to prosecute this case—like every other case—without fear or favor and, to quote the Department's motto, solely 'on behalf of justice,'" stated former judge Gleeson. The perversion of justice requires the inversion of the storyline.

Senator Joseph McCarthy's Successor

Johnson's mélange of misleading assertions may be fabricated, but it is also prefabricated. The rickety edifice of his argument was manufactured prior to arriving at his shop, indeed, delivered to him with instructions and quickly constructed. His value appears to be in following instructions. If he were an imaginative flimflam man in his own right, Trump (and Barr) would not rely on him to perform as expected. (In this respect he stands as a contrast to Lindsey Graham.) Johnson's method is apparently second-hand, borrowed from Trump, who acquired its secrets from his first lawyer and mentor in the dark arts, Roy Cohn, who honed it as counsel to another senator from Wisconsin, Joseph McCarthy.

The original technique perfected by McCarthy was best described by Richard H. Rovere, the writer for The New Yorker, who knew McCarthy and was the author of the most incisive biography. Rovere wrote:

The multiple untruth need not be a particularly large untruth but can instead be a long series of loosely related untruths, or a single untruth with many facets. In either case, the whole is composed of so many parts that anyone wishing to set the record straight will discover that it is utterly impossible to keep all the elements of the falsehood in mind at the same time. Anyone making the attempt may seize upon a few selected statements and show them to be false, but doing this may leave the impression that only the statements selected are false and that the rest are true. An even greater advantage of the 'multiple untruth' is that statements shown to be false can be repeated over and over again with impunity because no one will remember which statements have been disproved and which haven't.

The Senate hearings on "Obamagate" promise to be a cavalcade of witnesses, each linked in a chain of "a conspiracy so immense" to prove the "multiple untruth." The witnesses' appearances under subpoena project a perceived assumption of guilt, as McCarthy instinctively understood when he exploited his senatorial immunity to use the Chamber as the stage setting for a courtroom where his accusations never had to meet the rules of evidence. Even the odd disconnected fact that somehow arises in the "Obamagate" hearing will be, as it was by McCarthy, hammered out of shape and into line to fit the larger untruth.

But Ron Johnson is no Joe McCarthy, who was, at least before Trump, "the most gifted demagogue ever bred on these shores," according to Rovere, "a fertile innovator, a first-rate organizer and galvanizer of mobs, a skilled manipulator of public opinion, and something like a genius at that essential American strategy: publicity." McCarthy was a little-noticed sleazy Republican senator, pocketing money on the side from various lobbyists, and looking for a dramatic issue to exploit for his reelection when at a dinner a companion suggested that he use his perch as chairman of the subcommittee on Permanent Investigations to seize on Communist subversion. "That's it," said McCarthy. "The government is full of Communists." In a speech in 1950 at Wheeling, Wester Virginia, he told a Lincoln Day gathering of a Women's Republican Club that he had the names of 205, or 81, or 57 Communists in the State Department. His crusade of "Multiple Untruth" was off to the races, the first against the "Deep State," accusing not only the State Department but also the CIA and the Army of being infiltrated by Communist agents, and accusing General George C. Marshall of being part of "a conspiracy so immense." McCarthy's youthful counsel, Roy Cohn, created new investigations to ferret out subversives and homosexuals when McCarthy himself was stumped for fresh targets. McCarthy played the Washington press corps like a Stradivarius, inventing stories as he walked the corridors of the Capitol with reporters, terrorized two presidents, Harry Truman and Dwight Eisenhower, reached 50 percent approval with the public (a number that Trump has never attained), and was allowed free rein by his fellow Republican senators until his utility as a weapon to smear Democrats as traitors ended when he veered too far off the rails in his attack on the Army. He was censured (Senator Prescott Bush of Connecticut was prominent in proposing the motion), fell into an alcoholic stupor, and drank himself to death.

Roy Cohn went back to New York, where he would meet Donald Trump and introduce him to the Mafia families who were Cohn's clients and would pour the concrete for Trump Tower. Cohn would teach him his methods of intimidation and deceit, and before his death from AIDS pass his handling over to his protege Roger Stone, who made his chops as a "ratfucker" doing dirty tricks in Nixon's reelection campaign and became Trump's chief political advisor.

In 2016, Stone apparently kept Trump closely informed in advance of Wikileaks' schedule for publication of Clinton campaign emails stolen by Russian military intelligence. In written testimony to Mueller's questions, Trump denied any such knowledge. But in the unredacted version of the Mueller Report, the special counsel wrote that "the President's conduct could also be viewed as reflecting his awareness that Stone could provide evidence that would run counter to the President's denials and would link the President to Stone's efforts to reach out to WikiLeaks." Stone was scheduled to report to federal prison on June 30 for seven counts of federal crimes including lying to Congress, witness intimidation and obstruction of justice, before being sprung by Trump's commutation that raises questions whether the two might be prosecuted in the future for obstruction of justice. The line from McCarthy to Trump, from demagogue to demagogue, is just a hop, skip and jump.

Johnson's Political Groundings

In Ron Johnson's telling, the miraculous revelation that he should run for the U.S. Senate struck him in a single blinding moment like St. Paul on the road to Damascus. A voice spoke to him. "I was sitting at home watching Fox News and Dick Morris came on," he recalled. The polymorphous perverse political consultant, a Fox News talking head, in 2010 flacking for the Tea Party, from which he was personally profiting with a series of front groups, uttered these inspirational words: "You know, if you're a rich guy from Wisconsin, step up to the plate." Johnson turned to his wife and asked, "Is he, like, talking to me?"

Johnson had not run for any political office before. He was an accountant who made his fortune the old-fashioned way: he married it. His wife's brother, Patrick Curler, installed him as president in the family business, which Curler had inherited from his father. The Pacur company (named for Pat Curler), based in Oshkosh, Wisconsin, manufactures specialty plastic wrapping for medical devices among other products.

Johnson's most notable public appearance before his Senate run was as a witness in early 2010, testifying before a state senate committee hearing against the Child Victims Act that would eliminate the statute of limitations for reporting crimes of pedophilia. The Green Bay, Wisconsin Catholic Diocese had just confessed that there were "substantial" allegations of sexual abuse of minors against 48 priests. Johnson, a Lutheran, was a member of the diocese's financial council, which would be involved in any compensation, and he made the novel argument that efforts at achieving justice would only "have the perverse effect of leading to additional victims of sexual abuse if individuals, recognizing that their organizations are at risk, become less likely to report suspected abuse." Johnson, however, failed at the time to inform the committee of his membership on the Church's finance counsel. The Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel, which identified him as an "Oshkosh businessman," reported, "Johnson had little to say about the victims of sexual abuse in his testimony. His was largely a financial concern." The bill was also opposed by the insurance industry. Johnson later explained he was concerned about its financial effect on other groups and businesses. The bill was successfully killed. Johnson's shielding of child molesters in the priesthood was his first success in public policy.

In 2009, a year before Johnson said he heard the commanding voice of Dick Morris, he was already speaking at Tea Party rallies, the start of his self-financed campaign for the Republican senatorial nomination. "I'm happy to associate myself with the people of the Tea Party," he said. But few knew who he was, he seemed vague about specific Tea Party doctrines, and Tea Party groups denied that they endorsed his candidacy. Yet his money overwhelmed opposition and wariness. When he gained the nomination at the state convention, he admitted, "I think what was most gratifying to me about it is it really wasn't endorsing me because people don't really know who I am." He was elected in the Republican wave of 2010, defeating the incumbent Democrat, Senator Russ Feingold.

Johnson proved himself to be a reliable party-liner. He called Obamacare's provision for contraception "an assault on religious freedom," accused Planned Parenthood of being "vested in the barbaric practice of harvesting human organs," insisted there was no "scientific evidence" for climate change, tried to gut financial regulation, and, echoing what he heard on Fox News, took to denouncing "The Lego Movie," which he labeled "insidious" anti-business "propaganda." The film's cartoon villain was an evil businessman. "That's done for a reason," he explained. "Our news media is not on our side, certainly not entertainment media."

There was one other position on which Johnson hewed to the party line: the Obama administration's supposed weakness toward Vladimir Putin, a "megalomaniac" and "a danger to the civilized world." Johnson demanded in 2015 that Obama take a more aggressive stance against Russia, especially on Ukraine. Obama, he charged, had "not taken the time to explain why Vladimir Putin's aggressive expansion threatens our national security and the world order."

When Trump clinched the Republican nomination for president, but before the Republican National Convention, Johnson tried to create some degree of separation from him. His endorsement, he said, would not be "a big embrace." "I'll certainly be an independent voice where I disagree with a particular nominee." After the Access Hollywood tape was disclosed—"Grab 'em by the pussy"—Johnson behaved as though Trump would lose. "I'm not going to defend the indefensible," he said. "But I will hold whoever is our president accountable." At a campaign rally just before the election, Johnson called for Hillary Clinton to be impeached for her emails when she became president. "I'm not a lawyer," he said. "I would say, yes, high crime or misdemeanor. I believe she is in violation of both laws." He may have never realized how foolish that sounded.

With Trump's freakish victory Johnson instantly transformed himself into a courtier. He was more than a dependable vote, more than another Republican who held his tongue and held on for dear life. He has aggressively inserted himself into peculiar situations abroad, suddenly popping up in the middle of Trump's clandestine relationships with Russia and Ukraine, and giving murky explanations for why he was there, what he was doing and who sent him. In Moscow and Kyiv, here was Sinclair Lewis' Babbitt-like American archetypal figure from the 1920s, the conventional businessman booster from the small-town Midwest, as Zelig, Woody Allen's nebbish chameleon who makes startling appearances ingratiating himself with almost every celebrity of the same period. The key to both fictional personalities is the urge for conformity. Johnson's one-dimensional lack of complication has landed him in the midst of tangled situation. His simple-minded Republican ambition to get ahead has propelled him into Trump's abyss, which he has mistaken for a ladder of success.

Johnson Goes to Russia

"What does July 4th mean to me? Freedom," tweeted Ron Johnson, on July 4, 2018. He celebrated that day in Moscow with a group of seven other Republicans. (There were no Democrats on this congressional delegation.) The Republicans announced that they hoped to meet with Putin, who would have a summit with Trump the next month in Helsinki, where Trump declared that he accepted Putin's statement that Russia had not interfered in the U.S. election. But Johnson and the others were not granted an audience with the Russian leader. Instead they were greeted by Sergei Kislyak, the former Russian ambassador to the United States, Michael Flynn's interlocutor, and now a member of Russia's upper house of parliament. "We heard things we'd heard before, and I think our guests heard rather clearly and distinctly an answer that they already knew—we don't interfere in American elections," said Kislyak. Another Russian official they met, Duma member Vyacheslav Nikonov, said "he had met with many American lawmakers in years past and that this meeting 'was one of the easiest ones in my life,'" according to the Washington Post. "The question of election interference, he said, was resolved quickly because 'the question was raised in a general form.' 'One shouldn't interfere in elections—well, we don't interfere,' Nikonov said." The Post reported: "On Russian state television, presenters and guests mocked the U.S. congressional delegation for appearing to put a weak foot forward, noting how the message of tough talk they promised in Washington 'changed a bit' by the time they got to Moscow. 'We need to look down at them and say: You came because you needed to, not because we did,' Igor Korotchenko, a Russian military expert, said on a talk show on state-run television."

As soon as Johnson returned home, on July 7, the former hardliner on Russia told the right-wing Washington Examiner that "he's worried that Congress over-reacted to Russia's election interference, which resulted in legislation that tied Trump's hands with mandatory sanctions. 'I've been pretty upfront that the election interference —as serious as that was, and unacceptable—is not the greatest threat to our democracy,' he said. 'We've blown it way out of proportion—[as if it's] the greatest threat to democracy…We need to really honestly assess what actually happened, what effect did it have, and what effect are our sanctions actually having, positively and negatively.'" He added, "And I think you'd be hard-pressed to say that sanctions against Russia are really working all that well."

The next day, TASS, the Russian state news service, publicized: "US Sanctions Against Russia Not Working–US Senator Johnson." Sputnik International headlined: "GOP Senator After Moscow Visit: US Sanctions On Russia 'Not Working That Well.'" Johnson had provided a propaganda coup for Putin.

Later that July, Trump was busily engaged in what the Mueller Report documented as the fourth of his ten obstructions of justice against the investigation into his collusion with Russian interference in the 2016 election: "The President Orders [Chief of Staff Reince] Priebus to Demand [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions's Resignation." Trump was obsessed with raising a conspiracy theory that the Clinton campaign had colluded with Ukraine against him to counter the reality of what Russia actually had done. The Mueller Report cited his tweet of July 25, 2017: "Ukrainian efforts to sabotage Trump campaign—'quietly working to boost Clinton.' So where is the investigation A.G."

Trump soon worked his obsession into an elaborate "multiple untruth" that it was Ukraine that hacked the DNC server, not Russia, that Ukraine falsely blamed Russia, that when the FBI attempted to retrieve the server Ukraine gave it to the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, which he claimed was a Ukrainian company and supposedly hid the server in order to protect Hillary Clinton's role in the secret plot against him. None of these claims were true.

Fiona Hill, the National Security Council senior director on Europe and Russia, in her testimony before the House impeachment committee, called Trump's story "an alternative narrative" that undermined U.S. interests and aided Russia. "These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes," she said. This "alternative narrative" is a Trump conspiracy theory that could be quashed by facts, yet became an impetus behind Johnson's investigation, one of his Holy Grails.

Even before Johnson's mission to Moscow, Trump had for months been piecing together the operation that would attempt to force an investigation into Joe Biden's alleged promotion of his son Hunter Biden's business interests in Ukraine—a charge that was entirely false and has been repeatedly refuted—and would eventually seek to force an exchange for the manufacture of that political smear for U.S. military aid to Ukraine—the proposed transaction that was the grounds for Trump's impeachment. Johnson would soon plunge right into the middle of the Trump team's machinations in Ukraine.

(To be continued.)

Author's note and full disclosure: When Sen. Johnson disclosed his list of people he intends to subpoena in his "Obamagate" probe, my name appeared on it. Apparently, this involves the most obscure conspiracy theory within the larger conspiracy theory, a "second dossier" to Christopher Steele's Dossier originating with the Clinton campaign. There is, in fact, no such "second dossier," which is not a "dossier" at all but two emails consisting of raw notes of an inquiring journalist that he collected from conversations about Trump's Russian relationships, sent to some friends, including me, which I shared with another longtime friend, who unbeknownst to me happened to share it with his longtime friend, Christopher Steele, who unbeknownst to that friend sent a paragraph he found interesting in one of the emails to the FBI. None of this had anything to do with the Clinton campaign; no one in this chain knew who the next person would share it with; and none of it had any relevance to anything significant that subsequently occurred. I debunked this conspiracy theory in testimony to the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence on June 16, 2019. It seems that Johnson and his crack staff have failed to properly acquaint themselves with the work of that Republican-led but bipartisan committee.

Sidney Blumenthal is the author of All the Powers of Earth, the third volume in his five-volume biography, The Political Life of Abraham Lincoln, published in September 2019 by Simon and Schuster. the first two volumes are A Self-Made Man and Wrestling with His Angel. He is the former assistant and senior adviser to President Bill Clinton and senior adviser to Hillary Clinton. He has been a national staff reporter for The Washington Post and Washington editor and writer for The New Yorker. His books include the The Clinton Wars, The Rise of the Counter-Establishment, and The Permanent Campaign. He has been a senior fellow of the NYU Center on Law and Security and is a fellow of the Society of American Historians.