Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Family Matters: Try 2

I have this feeling yesterday's post was too hypertextual to read comfortably and that nobody in fact really read it in the way I meant them to do, so I'm trying again in more conventional prose.

Bassin's Café, Pennsylvania Ave., before and after torching,1978. Via WETA's Washington history website. Boundary Stones.

Or, more accurately, the only family that's gone into Washington, DC since Salvatore Cottone finally got sent to prison in 1990. Because, really, what kind of family "goes into" a city and there are so few of them that you might be tempted to say yours is the only honest one? That's what you'd say about a Mafia family, of which most cities most of the time have just one, like Chicago or New Orleans (you'd be lying about the honesty, I guess, or maybe meaning that yours are buona gente, unlike those filthy pervert Russians), or fewer, like Washington up until the mid-1970s, when Salvatore Cottone opened a couple of pizzerias there and put his brother Giuseppe in charge of the cocaine and heroin dealership.

It turns out that the Cottone family really is the only one that's ever gone into Washington, DC in that sense, unless you count the Trumps. It's not really a good place, because of the concentration of law enforcement working there, and it didn't work out that well for the Cottones, whose reign as DC Mafia family did not last long.

In the first place, the drug business was not so profitable that they were able to do without the restaurant income, and the competition was fierce, so much so that Sal decided he needed to stop a rival, Bassin's Café on Pennsylvania Avenue, and assigned his man Alfredo "The Butcher" Toriello to burn the place down, in much the same spirit as Donald, worried about potential competition to his own Pennsylvania Avenue hotel and restaurant if the FBI went ahead with the planned sale of their headquarters building across the street, got a henchwoman, Emily Murphy of the General Services Administration, to lean on the FBI not to move out.

The Cottones began to prosper, broadening operations to include restaurants in Fairfax and Norfolk and a wine importing business in Hampton Roads (no relation to Eric Trump's winery in Charlottesville), but the FBI was definitely beginning to study the family, and over a period in 1986-87, with the help of an ex-Mafia informant called Frank Casali, bought $400,000 worth of coke from Giuseppe, who was then indicted with two dozen other criminals in early 1987 and sent to the pen.

Sal remained free, like Trump after the FBI investigation that found evidence that could (and should) have led to charges on at least ten counts of obstruction of justice and possibly much more, but he couldn't shake his anger at the people who had put his brother away, especially at the turncoat Casali, and his desire for revenge led him into a trap: an informant posing as a hit man offered to kill Casali for $5000 (Sal seems to have abandoned his plan to cut off one of Casali's arms and send it to the FBI), staged and photographed a fake execution of Casali (who was in on the plot and helpfully smeared his shirt and pants with ketchup before they took the pictures), and brought the evidence to Sal, wearing a wire. The upshot was that he was charged with 17 felonies starting with arson (Bassin's Café), and sentenced in the end to 20 years, a semi-tragic figure, to the extent that his downfall, and that of Washington history's only Mafia family, was brought about by a flaw, his insatiable vindictiveness.

Which started me thinking, could something similar happen to Big Donald? In fact, could his need for revenge against the FBI personnel who dared to investigate him be the very thing that brings him down?

I'm not even kidding, because there's some evidence to let you speculate that vendetta, particularly against James Comey, Andrew McCabe, and Peter Strzok, is what started him on his career of stealing federal documents. Here's what I mean:

Motive: Trump's hostility to those three guys is well known. They were the originators of the first investigation, around Mike Flynn, and the second one, around Comey's firing, and we've watched him fire them all, with the cooperation of a compliant Justice Department (remember Rod Rosenstein wrote the memo that justified that one, ironically on the grounds of Comey's insubordination vis-à-vis AG Loretta Lynch in improperly revealing details of the Hillary Clinton emails investigation that may have gotten Trump elected), especially viciously taking McCabe's pension away, but he never stopped asking for more, successively setting inspector general Michael Horowitz, attorney general William Barr, and special counsel John Durham on them.

Method: Trump's preferred method of  "dirt", of course. He certainly believes everybody is just as corrupt as he is, and a competent investigation should be able to prove that, and if you can't he'd like you to at least announce an investigation (as Comey did re Hillary in October 2016, as Trump asked Zelenskyy to do in 2019). In the case of Comey, McCabe, and Strzok, the object has been to suggest that the suspicion that there must have been something criminally improper in the way the investigation of the 2016 election got started, in Strzok's personal dislike for Trump, or the "totally discredited" (maybe 30% discredited)  Steele dossier, or the truly crazy theory developed by Giuliani and Solomon that Ukraine rather than Russia is somehow responsible for the theft of emails belonging to the Democratic Party, the Wikileaks publication of which contributed to Trump's 2016 victory.

Opportunity: Following the utter failure of Horowitz, Barr, and Durham to  come up with any usable "dirt" on his enemies, Trump posted at least one employee, former Devin Nunes aide Kash Patel, to the Directory of National Intelligence in the explicit hope of tarnishing FBI personnel:

Patel repeatedly pressed intelligence agencies to release secrets that, in his view, showed that the president was being persecuted unfairly by critics. Ironically, he is now facing Justice Department investigation for possible improper disclosure of classified information, according to two knowledgeable sources who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the probe. The sources said the investigation resulted from a complaint made this year by an intelligence agency, but wouldn’t provide additional details....

In 2020, he was a senior adviser to acting director of national intelligence Richard Grenell and his successor, John Ratcliffe, helping lead their efforts to remove senior career intelligence officers.

That was his job. Trump sent him. And, not coincidentally, Kash Patel and fabricator John Solomon are point men.

And when Patel first spoke about  the stolen documents, in May, he pretty much said so:

“It’s information that Trump felt spoke to matters regarding everything from Russiagate to the Ukraine impeachment fiasco to major national security matters of great public importance — anything the president felt the American people had a right to know is in there and more.”

Only that didn't work. I'm thinking what we're seeing now is more or less that Patel's move to DOD after the election was a kind of transfer from offense to defense, from looking for "dirt" on Trump's FBI enemies to looking for—and hiding—incriminating documents on Trump.

Bos has a new diary at Kos detailing some more Mafia-like Trump behavior that hasn't been well understood until now.

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