WHO DOESN’T BELONG IN THIS PICTURE?: While Mayor de Blasio’s latest indulgence in low crimes and misdemeanors involved playing racial politics in the school system and President Trump grew increasingly unglued about the prospect that House Democrats might initiate impeachment proceedings based on recommendations from the Mueller Report, just-departed Special Counsel Robert Mueller continued to embody what sometimes seem quaint, old-fashioned qualities like honor and self-effacement.

“What’s this I hear that Cuomo and de Blasio skipped the 9/11 Memorial Glade dedication?” Fausto “Fuzzy” Mamori asked me, sitting on the inmate side of the Federal penitentiary where he is faithfully serving his country for the crime of being caught.

“Well, Cuomo’s people said he had business to deal with in Albany, so he sent his Counsel,” I told him. “Or he had a scheduling conflict.”

“Or a mid-life crisis,” Fuzzy said. “Or maybe, now that he announced he’ll seek a fourth term as Governor, he decided that 42 months before the election wasn’t too early to start raising money and plotting strategy.”

“But wouldn’t missing a ceremony honoring first-responders who died from toxic exposure down at the World Trade Center site cost him more politically than he gains from dialing for dollars—which he could do from the car on the trip back and forth—or bird-dogging the legislators so they don’t sneak anything by him three weeks before the end of the session?” I asked.

‘If He’s Not Speaking, He’s Brooding’

“You don’t know Andrew,” Fuzzy responded. “He sweats the details. He’s a moody guy. Put him at a ceremony like that and any moment he’s not speaking he’s either brooding about who’s trying to outsmart him or figuring out ways to outsmart them. Even so, he should’ve been there. And what was de Blasio’s excuse?”

“I think the story was that his staffers didn’t inform him about the event, and he was upset when he found out because he would’ve liked to have made it,” I said.

“That’s interesting,” Fuzzy said. “We know from his e-mails that he thinks he’s got the world’s worst staff because any time there’s a crisis, they mishandle it. So now we’re supposed to believe that a bunch of people who are walking on eggshells because he second-guesses them left and right didn’t even mention a 9/11 commemoration because they assumed he wouldn’t want to be bothered?”

“I have to admit it didn’t sound plausible,” I said. “Unless he told them before this that anything that’s not related to the presidential campaign he doesn’t care about.”

“That’s ridiculous. The political racket that he’s in, of course something like that is related. Where did he go instead, another trip through the Iowa cornfields?”

“Actually, according to The Post, it was a typical workday: coffee near his house in Brooklyn, a workout at the Park Slope Y, and then a staff meeting at Gracie Mansion while the ceremony was taking place.”

“What a yutz.”

“Well, Fuzzy, it seems like he made an important decision at the meeting. Because the next day his office put up a 22-minute video featuring past and present high-school students calling the Specialized High School Admissions Test immoral and racist. They got an Asian student who’s a senior at one of the elite schools to say that people in her community ‘don’t ever think about, like, what about the kids who don’t even know about the exam and can’t even afford the test prep that all you guys are taking?’“

“Let me interrupt you for a minute. Who’s been the Mayor for the past 5 ½ years?” Fuzzy said.

“I assume that’s a rhetorical question.”

“You assume right. But I wonder if this young lady knows the answer, and if she does, whether she thinks maybe he should’ve been making sure that all these kids knew about the exam, and maybe should’ve thought about funding test-prep courses for them.”

“I don’t think, Fuzz, that the purpose of the video was to solicit student input on those kind of issues. I think City Hall put it out to counter the wave of bad publicity the Chancellor’s been getting.”

“You mean because he didn’t think it was a big deal if they substituted quotas for the test because who’s gonna care about Asians being crowded out of the elite schools? Look at it from his point of view: that’s a lot easier than improving the middle schools throughout the city, as the Mayor’s proved to the whole world.”

Round Up the Excuses

“Well, Carranza is apparently convinced there’s a lot of institutional racism and that they have to change the culture in the Department of Education before anyone can expect him to make progress on long-running problems like the middle schools,” I said.

“And with that attitude, by the time he and de Blasio are heading for the exits, their excuse will be, well, we tried, but we couldn’t overcome the forces aligned against us,” Fuzzy said. “It makes me sorry I’m in the Federal penal system where there’s no parole; I’d love to go before the state board to give them the same kind of malarkey about why I haven’t been able to rehabilitate myself and see whether they buy it.”

“So you don’t think this Chancellor is the change-agent the Mayor insists he is?”

“You kiddin’? Their plan on scrapping the test is dead in Albany, and if he keeps letting their outside consultants rail against a ‘white-supremacy culture’ in the Department of Education while picking top administrators based on race, it’s gonna turn into an episode of ‘Seinfeld,’ except instead of the Gym Teacher mocking George, the press will be calling the Chancellor ‘Can’t Stand Ya Carranza.’“

“On the other hand,” I said, “de Blasio’s feeling pretty good about getting an endorsement from the Mayor of Orangeburg.”

“Why, he thinks that’s gonna let him do better in Florida than Lindsay and Giuliani?”

“Actually, Orangeburg is in South Carolina.”

“Must’ve made a wrong turn off 95,” Fuzzy said. “But now that we’re on the subject, I have to tell you that the rest of the guests here don’t think much of the Mayor’s chances of doing better than Rudy if he makes it to the Florida primary. I organized a little, umm, contest on whether de Blasio could top the one delegate Rudy got there in 2008, and the action was so one-sided that anyone who wants to bet under 1.5 delegates has to lay 10-1 odds.”

“You might get some money flowing the other way now that the Mayor went after Trump for making disparaging remarks about Sadiq Khan while he was in the United Kingdom.”

Reviving an Old Khan

“Why’s he getting involved sticking up for her after the way she screwed up traffic in Manhattan with all them bike lanes?” Fuzzy asked.

“I’m not talking about Janette Sadik-Khan; he was defending the Mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, after Trump called him as incompetent as de Blasio and half as tall.”

“I realize Trump’s an easy target,” Fuzzy said, “but isn’t it like picking on the handicapped?”

“You mean the kind of thing that Trump would do?”

“Oh yeah, the disabled Times reporter.”

“Among other targets,” I said. “But de Blasio can use the feud the same way Trump used the tariffs on Mexico: to change the subject or help himself with his base voters. When he made those remarks up in Albany, he didn’t want to spend his time with reporters answering questions about the Housing Authority Federal monitor’s complaints or why he waited until now to tell legislators what his priorities are.”

“Maybe,” Fuzzy said. “But with Trump, it’s getting to the point where I think it’s less about distractions and more that he can’t help himself. Ever since Mueller did his nine minutes before the media, Trump’s been like a cross between a squirrel and a weasel.”

“A squeasel?”

“Don’t get cute when I’m trying to make a point. Until Mueller made his remarks, Trump had been daring the Democrats to impeach him, like they’d be making a political sucker bet if they tried. Then Mueller’s saying on live TV what was already obvious to anyone who read the report: that Congress can make a case for obstruction of justice based on what he found, and it’s like Trump is thinking, ‘he’s right. So even if the Senate doesn’t remove me, impeachment hearings could make me look bad enough that I lose next year, and if I’m out of office in 2021, suddenly I’m subject to criminal charges.’ And he apparently hadn’t considered that possibility until now any more than he thought in 2016 about the problems he might face if he actually won the damn election.”

Not a Chess Player

“You think all that went through his mind for the first time a week ago even though Mueller didn’t say anything that hadn’t already been said in the report?” I asked.

“I think when the report came out, he didn’t even look at Barr’s four-page summary. I think he just asked the Attorney General to give him the bottom line. And Barr said ‘no evidence of collusion and I’ll give you a slide on obstruction based on Mueller not actually recommending charges,’ and Trump figured he was in the clear. I mean, look what he said when reporters asked him if he was worried about being impeached: ‘I can’t imagine the courts allowing it.’ It’s like he doesn’t understand that the courts can rule on what he has to turn over to Congress, but they have nothing to do with whether the process goes forward.

“And then,” Fuzzy continued, “he calls impeach ‘a dirty, filthy, disgusting word.’ It was like he thought charging him with it should allow him to sue Congress for sexual harassment.”

“You make it sound like Trump was convinced that Mueller simply summing up what he said in the report amounted to the equivalent of Al Pacino in ‘And Justice for All’ turning on his own client and saying, ‘The son of a bitch is guilty!’“

“In a word,” Fuzzy replied, “yeah. In real life, the Pacino character would have gotten disbarred. Mueller made his case without raising an eyebrow. And Trump, who’d be a terrible poker player, knew Mueller had him and was telling Democrats to call his bluff and trust the cards he’d handed them.”

“And that was why,” I asked, “he went through that screed about Mueller the next day, saying the Special Counsel was out to get him because he didn’t choose him to replace James Comey as FBI Director and that Mueller never forgave him for a business dispute they had about fees at Trump’s Virginia golf club?”

Can’t Keep Lies Straight

“Keep in mind,” Fuzzy said, “those remarks came right after he’d tweeted that the report showed he’d had ‘nothing to do with Russia helping me to get elected.’ That was the first time he admitted that Russia played a role in his win.”

“He disowned that remark a half-hour later,” I said.

“And he just denied calling Meghan Markle ‘nasty’ in an interview with that Murdoch paper in London, even though the Sun had it on tape,” Fuzzy said. “When a born liar like Trump can’t keep his stories straight anymore, it’s a sure sign the wheels are coming off.”

“You know it was just reported that Hope Hicks and ex-White House Counsel Don McGahn’s Chief of Staff notified Jerry Nadler that the White House ordered them not to testify before the House Judiciary Committee. That’s on top of Trump ordering McGahn not to give the committee any more red meat than he served up in the Mueller Report, starting with the President ordering him to fire Mueller.”

“Funny how Trump conveniently forgot about that, along with his refusing to come in for an in-person interview, when he said he gave Mueller all the cooperation he could’ve asked for,” Fuzzy said. “Now he’s trying to control the damage by making everyone who worked for him dummy up. Not exactly the position you’d expect from a guy who swears he’s got nothing to hide.”

“Speaking of keeping stuff out of public view,” I said, “what do you make of the order from the White House Military Office that during his visit to Japan last month, the USS McCain should be hidden from view so the President wouldn’t see it?”

“Well,” Fuzzy replied, “that’s one of the more-squirrely tales of Trump I’ve heard. But some guys get unnerved being around people they know are no good; he gets the willies when he’s going up against someone like McCain or Mueller who distinguished themselves with their military service and did something honorable with their lives after that.”

“You think he’s got bone spurs on the brain?” I asked.

Praise's Implied Rebuke

“I think it’s more that he’s sure they see right through him and couldn’t be bullied by him,” Fuzzy said. “You know when Mueller really got in Trump’s kitchen? At the end of his Justice Department address when he thanked the FBI Agents, the attorneys and analysts who were part of the probe for doing it “in a fair and independent manner,” then concluded by noting that the indictments they obtained were in response to ‘multiple, systematic efforts to interfere in our election.’ The way he put it together was like telling Trump, ‘look at the company I travel in, and look at the bunch of bums you surrounded yourself with.’“

“Speaking of people of dubious character, what did you make of that Jared Kushner interview on HBO last night with Jonathan Swan?”

“You mean when Swan asks about AOC calling Trump a racist and Jared responds, ‘You can’t not be a racist for 69 years, then run for President and be a racist’?” Fuzzy said.

“Yeah, and then Swan asks whether birtherism was racist and Kushner says, ‘Umm, look, I wasn’t really involved in that.’“

Fuzzy snorted and said,”And then Swan comes back, ‘I know you weren’t; was it racist?’ and Jared gives the same reply.”

“It kind of gave you the feeling Jared spent a lot of time rehearsing his initial answer and never anticipated the question about Trump’s crusade against Obama and whether he was born here,” I said.

“I give the kid credit for keeping a straight face all through that,” Fuzzy said. “But it confirms that old bird-fighting theory that when a Swan goes against a turkey, bet your money on the Swan.”

“Speaking of peculiar ducks,” I said, “what did you think of Mitch McConnell saying a week ago that if a Supreme Court vacancy came open in 2020, he would order confirmation hearings while the election campaign was going on?”

“It’s what I would have expected him to say,” Fuzzy replied.

A Party Animal

“Because this time both the presidency and the Senate are controlled by the same party, where in 2016 a Democrat was President and Republicans had the Senate majority when Obama nominated Merrick Garland?” I asked.

“No, because McConnell’s an opportunistic, hog-sloppin’ wheeler-dealer who’d sell out his country as well as his party’s principles, tattered as they’ve become, for a political edge.”

“Wouldn’t there be a risk of that backfiring and voters being so turned off by the hypocrisy that not only would they give Democrats the presidency but a majority in the Senate, too?” I asked.

“Mitch took a similar gamble in 2016 when he blocked Garland from even getting a hearing. He didn’t get burned then, did he?”

“Only if you think he’s happy about having to cater to Trump,” I said.

“For him, it beats the alternative,” Fuzzy replied.

“Did you see that giant piece in The Times about his wife?”

“Elaine Chao, the Secretary of Transportation?” Fuzzy said. “The woman whose parents run a shipping company that’s in tight with the big-money people in China who during her first year with Trump tried to get Federal officials to include her relatives in meetings she was having with the Chinese government?”

“That’s the one.”

“And her family’s given McConnell more than $1 million in campaign contributions.”

“I’m amazed how current you can stay with national news from behind bars,” I said.

“Well, it is a Federal lock-up,” Fuzzy said. “If it was a state facility, I’d have to settle for three-day-old copies of the Times or the overnight edition of The Post.”

“You find it interesting that since she’s been Transportation Secretary, the agency has been proposing budget cuts that would help the American maritime industry at the same time that her family is funding scholarships for training seamen in China?”

A Conflicted Bunch

“Only if by ‘interesting’ you mean it’s strange that a woman who is engaging in what seems like a primo conflict of interest is serving in the Trump Administration,” Fuzzy said. “And the only thing that would surprise me with that crew is a cabinet official who didn’t have a conflict of interest.”

“What about that VIP tour of the Capitol that McConnell’s staff arranged for Chinese Communist Party leaders as guests of his wife a couple of years ago?” I asked.

“That didn’t open my eyes as much as the gift of up to $25 million her father gave Elaine and Mitch back in 2008,” Fuzzy said. “Although I’m sure he would say better him and the bride than a couple of strangers.”

“You starting to get the impression that the old Communist regimes are finding common ground with Trump and company in their embrace of crony capitalism?”

Fuzzy replied, “If Trump winds up skating through the swamp to a second term, it’s gonna be more like Russian and China have gotten him to import a dictatorship of the proletariat.”

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