Bob Franken


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I can tell you what the cast members of “Saturday Night Live” are doing during the off-season: They are practicing their Russian accents.
It would take pretty much the entire repertory company to do a bit on the meeting between Don Trump Jr., Jared Kushner, Paul Manafort and the gang from the Kremlin. There were altogether at least eight people at that infamous get-together that we now know was called to dish some dirt on Hillary Clinton. “SNL” already has been feasting on the Trumpsters to the point that this season it gathered 22 Emmy nominations, the largest number ever in the show’s four-plus decades of existence. The problem the writers always have with the Trump crew is coming up with a farce that is more slapstick than the real thing.
Take that meeting with the Trumpets and the Soviets — oh, excuse me, Russians. That, by the way, was the first mistake of Junior and the rest: agreeing to take that meeting. First, they had to find an office big enough to accommodate the crowd. Presumably the ostentatious building has conference rooms, because this gathering featured a cast of characters that could fill one of those TV reality shows. We might call it “The Real Colluders of Trump Tower” or, given young Donald’s role, maybe “The Apprentice”? (Nah. Who would call a program “The Apprentice”?)
Of course, there was young Donald; we call him “young,” although, as many have pointed out, he’s the same age as French President Emmanuel Macron. You know Emmanuel Macron: He’s the one with whom Trump the elder was cavorting in Paris, telling Macron’s wife what “great shape” she was in. Our president is nothing if he’s not cool. (What’s French for “ewwwwww”?)

All this while his son (Trump’s, not Macron’s; the French president has no kids and probably is very happy about that right now) was back home trying to deflect charges he was consorting with Putin’s Posse.
The others crammed into their meeting room were Natalia Veselnitskaya, a Russian lawyer with close ties to the Kremlin, with oligarchs and mobsters for clients. Also there was Rinat Akhmetshin, a Russian-American lobbyist who began his adult life working in Soviet intelligence. Then there was Rob Goldstone, public-relations person to another oligarch’s family (Russian, not American), the one who had enticed young Donald with his email promising damaging information about Hillary Clinton as “part of Russia and its government’s support for Mr. Trump.” There were a couple of others on the Russian side, along with Junior, Jared and Manafort. It’s not clear whether they, too, were on the Russian side.
We can assume that neither Vladimir Putin nor Trump Sr. were listening in on speakerphone, and right now the story from both is that they weren’t aware of the meeting. Putin claims to not know any of the participants, which is a little bit more difficult for President Trump to claim.
After all, Paul Manafort is the political fixer who was Trump’s campaign leader at the time, until he was shoved aside because of disclosures he had made millions of dollars from a Ukrainian party with close ties to the Kremlin. Jared, of course, is the Trump son-in-law and presidential adviser who has massive influence on anything that happens in this White House. Don Jr. is the son who gets his kicks by slaughtering unsuspecting big game.
As dramatic as the charges are that Trump’s campaign and the Russians conspired to steal the U.S. election, this also is comedy. And it’s not just “Saturday Night Live.” These players could inhabit a Hanna-Barbera cartoon. Veselnitskaya and Akhmetshin might easily be mistaken for Boris and Natasha. And as much as Jared’s name swirls around unsavory developments, he’s starting to look like Snidely Whiplash. Yes, it’s funny burlesque. At the same time, it’s deadly serious.

© 2017 Bob Franken
Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.

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