Chez and the ‘Trump-Russia’ Attack: One Year Later

by Bob Cesca

And in these days
When darkness falls early
And people rush home
To the ones they love
You better take a fool’s advice
And take care of your own
One day they’re here
Next day they’re gone…  

Even though it’s only been a handful of months since my friend and colleague Chez Pazienza died, it feels like it’s been a lot longer than that — like Chez’s time here preceded the current series of political catastrophes we’re witnessing with increasingly intolerable distress. I have no idea what this mental time warp I’m experiencing is all about, but despite it, Chez was definitely here for the election, for the inauguration, for more than a month of the Trump administration and all of the accompanying madness that went down in that time.

I’m still not entirely sure how he died, but I stopped wondering. I have an idea, though, about why he died and yeah — it had something to do with Trump. Maybe not as the root cause but, thinking back, it was obvious that Chez’s dark ride began on November 8, preceded by an almost equally harrowing presidential campaign. 

Based on what he confessed to me in that window of time, he was drinking much more than he had in a long time, and he seemed more than a little concerned with the fact that he had found himself in the sorts of bizarre situations that only people who are black-out drunk can experience. (One occasion, just before recording a show, he told me he had apparently been in a fight he didn’t remember and woke up in an unfamiliar place.) The reason for his self-described excessive drinking (and other things) had a lot to do with his personal demons and struggles with addiction, sure, but he also told me it was a matter of emotionally escaping the horrors he was witnessing in the course of doing his job as a writer. 

Chez never identified as a political writer, mainly because he really didn’t like politics. He followed it and wrote about it because it was one of the things he did best, and it was his job. His readers relied on his colossal takes to help them cope, and he was aware of this massive responsibility. More than anything else, though, Chez was a patriot who truly loved what, at least, America used to represent before these dark times. He’d often tell me that the American experiment was over — an assessment he never took lightly, but which he was acutely aware. 

I still believe that having no choice but to observe up-close the rapid disintegration of the republic under the imbecilic stewardship of Donald Trump, of all people, was too much for him to handle — at least unassisted. Making matters worse, he was wise enough to know that he could end up having no choice but to follow along for what seemed like a bottomless first term, maybe even an insufferably brain-melting second term. That’d be eight years of sheer, blinding insanity, with not one but two more hemorrhagically brutal presidential campaigns in the mix.

Exacerbating his downward spiral was his full awareness that our elections and, indeed, the executive branch of our government had been invaded and occupied by the Russian government. 

It was a year ago today, July 26, 2016, that Chez and I recorded our first podcast in which we covered the “Trump-Russia” attack following a bombshell report by Vice that Russian intelligence was behind the hacking of the Democratic National Committee. Here’s Chez’s written take, and mine. (By the way, it was six years ago on July 22, 2011 when Chez and I recorded our first official podcast as a duo.) 

It’s haunting to listen to that first Russia show, especially knowing everything that’s happened since then. Even with all of the news that’s dropped since then, here’s what we knew at the time (taken from my Banter article from 7/25/16):

  • The leak of DNC emails occurred the day after Trump’s convention speech.
  • The leak only involved DNC emails, not RNC emails or internal Sanders campaign messages.
  • Reputable cyber-security experts have proved the linkage to spies inside the Russian government.
  • And, on top of everything else, we learned that Trump is being financially supported by Russian oligarchs with close ties to Putin.
  • Toss into the equation the fact that Trump has repeatedly lauded Putin, and agrees with the former KGB agent about NATO.
  • Furthermore, Wikileaks has well-known ties to Moscow and, as is public record, Snowden was shuttled from Hong Kong to Moscow with the help of Wikileaks operatives, while being represented in Moscow by a former FSB lawyer, Anatoly Kucherena.

On the show, we dubbed the revelation about Russia’s link to the hacking “The Story of the Year.” Anyone who was paying attention reached a similar conclusion. This was as close to the actual Watergate affair as anything we’d encountered in 45 years. Further, we both concluded that it was abundantly clear that Putin engaged in this attack on the DNC with the goal of helping Trump win, even though we didn’t officially learn about Russia’s pro-Trump posture until after the election, on or around December 9. Though Hillary Clinton remarked about that goal around the same time the July 25 story dropped. Nevertheless, we also predicted that we were only seeing one small tip of a super-massive ice berg. This also turned out to be true, and the ice berg continues to be revealed as the water recedes.

In all the years I had known Chez, stretching back to the Bush administration, I had never seen him dig into a story with as much fury as this one. Perhaps it was our closeness or the fact that we wrote for the same publication (this one), we were also in total agreement about the stakes and the desperation of the story. Throughout the rest of the election, we watched in almost complete futility as the nation careened head-first toward this bastard called Trump and his buddies in the Kremlin. 

We knew then, and we also knew during the last show we recorded together, that Russia invaded our national sovereignty and that Trump wouldn’t do a damn thing about it. Now, the future is terrifyingly uncertain, as is the integrity of our votes — our democracy. But what we’re missing now — what was taken from us — what I need right now, is to be able to hear and read Chez’s reactions to everything that’s happened since that cold night in February when he died. Hell, I can only imagine how he would’ve reacted to this week’s events alone: Sessions, healthcare, Russia, Mueller, transgender, “skinny repeals,” and so on. The X-rated neologisms and obscenities alone would be worth the price of admission.

For the rest of my life, I will always cherish my friendship with Chez. Professionally, it was an honor to cover these events by his side — both of us in the trenches of the Resistance, even before it was called that. 

I miss my friend, but I miss his words almost as much. 

Yeah. In a New York minute, everything can change.

Lying here in the darkness
I hear the sirens wail
Somebody going to emergency
Somebody’s going to jail
You find somebody to love in this world
You better hang on tooth and nail
The wolf is always at the door…