Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Sunday, August 26, 2018 8:25 pm

Trump and the week that was

Donald Trump had such an awful week that it has taken me until tonight to begin to write about it. No American president has taken so many body blows in a single five-day period without getting shot.

On Tuesday, his former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, was convicted on eight felony counts, with the jury hung on another 10. Juror Paula Duncan, a staunch Trump supporter, called the government’s case “overwhelming” and said only a single juror prevented the panel from convicting Manafort on all 18 counts.

The charges against Manafort, in the Eastern District of Virginia, didn’t have anything directly to do with the Trump campaign’s conspiracy with the Russians to throw the 2016 election. But Manafort, who is likely to die in prison unless he cooperates, also faces trial in the District of Columbia starting Sept. 17 on charges related to his foreign lobbying work and witness tampering. Some of those charges may relate more directly to the Trump campaign.

Also Tuesday, former Trump attorney Michael Cohen, whose phones and computer records the government seized months ago, was charged with and pleaded guilty to eight felony counts of tax fraud, making false statements to a bank, and committing campaign-finance violations to try to keep news of two Trump affairs out of the public eye. In his plea agreement, a sworn statement accepted by the judge, Cohen confessed that “in coordination and at the direction of a candidate for federal office,” he kept information that would have been harmful to the candidate and the campaign from becoming public by paying two women who had slept with Trump “hush money.”

The “candidate for federal office” was Trump, who, by virtue of this plea agreement, becomes an unindicted co-conspirator. The last one of those we had in the Oval Office was Nixon.

Those two developments on the same day would have been bad enough. But the week wasn’t done with Trump yet. On Friday came the news that Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization chief financial officer, had been granted immunity. Publicly, the agreement was described as relating only to the payments Cohen described in his plea agreement.

But I’d be stunned if that’s all that the Southern District of New York was interested in, because witnesses don’t get blanket immunity from the government based on two discrete six-figure payments. Weisselberg originally was hired by Trump’s late father, Fred, in 1978 and has been with the organization ever since. He is a trustee of the trust that holds Trump’s personal holdings. He knows EVERYTHING about both Trump Organization finances and Donald Trump’s personal finances. And for him to have gotten the immunity he got means that he’s going to tell the government everything.

Also Friday, David Pecker, CEO of the National Enquirer’s parent company, was granted immunity in relation to the hush money payments Cohen made.

The Enquirer allegedly used a tactic known as “catch-and-kill” — when a publication buys the rights to a damaging story for the purpose of sitting on it and keeping that story out of the news.

The Associated Press reported Friday that the magazine even had a location where records of these payments were stored: a safe full of documents, not only relating to Trump, but similar “catch-and-kill” deals with other celebrities.

“By keeping celebrities’ embarrassing secrets, the company was able to ingratiate itself with them and ask for favors in return,” the AP reports.

And keep in mind that back in June, the New York Attorney General’s office sued the Trump Foundation and its board of directors (Trump family members), alleging violations of both state and federal law with respect to, among other things, illegal coordination with Trump’s presidential campaign and self-dealing. It is entirely possible that criminal charges against Trump and his kids will result from this lawsuit, and Trump can’t pardon anyone for state charges.

Taken together, these events make clear that whatever the government wants to know about support of the 2016 Trump campaign by the Russians, it is going to find out. The information already in the public record makes clear there’s plenty to find out.

Personally, I think that there already is enough evidence in the public record to impeach Trump — certainly on grounds of violation of the Emoluments Clause and the Take-Care Clause at least. But I’m realistic enough to know that most Americans don’t know that and that many of those who know don’t care. So I think that Democrats campaigning this fall should campaign on accountability for the administration generally rather than impeachment of Trump in particular. And I also think that any articles of impeachment should be based on one or more completed House investigative reports (assuming Democrats retake the House), a completed Mueller report, or both.

I think this week was less the beginning of the end than the end of the beginning for Trump. He has talked about firing Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who recused himself from the Mueller investigation (properly so) after the November midterms. The idea would be for him to install a new attorney general who could oversee, and perhaps shut down, the Mueller investigation. I think he’ll do that and that nationwide protests will break out as a result. But I also suspect that Mueller has anticipated this course of action and planned accordingly. I don’t know what his response would look like, but I am confident that he has one. Even if he does not, it would be far harder for Trump to interfere with the investigation housed in the Southern District of New York than to interfere with Mueller. And, of course, Trump has no control whatsoever over the New York Attorney General’s office.

Trump’s avenues of escape are being closed off one by one. My wife has been saying from the beginning that all of this ends with Trump in Moscow, voluntarily or otherwise, and I think that’s right. But I also think Trump will face indictment, articles of impeachment, or both first. And I look forward to those as we work to oust this traitor and criminal from the presidency.

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Tuesday, August 21, 2018 7:48 pm

So long, Silent Sam

Filed under: Uncategorized — Lex @ 7:48 pm

“Silent Sam,” the statue on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill that was built to honor the university’s Confederate Civil War dead, was toppled last night. That act almost certainly was a crime, and the perpetrators should be prepared to pay the price. But it also was a righteous act of civil disobedience. Life is complicated.

The statue, paid for by university alumni and the United Daughters of the Confederacy, was a monument to a myth, the Confederate “Lost Cause”  — the notion that the Civil War was about anything except slavery and white supremacism — that has left toxic residue in our politics and culture even today. The Union won the war, but the Confederacy won Reconstruction, with results that reach even into today’s White House and the N.C. General Assembly.

It was erected not in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, but roughly 50 years later, in 1913, as the Confederacy and its leaders were enjoying a wholly undeserved reputational rehabilitation.

Similar statues and monuments were being built not only across the states of the late Confederacy but in other states as well. It is not a coincidence that the Ku Klux Klan was enjoying a great expansion of its ranks as well. And it doesn’t take inference to understand that white supremacy was behind it all. Julian Carr, the Civil War veteran and ardent white supremacist who gave the dedication speech, made it plain:

The present generation, I am persuaded, scarcely takes note of what the Confederate soldier meant to the welfare of the Anglo Saxon race during the four years immediately succeeding the war [that is, when former Confederate soldiers terrorized freed blacks and Republican whites across the South — Lex] when the facts are, that their courage and steadfastness saved the very life of the Anglo Saxon race in the South – When “the bottom rail was on top” all over the Southern states, and to-day, as a consequence the purest strain of the Anglo Saxon is to be found in the 13 Southern States – Praise God.

I trust I may be pardoned for one allusion, howbeit it is rather personal. One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.

People of color despised the statue not just because of what it symbolized but also because of what it celebrated. And it is understandable that they would do so: Statues aren’t just “history,” but also indicate those people and things that we as a society celebrate. Silent Same stopped doing that a long time ago — praise God.

But there had been efforts and discussions underway for decades about what to do with Silent Sam — leave him where he was on public ground or move him, perhaps to a museum or privately owned Confederate graveyard. Left to themselves, those discussions might have led to a solution that all sides could have lived with, if not been happy about.

But the Republicans in the N.C. General Assembly, who have never met a situation they couldn’t make worse, on race relations or pretty much anything else, passed a vague and ill-considered law in 2015 protecting all such monuments on public property. (My friend and former colleague Joe Killian posted almost exactly a year ago on this subject, after a Confederate monument in Durham had been toppled.) Democrats even filed a bill in the legislature earlier this year to move the statue, but Republicans wouldn’t even give it a hearing. So there was no outlet for rational discussion that might have led to a workable solution.

To be clear, I do not condone criminality, full stop. Those who committed the crime should be prepared to do the time. That said, tearing down the statue when all other avenues of addressing the issues it raised had been cut off fits squarely within the tradition of righteous civil disobedience. I hope the court in its wisdom recognizes these actions as such and imposes minimal punishment, should anyone be convicted.

And to those suggesting that the statue should be left in place because of history, I have a question: How many of you were worried about history when U.S. forces toppled the statue of Saddam Hussein in Baghdad in 2003? Well, it’s about the same thing.

 

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