Blog on the Run: Reloaded

Saturday, December 14, 2019 2:12 pm

We’re not nearly as worried about 2020 election security as we should be

Earlier today I started a Twitter thread on this subject. It ended up being long enough that Twitter was a cumbersome format for reading it, so I’m combining the thread and reposting the content here, with a bit of editing and formatting to make it more like a regular blog post.

A thread of uncertain length on 2020 election security:

I think that up to now, GOP attacks on an honest voting system have been attenuated: They wanted just enough votes to win without, they hoped, attracting much attention. And I think it’s fair to say that that’s what they’ve gotten.

When Jeb Bush and his Secretary of State, Katherine Harris, illegally kicked a bunch of Florida voters off the rolls just before the 2000 election, the attention in the immediate aftermath of the election wasn’t on that act. Rather, it was on recounts, stopping recounts, and hanging ballot chads – all of which were important but missed the bigger picture. It took the investigative work of reporter Greg Palast to bring the voter-roll purge to detailed light in a chapter of his 2002 book, “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy.”

In 2004, the issues seemed to revolve around the state of Ohio rather than Florida, and its secretary of state. There were reports of voting-machine malfunctions and other irregularities that seemed to suggest the possibility of sabotage. But nothing was ever conclusively proven.

Then Obama got elected, and the Republicans seemed to recognize the need for more and better ways to fix the vote. Vote suppression seemed the way to go, which is why Chief Justice John Roberts practically went case-shopping to get Shelby County v. Holder before the high court.

(It didn’t help that Dems stayed home in droves in 2010 because they were mad that Obama didn’t give them a rainbow single-payer health-insurance unicorn or whatever. That temper tantrum put a lot of psycho Republicans in power at all levels and, in Congress, often at the cost of Dems who had voted for the Affordable Care Act.)

Immediately after Shelby County — and I mean “immediately”; some of the bills were pre-written — GOP legislatures across the country began enacting vote-suppression measures. One was voter ID, based on fictitious claims that in-person vote fraud was a widespread problem. Such requirements, of course, usually were accompanied by measures that severely limited the types and availability of complying ID. No state university ID cards, for instance. Availability was limited by limiting the number of locations where one could obtain valid ID, which put a huge burden on people without reliable transportation — the people who disproportionately are minorities and vote Democratic.

And voter-roll purging became more widespread, led by transparent opportunists like then-Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, whose “Crosscheck” program – a sloppy way of matching voter names against lists of convicted felons, say – was adopted by Republicans in more states. (The fact that such efforts appeared to be felony violations of 18 USC 241 was widely overlooked.)

But even that wasn’t enough for the Republicans, so Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign accepted the fruits of Russian hacking of Democrats’ computers.  (The Russians also hacked GOP computers, and while there’s no proof, it’s a popular theory that they found info with which to blackmail some GOP officials into doing their bidding.) And let us not forget Russian manipulation of social media to influence public opinion, using messages targeted to many different relatively small groups of people to try to influence outcomes at the margins.

The result, of course, was that while Trump lost the 2016 popular vote by almost 3 million votes, he won the Electoral College by a mere 80,000 votes divided among just three states: Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania.

(And don’t get me started on the Electoral College: Its purpose, per the Federalist Papers, was to prevent the election of a demagogue. It has failed in that purpose twice in the past 20 years. Its real purpose was to get slave-owning states to ratify the Constitution, and it serves no useful purpose today and should be scrapped lest our future be that of minority governance. But that’s an issue for a different thread.)

So we know what happened in 2016: Far from being an awful candidate, Hillary Clinton could be defeated only by a perfect storm of a slave-era election mechanism, Russian election sabotage in cahoots with Trump’s campaign, GOP vote suppression, and possible machine hacking.

(The lousy news media coverage of the campaign also immeasurably helped Trump, as did James Comey’s bogus announcement of possible new evidence against Clinton right before the election. But those, too, are subjects for another thread.)

So Trump got in and started criming on Day 1 with violations of the Emoluments Clause. He has crimed away since while weakening our global standing, viciously attacking our most vulnerable Americans, betraying our national security and our allies, and ignoring the existential disaster that is climate change. His popularity remains underwater, and a slight majority of Americans favors his impending impeachment.

Regarding that impeachment: I am under no illusions that the GOP-controlled Senate will vote to convict. McConnell and his party are too corrupt. So our only way of getting rid of this agent of a hostile foreign power is at the polls on Nov. 3.

The problem for the Republicans is that they have become so corrupt, and their corruption so thoroughly intertwined with Trump’s, that they cannot allow Trump to be beaten. If he is, not only is it game over for him, with indictments likely the instant he leaves office, but it’s also game over for them — their tax cuts, their appointment and confirmation of inept and corrupt judges, their profiting from the school-to-prison pipeline and for-profit corrections, and so many, many other scams, particularly if Warren or Sanders wins.

So Republicans must win in 2020 by any means necessary. Any. Means. Necessary. And that means not just stealing the presidency again. That means congressional races, legislative races, you name it. The alternative is too frightening for them to contemplate.

And why shouldn’t they? It’s not like we have a lot of ways to detect and stop it even after the fact, let alone in real time. For example, international voting-rights groups have found that comparing exit polling against ballot counts is a reliable way to detect cheating. But we don’t do that in the U.S. Because of Republican opposition, we have enacted no protections against foreign sabotage of our elections. We do not routinely audit voting machines and elections. We have mandatory recounts in far fewer situations than robust election security would call for. We need to be using voter-hand-marked, voter-verified, hand-counted paper ballots to prevent electoral sabotage and fraud. But because our elections are governed by state and local governments, almost nowhere are we doing so.

Which all brings me to my concern: If the Republicans decide to steal big in 2020 — so big that it becomes obvious to most people, not just interested parties like me — what’s to stop them? We have no standard mechanism for election do-overs. (The do-over this year in North Carolina’s 9th Congressional District, which was ordered after widespread absentee-fraud ballot by employees of a Republican candidate, is an exception.) We have no constitutional mechanism for undoing fraudulent elections,  let alone mechanisms for undoing the consequences of fraudulent elections. We can’t fire all the bureaucrats appointed by a fraudulently elected president. We would have to impeach them (and all the judges), one at a time, and then hold individual Senate votes to remove them from office — again, one at a time.

So what’s to stop Republicans from going so big on election theft that everyone is aware of it? Because no one will be able to do anything about it but demonstrate. And the GOP has an answer for that, too. From Trump’s executive order this week about Judaism down to bills in state legislatures, Republicans are seeking to criminalize our First Amendment right to peaceably assemble and petition our government for redress of grievances. So while I have no evidence that suggests the GOP WILL do this, I look at our situation and their corruption and think, well, why WOULDN’T they?

If Americans protested and Republicans tried to put down those protests, we might have riots. And, having no answers to how to fix this, I have to confess that I don’t know which I’m more afraid of: that we might riot, or that we might not.

Friday, December 13, 2019 4:30 pm

Want to know how crooked the Senate Republicans are? Here’s how crooked the Senate Republicans are.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has made clear that Donald Trump’s Senate impeachment trial will be a sham. That would mean that Republican senators would be violating the Constitution, their existing and upcoming oaths to support the Constitution, and the Senate’s own rules. When that happens, Democrats must hold not just Republican senators but all Republican candidates accountable across the board.

With the full House of Representatives scheduled to vote Wednesday on the two articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, The Washington Post has reported that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his Republicans plan on “holding a short impeachment trial early next year that would include no witnesses,” with an immediate vote to acquit.

That would mean that all the witnesses who testified before the House Intelligence, Oversight, and Foreign Affairs committees in recent weeks would not be able to repeat their testimonies in a Senate trial. It also means that Donald Trump would be unable to call witnesses in his own defense; he has said he wants to call House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff, former Vice President Joe Biden, Biden’s son Hunter, and possibly other witnesses. This would be to create a narrative suggesting that rather than abusing his office to try to get Ukraine to announce a corruption probe of the Bidens, as one article of impeachment alleges, Trump actually was urging Ukraine to investigate alleged corruption on the part of the Bidens, the younger of whom sat on the board of a Ukrainian business.

But Republicans, the Post says, would rather just reject the articles and go home.

Can they do that? Probably; Article I, Sec. 3, clause 6 of the Constitution gives the Senate the sole power to try cases of impeachment. Chief Justice John Roberts would preside, but unless an actual lawyer wants to argue otherwise, it looks to me as if the Senate can do as they damned well please in this regard. (That said, I think Roberts would be fine with the Republicans’ plans anyway; he almost always is. His reputation for caring about his and the Supreme Court’s places in history have always struck me as overblown.)

But there’s something else that affects this dynamic, something Senate Republicans really hope you don’t know about: the Senate Rules in Impeachment Trials. This article in The Bulwark helpfully explains how and why the Framers decided that the Senate, rather than the Supreme Court, should try impeachment cases, and how those rules come into play:

Hamilton reported that the Court lacked the political fortitude to weather the storm that would attend any verdict: the Court’s legitimacy as a final tribunal for ordinary legal disputes would be undermined if it took on the issue of high politics as well. The Court might be able to mitigate partisanship, but it would risk its own legitimacy in doing so.

The Senate, on the other hand, was a more promising venue because it was a political body, but not as tightly tethered to factionalism and political passion as the House. It was designed to take a longer view and was therefore a promising site for such extraordinary trials.

But, you say, today’s Senate is tightly tethered to factionalism. And you’re right. But the Framers thought about that, too:

The idea was that rather than lowering the Supreme Court down to high politics, the Senate would be raised up. To raise the Senate up to the demands of high politics, the Framers decided that the Senate would need to recompose itself into a new institution—an impeachment court. (Emphasis in the original — Lex)

This transformation was serious enough that senators would have to take a new oath of office.

According to Article I, section 3, clause 6 of the Constitution, senators, when sitting on a trial of impeachment, “shall be on Oath or Affirmation.” When they are elected to the Senate, all senators swear a general Oath to uphold the Constitution.

But the Oath taken in an impeachment trial is different. It is a juror’s oath and a judge’s oath—not a legislator’s oath. Rule XXV of the Senate Rules in Impeachment Trials provides the text: “I solemnly swear (or affirm) that in all things appertaining to the trial of ____, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God.”

For an impeachment trial of a president, the chief justice of the Supreme Court presides. He can be overruled by a majority vote of the other judges/jurors—which is to say the senators. But it is vital to remember that the Constitution asks them to remember that they are not sitting as senators, but now as judges and jurors.

So much so that for this brief period the senators are all equal. For the course of the trial the roles of Majority and Minority Leader, President Pro Tem, Committee Chairs, Whips, and so forth no longer exist. For the duration of the trial the Senate is a literally new institution with new rules, new norms, and new responsibilities.

The more people who understand that, the more people will see that any attempt by Senate Republicans not to have a full and fair airing of the facts — or to acquit Donald Trump in the face of these facts — is constitutionally flawed and violates the Senate’s own impeachment rules. Democrats need to point that out in real time during the trial as well as afterwards.

And afterwards, Democrats in every 2020 race, from president down to dogcatcher, need to hang that corruption, that violated oath, like a putrescent albatross carcass around the neck of not just every Republican senator, but every Republican running for office in 2020, from Dump down to dogcatcher.

I am not optimistic that Democrats will win the White House in 2020. I think it’s entirely possible that the Democratic nominee can win the popular vote by 5 million and still lose the Electoral College through a combination of Russian sabotage, hacked voting machines, and GOP vote suppression in key swing states including North Carolina. But if there’s a way to win this election by a margin too big to steal, this is it.

A pep talk when the good guys badly need one

My friend Dan Conover posted something on Facebook Thursday that was so good that, with his permission, I’m sharing it. I’ll have a minor footnote of my own at the end.

* * *

The news is awful these days. Or should I say, the Republican *response* to the news is awful. Grinds the soul. Shreds hope. And the natural reaction is to retreat into pessimism. After all, what can we do?

Well, here’s a pep talk from history, and it’s as much for me as you.

On March 15, 1781, a fragile and reconstituted American Army under General Nathaniel Greene — a Quaker — finally turned to fight a pursuing British Army commanded by Lord Cornwallis at a place called Guilford Courthouse.

Greene’s army outnumbered Cornwallis’ redcoats, but that barely concerned the British commander. His army was comprised of battle-hardened professionals. The bulk of Greene’s force were simple militiamen. Locals with no experience or training. The kind of unreliable amateur fighters Cornwallis had routed time and again in the South.

How would such men stand up to cannon fire and bayonet charges in a major battle?

Greene, who understood both the limitations and the value of his militiamen, deployed them as the first defensive line the British would encounter. Before the battle commenced, he visited those nervous citizen soldiers, and gave them simple instructions: Hit the enemy hard once once or twice, then run like hell.

When I was a kid visiting the battleground in Greensboro, N.C., I felt disappointed to read that plaque. Reports that many of the militia fled the field after just one volley didn’t exactly fill me with Tar Heel pride in those days.

Now I understand Greene’s wisdom. He knew untrained irregulars under untested leadership couldn’t be counted on to hold up through the prolonged chaos of battle. But he also knew that he couldn’t win without them. That’s why he put them up front and kept things simple. Hit the Redcoats one good lick.

And brother, did they.

Cornwallis sent his best, most veteran infantry unit marching across the field toward that Carolina militia, bayonets affixed to enormous Brown Bess muskets. Just the sight of the Empire’s fearsome soldiers had sent previous backwoods militias running for home.

But those untrained Tar Heels stood their ground until the enemy was right in front of them — and unleashed a devastating 1,500-gun volley. An officer in the Scottish infantry unit that received that volley, the 71st Regiment of Foot, later described how it mowed down half of his proud Highlanders in an instant.

Some of those Carolina farmers ran off after that. Others stuck around to reload and try again. Some stood their ground and died on it.

But they did the job that was needed. And it mattered.

By the time the advancing Redcoats reached Greene’s Continental regulars, the British casualties were so high, and their tactical situation was so dire, that Cornwallis did the unthinkable. He ordered his cannon to fire, point blank, into the hand-to-hand melee in front of him.

Again, Greene was wise. Rather than have his precious Continentals cut to shreds by cannon, he ordered a retreat. Cornwallis slaughtered as many of his troops as ours with that order, but that’s why history records Guilford Courthouse as a British victory.

A truly Pyrrhic victory. Modern historians consider Guilford Courthouse to be the decisive battle of the Southern Campaign — and the singular disaster that forced Cornwallis to Yorktown, where his surrender to General George Washington seven months later effectively ended the American Revolution.

Like the militiamen of 1781, we don’t have to be superheroes. We don’t have to win every battle. We just have to show up when it counts, and do the job.

And we’ve been doing it, too. Instead of shrinking from the clear and present danger last year, we showed up in force in November 2018. That’s how we won back the House of Representatives, and our votes 13 months ago are why Trump’s Ukraine treason is bound for an impeachment trial in the Senate.

Sure, Trump’s base still doesn’t get it. But there were plenty of Lindsey Graham-ish Tories in the Carolinas during the Revolutionary War, too. They were on the wrong side then. They’re on the wrong side now. Fuck ’em. March on.

And no, we’re not likely to remove Trump from office in the Republican Senate. But so what if Trump wins a sham trial in that McConnell-controlled chamber? As British politician Charles James Fox wrote after learning of Cornwallis’ “win” at Guilford Courthouse, “Another such victory would ruin the British Army!”

It’s not going to be easy between now and the election. Our enemies know they’re outnumbered, which means they’re going to pull every dirty trick they know to break our morale and keep us away from the polls on Nov. 3, 2020.

Our side is going to make mistakes, too. It’s nature of conflict. Get your mind right for it.

But if we show up and vote when it counts? Like those nervous North Carolina farmers taking their one shot in 1781, we’ll make history.

Don’t we owe them that?

* * *

Lex again. I have lived in Greensboro for more than 30 years. Not only have I visited the battleground site numerous times, as a reporter I covered the commemoration of the battle more than once. Yet never before has anyone explained to me how and why the Continental troops achieved what they did as well as Dan has. Thanks, pal.

 

In which a UMich law professor blows up every single House GOP defense of Trump

In one handy Twitter thread, law professor Barb McQuade demolishes the bullshit “defenses” Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee have been offering against Trump’s impeachment. She shows that the Republicans really do have nothing, zero, zilch, zip, nada.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019 7:56 pm

Bill Barr is the worst attorney general ever.

What should be crystal clear after today is that not only is Donald Trump dangerous to the Republic, so is Attorney General Bill Barr. Pursuing a propaganda theory that started with the Kremlin, Barr directed the Justice Department’s Inspector General to investigate the beginnings of the department’s 2016 investigation of Trump campaign connections to the Russians. Trump partisans thought this probe would come up with all sorts of derogatory information. But on Monday, the IG reported: Nope, all clean. Some procedural mistakes, but no hint of bias, and all standards for a proper Justice investigation were properly met.

Barr responded immediately that “in my view,” the IG investigation was inadequate and that the original investigation had been flawed, and never mind that what matters legally isn’t his view but whether departmental standards had been met — which, the IG determined, they had.

So Barr, still intent on pushing Kremlin propaganda to protect the criminal in the White House, has commissioned U.S. Attorney John Durham of Connecticut to do ANOTHER investigation. And THIS time, he’s convinced, he’ll find proof that the original investigation of the Trump campaign was flawed all along. As former FBI assistant director Frank Figliuzzi told MSNBC, “He’s shopping for outcomes, not searching for facts.”

The definition of insanity is doing something over and over and expecting a different result. But Barr isn’t insane, and the real goal here isn’t the result. It’s the APPEARANCE that the original Trump investigation was somehow flawed. THAT is what Barr is trying to sell to Trump voters, and he’s violating his oath of office to do it. We’ve had a run of mediocre to bad attorneys general since John Mitchell under Nixon, but Barr is by far the worst of them all. The nation’s chief law enforcement officer is using the powers of his office to protect a criminal. He, too, must be impeached, and abuse of office, obstruction of justice and obstruction of Congress should be only the starting point for his articles of impeachment.

Monday, December 9, 2019 6:40 pm

Republicans: Nothing left but bullshit

Because I have a job and a life, I caught only a few snippets of today’s Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing, but this is how stupid and contradictory Republicans are. The committee’s ranking minority member, Doug Collins, and several others called this a “focus-group impeachment” and said no president ever had been impeached so early in his tenure. Well, calling it a focus-group impeachment implies that there’s public support for it – but Republicans keep insisting that the issue is a loser with voters. (How much of a loser is it? Support for impeachment is at 50% in Ohio. Let me say that again: IN. OHIO.)

Republicans also argue that Trump can’t be impeached because he didn’t succeed in completing a quid pro quo. (He did, but set that aside for now.) But they also argue that he can’t be impeached because there’s no evidence because his obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice DID succeed. Sorry, kids, but you don’t get to have it both ways.

And today, committee member John Ratcliffe reached up into his descending colon and pulled out the notion that the whistleblower had somehow perjured himself in his complaint.

Not to be outdone, the committee’s Republican counsel, Stephen Kastor, lied under oath to the panel, stating that the readout of Dump’s July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian president Vlodymyr Zelensky made clear that there was no quid pro quo. In fact there was — read it for yourself. Problem is, if chair Jerry Nadler makes a criminal referral to the Justice Department, as might normally happen, Attorney General Bill Barr will just quash it.

They’re not arguing facts, except to insist that what clearly exists doesn’t. They aren’t arguing the law; they’re arguing a manufactured version of the law. They’ve got nothing but bullshit. No facts. No law. No logic.

And that news media aren’t saying that, simply and forthrightly, is just one more illustration of how much danger this constitutional republic is in.

Saturday, November 2, 2019 6:33 pm

So much for “no collusion”

Thanks to a lawsuit filed by Buzzfeed News, CNN and other outlets, some of the FBI interview forms (Form 302s) and emails that formed the basis for the report by special counsel Robert Mueller have been made public. Reporters for those outlets have been digging through them all afternoon, tweeting one nugget after another. (More will be released each month for what could take years.)

But here’s the big picture: There is documentary evidence of presidential candidate Donald Trump telling his staff in 2016, “Get the emails,” referring to the emails hacked from the Democratic National Committee’s server. The records show that those emails were known to be the work product of Russian-allied entities, e.g., Wikileaks.

So what does that mean?

Telling your staff, “Get the emails” is the same thing as telling your staff, “Go collude.” Which is one HELL of a long way away from “no collusion.” It’s almost as much a long way from “no conspiracy.”

So why was this fact — excuse me, this SMOKING GUN — omitted or redacted from the Mueller report? And was the omission Mueller’s work, or FBI Deputy Director Rob Rosenstein’s, or then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s, or someone else’s? Because it looks like Trump’s guilty of conspiracy and whoever covered that fact up is guilty of obstruction of justice. And those documents still have been public for only a few hours.

Friday, November 1, 2019 7:33 pm

Adieu, Beto O’Rourke

Filed under: I want my country back.,Salute! — Lex @ 7:33 pm
Tags:

Earlier tonight, Beto O’Rourke announced that he was exiting the race for the Democratic nomination for president in 2020. He should have done so sooner, but I’m still glad he ran.

No matter what he said, this decision was all about money. He pulled out now because he had little left and no prospects of raising much more, as the next round of FEC filings will show. Although he was running third in the polls in Iowa, his single-digit support nationally did not bode well for a sustained campaign.

Still, it’s a damn good thing he ran. He centered his campaign on a number of issues that get way too little in-depth coverage: immigration, climate change, LGBTQ+ issues, and, especially, guns.

He was the one Democratic candidate willing to say what needs to be said: There is no good reason for any American to be allowed to own military-grade weapons, and bans on ownership of such weapons have been found constitutional.

O’Rourke has a huge and loyal following as the result of his unsuccessful 2018 campaign to oust Republican Sen. Ted Cruz. But he says he will not be running for office.

That doesn’t preclude his being selected to be the running mate of the eventual Democratic nominee. And Texas, a Republican bastion for decades, has become increasingly purple. With O’Rourke on the ticket, it’s not impossible to think the Dem nominee could carry Texas, and if he/she did, it would be game over for Dolt 45.

But the same thing might be true of U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown of Ohio, an already-established swing state.

I wish O’Rourke well in his personal endeavors and thank him for running. I just wish the half-dozen or more other Democratic candidates who have no chance of winning would do the same.

Wednesday, October 23, 2019 6:22 pm

Sure, you can riot … if you’re a white Republican

Once again, the GOP has proven itself literally lawless. Let’s be very clear about what happened today. The Republicans who attempted to get into the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility in which three House committees are taking depositions and testimony from witnesses in the impeachment investigation BROKE THE LAW. Several took their cell phones into the facility and even “broadcast live,” violating security regulations.

Republicans are fond of talking about a “secret impeachment,” and unfortunately, even a few journalists have started using that phrase. There is no secret impeachment. There is a secret impeachment INVESTIGATION, just as there was before articles of impeachment for Bill Clinton were publicly discussed and voted upon. The only difference is that Clinton’s investigation was conducted by a special prosecutor (which the GOP-controlled Congress sought and the Clinton Justice Department granted), while Democratic House members and staff are conducting the investigation by themselves because the Trump/Barr Justice Department would not appoint a special prosecutor.

(Republicans also are insisting that for an impeachment investigation to be “official,” the full House must vote on it. The Constitution says no such thing. They’re counting on your not knowing that.)

If the investigation recommends articles of impeachment, any discussion or vote on those articles, in committee or in the full House, will be conducted on live TV, and Republicans know it. They just hope you’re not as informed as they are.

Moreover, both Republican and Democratic members of all three committees already are present in the SCIF, and Republicans are getting equal time to ask witnesses questions. They complain of leaks by Democrats, and that’s a legitimate complaint. But the absence of leaks by Republicans, even to such reliably Trump-friendly outlets as Fox & Friends, Breitbart or Tucker Carlson tells you all you need to know about the substance of what the committees are hearing.

Knowing this, and having no other way to stop the hemorrhage of damning information about Trump, Republicans today simply rioted to disrupt the hearing.

This isn’t the first time such a thing has happened. During the disputed Florida election of 2000, Republicans sent Congressional aides to literally throw a temper tantrum (when it’s not white boys doing it, we say “riot”) outside one location where recounts were under way. The so-called Brooks Brothers Riot in Florida during the 2000 election recount actually succeeded in stopping a recount that was finding more and more unread ballots actually to have been votes for Democratic candidate Al Gore.

The Republicans stole the presidency in 2000. They stole the presidency again in 2016. They’re trying to do it again in 2020. We cannot allow that.

In impeachment, remember, the House acts as a grand jury, considering whether to effectively indict the president (or other high federal officials) on charges, on which the Senate acts as jury in holding a trial. An ordinary defendant with an ordinary grand jury doesn’t even get to see or hear witnesses, let alone confront and cross-examine them. In an impeachment proceeding, the Republicans will be able to cross-examine witnesses and perhaps even offer their own, if the Democratic majority allows them to subpoena them.

They shouldn’t bother. Trump’s Emoluments Clause violations are a matter of public record, and his abuse of office in hinging military aid to Ukraine on that government’s willingness to dig up dirt on the son of a possible Democratic challenger was nailed down as a quid pro quo by former Ambassador Bill Taylor in his testimony Tuesday. No witness can exculpate him.

But just as important is the Republicans’ willingness to break the law to bring about their desired political result. House Democrats should vote to censure every Republican who took part in today’s disturbance, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi should order suspended for a week without pay any congressional staffers who took part in the disturbance. She needs to make clear that we, the American people, will have law and order, Trump’s gangster instincts and corrupt government cronies like Bill Barr be damned.

Friday, October 11, 2019 7:22 pm

Saudi stupidity

So Orange Julius is sending more U.S. troops to Saudi Arabia. I would point out that 1) U.S. troops in Saudi Arabia is what brought about the 9/11 attacks in the first place, 2) Saudi Arabia funded those attacks, 3) the House of Saud are some of the vilest people on the planet, which is saying something; 4) Saudi Arabia can damned well afford its own military defense, and 5) Saudi troops were definitely not with us at Normandy.

Also: Not one American voted for this. #ImpeachNow #LockHimUp #HangHimHigh

Thursday, October 3, 2019 7:48 pm

Turn the lights on when you do it

I don’t know where the notion arose that the Senate, were Dolt 45 to be impeached, should cast secret ballots on whether or not to convict him. But it’s an awful idea.

Would it be constitutional? Apparently. Although Article I, Sec. 5 requires Congress to “keep a Journal of its Proceedings, and from time to time publish the same,” it also exempts “such Parts as may in their Judgment require Secrecy.” So Senators apparently could vote in secret, although, importantly, it would take a vote of only one-fifth of senators present to record “the Yeas and Nays of the Members of either House on any question” into the journal of proceedings, known today as the Congressional Record.

But why would anyone want the Senate to hold a secret vote in an impeachment trial?

The reason is that some Democrats — I have no idea how many — believe that if the vote were secret, enough Republican senators (at least 20 would be required) would join with the Democrats in voting to convict and remove Trump. This idea holds that the only thing keeping these 20+ Republicans from so voting is fear of being primaried.

Now, this is a fine notion except for the fact that there’s not a shred of a reason to believe it is true. Not one Senate Republican has done anything more than suggest that maybe Trump shouldn’t be doing some of the things he’s doing — and not many have done even that. Mitt Romney of Utah has mildly criticized some of Trump’s actions, but he has taken no position on impeachment and is bloody unlikely to. The notion that 20 or more Republican senators are just waiting for a cloak of anonymity under which to convict and expel Trump is a pretty fairy tale, nothing more, and those spreading it clearly haven’t paid attention to the behavior of the Republican Party since 1994 and particularly since 2008.

I further suspect that pro-Trump Senate Republicans would insist on a recorded vote to scare their colleagues into voting to acquit Trump. That’s a legit concern, and if all 100 senators are present, it would take only 20 out of the 52 Senate Republicans to force a recorded vote.

But there’s a principle here that outweighs the practical and political decisions.

An impeachment vote in the Senate competes with a declaration of war as the most important vote a senator ever will cast. Citizens deserve to know who voted how so that they can reward their senators or hold them accountable, as they see fit. It is not the kind of people’s business that should be conducted in the dark, ever. On a matter of such import, every senator should be prepared to defend his/her vote publicly. Anything less makes us less than the democratic republic the Framers bequeathed us and should be rejected, even if it really would make it more likely that history’s worst U.S. president would be removed from office.

 

 

 

Sunday, September 15, 2019 6:36 pm

Brett Kavanaugh, redux

A new New York Times story brings forward another account of Brett Kavanaugh’s sexual assaults, illustrates just how badly the GOP tried to prevent a through investigation of the allegations against him, adds evidence that Kavanaugh lied to Congress during his confirmation hearings, and illustrates just how pustulently corrupt the 21st century GOP has become.

New York Times reporters Robin Progrebin and Kate Kelly published a story in Saturday’s New York Times about Deborah Ramirez, a woman who alleges that when they were students at Yale in the winter of 1984, future Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh “pulled down his pants and thrust his penis at her, prompting her to swat it away and inadvertently touch it.”

The story points out that another woman, Christine Blasey Ford, accused Kavanaugh of more serious behavior, saying that Blasey Ford “claimed that he pinned her to a bed, groped her and tried to remove her clothes while covering her mouth.”

Blasey Ford’s accusation was more serious, the Times pointed out, but Ramirez’s allegation proved easier to corroborate:

During his (2018) Senate testimony, Mr. Kavanaugh said that if the incident Ms. Ramirez described had occurred, it would have been “the talk of campus.” Our reporting suggests that it was.

At least seven people, including Ms. Ramirez’s mother, heard about the Yale incident long before Mr. Kavanaugh was a federal judge. Two of those people were classmates who learned of it just days after the party occurred, suggesting that it was discussed among students at the time.

We also uncovered a previously unreported story about Mr. Kavanaugh in his freshman year that echoes Ms. Ramirez’s allegation. A classmate, Max Stier, saw Mr. Kavanaugh with his pants down at a different drunken dorm party, where friends pushed his penis into the hand of a female student. Mr. Stier, who runs a nonprofit organization in Washington, notified senators and the F.B.I. about this account, but the F.B.I. did not investigate and Mr. Stier has declined to discuss it publicly. (We corroborated the story with two officials who have communicated with Mr. Stier.)

Kavanaugh denied these and other allegations at his truncated Senate confirmation hearing, and he was confirmed by the narrowest vote in more than a century. But this report reaffirms not only how the GOP greased the skids of Kavanaugh’s confirmation by preventing a full and through investigation, but also how likely it is that Kavanaugh committed perjury during that confirmation hearing:

Ms. Ramirez’s legal team gave the F.B.I. a list of at least 25 individuals who may have had corroborating evidence. But the bureau — in its supplemental background investigation — interviewed none of them, though we learned many of these potential witnesses tried in vain to reach the F.B.I. on their own.

Two F.B.I. agents interviewed Ms. Ramirez, telling her that they found her “credible.” But the Republican-controlled Senate had imposed strict limits on the investigation. “‘We have to wait to get authorization to do anything else,’” Bill Pittard, one of Ms. Ramirez’s lawyers, recalled the agents saying. “It was almost a little apologetic.”

Of course the Republicans didn’t want Kavanaugh thoroughly investigated, because here’s just a little of the damning information about him that I was able to assemble from public sources on Sept. 7, 2018:

Let us start with perjury, which has been exposed by some of the very documents from Kavanaugh’s time in the Bush 43 White House that the Trump Administration has been so reluctant to release. (Those records are public under the law, by the way.)

He has denied receiving documents stolen from the Senate Judiciary’s Democratic staff by a GOP staffer, Michael Miranda, in 2002, only to have those copies of those documents sent to him from Miranda show up in his White House email. Yet in 2004 and 2006, he denied under oath ever receiving those documents. Sen. Patrick Leahy, ranking Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, personally called him out on it.

Sen. Patrick Leahy

@SenatorLeahy

BREAKING: Kavanaugh testified he never received any docs that even “appeared to … have been drafted or prepared by Democratic staff.” Well, he got 8 pages of material taken VERBATIM from my files, obviously written by Dem staff, LABELED “not [for] distribution”.

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Kavanaugh also in 2006 denied knowing anything about President George W. Bush’s (then-illegal) warrantless domestic wiretapping program until The New York Times first reported publicly on the existence of the program in 2001. Yet among documents released this week was this email from Kavanaugh to all-around Bush Administration war criminal John Yoo on Sept. 17, 2001, discussing the program.

Also in 2006, Kavanaugh denied under oath having been involved in any White House discussions related to torture. But Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., the same senator to whom Kavanaugh gave his 2006 denial, said Thursday that released documents indicate that Kavanaugh took part in such discussions at least three times.

During his own 2004 confirmation hearing, Kavanaugh denied under oath any involvement in the selection of William Pryor for the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Once again, the documents show otherwise: Kavanaugh helped pick Pryor and get him confirmed.

Similarly, in 2006 Kavanaugh denied under oath having been involved in the selection of Charles Pickering for a federal judgeship, only to have documents pop up more recently that say otherwise.

Kavanaugh also may have misled a lot of people about his recent $200,000 in what he said was credit-card debt. That debt disappeared pretty quickly before his nomination, and because he and his wife both work for the government and don’t make a ton of money by Washington standards, it’s not clear how that happened.

That’s not the only question about that debt, though. This Kavanaugh email seems to suggest that he was a gambler. Frankly, that sounds a lot more plausible than his original story, which is that he ran up that debt because friends had been slow to repay him for purchases of Washington Nationals season tickets on their behalf. Who fronts friends $200,000 on an annual salary of only about $174,000?

Finally, Kavanaugh’s lies about the stolen Democratic records might not just leave him exposed to perjury charges, he may face other charges as well, such as receiving stolen property. Leahy explains it in this Twitter thread.

Republicans’ responses to both the old and the new information have generally divided themselves into these categories:

Americans are tired of the mob justice based on 3rd &4th party witnesses coming out decades later, near an election. Just stop. Yeah, except for the part where Americans not tired of it in 2018 — indeed, they were so not tired of it in 2018 that they unseated 29 Republican congresscritters and seized another 14 open seats previously held by Republicans.

Are we really going to call exposure a crime now? Yeah, we are. Welcome to the 21st century. Hell, welcome to 1984, when it was also a crime.

Should we all be held accountable decades later for stupid behavior? Yes, we should! Because that’s how we stop the “stupid behavior” — the sexual assault, which isn’t just “stupid behavior,” it’s a goddamned crime.

And then there’s this: Kavanaugh was asking to be seated not just to any federal court, but to the highest court in the land. I don’t think it’s unreasonable to expect any candidate for a seat on the federal bench, and on the high court in particular, to have led a blameless life. Not “perfect,” because nobody is perfect. But blameless. There were plenty of other Republican candidates for that seat who have led demonstrably blameless lives. But it has been a particular characteristic of the Trump administration to appoint people to all sorts of federal jobs who have NOT led blameless lives — whether because Trump wants to be able to manipulate them or simply whether criminals love company, I don’t know. Nonetheless, it’s an obvious tend that needs to be called out.

#MeToo is hurting real sexual-assault victims more than it’s helping. Prove it. Read “She Said,” by Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey. Read “Catch and Kill,” by Ronan Farrow. Educate yourself.

What about “innocent until proven guilty”? Oh, THROW me in that briar patch. Lying to Congress is a crime, whether you’re under oath (18 USC 1621) or not (18 USC 1001). So let’s do this. Let’s have a complete, full, thorough, FAIR investigation of the allegations against Brett Kavanaugh. Republicans didn’t allow that in 2018 because they knew damned well where it would lead: with Kavanaugh under indictment and likely a number of them charged as co-conspirators.

And one other thing: A Senate confirmation hearing is not criminal court. “Innocent until proven guilty” in this context, while not completely irrelevant, is not a bedrock standard. In such a hearing, U.S. senators are asked to decide — on the basis of what, more often than not, is an incomplete and perhaps even manipulated record — whether the president’s nominee is fit for office. They have to ask themselves, on the basis of incomplete information, “Based on what I know, do I believe that this individual will serve the long-term public interest?”

In point of fact, the overwhelming majority of presidential appointments subject to confirmation since 1789 have been confirmed, and the number of those appointments who were damaging, while not trivial, has been a remarkably small portion of the whole. But there is plenty of room in constitutional jurisprudence for senators who suspect malfeasance, or who simply just aren’t sure, to vote no.

Anyone who’s not comfortable passing judgment on Brett Kavanaugh for incidents that happened 35 years ago is welcome to pass judgment on Brett Kavanaugh for incidents that happened ONE year ago, when he, a grown-ass man and a candidate for the highest court in the land, lied under oath to Congress. Now, Congress could impeach him, or it could refer his case to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation because sitting SCOTUS justices, unlike sitting presidents, can be impeached. Given Attorney General William Barr’s absolute determination to treat DOJ like Donald Trump’s personal law firm, I honestly don’t know which is the best way to go. But the evidence in the public record suggests pretty strongly that Brett Kavanaugh is a perjuring sumbitch who belongs in prison.

Oh, and, hey? It suggests the same thing about Clarence Thomas. So let’s have full, fair, thorough investigations of both, while the witnesses are still alive.

Wednesday, September 11, 2019 9:40 pm

If you have to cheat to win, your ideas suck, Part 8,264

So this morning, on the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attacks, the Democrats in the N.C. General Assembly went to a 9/11 memorial. While they were doing that, the Republicans who control the General Assembly, having told the Democrats that no substantive votes would take place this morning, voted anyway to override Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper’s veto of the GOP’s state budget.

It is important to note that the Republicans could not have won on this issue without cheating. Republicans had sought for weeks to get Democrats to join them in voting to override by offering pork-barrel spending for their districts. Even that dishonesty failed to get them the necessary majority, so they simply cheated.

One of the biggest lessons of this decade’s low, deceitful politics has been that norms and customs are meaningless unless they are codified into criminal law with harsh penalties. That has been true at the federal level, with everything from the GOP theft of a Supreme Court seat to serial contempt of Congress, and it obviously is now true at the state level as well. Henceforth, here in North Carolina, deceiving the legislative minority about when substantive votes will occur must be treated as a capital crime, because apparently being hanged on the steps of the Old Capitol Building is the only deterrent that will keep Republicans from cheating.

And the thing about cheating? If you have to cheat to win, your ideas suck, which is relevant not only in this case but also in the case of the special election for U.S. House District 9, held on Tuesday. Republican Dan Bishop appears to have pulled out a very narrow win in a district Trump carried by 12 points in 2016, but here’s the thing: Anyone who knows jack about Robeson County politics knows that this massive shift among Native American voters from pro-Democratic in 2018 to pro-Republican in 2019 is simply inexplicable. I’m not saying that this proves election theft, but I am saying that we badly need a thorough election audit, and that that audit should start from the defensible presumption that the statistical odds against such a pro-GOP shift in Native precincts in just eight months are astronomical.

One last lesson for Dems and unaffiliated voters: You can never, ever, EVER again, in your lifetimes, assume the honesty of Republicans, not in Washington and not in Raleigh. Just assume that they are lying. About everything.

Monday, September 2, 2019 11:07 am

911 says you can’t call them anymore

Brock Long, who served as Dolt 45’s head of the Federal Emergency Management Agency from June 2017 to May of this year, says FEMA can’t do its job and that it’s up to us:

“we have to refocus the training” to better equip citizens in terms of disaster preparedness, including emphasizing that “insurance is the first line of defense.”

“Until Congress starts to incentivize putting building codes in place and land use planning in place, incentivizing states and locals for ensuring their public infrastructure, FEMA’s job is impossible,” Long said.

“We have to set realistic expectations for the agency and really bolster the capability from neighbor helping neighbor all the way to the Federal Emergency Management Agency,” he added.

Insurance is the first line of defense against a Cat 5 hurricane? Brock, son, you’re gonna have to ‘splain that to me. Use small words, because it sounds a lot to me like sending Paul Revere out after the British have already landed, burned our farms and slaughtered our livestock.

See, FEMA has a history — an uneven history that has varied significantly depending upon who was in the White House and which party controlled Congress. FEMA sucked under Bush I (cf. Hurricane Andrew in 1992), got dramatically better under Clinton, got lousy again under Bush II (cf. Katrina in 2005), got better again under Obama, and is being sabotaged once again by Dolt 45, as residents of Puerto Rico and southeastern North Carolina know all too well.

This is part of a larger trend by post-Nixon Republicans: They tell Americans that government is the problem rather than the solution, and when they get power, they work very hard to turn that statement into reality by under-funding agencies, staffing them with incompetent administrators hostile to the agencies’ missions, and, in the case of Trump, forcing key agency personnel to leave in droves by planning on short notice to move agencies’ work a long distance for no reason.

Currently, FEMA is incompetent and has no interest in becoming competent, and this “president” not only has no interest in their being competent, he just stole $155 million from FEMA to try to spend it on his war on immigrants at the Mexican border,  and everyone, including FEMA, just stood around and let him do it.

Rather than fixing FEMA, Dolt 45, Congressional Republicans and FEMA itself tell us that we must adjust our expectations downward instead. Well, hell, no. This is one of the most basic tasks of government: People’s LIVES are at stake. Yes, building codes should be improved to face the stronger storms that global warming will bring, although developers and the construction industry will scream bloody murder about that and probably bribe Congress and state legislatures to keep it from happening. Yes, people should prepare for hurricanes. But not everyone can; moreover, some disasters, like tornadoes, allow little or no time for prep.

FEMA indeed DOES have to be kind of like 911, and a competent FEMA is only one of many factors people should think about when choosing a president and deciding which party should control Congress.

Sunday, September 1, 2019 1:49 pm

Hit ’em with the chair

When I was a kid in Charlotte in the 1960s, my brothers, my friends and I watched a lot of pro wrestling on TV, which fact is essential context for what I’m about to say next: In this era, pleas for civility are the last refuge of people who desperately need to be hit with the chair.

As the journalist Eve Fairbanks points out in The Washington Post, conservatives, almost as if they’d all been sent the same list of talking points, have been on and on lately about being “reasonable” and “civil.” She links to many, many examples, almost all of which are premised on a fundamental misunderstanding about what’s actually going on in our society. I’ll get to that in a minute.

Fairbanks, as a senior at Yale, wrote a thesis on the rhetoric of Abraham Lincoln and his political rivals on both sides of the issue of slavery. And today’s conservative rhetoric sounded so familiar to her that she thought she must have heard it somewhere before. Sure enough, there it was in her old research: The language of conservatives in 2019 is almost identical to that of antebellum defenders of slavery. She lays it out in her Post column.

I see another parallel: Both before the Civil War and today, the people defending the indefensible are the ones most insistent upon civility and reason and are trying very hard to cast their opponents as unreasonable and uncivil. In both instances, the people defending the indefensible are able to do so as the result of having amassed great power, much of it unmerited and obtained through dubious, if not evil, means.

The slavery example is self-evident. But what about today?

For the past 40 years, American conservatives, though a minority, have used their greater wealth to get even more money and more power, often at the expense of everyone else. They got the Supreme Court, in Buckley v. Valeo (1976) to declare that money is speech, a category error that likely will be the downfall of the Republic if climate disaster or the Sweet Meteor of Death don’t get us first. They bought themselves congresscritters and legislators who have passed a number of huge tax cuts primarily benefiting the wealthy. The effect of those tax cuts has been the greatest upward transfer and concentration of wealth in history and the greatest income inequality in U.S. history. They have raped the planet, privatizing the profits while socializing the costs and making damn sure they had bought themselves a government that would let them do that, in search of more wealth — there’s roughly $27 trillion of proven carbon reserves still in the ground, and they will be damned if they’ll just write it off, just as slave owners insisted they were entitled not to write off the value of their slaves. They have insisted that health care is not a human right, but rather a consumer good on which they can profit as on few others. In what can only be called modern-day slavery, they are profiting off our correctional systems. They have sought to roll back the civil-rights advances we finally won a century after the 14th and 15th Amendments were ratified. And on and on. All of THAT is “unreasonable.” All of THAT is “uncivil.”

The people who opposed antebellum slavery were portrayed as radical, and indeed some of them were. But they weren’t wrong. And given the horrors of slavery, complaining about their incivility and lack of reason displayed nothing but moral stillbirth.

And so it is today.

Conservatives are pursuing policies that literally threaten the lives of me, my family, and more than 100 million other Americans who have pre-existing conditions and/or are people of color and/or are LGBTQ. And yet they want us to be reasonable and civil.

Screw that noise sideways. Pleas for civility are the last refuge of someone who desperately needs to be hit with the chair. Moreover, any Republican who thinks we need more civility needs to take it up with Newt Gingrich, whose GOPAC began the trend of instructing Republican political candidates to publicly characterize their unremarkable Democratic opponents as “extremist,” “sick” and “un-American.”

Moreover, as Fairbanks points out, conservative writer Ben Shapiro, to name just one example, likely knows and certainly doesn’t care that “ascrib(ing) right-wing anger to unwise left-wing provocation,” as Fairbanks says he does, is the blame-the-victim language of the domestic abuser.

(A note on that: Conservatives are trying to smear those who oppose white nationalists as “antifa,” which they believe to be an organized and violent movement. “Antifa” is simply short for “antifascist,” and the term encompasses everyone from the first wave at Omaha Beach to any American today who opposes the joined forces of fascism and white supremacy. You will seen the term thrown around even by journalists who should know better, but you can safely dismiss anyone who uses it in that way as at best a propagandist and at worst a fascist, particularly if that person works for the Trump administration.)

I’ve said for a long time that anyone doubting the existence of eternity need only ponder the capacity of conservatives for playing the victim. Indeed, I’ve thought for a long time that that might be the most important, and is certainly the most enduring, dynamic of postwar American politics.

I was wrong. Fairbanks’s column shows that it’s the most enduring dynamic of American politics, period. She doesn’t remark on it in her column, but it’s visible throughout so many of the sources she cites (and in fairness, she may have thought it was so obvious she didn’t even need to mention it) — an overweaning mentality of victimhood among conservative antebellum “thinkers” and modern-day conservatives alike.

And why do they feel that way? The answer is in the old saying, “When you’re accustomed to privilege, equality feels like oppression.” That’s the fundamental misunderstanding I referred to up at the top of the post. They do it because they can feel their privilege slipping and/or because they can hear and feel the rest of us coming for it. And on some level they’re terrified that we’re going to treat them the way they have treated us. I have no intention of doing this, but given the outrages they have foisted upon us in the past 40 years, from destroying the middle class to sacrificing our children to the Baal of the NRA to lighting the planet on actual fire, I can offer no guarantee regarding anyone else.

And at this point nothing would surprise me. Because when you call things like decent, affordable health care and a strong public education system “socialism” long enough, eventually socialism starts to sound like a good idea. And when you work your ass off for a lifetime and still can’t manage to obtain adequate food, clothing, shelter, and education for your family and equal treatment in society because of every way the system has been rigged by conservatives in the past 40 years, so does “eat the rich.”

UPDATE, 9/1: This was posted before I became aware that Democratic presidential Beto O’Rourke had been quoted as saying, “Yes, this is fucked up,” talking about the federal government’s inaction on mass shootings such as the one Saturday in Odessa, Texas, that claimed eight lives. When the inevitable criticism came, he had the perfect response:

 

Friday, August 30, 2019 6:50 pm

A belated but sincere obituary for David Koch

I was a Republican for about 40 years, so here is where I am on this:

David Koch used his wealth to buy government policies that are wiping out the middle class, to keep government from mitigating the deaths his industries cause to thousands of Americans annually, to socialize the costs of his businesses while privatizing the benefits, and for his last act, to light the planet on actual fire. Had he lived, he almost certainly would have bought himself a constitutional convention in which the United States would be turned from a constitutional democratic republic into a kleptocracy in which tens of millions of citizens would lose basic human rights, and his surviving family and a few of their friends may yet bring this about. Society was so utterly unable to contain his serial sociopathy that hundreds of millions if not billions of people on this planet would have had legal standing to kill him in self-defense. In short, David Koch was a goddamned monster. Anyone who can’t see that is morally stillborn, and anyone wishing to defend him is welcome to follow him straight to hell.

Tuesday, July 2, 2019 7:38 pm

“A Face in the Crowd” and the MAGATs

Over the weekend I got to see, for the first time, “A Face in the Crowd.” The 1957 film, written by Budd Schulberg (“The Harder They Fall,” “On the Waterfront”) and directed by Elia Kazan (“A Streetcar Named Desire,” “East of Eden”), was North Carolina icon Andy Griffith’s first starring role. In it, Griffith portrays Larry “Lonesome” Rhodes, an Arkansas yokel propelled to national stardom as the “voice of the people.” Ahead there be spoilers, so don’t read the jump if you want to watch the movie first. (Apparently it’s available on Amazon if you’re curious.)

(more…)

Thursday, May 30, 2019 9:48 pm

Thought for the day, freedom-of-religion edition

If Americans can claim religious freedom to refuse to bake a cake or even provide medically necessary abortion, they certainly should be able to claim religious freedom to provide an alien dying of thirst at the border a goddamned bottle of water.

Wednesday, May 29, 2019 7:29 pm

Mueller to U.S. House: Saddle the hell up

Robert Mueller all but begs Congress to impeach Donald Trump and implicitly tears a deserving news media a big new orifice in the process.

Outgoing special counsel Robert Mueller made several critical points today in his roughly eight-minute statement at the Department of Justice.

First (and I’m not necessarily going in chronological order here), he emphasized at both the beginning and the end of his statement that the evidence is crystal clear that Russian military intelligence sought to interfere with the 2016 presidential election for the benefit of Donald Trump and that they are continuing to try to interfere with U.S. elections even today.

Second, he emphasized that the Mueller report speaks for itself, which was a polite way of saying that if the people whose jobs it was to tell us what was in the report had done their jobs and read the damned report, we wouldn’t be nearly so confused about the way forward and we wouldn’t have wasted the past two months. Instead, he implicitly pointed out, journalists covered what people (i.e., Attorney General William Barr) SAID about the report, rather than what the report itself said, to the detriment of the American public. As The Atlantic’s Adam Serwer put it, “Mueller’s statement is an indictment of a press that focused more on what people had to say about the report than what the report said, because the former was easier to cover. No one has learned anything.” (The first three rules of investigative reporting are “Follow the money,” “follow the money,” and “follow the money,” but Rule 4 is, “Always read the documents” and Rule 5 is “Always do the math.”)

Third, he said that he did not seek charges against Trump because Justice Department policy, while authorizing investigations of a sitting president “while memories are fresh and documents are available,” forbade charging a sitting president. (For what it’s worth, George Washington University law professor Jonathan Turley went on CBS immediately after the statement to say that, constitutionally speaking, Mueller was “dead wrong,” that Trump indeed could have been indicted.) Mueller clearly implied that had Trump been anyone but the sitting president, he would have been indicted.

Fourth, he fleshed out that point by observing that, contrary to what Donald Trump and Barr have said, the report is not an exoneration. Indeed, he said, “As set forth in our report, after that investigation, if we had confidence that the president clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”

Fifth, he emphasized that that obstruction definitely had hampered his campaign: “When a subject of an investigation obstructs that investigation or lies to investigators, it strikes at the core of their government’s effort to find the truth and hold wrongdoers accountable.” The implication, though it is only that, might explain why he failed to find enough evidence to indict people on the conspiracy charge. Because while Vol. 1 of the report said Mueller’s team found insufficient evidence to indict Trump on a conspiracy charge, notwithstanding Trump’s lies, you can’t swing a dead cat in it without running across multiple instances of collusion, a concept that has real-world meanings but no legal significance.

Fifth, he re-emphasized that in his view and given Justice Department policy, it was not for Justice to accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing; rather, that responsibility fell to Congress. Combined with the documentation in Vol. 2 of the Mueller report of up to 10 instances of obstruction of justice on Trump’s part, he seemed to be practically begging the House to begin impeachment hearings.

He said a few other noteworthy things, such as that even if he were to appear before Congress to testify, he would not go beyond what’s already in the report. Legally and constitutionally, that’s a dubious claim, particularly if the House opens impeachment hearings. If the House subpoenas him and asks him questions and he refuses to answer, he can be held in contempt and spend up to a year in jail. Moreover, as Esquire’s Charles Pierce observed:

He has no excuse left. He is a private citizen now. And if he only repeats what’s in the report, on television, in front of the country, it will contribute mightily to the political momentum behind the demands that Congress do its damn job or shirk its duty entirely. He still needs to testify. He still needs to take questions. He’s only a citizen like the rest of us now, and he has a duty to do the right thing. We all do.

And Mueller said that our ongoing election-security weaknesses “deserve the attention of every American.” That assertion must be weighed against Republicans’ outright hostility, and particularly that of Mitch McConnell, to taking the slightest action to make elections more secure, such as, oh, I don’t know, even holding a vote on H.R. 1.

But his main points make clear what I and many others, from Laurence Tribe of Harvard Law School to Rep. Justin Amash, Republican of Michigan, already have been saying: It is past time for the House to begin formal impeachment hearings. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her second-in-command, Steny Hoyer, publicly have been reluctant to acknowledge that the need exists. But House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, whose committee would be the one to hold such hearings, said today:

Although Department of Justice policy prevented the Special Counsel from bringing criminal charges against the President, the Special Counsel has clearly demonstrated that the President is lying about the Special Counsel’s findings, lying about the testimony of key witnesses in the Special Counsel’s report, and is lying in saying that the Special Counsel found no obstruction and no collusion. Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the president, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies, and other wrongdoing of President Trump — and we will do so. No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law.

Democrats have talked tough before only to fold, and there’s no guarantee they won’t fold again. But I believe at this point that whether or not Democrats actually pull the trigger on impeachment hearings, they at least have heard and understood that that is what the outgoing special counsel is asking, if not begging, them to do. I won’t reiterate the many reasons why I think it’s important to do so, except to say this: Thanks in large part to our mealy-mouthed news media, Trump has been able to spend the past two months lying with impunity about the findings of the Mueller investigation. Anyone who saw and heard Mueller speak today now knows that Trump has been gaslighting the American public — and that televised impeachment hearings aren’t just a constitutional necessity but also a necessary news and public relations corrective to Trump’s gaslighting. I hope and trust that Nadler and other House committee chairs, currently on Memorial Day recess, will make this happen soon.

Wednesday, May 8, 2019 7:36 pm

NPR: Your so-called liberal media at work

When NPR lets a war criminal like John Yoo defend the Trump administration’s defiance of subpoenas and contempt of Congress, it is neither liberal nor news media.

Today was long and full of aggravations, from morning to evening. And to end it this afternoon, like a rancid cherry atop a shit sundae, we got a 5 p.m. report from NPR on the White House’s claim of executive privilege in withholding the full Mueller report, with underlying evidence, from the U.S. House, which has subpoenaed it.

Now, let’s be very clear here. The U.S. House, as a co-equal branch of government, has an almost absolute right to subpoena any document or person in either of the other two branches for the purpose of conducting oversight. There are a few limited exceptions, but no one has offered any that such constitutional experts as Laurence Tribe of Harvard take seriously.

But NPR calls today’s vote by the House Judiciary Committee to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt “a major escalation of a battle between President Donald Trump and the House Democrats investigating his administration.” That framing almost makes it look as if the House is at fault. At the least, that’s misspelling “a perfectly justified and long overdue attempt by the House to bring this lawless administration to heel” so badly you can’t even hardly recognize it.

Yeah, House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler is quoted as saying, “If allowed to go unchecked, this obstruction means the end of congressional oversight.” But the segment treats this conflict as a normal and unremarkable contest between White House and Congress in which both sides are more or less equally at fault and nothing particularly significant is at stake. In fact, the framers of the Constitution viewed legislative oversight, including impeachment when appropriate, as essential to preventing a runaway executive. Having lately fought a war to rid themselves of one runaway executive, they wanted to make damn good and sure there would never be another.

And that’s the just the intro. Reporter Kelsey Snell’s report is in the worst tradition of mainstream reporting, offering a very careful one-side-says-this, the-other-side-says that take that manages to be almost 100% journalism-free, particularly the failure to note that some of the limitations Justice attempted to place on access to the unredacted report had no basis in law whatever.

“It’s partially political, partially symbolic, but it’s also pretty high-stakes,” Snell said, not even bothering to mention that one and only one side in this dispute is, you know, breaking the law.

That was bad enough. But made me actually pull my car over to the side of Walker Avenue, stop dead, and shriek like a banshee at the radio was that NPR’s next segment devoted a huge 7.5 minutes to the legal stylings of alleged law professor John Yoo and his resurrection of the corpse of the “unitary executive.”

Who is John Yoo and what is the “unitary executive,” you ask? Yoo, now at Berkeley, was deputy assistant attorney general in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Counsel under President George W. Bush. He wrote the so-called “torture memos” justifying torture as an instrument of national policy under Bush. For that alone, he should have been hanged at The Hague, particularly inasmuch as he wrote in 2002, by which time the U.S. already was engaged in torture, meaning he wrote it to try to provide justification in hindsight for a crime against both U.S. and international law.

To put it plainly, Yoo’s support for torture was so unhinged that even some of his most powerful co-workers in the Bush administration thought it was nuts. Secretary of State Colin Powell flatly insisted that Yoo’s position violated the Geneva Conventions, while Navy General Counsel Alberto Mora called Yoo’s position “catastrophically poor legal reasoning.”

As for the “unitary executive theory,” well, to hear Yoo tell it in today’s segment, it is a theory of executive power, running from Lincoln down through FDR and so on until today, that claims that unlike enumerating individual powers, which is what most conservatives profess to claim Article II of the Constitution does for the executive branch, that article actually creates a “pool,” in Yoo’s word, of unspecified executive powers.

In fact, “unitary executive theory” is bullshit. Yoo decided that his boss, Bush, during the so-called Global War on (some) Terror, ought to be able to do anything he wanted, including interpreting treaties like the Geneva Conventions as he pleased, with Congress’s only control being the power of the purse. So he cobbled together this sorry excuse for legal theory and cherry-picked from history to try to make it look as if this legal Frankenstein’s monster had a long and honorable legal tradition.

Those of you keeping score at home also will note that this assertion flies in the face of everything that conservatives have traditionally said about executive power and the “original intent” of the framers of the Constitution, but Yoo and the Republicans have never let that hypocrisy stop them except when a Democrat occupied the Oval Office.

Anyway, NPR, whose mission is supposed to be journalism, actually devoted pretty much 11 full minutes of prime afternoon drive time to Trumpian propaganda at the expense of educating and informing its audience, and coming at the end of a day such as today, it was just more than this listener could take.

And as Trump and the Republicans try to dismantle our democracy, this is one of the biggest problems we face: Not only are Trump and the Republicans and Fox News and Breitbart trying to gaslight the American public, a ton of mainstream journalists are doing the same. Yes, they’re trying — I believe we have long since passed the point at which we can as ascribe performances like NPR’s this afternoon just to incompetence. (Also, and not for nothing, competence is an ethical issue.)

So this is just one of the many reasons why we need immediate, televised impeachment hearings: to counteract the fire hose of unmitigated bullshit emanating not only from the criminals in this case but also from their co-conspirators in the so-called liberal media. (I have heard some people say that’s actually what the House is doing right now, they’re just not calling them “impeachment” hearings. To which I respond: You HAVE to call them impeachment hearings to get the news media to broadcast them live and the American public to pay the appropriate amount of attention.) Accordingly, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi needs to lead or get the hell out of the way.

Wednesday, May 1, 2019 5:34 pm

In which Attorney General William P. Barr crumples his career and sets it on actual fire

In testimony today before the Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee, the attorney general firmly established himself as the worst AG since John Mitchell and equally deserving of prison time.

Dumpster fire

The 85th attorney general of the United States walked into the ostensibly friendly confines of a Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee hearing today, and when his questioning was over, he had left no bed unshat and no pooch unscrewed. The Republicans might have come to dissemble and distract, but the Democrats came to prosecute and for once showed no mercy.

Not only did he present himself as clearly guilty of multiple counts of perjury, he also made a credible case that he himself should be prosecuted for obstruction of justice as well. It is crystal clear now that he must be impeached and removed from office and prosecuted and sent to prison. And he did his “client,” Donald Trump, no favors either, implicitly implicating Trump in abuse of office under questioning from committee member Kamala Harris, D-Calif.

The only real question remaining about what Barr did is why he did it. Why did he tell lies to Congress about special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that any sentient human being who read the report would realize were lies?

Why would he decide the report cleared Trump when he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein hadn’t read the underlying evidence — and why would he admit that to the committee? As committee member Harris, California’s former attorney general and a current candidate for president in 2020, pointed out, no sane prosecutor would make such a decision one way or another without reviewing all the evidence. (Maybe that’s just a Republican thing. The committee chair, Lindsay Graham of South Carolina, admitted that he hadn’t fully read the Mueller report. The guy. Who chairs the committee. And who called the hearing. Hadn’t. Read. The report. And as for what else Graham said, let’s just say it’s a darned good thing for him that he was not under oath.)

Why would Barr lie in his April 9 testimony to the House and say that he was unaware of Mueller’s concerns about his characterization of the report when, at that point, Barr had had Mueller’s letter to that effect, which was made public today, in his possession for more than a week?

And why couldn’t Barr answer Harris’s big yes-or-no question:

Gaping kitten illustrates the bomb Kamala Harris dropped during her questioning

Has the president or anyone else at the White House asked you to open a criminal investigation on anyone? Doing so likely would not be a crime, but as Richard Nixon’s case showed, it certainly would be an impeachable offense. That Barr either couldn’t or wouldn’t flatly deny that it had happened was damning of both Trump and Barr.

And under questioning from Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., Barr insisted that he had never discussed Trump-related matters with anyone at the White House. That was so plainly perjury that he immediately tried to walk it back, saying he didn’t remember any such “substantive” conversations.

Barr also committed at least one huge unforced error: He insisted that there were no underlying crimes documented in the Mueller report and that, based on that, an innocent president had the right to interfere in or kill an investigation of his activities. You following that? An innocent president has the right to kill an investigation — that’s going to prove his innocence.

Not only is that absurd on its face as legal theory, it also presumes facts not in evidence: The Mueller report did indeed surface underlying crimes. Indeed, Trump was named an unindicted co-conspirator in an indictment for one of them along with his former attorney/fixer, Michael Cohen.

The Republican senators were little better, if news reports are to be believed. Hell, Jon Cornyn of Texas really did bring up Hillary’s emails. None showed any interest in getting at the truth; instead, they tried to change the subject to (undocumented) claims of wrongdoing by the intelligence community under President Barack Obama — anything but deal with the dumpster sitting right there before them.

If we learned anything today, it’s the following:

  • Barr is guilty of perjury and obstruction of justice; he has violated the terms of his oath of office to become the personal defender of a corrupt president. He must be impeached, removed from office, and prosecuted, and unlike with the president, indictment could come before impeachment.
  • Trump almost certainly has been abusing his office to criminally investigate political enemies, just as Richard Nixon did. It became an article of impeachment for Nixon; it should for Trump as well.
  • The next president is going to have to be a Herakles to cleanse the Aegean stables of this administration. Or else will have to burn it with fire. That’s how bad things are in this, the 243rd year of our country, and there is no guarantee whatsoever that things will get better anytime soon. Indeed, there is a nontrivial likelihood that they’ll get worse: Barr is scheduled to testify Thursday before the House Judiciary Committee — but his reluctance to be questioned by committee staff means he might well be in contempt of Congress before lunchtime.

UPDATE, 5:52 p.m.: Barr is now refusing to testify Thursday. The Dems really need to just stop asking and start subpoenaing from the git-go, because asking clearly is never going to do them a damn bit of good with this administration. And if anyone tries to jerk them around, they need to hold them in criminal contempt and send them to jail for a year. That’s the only language the mob family in the White House understands.

 

 

Monday, March 11, 2019 6:47 pm

For once, Nancy Pelosi gets it wrong. WAY wrong.

History shows that not impeaching Donald Trump for his crimes will open the door to even worse Republican behavior in the future. For the sake of the country, we cannot allow that to happen.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said today that she is not inclined to impeach President Donald J. Trump. Responding to an observation from a Washington Post reporter that calls for Trump’s impeachment are growing, she responded:

I’m not for impeachment. This is news. I’m going to give you some news right now because I haven’t said this to any press person before. But since you asked, and I’ve been thinking about this: Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.

I don’t lightly contradict one of the most able and storied politicians of my lifetime. But I have spent that lifetime observing, and living with, the consequences of Democratic failure to hold Republicans responsible for their crimes.

Gerald Ford pardoned Richard Nixon. At the time, he said it was to appeal to a sense of national unity — kind of the same thing Pelosi is saying here. He even testified to that before Congress. But years later, he confessed to the Post’s Bob Woodward that in fact he had pardoned Nixon simply because he and Nixon had been friends. Woodward didn’t see fit to share that fact with the world until Ford had died, which is one reason I have found it very difficult ever since to take him seriously as a journalist. Americans had a right to know why Ford had done what he had done, because had Nixon gone to prison, it is entirely likely that Reagan never would have been elected president and all the executive-branch crime of his era never would have happened.

Democrats decided not to impeach Reagan even though Reagan had ordered arms to be traded to Iranian militants for hostages and had sold those same militants arms, with the proceeds to be used to fund Nicaraguan conservative insurgents even though Congress had strictly forbidden any such spending. The so-called Iran-contra scandal ended with neither Reagan nor then-vice president George H.W. Bush being impeached or charged. And Bush, at the tail end of his single term as president, pardoned most of the Iran-contra offenders.

Bush’s son, George Walker Bush, ordered torture and warrantless domestic wiretapping used as instruments of government policy despite the fact that they violated the Constitution and both international and U.S. law. But Nancy Pelosi, who became House Speaker for the first time after the 2006 midterms, famously declared impeachment “off the table” then. And after Democrats regained control of the executive branch, President Barack Obama’s attorney general, Eric Holder, never sought to hold Bush or his underlings accountable for the war crimes they had committed (or for the damage they had done to the economy, for that matter).

Had that happened, the GOP would have been far less likely to nominate in 2016 a man with a long history of association with organized crime. There are not many bets you can make about history, but I’m pretty sure that one is solid.

Ronald Reagan was elected when I was 20. I’m now on the cusp of 60. And EVER. SINGLE. REPUBLICAN. PRESIDENTin my adult lifetime has committed criminal acts and escaped, primarily because of Democratic concerns about whether the country could handle holding them accountable.

Well, I’ve got a question for Nancy Pelosi and all Democrats who think as she does:

HOW’S THAT WORKIN’ OUT FOR YA, NANCE? Because it SURE isn’t workin’ out for ordinary Americans.

Consider this: In 1998, the Republican House impeached Bill Clinton, a popular president who had lied about consensual but adulterous oral sex. House Republicans took it in the teeth in that year’s midterms, but still held control of the House. You know what else happened?

  • The GOP continued to hold both the House and the Senate until after the 2006 midterms, regained the House in 2010 and regained the Senate in 2014.
  • The GOP regained the White House (with Supreme Court-engineered theft) in 2000 and with Russian-engineered theft in 2016.

The idea that Democrats would pay a political price for doing the right thing is laughable. The idea that the country couldn’t handle the truth is laughable. The idea that there isn’t a basis for impeaching Donald J. Trump right now, this very second, is laughable.

But let’s say Pelosi wants to act out of an abundance of caution (as opposed to ignoring her constitutional obligation to hold the president accountable). Here’s what she can do:

  • Accept that Donald Trump already has admitted that he fired FBI director James Comey to interfere with an investigation. That’s obstruction of justice.
  • Accept that the Trump family has been benefiting since Trump’s first day in office from people staying at Trump properties that should have been placed in a blind trust but never were — a violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause.
  • Accept that Trump has refused to hold his nominees and employees accountable under the law or to act on his constitutional, legal and regulatory obligations — a violation of the Constitution’s take-care clause.
  • Accept that Trump has attempted to get NFL players fired for kneeling in protest against police brutality — a felony violation of 18 USC 227.

And that’s only a fraction of what’s already out there in the public record. I suspect that investigations by the House Government Oversight Committee, House Select Permanent Committee on Intelligence and House Ways & Means Committee, to name just three, also will find grounds for impeachment ranging from obstruction of justice to espionage to tax fraud.

Pelosi needs to understand that there already is a compelling case for impeaching Donald Trump right this minute and that that case is going to grow stronger, not weaker, with time.

She needs to understand that for all of her accomplishments, history is going to judge her on her response to this question and this question alone.

And she needs to do the right thing for the country: Impeach Donald Trump. Maybe not now, but soon, and well before the 2020 election. Trump is the Framers’ worst nightmare, and Congress should respond to that fact accordingly.

 

 

 

Wednesday, January 23, 2019 6:47 pm

Impeachment: OK, now it’s go time, redux

On Friday I said we can wait no longer to begin holding impeachment hearings for Donald Trump in the Houses of Representatives. Now I’m gonna tell you a little more about how we can do that.

You don’t have to be a lawyer to understand this. You just need to know that Trump, like every president before him, swore an oath to “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.” (That oath is found in the Constitution at the end of Section 1 of Article II.)

Now, is there anyone out there who’s prepared to argue, seriously and sincerely, that Dolt 45 has faithfully executed the office? Or that he has worked to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution? Not only has he failed to do so, he has deliberately attempted to do otherwise.

Indeed, hundreds, nay thousands, of contrary examples exist in the public record. The House hearings could go on for years if they attempted to be comprehensive.

The Constitution, in Article II, Section 3, also requires the president to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed.” I think creating and artificially extending a government shutdown is not taking care that the (spending) laws be faithfully executed. I imagine it wouldn’t take much to convince a House majority of that, either.

That is what the House should do. It doesn’t need to wait for Robert Mueller, and it shouldn’t. Speaker Nancy Pelosi should direct House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler to open those hearings at once, amass evidence of Trump’s malfeasance, and issue articles of impeachment for the full House to consider.

The country can’t wait any longer. Let’s do this.

 

Friday, January 18, 2019 8:02 pm

Impeachment: OK, now it’s go time

Buzzfeed reports that special counsel Robert Mueller has documentary evidence that Donald Trump ordered his attorney Michael Cohen to lie to Congress. If that’s true, Trump must be impeached immediately.

Donald Trump committed his first impeachable offense on his first day in office and has continued it daily since: profiting personally from his D.C. hotel, to which his supporters here and abroad flock, in violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause. He did it right out in the open, where everyone could see it, no investigation required.

And there are varying degrees of proof in the public record that he has committed other arguably impeachable offenses, too, including but not limited to suborning perjury, money laundering, sedition (if not treason), and so on.

Since May 2017, special counsel Robert Mueller has been investigating ties between Russia and the 2016 Trump presidential campaign, as well as such possibly related issues as money laundering.

Trump was able to do what he did because for the first two years of his term, Republicans controlled both houses of Congress. They would neither hold Trump accountable nor allow Democrats to do so.

That changed on Nov. 6, when Democrats scored a victory not seen since the immediate aftermath of Watergate. Incoming Democratic House committee chairs vowed that Trump would undergo oversight.

As I say, Trump has been guilty of at least one impeachable offense since Day 1. And I believe he should be impeached, on that charge and others. But up until this morning, I had been (grudgingly) content to await the results of the Mueller investigation and/or any reports from the House investigating committees before Congress started discussing that.

And there’s a reason for that: Impeachment, a remedy included in the Constitution by the Framers, is an inherently political act. Other than treason and bribery, the Constitution doesn’t say what an impeachable offense is, with the practical result that an impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives thinks it is. Accordingly, I thought that for any impeachment effort to have much public support, it should be based on the findings of Mueller and/or the House. After all, when Republicans outran public support for their investigation of Bill Clinton in 1998, they paid heavily for it in that year’s midterms.

That changed this morning, when I read the Buzzfeed report that Mueller has documentary evidence that Trump ordered his attorney Michael Cohen to lie under oath to Congress about when negotiations on the proposed Trump Tower Moscow ended. Indeed, Cohen wasn’t even a source for the story. Mueller obtained the documentary evidence first and then went to Cohen for confirmation, which Cohen provided.

Directing another person to commit perjury — “suborning perjury” — is a felony punishable by up to five years in prison and a fine. Not only that, Trump’s nominee for attorney general, Robert Barr, whose confirmation hearings were held this week before the Senate Judiciary Committee, testified in response to questions from both Republican and Democratic senators that for the president to suborn perjury would definitely constitute a crime. (I’m not entirely sure Barr knows what he’s getting into here, and I’m very sure he’s not up to the task and might even be compromised, but that’s a subject for another post.)

Suborning perjury was the first thing mentioned in Richard Nixon’s articles of impeachment. There should be no doubt in anyone’s mind that if in fact the Buzzfeed report is true, the House needs to be drafting articles of impeachment immediately.

Is the Buzzfeed article true? To be fair, we don’t know. It was sourced to two unnamed federal agents. The reporters said they had seen some of Mueller’s documentary evidence, but they could  not obtain and publish copies. At this writing, no other news outlet has independently confirmed the report that I know of.

On the other hand, Buzzfeed, although a new-media upstart, is a credible and professional news outlet — so credible and professional that it was a 2018 Pulitzer Prize finalist in international reporting for what the Pulitzer board called its “stunning probe across two continents that proved that operatives with apparent ties to Vladimir Putin have engaged in a targeted killing campaign against his perceived enemies on British and American soil.” And Jason Leopold, the lead reporter on the piece, is well-regarded as a “ninja” in the business for the ways in which he has used the federal Freedom of Information Act to expose government wrongdoing. (Yes, Buzzfeed catches crap for publishing listicles and other eye candy — but that’s how it pays for investigative reporting. For the record, in 25 years in newspaper I didn’t work for a single paper that didn’t pay for the investigative work with sports, comics, and horoscope, and I don’t recall anyone complaining.) So while we don’t know whether the article is accurate, I think its accuracy is far more likely than not. And if it is accurate, that gun is as smoking and hot to the touch as they come.

Adam Schiff, the California Democrat who chairs the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence has said that his committee will be investigating the allegation. Ideally, Mueller will share at least enough of his documentation with Schiff to provide a basis for a referral to the Judiciary Committee for impeachment. And once that happens, Judiciary needs to roll out articles of impeachment and the House needs to pull the trigger.

We are in the midst of the longest government shutdown on record, and it is 100% the responsibility of Donald Trump and the Republicans. The House has passed measures to end it. The Republican-controlled Senate even passed a spending bill 100-0 that Trump rejected after conservative propagandists Ann Coulter and Rush Limbaugh criticized it. Since then, GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell has not allowed another Senate vote. Trump and McConnell are holding 800,000 federal employees and an untold number of private contractors hostage over Trump’s plan to build a wall on the country’s southern border — a wall that, at this writing, almost 60% of Americans say they oppose. If the shutdown continues much longer, it may well push the country into a recession.

This presidency is on fire. This country is on fire. Given what we learned today, we cannot wait any longer. The House needs to go ahead and impeach Trump for suborning perjury; the Mueller investigation and House committee investigations should continue their investigations, but we can’t afford to wait for them anymore. Impeach Trump. Now.

UPDATE: Welp, Mueller’s office is denying the Buzzfeed story, The Washington Post is reporting. So stay tuned, kids.

 

 

 

Thursday, January 17, 2019 6:55 pm

It’s all Colbert’s fault

I blame Stephen Colbert.

The comedian was speaking to the White House Correspondents Association annual dinner in April 2006 — to the audience in general, but to President George W. Bush, whose poll numbers by then were low, in particular. Colbert said:

Now, I know there are some polls out there saying that this man has a 32% approval rating. But guys like us, we don’t pay attention to the polls. We know that polls are just a collection of statistics that reflect what people are thinking in “reality.” And reality has a well-known liberal bias.

Even then, people were getting news from comedians as well as traditional print and online news sources — and even then, if you live in reality, you had to admit that the comedians frequently provided a … well, less distorted version of objective reality than the traditional news sources.

Only here’s what I think sometimes happened. I think conservatives heard that line and took it literally. Frankly, not much else explains both the behavior of Donald Trump and the Republican Party leadership and the more or less unbudging support for Trump of roughly 37% of the population (although we learned today, from multiple sources, that that number might, finally, be slipping). They’ve shown an aversion to reality that, frankly, is hard (though not impossible) to explain any other way.

And all kidding aside, that aversion to reality can have and is having dangerous effects on the world, our country, and us personally. Only reality-based solutions to problems are likely to work.

Global warming is a huge threat to civilization, and the experts in that field say we have roughly 10 years left to make the significant changes needed to reduce the threat. Republicans mostly oppose any effort to do anything about it. That’s a step up; not so long ago most refused even to acknowledge that global warming existed.

In terms of economics, Republicans have been peddling fantasy for 40 years. No, tax cuts generally never pay for themselves, and big tax cuts on the highest earners in our country not only haven’t paid for themselves, let alone delivered the economic growth that was promised, they’ve also had the effect of funneling wealth up from the working class and middle class to the already very wealthy. I think it’s fair to say that Republicans know their tax policy is fantasy; they just don’t care.

And their policies in areas from health care to the environment are not fact-based, either, and pose the risk of tens of thousands of additional premature American deaths every year.

So it’s all Colbert’s fault, and he needs to reopen the government.

 

 

Wednesday, January 16, 2019 7:17 pm

These two things are not the same

It is hard to believe that there are still people around who think that both major political parties in the United States are the same and that they are equally bad. But I ran into one today.

Truth is, they’re not, and here’s some proof:

One and only one party has relied on appeals to bigotry, with decreasing subtlety, for more than 50 years.
One and only one party supports a fact-free economic and tax policy, one that further enriches the already very rich mainly by hoovering up what remains of the wealth of the middle class and the working class.
One and only one party has made torture an instrument of national policy.
One and only one party wiretapped its own citizens without a warrant in felony violation of the law and then, when the news became public, retroactively changed the law to escape punishment.
One and only one party wants to funnel money to for-profit prisons.
One and only one party denies the existence of anthropogenic global warming.
One and only one party supports energy policies that will make global warming worse, not better, even as scientists say we have roughly 10 years, at best, to do some pretty drastic things just to level it off.
One and only one party is imprisoning children at the border.
One and only one party is pushing to reduce LEGAL immigration by 50%, which would be economic suicide.
One and only one party is working actively to weaken our international economic and military alliances and gutting our State Department.
One and only one party is tolerating more than 30,000 firearm deaths per year, many of them absolutely preventable.
One and only one party is just fine with Saudi Arabia assassinating a U.S. journalist.
One and only one party is acting as an agent, or at least an asset, of a hostile foreign power.
 
I could go on, but I hope you get my point: Both parties are not the same. Republicans are demonstrably worse for the country than Democrats and have been since no later than 1992 and arguably since the early 1960s. Anyone who says the two parties are equally bad is lazy, ignorant or lying. There’s no other option.

Friday, January 4, 2019 1:03 pm

Election 2020: I do not like the whole idea of likability

Ignore anything and everything you read about a presidential candidate’s “likability,” particularly if that candidate is a Democratic woman. Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin left office Thursday with an honest-to-God favorability rating of 12%. During gardening season, actual cowshit is more popular.

On Monday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts became the first Democrat to announce that she was forming a 2020 presidential-campaign exploratory committee. And just like that, the political press served notice that it was going to be just as sexist and idiotic as it had been in 2016.

Politico, whose reporting frequently is essential but whose analysis and opinion seems to be at least 50% pro-Republican horseshit, popped up noon Monday with “Warren Battles the Ghost of Hillary,” which suggested that Warren might be just as “unlikable” as Hillary Clinton had been in 2016 and therefore doomed as a candidate.

The anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative was written before the Massachusetts senator even announced she was exploring a presidential run.

She’s too divisive and too liberal, Washington Democrats have complained privately. Her DNA rollout was a disaster — and quite possibly a White House deal-breaker. She’s already falling in the polls, and — perhaps most stinging — shares too many of the attributes that sank Hillary Clinton.

In the year of the woman, it adds up to one unwelcome mat for the most prominent woman likely to be part of the 2020 field. But it also presents an unmistakable challenge: How does Warren avoid a Clinton redux — written off as too unlikable before her campaign gets off the ground?

Man, there is so much horseshit here that you probably would need dynamite to unpack it.

  • First of all, how is it that there is any “anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative” at all just hours after her announcement? Answer: People have been lying in wait for her for a while. And who would do that? People who are anti-Elizabeth Warren. Duh. There is no organic “anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative” at this point, only propaganda.
  • And how is it that there is an “anti-Elizabeth Warren narrative” that is similar to Hillary Clinton’s? After all, Hillary Clinton has been in the public eye for 35 brutal years, whereas five years ago most Americans had no idea who Elizabeth Warren was. Answer? Sexism: The implicit message of this comparison is that no female candidate, or at least no Democratic female candidate, can be trusted.
  • Too divisive? How? How does one quantify “divisive”? Sophisticated polling can sort of, kind of get at that — more on that in a bit — but as of Monday, not very much had been done on Warren, and certainly nowhere near as much as has been done on Clinton.
  • Too liberal? First, there’s always the tiresome and mostly unanswerable question of how one defines “liberal.” And if you can’t define that, how does one quantify how much liberalism is enough vs. too much? And “too much” on what scale? An ideological scale? As opposed to other candidates? Of course, Warren being the first, there were no other candidates when this piece was written.
  • And who are these “Washington Democrats” who call her too divisive and liberal? I may have spent my career with daily newspapers and their admittedly stodgy websites rather than online creations of the Kewl Kids, but we didn’t let political opponents snipe at each other anonymously, for good reason: It isn’t ethical, and even more importantly, it adds nothing to the reader’s understanding. Half-competent journalists should make political opponents call one another out by name, with all agendas out where the public can see them. That enhances reader understanding, which is, or ought to be, the point of it all.
  • Warren’s “DNA rollout” was a forthright response to a libelous criticism from a sitting president of the United States. To call it a “disaster” is pure editorializing: I am in no way an expert on this, but to the extent that Native Americans themselves have criticized her for having had her DNA tested, they appear to be privileging custom over science, arguing that without her name on a tribal roll, a DNA test means nothing. (If I’m missing something on this point, I’m happy to be corrected.) In any event, given Donald Trump’s apparently being an agent of a hostile foreign power, his tax fraud, his serial violations of the Emoluments Clause, his history of serial sexual assault, to be suggesting that a DNA test fatally damages a candidate for president is to display both practical ignorance and moral stillbirth. I am somewhat sympathetic to the argument that her timing, during the Blue Wave, suggests she put self ahead of party, but 1) absent additional information that is hardly the only explanation, and 2) If you’re going to make putting self ahead of party a criterion (and you should), there are far greater offenders. Bernie Sanders and Corey Booker come immediately to mind.
  • “Shares too many of the attributes that sank Hillary Clinton”? And what are they, pray tell? An electoral college founded in not just slavery but also in cosseting the whiny, bitchy, gimme attitudes of the slave states? A grossly bigoted electorate? Enemies in the Kremlin? Republican vote-suppression efforts in Wisconsin, Michigan, Pennsylvania, and North Carolina? Third-party candidates secretly supported by the Russians? Because those are the “attributes” that sank Clinton. By 65 million to 62 million, American voters favored her.

And that’s just three paragraphs. Holy shit. The piece goes on for many paragraphs more, laden with sexism and editorializing and almost unburdened by fact, all predicated on the notions that likability is real, that it matters, that it can be quantified, and that Elizabeth Warren has less of it than other Democrats and perhaps even less than Trump.

And that’s just one candidate. Multiply this bullshit across the dozen-plus likely 2020 Democratic presidents, candidates, many of them women, and you would be forgiven the urge to burn down every single U.S. news outlet.

Well, here are some facts.

“Likability” is incredibly subjective. It cannot be quantified or measured except in the most relative of terms. It is subject to pollution from bias, from lack of information, from lack of context. The closest we can quantifiably get to it is the favorability/unfavorability ratings of polls. The same recent Quinnipiac University poll that scored Warren’s favorability/unfavorability ratings at 33%/37% scored Donald Trump’s at 39%/52%, and yet somehow Warren’s “unlikability” gets all the attention.

And if you Google likability with respect to politicians, you’ll find that the subject comes up WAY more often in articles about women than in articles about men. There’s a reason for that, and it’s not a good one.

And here’s another fact, even more to the point:

Republican House Speaker Paul Ryan of Wisconsin left office Thursday with an honest-to-God favorability rating of 12%. During gardening season, actual cowshit is more popular. And yet our news media are convinced that Elizabeth Warren 1) is unlikable and 2) cannot be elected president because of it. That ought to adjust your attitude regarding any “analysis” you read about Democratic candidates for the rest of the 2019-2020 election cycle for offices at any level.

So what to do about it? I covered politics for 25 years, some years better than others, so here are my modest suggestions for consumers of news in general and people wondering which Democratic presidential candidate to support in particular:

  • For now, DO NOTHING. The actual voting doesn’t begin for another 13 months. As of this writing, Warren has formed an exploratory committee and Washington Gov. Jay Insbee has said he intends to. No one else is even close to being a formal candidate. If you were utterly undecided on a candidate a week or a month ago, there is no reason for you to even think about picking a candidate until 1) everyone who is going to run has formally announced and filed their paperwork, and 2) at least some of the Democratic presidential debates, which start in June, have come and gone. You can wait at least six months without sacrificing a thing, and unless you have some kind of personal attachment/connection to a candidate, you probably want to see how the candidates perform in several debates before picking one to support.
  • At least until the number of remaining Democratic presidential candidates is reduced to two, avoid the temptation to criticize a candidate or candidates you do not support. Instead, talk up the candidate you favor. Send him/her money. Find a way to volunteer for his/her campaign, even if it’s only making phone calls.
  • Whether you are talking up your candidate or talking down an opponent, do so with both factual and contextual accuracy. That’s harder than it sounds. You might mean quite well, but there are many, many sources of misinformation on the Web with respect to every declared candidate and plenty of potential ones. The Russians messed with what you saw on social media in 2016 and are likely to do so again in 2020. And conservative “news” outlets frequently take bullshit rumors that originate on conservative message boards and give them a patina of legitimacy, so be particularly careful not to amplify that bullshit. Check and double-check the information you choose to use. Factcheck.org and Politifact.com are excellent sources for vetting information, as is Snopes.com.

(And what do I mean by “contextual accuracy”? Remember that nothing happens in a vacuum. Where numbers are concerned, remember that one number is meaningless without at least one other number as a scale. Where facts about a political candidate are concerned, ask questions like, “What other candidate(s) is this fact true about, and to what extent?” Be wary of claims like “first,” “greatest,” “best” or “worse”: As one of my old editors used to say, there’s always a faster gun. Even mainstream outlets like The New York Times and The Washington Post that are generally reliable with regard to factual accuracy frequently commit mistakes and omissions with regard to contextual accuracy. One big example: The Times’s 2016 focus on Hillary Clinton’s emails — yes, she made mistakes, but she did not commit a crime — while ignoring, for another two years, a long string of evidence that Donald Trump was a crook. And when a news outlet purports to examine any candidate’s “likability,” examine their methods for quantifying it and see to what extent they attempt to assess all candidates or likely candidates in the same manner.)

So, to sum up, I don’t like “likability,” and you shouldn’t either. At this point in the race, and pretty much from now until November 2020, news outlets should be focusing primarily on candidates’ policy proposals — what they are, how they will work, what they will cost, how we will pay for it, and what their outcomes are likely to be. And if the news outlets on which you rely try to dabble in it, hammer them hard. It’s just a pity Facebook doesn’t offer a “don’t like” button.

P.S.: One more thing about likability. George W. Bush won in 2000 because a lot of reporters thought he was “the kind of guy you’d like to have a beer with.” Screw that. On both literal and metaphoric levels, I am realistic enough to know that I will never have a beer with even a former president of the United States, let alone a sitting one. So I will vote for a competent, empathetic jackass over a charming sociopath for any office, any day. You can ask the people of Iraq and Puerto Rico and Flint what we get when we elect sociopaths.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Thursday, November 29, 2018 9:34 pm

The president’s fixer pleads in. It’s all downhill from here.

Apropos of Michael Cohen’s guilty plea today:
 
One little-known fact is that federal prosecutors can put pretty much anything they want into an indictment or a sentencing memo. An indictment on drug-trafficking charges, for example, can, if the prosecutor wishes, contain a doctoral thesis’s worth of comprehensive history of post-Prohibition trafficking in all manner of contraband.
 
Why is that relevant? Here’s why: Special Counsel Robert Mueller can put as much information about Donald Trump’s activities into indictments and sentencing memoranda as he likes. He can even include emails or other records that document the claims in those documents.
And so far, that is exactly what he has been doing.
 
And what THAT means is that even if a Trump apparatchik at Justice decides he wants to bury Mueller’s final report, there already will be so much information in the public domain — court records like indictments and sentencing memoranda are almost always public — that any effort to bury Mueller’s final report simply won’t matter. Trump no longer has any leverage with which to prevent Congress and the public from knowing what he has been up to.
 
For Trump, it’s all downhill from here. He will die in prison in a diaper. The only question is whether he will do so here or in Russia. And lemme tell you, I and tens of millions of other Americans will laugh like hyenas when he does.

Sunday, November 25, 2018 8:46 pm

Some thoughts on the next president of the United States

Filed under: I want my country back. — Lex @ 8:46 pm
Tags:

Conventional wisdom has it that the next presidential campaign starts the minute a midterm has ended. I would just remind everyone that conventional wisdom hasn’t had a good year. I would also remind everyone that important statewide races remain out there for Democrats at this writing in Georgia (SOS) and Mississippi (U.S. Senate), and that I would prefer that Democrats focus for the moment on those races.

That said, the next president of the United States probably already has started running, although no candidate besides Trump has announced for 2020. So how do we want to deal with this?

A lot of people are handicapping particular candidates right now, as people who follow politics always do at this point in the election cycle. I’m going to try a different approach. I would like us to think for a minute about what the next president’s going to have to do … and once we’ve got that nailed down, then we can talk about who’s out there who 1) might be able to do that and 2) is running, likely running, or at least being talked about seriously as a candidate.

Let’s start with the obvious: The Democratic candidate in 2020 has to win, must oust Donald Trump or defeat any other GOP candidate who might replace him before the general election. Any other result is unthinkable. The nation cannot afford four more years not only of Trump’s “governance,” but also that of Republicans in general. You hear that phrase a lot in political campaigns, but on issues ranging from global warming to Russia and national security to taxes and economics, it’s simply a fact.

Beyond that salient fact, however, the next president is going to have to do what I think is almost impossible: clean up enough of Trump’s messes quickly enough, plus make significant progress on his/her own policy agenda, before the 2022 midterms heat up, to give Democrats a solid chance of prevailing in those elections.

The reason is this: Historically, Democrats don’t show up in the midterms. In the past 40 years, they’ve done it in two consecutive midterms only once, 1982/1986. The particular reasons vary from one midterm to the next, but the common theme when Democrats hold the White House is that the party fails to make enough progress on its agenda to excite the rank and file and get them to the polls. Most recently, Dems didn’t show up in the 2010 midterms because party activists were upset Obama didn’t get them a rainbow single-payer unicorn or whatever, and Republicans took the House. In 2014, Democrats didn’t show up and Republicans took the Senate as well.

So here’s what I think the next Democratic president is going to have to do: 1) make significant progress cleaning up Trump’s mess and 2) make significant progress advancing his/her own policy agenda — and do all that by no later than the spring of 2022. Otherwise, history suggests, Democrats will face major reverses in the 2022 midterms.

So what’s that going to take? Again, I’m not sure it can be done at all. But of this I am positive: It cannot be done at all by a federal government virgin. No Michael Bloomberg. No Tom Steyer. No Michael Avenatti. No Oprah.

No, doing this will require a stone political pro with deep knowledge of how policy gets made in the federal government. It also will require someone with a long list of IOUs from congresscritters in order to get progressive legislation and confirmations moved and moved quickly.

Just off the top of my head, I can think of five U.S. senators who might meet those requirements. All are women. None is Bernie Sanders.

But I’ll save name-naming for another post. In the meantime, who do YOU think fits these criteria? I’ll be interested to hear.

Thursday, November 8, 2018 1:19 pm

In which Trump moves on Sessions like a bitch

The day after the midterms, Dolt 45 fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions and replaced him with acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker. Now, granted, no one is going to miss Sessions; a Twitter wag described the firing as the first time that Trump had taken down a Confederate monument. But Trump had been expressing frustration for a long time that Sessions had recused himself from special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible money laundering, obstruction of justice and conspiracy of the Trump campaign with Russia to interfere with the 2016 election. This move offers Trump an opportunity to take more direct control over the probe because Whitaker has not recused himself.

This isn’t quite the equivalent of Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre, but it’s not good. Sessions had been so close with the Trump 2016 campaign that he had had to recuse himself from Mueller’s investigation, leaving it the hands of Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appears to have given Mueller both adequate leeway and adequate funding to do his job correctly. (In fact, given the financial forfeitures of some of those Mueller has convicted, the taxpayers are more than $10 million ahead of the game on this investigation to date, and there’s probably more profit where that came from. That money doesn’t go directly back into the investigation, of course.)

But Trump has made clear that oversight responsibility for the investigation now will rest with Whitaker instead of Rosenstein. It’s worth noting that when a Cabinet secretary leaves office, his/her deputy — Rosenstein, in this case — normally would be appointed acting agency head. That didn’t happen here. And that’s not good at all. Consider:

  • Whitaker in 2017 said he didn’t see anything wrong with Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with Russians in Trump Tower:
  • Whitaker was associated with a D.C. nonprofit called Foundation for Accountability and Civic Trust whose main goal in life seems to be ginning up bullshit criminal cases against prominent Democrats:
  • Whitaker said in 2017 that the Mueller probe was “going too far”:

A number of Democrats already have called for Whitaker to recuse himself. Worse for Trump, Rep. Elijah Cummings, the incoming Democratic chairman of the House Oversight Committee, already has said his committee will be looking into Sessions’s firing. One possible result could be a criminal referral to the Justice Department for obstruction of justice.

(Also, the Mueller investigation aside, Whitaker appears to be just the kind of bigoted jackass that progressive and moderate voters indicated on Tuesday they’ve had enough of.)

Now, a lot of people are presuming that Whitaker’s appointment means that Trump intends to fire Mueller. And, legally, Trump could. The question that that would raise would be whether such a firing would constitute obstruction of justice, as Cummings is hinting. I am not a lawyer, and I don’t know that there’s a solid legal consensus on this issue, but I’ve seen social media posts from three or four lawyers unrelated to one another who have said that the firing would be evidence of the “consciousness of guilt.” (Remember, the whole reason there’s an obstruction-of-justice investigation in the first place is that Trump fired FBI Director James Comey in 2017 and said that he had done so because of the FBI’s Russia investigation. The uproar over THAT firing led to the appointment of Mueller as special counsel.)

However, if Trump wants to slow or halt the probe, he has other options.

He can have Whitaker eliminate the wide latitude Mueller currently enjoys under Rosenstein, restricting the probe to certain isolated subjects and people to ensure that Trump and those closest to him face no federal criminal exposure. (Possible state crimes are a whole ‘nother issue, of course, and Trump has no control over those investigations.) Or he could just direct Whitaker to, in effect, defund the investigation. A number of folks on Twitter jokingly suggested a GoFundMe for the Mueller probe if that happens. I’d support that, although that money, like the forfeitures already received, under the law could not go into the probe without having been appropriated by Congress, which the GOP-controlled Senate ain’t gonna do. (UPDATE: The appropriations bill for FY19 having already been signed into law, Mueller’s office is fully funded — at about $10 million — through next Sept. 30.)

But Trump has fewer options than he thinks.

According to the experts at the Lawfare blog, Whitaker might have to recuse himself whether Trump likes it or not:

The relevant Justice Department guideline is Section 45.2 of Title 28 of the Code of Federal Regulations, which states that “no employee shall participate in a criminal investigation or prosecution if he has a personal or political relationship with” either “any person or organization substantially involved in the conduct that is the subject of the investigation or prosecution” or “any person or organization which he knows has a specific and substantial interest that would be directly affected by the outcome of the investigation or prosecution.”

Although the regulations do not indicate that Whitaker’s public statements alone necessarily require recusal, Whitaker has other connections to people whose conduct is at issue in the matter. For instance, the regulations define a political relationship as “a close identification with an elected official, a candidate (whether or not successful) for elective, public office, a political party, or a campaign organization, arising from service as a principal adviser thereto or a principal official thereof.” Rebecca Ballhaus of the Wall Street Journal reports that Whitaker chaired the 2014 Iowa state treasurer campaign of Sam Clovis, who went on to serve in the Trump campaign and administration and who, Ballhaus notes, is now a grand jury witness in the Mueller investigation. The Des Moines Register reported Whitaker’s chairmanship of Clovis’s campaign during the campaign itself. What’s more, in a text message to Ballhaus after Whitaker’s appointment, Clovis wrote that he was “proud of my friend,” referring to Whitaker, raising the question of whether there is a personal relationship as well.

There is an important process point here: Under the same Justice Department regulation mentioned above, Whitaker is obligated to seek guidance from career ethics attorneys regarding whether he should recuse. This is the process Jeff Sessions used in determining that the rules required that he recuse, and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein also sought guidance regarding his obligations, though Justice officials determined that his recusal was not required. If Whitaker either does not obtain an ethics opinion from career officials or if he departs from that guidance, that would be a serious red flag.

Also, Trump already knows that come Jan. 3, the House Oversight Committee will be looking into Sessions’s firing. And if Mueller gets fired, I would think that any of several House committees would be happy to subpoena him as an expert witness on Trump’s finances. Who knows where that could lead? (UPDATE: I’ve also seen it suggested that if Mueller gets fired, a House committee could hire him as an investigator.)

There even are a few current and incoming Senate Republicans willing to join hands with Senate Democrats long enough to protect the Mueller investigation, as Lawfare points out:

Mitt Romney, now the senator-elect from Utah, stopped short of calling for Whitaker to recuse himself, but said it is “imperative that the important work of the Justice Department continues” and the Mueller probe “proceeds to its conclusion unimpeded.”

The Maine Republican Susan Collins also stated that “it is imperative that the administration not impede the Mueller investigation,” adding that she is concerned that “Rod Rosenstein will no longer be overseeing the probe,” and that “Special Counsel Mueller must be allowed to complete his work without interference—regardless of who is AG.”

And GOP Senator Lamar Alexander said the Mueller investigation will continue.

I’ll admit I’m not optimistic. For one thing, even if all three stand their ground, the likeliest outcome of Tuesday’s election seems to indicate that Republicans would still hold a Senate majority, perhaps with the help of Vice President Mike Pence. For another, after the Kavanaugh confirmation, we now know what Susan Collins’s word is worth.

And, of course, there’s is the huge factor that Donald Trump consistently, almost predictably, acts against the best advice he gets and his own interests. Journalist Josh Marshall and novelist John Scalzi coined the term “Trump’s razor” for this phenomenon: Every option being otherwise equal, Trump will always make the stupidest possible choice. If I were a betting man, I wouldn’t often have lost had I consistently bet accordingly.

So I think Trump will fire Mueller and dare somebody to do anything about it. That puts Republican officeholders — at all levels — in a serious predicament, for, as Conor Friedersdorf observes in the Atlantic article linked above:

After Wednesday, elected officials in the Republican Party should have no doubt that Donald Trump will force them to choose in coming days, weeks, and months between loyalty to him and loyalty to the rule of law, between the public’s right to the truth and Trump’s efforts to hide it.

They’ve sworn an oath of loyalty to the rule of law. Let’s see how many of them meant it.

 

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