Our elections are under attack and Trump doesn’t much care

Yes, Adam Schiff is a Democrat, but Robert Mueller is a Republican.  If you can’t conceive of a world in which someone not of your political party can be telling the truth even when it is not supportive of your party or school of thought, save yourself some time and trouble and stop reading right here.  Because this is about how Russians are attacking American elections and the Trump Administration isn’t doing anything about it.

Dahlia Lithwick in Slate last week reminded us that the special counsel’s investigation—which became necessary only because the president’s attorney general had to recuse himself from the whole matter because he had been part of the campaign—was originated to look into Russian interference in the election, not into crimes by Donald Trump or any other American.

Robert Mueller was originally charged with investigating Russian efforts to influence the outcome of the 2016 election and that only secondarily was he tasked with figuring out whether the president had obstructed justice by impeding that investigation. The whole point of this sad affair—lost entirely on a Law & Order nation intent on seeing the Mueller investigation end with Trump in handcuffs on the White House lawn—was that Russia hacked an election, that it is right now hacking the next election, and that this is a threat to national security and the long-standing American experiment in representative democracy. On this one point, Mueller was emphatic: “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign,” Mueller told the House Intelligence Committee. Indeed that, and not the commission of specified crimes, was always meant to be the special counsel’s yardstick.

Rep. Adam Schiff, who chairs the House Intel Committee, has been making this argument for more than a year, trying to remind the American people that criminality is not the baseline; criminality is a side dish. Congress is meant to be overseeing and investigating something far more important and also something far less quantifiable—not just whether Donald Trump committed crimes (Mueller functionally tagged him for that regardless)—but whether Donald Trump sold out, devalued, shilled for, and grifted around American democracy over the course of the 2016 election. The question for Mueller has always been whether Russia interfered in an election (it did), whether Trump benefited (he did), and whether he tried to stymie the investigation into this concern (he did). All of that was laid bare on Wednesday for anyone who was listening. Trump campaign members were exchanging polling data with Russian intelligence operatives and hosting meetings at Trump Tower in order to obtain “dirt” on Hillary  Clinton’s campaign. Trump was lying about all the Russia contacts before he was even caught lying about it. This is not in dispute, even as all the screaming over the origins of the Steele dossier attempts to distract from these facts.

(snip)

Donald Trump prioritized his brand over American national security during the election, and he gave foreign interests ample opportunity to exploit and capitalize on those actions, both during the campaign and after. His campaign prized winning and, if he did not win, his ability to still build a hotel in Russia over American interests. Nobody disputes any of this. Republicans in Congress admire it. Half of the American electorate forgives it, sold on the dream that to be “successful,” i.e., to make money freely, is the ultimate expression of American aspiration. The Trump campaign exposed and continues to expose the country to foreign meddling, and it continues to make itself vulnerable to foreign blackmail. And the GOP is unbothered, because it is prioritizing party over patriotism, and party over national election security.

This president spends a lot of time criticizing people who oppose him by asserting that they don’t love this country.  (Merely opposing what a president—any president—says or does or wants to do is not evidence of lack of love for America; you can make the argument that it is the quintessentially American thing to do, that speaking out for what you think is best for America is clear evidence of love of country.  Trump himself has been doing it for years!)   Yet we are to believe that Donald Trump loves his country although, in the face of clear evidence that Russia is attacking us by interfering in our elections, he’s taken no action to punish the attackers or to protect us from future attack?  When he, in fact, makes repeated public and oleaginous displays of cozying up to the leader of the country that is attacking us?

Mueller’s testimony before two House committees last week has been criticized for not being a good enough “show.”  That’s not the point, or shouldn’t be.   There are two points, actually: the fact that the Russians are attacking us, and the fact of what Mueller’s investigation found about President Trump’s actions while investigating those attacks.  As reported in The Nation, Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler narrowed the focus:

NADLER: Director Mueller, the president has repeatedly claimed your report found there was no obstruction and completely and totally exonerated him. That is not what your report said, is it?

MUELLER: Correct, not what the report said.

NADLER: You wrote: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are not able to reach that judgment.” Does that say there was no obstruction?

MUELLER: No.

Nadler pursued the matter further, asking, “Can you explain what that finding means so the American people can understand?” Mueller replied, “The finding indicates that the president was not exonerated for the act he allegedly committed.”

That may not have been a revelation for Americans who read the Mueller report. But it was a conclusion that was so jarring, when stated by a veteran investigator and prosecutor, that Nadler sought a final confirmation of the special counsel’s determination. “In fact,” said Nadler, “you were talking about incidents in which the president sought to use this official power outside of usual channels to exert undue influence over your investigations. Is that right?”

“Correct,” replied Mueller.

I found a couple more things I’d like to share, starting with concerns about proceeding on impeachment when there’s a good chance the Republicans controlling the Senate would do anything to protect the president of their party:

https://twitter.com/tribelaw/status/1155536314319720448

https://twitter.com/DavidAFrench/status/1154507206395514880

https://twitter.com/Comey/status/1155271446207389696

https://twitter.com/joncoopertweets/status/1155229134693556224

rdi96EyD

Thanks Tom the Dancing Bug/gocomics.com

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Can’t give up

So…tiiired…of Trump…bludgeoning our sensibilities with the blunt object that is his ignorance, seemingly without end.  (I went into that sentence meaning to say that the bludgeoning is without end, but now that I re-read it I guess it works the other way, too.)

I will say to you what I keep saying to myself: please don’t just shrug and think, well, he’s doing it again but nobody believes him so it doesn’t matter.  And I say “nobody believes him” in the sense that everyone knows he is not a truthful or trustworthy person, and we put no confidence in the veracity of any utterance from him, whether verbal or Twitteral.  The evidence for this is irrefutable: at any time and in any circumstance he will assert as true whatever “fact” he wants or needs to be true at that moment, whether that “moment” is the length of a whole political campaign or just the time it takes to get to the next sentence.  Kind of amusing, really, that he is incapable of understanding, or just doesn’t care, that we remember the things he said before, and recognize when his statements are contradictory.  It’s as if, in his fevered little world, the only time that matters is this red hot second—and if he contradicts himself a second from now, or a minute or an hour or a year from now, that’s going to be fine because, well, he’s him, and everybody loves Trump.  Except those who hate America, of course.

I gotta say I share a lot of the feelings that George Conway expressed in a Washington Post op-ed today.  I’ve resisted falling back on the easy answer—stupid, racist, narcissist—to each successive unbelievable rant from our president.

And how naive an adult could be. The birther imaginings about Barack Obama? Just a silly conspiracy theory, latched onto by an attention seeker who has a peculiar penchant for them. The “Mexican” Judge Gonzalo P. Curiel incident? Asinine, inappropriate, a terrible attack on the judiciary by an egocentric man who imagined that the judge didn’t like him. The white supremacists’ march in Charlottesville? The president’s comments were absolutely idiotic, but he couldn’t possibly have been referring to those self-described Nazis as “good people”; in his sloppy, inarticulate way, he was referring to both sides of the debate over Civil War statues, and venting his anger about being criticized.

No, I thought, President Trump was boorish, dim-witted, inarticulate, incoherent, narcissistic and insensitive. He’s a pathetic bully but an equal-opportunity bully — in his uniquely crass and crude manner, he’ll attack anyone he thinks is critical of him. No matter how much I found him ultimately unfit, I still gave him the benefit of the doubt about being a racist. No matter how much I came to dislike him, I didn’t want to think that the president of the United States is a racial bigot.

Of course, I broke through my resistance to “narcissist” long ago, because it was so very clearly true and afforded me the veneer of writing what sounded like an educated critique instead of a schoolyard taunt.  As for “stupid,” well, I just don’t really know if it applies.  I don’t know him, have never been around him, don’t know whether he takes an active role in anything his administration or his businesses do, for good or bad.  I sense that he is not clever, and I don’t think he should get credit for being so smart that he’s thinking three steps ahead of everyone—the whole “he’s playing 3D chess while the rest of us are playing checkers” explanation offered by so many (and you know who you are).  I rather think he’s just “I know you are but what am I”ing the whole country anytime anyone says anything that he doesn’t hear as “Trump is great!”

But racist, really racist?  Hardcore bigot?

…Sunday left no doubt. Naivete, resentment and outright racism, roiled in a toxic mix, have given us a racist president. Trump could have used vile slurs, including the vilest of them all, and the intent and effect would have been no less clear. Telling four non-white members of Congress — American citizens all, three natural-born — to “go back” to the “countries” they “originally came from”? That’s racist to the core. It doesn’t matter what these representatives are for or against — and there’s plenty to criticize them for — it’s beyond the bounds of human decency. For anyone, not least a president.

As troubling as is Trump himself, this episode provides another opportunity to despair of the leadership of the Republican party, as well as of the followership, and of the news that the good sense of (some of) these people, who really do know better than to silently acquiesce to this crap, has apparently been taken hostage by President Stubbyfingers.  The terrific Dahlia Lithwick skewers them in Slate thusly:

For a long time in the runup to the 2016 elections, many Republicans, many of whom called themselves Never Trumpers, felt free to condemn Donald Trump in public. After the Access Hollywood tape leaked, Republicans reacted in horror.

(snip)

At the time, these reactions were unremarkable. Any sentient listener would have said and done the same. Today, though, with almost no exceptions, Donald Trump’s vicious racist tweets telling four American congresswomen of color to “go back” to their home countries was met with near-universal and stoic Republican silence.

(snip)

There’s one important move here: They can’t be completely silent. There has to be some solicitous reporting on their sobering discomfort—the cringing, the wincing, the eye-rolls; the notion that they are somehow pained by the president’s naked racist rants (but not in enough pain to do or say anything about it).

(snip)

This is not the first time we’ve been told that Republicans in Congress are suffering. CNN reported that they were “cringing” in “private” a month ago when Trump told ABC News he’d consider accepting incriminating campaign information about an opponent from a foreign government without calling the FBI. Oklahoma Sen. James Inhofe was publicly “cringing” at Trump’s similarly terrible tweets last December, even as he celebrated Trump’s immigration achievements. The suffering of Trump supporters knows no boundaries. Cringing is presumably an upgrade on the traumatic “hand-wringing” suffered by Republicans in 2015, after Trump said something vile about Megyn Kelly, and also the injurious “hand-wringing” of John Kasich, who threw in the towel on a primary challenge against Trump in 2020. Hand-wringing plus cringing! Call the doctor! It’s moral carpal tunnel!

(snip)

But as contemptible as allowing cowards to take cover behind silence might be, allowing them to whisper their secret suffering to the press is despicable. So the next time some poor GOP leaders hiss at you, under cover of anonymity, how excruciating the hand-wringing plus the cringing plus the eye-rolling has become for them, ask them instead if there is anything the president could do that would cause them to actually speak up, if there is any act of racism or misogyny that could warrant an action, an actual response. And if they are silent, don’t give them the privilege of calling it suffering. Children sleeping under Mylar blankets at the border and eating unthawed burritos are suffering. Republicans afraid of being primaried are collaborating. There is still a difference.

Conway wonders about his fellow Republicans, too, but rather than conclude that they are complicit he tends more to the conclusion that they are are simply cowards.

They’re silent not because they agree with Trump. Surely they know better. They’re silent because, knowing that he’s incorrigible, they have inured themselves to his wild statements; because, knowing that he’s a fool, they don’t really take his words seriously and pretend that others shouldn’t, either; because, knowing how damaging Trump’s words are, the Republicans don’t want to give succor to their political enemies; because, knowing how vindictive, stubborn and obtusely self-destructive Trump is, they fear his wrath.

But none of that is good enough. Trump is not some random, embittered person in a parking lot — he’s the president of the United States. By virtue of his office, he speaks for the country. What’s at stake now is more important than judges or tax cuts or regulations or any policy issue of the day. What’s at stake are the nation’s ideals, its very soul.

UPDATE 7/17: Last night after I finished this post the House approved a resolution condemning the president’s racist Tweets.  I think that’s good, although it’d have nice if more than four Republicans had voted for it.  It matters for Congress to not ignore a president’s unacceptable behavior, and just maybe it’ll give this Congress enough of a good feeling from having done their job that they’ll see that proceeding with an impeachment hearing is the right thing to do, regardless of what action the Senate would ultimately take.

Is it time to talk impeachment? Of course it is

If this president, after all he’s done in just two years, including everything proved and everything illuminated in the Mueller Report, doesn’t deserve to have the House consider impeachment, why bother having impeachment in the Constitution?  What offense against the Constitution, and the law, and preserving good international relations, and political ethics and societal norms and common sense and plain old good manners, will it take for the men and women we elected to look out for our nation to get off their asses and do their jobs?  There is too much smoke there now for it not to be prudent for them to make sure that nothing’s on fire.

By the way, threatening not to work with Congress on anything—not even infrastructure!—until it stops investigating allegations of wrongdoing against him should make it clear to all that he doesn’t understand how the system works.  He wasn’t elected king.

And people who are subpoenaed by Congress don’t get to choose whether to comply or not.  Not how it works.  They can refuse to testify once they get there, and be held in contempt and go to jail as a result (and be proud that they stood up for what they say they believe in), but if they claim to believe in the rule of law they can’t ignore a subpoena.  Keep your eyes open for the proliferation of Trumpeters arguing that for some dumb reason or another the law doesn’t apply to them.  Then imagine making that argument in your own defense.

Yeah.

Today in Trump‘s America: Cohen testimony edition

You didn’t have to see every minute of Michael Cohen’s Congressional testimony today to acknowledge it was some of the best political theater in many years.  You might also think it was damnably condemnatory of his former boss, Donald Trump, who he called a racist, and a con man, and a cheat…which are things many Americans already believed about their president, but still: Cohen’s lied to Congress before and that needs to be kept in mind:

However, Trump has defended Cohen in the past:

Fact is, wasn’t so long ago that many Republicans stood by Cohen’s word…although he was saying other words at the time:

Today the Republican Party blasted him, despite their former close ties:

…but it was suggested the GOP had a reason for being out of sorts today:

Also, one must wonder why, if you can’t believe what you’re told by liars, how can you believe the president?

Now, Cohen got some support from outside the room, from other people who’ve worked for Trump who think he is a liar:

There was one difference today: Cohen was a liar…who brought some evidence:

And he teased that there’s even more he knows that he’s not allowed to talk about:

There was the goods on how the fragile-ego Trump planted a fake bidder at an auction so a portrait of himself would make news for the high bid of the event:

Not to mention having goods on a payment from Trump that might be the best evidence of all of his having committed a crime:

I was wondering how it was ethical for a lawyer to provide this kind of testimony against a client, but I didn’t know this:

So for my quick review: the Republicans didn’t cover themselves in glory today:

…and the whole event should be used as an object lesson on the value of your vote:

…even if Trump supporters want to ignore the documentary evidence (like the GOP members did):

A white unicorn

Our weather has been pretty consistently dreary for weeks on end now, long enough so that I don’t know for sure how many weekends it’s been since I was able to go stand in the sun and club the life out of some perfectly innocent golf balls that have never done anything to me.  The forecast is that the weather will start looking better next week, and I hope that comes true.  In the news, there are a lot of predictions about the good possibility that the special counsel’s investigation of Russian interference into the 2016 elections (and related matters) may be very close to ending; that would be even better news.

I want to know what Robert Mueller’s investigators have found about how Russia interfered in the 2016 election, and maybe the 2018 midterms, too.  There isn’t any real doubt that Russia was involved in an organized effort to keep Hillary Clinton from being elected president, and I want all the evidence lined up for us all to see.  Even if the Trump campaign and the Trump family were in no way at all complicit or cooperative with the Russian effort, we need to publicly recognize that our country was attacked by a foreign power and be better prepared to withstand that attack the next time it comes.  (You’d think that a president of the United States would agree with that, and say so; do you wonder why this one doesn’t?)

So what are we going to do when the Mueller Report is submitted and (it if is) released to the public?  Dahlia Lithwick suggests in Slate this week that we shouldn’t expect we can sit idly by and let Robert Mueller lead us to the Promised Land.

There’s a lingering perception that once Mueller delivers his report, the Trump era will end in a cloud of white smoke and glitter. It’s a nice fantasy—the one in which Mueller, armed with Truth and Fact, finishes off the Trump presidency with a ride through the Capitol on a white unicorn, scattering indictments and the seeds of impeachment, in a conclusive and irrefutable wrapup of the two-year probe.

It is also profoundly unlikely to actually happen that way. As one observer after another has reminded us, this is not necessarily Mueller’s call, and it’s not necessarily Mueller’s mandate. It’s also, perhaps most importantly, not necessarily Mueller’s style. At every turn, Mueller has shown us who he is, and that would be the antithesis of the Trump-style reality show protagonist.

(snip)

For those who have been collecting the Mueller memes and the T-shirts and the mugs, and who are waiting breathlessly for his conclusions, there’s a very reasonable chance that major disappointment looms. The Mueller report is unlikely to provide a perfectly binary call to arms. He is amassing facts on a limited series of questions. Some of those facts will make their way to the public, but many will not. Congress will make decisions on how best to proceed. There is going to be a torrent of “no collusion/fake news” out of the White House. What comes next may not be perfectly certain.

Instead of “waiting for Mueller” to take action, we should perhaps realize that we largely know what’s happened: Four people who worked on Trump’s 2016 campaign have either faced conviction or indictment for their involvement with Russian actors, or for lying about it. There’s a case to be made that Jared Kushner or Donald Trump Jr. could face charges. It’s surely true that should any such thing happen, life will grow infinitely more complicated for the Trump administration.

But it’s also true that this administration has thrived in part because too many people have been waiting for Robert Mueller to formally say what we already know to be true: The levels of corruption, conflict of interest, and untruth in this administration are without parallel. What we saw at Helsinki was without parallel, what was done to Jamal Khashoggi and the refusal to address it is without parallel, threats of “retaliation” against the press are without parallel. We don’t need to read this in a report. We live it every day.

(Hey, this could be fun, and cathartic, too: go to the comments and fill in the blank to extend Lithwick’s thought: “The ______ we have seen during the Trump campaign and presidency have been without parallel.”  Keep it clean and I’ll post ’em all.)

Mueller’s job was and is to investigate, not to prosecute or impeach or even to tell the rest of us what to do.  Lithwick again:

We want Mueller to be both the guy who knows everything and the guy who does everything. It obviates anyone else from needing to know what we already know and do what needs doing. But going into the next few fateful days, my sense is that we might want to stop investing too much hope in great men, and superheroes, and saviors. Instead, we should remember that it is our job to insist that we, and our public officials, must be the Muellers we hope to see in the world.

The action that comes next is up to us, and to the people we elected to Congress.  It’s not surprising that Republicans in Congress would want to support a Republican president and his goals and actions, but party political success is not (supposed to be) the primary reason they are there: it’s to represent us and our interests, and the Constitution, even when that means challenging the president.  The Constitution establishes each of the three branches of government to provide checks and balances on the other two.

That’s the major theme of an open letter from Democrat Adam Schiff, published this week in the Washington Post.  The chairman of the House Intelligence Committee reminds his colleagues that the responsibilities of their offices go deeper than just supporting the president, especially when our country is under attack.

For the past two years, we have examined Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and its attempts to influence the 2018 midterms. Moscow’s effort to undermine our democracy was spectacularly successful in inflaming racial, ethnic and other divides in our society and turning American against American.

But the attack on our democracy had its limits. Russian President Vladimir Putin could not lead us to distrust our own intelligence agencies or the FBI. He could not cause us to view our own free press as an enemy of the people. He could not undermine the independence of the Justice Department or denigrate judges. Only we could do that to ourselves. [emphasis added]  Although many forces have contributed to the decline in public confidence in our institutions, one force stands out as an accelerant, like gas on a fire. And try as some of us might to avoid invoking the arsonist’s name, we must say it.

I speak, of course, of our president, Donald Trump.

The president has just declared a national emergency to subvert the will of Congress and appropriate billions of dollars for a border wall that Congress has explicitly refused to fund. Whether you support the border wall or oppose it, you should be deeply troubled by the president’s intent to obtain it through a plainly unconstitutional abuse of power.

To my Republican colleagues: When the president attacked the independence of the Justice Department by intervening in a case in which he is implicated, you did not speak out. When he attacked the press as the enemy of the people, you again were silent. When he targeted the judiciary, labeling judges and decisions he didn’t like as illegitimate, we heard not a word. And now he comes for Congress, the first branch of government, seeking to strip it of its greatest power, that of the purse.

Many of you have acknowledged your deep misgivings about the president in quiet conversations over the past two years. You have bemoaned his lack of decency, character and integrity. You have deplored his fundamental inability to tell the truth. But for reasons that are all too easy to comprehend, you have chosen to keep your misgivings and your rising alarm private.

That must end. The time for silent disagreement is over. You must speak out.

This will require courage. The president is popular among your base, which revels in his vindictive and personal attacks on members of his own party, even giants such as the late senator John McCain. Speaking up risks a primary challenge or accusations of disloyalty. But such acts of independence are the most profound demonstrations of loyalty to country.

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III may soon conclude his investigation and report. Depending on what is in that report and what we find in our own investigations, our nation may face an even greater challenge. While I am alarmed at what we have already seen and found of the president’s conduct and that of his campaign, I continue to reserve judgment about what consequences should flow from our eventual findings. I ask you to do the same.

If we cannot rise to the defense of our democracy now, in the face of a plainly unconstitutional aggrandizement of presidential power, what hope can we have that we will do so with the far greater decisions that could be yet to come?

Although these times pose unprecedented challenges, we have been through worse. The divisions during the Vietnam War and the civil rights movement were just as grave and far more deadly. The Depression and World War II were far more consequential. And nothing can compare to the searing experience of the Civil War.

If Abraham Lincoln, the father of the Republican Party, could be hopeful that our bonds of affection would be strained but not broken by a war that pitted brother against brother, surely America can come together once more. But as long as we must endure the present trial, history compels us to speak, and act, our conscience, Republicans and Democrats alike.