For those who are fighting the feeling

The genius of Donald Trump—or maybe just the effect of his incredible self-absorption, I’m not sure—is that he just won’t shut up.  He talks and prattles and chirps and rants and rages and scolds and belittles and Tweets and goes on and on and on, perhaps not as smoothly as he once did but still at a rate that’s frustratingly hard to keep up with, because so much of it is just plain nonsense.  Since he took office as president, journalists have compiled the lists of his lies into the many thousands, but there’s so damn much that it’s hard to remember it all, hard to keep straight in your head all the outrageous and patently false, and dangerous, and self-serving things he has said.

That’s where the impeachment process finds itself this week as it enters a new phase—the beginning of public testimony before House committees—which I believe will accelerate the American public’s growing realization and understanding that Donald Trump is not fit to hold office, and that he deserves to be tried in the United States Senate and removed from office.

The evidence of impeachable acts and lack of proper temperament for this job has been out there all along, like a scattering of bread crumbs, leading to an inescapable conclusion for those who are willing to honestly review the evidence.  A whistleblower complaint in September led us all to the now-famous July phone call between Trump and the president of Ukraine that kick-started the impeachment process in the House of Representatives, which has turned up a growing number of people within the government who have given depositions with information supporting the accusations against the president.  That includes information supplied by the White House itself, albeit as it feigns innocence and asks, incredulously, what’s so wrong with that?  The polls indicate the start of a swing in public opinion in favor of investigation, and impeachment, and a Senate trial.

But now we won’t have to read the transcripts of depositions.  With televised public testimony from witnesses, we will all be able to see and hear the stories of what happened, and judge their credibility, for ourselves.  (We will also be able to judge the credibility of the House questioners; I hope they get that.)  I expect the volume of testimony, coming from people who joined Trump’s government out of patriotism and the desire to part of an effort they supported, and who have no ax to grind and no reason to lie, will persuade many of those who are leaning against Trump, but have been thinking this was all being blown out of proportion by his political rivals and should just go away, to understand that this is all real and must be addressed.

We have all been in their position at one time or another in our lives.  We have all supported a candidate or an officeholder, a coworker or a business associate, a family member or a friend, who turns out not to have lived up to their promises or our expectations; who has lied to or stolen from us; who has disappointed us in some unimaginable way.  It can be hard to admit to ourselves that we made a mistake, that we were taken advantage of, that our trust was abused.  It can look like we’re fighting like hell to give that person the benefit of the doubt, when we’re really fighting to keep from admitting that we got played.  It’s a natural feeling, and I empathize with those who are fighting the feeling right now.  Listening to the testimony changed minds when Congress did an impeachment investigation of Richard Nixon, and I bet the same will happen here.

On a related note, for those who couldn’t push through a reading of the Mueller Report and thus aren’t armed with an understanding of its real findings, may I suggest you listen to the Lawfare podcast The Report.  In fifteen episodes it lays out the allegations in the Mueller Report in a way that helps people get it; if you want to just lay still and let the investigated truth wash over you, take a listen.

Seatbacks in the upright and locked position, please; we’re about to encounter some (more) turbulence

If you were thinking that someday the chickens of justice would come home to roust, probably in that thing on the top of Donald Trump’s head, then today could be the day they start.  Very excited at the news of the first indictments in special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation and of charges against three people, including a guilty plea that ties the Trump presidential campaign to Russian attempts to influence the election.  En garde!

One-time Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his longtime business partner Rick Gates are named in indictments alleging felony conspiracy, but the indictments make no reference to the presidential campaign nor any reference to coordination between the campaign and Russia.  Up front, let’s remember that an indictment is not proof of a crime, and that Manafort and Gates both pleaded not guilty to the charges today.  But let’s remember as well that an experienced and skilled investigator and prosecutor like Mueller doesn’t go the grand jury with charges without having a strong case.  (Yes, yes, I know about grand juries and ham sandwiches, but still.)  Also, we should have faith that this is just the first public step in a well-developed-and-researched case(s), not the last.

Why was it again that Manafort was the former campaign chairman?  Oh yeah, because he was fired from the campaign after it was learned he’d received more than $12 million in payments from a former president of Ukraine, a pro-Russia politician whom he had worked with for years, that he had failed to disclose.  And for what has he been indicted?  Conspiracy against the United States of America, conspiracy to launder money, and more.

I believe in giving credit where it’s due, especially in areas where it rarely ever is: the president was accurate when he tweeted this morning that the indictments of Manafort and Gates make no reference to the Trump campaign, nor do they allege wrongdoing in relation to the campaign.  Now, on the other hand (you saw this coming), he tweets that as if it’s all that needs to be said ever again on the topic, as if that proves the ultimate innocence of Trump, and all the Trumpets, and the campaign, of all the Russia allegations, and then (of course) uses it as a springboard (again) to suggest the real investigation should be aimed at Hillary Clinton.  (Heavy sigh.)

But he offers no comment at all on the rest of the indictment news, which I think is far more important on its face: the fact that former campaign foreign policy adviser George Papadopoulos pled guilty earlier this month to lying to the FBI in the Mueller probe, which is the “most explicit evidence [so far] connecting the Trump campaign to the Russian government’s meddling in last year’s election.”

Short version: Papadopoulos tried repeatedly to arrange a meeting between a London-based professor and Trump campaign officials…because he was told by the professor in April of 2016 that the Russians had “dirt” on Clinton in the form of thousands of emails, at a time long before the hacks of the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s campaign were public knowledge…and then he lied to the FBI about how valuable he considered the professor but now acknowledges he knew then that the professor had “substantial connections” to Vladimir Putin’s government.

It’s unbecoming for a graying, overweight man in his 60s who is not Santa Claus to be giddy, but I’m right on the edge of that with today’s news.  Mueller is ready to start showing his cards, and I trust that he (a) is smart enough to believe he has the goods, and (b) has all the ducks properly aligned, before he starts to deal the cards.  Charles Pierce has the same feeling: this is just the beginning, or as he puts it, the snowball has started to roll downhill:

For a while on Monday, whomever in the White House is charged with the task of hiding the presidential* telephone had done a fairly good job. The president*’s Twitter account was rigged for silent running. Republican congresscritters also were maintaining a discreet distance in the immediate aftermath of the news. (Congressman Sean Duffy of Wisconsin popped up on Three Dolts On A Divan to say “dossier,” “Hillary,” and “uranium” a few times, but his heart didn’t seem to be in it.)

At the very least, it would seem to me, Republican congressional leaders ought to be forced to take a position as to what they would do if the president* fired Robert Mueller now that the first shoe has dropped. This should be an easy one, of course, but there is that tax bill to pass, and all that money to shove upwards to the donors, so obligations to the Constitution can wait.

This isn’t going to go like a Perry Mason murder trial, where the real killer suddenly feels remorse and rises to confess the whole thing.  Trump won’t go away easy; we can expect he’ll resist every step of the way because he still believes he’s smarter and luckier (and richer, and better looking) than everyone else.   And of course, there’s the general understanding that he will lie…about everything, as he has done, even when lying doesn’t help his cause.  He operates as if he firmly believes that everyone accepts everything he says as gospel because, well, because it’s him saying it; the fact that he is often wrong and contradicts himself is apparently irrelevant to the true believers.  Now, that was probably a good bet to be true when he lived in a universe wholly populated by people dependent on him for their financial well being.  For the rest of us, the vast majority of the world’s people who don’t have a financial relationship with Trump, it’s annoying and pathetic.  But we know it’s coming, so we’ll deal with it.

Despite the agony I imagine the president will put the country through, I admit I relish the thought of that day when we’ll get to see this guy go up in flames.  But it won’t be tomorrow…author Kevin Kruse (@KevinMKruse) tweeted a reminder earlier today that it was almost two years between the first Watergate-related indictments (of the Watergate burglars) and Richard Nixon’s resignation.  And it was close to the end of that period before the Republican Congressional leadership moved past their private disgust and went public with their opposition to the president of their own party.

There’s no encouraging reading yet on how far the Republicans who control Congress today will let this go before publicly standing up to the White House.  You’d like to think they’d already be taking a stand against a good bit of what Trump has been doing, but as Pierce noted, there are still rich Americans in desperate need of tax cuts, which means Republicans have some pipers to pay before they can stand up for America.

Why seizing journalists’ records is the last option, not the first

The latest revelations about the Obama Administration overstepping its moral authority, if not entirely its legal one, in dealing with enemies both real and perceived have left me melancholy.  At best.  While I am buoyed to see that the concept of using the IRS as a blunt instrument  to punish one’s political opponents seems to have won near-unanimous disapproval, the idea that the government shouldn’t be investigating reporters seems not to be getting quite so much support, at least not outside of journalism.

This government is out of bounds—and out of its mind—if it believes that treating journalists as suspected criminals is legally or morally the right way to go.  A government led by a former professor of constitutional law should know better, even if that government has prosecuted more alleged leakers than any previous one.  The things we’re learning about, or which have been alleged, in just a matter of a few days, are stupefying: not just secretly seizing reporters’ phone records and examining their emails, but treating the reporter as though he were a criminal suspect and investigating his associates—even looking at the reporter’s parents’ phone records!

(Look here for links to a number of good stories, editorials and op/eds on government overreach of authority, the attack on civil liberties, and uncomplimentary comparisons to the administrations of George W. Bush and Richard Nixon.  Look here for a first-hand account of the “Kafkaesque” experience of a reporter who had his phone records secretly seized by two government agencies more than 20 years ago.)

Government has a right to protect its secrets; and yes, I think there are circumstances in which government should properly keep information from general distribution.  But unless the information is (1) critical to preserving public safety and security and (2) cannot be obtained in any other way, the government should not be allowed to try to compel journalists to turn over unpublished research or provide testimony or rat out their associates, because that turns those reporters into de facto government investigators and will make people with stories to leak and asses to protect choose their asses over the story. Seizing journalists’ records or compelling testimony is the last option, not the first one, and it’s up a court to decide that, on a case by case basis.

I don’t think journalists have a legal “right” to protect sources; others disagree.  I think they must protect sources if they hope to be effective at their job, but I don’t think the law shields them from any and every effort by the government to uncover information.  (Unless there’s a shield law.)  And I think journalists should be prepared to pay the price under law when they choose to protect their sources, as a good journalist should, while simultaneously refusing to comply with a lawful court order, as a good citizen should.

Yes, Sarah Palin, it’s possible to be a good journalist and a good citizen.  All good citizens are not good journalists, but all good journalists are good citizens when they fulfill a critical role in the functioning of a free society: to tell citizens those things that people in power don’t want us to know; to inform us of what is being done in our name and on our behalf.

I’m not making a case for the purveyors of “news you can use”—things like consumer news, what’s trending on social media, breathless reports on developments on a TV network’s prime time entertainment program as if it was the explosion of the Hindenburg (yes, I’m talking to you, KTRK-TV in Houston); that’s the sissified bullshit kind of “news” we get from outlets that sold their souls when they bought the line of crap peddled by non-journalist consultants whose only real goal is increased profitability.  (I’m not opposed to profit, by the way—I’d like to have been better at it myself—but I am opposed to those organizations for which profit is the only or primary reason for being, and to the people who see journalism as just another product to sell like cook pans or bicycles or bird seed.)

I mean to make the case for the journalism that is there to confront those in power, one citizen to another, and to tell the rest of us what’s going on with the people we’ve authorized to spend our money and operate our governments, from Washington, D.C. to the state capitols and from counties and cities to utility districts and homeowner’s associations.  I mean the journalism that is envisioned in the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution when it guarantees us the right to a free press right alongside the freedom of religion and freedom of speech and freedom of peaceable assembly and redress of grievances.

How well do American journalists do in living up to that standard?  Each according to his talents, like the rest of us.  The ones Don Henley sang about a generation ago are still around and (still) aren’t even trying, but the ones who are trying to do the job the right way for the right reasons deserve our respect and the respect of our government, regardless of who is president at the moment.