Democracy Under Attack

Following his Impeachment Trial, Mr. Donald J. Trump became predictably vengeful and embarked on a revenge tour.  He is now systematically using the power of the presidency to invoke his personal wrath on anyone that did not faithfully and fully support him — personally — rather than doing their duty and supporting their oath to the Constitution.  The purge will only end when the Trump regime is fully stocked with Trump loyalists, regardless of their ability to handle the job, personal background, or knowledge of anything related to the job.  For the most part, expect it to be the “B Team” — or maybe more like “F Troop.”

Mr. Trump is taking another page out of the Autocracy 101 text book.  We should not be surprised.

Recently, I was referred to an article in the New York Review of Books by Masha Gessen.  Titled Autocracy: Rules for Survival it provides six rules based on living much of her life in autocracies and becoming an expert on Russia’s Vladimir Putin.  Ms. Gessen is much better at explaining herself than I could ever be — it is worth the time to read the original — and her November 2016 article is stunningly prescient in predicting Mr. Trump’s behavior in the years following his election.

In brief, these are the six rules.

  1. Believe the autocrat.  They always tell you exactly what they are going to do.  Mr. Trump exhibits this behavior.  What some consider to be exaggeration, hyperbole or “Trump being Trump” is actually him telling you what he is going to do.  Or at least what he wants to do if he can figure out a way to get away with it.  I first observed this trait in Gulf War I where I was involved in a group tasked with the formulation of a policy and a strategy to get Saddam Hussein out of Kuwait and to restore a semblance of order in the Gulf region.  With study, it became obvious that he was telling the world exactly what he intended to do — or what he would try to do — but you had to peel away the bombastic language to fully understand what he was saying.
  2. Do not be taken in by small signs of normality.  When things seem out of control, the smallest sense of normality tends to soothe people’s concerns.  We all need reassurances.  When things are at their worst, anything that makes it seem as if the situation is temporary and that it will all be okay in the end is a salve that may hide the wound rather than heal it.  What is happening today in our country is not normal.  No one-off State of the Union speech or any other glimmer of normal presidential behavior should mask the fact that 99% of the time our president is out of control.
  3. Institutions will not save you.  American values are based on ideas like a free press, an independent judiciary, Congressional oversight of the Executive Branch and leaders within the government protecting the Constitution for all Americans.  It takes about two seconds to recall that Mr. Trump fires anyone that stands up to him, constantly debases members of the media, attacks judges that do not do want he wants, and always succeeds in getting the formerly Republican members of Congress to acquiesce to his every whim.  Mr. Trump and his regime took a steam roller to the established norms of government and continue to test the limits of the law in every corner of government.  There are no longer any safety barriers keeping the regime within safe boundaries.
  4. Be outraged.  While many of us may no longer be surprised by statements and actions from Mr. Trump, one needs to continue to be shocked.  Do not normalize bad behavior especially when it threatens the fabric of our democracy.  Be prepared for ridicule when continuing to call out such awful behavior while others continue with their mantra that it is just Trump being Trump.  As he himself calls it when belittling those that critique him, be prepared for accusations of suffering from Trump Derangement Syndrome.  Be prepared for unpleasant attacks from his most ardent supporters.  Do not back off.
  5. Don’t make compromises.  So many former Republicans, especially in the Senate, predicted that Mr. Trump as president would be the worst thing that ever happened to our country.  After three years of his presidency they are now his most loyal and fervent supporters.  Their support is not necessarily a re-evaluation of his competency or ability or vision, but rather it is a compromise of their own values in order to retain power.  Mr. Trump is no different than the person they ardently decried during the campaign.  Those around him have changed.
  6. Remember the future.  Mr. Trump, his regime, and Trumpism cannot last forever.  Look to reform our institutions in order to restore the foundations of our democracy.  Put into law what we as a country previously took to be accepted norms of behavior that our leaders would honor.  Work to project a new vision for our country that is inclusive and that addresses the problems that Mr. Trump was able to cynically manipulate for his own purposes.  Stay in the game.

In the every day course of our own lives it is possible to lose sight of the big picture attack on our democracy.  It’s hard.  Frankly, it’s exhausting.  It is easy to lose oneself in areas outside of politics because it is just so relentlessly Trump.  Every gosh darn day there is some new Tweet or speech or rally that saps all of the energy from one’s soul when it is clear that he has no idea what he is talking about.  Nearly 17,000 documented and provable lies during his presidency numbs the soul and becomes normalized.

And that is the plan.

Autocracy thrives on indifference or exhaustion or just turning it over to the regime and letting them take care of it all as long as my day-to-day life is not impacted.  Mr. Trump and his regime are interested only in themselves and in the amassing of personal power.  Period.  Anything else is a sales pitch presented in the moment to get a cheer or to attack an opponent or to appear to care.  Remember that fundamentally, they don’t care about you or me or the rule of law.  Only themselves.

It is up to us as citizens to stay vigilant and to call out the fouls when we see them.

 


How Low Will They Go?

As more and more information becomes available through the release of sworn testimony concerning the shakedown of Ukraine perpetrated by the President of the United States and his minions, the Republicans in Congress have become increasingly desperate in their defense of his actions.

They have used arguments ranging from the ridiculous to the downright dishonest.  Recently, three Senators that I thought were relatively straight shooters, even if I didn’t usually agree with their ideas, grovelled in front of Mr. Trump in public.  At campaign rallies, Rand Paul (KY) and John Kennedy (LA) made speeches demeaning others in terms that would get any fourth grader in trouble as Mr. Trump stood behind them grinning his “look what I’ve made them do” grin.  Lindsey Graham (S.C.) increasingly is getting desperate in his attempts to be Mr. Trump’s bestie.  When asked about the most recent incriminating testimony from witnesses in the House of Representatives, he stated that he refused to read the transcripts.  In other words, a future juror in the president’s trial (should he be impeached which I think he deserves to be) refuses to even look at the evidence, much less give it due consideration.  Appalling.

Next week the public hearings in the impeachment inquiry begin.  After weeks of complaining that it was a secret “Soviet style” proceeding, the president and his underlings now claim that the hearings should not be public.  Because they know that unequivocal evidence exists that an orchestrated shakedown occurred?  Perhaps they fear that the public will continue the trend towards supporting impeachment if they hear the truth?

According to several reports, House Republicans are now contemplating claiming that the president did not know what his flunkeys, specifically Mr. Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Mick Mulvaney, and Ambassador Gordon Sondland, were doing.  They went “rogue.”  Nice try.  Mr. Trump himself released a Memorandum for the Record (MFR) that captures in his own words the  shakedown of the President of Ukraine.  Numerous individuals with direct knowledge, including listening to the phone call, have testified that there was a months long effort to make it clear to the Ukrainian government that to get what they so desperately needed to fend off Russian aggression was a public statement by the Ukrainian president.  According to the sworn testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent that statement must include three words.  “Investigation.” “Biden.” “Clinton.”  No statement, no reward.  A shakedown at the direction of Mr. Trump.  Also known in legal circles as extortion.

In the Senate, it appears that their defense of Mr. Trump will boil down to a three pronged response. “He did it.”  “So what?”  “Get over it.”

Nice.

The evidence will continue to show that the president abused the power of his office.  He probably is used to doing business this way in all of his endeavors.  Additionally, there was a concerted effort, as outlined in sworn testimony, to cover it up.  We all know enough about Mr. Trump that if he gets away with this abrogation of the public trust he will do it again.

The story is not very complicated.  In the coming weeks we will hear it for ourselves.  All Americans believe that no one is above the law.  That is now being put to the test.  Impeachment and removal from office is a sobering responsibility given to the Congress through the Constitution.  It should be approached with the utmost care and with a full understanding of the consequences of such an action.  Trivializing the process with playground epithets and unserious rationalizations should not be a part of the process.  One would expect both Democrats and Republicans to understand the stakes and to live up to their oaths of office.  Undertake due diligence.  Review the evidence.  Treat career diplomats and military officers testifying under oath with respect.  And yes, search their souls for the strength to do what they think is in keeping with our national values and laws.  We should expect nothing less from our elected officials.  Unfortunately, one party is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump, Inc.

He did it so get over it is not a defense.  It is a desperate short-term effort to retain power that is unworthy of American values and our faith in the rule of law.  Politicians should rise to the occasion and reflect our better selves.  Unfortunately, I expect that the road ahead will only get lower and muddier.

 


Fatigue Makes Cowards Of Us All

The title quote above is indelibly etched into my mind as it was emblazoned over the stairway from the crew locker room down to the boat storage area in the USNA boat house at Hubbard Hall. For four years every time I passed by that sign I took it onboard.  As college rowers we knew its meaning.  It takes mental toughness as well as physical fitness to compete at a high level. You can quit or you can fight through it.  The quote is attributed to General George S. Patton or Vince Lombardi — take your pick — but its origin is unclear.  Its meaning is not and it stayed with me through all of the years since then.

Its relevance takes on a new dimension to me in the current political atmosphere.  The President of the United States is so outrageous in his daily Tweets, rallies and pronouncements to the press that it wears me down.  It is truly fatiguing.  It becomes part of the background of daily life.  It becomes too easy to say that it is just Trump being Trump.

But we cannot.  We cannot give in to that fatigue.  He must be called out each and every time that he spouts hateful, racist and misogynistic things.

When E. Jeanne Carroll alleges that Mr. Trump raped her and he responds that it couldn’t have happened because “she’s not my type” we should ask what type of woman would Mr. Trump rape?

When Mr. Trump racially attacks members of Congress that oppose his ideas we must call him out.  The latest episode comes this weekend with an attack on Congressman Elijah Cummings (D-MD) and the city of Baltimore.  What does Mr. Trump mean when he says about Baltimore that “no human being would want to live there”?  We should recognize that he knows full well that the city is majority African-American.  Does that mean that they are not human?

The outrageous lies are endless.  Mr. Trump is the most deliberately divisive president in my lifetime.  Probably, he is the most divisive since the U.S. Civil War.  Why do we tolerate it?

The Trump will be Trump argument is weak and cowardly.  It is not okay. He is not what America is about.  He has bullied the Republican Party to the point that good Americans that three years ago decried his abhorrent behavior now go meekly along.  They pretend that they did not hear or are too busy to notice the latest insult.  Or worse, they defend his comments.

Mr. Trump is a master of the playground mantra of “I’m rubber you’re glue, whatever you say bounces off me and sticks to you.”  He projects what he knows about his own character and his tactics onto his critics.  And make no mistake, his critics are to him anyone that does not blindly follow along with total loyalty in every manner of endeavor.

The Republican Party is dead.  The Democrats cannot get their act together.  Mr. Trump is taking advantage of every crack in society and ignoring the law to further his own personal gain.  As long as the citizens of this great country look the other way, either out of fatigue or out of a sense that laying low is the best way not to get into trouble, we will see him amplify his outrageous behavior into dangerous areas.

We are better than this.  Do not let fatigue make you a coward.

 

 


The Bigot In Chief

As I am sure you know, on Sunday Mr. Donald J. Trump sent out a series of racist tweets about four Congresswomen of color.  Besides putting forth lies about who does or does not love their country, and other blatantly bizarre statements concerning a Congresswoman’s “love” for al-Qaeda, for three days (and counting) he used the most basic of racial and ethnic slurs by telling them to go back to where they came from.

This should not be surprising.  Mr. Trump has a record of racist statements and actions dating to the 1970’s when he and his father were sued by the federal government for discrimination in the renting of apartments in a building in Queens, New York.  The list of other racist statements and actions over the decades is way too long to recount here.  However, since declaring his candidacy for president the number of such incidents have increased.  As president, Mr. Trump seems to have settled on attacking women of color. Such attacks include the mother of a Marine killed in action, the wife of a soldier killed in action, various Congresswomen of color prior to this incident, and numerous others.  For some reason, he thinks that’s a good thing to do.

The president is a racist.

Some may argue that I cannot possibly know what is in his heart.  That is true, I do not.  I do know that his recurring actions and words show that he is a racist.  White nationalists say that he is one of them.  They recognize what they see. To paraphrase an old saw, if he walks like a racist, quacks like a racist and looks like a racist, he’s a racist.

Sadly, however, many of us already knew this and are profoundly disappointed in his actions, but not surprised.  What is surprising is that the entire Republican House and Senate members — save a few countable on one hand — support his racism.  Don’t take my word for it.  Yesterday the House voted to condemn the president’s remarks. Only four Republicans voted for the condemnation and one former Republican did so.  One of the four is the only African-American Republican in the House.   The vast majority of Republicans, in the House and Senate, are white men.  There is one African-American Republican Senator.

The Republicans lack of a back bone makes me sad for our country.

Mr. Trump is fully in control of the Republican Party and good men and women that used to stand up for what was right now meekly submit to his will — and in some instances loudly support his every deed — including the most basic of hurtful phrases.  “Go back.”  Those two words convey hate for the “other.”  Hate for people with “funny” names or who don’t look like northern Europeans.  It means that you do not belong here with “real” Americans, no matter how long you and your family have lived in the United States.  It separates you.  It is meant to demean.  It is hateful.  Words matter.  And only four Republicans put what was right over the fear of a Tweet from Mr. Trump.  In my book, if you stand up for a racist by actively supporting his words and actions, then that makes you a racist.

Shameful.

Mr. Trump took this course on purpose.  There was no attempt to “explain what he really meant” or to clarify, or to otherwise soften his words.  In fact he doubled and tripled down on his remarks by going out of his way to repeat them over and over.  It is entirely possible to disagree on a policy statement or a political agenda as I do with much of what the four Congresswomen under attack are pursuing.  What is not okay is using racial and ethnic smears to personally attack other American citizens duly elected to their office.

Why is he doing this?

Three reasons come to my mind.  First, this is his re-election campaign strategy.  He and his fellow Trumpist politicians want these four freshman Congresswomen to be seen as the face of the Democrats.  He will campaign that they represent the “true” Democrats and that if any Democrat is elected you will have people with funny names and darker skins running the country into the ground.  Remember that he started his run for the presidential nomination with the birther movement that claimed President Barack Obama was not a U.S. citizen and followed it up with his first speech from Trump Tower announcing his candidacy by calling Mexicans rapists and murderers.  It is a cynical and divisive deliberate strategy.  It is a naked manipulation of people’s fears and emotions.  It will get worse, especially since he sees no consequences to his actions.  Republican politicians rolled over and now have no stomach for standing up to him.  Probably, many will emulate him in their own campaigns, further dividing our country and demeaning our values.

Second, he is appealing to his base — and “base” may be the most correct term as he is using the basest of strategies to look for re-election in 2020.  I knew there were racists in our country, I just did not know there were so many.  And no, I don’t think every Trump supporter is a racist, but I fail to see how any policy he espouses or judge he appoints cancels out his obscene behavior that demeans the office he holds and besmirches the values of our entire country.  Our country is an idea, a set of values, the search for “a more perfect union,” and not one based on ethnicity or who our ancestors might have been or the color of our skin.

Third, he is covering something up.  Mr. Trump has a penchant for capturing the news cycle when he does not want us to look too closely at some other action or circumstance.  My guess is that the circle around him and Mr. Jeffrey Epstein — the industrial level child sex trafficker — is getting tighter and smaller.  They were known to hang together in the 1990s and early 2000s.  Indeed, in 2002 Mr. Trump is quoted in New York magazine saying that Mr. Epstein is a “terrific guy” and that “he likes beautiful women as much as I do, and many of them are on the younger side.”  How young?  Mr. Trump hosted a party at Mar-a-Lago where he and Mr. Epstein were the only two male guests.  All the others were young women flown in for the party.  On Monday a bail hearing for Mr. Epstein was held in New York that included testimony from two of the young girls he abused. Is it possible that Mr. Trump was too personally involved with Mr. Epstein and his evil life style, even has the president says he “is not a fan”?  “When you’re a star, they let you do it.  You can do anything.”

The President.  Of the United States.  Is using the most vile and divisive words and actions to open old wounds and make new ones for his own personal gain.  And 98% of elected Republicans and millions of people think that is okay.

Historians will look back on this period and mark it as the end of the Republican Party.  The Republicans will be right up there in the pantheon of failed political parties with the Whigs and the Know Nothings from the 19th century.  The only question is how much damage to our country will they allow before they collapse.

In the meantime, we are in big trouble as a country.  We lost our soul when this man became president.  Every day we endure a new attack on our values and our Constitution.  I fear that Mr. Trump has lowered every bar of common decency and that his words and actions put people’s lives in danger.

When does it end?


The Fix Is In

Several events last week disturbed me to my core as I realized the depths that Mr. Donald J. Trump and his administration will go to protect him from the rule of law and any sort of accountability.  One of the prominent warning signals came in the form of Attorney General William Barr’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.  In case you missed the live broadcast of his appearance, I will point out that it was not just what he said in response to questions but also how he said it.  He was clearly annoyed that any Senator would question his decisions or his power as the head of law enforcement in the United States.  Perhaps more chilling was his unadulterated and unabashed pro-Trump posture.  He is no longer the Attorney General of the United States, or even the attorney charged with protecting the presidency as an institution.  He clearly and forcefully defended Mr. Trump, the man, and not the president, the office.

Among many startling elements of A.G. Barr’s comments regarding the Mueller Report are what I see as the three most egregious points:

  • The most troubling and news worthy defense of Mr. Trump by A.G. Barr was his insistence that the president is above the law.  You read that correctly.  In response to a question on obstruction of justice — and the fact that if Mr. Trump was successful in carrying out the obstruction, then that could be the reason that no conspiracy to work with the Russians was proved — Mr. Barr stated that under the Constitution the president has the authority to oversee investigations (including those involving the president) and therefore has the authority to shut them down.  Thus, there can be no obstruction even if the president stops an investigation into himself because it is within his power.  He further argued that this is especially true if the president thought the investigation “was not well founded” or “groundless.”  The president has the ability to declare it so.  “The president does not have to sit there, constitutionally, and allow it to run its course.”  And there you have it.  All the president has to do is say that there is no reason to investigate him and then no one can investigate him.  (I assume a “hoax” is “not well founded.”)  The Attorney General believes the president is above the law.  (For info, Article I for the proposed impeachment of Richard Nixon was obstruction of justice.)
  • The second most troubling aspect of A.G. Barr’s testimony is that he waffled mightily in response to a question as to whether the president or any one else at the White House asked him to investigate others.  The context was a section of the Mueller Report that indicated Mr. Trump pressured the Department of Justice (DOJ) to re-open an investigation of Secretary Hillary Clinton and others of Mr. Trump’s political opponents after the election.  He finally answered “I don’t know.” Right.  (As Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA) pointed out, that’s not something one might forget.) It used to be a bipartisan agreement that a president using his office to investigate a political opponent on purely political grounds was an abuse of power (Article II of those brought against Mr. Nixon).
  • The third most troubling comment was the confirmation by A.G. Barr that Special Counsel Mueller objected to the characterization of his report put forward by Mr. Barr on 24 March.  In his statement summarizing the results of the Report he claimed that Mr. Mueller found no criminal evidence of conspiracy or obstruction.  When the report was finally released, we found that was not true.  Mr. Mueller wrote to Mr. Barr three days after his March summary to object to the characterization of his work.  “The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature and substance of this Office’s work and conclusions.”  Some Senators think that Mr. Barr lied in his previous testimony when he said that he had not heard any objections from Mr. Mueller when in fact he had already received and read the letter.

There were more, but then you can read it for yourself.

Let’s put a few more developments from recent days out there to paint a picture.  Consider the following:

  • In an on-air discussion with Sean Hannity of Fox News Mr. Trump said of the Mueller Investigation, “This was a coup.  This was an attempted overthrow of the United States government.” Incredibly — although I don’t know why I continue to be surprised — Representative Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), the House Minority Leader, used the same word in response to a reporter’s question.
  • The Trump Administration asserted that it will fight or ignore any House subpoena. They are also going to court to stop subpoenas of other entities where Congress is seeking information about the president and possible financial ties to other governments or foreign entities.  “We’re fighting all the subpoenas.”  (Contempt of Congress — refusing subpoenas — was Article III of those against Mr. Nixon.)
  • Mr. Trump still does not acknowledge Russian interference in the 2016 election.  According to the Mueller Report there were 251 contacts between Trump campaign officials and Russian-connected operatives including 37 meetings in person or via Skype.  At least thirty-three campaign officials and advisers held the meetings or were aware of such meetings.  Recall that the Mueller Report concluded that “the Russian government interfered in the 2016 presidential election in sweeping and systematic fashion.”

On Friday, Mr. Trump and Russian Federation President Vladimir Putin held a nearly ninety minute phone call.  Mr. Trump did not confront Mr. Putin about the attacks.  President Obama may have been asleep at the switch and not done all that he could as his administration learned the breadth and depth of Russian intrusion, but he did talk directly to Mr. Putin to warn him against further meddling.  He also imposed sanctions against Russia (which are the ones that presidential adviser Michael Flynn got into trouble over for calling the Russian Ambassador and saying that Mr. Trump would lift them).  President Obama also expelled 35 Russian diplomats from the US and shut down two of their facilities in the US.  Yet in his ninety minute conversation with Mr. Putin, Mr. Trump did not even bring up the Russian actions except to say that he and Mr. Putin did not collude and Mr. Putin should know because he was the one who was supposed to have done it.  They then agreed that it was a hoax.  You can’t make this stuff up.

So what does all of this mean?

When taken in their totality it means that we have a president with no boundaries, no oversight, and no sense of what is right.  Mr. Trump still has not been held accountable for any of his outrageous actions and must surely think that the preponderance of evidence indicates that he never will be.  Most certainly not by the Republicans in the Senate and not by the Attorney General.  In fact, should someone, somehow initiate proceedings against the president, we already know that his A.G. says he can shut it down because, well, just because he can if he wants to.

It is also clear that Mr. Trump will not take Executive Action to stop Russian interference in the 2020 election.  Although various agencies are working to shore up our defenses, there is no national level coordination and planning under way to prevent further meddling.  Indeed, Mr. Trump and others in his administration implied that he would take their help again in 2020.(Russia if you’re listening…)

I think that the evidence above also indicates the Mr. Trump believes that the purpose of the federal government is to do his bidding and therefore he will not hesitate to use the full power and strength of the U.S. government to take down his political opponents.  Apparently he will do so with the willing acquiescence of the A.G. and Republicans in the House and Senate.

Talk of coups really scares me.  Do the president and the leader of the Republican Party in the House really think that the Mueller Investigation was an attempted coup? Stop and think about that for a moment.  Anyone that threatens this president’s sense of well-being is a direct threat to him.  Really?  A coup?  If they actually believe that then there is nothing he will stop at to prevent losing his power.  And who will stop him?  The House is being ignored (A.G. Barr won’t even show up to testify about the Mueller Report and his role in its release).  No oversight there.  The Senate trembles in its boots that one of their Republican colleagues will be the subject of a nasty Tweet. No oversight there.  The Attorney General is now the personal defense attorney for Mr. Trump.  No oversight there.  The fix is in.

How far will he go?  Declare martial law for some other self-created crisis?  Nullify a close election he loses?  Suspend the election because he Tweets out that the Democrats are attempting a coup?  I am not sure what he is capable of doing.

Do I sound like a wing nut conspiracy dealer with too much time on his hands?  I hope so.

And yet, the things I’ve mentioned above happened in only a matter of days.  In other administrations, Republican or Democrat, there would be a major reaction to such a clear threat to our norms and national well-being.  Sadly, most people just dismiss it as business as usual.

One theory floating around is that Mr. Trump and his advisers and supporters in Congress are pushing the Democrats in the House as hard as they can so that they are left with little recourse except for impeachment.  Improbably, the Republicans think that an impeachment proceeding against Mr. Trump will help his approval ratings and “guarantee” his re-election in 2020.  To them there is no down side as they know that the Senate would never convict him of the Articles of Impeachment.  If that is the plan, how much further will the administration overflow the banks of good government to create a flood of institutional indignities to force the issue?

I worry that we are in the midst of the creeping destruction of our Republic.  It is taking place in slow motion and in public so that most people who are rightly concerned with the day-to-day effort of just going to work, to school and of trying to keep food on the table don’t see it.  Like everything associated with this president, it is hiding in plain sight.


The End Of The Beginning

Last Friday, Attorney General William Barr announced that the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election conducted by Special Counsel Robert Mueller was complete.  Yesterday, Mr. Barr put out a summary of the Mueller Report that some likened to a book report because it was very short on content and long on unanswered questions.  There was some good news for our country in his summary.

According to Mr. Barr, Mr. Mueller did not find evidence of any conspiracy or criminal cooperation between the Trump Campaign or the President of the United States and the Russian Federation or any others associated with that country to rig the election.  Very good news, indeed.

Let that sink in for a minute as you contemplate what it would mean had Mr. Mueller found that the president did conspire with a foreign adversary to win the election.  We as a country would be in a very difficult place today had the result of the investigation been different.  At the same time, think what a low bar that is.  Never in the roughly 240 years of our national existence has there been any need to investigate such a matter.  It was inconceivable.  Yet, today, celebrations ensue that the president did not sell his soul to the Russians.  At least politically.  But let’s take a big sigh of relief that it is a positive outcome.

Also good news is that Mr. Mueller was able to finish his investigation without undue interference.  Or at least it appears that way, with one known exception that I will address below.  I have faith in Mr. Mueller and his thoroughness (read Mr. Barr’s letter to see just how thorough).  In my estimation, he is a man of integrity who carried out his mission as he saw it and did not seem to be distracted by the circus atmosphere the president created.  (Mr. Trump owes him an apology.  Instead last night he continued to attack him and the investigation in his public statements and on Twitter.  Shameful.)  From the Attorney General’s letter, it also seems that Mr. Mueller took a very narrow view of his assignment and focused primarily on Russian interference.  As we have already seen, other crimes or unsavory activities were farmed out to the presiding jurisdictions for action.  It remains to be seen what else may arise from other federal and state district attorneys but there are no new indictments, announced or sealed, pending from Mr. Mueller directly.

There are many, many caveats and unanswered questions that hang over the whole report.  First and foremost is the fact that no one has seen it outside of a few people in the Department of Justice (DOJ).  Neither we as citizens nor our representatives in the House and Senate have seen it.  We do not really know what it says — only what Mr. Barr says it says.  By releasing his letter as he did, he gave Mr. Trump and his supporters a very big political win.  Everything that comes after, no matter how damning it may or may not be, will be considered “sour grapes” or otherwise discounted.  I happen to believe that there will be considerable evidence of wrong doing within the Trump Organization and the Trump Campaign that we will find to be unacceptable behavior from a presidential candidate but may not rise to the level of criminality or a provable conspiracy.  Why all the lying about Russia?  By lots of folks at different times and in different places including countless Russia lies by Mr. Trump himself?  My own opinion is that the lying was covering up financial relationships and business deals between members of the Trump family and organization and various nefarious Russian oligarchs and entities.  Again, perhaps not criminal (although such a great volume of lying to the people of the United States should have some consequence), but at best inappropriate and unseemly.  We just do not know and will not know until the report is available to all.

Remember that despite Mr. Trump’s claim that he was “totally exonerated” by Mr. Mueller he was not.  Concerning possible obstruction of justice, Mr. Mueller did not make a decision.  Mr. Barr’s letter quoted directly from the Mueller Report to say that regarding obstruction, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”  I will be one of several million Americans that will want to know how that non-decision came about.  It is curious that a seasoned, respected, courageous prosecutor would collect a very thorough number of facts and then take a pass on recommending whether or not it reached the level of criminality.  What gives?  The context of Mr. Mueller’s remarks in this regard will be very important.  This is where we don’t know if there was undue influence on the investigation.  Was he told not to make a decision?  Why did Mr. Barr make a decision that there was no obstruction of justice if the investigator did not say so?  Attorney General Barr wrote a long legal dissertation about the investigation even before he was nominated to the position (some critics opine that it was his try-out and audition for the office in that he caught the president’s attention with it).  In it he stated his belief that a sitting president could not obstruct justice while carrying out the prescribed duties of the office.  (Such as firing the FBI director.) Some in Congress and elsewhere are worried that the “fix was in.”  In their view, Mr. Barr was hired to protect Mr. Trump from liability in just such a case.  Without the supporting documentation, we cannot know what transpired.  Unfortunately, Mr. Barr muddied the waters of an investigation that was meant to clear things up.  If we knew the context of Mr. Mueller’s “pros and cons” regarding obstruction, we may even find that his intent was to outline the road map for Congressional inquiries and possible action.  Mr. Barr seems to have tried to short-circuit that possibility.  In my view that was a political decision made in the president’s favor rather than a legal one that should have been left to Mr. Mueller.

Lost in the Tweets and punditry is the fact the report apparently concludes that the Russians did meddle in the election with the intent of helping Mr. Trump — or at least with the desired impact of helping to defeat Secretary Hillary Clinton in the general election.  This should be a major focus of those purporting to want to serve our country.  How did they do so?  What recommendations are there for stopping or at least limiting future interference?  If the president accepts the results of the conspiracy investigation why does he still refuse to acknowledge that the Russians did interfere even as every knowledgeable person in the intelligence agencies and the Congress say that they did?  This should be the basis of serious action on the part of the administration and the Congress to protect the 2020 election.  Will that happen in the midst of the political brouhaha that is occurring daily?

Pressure will be brought to stop further oversight by the House committees looking into the actions of the president and his aides as well as on the District Attorneys looking into possible illegal activities undertaken by the Trump Organization and Kushner, Inc.  Those investigations should continue.  Despite claims by Mr. Trump and his supporters, Mr. Mueller’s report does not seem to touch on those activities.  If they were illegal or unethical, the public should know.  If they are not, then it would seem that the Trump family would want that information to be forthcoming as well.

There is an awful lot that we do not know about the Mueller Report.  Right now, no one outside of the DOJ even knows how many pages it is or the depth of the supporting documentation.  With 19 lawyers, 40 FBI agents, 2,800 subpoenas, 500 search warrants, 500 witnesses and other investigative work behind the report, it should be substantial and detailed.  But we don’t know what we don’t know and there is no clear indication from the DOJ as to when or how much of the report will be made available.

Finally, while I do not really see the parallels between Mr. Trump and President Richard Nixon, I will merely point out that the Watergate scandal and investigation lasted a very long time.  The original break-in occurred in June 1972.  In October 1972 the FBI began to uncover the extent of the nefarious campaign efforts.  In May 1973 the Senate Watergate Committee began its hearings and Special Prosecutor Archibald Cox was sworn in to investigate.  In May 1974 the House Judiciary Committee began impeachment hearings (whether or not to do it).  In July 1974 on a bipartisan vote the House committee approved three articles of impeachment (the first was for obstruction of justice, the second was for misuse of power and not fulfilling his oath as president, and the third was for failure to comply with subpoenas).  In August 1974 the president resigned.  He was never impeached.

My purpose in relating this bit of info is not to advocate for impeachment but merely to say that the completion of the Mueller Report is only the beginning of the search for the truth about what did or did not happen.  It takes a long time.

Unfortunately, I think that the way Mr. Barr released selected excerpts from the full report will only serve to harden the positions of those that support Mr. Trump as president and those that think he has conducted himself improperly in the White House.  Nothing has been fully settled except — thankfully — the president and his aides did not directly conspire with the Russians to throw the 2016 election.

It seems to me that a lot is still on the table and that this is only the beginning of more to come.  I fear that given Mr. Trump’s proclivity to lean towards autocracy, that the idea that he was “exonerated” and the victim of a “witch hunt” will only embolden him and reinforce his worst instincts.

I hope that I am wrong.

 

 


Where Are The Pesos?

(With a bow in the direction of Steve Schmidt, the former campaign manager for Senator John McCain’s presidential bid, for the title.)

Last night the president gave a speech to the nation about the alleged crisis on our southern border.  Lots of figures and statistics continue to be thrown around to support the president’s desire to build a wall.  Most are misleading or purposely distorted in order to support his campaign pledge.  Whether you support the wall or not, here are the facts provided by Mr. Trump’s own administration and other independent sources.  We can disagree on the best way to provide border security, but it should be a fact based discussion.  With the emotion removed it becomes a different situation.

  • Mexico will not pay for the wall.  Claims that the new U.S., Mexico, Canada trade agreement (NAFTA by any other name with a few improvements) will result in Mexico “essentially” paying for it is false.  Whether or not the new agreement changes the balance of trade between the U.S. and Mexico, that money does not go into the U.S. Treasury.  And the U.S. Senate has yet to take up the new agreement so it is not in force.  No time-table for ratification is set.
  • 800,000 American federal workers are out of a pay check come Friday.  There are hundreds of thousands of more American workers without pay checks that support the Federal government or that provide services to the government that are without pay checks and will not get back pay.
  • Claims that the number of migrants crossing the border are unprecedented are wrong.  According to the U.S. Border Patrol, there were 303,916 apprehensions at the border in 2017.  That is the lowest in 45 years.  In 2018 there were 396,579.  A slight increase, but significantly lower than the 1.6 million apprehended in 2000.
  • The southern border is not the primary way that undocumented immigrants enter the country.  According to the Department of Homeland Security, in 2017, 606,926 people were in the country illegally by over staying their visas.  That is roughly twice the number from the southern border.  101,281 of those who did not leave when their visa expired were from Canada.
  • According to the U.S. State Department, “there was no credible evidence indicating that international terrorist groups have established bases in Mexico, worked with Mexican drug cartels, or sent operatives via Mexico into the United States.”
  • According to the U.S. government, in 2017, 2,554 official encounters in the U.S. occurred with people on the terrorist watch list (which does not mean they are terrorists as it is often a case of mismatched names or other glitches).  Of those, 2,170 attempted to enter through airports.  NBC news reports, based on a DHS report to Congress, that the “roughly 4,000” terrorists cited by Trump Administration officials that were stopped were from around the world, not at the southern border.  This includes stopping some before they get on an airplane overseas.  Again this refers to people on the watch list, not necessarily actual terrorists.  In the first half of 2018 exactly six immigrants were stopped at the southern border for being on the list.  In the same time frame, forty-one were stopped at the Canadian border.
  • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) personnel deported 5,872 suspected gang members in 2018.  ICE does not break down which gangs these people belong to so it is impossible to know how many belong to MS-13.  Additionally, some of those in the mix that were deported were not actually members of gangs.  It is likely that the number of MS-13 gang-bangers arrested by ICE is in the hundreds.  The total number of gang members deported in 2018 is less than one percent of those entering legally and then staying in the country illegally.
  • Any murder or rape is a tragedy.  Keep in mind that statistics consistently show that immigrants — legal or illegal — are far less likely to break the law than those born in the United States.
  • According to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) about 90% of the heroin entering the U.S. comes through Mexico.  Frankly, no one knows exactly how much enters the country each year.  However, DEA reports that the very large majority of it comes through legal ports of entry by land, sea and air.
  • The vast majority of non-U.S. citizens attempting to enter the U.S. do so at legal ports of entry.  Under U.S. and international law, those seeking asylum must be taken at their word that they are in danger of their lives, or persecution in their native lands until a hearing is held to adjudicate their claim.  Not everyone crossing the southern border seeking asylum is granted it.  Current administrative processes at the border result in extremely long wait times (it could be months) to enter through a port of entry.  This induces desperate people to try to cross illegally and then to turn themselves in to authorities.  This happens quite often and in peaceful ways.  Whether the individuals entered legally or illegally, if they ask for asylum, under the law, they must be heard.

Here is my opinion.

What is really at stake is Article I of the Constitution.  In what is known as the “vesting”clause, all legislative authority is given to the Congress, including appropriations and authorizations to spend money.  Note that it comes before Article II that gives executive power to the president.  Article III creates the judiciary.

In his first two years, Mr. Trump did not have a Congress that would put a check on his whims, desires and plans.  Now he does with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives.  On their part, the House is exercising their Constitutional power of the purse to establish that they are a co-equal branch of government and do not have to give in to the president on every issue.  Frankly, it is about time.  Missing in action is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) who got burned by the president’s promises in December and refuses to get involved to end the shutdown.  It is likely that in short order (a few days to a week) Republican Senators will start to come over to the Democrat’s plan and Mr. McConnell will have to bring the Democrats’ bills to the floor to again pass what they already did just before Christmas.

Remember that the bills passed by the House last week are exactly the same as those already passed by the Republican controlled Senate.  Because a new Congress was installed last week, all bills not passed by both Houses need to start over.

The government shutdown over the wall has nothing to do with border security.  All sober government officials, Republican or Democrat, support border security.  They differ on how our money and resources should be spent to protect and regulate the border.

The wall is a political stunt.  The president backed himself into a corner and when a bipartisan deal was presented to him (including the bill passed in the Senate just before Christmas), after agreeing to it, he caved to right-wing pundits and proudly proclaimed that he would own the shutdown.  That he and many of his advisers did not understand that when a shutdown goes into effect it means the government shuts down, hurting countless thousands of people across the country, is a story for another day.

Warning!  Warning!

It appears that there are three ways this situation can be resolved.  Mr. Trump caves.  The House and Senate get together and pass veto proof bills to fund the government.  Finally, Mr. Trump may follow through on his threat to declare a National Emergency, mobilize the military and use Department of Defense funds to build his wall.  This last move is that of an autocrat.  It is Despot 101.  Create a threat where one doesn’t exist, declare an emergency, mobilize the military, bypass the democratically elected legislature and take steps to curtail any opposition.

And all of it is based on a big lie.  I cannot think of a more dangerous scenario.