Too Big To Fail

It occurred to me as I watched the Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump officially begin last Thursday, that like several banks and corporations during the Great Recession of the 2000’s, the amount of lying, conniving, lawbreaking, personal greed and damage to the dignity of the Office of the President of the United States is so much, that it becomes too big for him to fail.  Or in this case, to be convicted.  Republicans in the House and Senate, along with key Cabinet positions in his Administration, have bought into the Trump Cult to such a degree that they cannot afford for him to fail lest they expose their own weaknesses, misconduct, phoniness, fraudulent actions and other misdeeds.

As things now stand, the trial that begins in earnest next Tuesday will be a sham.  The new developments coming out almost daily continue to show the depth and breadth of Mr. Trump’s efforts to rig the 2020 election.  Those efforts are matched by the depth and breadth of involvement by members of his Administration and his supporters in Congress.

You want a good example?  How about the fact the we are learning from written documents, including phone calls and text messages, that Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) and his chief aide, Mr. Derek Harvey were in close contact with Mr. Lev Parnas, the chief “associate” (read thug) working with Mr. Rudy Giuliani.  These are the guys on the ground involved in the Ukraine caper trying to find manufactured dirt on Mr. Trump’s probable election opponent Mr. Joe Biden.  Mr. Nunes and Mr. Harvey were aiding and abetting the operation.  This is the same Devin Nunes that is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee that investigated Mr. Trump’s activities.  He is one of those guys who shouted (literally) throughout the hearings that it was all made up, a hoax and a sham.  Even as he was in on it.  And even as he was supposed to help supervise the proceedings.

It is sometimes difficult to keep track of all the names and institutions that are normally outside the course of daily events.  Sometimes I think that, like at the ball park, “you can’t tell the players without a score card!”  But it is important to see what is going on in plain sight as well as behind closed doors.

One of those institutions is the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) (although Mr. Trump tweets it as GOA).  This is the non-partisan group tasked by law to monitor government activities and to report its findings to Congress. The GAO determined last week that the president’s withholding of appropriated funds for Ukraine broke the law.  Specifically, it broke the 1974 Impoundment Control Act (ICA) which was enacted in response to President Richard Nixon’s efforts to withhold appropriated funds to distract from his own Impeachment proceedings.  Several emails among government officials had already surfaced that in the months that the funds were withheld, conscientious government officials cited the law as they sought to determine why the funds were not sent.  It is not an obscure or non-relevant provision as some in the administration would like you to believe.

In the past week, Mr. Lev Parnas has been dropping some real bomb shells. While his testimony should not be taken as the absolute truth on its own merits, it does provide insight into the thinking going on and provides a road map for further investigation.  While many impugn his character, keep in mind that criminals commit crimes and they often turn on their fellow criminals for purposes of their own.  It does not mean that they aren’t factual.  But don’t take him at his word.  Look at the documents that he and his lawyers continue to turn over to Congress.  People lie.  Documents tend to lead to the truth.

In this busy week, revelations surfaced that the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch (the ambassador Mr. Giuliani wanted fired for interfering with his extortion scheme) may have been under physical surveillance by Americans and in danger from Americans.  Not a peep from the Secretary of State defending his career Foreign Service Officers until cornered at a press conference yesterday.  He announced no action to conduct an investigation.  Days earlier, Ukraine began an investigation.  On their own.  As of today, Ukrainian officials asked the U.S. FBI to help them, but still no investigation initiated by any U.S. agency to protect our diplomats.  Is it because this administration does not care about U.S. citizens and diplomats overseas or is it because they do not want to know the answer?

More news this week as Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas and the third thug in the ring, Mr. Igor Furman were reportedly being paid by a Russian oligarch (under indictment in the US) with close ties to Vladimir Putin.  (Why is it that all of Mr. Trump’s roads lead to Putin?)

As the evidence mounts, it is clear that this extortion scheme went far deeper than “just” a phone call between two presidents.  To date, no Republican has seriously contested any of the evidence produced around the Impeachment.  They have attacked witnesses, sources of information, process and other things that have nothing to do with the facts.  The facts are not in dispute.  For that matter, Mr. Trump himself admits to them.

As part of their scheme to white wash the Impeachment Trial, the Senate Republicans are setting up false equivalencies.  This is especially true with respect to witnesses and additional  evidence not available when the House did its investigation.  The president continues to block key information and to prevent witnesses from testifying (in my view this just reinforces that they have no exculpatory evidence).  The Republicans will claim that since they did not get, say, Mr. Hunter Biden to testify, then not having Mr. John Bolton testify means that it is “even” — no one got what they wanted, and thus that it is fair.  Baloney.  Hunter Biden has no material testimony as to what Mr. Trump did.  Mr. Bolton has significant first hand knowledge.  There are a multitude of similar arguments being put forward to prevent the truth from coming out.  This sets up their ultimate defense.

The Republican defense argument is likely to be “so what?”  “Yes, he did it.  What’s it to ya?”  Reasonable people may dispute whether the punishment, removal from office, fits the crime, extorting a foreign power to get them to interfere in a US election, but the facts remain.  Indeed, the vast scope of the whole scheme is becoming clearer and clearer.  It was a classic mob action.  It also indicates a pattern of behavior by the president.  It is clear that he will continue to act this way.  It is his nature and, we now know, the way he operates in every aspect of his life, past and present.  It is time to hold him accountable.  His behavior is not going to get better, and without accountability it can get a lot worse.

It seems to me that Mr. Trump now has sufficient accomplices in his administration, and in the Congress, that he feels he can get away with anything.  They do not think that anything is off limits to them in the pursuit of their self-interests and their own power, including criminal activity.  Nothing.  And that is not hyperbole as we continue to see for ourselves.

I have also come to understand that we will never know the real truth behind, or the extent of the corruption.  The system is not geared for fraud and criminal activity on such a scale, especially when it is coordinated by the President of the United States.  And most especially when the Attorney General of the United States does everything in or out of his power to protect the actions of the president. It’s just “too big.” Sadly, this includes whatever it is Vladimir Putin has on him.  (My view is that has to do with money laundering and other illegal financial ties.)

As Timothy Egan put it more eloquently than I in a New York Times essay, evil attracts evil.  In the absence of good people acting, evil triumphs.  There is evil in the White House and it is spreading throughout our government.


Where Does It End?

The last few weeks produced a year’s worth of newsworthy events.  Among other things was the Commander-in-Chief interfering with the effective application of good order and discipline in the military under the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ).  The president pardoned three men convicted or accused (and awaiting trial) for war crimes — two Army officers and one Navy Chief Petty Officer.  In doing so he further demonstrated a total lack of understanding of the military by tweeting (of course) that he did so because “we train our boys to be killing machines and then prosecute them when they kill!”  Such statements totally ignore the fact that what separates our military from most others is that in training to fight for our country, our military also learns to do so with discipline, under a code of conduct that prohibits indiscriminate killing, especially of civilians and works to protect the honor and dignity of our nation’s morals, espoused in a speech by General Douglas MacArthur, as “duty, honor, country.”  Note that all three men were brought up on charges of crimes under the UCMJ by their own soldiers and Sailors, not by higher ranking officers trying to make some politically correct example of them, as the president implies.

Hanging over everything of course, is the impending impeachment of the President of the United States.  In the course of events, three particularly troubling things are happening that in my opinion fundamentally threaten the nature of our democracy.

Very troubling is the conscious use of Russian propaganda on the part of Republican U.S. Senators to try and defend the president’s shakedown scheme against Ukraine to help his own reelection in 2020 using taxpayer money.  Otherwise knowledgeable and intelligent Republican Senators such as John Neely Kennedy (LA) and Ted Cruz (TX) and others publicly say that we do not know whether the Russians meddled in the 2016 election, rather it was the Ukrainians.  Such garbage could have been written by the former KGB officer Vladimir Putin himself.  A unanimous intelligence community agrees it was the Russians. Period.  They agree it was not Ukraine, a fact FBI Director Christopher Wray reiterated just last week.  The alleged Ukrainian “meddling” is most often a reference to a single op-ed piece written by the Ukrainian Ambassador to the United States criticizing then candidate Trump for saying that Crimea (stolen from Ukraine by force by Russia) “belongs” to Russia.  Since Ukraine and Russia continue in a hot war, it might not be too far of a stretch to say that there were some hard feelings towards Mr. Trump saying, essentially, that Ukraine should be a part of Russia again.  Another statement straight out of Putin’s talking points.

It is shameful that Republican Representatives and Senators perpetuate such lies on the citizens of the greatest nation on Earth.

But it get worse.

The long anticipated Department of Justice (DOJ) Inspector General (IG) report on the origins of the investigation into meddling in the 2016 election came out.  This report, according to Mr. Trump and his supporters, would unmask the “deep state” and clearly show that the FBI and DOJ were out to keep Mr. Trump from becoming president through a vast “liberal” conspiracy.  It did none of those things.  None.  On the contrary, while the IG’s report found some troubling procedural problems that need to be corrected or changed, it explicitly says that the basis of the investigation was solid, within DOJ guidelines, had no bias behind any of the decisions made and was fully appropriate.

The president’s reaction?  He lashed out as usual.  Among other things he referred to the people in the FBI as “scum.”  Perhaps we as a country have come to expect that from a President of the United States, but I have not. But, I am no longer surprised.  What deeply troubles me is that Attorney General William Barr, the DOJ and FBI boss, echoed the president’s remarks.  Instead of supporting the FBI or the work of the independent IG, in an interview with NBC News he said about the report and investigation:

“I think our nation was turned on its head for three years based on a completely bogus narrative that was largely fanned and hyped by a completely irresponsible press.  I think there were gross abuses and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI.”

In an interview with the Wall Street Journal he said of the investigation “It was a travesty, and there were many abuses.”  So much for the credibility of an independent IG and so much for the Attorney General working for the people of the United States rather than being the president’s personal shill, I mean attorney.

Deeply troubling.  But it gets worse yet.

The president is about to be impeached (appropriately in my opinion, but that’s a post for another day).  The Senate will then conduct a trial on the two Articles of Impeachment to either remove Mr. Trump from office, or acquit him.

All 100 of the sitting Senators act as jurors and take an oath.  It is not the oath of office, but an oath as a juror.  According to Rule XXV of the Senate Rules On Impeachment Trials the oath is:

“I solemnly swear (or affirm) that in all things appertaining to the trial of ___, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God.”

And yet.

The Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) went on TV and declared that he is “in total coordination with the White House counsel” on the rules and parameters of the trial — such as calling witnesses or not —  and opined that the president would be acquitted and that all Republicans would so vote.  Senator McConnell gets to set the rules of this trial and is also a juror.  Fair and impartial?  It is like the jury foreman in a case getting together with the defense attorney before the trial to determine how they will acquit the defendant.

Other Republican Senators have expressed similar opinions, most notably Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC).  On Sunday’s Face the Nation he said that he was going to vote to acquit the president and that “I don’t need any witnesses.  I am ready to vote on the underlying articles.”  Earlier last week he said that he did not even intend to review any of the facts raised before the House of Representatives during the investigation leading to the Articles of Impeachment.  So much for following one’s oath.

Impeachment is a serious and sobering step.  The Senate deserves to treat it as such.  Instead we continue to hear Republicans moan and groan about “hoaxes” “witch hunts” “undermining the 2016 election” and other whiny defenses of the president.  Please note that not one of them disputes the facts as presented in the House.

Our democracy is in trouble as the president continues to argue that he is above the law.  He claims that he cannot be investigated by law enforcement or by the Congress.  Nobody or no entity or no organization can do so.  His lawyers have even argued in court that if the president actually did shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York (as he famously said during his campaign) that he could not be prosecuted.

In recent days, Mr. Trump’s “personal lawyer” Rudy Guiliani, just back from a “fact finding” trip to Ukraine, is bragging to anyone that will listen that he “forced out” U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanavitch because she was getting in the way of his schemes.

The president is being impeached for Obstruction of Congress and Abuse of Power.  It is clear that he did not just abuse power, rather that he continues abusing power today.  Events are unfolding that impact our elections.  Not the one in 2016, but the upcoming 2020 elections.  We already know that Mr. Trump thinks his position is so weak that he must cheat to win.  He took advantage of Russian meddling and he has often publicly stated that he will take help again from other nations if it will help him win.

The past is past.  We need to protect our future.


A Sad Day For America

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted to authorize the rules to continue an impeachment inquiry into the actions of the President of the United States with respect to Ukraine.  It is a sober moment for our nation and it should be a reason for each of us to pause and to think about the ramifications of this action.

Contrary to what some have publicly stated, this was not a vote to impeach.  The vote pertained to the conduct of the public fact gathering portion of the proceeding.  Should the House decide that the president did in fact conduct himself in a manner contrary to the Constitution, they will draft Articles of Impeachment.  The entire House then votes to approve or disapprove each of the Articles.  Should one or more Article pass, the Senate then holds a trial, presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and votes to convict or acquit the president on each Article.

So far, the majority of Republicans in the House have made a mockery of the proceedings.  At the direction of the president, they are spreading lies and misinformation about the investigation.  This included storming a classified conference room to “expose” the “secret” proceedings.  Not mentioned is that over 40 Republican Congressmen already had access to those proceedings and indeed participated in them to the fullest extent.  Yesterday, they went to the House floor to decry the inquiry as akin to secret trials held in the Soviet Union.  It is shameful and dishonest behavior on their part.

Now reports indicate that Mr. Trump will monetarily support the election campaigns of Senators that promise to vote against any Articles of Impeachment.  He will withhold supporting funds from those that do not.  We used to call this bribery.

The Impeachment Inquiry rules incorporate everything that the Republicans asked for with public hearings.  Everything.  And the rules approved yesterday afford the president more leeway and ability to participate than either set of hearings involving President Nixon or President Clinton.

The process should be fair and open.  But here’s the deal.  We all already know the basics of what happened.  The president, his Acting Chief of Staff, and his personal attorney have all been on television telling us exactly what happened.  A long parade of career diplomats and military officers followed with contextual information that indicates just how wide-spread and long-planned the effort to extort the Ukrainian government actually was.  It was an old-fashioned shake down.  The president wanted “dirt” on his main political rival and to have the Ukrainian government fuel a conspiracy theory that the Russians did not really interfere in the 2016 election.  Rather, it was a set up by the Democrats to undermine Mr. Trump’s campaign run from, wait for it, Ukraine.  Both conspiracy theories have been long ago debunked by our entire intelligence service and by several of Mr. Trump’s own political appointees.

In exchange for made-up information fabricated by Mr. Trump and his henchmen, the president would release nearly $400 million in aid that Ukraine needed to fight off Russian backed separatists.  While Mr. Trump ran his crazy mob scam, Ukrainians were dying on the battlefield.  Mr. Trump undermined Ukrainian security and our own national security for his personal domestic political goals.  He used taxpayer money to extort another country to interfere in our domestic elections for his benefit.  This was not a government effort to eliminate corruption generally.  There is no such effort or policy in this administration unless the only country in the world that is corrupt is Ukraine and the only people in Ukraine that were corrupt was the Bidens.

It was not just one “perfect” phone call either.  The parade of witnesses deposed by the House committees (there were three committees involved) described a long-term, many pronged, concerted effort to run the scam.  The phone call was the result of months of heavy pressure outside of normal diplomatic channels to get Ukraine to fabricate lies to help the political fortunes of Mr. Trump.

There is also the little matter of the president standing on the White House lawn and encouraging China to interfere in the 2020 election, just as he publicly asked Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.

We already know all this.  (Although, I suspect that it is only the tip of the ice berg.)

The House of Representatives is focused only on his egregious behavior regarding Ukraine.  They are not considering impeachment based on his status as an unindicted co-conspirator for money laundering and campaign violations regarding payments to a porn star and a Playboy model.  They are not trying to impeach him for the 110 known contacts between his campaign and Russians during the 2016 election.  They are not drawing up Articles for the 10 clear cut unlawful efforts to obstruct justice during the Mueller Investigation.  They are not contemplating impeaching him for the over 13,500 documented lies to the American people.

Equally important, we all know that a president cannot be impeached because we disagree with his policies.  We cannot impeach a president because of an obnoxious personality.  We can impeach a president when our national security is put at risk through an abuse of power.

In my opinion the facts surrounding the Ukraine shakedown are not in dispute.  Please note that the Republicans are not defending Mr. Trump by disputing the facts or by providing an explanation of his actions.  They are only attacking the process, and now that process is of their own design.  If they had a factual basis to defend the president, they would use it.  They have no facts on their side.

If the facts are not in dispute then the only remaining question is whether they meet the standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”  I think that they do, in the context of presidential abuse of power — the major concern of the Founding Fathers — and obstruction of justice by refusing to turn over documents and witnesses lawfully subpoenaed by Congress.

Some argue that with elections about a year away the president should not be impeached but rather the people should decide Mr. Trump’s fate through the ballot box.  I think that argument is illogical.  Mr. Trump was trying to interfere with the 2020 election after we already know that there was interference in the 2016 election.  He knows better.  More to the point, how can we be sure that the 2020 election is legitimate if we already know that Mr. Trump is trying to stack the deck in his own favor?  He is already trying to steal the 2020 election.  We know this.  Why allow it to happen?

Likewise those that argue that this is just the Democrats trying to undo the 2016 election should take another look.  The inquiry is not about the 2016 election.  It is about what is happening now to influence the 2020 election.  It is not about the past, it’s about the future.

For those that argue that Mr. Trump was out of line to extort the Ukrainians, but that his actions did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense I merely ask, where is that line?  How much can a president put national security at risk before we say that it is too much?  How far can a president abuse the power of the office before we say that it was abused too much?  Whether or not the Senate convicts Mr. Trump on any charges — and I believe that inevitably there will be Articles of Impeachment approved in the House — it is important to put a Constitutional marker down that such behavior is not acceptable and that there are consequences to ignoring the law.

It is a sober day when an impeachment proceeding is necessary.  No one should take joy in the process.  It is also a sad day when an entire political party turns into a cult of personality and publicly attacks a Constitutional process while many of those same politicians privately agree that the leader of the cult abused his power.

There is no telling how events will unfold between now and the end of the year.  I only know that it will be a tough time for our country.


Abandoned

“A precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria would only benefit Russia, Iran and the Assad regime (Syria).” Senator Mitch McConnell (Tr-KY)

“ISIS is not defeated.  This is the biggest lie being told by this (Trump) administration.”  Senator Lindsey Graham (Tr-SC)

In case you missed it between all of the president’s Tweets, including calling for the impeachment of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) and of Congressman Adam Schiff (D-CA) for “treason” (for the record, Senators and Representatives cannot be impeached), Mr. Trump impulsively called for the withdrawal of all U.S. forces from Syria.

The reactions above represent the level of consternation this decision created in Congress and the national security community.

It is worth taking a few minutes to consider the difference between what this is, and what this means.  They are not always the same thing.  Knowing the players makes a difference.  What it is is a military re-deployment.  What it means is a serious blow to our national security and a possible massacre in the making.

For a few years now, roughly 1,000 U.S. uniformed personnel, mostly Special Operations Forces (SOF) have been in northern Syria working with the Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) to defeat ISIS.  The U.S. SOF act primarily as advisers and trained and equipped the SDF to be a very effective light infantry unit.  The SOF also coordinated U.S. artillery and air strikes to support the Kurds in the fight against ISIS.

The SDF is a multi-ethnic force of about 60,000 people that includes Arabs, Christians, Assyrians and Kurds, the largest group of fighters in the SDF.  Roughly 13,000 of them gave their lives in this effort.  They control a large section of Syria in the north along the Turkish border.  They also run and guard a camp of ISIS prisoners and their families that numbers about 16,000 battle-hardened fanatics.

The Kurds are from an area in the Middle East that straddles Turkey, Iraq, Iran and Syria.  They have pushed for an autonomous state since the early part of the 20th century.  None of the countries around them want them to have that state, especially Turkey.  Indeed, Turkey considers the Kurds, specifically a group called the Kurdistan Workers Party or PKK, a terrorist organization.  They want them gone.  As a result, the Turks intend to move into the Kurdish occupied areas of Syria in order to displace — read militarily defeat — the Kurds and to settle a million Syrian refugees in the area in order to close it to the Kurds.

Since the Turks consider the Kurds to be terrorists, and the Turkish military has heavy weapons and tanks and high tech arms to go against Kurdish rifles, machine guns and low tech weapons, without U.S. air support, the possibility of a massacre is high.

The Turks see Mr. Trump’s decision as a “green light” to invade and destroy the Kurds.

The president decided to abandon the Kurds to their fate late on Sunday night following a phone call from Turkish President Recep Erdogan.  Mr. Trump consulted with no national security advisers — civilian or military — before announcing that we would withdraw.  Everyone was taken by surprise including the U.S. European Command (EUCOM), militarily responsible for Syria, that announced a new security plan to monitor the area between the Kurds and Turks to ensure the security of all involved.  Within 24 hours of the announcement of the new plan, the U.S. was gone from the border.

The Russians, Syrians and Iranians couldn’t be happier to see us bug out.

Remember that the president announced a similar move late last year which caused Secretary of Defense Jim Mattis to resign his post.  The president then back-tracked on pulling U.S. forces out.  This time, Mr. Erdogan’s arguments were more persuasive, I suppose, and Mr. Trump did not consult with anyone so that he could not be talked out of it.  All very whimsical with serious consequences.

In a nutshell, here is what this means.

  • We abandoned an ally that did most of the fighting and dying to protect our national interests.  It will be nearly impossible for the U.S. to convince any group or country around the world that we will have their back in the future when we need their help to protect our own people and interests.
  • A foreign leader dictated to our president what actions to take that were counter to our national interests.  (Again?)
  • The president took unilateral action without consulting any adviser knowledgeable of the situation or otherwise able to explain the dire consequences of this action to our friends and allies the Kurds.  The point will be driven home when pictures and video emerge of the loss of Kurdish men, women and children (all are fighters in the SDF).
  • The president assured our country that the Turks will not do anything drastic in a Tweet (of course — foreign policy is now conducted almost exclusively by Tweets).  I, for one, am not assured.  Here is the essence of the rambling Tweet.  “if Turkey does anything that I, in my great and unmatched wisdom, consider to be off limits, I will totally destroy and obliterate the Economy of Turkey (I’ve done before!).”  For a second there I thought maybe the Wizard of Oz was president.  But then I realized I think he actually considers himself to be above the rest of us — in a Biblical sense.  Are you assured?  And what does destroy and obliterate Turkey mean?
  • The Kurds stated that they will no longer guarantee the integrity of the prison camp containing the 16,000 battle-hardened ISIS fighters and families.  The likelihood of a massive prison break is high.  Those ISIS fighters will not go quietly into the night and the result is an immediately reconstituted force that will rejoin other ISIS fighters still scattered throughout the region.  Many are former residents of European and other countries outside the Middle East, thus raising the probability of terrorist attacks around the world.
  • Like every other decision Mr. Trump seems to make, this one was based on money.  Perhaps because he has a Trump Towers in Istanbul?  He stated that it would save the taxpayers money.  One should ask how expensive 1,000 troops in the field leveraging a a non-U.S. fighting force of 60,000 people might be compared to U.S. and other nations’ lives lost when ISIS becomes a viable fighting force again?

The bottom line is that this decision is a major blow to our national security.  It was made without any understanding of the consequences.  It undermines our relationship with every ally we have now and might wish to have in the future.  It allows for the reconstitution of ISIS.  It shows that our national policy making apparatus is broken.  It shows that the president believes himself when he says that Article II of the Constitution allows him “to do whatever I want.”  It shows that he believes himself when he says “I alone can fix it.”  It shows that he believes himself when he says it’s easy to work for him because “I make all the decisions.  They don’t have to work.”  It shows he believes himself when he says “I know more about ISIS than the generals do.”  It shows that he believes himself when he says that he is a “stable genius” with “great and unmatched wisdom.”

It also shows just how dangerous this man is as president.


A Line In The Sand

Enough!

For those that take even the most cursory notice of events on the daily news, you have no doubt heard that the president once again broke the norms of presidential behavior by, again, using his office for personal gain.  He will stop at nothing if it serves his personal interests.  He has yet to see any consequences to his actions and is increasingly emboldened to do whatever the heck he wants to do — legal or not.

He already moved beyond the boundaries of ethical and moral behavior.  Now that he sees no consequences from the Mueller Report and has an Attorney General that has decreed the president is above the law — any law — while in office, he sees nothing that can slow him down, much less stop him, from pursuing whatever he wants to do.

The only possible way to put a check on his actions is to impeach him, and the Democrats are dithering and wringing their hands in an ineffective effort to provide oversight of Mr. Trump’s presidency.  So far they’ve brought a butter knife to a grenade fight.  Mr. Trump has refused to provide any documents or to allow any testimony from anyone that he deems a possible threat to his reign.  Across the board.  Including hum-drum, every day just-trying-to-do-business subjects.  Total non-cooperation.

That may be about to change.

The latest insult to the office, to our country and to all of us as citizens involves the president’s efforts, aided and abetted by his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani (who has no role in the government or the administration, a fact that will become significant) to get a foreign power to interfere in the 2020 election.  Sound familiar?

As briefly as possible, the entire situation came to light when the president instructed his Acting Director of National Intelligence (DNI) to break the law.  Also known as obstruction of justice.  (Note that Mr. Trump fired the DNI and the Deputy DNI last month.) That came about because an intelligence official turned in a complaint to the Inspector General (IG) of the Intelligence Community — who, by the way, was appointed by Mr. Trump — stating that the president interacted with the head of a foreign government in a way that was detrimental to the interests of the United States.  The specifics of the claim are classified.  The law requires that if the IG finds the complaint credible and urgent that it must (“shall be”) be turned over to the Intelligence Committees of the House and Senate.  The Acting DNI refused based on directions from the Executive Branch.  The IG went to Congress and explained what happened and stood by his initial determination that it should go to Congress.  The Acting DNI continues to refuse to turn it over.

I predict that the president will release a transcript of his conversation that will be spun to show he didn’t do what is alleged.  Firstly, we know we cannot trust Mr. Trump to be truthful, therefore how do we know it is the actual transcript?  Secondly, and more importantly, the transcript is not nearly as important as the original whistle blower complaint.  That document would give a fuller story and put the events in context.  The Administration has no intention of turning that over.  In itself, that to me is evidence that something serious occurred that Mr. Trump does not want us to know about.

In short, since then we have learned from Mr. Trump and Mr. Giuliani themselves, as well as from wide spread reporting in the Washington Post, New York Times and Wall Street Journal, that the complaint involves the President of Ukraine who Mr. Trump tried to bully (eight times according to reports) into finding “dirt” on former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.  We learned today that Mr. Trump withheld needed military funding and aid for Ukraine totaling nearly 400 million dollars.  The reporting alleges that Mr. Trump wanted the dirt before he would release the money.  Congress had authorized the money in two different bills early this year.  Over the summer inquiries began to build as to why the money had not been made available to the government of Ukraine, currently locked into a shooting war with Russia.  (Russia!  Again!)

In sum, Mr. Trump wanted the Ukrainian government to interfere in the 2020 election by supplying information (whether true or not, more on that in a minute) on Mr. Biden and his son that the Trump Campaign could use to slime the individual Mr. Trump most fears as his opponent in the election.  In exchange, he would release the money Congress appropriated (yet another presidential abuse of the power invested by the Constitution in the Congress) to help the Ukrainians defend themselves against Russia — who annexed Crimea from Ukraine in 2014 and is trying to obtain more Ukrainian territory.

Mr. Trump and his allies are trying to make the focus of the story about Mr. Biden and corruption.  (Kind of hits close to home when the president’s children are trotting around the world doing business with their father’s permission and help, spending taxpayer’s money for Secret Service protection and other expenses.)

The thing is, the Ukrainians already investigated the allegations against the Bidens and guess what?  There is nothing to it.  No corruption.  No undue pressure.  Nothing.  And if you listen closely to Mr. Trump and his lackeys, they present no evidence that anything is amiss.  Just innuendo and questions as to why no one is looking into it.  (BECAUSE THEY ALREADY DID!)  And don’t forget that Mr. Trump is on the record with over 12,000 lies since taking office.

I do not give Mr. Trump or his campaign any slack regarding their involvement with Russia during the 2016 campaign.  (“Russia if you’re listening….”)  But maybe one could make a case that they did not know what they were doing.

That does not fly in this situation.

The President.  Of the United States.  Used the full authority and weight of his office — himself, in his own voice — to try and convince a foreign state to interfere in our election against a specific opponent in exchange for funds desperately needed for their protection.

This alone is an impeachable offense.  Abuse of power and obstruction of justice.

However, add it to the list of other impeachable offenses and one would think that the House of Representatives has to act.  The Mueller Report defines ten times Mr. Trump obstructed the investigation of his involvement with Russia in 2016.  Over one thousand former federal attorneys — Republicans and Democrats — publicly stated that they would have prosecuted any other citizen with that evidence.  The U.S. Attorney of the Southern District of New York lists him as an unindicted co-conspirator in election campaign fraud when he paid off two mistresses to keep them from speaking up before the election.  And on and on and on.

When do we put a stop to the madness?  The more he gets away with, the more emboldened he is to do more.  We are still over a year from the election.  Anyone that thinks Mr. Trump won’t try every illegal dirty trick in the book to stay in office is not paying attention.  At the risk of sounding like I am hyperventilating, I can envision our very democracy at stake.

The Republicans, led by Senator Mitch McConnell (Tr-KY), a.k,a. “Moscow Mitch” are now a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump, Inc.  Perhaps my biggest disappointment, even shock, is that not one Republican Senator, or Congressman, has said “enough”!  According to multitudes of reports, in private conversations many elected Republicans worry because they do not like the way Mr. Trump operates and see him as a threat to our country.  Yet, not a peep.  To stay silent is to be a co-conspirator.  They are aiding and abetting a president that is out of control.  Not a patriot among them.

As I get ready to publish this, it appears that later today the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) will announce a preliminary impeachment inquiry.

At last.

Mr. Trump may not realize he has crossed a line in the sand.  The American people will not stand for his shenanigans forever.

But if we do, God help us all.

 


The Era of American Weakness

It isn’t funny anymore.

The past week showed the lunacy of Mr. Trump and his actions as president in all their weirdest manifestations.  From calling American Jews “disloyal” to Israel (among the oldest tropes of anti-Semites) if they vote for a Democrat, to calling the Prime Minister of Denmark “nasty” (his go-to slam on women of power who don’t do what he wants), to acknowledging himself as the “second coming of God” and the “King of Israel,” to calling his hand picked Chairman of the Federal Reserve the “enemy,” it was hard to keep up with his unraveling.  It was yet more bafflegab.  As the old saying goes, “you can’t tell the players without a score card.”

None of these were the low points of the past week, however.  That honor goes to Mr. Trump’s participation in the Group of Seven (G-7) summit over the weekend in France.  The G-7 has through the decades provided a forum for the world’s seven strongest democracies to reach a common understanding of problems facing the world and to provide an opportunity to face those problems with a common purpose.  This year’s meeting could more properly be called the G-6 and some guy named Trump.

Symbolic of the entire American fiasco were the pictures of the meeting on climate change where all of the G-6 were there, along with the leaders of other nations invited to sit in on the session, and an empty chair where the President of the United States was to sit.  The proffered excuse for his no-show was that he was in meetings with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi.  A scheduling conflict.  Except that both Chancellor Merkel and Prime Minister Modi were at the climate change round table as is clearly shown in pictures of the group in session.

Does anything symbolize our current status in the world of international diplomacy more than a picture of an empty chair?

Whatever one’s view on climate change and its importance to the world (I think it an existential threat to our well being, physically, economically and militarily) to have the supposed leader of the free world missing in action shows that the United States is no longer the leader on the world stage.  Reports from other weekend meetings indicate that Mr. Trump was marginalized by the other world leaders because they were focused on important issues related to the future of their countries while Mr. Trump spent much of his time bragging about his trade war with China, pushing to have Russian President Vladimir Putin reinstated to the G-7 (making it the G-8 even though Russia still occupies Ukrainian territory in Crimea — the reason they were kicked out — and oh by the way, they are not one of the world’s leading economic powers or democracies) and touting his Doral, Florida golf course and resort as the finest in the world and the anticipated site of next year’s G-7 summit (thus making a profit on one of his business dealings by making foreign leaders and their entourages pay him for the privilege of fulfilling their duties.)

It was clear to observers that the G-6 were merely tolerating Mr. Trump and their goal was not to engage him on substantive issues, but rather to assuage him, flatter him and otherwise keep him occupied so that he did not blow up the primary focus of the work they were trying to do.  They knew he would not be part of any solutions so their only objective was to keep him from making the situation worse.  They mostly succeeded.

In other words, the world is moving on without the United States.  “America First” has become “America Alone.”

It is, once again, obvious that Mr. Trump has no understanding of history or why the world has been at relative peace for the last 75 years.  Decades of building trust through multi-lateral organizations such as NATO took down barriers that had resulted in two world wars in the span of twenty-five years.  Peace resulted in tremendous economic prosperity in many parts of the world and raised the relative standard of living for most people on earth.

The number one beneficiary of that peace and prosperity?  The United States.  By taking the lead around the world, we could shape these institutions to our benefit.  Other countries were willing to follow our lead because of our economic and military power, but also because they too benefited.  It is to our distinct advantage to be part and parcel of these institutions and to set the agenda through our strength and seasoned leadership.

To Mr. Trump this system exists only because previous administrations were chumps and allowed the rest of the world to take advantage of us.  Obviously, he has no understanding that the circumstances that led to World War II — the U.S. going it alone in isolation, imposing strict tariffs, the Great Depression — are being recreated by his vacillating and impulsive policy announcements via Twitter.

Real diplomacy aims to achieve a win-win for those involved.  Mr. Trump’s core belief is that there are never any win-win situations.  Only winners and losers.  One must win at all cost — even if that means lying, cheating, and subverting your friends.  Otherwise, you are a sucker.

An example would be Mr. Trump’s dealings with Denmark over Greenland.  The U.S. could argue that Greenland has important strategic interest to the U.S. for two reasons.  The geo-strategic reality that a militarily resurgent Russian Navy must pass through the U.K.-Iceland-Greenland Gap to get to the open Atlantic Ocean — simplifying the U.S. Navy goal to locate those forces, especially submarines.  The other is the growing importance of the Arctic to commercial interests, including shipping, for which both Russia and China have ambitious plans.  If Mr. Trump understood diplomacy and the multi-lateral nature of our alliances, he would know that Denmark — the Danish kingdom includes Greenland — is one of our greatest allies including sending troops to support us in Afghanistan and Iraq and suffering 43 of their brave soldiers killed in action.  Instead of cancelling a state visit — rarely offered by the kingdom — and calling the Prime Minister “nasty” he should have made the visit, talked with the Danish government and worked to see how to meet both nation’s interests while preserving the goals of the U.S.  Instead he got mad when they would not sell the island at his demand, as if we would sell Puerto Rico to the French because they want to protect their interests in the Caribbean.

So the world simply moves on without the U.S. and works together without our input.  The resulting impact on our foreign policy and national interests is that we lose our seat at the table.  All Mr. Trump can do is throw a temper tantrum and disrupt.  Indeed, he considers himself a disrupter, a position that has some great appeal to his supporters.

In reality, he is not a disrupter, he is a destroyer.  He breaks things and destroys in a fit of pique or just to show that he can.  A real leader may shake up the status quo, but has a plan and a strategy to implement a new, and one hopes, better idea.  Not so with this president.  He breaks things, blames others for it, and expects the world to pick up after his mess.  He has no grand plan.

Our friends and allies have learned the game. So have our adversaries. Our friends do not want to play anymore.  Our adversaries see a chance to take advantage of the situation.  Our friends simply placate him to his face so that he stays out of the way and then they go and do what they want without our input.  Our adversaries flatter him and then do whatever they want without fear of consequences.

It may be a stretch to say that we are becoming irrelevant, but our influence is quickly waning.

This may be our weakest international position since before World War II.


Dereliction of Duty

The Constitution is under attack.  An attack so brazen that it is likely to do significant long-term damage to our country’s ideals, values, mores, and the rule of law.

Mr. Donald J. Trump is in full attack mode trampling on all that we used to hold dear.  In the meantime, the House and the Senate, Republicans and Democrats alike, sit idly by either endlessly filled with angst over what they should or should not do (hello Democrats!) or aiding and abetting the president in his relentless pillaging of our Constitution (I’m talking to you Republicans).

I just do not get it.  Why is no one acting?

While wringing their hands over whether to begin impeachment proceedings against the president, the Democrats worry about the political implications for the 2020 election.  They fear that starting impeachment proceedings will hand Mr. Trump a victory in the next election.  I fear that by not acting — hey guys! remember that you won an historic election in 2018 because the majority of voters wanted you to put a check on his shenanigans? — they will hand Mr. Trump the election.  Part of their logic is that with the Republican controlled do-nothing cowering Senate Mr. Trump would never be convicted.  Perhaps.  However, the calculation should be that spelled out in the Constitution — there is abundant evidence that he indeed committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” — and not some political calculation on who will or will not get elected as a result.  Politics should not play a part in a decision to impeach or one not to impeach.

Congress!  Do your job!  Nay, it is more than do your job.  It is do your duty to uphold the Constitution.  Anything less is dereliction of that duty.

What more does it take?  Everyday there is a new assault on our values and our laws.  The list is too long to enumerate here, but remember a few of Mr. Trump’s greatest hits.

  • “Individual 1” — Mr. Trump’s lawyer Mr. Michael Cohen is serving three years in jail for, among other crimes, violating election laws by paying hush money to two mistresses of Mr. Trump’s to stay silent about their affairs because it could impact the election.  The judge in the case, Judge William H. Pauley III said in open court in New York that Mr. Trump directed his attorney (Mr. Cohen) to commit a federal felony.  He is essentially an unindicted co-conspirator in the case.
  • Obstruction of Justice — In his report, which he followed up with a remarkable public statement from the Department of Justice building, Special Counsel Robert Mueller made it abundantly clear that if the president had committed no crime, he would have so reported.  As he said in the report and in his remarks, “if we had confidence that the President clearly did not commit a crime, we would have said that.”
  • Russia interfered with the election to aid Mr. Trump — In his report and remarks, Mr. Mueller makes it abundantly clear that the Russians did interfere with the election.  A fact that the President resolutely says did not happen.  As Mr. Mueller noted, “Russian intelligence officers who were part of the Russian military launched a concerted attack on our political system.  The indictment alleges that they used sophisticated cyber techniques to hack into computers and networks used by the Clinton campaign.  They stole private information, and then released that information through fake online identities and through the organization WikiLeaks.  The releases were designed and timed to interfere with our election and to damage a presidential candidate.  And at the same time, as the grand jury alleged in a separate indictment, a private Russian entity engaged in a social media operation where Russian citizens posed as Americans in order to interfere in the election.”
  • Collusion — According to the Mueller Report, members of the Trump Campaign met over 100 times with Russians known to be agents of, or to have connections to, the Russian government, including the famous Trump Tower meeting in the summer of 2016.  As we all know, the word “collusion” was never used in the Mueller Report.  However, yesterday the president said that he would collude again with a foreign power given the chance.  In an interview with ABC news in the Oval Office no less, he said in response to a question about receiving damaging information from a foreign power that he would take it.  “I think you might want to listen, there’s nothing wrong with listening.  If somebody called from a country, Norway, ‘we have information on your opponent.’  Oh, I think I’d want to hear it.  It’s not interference, they have information.  I think I’d take it.  If I thought there was something wrong, I’d maybe go to the FBI.  If I thought there was something wrong.  But when somebody comes up with oppo research, right, they come up with oppo research.”  When asked about FBI Director Wray’s testimony to Congress that any political campaign should report foreign interest in that campaign, Mr. Trump replied, “The FBI Director is wrong.  Because, frankly, it doesn’t happen that way in life.”
  • Actively undermining the Constitution — As explained in a Washington Post opinion piece by Mr. George Conway and Mr. Neal Katyal — both conservative attorneys — on Tuesday the Trump lawyers filed a brief to prevent turning over documents relating to Mr. Trump’s taxes and other financial dealings.  Without getting too far into the legal weeds (although maybe all of us should start doing so), the basis of the Trump argument is that Congress has no oversight authority with respect to the president.  In particular, the brief argues, Congress has no business “trying to prove that the President broke the law.”  They say that the Executive Branch holds the power under the Constitution for law enforcement, therefore Congress can do nothing.  This of course denies our country’s history where Congress has exercised oversight, including investigations of law breaking, since its founding.
  • Active law breaking — Today, White House Adviser Kelly Anne Conway was found to have consistently and continually broken the Hatch Act.  (The Hatch Act prohibits political activities and speech while acting in a government position.)  The opinion handed down by the independent Office of the Special Counsel (OSC) says that she should be fired from her position.  (It is worth noting that the head of the office was nominated by Mr. Trump and confirmed by voice vote in the Senate.)  The response from the president and Ms. Conway is to scoff at the law and the OSC finding.  As Ms. Conway put it when previously asked about her actions under the Hatch Act “Blah, Blah, Blah.  If you’re trying to silence me through the Hatch Act, it’s not going to work.  Let me know when the jail sentence starts.”

In a country where we like to say that no one is above the law, the president and his advisers are.  Mr. Trump could indeed shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it as he famously said during the campaign.

I think that we all must remember that Mr. Trump and the president are the same person.  I only say this slightly tongue in cheek.  What I mean is that we have become so accustomed to Mr. Trump’s outrageous statements — perhaps even amused by them — for so long including before he even considered running for president that they tend to get lost in translation.  Mr. Trump saying such things is harmless.  The President of the United States saying them is incomprehensible.  Or at least it used to be.  There is no longer gravitas in presidential statements.  There is no longer acceptance of presidential pronouncements as true or binding.  There is no longer respect for the office from nations around the world.  There is no longer a presumption that the president will follow the Constitution.  All of that may be ignored by our fellow citizens.  Just remember, however, that he still has the power.  And the unencumbered use of that power to follow one of his harebrained ideas could be devastating.  Those that know him from long before his presidency say without hesitation that he will do anything to help himself.  Anything.  Think about that with someone with Mr. Trump’s mind set and the president’s power.

Even Mr. Mueller believes the president is above the law.  Certainly Attorney General Barr thinks so.  Re-read Mr. Mueller’s remarks last month about his report.  He explains in detail why there was no indictment of the president.  While a president may be investigated, he said that “under long-standing Department policy, a President cannot be charged with a federal crime while he is in office.  That is unconstitutional.  Even if the charge is kept under seal and hidden from public view—that too is prohibited.  The Special Counsel’s Office is part of the Department of Justice and, by regulation, it was bound by that Department policy.  Charging the President with a crime was therefore not an option we could consider.”

So there you have it.  The president is above the law.  Mr. Trump knows it.  We can expect his behavior to become increasingly autocratic as he continues to eviscerate Congress.  (Note the increasing instances of declaring a “national emergency” to circumvent the will of Congress concerning Mexico, Saudi Arabia, immigration, arms sales, tariffs, and other actions.)

But, but….  Mr. Mueller did point out that there is a way to hold a president accountable.  In his spoken remarks he said “the opinion says that the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting President of wrongdoing.”

In other words, impeachment.

Negative precedents are being set almost daily by this administration and especially by the president himself.  We as a country will have to live with future presidents that hold themselves above the law should this president get away without being held to account.  Whether or not he gets re-elected the precedents he sets, left unchallenged, will stand.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is the most powerful elected official in the land behind only the president.  She must use that power under the Constitution to articulate why Mr. Trump’s actions are not only abhorrent on their moral face but also that they are crimes.

The president is a criminal.  We must hold him accountable.  Do your duty.