Donald Trump was right: He can get away with almost anything — a factor that is likely to mean an even more unchained presidency over the next 18 months.
All the reasons why Democratic efforts to check the President will likely fail were revealed in Attorney General William Barr’s trial by fire on Capitol Hill on Wednesday and his refusal to submit to a second round before the fired-up House majority on Thursday.
The drama also showed that in the short span of a White House term, given certain partisan conditions, the modern political system will find it almost impossible to constrain a President — especially one who poses such an overwhelming challenge to congressional custom as Trump.
Pundit Stephen Collinson, writing on CNN, May 2, 2019
We’ve talked for a long time about approaching a Constitutional crisis. We are now in it.
Now is the time of testing whether we can keep a republic, or whether this republic is destined to change into a different, more tyrannical form of government. We must resist this.
Jerry Nadler, Chair of the House Judiciary Committee, speaking to reporters on May 8 following the vote to cite A.G. William Barr with contempt of Congress.
It’s not just that in Trumpspace, days pass in seconds and weeks feel like years. It’s that any commentary or analysis you might finish polishing and post as the sun goes down will already be overtaken by events come first light of the new day. So I’ve been sitting here, watching the churn of successive news cycles, pretty much stunned into silence. It gets bigger by the day, faster by the hour, while events crash up against the walls of disbelief and knock them over, one after another.
Despite my repeated recommendation, in the wake of the strangely ambivalent, oddly equivocating Mueller Report, that it’s time to move on, the Democrats haven’t resolved to play the long game and focus on other things. No, they’re actually upset about all this, and after reading 400 odd pages of a report that condemns without ever daring to damn, they want to know more. By their read of Mueller’s complete findings, the President did indeed collude with Russians during the 2016 campaign in a thousand little ways, even if the punch-pulling Special Counsel decided he couldn’t make out a criminal case (in the instance of Donald Jr.’s infamous Trump Tower meeting, almost wholly on the basis that Trump the Younger was too pig-ignorant to know he was breaking the law, an idea that cries out for a further explanation that may come in a subsequent blog). As over 800 former Federal prosecutors have now attested, signing their names to a joint communiqué (more joining the list every day), the report also details how the President repeatedly and assiduously sought to obstruct the investigation into Russian interference, a crime for which anybody but the Chief Executive would by now have been indicted – but there’s that damned and damnably misguided Justice Department policy, treated by Mueller and too many others like Holy Writ.
You can’t indict a sitting President, says the memo. So Mueller expressly tossed the ball to Congress, and the Democrats, heartbreakingly naive twits that they are, want to run with it. They want to know more, and they want to look into things that were beyond Mueller’s remit, or which Mueller seems either to have ignored or passed on to other prosecutors, such as those in the SDNY, who are now said to be pursuing as many as fourteen other investigations. They want to dig into Trump’s abuses of the Emoluments Clause. They want to know about the tens of millions of dollars in dark money, including maybe foreign money, that sloshed around up to everyone’s waist in the fundraising for Trump’s inaugural celebrations, and where it all went (God knows it wasn’t spent on the entertainment). They want to know about how security clearances are handed out over the strenuous objections of the responsible intelligence agencies, and given blithely to the likes of Jared the Dumbass Dauphin. They want to see Trump’s tax returns, to find out where his money comes from, where it goes, and how much of it passes through his hands without ever attracting income tax – and whether, no doubt, the records are redolent with the stench of money laundering for Russian oligarchs. They want to know about the Trump Tower Moscow escapade, and the extent to which this gross conflict of interest may have compromised the President. They want to conduct the counter-intelligence investigation that Mueller apparently decided not to pursue. They want to know about the machinations behind the appalling child separation policy, and whether it was actually the plan all along to make sure that parents and children could never be reunited, the better to deter those running for their lives from seeking safe harbour in the Land of the Free.
After the mid-terms, they have the both the power and, if you want to get all righteous about it, the Constitutional responsibility to pry into all of this and more, and if they want to ignore my advice and do what’s right instead of what’s politically expedient, well, they get to do that. I fully understand the urge. Mueller’s report may have been something of a dud, but by no means as big of one as Barr made it out to be in his deceptive and partisan Wee Crafty Letter. Knowing, now, that Mueller himself went on the record to complain about Barr’s misrepresentation of his work adds much to the growing sense of outrage, and knowing what the report actually says can make Donald’s constant claims of being fully exonerated not merely grating and infuriating, but the catalyst for bitter, impotent tears. People out there are actually buying his shit. Watching Trump strut around while he complains about the “Russia hoax” would be enough to make Machiavelli abandon all political calculus and simply do the decent, honourable thing, and fight like Hell on principle.
Meanwhile, and this is something that bears upon political expedience as much as doing what’s right, Trump’s exoneration routine is providing a rationale for continuing to do absolutely nothing about ongoing Russian interference in America’s democracy. Nothing to see here! Told you so! No Collusion! As Donald lulls the masses, by all accounts legions of FSB and GRU spooks are spooling up for another full-on assault, and GRU bots have already been detected spreading political muck all over social media about Joe Biden, the potential foe that Trump seems to find most threatening at the moment. The patently false smear du jour has something to do with Biden’s son and a business venture in the Ukraine, and it is, of course, as pure a pile of hooey as the nonsense about Hillary and Uranium One (or Hillary and Benghazi, Hillary and the Clinton Foundation, Hillary and the pizza parlour pedophile ring, etc.). The hell of it is, this shit seems to work. Think about it. Unless something changes, the Russians may get Donald elected again. God help us.
And that’s the whole idea. When Donald was doing everything he could to shove sticks into Mueller’s spokes, he was worried about being found liable for crimes, yes, and desperate, too, that the key role Putin played in getting him elected not be seen as undermining the legitimacy of his Presidency, which surely it does. Yet there’s something else. Donald very much appreciated the help (hence his many attempts, some successful, to reward it). He would very much like some more, please and thank-you. If fallout from Mueller’s investigation gets folks all upset, though, pressure might mount to do something about Putin’s plans for 2020, and there are so many things that a properly motivated American military and security apparatus could do do make Russia hurt for attacking its democracy. They could mess with Putin and his miserable third world slagheap something wicked. You want a cyberwar? The Pentagon has a whole department for that. Bank balances maintained in various Cypriot laundromats could vanish. Nasty secrets could wind up all over Facebook – you think “Fancybear” and Wikileaks Turd Julian Assange have a monopoly on hacking and leaking? Truly crippling sanctions could be imposed. Poor, beleaguered Ukraine could start getting oodles of military assistance and raw cash. Putin’s assets all over the world – and there are tens, perhaps hundreds of billions squirrelled carefully away here and there – could be identified, publicized, frozen, and even seized or eradicated. Make no mistake: it is well within America’s means to make Vlad the Impaler howl at a pitch both loud and shrill enough to produce hairline cracks throughout every goddam onion dome in Red Square.
Putin knows this. Trump knows this. It’s vital to prevent it, and it’s vital, therefore, to keep Donald behind the Resolute Desk. No Collusion! No Obstruction!
From where the Democrats sit it’s thus equally vital to wake people up, put the lie to Trump’s claims of total exoneration, and make everybody very, very upset, just as they damned well ought to be, yet somehow still are not. Leave aside what’s right. Leave aside the future of the Republic, and the fate of the Founders’ bold experiment in democratic self-government, by the people and for the people. In the next election, political survival may be riding on it, and thus all those cushy jobs in Congress. You don’t even need to have principles to want to fight this fight.
The sad thing, really, is that Nadler, Schiff, Cummings, Warren, Harris, and many others do have principles. For them, this is simple. There’s only one way to go. Move on? Play the long game? Let it go? The hell you say.
So the Democrats decided to fight, most of them, poignantly, for all the right reasons. Wielding subpoena power, the full weight of of law, and the authority granted by the Constitution itself, the poor, hopeless bastards have set about conducting oversight, or trying to anyway, just like Congress is supposed to do. They began almost four months ago, now, demanding the production of all sorts of documents and the appearance of all manner of witnesses to testify before the various House oversight committees. As the effort began, I was exultant. Now we were going to get to the bottom of things, by gum! The Dems, in command of the committees, had subpoena power! They could force Trump and his cronies to cough up answers! I watched full of glee as out went the dozens of formal requests, compliance with which was legally mandatory. Yay! Finally!
Then, and I confess I was caught utterly by surprise, never dreaming it possible, this was the response from Donald and his Merry Men:
You want documents? No. Make me. You want to know about security clearances, and what the CIA et al reckoned was so disqualifying for the Dauphin? Go piss up a rope. You’re interested in the paper trail on the child separation policy, and finding out who decided what, why, and when? Aaaah, go fuck yourself. You want McGahn to testify? Nope. Not happening. Barr? That’s a hard no, he’s not showing up. Mueller? Gimme a break, Mueller, yeah, sure – no. Fuck off. Golly Congressman, what’s that you have there? A stack of subpoenas? Gosh, that’s precious. We couldn’t give a flying fuck, but really, that’s cute. Trump’s tax returns? His tax returns? Oh c’mon. Try to get real, OK guys? No. Yeah, yeah, I know what the statute says, you have an unfettered right to demand anybody’s tax returns, anybody’s at all, you don’t even need a reason and the IRS must comply, blah blah blah, says so right there, I know, I read it – right, now screw off. Here’s what we’re saying: you have no legitimate purpose for wanting them. Nyah. Oh, and you know all those “friendly” subpoenas you tossed at DeutscheBank and Capital One, the ones they’re happy to comply with? Nice try. No dice, pal. We’re suing their asses off to stop them from responding to your goddam subpoenas, and no, we don’t think we have a legal leg to stand on – who cares? It’ll take years to sort out. What’d you think would happen, tossing subpoenas around like that – always with the subpoenas, you guys! Look, here’s another one! What’s that now, the full, un-redacted Mueller report you say? You really want it? Really really? Very good sir, let me have a look round back… oh, no, sorry, it’s covered by executive privilege, just your luck, eh? Now go get your shine box.
No. Miserable Libs. Make me.
Now what? This level of brazen defiance is well beyond anything even Nixon was prepared to contemplate. It’s outright, open, notorious, flagrant flouting of the law and the Constitution itself, but if Fat Donny is prepared to go there, what now? Cite them with contempt? OK, done – so what? Go to court to enforce the various subpoenas? Great, that shouldn’t take until after Donald’s second term is over, we can probably wrap that up by 2023, at the latest, depending on the breaks. Impose fines then? Sure – lets see you enforce them. Back to court! Of course, all court cases wend their way through an increasingly stacked judiciary towards the tender attentions of Kavanaugh, Gorsich and company on the stacked Supreme Court, but maybe they’ll be so chuffed from overturning Roe v. Wade, Obamacare, and LGBT marriage rights that they’ll throw the Libtards a bone – by that time it’ll be moot anyway, and we wouldn’t want to set a precedent that stops the GOP from hamstringing the next President. You can’t keep the Democrats out of the White House forever!
Or can you? What if the Supremes endorse all that gerrymandering and voter suppression, overturning the rulings of those lower courts that have lately been giving such underhanded skullduggery a rough ride? That could work! If only white land-owning males can vote, as ought to be the rule, just like in the good old days, by golly maybe you can keep the Democrats out of the White House forever.
Anyway, not the Courts, then, or anything that lands you in court, which is most everything you could do. Hmm…how about if we choke off funding to recalcitrant Federal agencies? Power of the purse strings and all that. Obey or go without a budget! Yeah! Great idea, but they did that with the Wall, remember? They cut off the money. Trump declared an emergency and took the cash anyway ( a flagrantly unconstitutional move now mired – you guessed it – in the courts).
Well, that’s the real question, isn’t it? Should Trump be impeached? And Barr and Mnuchin, for that matter? By rights, of course they should – on a straightforward reading of the Constitution, you could argue it’s not even optional at this point. Apart from the whole business with Russia, the obstruction of justice, the outright refusal to permit lawful Congressional oversight (itself a further, ongoing obstruction of justice), The Donald has for many months been an un-indicted co-conspirator in a crime that sent his pal Mikey Cohen to the five-bar hotel, where he just started serving his sentence. Impeachment was already justified on that score alone. Yet Pelosi, and many others in her camp, none of them craven or cowardly, are more than a little reluctant.
Who can blame them? We already know the outcome – Mitch McConnell stood up in the Senate just a couple of days ago to declare “case closed” in all matters regarding Trump, and there’s no way in Hell that 67 Senators out of a hundred, 53 of whom are on Mitch’s team of boot-licking Trump toadies, are going to vote to convict. Indeed, it’s such a mortal lock that Trump would skate in any impeachment that conventional wisdom has it that Donald loves the idea, and desperately wants to be impeached – he’d get to squeal DEEP STATE and RUSSIA HOAX like a persecuted hog all the way to victory, firing up the Base all the way.
So there goes that idea too, looks like.
What we’re looking at here, as Bill Maher has been hollering for a while now, are the final stages of a slow-motion coup that’s been in progress since Obama’s win in 2008, beginning with project REDMAP and the concerted effort to gerrymander and vote-suppress the living bejesus out of the national Democratic electorate via systematic, coordinated action at the State level. At the same time, Mitch McConnell has done his level best for the better part of a decade to utterly delegitimize the legislative branch and turn it into a paralytic husk of its former self, the chief residual function of which is to appoint as many right wing ideologues to the Federal bench and Supreme Court as humanly possible, and not worry much along the way about anybody’s fitness or qualifications for the job. Now that Trump has Barr as his domesticated Attorney General, the once quasi-independent Department of Justice works for him now, not the people, and thus every avenue of lawful, Constitutional resistance has been closed off. You almost have to admire the execution of the whole, sordid scheme, which has taken ten years to bring to fruition. By increments, the GOP has thoroughly throttled American democracy. It’s gone so far that Donald appropriates money without Congressional approval and decrees that there will be no cooperation with Congress, subpoenas be damned. Why not? Who’s going to stop him?
Just last night, I saw Chuck Rosenberg, a very sensible and intelligent former US Attorney and MSNBC contributor, assert that this is not, as Jerry Nadler insists, a “Constitutional crisis”. He did so on the sound scholarly basis that the term should be reserved for situations in which the Constitution provides no mechanism to resolve the sort of confrontation now ongoing between Trump and Congress, and of course the U.S. Constitution does prescribe remedies, providing for recourse to the Courts, and, ultimately, impeachment and removal of the President from office. True enough. But what is it when political parties, factions not properly anticipated or factored into the Founders’ calculations, have made sure that the Constitutional remedies can’t work, and exist on paper only? What if the system’s been rigged? What do we call that?
It’s enough to take the wind out of anybody’s sails, but Elizabeth Warren, fighting the good fight, has gone on the record that impeachment proceedings should begin immediately, political calculations be damned. Yes, the effort will fail. No matter. Let the people see it done, and instead of allowing the GOP a free ride by doing nothing, let every Republican Senator be seen and recorded for posterity, voting to acquit. It might not matter today, but over time, it will matter. History will judge – and maybe not that long from now. “There is no political expedience exception to the Constitutional imperative to impeach” says Elizabeth. The Republic is under assault. The time to fight is now.
By God, she’s right, isn’t she? This isn’t about Mueller and Russia any more, it’s gone way beyond that. I rescind my prior advice. It’s no longer time to move on. Not now. Not after all this. Not when a cackling Donald snaps his fingers under the noses of the Chairs of Congressional oversight committees and double-dog-dares them to do something about it. As Chris Hayes over at MSNBC quipped, the President of the United States is, essentially, taunting them with Oh yeah? You and what army? It’s time to stop dithering, suit up, and join battle with the foe. Not later. Today. Now is the moment when courage gets screwed to the sticking place, when it’s better to die on your feet than live on your knees. It’s not hypothetical any more, and it’s not down the road. It’s here. We’re there.
The immediate battle may be lost, but in the process maybe, just maybe, the true ugliness of Donald will finally become apparent to the 60 million who voted for him last time, or to enough of them, anyway, to thwart him in 2020. Or maybe some of the 100 million or so who couldn’t be bothered to vote last time will be spurred to action.
Not if Vlad has anything to say about it, of course.