Wednesday, November 13, 2019

Reassessing 'Maximum Bob' Mueller Six Months On: The Special Counsel Blew It

COLIN ANDERSON / THE ATLANTIC
To say that a lot of people were disappointed with Robert Mueller is an understatement. 
Okay, the guy wasn't the superman we had pumped him up to be.  But in my bend-over-backwards effort to be fair, I believed that the special counsel's shortcomings were tempered because his legal remit, including a bar on indicting a sitting president, was limited.   
Still, Donald Trump has gotten away with nary a scratch from his collusion with Vladimir Putin's cyberwarriors, which greased the skids for his "victory" in 2016, a devious path that he has tried to go down again in the Ukraine scandal, and that has not sat well.  
Robert Barr's slimy veneer of whitewash over Mueller's final Russia scandal report has been cited as a key element in Trump's escape act, and the attorney general did indeed divert attention from more damning aspects of the 448-page report, including 10 instances in which Mueller concluded that the president tried to obstruct justice. 
But the special counsel is now back on the hook -- and deservedly so -- not because of ongoing impeachment hearings, which on Wednesday produced highly damaging public testimony that Trump knew exactly what he was doing in trying to extort Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to manufacture dirt on the Bidens, but a side drama that has played out a few block from the Capitol at a federal courthouse where the Roger Stone trial began wrapping up with final arguments later in the day. 
Long story short, the final prosecution witness against Stone, self-proclaimed Republican dirty trickster and the longest of Trump's longtime advisers, was former Trump campaign advisor Rick Gates, who testified that Trump may have been aware of WikiLeaks' methodical release of damaging emails hacked by a Russian intelligence service and of Stone's efforts to present himself as a backchannel to the so-called ant-secrecy group. 
Trump, having refused a face-to-face interview with Mueller after months of jousting that in retrospect was ridiculous, told him in writing that he did "not recall" being aware of communications between WikiLeaks and Stone, Gates or his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.  
But Gates testified that Trump "indicated that more information would be coming" after getting off a call with Stone in July 2016 and said he received a directive from Manafort to check in with Stone about information incoming from Wikileaks and that other people from the campaign would be updated, "including the candidate." 
Mueller handed off the indictment of Stone to other prosecutors, who charged him with witness tampering, obstructing an official proceeding, and five counts of making false statements to the House Intelligence Committee about his relationship with WikiLeaks.    
But if Gates's testimony seems minor in the overall scheme of things, it is not.   
This is because it calls into question why Mueller left this crucial information out of his final report, as well as what else he might have left out of a document of huge legal and historical import in making the case against a deeply corrupt president that six months after its release seems more pallid by the day.  In other words, "Maximum Bob" did not live up to his reputation as a dogged former FBI director and prosecutor. 
Josh Marshall puts it this way at Talking Points Memo:
As I've said many times before, you shouldn’t change your view of an investigation or an investigator just because you are disappointed with or didn't expect the result.  This is a kind of situationally convenient way of thinking we should all avoid. But this isn't quite that.  We're learning new facts – a lot of them – which the investigators either clearly knew (Gates was their cooperating witness, after all) or ones they should have come across but didn't. 
Was Rod Rosenstein leaning on Mueller more than realized?  Was Bill Barr?  Neither possibility is terribly convincing since Mueller had all the clout and public attention to defy them if he wanted to.  Was Mueller restraining his own investigators and this oddity of a report was the result? I'm really not sure. Certainly his public testimony and his resistance to that testimony suggested his heart wasn’t quite in it.
That seems all the more obvious in light of the confused and ineffectual Democratic response to Barr's whitewash and then on July 24 the mother of all anticlimaxes -- Mueller's halting testimony before two House committees in which his reputation took another hit.  
"It was a game of chicken among chickens," as Slate's Dahlia Litchwick commented at the time.    
Mueller had pointedly warned that if forced to testify before Congress, he would not say anything beyond what his report said.   And when all was said and done after nearly seven hours of testimony before the Democratic-led House Judiciary and Intelligence committees, two of the committees now plunging ahead with impeachment hearings, the former special counsel did not elaborate, hewing to a letter from Barr written at Mueller's request instructing him to not answer a wide variety of questions about his investigation, which the AG asserted is covered by executive privilege but was an egregious frontal assault on the Constitution and congressional oversight.  
Asked by a Democratic congressman whether the reason he "did not indict Donald Trump is because of the OLC [Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel] opinion stating that you cannot indict a sitting president," Mueller said it was, but then sought cover. 
"That is not the correct way to say it," Mueller elaborated.  "We did not reach a determination as to whether the president committed a crime." 
Mueller's most pointed criticism of the president at the hearing came when he said he found Trump's repeated statements during the campaign praising WikiLeaks for releasing the Democratic emails to be disturbing.   
"Problematic is an understatement in terms of what it displays of giving some hope or some boost to what is and should be illegal behavior," Mueller said in muddled elaboration. 
Casting future events against past performances can be unfair.   
But virtually every discussion and commentary about the televised impeachment hearings ends up asking the same question: Will Democrats in a few short weeks be able to make the case Trump should be removed from office?  Probably.  Yet Mueller had two years and didn't even come close.   
And that is that.

The New Normal: Running From Your Patriotic Duty For A Big, Fat Book Deal

JABIN BOTSFORD / THE WASHINGTON POST
The concept of what constitutes duty to country in contemporary American politics has undergone a seismic shift that the narcissistically self absorbed Donald Trump has only served to accelerate.  Lapel-pin patriotism -- "see, I'm wearing the flag, so I gotta love my country" -- is an obvious manifestation, but opting for a megabuck book deal in lieu of answering the call to patriotism is the new normal. 
Given the choice between trying to save the country or feathering his nest, John Bolton is taking the money -- a reported $2 million deal with Simon & Schuster for a tell-all book that is likely to be only a tell-something -- and running from his obligation to come forward as possibly the key witness to the Ukraine scandal shenanigans, which did not erupt fully formed from a single extortionate phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky but came together over months of plotting by the president and Rudy Giuliani and their henchmen to find ways to try to influence the 2020 election as Moscow had so thoughtfully done in 2016. 
Bolton, Trump's third national security adviser, famously told White House aide Fiona Hill that "I am not part of whatever drug deal Sondland and Mulvaney are cooking up," a reference to two players in the president's scheme to extort Zelensky into dishing dirt on Joe Biden and his son, but has decided to not appear before House impeachment investigators, let alone make a star turn at the televised public hearings that began on Wednesday. 
This although Bolton "was personally involved in many of the events, meetings, and conversations about which you have already received testimony, as well as many relevant meetings and conversations that have not yet been discussed in the testimonies thus far," according to a letter from Bolton's lawyer to House Democrats that sounds an awful lot like a book promotion. 
Others with books contemplated, in the works or just out include a West Wing insider known only as Anonymous, former U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley, chief of staff John Kelly, defense secretary Jim Mattis and Donald Trump Jr.  
Haley deserves special mention. 
Trump's former U.N. ambassador not only has adeptly played a game of licking Trump's wingtips while tut-tutting over his more egregious excesses, but has proven expert at promoting her own new book, With All Due Respect, in which she claims that Kelly and Secretary of State Rex Tillerson tried to recruit her to work against the president in order to "save the country."   
The nerve of them! 
Meanwhile, Anonymous deserves special scorn. 
A Warning, which is to be released on November 19, is written by "a senior official in the Trump administration" and paints the chilling portrait of the president as cruelly inept and a danger to nation and world that we have read and heard about so often in the accounts of people who don't cower behind a veil of anonymity. 
A more appropriate would seem to be Almost A Warning. 
Anonymous writes breathlessly that senior administration officials considered resigning en masse last year in a "midnight self-massacre" to sound a public alarm about the president's conduct, but rejected the idea because they believed it would further destabilize an already teetering government. 
This almost patriotism prompts Charles Pierce to write at Esquire:
Not to put too fine a point on it, but Anonymous can bite me.  I have no intention of shelling out a dime to read about how someone almost ran into the burning house to save the baby, or about how someone almost gave up their seat in the lifeboat when the great ship went down, or about how someone almost dove into a freezing river to save a busload of nuns, or, for that matter, about how someone almost decided not to be a part of the most monstrous executive administration since the (un)death of Vlad The Impaler.  I am not interested in someone's heartfelt account of their near-collision with actual integrity.  I decline to be fascinated by the tale of how someone nearly ran into courage on the street but had to catch a bus instead.  Like I said, Anonymous can anonymously bite me.
According to Dahlia Lithwick at SlateKelly does not yet have a book deal, but is using the threat of one as insurance against Trump going after him personally.  How's that for doing the patriotic thing? 
"This is the way democracy ends," concludes Lithwick, "Not with a bang but with a book deal." 

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

Monday, November 11, 2019

Trump's Allies Are Stuck With Lemons, So They're Trying To Make Lemonade

EVAN VUCCI/ THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Removing this petty, shabby tyrant from office goes a long way to restoring and resetting the Constitution as a limit on power and a guarantee against its wanton future abuse. It must be done. With speed, with vigor, and with determination. ~ ANDREW SULLIVAN 
Donald Trump's congressional Republican sycophancy has a very big problem.   
The evidence that the president held up desperately needed military aid for Ukraine and a promised White House visit for its president by trying to extort him to dig up dirt on the Bidens and other Democrats in a bald-faced effort to influence the 2020 election is overwhelming.  That evidence of this impeachable high crime comes not from House Democrats but 13 career diplomats and other administration officials who have disobeyed Trump's orders and appeared before investigators.  And so in a contemporary turn on the old adage that if you have lemons you make lemonade, Trump's allies are desperately attempting to divert attention from the beleaguered president. 
With public impeachment hearings beginning on Wednesday, Republicans are demanding that witnesses be added to the probe, including former vice president Joe Biden's son, Hunter, his business partner, Devon Archer, and the whistleblower whose initial complaint kicked off the Ukraine investigation. 
Republicans, who conveniently forget they had joined Democrats in appropriating the nearly $400 million in aid Trump used as a cudgel in his extortion scheme, are alternately whining that the inquiry is unfairly partisan with presidential poodle Senator Lindsey Graham refusing to read deeply damaging witness transcripts, while trying to front load the witness list. 
Through extraneous witnesses, Republicans hope to sow confusion and flog their discredited conspiracy theories, which includes beating the dead-horse canard that Ukraine and not Russia hacked Democratic emails in 2016, and characterizing Ukraine as an historically corrupt nation that the most corrupt president in American history is only trying to reform (!!!). 
Then there is their attempt to shift blame from Trump onto a rogues gallery of individuals including acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, EU ambassador Gordon Sondland and fixer Rudy Giuliani, whom they ludicrously claim were pursuing their own objectives while the poor president stood haplessly by.  This must be the reason there was a secret White House server on which to hide documents damaging to Trump, no?
The 2,677 pages of interview transcripts released over the past week show the extent to which GOP lawmakers, lacking the witnesses and documents to mount a defense that might undermine the withering testimony, have focused on unsubstantiated conspiracy theories when not muttering to reporters that what the president did might not have been advisable but is not impeachable.  Or in the words of feckless GOP Representative Mac Thornberry, you can't impeach Trump for a crime he does "all the time." 
Yes, Republicans are fully involved in the hearings even if they're trying to create the impression that they are not, and their questioning of witnesses has been short on substance while long on those pet theories. 
The contrast could not be more evident than during the deposition of William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, who blew apart Trump's Ukraine defense in damning detail. When it was the Republicans' turn to depose Taylor, they did not ask a single question of substance. 
Meanwhile, The Washington Post reports that one GOP lawmaker questioned fired Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovich about her national heritage, including a suggestion her nickname Masha is Ukrainian (it's Russian, just like she is) in a fruitless attempt to find bias, and another interrogated her about whether her staff "monitored" the social media account of an alt-right conspiracy theorist whose main claim to fame is smearing a Washington pizzeria as the site of a fictional Democratic pedophile ring in which Hillary Clinton was involved. 
Pretty much all of this is, of course, is ancillary to the Ukraine scandal and impeachment inquiry, which explains why Republicans also want to call a researcher for the firm that commissioned the Steele dossier linking Trump and Russia in an attempt to manufacture a nonexistent connection between the dossier and Ukraine. 
The reliably wingnutty Devin Nunes, the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, argues that witnesses such as Biden and Archer would "assist the American public in understanding the nature and extent of Ukraine’s pervasive corruption, information that bears directly on President Trump's long-standing and deeply-held skepticism of the country." 
Intel chairman Adam Schiff says Democrats would evaluate the witness requests but his committee "will not serve . . . as a vehicle to undertake the same sham investigations into the Bidens or 2016 that the President pressed Ukraine to conduct for his personal political benefit, or to facilitate the President's effort to threaten, intimidate, and retaliate against the whistleblower who courageously raised the initial alarm." 
Complicating Republican attempts to shift the focus away from Trump is the ongoing trial a few blocks from the Capitol of fellow liar and longest of longtime confidants Roger Stone, an intermediary between the 2016 Trump campaign and WikiLeaks, which released thousands of Democratic email messages hacked by Russians.  
Trump’s presidency has been defined by his belief that he cannot be held accountable. 
This grossest of fictions has been abetted by Republicans whose fealty to the Chosen One is more important than obeying their oath to uphold the Constitution by acting as a check on the executive branch and the president's many abuses of power. 
The frenzy of lemonade making is playing out as courts hear a seemingly inexhaustible list of legal cases stemming from Trump's stonewalling.  Some may end up before a Supreme Court that won't necessarily be friendly to the president despite its right-leaning bent. Then there is the possibility that his frantic efforts to sabotage the impeachment process will themselves become an article of impeachment.    
While the Republican divert-and-delay tactic is likely to work in the Fox News echo chamber and ratchet even higher the partisan rancor on Capitol Hill, it fails miserably as a defense.   Minds are made up: Republicans will defend Trump at all costs, but a majority of voters favor impeachment and removing him from office. 
Let's get on with it.   

Sunday, November 10, 2019

A Vets Day Remembrance: 'That People All Over The World Can Live In Real Peace'

NICK UT / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
I had the privilege of covering many big stories during a long newspaper career.  The visit of a diminutive woman to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C., some 23 years ago on Veterans Day 1996 would seem to pale in comparison to the Clinton impeachment circus or O.J. Simpson trials, to name two of the biggies, but it is the one that I most cherish.   
Phan Thi Kim Phúc will always be the Girl in the Photograph.  
JOE McNALLY / TIME-LIFE
Nine years old when her South Vietnamese village was bombed in 1972, she was photographed by Nick Ut fleeing down Highway One from the devastating napalm attack, the clothes burned off her reed-thin body, arms outstretched and face contorted into a silent, agonizing scream.    
The powerful Pulitzer Prize-winning Associated Press photograph seemed to represent all that was wrong for the U.S. in Vietnam.  Some say it hastened the end of the war, which never made sense to me since the Kháng chiến chống Mỹ had been going on for 17 years and dragged on for another three.    
I had been tipped by a memorial fundraiser that Kim Phúc (pronounced kim fookwould be making a surprise appearance during the annual Veterans Day ceremonies.    
For me and many other people at The Wall that day, a circle that had been broken for too many years was completed with the climax of a remarkable personal odyssey as Kim Phúc stood before the slash and laid a wreath in memory of the 58,212 fallen American men and women who are inscribed on its sweeping black granite wall.  
Several thousand people, many of them veterans in faded fatigues, looked on from the sweeping lawn below the Lincoln Memorial.  Many had tears in their eyes.  Some wept. The war was already all but "lost" on the day that an American commander ordered South Vietnamese Air Force planes to drop napalm on a Buddhist temple in the village of Trang Bang near Saigon.  
Kim Phúc had crowded into the temple with other villagers thinking they'd be safe.  The napalm attack burned her arms and shoulders to the bone.  Her two younger brothers died instantly.    
Bundled in a long coat against the autumn chill, Kim Phúc told me in excellent English with a trace of an accent (she had been living in Toronto) that despite everything, she feels no anger.  
"I do not want to talk about the war," she said, almost apologetically before she and a retired Air Force colonel, a POW for six years after his fighter plane was shot down, carried a large wreath to the wall.    
Many in the crowd were surprised when Kim Phúc was introduced.  The program for the Veterans Day ceremony had been printed before she decided to accept the invitation from the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Foundation, which has worked to find and remove landmines and provide prosthetics for Vietnamese amputees.  
Her appearance was a measure of the extent to which Americans have come to terms with a war that so divided them.  It does not seem likely that she would have felt welcome, let alone be a guest of honor who received a sustained ovation, at a Veterans Day ceremony 15 or 20 years ago.  
"I cannot change history, Kim Phúc said.  "Even if I could talk face-to-face with the pilot who dropped the bomb, we could not change history."

Friday, November 08, 2019

How About Demanding That GOP Senators Commit To Upholding Their Oaths?

LARRY DOWNING / REUTERS
Lanny Davis and Anthony Scaramucci have an ass-kickingly good idea: The Senate should proceed to an impeachment trial only if at least 20 Republican senators announce beforehand that they are open-minded about whether Donald Trump should be removed from office. 
This is not a grandstanding trivial pursuit but a minimum standard of fairness, they write in a Washington Post op-ed column.  Asking for a juror to commit to be open-minded before the evidence is presented by prosecutors and then tested by defense lawyers is what potential jurors are asked to commit to when they are subjected to jury selection before a trial.  Senators, in effect, will be jurors at an impeachment trial, with 20 being the minimum number of Republicans who would have to vote with Democrats to convict the president on articles of impeachment.   
Yes, getting 20 Republicans, let alone Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (photo, above) to publicly agree to uphold their oath is unlikely when they have repeatedly violated it in coddling Trump as only a cult can worshipfully obey its leader as he runs roughshod over the Constitution.   
But the refusal of a Republican senator facing a tough reelection fight in 2020 -- and there are several such races in swing states -- will give their Democratic challengers potent ammunition: How can you send Senator Smith back to Washington when he refuses to even commit to his oath of office? 
Davis, who was President Clinton's special counsel and Scaramucci, who was Trump's communications director for a New York minute, write that despite being a liberal Democrat and conservative Republican, they agree that:
President Trump must be impeached by the House and removed from office, either by the Senate or at the ballot box on Nov. 3, 2020. 
Based on Trump's undisputed words  alone, there can be no doubt that the president has met the standard for impeachment.  While the framers were intentionally vague in not defining what was meant by "high crimes and misdemeanors," the two key framers who interpreted this phrase --  Alexander Hamilton and James Madison -- agreed that a president should be removed from office for "the abuse or violation of some public trust."
Davis and Scaramucci suggest that if such public pronouncements of open-mindedness by at least 20 Republican jurors do not occur within a month or so after the House impeachment resolution, then a Senate trial would be a waste of time and unwise. 
They write that such a move might seem unfair to Trump because it would deny him an opportunity to answer the charges brought by the House.  For this reason, they propose that the president be given the option of having a full Senate trial if he wants one. 
Davis and Scaramucci:
But our instinct is that, if given a choice, Trump would say, "Thanks, but no thanks."  He will know that second presentation (and the larger TV audience that goes with it) of the undeniable evidence that he asked a foreign government leader to intervene to help him in the 2020 presidential election won’t help him politically. 
Our hunch is that most Americans would prefer to avoid wasting time during a crucial presidential election. They would rather focus on the important issues facing the country. 
We still believe a House impeachment vote must occur.  It is needed to establish an important historical precedent -- holding future presidents accountable in history for what this House may find were serious abuses of presidential power. 
An impeachment vote will occur.  The only questions are when the vote is taken and what Ukraine scandal excuse his defenders are cycling through at the time.   
The No Quid Pro Quo defense has crashed and burned, the It's All Fake News defense is on life support, while the latest is the incredibly lame Fall Guy defense, as in his advisers played Trump for a patsy in pursuit of their own foreign policy agenda and Rudy Giuliani, Mick Mulvaney and Gordon Sondland are being fitted for fall guy outfits in the service of getting the poor, misunderstood president off the hook.  
Trump is getting trounced in most 2020 election polls because few voters beyond his vaunted base remain undecided even though the election is a year distant, and a large majority of the rest say they will vote for any Democrat.  Yet you can be forgiven if the 2020 campaign is starting to feel a lot like 2016. 
Despite Hillary Clinton being the overwhelming favorite and popular vote winner, Trump won because of that under-appreciated MAGA cap-wearing base, his appeal as a racist and sexist, the Fox News propaganda machine and masterful use of social media by the tandem of the Trump campaign and Russia hackers.  Trump is historically unpopular -- more voters want him impeached than wanted Richard Nixon impeached -- but the feeling persists that he could pull off another Electoral College rope-a-dope. 
In this context and the near certainty that 20 Republican senators won't suddenly grow a pair, the Davis-Scaramucci proposal is a winner in the context of every little bit helping the anti-Trump cause. 
And could have the additional dividend of helping tip the Senate into Democratic hands. 

Wednesday, November 06, 2019

Richard Codor's Cartoon du Jour

The Tide Is Running Out For Donald Trump. And Sean Spicer Still Can't Dance.

DOUG MILLS / THE NEW YORK TIMES
What does it say when Donald Trump claims that onetime Tea Party darling Matt Bevin "picked up at least 15 points in the last days" due to his appearance at a rally with the incumbent governor of scarlet red-state Kentucky where he told voters to make the election about him, but Bevin lost to the Democratic upstart in Tuesday's elections as Democrats took over the Virginia state legislature for the first time in more than a quarter-century, the city council of Mike Pence's hometown in Indiana went to the Democrats for the first time in four decades, and Republican control in three suburban Philadelphia counties was obliterated, with Democrats winning one county for the first time since the Civil War? 
While there is a danger of reading too much into these off-off year results because state elections are not always relevant to national politics, these results and others favorable to Democrats are enormously relevant.  First and foremost, they are affirmation that Trump has further mobilized a formerly anesthetized electorate that delivered Blue Wave victories last November and with it control of the U.S. House.   
The Chosen One is extraordinarily unpopular outside of his so-called base, faces an uphill fight in 2020 as the impeachment noose tightens around his neck,  and his Republican congressional sycophancy and lawn ornament attorney general are resorting to ever more desperate tactics -- including threatening to out the whistleblower who blew the Ukraine scandal wide open -- in the face of his high crimes and misdemeanors, growing fury and never ending torrent of profane tweets and lies. 
Meanwhile, the crush of lawsuits ranging from congressional and state investigators' access to Trump's financial records to redacted evidence from the Mueller grand jury to the House impeachment inquiry's right to obtain interviews with key witnesses, is about to hit the Supreme Court.  Trump cannot rely on Chief Justice John Roberts to bail him out.  In fact, the law is so bloody clear and previous unanimous court high rulings against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton in the context of impeachment so straightforward that I anticipate the court, in some instances, may merely uphold lower court rulings against the president rather than hearing time-consuming oral arguments before issuing rulings.   
If am wrong and Roberts decides to play defense, he will be implicitly agreeing with the beleaguered Trump's extralegal claims of an imperial presidency, including his boast that he can shoot people in the street and get away with it.  That is very difficult to fathom.
Oh, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo continues to hunker down in his hidey-hole in fear of Trump while trying to salvage the shreds of his political career as one subordinate after another tells impeachment investigators that he ceded Ukraine policy to presidential fixer Rudy Giuliani, most recently and prominently Gordon Sondland. 
The EU ambassador blew up Trump's impeachment defense in testifying at a deposition that there was indeed a quid pro quo to hold up desperately needed military aid and postpone a White House meeting unless President Volodymyr Zelensky public announced on television ("so the president could see it") investigations into widely discredited corruption allegations against Joe Biden and son and the lie that Ukraine and not Russia hacked Democratic emails in 2016 that is central to AG Barr's "investigation" into whether the FBI was out to get Trump when it initiated its Russia scandal probe. 
At another rally in Kentucky on election eve, Trump went so far as to tell the crowd that a loss for Bevin would prompt people "to say Trump suffered the greatest defeat in the history of the world.  You can’t let that happen to me!" 
It may not have been the greatest defeat, but he lost, and his defensive postering is an admission of his weakness. 
Trump says he doesn't need to reach out to swing voters in his reelection fight because "my base is so strong," an acknowledgement that there might not be enough voters who unconditionally believe in him, which is to say want to destroy Obamacare, roll back environmental regulations and separate and cage children when they try to enter the country with their migrant parents.
With suburban and even exurban voters in bellwether states fleeing Republicans and the president in droves, prosecutors kicking off the trial of Roger Stone by saying the longtime Trump adviser and WikiLeaks conduit lied "because the truth looked bad for Donald Trump," and public impeachment hearings beginning next week, the tide is running out for the president.  And Sean Spicer still can't dance.    

Sunday, November 03, 2019

The Impeachment Circle Game: If You Plant Ice, You're Gonna Harvest Wind

TALKING POINTS MEMO
Let us ponder on the cusp of House investigative hearings going prime time that the third impeachment of a president in U.S. history would not be imminent without the Blue Wave victories last November.  The midterm vote, which handed Democrats the sizable House majority that is propelling impeachment, was foremost a referendum on Donald Trump and he lost badly.  Incapable of changing his maleficent ways, let alone mounting a credible defense for his high crimes and misdemeanors, he still is losing badly.  If the end of the Trump Nightmare does not come after a Senate trial, it certainly will in a fairly contested election, and that loss will be all the more devastating because of the deserving albatross of impeachment. 
This circular sequence of events might seem obvious, but it is not.   
Had Trump, in all of his maleficent awfulness, not set out to steal the 2020 election through his extortionate Ukrainian scheme as he had in 2016 with the help of Russia's grand theft, an impeachment inquiry probably would not have commenced and a vote to impeach would have remained an abstraction and not a sure thing despite that Blue Wave bump.   
And had Trump's Ukraine scandal defense not been so awful, the Republican sycophancy in the House would not have backed themselves into a corner, forcing them to pull publicity stunts like a rodeo clown jumping up and down in front of a bull to try to let the thrown rider get away, as one pundit noted.  House Republicans now are compelled to play by the eminently fair, due process-based rules approved overwhelmingly by Democrats or be left whimpering on Trump's stonewall -- itself a likely article of impeachment in the form of obstruction of justice -- as a very public parade passes them by.   
Not a single House Republican joined all but two Democrats in supporting the resolution last Thursday outlining the next stage of impeachment proceedings despite having demanded such a vote, meaning that the accelerating impeachment inquiry will continue to be highly partisan.   
But this also means that the day of reckoning for obdurate Republicans is merely postponed. 
The evidence that Trump, with an assist from his consigliere Rudy Giuliani, subverted America's national security and the State Department for personal and political gain, denied Ukraine desperately needed military aid to fight Russian aggression and yet again did Vladimir Putin's bidding, keeps piling up, while behind the scenes some Republicans are said to be arguing privately that they should acknowledge the Ukraine quid pro quo while saying it was neither illegal nor impeachable.  
Then there is the Mueller report on the Russia scandal, which zombie-like keeps being resurrected.   
During Trump's infamous July 25 phone call with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, he again fixated on undermining the special counsel's work by asking him to dig up information that would advance the long-discredited conspiracy theory that the Democratic National Committee used Ukrainian server during the 2016 campaign.  This was moments before he laid out the scheme to deny aid and postpone the White House visit that Zelensky craved unless Ukraine publicly said the Bidens were being investigated.  
It was Paul Manafort, former Trump campaign chairman, who first floated the DNC-Ukraine theory, while Michael Flynn, Trump's short-lived national security adviser, tried to steer Mueller's investigators away from Russia as the source of damaging hacks against Democrats, according to newly released documents.    
On Thursday, lawyers for impeachment investigators returned to court to press a federal judge to compel former White House counsel Don McGahn to testify about Russia scandal-related events that were a prelude to the Ukraine scandal after another judge ruled earlier that the Justice Department had to turn over previously undisclosed Mueller grand jury materials to them.      
Trump, meanwhile, is giving up his lifelong residency in New York for Mar-a-Lago in Florida for tax purposes and because New York city and state officials have been really mean to him.  The comparison is not entirely apt, but recall that O.J. Simpson changed his residency from Los Angeles to Florida after he was acquitted of the Simpson-Goldman murders to protect his wealth from his victims' families. 
As the late Grateful Dead lyricist Robert Hunter wrote, if you plant ice you're gonna harvest wind.  Neither time nor the Constitution are on Republicans' side, let alone Trump.  The election may be a year away, but voters are noticing.