|STATE THEATER, NEWARK, DELAWARE (ca. 1980)|
Friday, December 20, 2019
Wednesday, December 11, 2019
|DREW ANGERER / GETTY IMAGES|
Now that Donald Trump has been whacked with two articles of impeachment, it is time to begin impeachment proceedings against his latter-day enabler, collaborator and partner in crime, Attorney General William Barr.
There have been bad attorneys general in the past. Edwin Meese and John Ashcroft come to mind, while an argument can be made that Janet Reno wasn't so hot. But no matter the era or the president, even the worst AGs took seriously their role as the nation's chief law enforcement officer. But Barr is so corrupt -- consistently siding with the president over his own staff and the FBI -- that Trump has used the cover he has provided him as permission to cheat at elections.
Barr's latest expedition into the dark side of servility is a whopper.
On Monday, the Department of Justice inspector general, Michael Horowitz, released the findings of his inquiry into the origins of the FBI's investigation into Trump's collusion with Russian to undermine the 2016 election, which eventually grew into the two-year investigation led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller. The Horowitz investigation had been demanded by congressional Republicans who bought into Trump's claims that he has been the victim of a "deep state" conspiracy to smear him with lies, which is kind of rich since he is being impeached for abusing the power of his office to try to smear a Democratic candidate with lies. (The other article of impeachment is contempt of Congress.)
Anyhow, Horowitz found absolutely no evidence of a conspiracy. There were some procedural issues with the Carter Page FISA warrant and such, but the IG concluded that the FBI acted properly in looking into Trump and his campaign.
Trump reacted to the Horowitz report by throwing one of his patented fits. And lying some more. He claimed the report shows that the investigation into him was "concocted" and that it "was an overthrow of government, this was an attempted overthrow -- and a lot of people were in on it."
These claims are, of course, literally the opposite of what the IG found, but he was backed up by Barr, who further fed Trump's autocratic delusions by throwing his own FBI employees under the bus in statements on Monday and Tuesday in falsely accusing them of starting the investigation "on the thinnest of suspicions" and then bizarrely claiming, in taking a page from his master's playbook, that "the evidence produced by the [Mueller] investigation was consistently exculpatory," which is to say Trump and his campaign did no wrong.
"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," Barr told NBC News. "I think there were gross abuses . . . and inexplicable behavior that is intolerable in the FBI."
In other words, Barr is absolving Trump of all blame although 34 people were indicted, seven pleaded guilty and five others were convicted. Mueller, who stopped short of calling for conspiracy charges to be filed against Trump after he leaves office, did find 10 instances were he obstructed of justice. And it's a safe bet that if Trump weren't protected by that invisible shield of executive privilege, he might already have joined his former lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen, his campaign manager Paul Manafort and his longest of longtime advisers Roger Stone, in prison.
Barr said the final and more thoroughly considered word would be that of John Durham, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, whom he hand-picked to perform a separate, criminal investigation into the origins of the Russia probe.
The AG told NBC News that Durham's review could reach an "important watershed" in the late spring or early summer, just as the presidential campaigns are intensifying.
Donald B. Ayer, who preceded Barr as deputy attorney general in the George H.W. Bush administration, warned that Barr "is bringing to bear, in all of his conduct here, a perspective on the law that the president is all-powerful and should be able to do pretty much whatever he wants. And I think we're not done yet. It seems likely that Barr will do some pretty bad things with whatever facts Durham finds, by viewing them through the lens of his twisted concept of executive power."
This is not mere partisan hackery.
Barr, in publicly accusing his own staff of screwing up while buying into sinister conspiracy theories, is sending the message that our right to free and fair elections has been abrogated. Which it has, but to hear the attorney general infer as much is an outrage, and all the more so because Trump's congressional allies have largely given up disputing the facts Barr continues trying to subvert.
There is only one way to hold Barr accountable even as Trump lays the groundwork for slithering off the impeachment hook after a Senate trial stemming from his efforts to fix the 2020 election. That would be articles of impeachment charging the attorney general with obstruction of justice and abuse of power.
Yeah, everybody's exhausted by all this shit. But Barr has to be stopped.
Monday, December 09, 2019
|CHRISTINA ANIMASHAUN / VOX|
These should be heady days for anyone who detests Donald Trump and what he has done to America. He is caught in a vise of incontrovertible evidence of innumerable high crimes and misdemeanors. House Democrats are moving expeditiously to file articles of impeachment after carefully building the case that he should be removed from office now because he is a present and continuing threat to our democracy. So why do I have the feeling that I am looking at a false dawn?
It is not that Trump will be acquitted at a Senate trial that he and his congressional sycophancy will try to turn into a circus.
It is not that Rudy Giuliani will continue to torment us with his schizophrenic ravings about deep-state conspiracies.
It is not that the president will reliably suck up to Vladimir Putin and otherwise show his fealty to our enemies.
It is not that he will continue to manipulate a mainstream media that remains clueless about how to honestly report on his lies and deceits.
Or that public opinion will have been little moved by trying to get rid of a president through impeachment for only the third time in our nation's history.
No, that sinking feeling comes from the fear that America already was broken before Trump became president (with an assist from Putin) and he has now broken it beyond repair.
This is not so much liberal tear jerking. It is a consequence of the knowledge that tribalism in all its destructive manifestations is destroying the guts of our democracy. That electing a new president and a Republican Party that comes to its senses after Republicans invited a pussy-grabbing reality TV star to wreck it -- both prayed for consequences of the great American pendulum swinging back to center -- may be welcome tonics for our dysfunctional political system but still won't cure what ails us.
Americans always have had an unjustifiably lofty view of their society, which is why they are able to look down their upturned noses as Tutsis beat up on Hutus in Rwanda, Serbs beat up on Croats in the Balkans, Shiites beat up on Sunnis in Iraq and Buddhists beat up on Muslims in Myanmar, to name just a few of the blood-soaked conflicts in recent history.
Americans believe they're beyond such tribalism, and indeed the Founding Fathers were determined to build a democracy where the individual was more important than the tribe. That failed spectacularly in a little dustup called the Civil War, and the biggest message underlying the election of Donald Trump is that it is still failing.
The message within that message as we slouch toward whatever Trump's fate may be -- if indeed he is fated -- is that he did not make America what it is. To the contrary, America made Trump president because of what it has become.
Those red state-blue state maps that are popping up everywhere as the most important election since the last most important election approaches are not merely graphic representations of the American body politic of recent years. They vividly and shockingly illustrate the parlous condition of our 240-year-old democracy.
A tribe of white voters predominate in red states in the rural interior. They are for the most part nationalist in outlook, evangelical and dominate the Republican Party.
A tribe of non-whites predominate in blue states on the coasts. They are for the most part are urbanized, global in outlook, less religious and dominate the Democratic Party.
But again, that is giving politics too much credit -- or blame, as it were.
Tribalism begins to destabilize a democracy when it calcifies into something bigger and more intense than our smaller loyalties such as our favorite sports team, pop star or brand of fast-food chicken sandwich. That destabilization, as pioneering blogger Andrew Sullivan has written, occurs when it rivals our attachment to the nation as a whole and tribes become enemies.
And that is where we are today despite the gauzy view of many pundits that all that the national car needs is an oil change.
It is convenient but inaccurate to suggest that tribalism evaporated after the Civil War and re-emerged only in the last several years as politics became so overtly tribal and hence divisive. In fact, tribalism never went away.
Tribalism merely was subsumed by waves of immigrants who were assimilated into society in the late 19th and early 20th centuries and then the two world wars, which acted as huge unifiers. In the case of World War II and the years following, blacks were integrated into the military, industry and society at large, and nearly 40 percent of black voters called themselves Republicans, the once proud party of Lincoln.
But by 1964, tribalism was back with a vengeance.
Barry Goldwater's presidential campaign drove most blacks away from the GOP and that re-racialization continued apace in the early 1970s with Richard Nixon's so-called Southern Strategy in response to the civil rights movement, Ronald Reagan's unflattering characterizations of poor blacks in the 1980s, and Republican Governor Pete Wilson's unapologetic loathing of the Latino immigrants pouring into California in the 1990s.
By the time the first red-blue maps appeared in the 2000 presidential race, abortion and gay rights had further split the two parties as holier-than-thou Republicans launched a series of culture wars and self-righteous Democrats were offended.
Behind the national electoral draw that year between Al Gore and George Bush were the two tribes so recognizable today, and the Supreme Court ruling handing the presidency to Bush ended -- probably forever -- the Founders' intention that the high court be nonpartisan, which is to say nontribal.
Then came 2008 and an even deeper tribal fracturing over race with the election of Barack Obama, the first African-American president, as well as the emergence of Fox News and the Internet and social media, both crucibles for right-wing extremism that underlie many of the horrific mass murders that have become the soundtrack of our country.
And on top of all that, Republicans and Democrats don't merely disagree with their opponents' views these days, they disagree angrily and sometimes in violent terms over the other tribe's values, each side claiming to be more loyal to mother, god and country than the other as emotion reliably supplants reason.
Can you say Brett Kavanaugh?
With the three core components of tribalism -- race, religion and geography -- defining the political parties, 2016 was bound to be a watershed election.
But little did we suspect that a profoundly unqualified narcissist, career crook, pathological liar and misogynist wearing a red Make America Great Again baseball cap who made vague promises to shake up Washington would face off against an eminently qualified, if flawed, woman who proudly wore a lifetime of public service on her sleeve and promised to build on the Obama legacy while bearing the scars of 30 years of virulent right-wing attacks.
Trump, of course, lost the popular vote but eked out an Electoral College victory over Hillary Clinton.
While the pernicious consequences of the Russian effort to sabotage the Clinton campaign cannot be underestimated, Trump built his backdoor victory on opportunism that caught liberals and pollster alike unaware. His claim that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and not lose the support of his followers lays bare a deep-rooted tribal animosity -- a toxic brew of fear and hate -- toward anyone who is not like them, as well as an addiction to the rhetorical extremism that is Trump's stock in trade.
Americans, at least those of us who care about such things when not arguing over whether the New England Patriots (pun intended) are the best team ever, have assumed that democracy was on autopilot.
That the worst excesses would sort themselves out as that political pendulum swung back and forth. That constitutional checks and balances would assure that the pendulum would return to center. That our capacity for moderation, compassion and forgiveness ran deeper than our baser instincts. That we would stop talking past each other and talk to each other.
But none of that took into account that beyond halcyon skies, amber waves of grain and purple mountain majesties above those enameled plains, we were members of tribes first and Americans second.
Having just read a great book (Bloodlands by Timothy Snyder) which chronicles the murders of millions of men, women and children by Stalin and Hitler before and during the Second World War in horrifying detail, I am convinced more than ever that tribalism is in human DNA. How else to explain what is happening in Poland, which suffered grievously under Stalin and Hitler a mere blink of the eye ago in the long arc of history, but is lurching to the right because of the siren call of fascism as if that bloody interregnum of mass murder of one's own people in the service of megalomania disguised as national destiny had never occurred?
This makes finding a way out of America's national nightmare all the more difficult because it would require closing the gap between our tribes, as well as changing or at least diluting the mutations of the political parties.
The revolution will not be televised because there isn't going to be one. And the impeachment of Donald Trump, as necessary as it is, will not begin to close that gap and probably will make it only wider.
Friday, December 06, 2019
|BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI / AFP-GETTY IMAGES|
The truth is the most precious commodity in a state run by an authoritarian, and so it has been in the Age of Donald Trump. Look no further than the president's resident sage, Rudy Giuliani, who has proudly declared "truth isn't truth." So when the truth does out, as it has in the case of John Durham, who has perhaps inadvertently delivered something of a twofer for the forces of good, that is cause for both celebration and concern.
Trump's long-propounded claim that copiously document proof of Russian efforts to meddle in the 2016 election was all a big hoax has been central to his assault on the truth, as has more recently been that lie's wicked stepbrother, that it actually was Ukraine who meddled.
Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, privately asked Connecticut U.S. Attorney Durham, who has been carrying out Attorney General William Barr's so-called review of the origins of the FBI's investigation into Russian election interference and the Trump's campaign involvement in it for a forthcoming report. Inconveniently for Trump and Barr (Horowitz is genuinely independent and doesn't have a horse in the race), Durham has found that the basis of the investigation was legitimate, according to news reports.
The cause for celebration is obvious, while the cause for concern is less immediately apparent until you understand that Barr's exertions, whether whitewashing the Mueller report or trying to prop up Trump's big lie by calling in Durham, are all the evidence you need that the constitutional experts called by House Democrats this week are correct when they say impeachment proceedings must continue apace because Trump poses a present and continuing threat to our democracy.
Look no further than the Ukraine scandal in which the president tried to extort a foreign leader into helping him rig the 2020 election as the Russians did in 2016, and you understand that it is a dead certainty that he will continue using the levers of government to corrupt it on his behalf.
Speaking of present and continuing threats, look no further than Giuliani himself.
The sociopathic ringleader of Trump's Ukraine shakedown has traveled to Budapest and Kiev where he is meeting with shadowy Ukrainian figures to keep trying to build the thoroughly debunked case that Joe Biden and his son acted corruptly in Ukraine. Giuliani is participating in the filming of a fake "documentary" designed to make that narrative seem true. Yes, Giuliani is still trying to achieve the same goals that drove the corrupt plot for which Trump is being impeached back in Washington.
The integral element of Trump's continuing misconduct is Russia.
"Russia. It's about Russia," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday in announcing that she had instructed investigators to begin drafting articles of impeachment. "All roads lead to Putin. Understand that."
Indeed, Russia was the beneficiary of Trump's decision to withhold nearly $400 million in military aid unless Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky danced to his tune.
Two dates are especially important here in the context of Trump's relationship with Russia and his snarling unrepentedness.
On July 24, Robert Mueller delivered a muted but still powerful condemnation of Russia's interference in the 2016 election with the Trump campaign's willing help, as well as Trump's multiple efforts to obstruct the special counsel's investigation, in an appearance before three congressional committees where he was grilled about his report on the Russia scandal.
On July 25, an obviously unchastened Trump rang up Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to tell him he would have to interfere in the 2020 election by announcing a corruption investigation into the Bidens and play along in acknowledging that it was Ukraine and not Russia who hacked all those Democratic emails in 2016 if he wanted that military aid, let alone a coveted White House visit.
Pelosi's House Democrats are now considering including articles of impeachment that address Trump's ties to Moscow as detailed in the Mueller report and the president's efforts to shut down or curtail the special counsel's investigation. These probably would include obstruction of justice in addition to three articles stemming from the Ukraine scandal -- abuse of power, obstruction of Congress and possibly bribery.
I had preferred that the articles be confined to the Ukraine scandal in the service of keeping things simple, but that was shortsighted. We have only one chance to impeach the most corrupt president in American history, a monster who has committed -- and in whose name his minions have committed -- an array of offenses so staggeringly immense and evil that it still is almost impossible to grasp the scope. So we need to pile on.
I write this knowing that not even impeachment is likely to curtail the present and continuing threat of Trump, but we have to take that shot. The evidence is overwhelming. Waiting for the November 2020 election is not an option, obsessing about whether impeachment might make Democratic candidates more vulnerable in swing districts is a waste of time, and while Don McGahn, Mick Mulvaney, Mike Pompeo and others should be compelled to testify, waiting interminably for court rulings is not an option.
As Pelosi recognizes, we have to take that shot now. For history and for America.
Thursday, December 05, 2019
(A REGRETTABLY ANNUAL SUBMISSION.)
So there you are approaching your 73nd year floating merrily down the stream, needing to reach for the paddle only occasionally, while filling bird feeders and trying to stay on your feet in the winter and weeding vegetables and working on your tan in the summer, making sure there are plenty of dog treats in your pocket and that your True Love has fresh cut flowers no matter the season, keeping your hand in the writing game with a blog post here and a book there, when the phone rings.
"Our old friend So and So is dead," the caller says solemnly.
Far too much of that going on. But at the risk of seeming maudlin, my thoughts turn to friends departed with the waning of the year, and I'd like to remember them:
Patrice Adams, Susie Ambry, Bob Andrews, Lou Angeli, Billy Burger, Beth Gulledge Bailey, Nancy Bennett, Ralph Borgess, Becky Buckson, David Carruthers, Jasmine Clower, Terry Cousins, Michael Crowley, Joe Cunane, Dale Dallabrida, Paul Damico, Tom Daniels, Eddie Day, Mark Delmerico, John DiGiovanni, Robert Mapes Dodge Jr., Bob Dorough, Jeff Duperon, Doug Eppes, Andy Ercole, Nick Fallon, John Felton, Larry Fenza, Bill Fleishman, Michael Frettoloso, Charlie Gibb, Andy Goessling, John Gregg, Steve Gregg, Bob Grimm, Brad Grimm, Willie Hemphill, Vic Holveck, Brenda Ireland, Redz Ireland, Darryl Ray Jenkins, Bill Jennings, Vic Karakul, Dave Kibler, Pattie Kibler, Shannon Kibler, Jerry Kirk, Wendy Knoedler, K. J. Linhein, Jim McCarthy, David McCloud, Michael McDyre, Muggs McGinnis, Donna Manning, Joe Mauro, Larry Michele, Dorothy Miller, Collette Molloy, Tom Molyneux, Dorothy Munroe, Alan Murphy, Larry Newbold, David O'Brien, Mario Pazzaglini, Dale Peck, Prairie Weather, Doug Prior, Debby Roberts, Vic Sadot, Paul Salcido, Rochelle Samuels, Frank Scarpitti, Mark Scherer, Rob Schmitt, John Southard, Bob Stewart, Paul Storm, Genny Porter Swan, Alan Teel, Mary Slaughter Tuke, Nick Tuke, Ed Wesolowski, Bill Windley.
Folks who passed since this was last posted in December 2018 are in boldface. Please forgive any omissions and let me know who I might have missed by emailing me at email@example.com.
If I could take only one song with me to that proverbial desert island, it would be "Into the Mystic" by Van Morrison. It has been a steady companion since I bought his great Moondance album in 1970. A snippet of the lyric:§
We were born before the wind
Also younger than the sun
Ere the bonnie boat was won
As we sailed into the mystic
Hark, now hear the sailors cry
Smell the sea and feel the sky
Let your soul and spirit fly
Into the mystic
And when that fog horn blows
I will be coming home, mmm mmm
And when the fog horn blows
I want to hear it
I don't have to fear it . . .
Too late to stop now
"Into the Mystic" -- the words and melody ethereally flowing together as one -- is about a spiritual quest. (I know that’s true because Wikipedia told me so.) But over the years the song has become much more -- an affirmation of life for me, and I would like to think for my generation, as well, should we choose to embrace its sentiments, an anthem of lives lived as we float down that stream, merrily or otherwise, after leaving this mortal coil.
"To be Irish is to know that in the end the world will break your heart," said the late great Daniel Patrick Moynihan, although life and death do not, of course, discriminate according to race, nationality, creed or gender.
I am honored that my path intersected with friends departed, and I am a better person because it did. The fog horn has blown for them and they will be coming home.
It is indeed too late to stop now.
Tuesday, December 03, 2019
|SUSAN WALSH / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS|
It is a huge moment when Democrats and Republicans actually agree on something of substance: They now agree that in an effort spearheaded by Rudy Giuliani, Donald Trump forced out the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine and then pushed Kiev to announce investigations into his political rivals. But it is there, as the president's impeachment enters its penultimate phase in the House, that any agreement ends. Democrats believe that extraordinary series of events were criminal and demand Trump's removal while Republicans say he did nothing wrong.
Given the Alice in Wonderland aspect of other Republican defenses of the president, this acknowledgement of the facts of the matter, such as they are, is a Democratic tactical victory on a watershed day in only the fourth presidential impeachment inquiry in U.S. history.
In the face of a deeply damning House Intelligence Committee report made public on Tuesday by committee chairman Adam Schiff that concluded the president put politics ahead of the national interest in an effort to tilt the outcome of the 2020 election, Trump's congressional sycophancy has tacitly acknowledged that the best defense is to simply say that there is nothing wrong with that.
There was nothing wrong with Trump leveraging nearly $400 million in military assistance to fight Russian aggression and an Oval Office meeting with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in exchange for investigations of a former vice president and 2020 adversary, and his son. There was nothing wrong with Devin Nunes, the ranking Intel Committee Republican and purveyor of the most outlandish of conspiracy theories, working with Giuliani by trying to foist on Ukrainian government officials the debunked notion that Ukraine not Russia meddled in the 2016 election. Okay, Russia might have meddled, but Ukraine did the same thing, acknowledge some Republicans. And there was nothing wrong with the White House withholding documents and ordering prospective witnesses not to cooperate with Congress.
In the starkest of terms, the Intel Committee report concludes that "The founding fathers prescribed a remedy for a chief executive who places his personal interests above those of the country: impeachment."
It asserts that Trump's "scheme subverted U.S. foreign policy toward Ukraine and undermined our national security in favor of two politically motivated investigations that would help his presidential re-election campaign."
Left unsaid is that Trump was brazenly supporting Russia by undercutting Ukraine.
The report, based on more than two months of sometimes searing testimony, much of it from administration officials who defied the president, now goes to the House Judiciary Committee, which on Wednesday began holding its own hearings in the run-up to deciding what the articles of impeachment should be. The first three witnesses were constitutional scholars who said the president's conduct in the Ukraine scandal alone warrants his removal from office.
The articles will likely include abuse of power, obstruction of Congress and possibly bribery, but although Democrats control the House and have the votes to impeach, they are divided as to whether to include articles beyond the Ukraine scandal that were outlined in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report on the Russia scandal. These potentially include obstruction of justice and other "high crimes."
If the Democrats continue to fast-track the proceedings, an impeachment vote is possible before the Christmas holiday with a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts commencing in January.
The developments further tie together the Russia and Ukraine scandals.
As 2018 drew to a close, Mueller had secured the cooperation of Giuliani's predecessor, Michael Cohen, longest of longtime Trump advisers Roger Stone was about to be indicted, and Trump's former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, was in jail after pleading guilty to multiple felonies, where Mueller's prosecutors were pressing him to explain why he had given presidential polling data to an associate with alleged ties to Russian intelligence.
It was in this moment of crisis, writes Rosalind Helderman in The Washington Post, that Giuliani hit upon the idea of focusing on Ukraine to take the heat off Trump, and the campaign to vilify the Bidens and blame Ukraine for 2016 election meddling was born. That is beyond dispute; Giuliani himself admits as much.
Trump's Republican congressional allies had released their own report on Monday condemning the impeachment effort as illegitimate and asserting that the president was not seeking personal political advantage, but was instead urging Ukraine to address corruption.
"I knew they were hot and heavy on this Russian collusion thing, even though I knew 100 percent that it was false," Giuliani recently told conservative broadcaster Glenn Beck. "I said to myself, 'Hallelujah.' I've got what a defense lawyer always wants: I can go prove someone else committed this crime."
Ultimately, Mueller would find that Moscow's efforts to interfere in the 2016 campaign were "sweeping and systematic," but that the evidence he was able to get despite White House resistance could not establish that the Trump campaign conspired with Russia. But in one of the more delicious ironies in presidential history, Giuliani set out to defend the president against the possibility of impeachment and instead helped create the basis for impeachment.
And there is another irony: Despite Trump's stonewalling, the House Democrats' strongest evidence came directly from the White House in the form of chief of staff Mick Mulvaney's disastrous admission there was a quid pro quo and the testimony of other administration officials.
Giuliani is now the subject of several investigations, while phone records obtained by the Intel Committee reveal that he and Lev Parnas, one of his indicted Ukrainian associates, exchanged a flurry of phone calls with Nunes amid Giuliani's effort to dig up dirt on the Bidens, while Giuliani called the White House repeatedly on the day that Ukraine ambassador Marie Yovanovitch was abruptly ordered to return to Washington.
The president, in Europe for the 70th anniversary of the NATO alliance, savaged Schiff as "deranged" and "sick," yet again accused Democrats of trying to overturn the results of the 2016 elections through an impeachment inquiry he said "turned out to be a hoax."
"It's done for purely political gain," Trump said. "They're going to see whether or not they can do something in 2020 because otherwise they’re going to lose."
|PHOTO ILLUSTRATION BY SEAN McCABE / VANITY FAIR|
Has there ever been a major American political scandal that came with its own roadmap?
The Teapot Dome was long hiding in plain view, while the dots in Watergate, from third-rate burglary to Richard Nixon's constitutional perfidy, remained unconnected for two years. But in the case of the Russia scandal, there was the Steele dossier, a series of blockbuster memos that not only laid out the collusion between Moscow and Donald Trump's presidential campaign in detail, but did so practically as it was unfolding and Trump and his sycophancy were beginning their long campaign to vilify, misrepresent and try to bury it.
That campaign to characterize the dossier as a phony product of Democratic hired guns trying to shame Trump has been unrelenting. And so the dossier has never really been out of the news, most recently as part of the House Republican effort to divert and distract during impeachment hearings. (Then there is Trump lawn ornament William Barr. The attorney general is reportedly privately saying that he disagrees with his own inspector general on one of the key findings in an upcoming report — that the FBI had enough information in July 2016 to justify launching an investigation into members of the Trump campaign.)
Devin Nunes, who led the at times hallucinogenic but desperate effort to defend the indefensible as ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Community, has tried to counter especially incriminating Ukraine scandal testimony by bringing up the dossier, as if to say -- and it's exactly what he was saying -- "yeah, but that Steele dossier. That Steele dossier was part of the plot to keep Trump from being elected in 2016."
The dossier is now very much back in the news because of the timely publication of Crime in Progress: Inside the Steele Dossier and the Fusion GPS Investigation of Donald Trump by Glenn Simpson and Peter Fritsch.
Simpson and Fritsch, former Wall Street Journal investigative reporters and co-founders of the private-investigative firm Fusion GPS, hired former British MI6 spy Christopher Steele to research Trump's ties to Russia during the 2016 campaign, and despite the fact that it's most salacious finding -- the fabled pee tape -- has never surfaced, they affirm that the 17 memos that made up the 35-page dossier were substantially accurate.
"A spy whose sources get it 70 percent right is considered to be one of the best," Simpson and Fritsch write in noting that in his very first report in June, 2016, Steele warned that Russian election meddling was "endorsed by [Vladimir] Putin" and "supported and directed" by him to "sow discord and disunity with the United States itself but more especially within the Transatlantic alliance. . . . Putin wasn't merely seeking to create a crisis of confidence in democratic elections. He was actively pulling strings to destroy Hillary Clinton and elect Donald Trump."
Although the FBI's investigation into Trump campaign officials commenced in July 2016, it took the U.S. intelligence community as a whole six months to conclude that Putin was helping the upstart Republican candidate, while in September 2019 U.S. officials confirmed that the CIA had a spy deep inside the Kremlin who was providing information confirming Steele's reporting. All of which should effectively debunk the notion that the dossier contains disinformation fed to Steele by Russian intelligence. One official who isn't convinced is Russia expert Fiona Hill, late of the National Security Council, who warned that the dossier was a "rabbit hole" during her testimony before House impeachment investigators.
Many journalists were skeptical of the dossier and some, in my view, downright jealous even if most of them have come around.
Crime in Progress raises yet more questions about Robert Mueller's investigation. While praising Mueller for his documentation of more than 14o contacts between the Trump campaign and Russians and returning 34 indictments, including six in Trump's inner circle, they criticize the special counsel for failing to heed the main lesson of Watergate -- to follow the money.
They note there is no indication in Mueller's final report (the unwhitewashed version) that he looked at Trump's taxes and debts, his curious relationship with Deutsche Bank and long history of financing real estate projects with foreign cash, often of Russian origin, which is precisely where Putin's long suspected leverage in the form of "dirt" on Trump most likely occurred.
Simpson and Fritsch believe that one effect of the dossier has been to trap Trump in an alternate universe.
"To undermine the well-established fact that Russia corrupted the 2016 vote to help him win, Mr. Trump and his allies have tried to build a fiction that pins those crimes on Ukraine," they write in a New York Times op-ed. "In doing so, he has confirmed our darkest fears. The president's bid to solicit foreign help to impugn a domestic political rival in 2019 should wipe away any doubts about his willingness to do the same with Russian help in 2016."
This "balancing act" has been hiding in plain view.
The president's proxies, notably Rudy Giuliani, have sought to tar Joe Biden and son while reinventing what happened in 2016 to switch the blame for the election meddling that Mueller documented from Moscow to Kiev.
Despite the claims of Nunes and other "deep state" conspiracy acolytes, none of Steele's intelligence came from Ukrainian sources. Where Ukraine does come into play is with former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort, who was brought on board the campaign despite -- or more likely because of -- his long history of advising a pro-Moscow Ukrainian president and lobbying for Oleg Deripaska and other mobbed-up Russian oligarchs close to Putin who wanted a piece of the action in Ukraine.
Okay, so Steele mostly got it right.
But given the deeply divisive time in which a monster rules and we struggle, the real impact of his dossier will be as an invaluable document when the definitive histories of Donald Trump as candidate and president are written.
Sunday, December 01, 2019
This just in: The noose is tightening around Donald Trump's neck!
That news flash would have been appropriate on virtually any day over the past year as the breathtaking extent of the president's corruption has become known. And that was before the impeachable abuse-of-power cum bribery lollapalooza known as the Ukraine scandal reared its ugly head.
I daresay the noose will continue to tighten, but even with impeachment and a Senate trial looming, there will be no immediate consequence as one conspiracy theory after another is floated by his Republican congressional sycophancy in defense of the Chosen One and lapped up like it was mother's milk in the Fox News echo chamber, the White House stonewall remains substantially unbreached, and Trump's rampage against democracy and decency continues pretty much unchecked.
It is worth noting two important dates in the context of Trump's snarling unrepentedness.
On July 24, Robert Mueller delivered a muted but still powerful condemnation of Russia's interference in the 2016 election with the Trump campaign's willing help, as well as Trump's multiple efforts to obstruct the special counsel's investigation, in an appearance before three congressional committees. On July 25, an obviously unchastened Trump rang up Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to tell him he would have to interfere in the 2020 election by announcing a corruption investigation into Joe Biden and son and play along in acknowledging that it was Ukraine and not Russia who hacked all those Democratic emails in 2016 if he wanted nearly $400 million in desperately needed military aid to fight Russian aggression, let alone a coveted White House visit.
This just in! The noose is tightening around Donald Trump's neck!
Do you feel my frustration? Of course you do when you awaken each day to new revelations that further confirm Trump as the most corrupt president in history, but he dances away -- okay, lumbers away is a better description -- from Democratic congressional subpoenas, court defeats over his tax and accounting records and investigative reporting blockbusters, and continues to lie and cover up, tweet profanities, attack enemies with a special venom reserved for women who cross him, wreak havoc anew, and bellow "absolute immunity!" at every turn.
So Trump the malignant narcissist, for whom the concept of compromise is not a venerable American political tradition but a goblet of curare, keeps having terrible no good very bad weeks. The two weeks in November when Gordon Sondland and Fiona Hill, among others, eviscerated his lame-ass Ukraine scandal defenses are perfect examples, but the upshot was that he got a modest bump in the polls.
This just in! The noose is tightening around Donald Trump's neck.
There seems to be no limit to the ways Trump spins his defense. It's called creative lying.
As ludicrous as the assertion is, he now claims that personal lawyer-fixer Rudy Giuliani was acting independently in Ukraine and was not the go-to guy in the Zelensky extortion scheme.
"So you didn’t direct him to go to Ukraine to do anything or put any heat on them?" the ever obsequious Bill O'Reilly asked.
"No, I didn’t direct him," Trump replied to the Fox News commentator. "But he’s a warrior. Rudy’s a warrior. Rudy went. He possibly saw something.”
Sondland, of course, testified to what was widely understood. Giuliani was the president's proxy and everything had to go through him, while Giuliani publicly and unhesitatedly presented himself as acting on the president's behalf. And Trump told Zelensky in his July 25 call, "I will ask him [Giuliani] to call you along with the attorney general. Rudy very much knows what's happening and he is a very capable guy."
If this particular lie has a familiar ring, it is because Trump used a similar argument in trying to distance himself from Giuliani's predecessor, the now imprisoned Michael Cohen. When it became obvious that Cohen was Trump's bagman in several illicit ventures, he asserted that Cohen was freelancing and wiped his hands of him.
This just in! The noose is tightening around Donald Trump's neck.
Trump keeps winning despite losing, which begs the question of what can be done to get him the hell out of Washington without waiting for his likely defeat in the November 2020 election?
The short answer is to keep doing what we're doing, only more so. As deeply unsatisfying as that answer may seem, keeping on keeping on has merit.
The fast-track march toward drafting articles of impeachment later this month is crucial even if we anticipate an unsatisfactory outcome after a Senate trial.
In the meantime, Trump has been informed by Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, that he has a Friday deadline to inform him whether he intends to mount a defense during the committee’s consideration of impeachment articles, including presenting evidence and calling witnesses. Trump has not replied, but his lawyers have expressed deep skepticism about participating in a process the president has vilified as a "hoax."
The 2020 election may hinge on turnout, so registering to vote and organizing others to do so is hugely important, especially in states where Republican incumbents may be vulnerable. That includes Mitch McConnell.
Finally, we have to keep the faith. That means that we cannot postpone the president's reckoning. We have to keep questioning. We have to keep confronting. And most importantly, we have to keep caring.