“There Is No Bottom”

There is no bottom…,”  Nicolle Wallace — an MSNBC anchor and former Republican operative — tweeted more than a year ago in reference to President Donald Trump.

Ivanka Trump

Monday night this week, news broke of Ivanka Trump using a private email account for government business. A big story, right? So it seemed. But, in the time of President Donald Trump, it was the biggest story for only a few hours. Other events soon superseded Ivanka Trump’s email story, such as a statement from the president indicating the United States under Trump does not care that a journalist who was a legal resident of this country was murdered brutally on orders of a foreign nation. But, wait, more was to come that Tuesday: A presidential condemnation of a federal judge followed by reports Trump once contemplated prosecuting former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey.

Nicolle Wallace

Nicolle Wallace is right: There is no bottom in the Trump era. Big and outrageous stories pile up, with each one overwhelming the previous outrage. In normal times — two years ago — a story like the Ivanka Trump’s emails would have dominated the news cycle for days, if not weeks. No more! Now, it was just Monday evening’s prelude to Tuesday’s gob-smacking news.

Where to start? The president’s statement on Saudi Arabia and the murder of Jamal Khashoggi may be the most outrageous event of all because it is an utter betrayal of American values. The United States once stood for decency, democracy, and the rule of law. America often did not live up to its values, and other nations might resent preachy Americans telling them what to do, but, for millions of people living in poverty and oppression, America was a beacon. Now, American policy is for sale to the highest bidder. In his statement, our transactional president declared that it does not matter what heinous crimes Saudi Arabia commits as long as it honors promises to buy billions of dollars of military equipment from the United States. In the Trump era, the message is clear: Those with enough money can get away with murder. 

President Donald Trump with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman

In his crude statement — punctuated with flourishes of Trumpian exclamation points — the president, once again, indicated his preference for tyrants. As he has with Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump willfully disregarded the findings of the U.S. intelligence community to justify his support for a brutal autocrat who ordered the murder of a critic. In this case, the CIA concluded — with “high confidence” — that Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman ordered Khashoggi’s assassination. Trump apparently knows better, writing in his statement, “It could very well be that the Crown Prince had knowledge of this tragic event.” But, then again, “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.”

In true Trumpian fashion, the president self-servingly declared the truth of the matter is irrelevant: “We may never know all of the facts surrounding the murder.” Wrong again, Mr. President. The truth of the Khashoggi murder is not only knowable, it is known. The CIA possesses audio recordings of the journalist’s murder — which Trump has declined to hear — as well as evidence of phone calls from the killers to close aides of the crown prince.

Jamal Khashoggi

Trump goes further: He actually does the crown prince’s dirty work by citing Saudi sources who called Khashoggi an “enemy of the state” (sound familiar?) and a member of the banned Muslim Brotherhood. Mohammed bin Salman made those allegations in a phone call to the White House, but the Saudi regime was so embarrassed when reports of the accusation leaked that it denied the smear. Trump has no such embarrassment!

In a rational world, I would devote this entire blog post to Trump’s outrageous statement on Khashoggi. Actually, that is not true; in a rational world, none of this would have happened. But, this is the world of Donald Trump, and I cannot ignore the other unseemly events of the week. According to The New York Times, Trump told the White House counsel Don McGahn last spring that he wanted to order the Justice Department to prosecute Clinton and Comey. McGahn convinced Trump that he lacked authority to do so and that any attempt could result in impeachment. The incident underscores the extent to which the president believes the Justice Department is a tool he can wield against enemies. It is another indication that Trump views America as a banana republic in which political opponents are prosecuted, and it demonstrates his vindictiveness. Clinton, after all, lost, a result for which Comey arguably is responsible. Comey’s reopening of the investigation into Clinton’s emails mere days before the 2016 election may have tipped enough votes Trump’s way. The extremely narcissistic Trump probably believes a prosecution would obscure Comey’s role in the election. Do not be surprised if Trump raises the issue of prosecuting political opponents again, only now his sounding board in the administration would be the sycophantic acting attorney general, Matt Whitaker.

President Trump shaking hands with Chief Justice John Roberts

Finally, though nothing is ever final with Trump, there is the presidential attack on the independent judiciary. Trump referred to ”an Obama judge” after a ruling by a district judge against the administration’s asylum policy. Trump’s attack on the independence of the judiciary brought a quick, stern, and rare rebuke from Chief Justice John Roberts.  “We do not have Obama judges or Trump judges, Bush judges or Clinton judges,” Roberts said in a statement. Trump has attacked the judiciary before: During the 2016 presidential campaign he claimed Judge Gonzalo Curiel had a conflict of interest in overseeing a case against Trump University because the judge is of Mexican heritage. Trump also referred to a “so-called judge” after a jurist ruled against the administration’s Muslim travel ban. The latest presidential attack on the judiciary finally appears to have riled the chief justice, who now finds himself in a public spat with the president. Trump, of course, does not let any criticism go unanswered, so he tweeted, “Sorry Chief Justice John Roberts, but you do indeed have ‘Obama judges,’ and they have a much different point of view than the people who are charged with the safety of our country.” Advice to Trump: Tread carefully here! The chief justice presides over the Senate trial of impeached presidents.

The outrages multiply with dizzying and sickening speed. Trump continued ranting on Thanksgiving Day about the CIA’s findings on the Khashoggi murder, Clinton and her emails, court decisions with which he disagrees, and other controversial topics in a phone call to troops overseas  and a question-and-answer session with reporters. There seems no end and “no bottom,” as Nicolle Wallace put it. What next? A new Democratic House in January will investigate all this and more, likely making Trump feel more trapped and in danger. He will lash out. The only loser is our democratic institutions, which may never recover.

Oh, yes, as for Ivanka Trump, she defended her use of a personal email account by claiming she did not understand the rules. Really? Ignorant of the rules after her father eviscerated Hillary Clinton during the campaign for doing the same thing? Can Ivanka Trump be that dumb?

No, there is a better explanation: The Trumps, father and daughter (and the elder sons), believe the rules do not apply to them.

Posted November 23, 2018

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