Tag Archives: Donald Trump Jr.

It Is Time to Use the “F” Word

Picture by Hilary Stone Ginsberg

The “F” word — as in fascism.

Former president Donald Trump has crossed the line from a nationalist and so-called populist to a full-fledged fascist. And, much of the Republican political establishment and millions of his followers have joined him in his assault on democracy and his quest for permanent power.

That goal — permanent power — is the essence of fascism. Certainly, fascism meant different things in different countries. In Italy, where the concept was born under the aegis of Benito Mussolini, fascism equalled “corporatism,” the idea that individualism gave way to associations, “corporations,” to which citizens gave their loyalty and those associations undergirded the state. The German Nazi Party adopted some of the ideas of Italian fascism, but it stressed the the will of the charismatic leader, der Führer, coupled with anti-Semitism and a belief in violence as a social palliative. Other fascist movements coopted some of the ideas of Italian and German fascism while adding other elements. 

But, the common unifying theme for all fascist movements is the quest for permanent power and the abandonment of existing democratic liberties. Fascism appeals to its followers by stressing community decline and victimhood while working with traditional elites who believe — erroneously — that they can control the putative fascist dictator. For fascists, elections are irrelevant. Fascists participate in electoral politics as a means to achieve their ends. Remember, Adolf Hitler came to power in Germany through the ballot box. Once in power, fascists either rig elections or refuse to conduct them.  

Donald Trump’s fascistic impulse is evident in his attempts to overthrow the results of the 2020 presidential election. In this, the Republican Party is a willing participant. We should not be naïve and believe the only election at stake is the last one. Trump and his followers are determined to bring into disrepute the whole concept of democratic electoral politics. Last November’s presidential contest is only the starting point. Republicans throughout the nation are trying to undermine free and fair elections by purging voting rolls of those groups most likely to oppose the GOP, making it difficult for some to vote, and by giving inordinate power to Republican elected officials to determine the outcome of elections. Republican political leaders — who justify their assault on democracy by endorsing Trump’s “Big Lie” of a stolen election — are paving the way for the rise of an authoritarian, fascistic leader who will no longer hold meaningful elections.

Trump lacks a coherent political philosophy. His only guiding principle is self-aggrandizement. I am not even sure if Trump enjoyed being president. But, he detests losing. And, he appears to love the adulation of the crowd as well as those around him. The worst epithet in Trump’s limited vocabulary is calling an opponent a “loser.” Stressing the “Big Lie” allows Trump to present himself not as a loser, but as a victim of the “Deep State” and power elites who frustrated the will of the people. 

Millions follow Trump because of fascism’s traditional offer of hope to the disaffected. If Trump is out of power because of the machinations of others, then those suffering declining political power, economic peril, or a perceived loss of social status are similarly victims of a government they believe no longer works for them and of other people who manipulate the system to their advantage: Jews in Germany, immigrants, Muslims, and Blacks in Trump’s America.  As the novelist V.S. Naipaul observed about Argentina’s Juan Perón and his movement, “Peronism could offer hate as hope.” Sound familiar?

Fascism extols political violence. With the possible exception of the ”Redeemers” after Reconstruction (White southerners who used violence to undo the rights won by the formerly enslaved), violent anti-government movements in the United States have always been at the political fringes. Other violent domestic groups, the Weather Underground of the 1960s, the Ku Klux Klan of the Civil Rights era, Puerto Rican nationalists, and pro-German sympathizers in the 1930s were never going to seize power. But, today, those who approve violence as a means to achieve political ends are not a small minority of the American body politic.

A poll taken shortly after the January 6 insurrection at the Capitol found that 45 percent of Republicans backed the rioters. A Twitter thread that argues the January 6 protestors were right to believe that Trump was cheated in the election and justified to use violence to right that wrong received the endorsement of Donald Trump, Jr. and was read on Fox News by Tucker Carlson. This is the same Tucker Carlson, by the way, who is spending this week cozying up to Hungary’s autocratic leader, Viktor Orbán.

The “Big Lie” is Trump’s functional equivalent of Hitler’s stab-in-the-back myth — the idea the German Army did not lose World War I but was betrayed by Jews and weak politicians at home. Similarly, the January 6 unsuccessful coup becomes either analogous to Hitler’s failed Beer Hall Putsch in 1923 and/or the Reichstag fire, the Nazi pretext for the total seizure of power in 1933. Most dispiriting of all is the elevation of insurrectionist Ashli Babbitt into a martyr reminiscent of Horst Wessel, whose shooting death at the hands of Communists in 1930 became a cause célèbre for the Nazis. 

Babbitt was slain as she stormed the door in the Capitol that protected members of Congress. Trump called her an “innocent, wonderful, incredible woman” and her co-insurrectionists “great people.” Trump even suggested that Babbitt had been shot by the personal-security detail for a high-ranking member of Congress. “I’ve heard also that it was the head of security for a certain high official. A Democrat. It’s gonna come out,” he said. Trump probably has no idea who Horst Wessel was, but he is engaging in the same manipulation of events the Nazis used on their way to power. 

In 1933, leading German politicians, not themselves Nazis, and members of Germany’s economic elite abetted Hitler’s rise to power because they believed they could control the Nazi leader for their own purposes. They were wrong, as Benjamin Carter Hett shows in The Death of Democracy: Hitler’s Rise to Power and the Downfall of the Weimar Republic. Many of those conservative politicians soon fell victim to the Nazi regime they helped install. Equally wrong are all those Republican politicians and big-money backers of the “Big Lie” who believe they can control Trump and the movement Trump has unleashed. They may learn when the fascists come to power — Trump or someone after him — that only the true believers are safe. And, when that lesson is learned, it will be too late to seek redemption at the polls because those political leaders will have aided — inadvertently or not — the new American fascist dictator in the destruction of the nation’s electoral system.

Posted August 6, 2021

Ignore the Distractions

Look over here! No, over there! What do you see? A murky charge, a fleeting accusation, a hazy suggestion?

That is the game President Donald Trump and his sycophantic Republican allies are playing. They want you, the public, to look everywhere and at everything — but not at the numbers: more than 1.5 million cases of COVID-19 in the United States and more than 93,000 deaths, plus an unemployment rate approaching 20 percent. 

The name of the game: Distraction. Any distraction will do, no matter how outrageous or preposterous, just so the public does not see the bright shiny object of Trump’s epic failure: Morbidity and mortality in the United States far in excess of any other country’s totals and an economy in shambles.

Trump makes noise, so much noise that the important sounds are muffled. The noise can be anything, other than the important facts of the day: The pandemic numbers and the economic disaster. Noise — which mystifies and is chaotic — serves Trump’s purposes.

The biggest noise these days: “Obamagate.”  Trump cannot define it because it is undefinable. It is also outrageous since former President Barack Obama ran just about as squeaky clean an administration as possible. It was certainly the cleanest in recent memory. But, the undefinable nature of “Obamagate” suits Trump’s purpose. If there were a clear accusation, Democrats could counter, and the allegation and denial would occupy a news cycle or two. Without anything specific, the news media and public speculate for days as to what the Obama administration may have done. One news cycle bleeds into two or three or four, and all the time less attention is paid to the real scandal: The Trump administration’s abject failure to confront the pandemic and ease the economic collapse.

Wednesday, Trump’s Senate lackeys entered the game. His Republican allies reopened an inquiry into the connection between likely Democratic nominee Joe Biden’s son and the Ukrainian energy company, Burisma. Trump’s efforts to involve the Ukrainian government in the coming November presidential election by having Kyiv dig up dirt on the Bidens led to Trump’s impeachment. Anyone paying even hazy attention to the impeachment proceedings knows there was nothing corrupt in Hunter Biden’s work for Burisma and that Trump’s guilt was not only evident, but confessed. But, Senate Republicans, lacking courage (Mitt Romney of Utah excepted), ignored the facts and acquitted the president.

The facts of the impeachment inquiry apparently are no deterrence to determined Senate Republicans on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, which subpoenaed documents relating to Biden and Burisma. It smacks of House Republicans’ futile Benghazi addiction, where they tried, unsuccessfully, through countless probes costing millions of dollars, to turn a tragedy into a crime. The truth about Benghazi was never the quarry. The whole point was to damage former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s presidential ambitions, which Representative Kevin McCarthy, a California Republican admitted in 2015: “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right? But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”

Senate Republicans are blind to Trump’s shutting down investigations of his own administration by firing four inspectors general in recent months, but they are eager for “Burisma” to be a topic of discussion instead of “COVID-19,” “pandemic,” and “worst economic numbers since the Great Depression.” As Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York put it, “It’s like in a third-world dictatorship, a show trial with no basis in fact, with no due process, with no reality.”

“Obamagate” and “Burisma” are not the only Trumpian distractions. There is also this week’s admission by Trump that he is taking hydroxychloroquine, a drug whose efficacy against COVID-19 is unproven. Trump’s announcement  made him — not the disease and its spread — the story for days. Even a discussion of the danger of an obese president (see accompanying photograph) taking a drug that has serious side effects was more palatable than talking about more than 90,000 deaths. 

Hydroxychloroquine served a dual purpose: It changed the emphasis of discussion on the pandemic, and it drove the scandals involving Secretary of State Mike Pompeo from the front pages. Pompeo’s petty malfeasances and his perversion of policy — see Saudi arms deal — are certainly worthy of scrutiny. Trump knows his secretary of state, cherished for his willingness to do Trump’s bidding, is in trouble, so Trump’s announced drug taking would be a welcome distraction. Trump admitted as much  when he gave away the game and said, “I was just waiting to see your eyes light up when I said this, when I announced this.” 

Trump may be lying about ingesting hydroxychloroquine. He lies about almost everything, even matters easily disproven. But, whether true confessions or not, the timing of Trump’s admission was suspicious. He said he had been taking the drug for two weeks, but his confession came only after Pompeo’s troubles came to light.

There will be more distractions the closer we get to the election. Some of it will get ugly. We have already seen hints of just how ugly from Trump’s son. Donald Trump Jr., a prominent campaign surrogate, posted on Instagram a picture of Biden saying: “See you later, alligator” with an image of an alligator saying: “In a while, pedophile.” On Twitter, Trump junior said, “Anyone with a scintilla of common sense [knows] I’m joking around.” Two points: First, pedophilia is not a joking matter, and, second, Trump posted pictures of Biden touching youngsters, suggesting that the insinuation was not, after all, a joke. 

Trump and his allies do not play by the normal rules, if they play by the rules at all. They will engage in any abhorrent behavior as long as they think it serves their purposes and they are not held to account for it. And, of course, they will raise bogus issues to distract attention from what is important: The ongoing inability of the current administration to protect its citizens. Maintaining public safety is the first object of any government. The Trump administration has proven it cannot do even that.

Ignore the distractions. Do not look where Trump points; look at what he wants us to ignore. That is the real story. And, vote as if your life depends on it. Because it does. 

Posted May 22, 2020


It is certainly a perilous time for our republic when such an obvious hawkish nut job as John Bolton will be missed. It should be clear to everyone that Bolton — the just-fired national security adviser — was right in his dispute with President Donald Trump, whose quixotic attempt to invite the Taliban to Camp David led to Bolton’s dismissal. 

Bolton is no normal bureaucratic infighter, so the nation probably will not have to wait long for him to fulfill his promise to “have my say in due course.” Bolton is a prideful man and no shrinking violet, which means his “say” could be very interesting, especially given that Trump wasted no time before lashing into his former aide. “You know, John’s known as a tough guy. He’s so tough, he got us into Iraq. That’s tough,” Trump said. For a president who demands absolute loyalty from subordinates, Trump once again showed that loyalty is not a two-way street for him. “He made some very big mistakes,” Trump said of Bolton. 

On the issue of talking to the Taliban, I agree with the aphorism usually attributed to Winston Churchill, “Jaw, jaw is better than war, war.” (Churchill apparently said something like that in Washington in 1954, but the actual quotation is from Prime Minister Harold Macmillan, uttered in Canberra, Australia, four years later.) But, while talking is better than shooting, the optics of meeting, close to the anniversary of 9/11, at Camp David were, to say the least, terrible. That was obvious to everyone but Trump, but the White House is now a place where there is no one with the authority, the courage, the moral rectitude, or whatever it takes to say, “No, Mr. President, you cannot do that.”

The lack of adults in the room allows Trump to pursue his worst instincts. And, his instincts are the worst, and getting worse and worse. He wants to negotiate with terrorists like the Taliban on home ground. He becomes his own weatherman, tweeting roughly a dozen times that he was right about Hurricane Dorian threatening to hit Alabama and, then, crudely altering an official government map (a crime) in a juvenile attempt at redemption. Business Insider quotes a former White House official, “No one knows what to expect from him anymore.… He’s losing his shit” (Business Insider was more discreet, using dashes for the last three letters).

The suggestion that Trump is getting worse is truly scary, given how bad he was from the start. This is a man who believes countless conspiracy theories (or at least uses them for his own nefarious purposes): President Barack Obama was born outside the United States, Senator Ted Cruz’s father was involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy, climate change is a Chinese hoax, wind farms cause cancer, and Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia was murdered. It does not take much imagination to predict that when Trump loses in 2020 — he trails, by substantial margins, all the leading Democratic contenders in head-to-head matchups and his approval rating is tanking — he will cry “Fraud!” and refuse to vacate the White House. 

Am I trafficking in conspiracies in suggesting Trump would cling to office even if he lost the election? Consider his past actions. In the third debate with Hillary Clinton in 2016, Trump said, “I will look at it at the time” when asked if he would accept the results of the balloting. Trump never took back his allegation that millions of people voted illegally in the 2016 election — his explanation for his losing the popular vote — and he established a commission to look into alleged voter fraud, then shut down the panel when it could find no evidence of fraud (because there was none) while refusing to acknowledge the board’s failure. Trump praised Chinese President Xi Jinping after the ruling Communist Party cleared the way for Xi to serve indefinitely. “He’s now president for life…. I think it’s great. Maybe we’ll have to give that a shot someday,” he told cheering supporters at a fundraiser. A joke, perhaps, though Trump is not noted for his sense of humor. 

And, if the past is not frightening enough, consider this tweet from Trump on September 10: A picture of a Trump 2024 placard. Interestingly, the sign does not say “Trump-Pence,” leaving open the possibility, I suppose, that in his dreams he dumps Vice President Mike Pence in favor of first daughter Ivanka. Or, it could refer to the beginning of a dynasty: Ivanka, then Don Jr., and so on. In June, though, the putative president-for-life tweeted a video showing Trump placards for 2024, 2028, 2032, and on and on, indefinitely, set to Edvard Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King.” It ends with a picture of Trump behind a placard that reads, “Trump 4EVA.” 

Of more immediate danger is the prospect that Trump will not accept the election results. Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 by three million ballots. Current indications are that he will lose in 2020 by even more. While the possibility of a 2020 repeat of 2016 is possible — the Democratic candidate wins the popular vote only to have Trump prevail in the Electoral College — it is becoming more and more likely that Trump will lose, period. Will he leave? Would he spin a conspiracy suggesting the so-called “Deep State,” aided by the “Fake News” media, rigged the election? 

He could, and he may well do so. We live in a world conjured by George Orwell, where in 1984, the masses are told what to think by the Ministry of Truth. For hardcore Trump supporters, the only truth is what their leader tells them is the truth. All the rest is “Fake News,” which bows before the president’s “alternative facts.” Backed by his base of true believers, might Trump, spinning his conspiracies, refuse to leave the White House? Will the newly elected president have to send in the military to remove him physically? Would the military comply? 

If you think I am being unnecessarily worried, remember this: Trump keeps dropping hints.

Posted September 13, 2019

Trump Thinks He’s Happy Now! Just Wait

Happy Easter! I have never been happier or more content because your Country is doing so well, with an Economy that is the talk of the World and may be stronger than it has ever been before. Have a great day! Tweet of President Donald Trump, Easter Sunday, April 21, 2019

Of course, in true President Donald Trump fashion, this tweet was followed by a storm of erratic tweets that could be read as counter to his claimed frame of mind. But, President Trump indicates he is happy, which is a good thing. A happy Trump means a Trump not likely to wag the dog, say, by bombing Iran. Of course, he may just be blowing smoke. After all, when Robert Mueller was appointed special counsel, the president’s response was “I’m fucked.” Then, when Attorney General William Barr put out his deliberately misleading four-page summary, Trump replied, “Complete and Total Exoneration.” After the release of the redacted Mueller report, the president posted a “Game of Thrones”-inspired tweet, “Game Over,” which was quickly followed by a tweet claiming the report is “total bullshit.” It appears that Trump is not so much happy as confused.

But, taking the president at his word, if the redacted report made him happy, he is going to be positively giddy after Mueller testifies before Congress and Congress gets to see the un-redacted report. Trump even may do a jig when we get all the details of the pending investigations Mueller farmed out to other investigative entities. Mueller referred 14 potential cases to other investigators. We know the details of only two: The case involving Trump’s former fixer Michael Cohen, who pleaded guilty to a number of counts stemming from hush money payments to women alleged to have had affairs with Trump, and another concerning Greg Craig, a Democrat, who has been charged with concealing information about work he performed for the Ukrainian government in 2012. Speculatively, the other cases may relate to Trump’s taxes, the defunct Trump Foundation, Trump’s inaugural committee, and a plethora of other possible illegalities.

As for Mueller’s potential testimony, the special prosecutor may shed light on whether any of the cases he referred to other venues involve the president, just how significant the contacts between the president’s campaign and Russians were, and what the connection was, if any, between Trump’s call to find Hillary Clinton’s emails and Russian hacking. Congress may ask Mueller if he discovered whether Russians tried to manipulate Trump and, if so, were they successful? About the infamous June 9 Trump Tower meeting, does the reason the special prosecutor did not bring charges against Donald Trump Jr., son-in-law Jared Kushner, and former campaign head Paul Manafort stem from their ignorance of the law, which made convictions problematic? 

On obstruction, the report states that if the special prosecutor found no evidence the president obstructed justice, “We would so state.” Does that mean the evidence indicates he did obstruct justice? Beyond a reasonable doubt? Can Congress infer from Mueller’s citing the Office of Legal Counsel’s ruling prohibiting indictment of a sitting president that Mueller believes action now falls to Congress? Finally, was the attorney general not bound by the same OLC guidelines as the special prosecutor’s office?

Trump tweeted after the report’s release, “Watch out for people that take so-called ‘notes.’” Among others, that is a reference to former White House Counsel Don McGahn, who the report says was ordered by Trump to fire the special counsel. McGahn demurred, fearing a Nixonian “Saturday Night Massacre.” McGahn was right, of course, and Trump is lucky McGahn ignored the presidential directive. But, Trump is too narcissistic or too ignorant — claiming “nobody disobeys my orders” — to appreciate that McGahn saved him, for now. 

What next? Congressional Democrats will be under intense pressure to start impeachment proceedings. Though the president cannot be indicted on obstruction because of Justice Department guidelines nor charged with conspiracy — on interactions with Russians — because of the difficulty of proving such a charge, there is plenty of evidence of wrongdoing. Clearly, Trump’s campaign had contacts with Russians and did not report those contacts to the appropriate authorities. Just as obviously, Trump repeatedly tried to shut down the special prosecutor’s investigation. There is much in the report detailing shoddy and unethical behavior by Trump and his surrogates to warrant, at the least, the beginnings of proceedings looking into whether the president committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” 

At the same time, Congress must continue to investigate those matters as well as Trump’s taxes and business dealings. The president’s refusal to release his tax returns suggests he has much to hide. It could be a simple matter of Trump knowing the forms indicate he is not as wealthy as he claims. Or, it could be that the president is guilty of massive financial fraud and even money laundering. 

Hearings conducted by Congress — first, the Senate Select Committee on Watergate in the summer of 1973, then the House Judiciary Committee hearings on impeachment the next year — laid out incontrovertible evidence of wrongdoing by President Richard Nixon. That evidence swayed public opinion and eventually convinced Republicans in the Senate that Nixon had to go. Congressional investigations now may perform the same function.

Will that make Trump happy? Who knows? But, it will give joy to all who revere the Constitution and the rule of law.

Posted April 23, 2019

The Bottom Line

Will President Donald Trump read the Mueller report? Of course, he famously does not read. Maybe someone verbally will summarize it for him. Someone other than the attorney general. If someone does, here is the key sentence in the report of special counsel Robert Mueller: “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state. Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.” (Volume II, page 2.)

In other words, President Trump obstructed justice. But, and this is the key to how to interpret the above sentence, the special prosecutor and his team “determined not to make a traditional prosecutorial judgment.” (Volume II, page 1.) They reached that conclusion based on the opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel in the Justice Department, which holds that a sitting president cannot be indicted or prosecuted. Though the president cannot be indicted, he or she still can be the subject of a criminal investigation. But, because the president cannot be indicted, it would be unfair, the Mueller team concluded, “to apply an approach that could potentially result in a judgment that the President committed crimes.” Why? Because “the ordinary means for an individual to respond to an accusation is through a speedy and public trial, with all the procedural protections that surround a criminal case.” (Volume II, page2.)

Mueller’s office found itself in a four-part, catch-22 situation. First, the Mueller team could not indict or prosecute a sitting president. Second, the team could make the president the focus of a criminal investigation. Third, the team decided not to conduct that criminal investigation in a manner that might result in a conclusion the president committed a crime. To do so would be unfair to the president because he could not clear his name in court (because he could not be indicted). Fourth, if he were innocent, the team “would so state.”

Ergo, the president of the United States is guilty of obstruction. Congress: It is now up to you to do your job and start impeachment proceedings. Only Congress can do what the legal system cannot: Reach a determination on the guilt of President Donald Trump.

Mueller laid out a roadmap for Congress to pursue impeachment proceedings. The entire second volume of the report, roughly 200 pages long, details all the evidence of Trump’s possible obstruction of justice, including such well-known episodes as Trump discussing former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russians with then FBI Director James Comey, Trump’s firing of Comey, the president’s attempts to curtail the special counsel’s investigation, Trump’s lies about the infamous June 9, 2016, Trump Tower meeting among his son, son-in-law, aides, and Russians, Trump’s attempt to force then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to reverse his recusal, and on and on. It is all there, much of it already known, but in a form Congress easily could follow.

Trump knows what he has done, which is why the special counsel’s report quotes (on page 78 of Volume II) the president saying when Sessions told Trump of Mueller’s appointment, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my Presidency. I’m fucked.”  In true Trumpian fashion, the toddler-in-chief did not blame himself for his dilemma. Instead, he “became angry and lambasted the Attorney General for his decision to recuse himself from the investigation, stating ‘How could you let this happen, Jeff?’” 

The section on “collusion” does not make for much better reading for Trump and his allies. The report details the ways in which Russia interfered “in sweeping and systematic fashion” in the 2016 presidential election through “a social media campaign that favored presidential candidate Donald J. Trump and disparaged presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.” (Volume I, page 1.) The special counsel did not attempt to determine if there had been collusion between Trump and his campaign and Russia because “collusion” is not a crime under United States law. Robert Mueller focused on “conspiracy,” which is a crime. Conspiracy requires a coordination between two entities in which both parties — in this case the Trump campaign and the Russian government — take actions “that were informed by or responsible to the other’s actions or interests.” Using that definition, “The investigation did not establish that the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” (Volume I, page 2.)

But, there sure were a lot of contacts between the two, far more than can be detailed here. Just one point should suffice: The Mueller report found a number of campaign officials and “surrogates” promoted content from a Russian-controlled Twitter account. Among those named were Trump’s sons Donald Trump Jr. and Eric Trump and White House adviser Kellyanne Conway.  

Conway’s name appearing in the report makes all the more befuddling her attempt to spin its conclusions. Referring to the day of the report’s release as “the best day” for Trump since his election, Conway said, “I called this a political proctology exam” in which the president received a “clean bill of health.” She added, “We’re accepting apologies today, too, for anybody who feels the grace in offering them.”

Trump was just as delusional as his adviser. “I’m having a good day, too,” he said. “It’s called no collusion, no obstruction.” If this is a good day, I would hate to be around Trump or Conway when they are having a bad day.

Much of what the report contains was known before its release. But, it is jarring to read the conclusions detailed in one place in concise chronological order. And, whether these are new revelations or a rehash of ones already known, none of it is acceptable. The bottom line on obstruction: The president is guilty. As for “collusion,” the Russians clearly did interfere in the 2016 presidential election, the Trump team welcomed such contacts, and both sides benefitted. 

There may be no crime in that, but it was wrong, and Congress must now do its job.

Posted April 19, 2019

Nothing Changed

One week ago, everyone awaited the release of the Mueller report. Today, we still are waiting for release of the Mueller report. Nothing has changed.

Here is what we know today, which is what we knew a week ago. First, Russia interfered in the 2016 American election. Second, there were myriad contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian agents. And, third, President Donald Trump tried to interfere with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into those contacts and related matters. What is different today from a week ago is that we now have Attorney General William Barr’s assessment of Mueller’s report, but not the report.

Barr says, in his summary to Congress, that Mueller concluded no “U.S. person or Trump campaign official or associate conspired or knowingly coordinated” with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 election. The use of the word “knowingly” is telling since it is clear that many Trump campaign officials, including the candidate’s eldest son and Trump’s campaign manager Paul Manafort, had contacts with Russians. Donald Trump Jr. met with a Russian after a promise of damaging information on Hillary Clinton, and Manafort handed polling data to a business associate with ties to Russian intelligence. It is not difficult to conclude that some close to Trump may not have succeeded in coordinating with Russians during the campaign, but not for want of trying. What else might we learn from reading the entire Mueller report?

On the explosive issue of whether Trump obstructed justice, Mueller punted, saying he could neither conclude the president committed a crime nor could he exonerate the president. Mueller left it to the attorney general or Congress to reach a conclusion on the question of obstruction of justice, which Barr did within 48 hours of receiving what is apparently a voluminous and thorough report. “I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense,” Barr writes. 

To be clear, this is Barr’s interpretation of Mueller’s conclusions, not Mueller’s conclusions. Barr is a political appointee of President Trump, put in office precisely because Trump believed Barr skeptical of the legitimacy of the special counsel’s investigation. Barr argued, before his appointment, that Mueller’s inquiry into obstruction was “fatally misconceived” because, according to Barr, the president’s request that then-FBI Director James Comey let go of the probe into Michael Flynn, Trump’s one-time national security adviser, and subsequent firing of Comey did not constitute obstruction since both acts were within Trump’s presidential powers. Congress needs to hear from the attorney general as to whether Barr’s earlier views colored his current interpretation of Mueller’s findings. Our representatives in Congress also need to see the full report to know if Barr correctly read the report, and lawmakers should probably hear from Mueller directly, as well.

While Mueller did not “exonerate” the president, Trump and his allies have taken a victory lap. Before buying into Trump’s interpretation of the report’s conclusions, let us engage in a thought experiment. Imagine for a moment that Mueller had not brought his numerous indictments of Trump colleagues and Russians during the course of his investigation. Imagine, also, that The New York Times and The Washington Post had not done their superb investigative reporting into the alleged misdeeds of the Trump campaign, his inaugural committee, the Trump family business, and the Donald J. Trump Foundation. Imagine that we were not aware of the hush money paid to a pornstar and a Playboy model. Imagine that we did not know about all the investigations into the Trump campaign, the inaugural committee, and the Trump businesses conducted by state and federal authorities in New York, Virginia, and the District of Columbia. Now, finally, imagine that all of the above came out in the Mueller report, and the public was privy to the report. No one has to imagine how gobsmacked everyone — at least any thinking person — would be at the level of collusion, obstruction, corruption, and wrongdoing contained in the report. Looked at this way, in our thought experiment, the Mueller report becomes exceedingly bad news for the president, for whom nothing has changed. 

The initial response to the Mueller report takes impeachment off the table, for now. But, Congress needs to continue its investigations into the campaign, the inaugural committee, and the Trump Organization. On obstruction, my guess is that Mueller either believed he could not indict a sitting president — he did not, after all, exonerate the president, and he did not interview Trump — or he believed proving obstruction would have been difficult. As George Conway notes, there is a difference between a president destroying evidence or directing a witness to lie and a request to the FBI director — Comey — to see if he could possibly not look closely into the national security adviser’s — Flynn’s — misdeeds. What is not indictable still may be impeachable!

We need to see the Mueller report, if only because of what Barr’s letter about the report does not say. The letter does not tell us whether Mueller found evidence of crimes. (Just because such evidence does not meet the judicial standard of beyond a reasonable doubt does not mean that there were no crimes committed that might rise to the standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors” as outlined in the Constitution.) Barr’s letter does not tell us why, if there were no evidence of collusion nor obstruction, Trump, his appointees, political colleagues, and family members lied repeatedly to the American people about contacts with Russians. Barr’s letter says Russians offered to assist the Trump campaign, but it does not tell us why no one associated with the campaign who had contacts with Russians failed to report those contacts to the authorities. And, the letter says nothing about the numerous ongoing investigations into Trumpian corruption. On that, nothing has changed.

Collusion always was going to be hard to prove, if only because Trump and the Russians did not need an express agreement. A hazy understanding between the Trump campaign and the leaders in the Kremlin was more likely. Such a deal would involve the quid of Russian help for Trump during the campaign, which came, and the quo of a pro-Russian foreign policy, including sanctions relief, which happened. That alone makes Donald Trump unfit for office. And I have not mentioned the thousands of lies, unseemly behavior, and corruption marking this administration. The Barr letter on the Mueller report changed nothing on all that.

The American people and their representatives in Congress need to see the Mueller report to learn what, if anything, changed. 

Posted March 29, 2019

The Don and His Consigliere

“Liar, liar, pants on fire!” That playground taunt, delivered by Representative Paul Gosar of Arizona and accompanied by a poster, was the epitome of the Republican defense of President Donald Trump during the day-long testimony of former Trump fixer Michael Cohen before the House Oversight Committee. Admittedly, Trump — who acts like a mob boss — is a tough guy to defend, so it should surprise no one that the Republican strategy was to impugn the bearer of the bad news rather than to counter the substance of Cohen’s remarks.

Chris Christie, a former governor of New Jersey and a Trump defender, noticed the weakness of the GOP ploy. The president, Christie said, must have been “fuming that no one’s defending him.” Christie labeled the lame performance “either a failure of those Republicans on the Hill or a failure of the White House to have a unified strategy with them.” 

In truth, there was not much Republicans could do. Representative Mark Meadows of North Carolina tried to defend Trump against Cohen’s accusation of racism by positioning an African American woman — Lynne Patton, a longtime Trump aide and current official at the Department of Housing and Urban Development — over his shoulder as a prop to demonstrate diversity. That piece of theater led to a scuffle later in the hearing when Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Michigan Democrat, labeled the use of Patton a “racist act.” Meadows bristled at the thought Tlaib was calling him a racist, but she insisted she was talking about the act, not Meadows.

For the most part, GOP members simply used their time not to poke holes in Cohen’s testimony — which would have been difficult because he provided documentary evidence for many of his charges — but to question his motives or to attack Democrats for holding the hearing in the first place. It seems Republicans on the Oversight Committee have no idea what oversight means, since they refused, when they were in the majority, to hold any substantive hearings to investigate credible charges of Trumpian misdoings.

Gosar of the playground taunts was disowned last November by six siblings, all of whom endorsed his opponent in the 2018 midterm election. “We gotta stand up for our good name,” said David Gosar in a political advertisement on behalf of his brother’s opponent. “This is not who we are.” But, it is who the member of Congress is. Gosar got so excited by his attack on Cohen that he stumbled over his words. Others also demonstrated a fair degree of apoplexy. Meadows looked as if he were about to have a coronary when he tried to nail Cohen for allegedly lying on a committee form about whether the former Trump aide had been paid for services by a foreign government. The dispute demonstrated only that Meadows had not accurately read the question on the form. 

Ohio Representative Jim Jordan expressed outrage that Lanny Davis — a friend of Hillary and Bill Clinton — represented Cohen. Jordan and others repeatedly attacked Cohen as a convicted perjurer. Cohen is going to jail for that crime, and other misdeeds. But, even liars sometimes tell the truth, especially when they have documents to back up their assertions. 

Much time was spent on Cohen as a would-be influence peddler and prospective recipient of lucrative book and movie deals. Numerous Republican members tried to get Cohen to vow he would not profit from his notoriety, which Cohen refused to do. Republicans also tried to portray Cohen as a grasping office seeker disappointed he did not get a job in the White House. All in all, the strategy of attacking Cohen as a dishonest criminal who should not be believed begs an important question: Why did Trump employ such a disreputable person for a decade?

The truth is, of course, that Cohen is much like Trump, who was something of a mentor to the younger man. Apparently, Cohen had easy access to Trump and his family. According to Cohen, he briefed Trump, Don Jr., and Ivanka at least 10 times during the 2016 presidential campaign about the Trump family’s attempt to build a Trump Tower in Moscow. That gives the lie to Trump’s claim of no business dealings with Russia and implicates Ivanka for the first time in that sordid episode. One other family note: Don Jr. might want to inquire as to the veracity of Cohen’s statement that father thought son “had the worst judgement of anyone in the world.”

Cohen produced checks indicating Trump reimbursed his fixer for the hush money paid to Stormy Daniels while Trump was in the White House. Cohen also testified that he was present in July 2016 when Trump took a call on speakerphone from Roger Stone who said, “He had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.” According to Cohen, Trump replied, “Wouldn’t that be great.” 

Cohen also offered tantalizing hints of more investigations. When one member of Congress asked about Cohen’s last conversation with his former boss, Cohen declined to give details, saying it is “being investigated right now” by federal prosecutors in New York. As for other instances of possible wrongdoing or crimes by Trump, Cohen repeated, “Again, those are part of the investigation.” Stay tuned!

The former consigliere reaffirmed that Trump operated like a mob boss. Trump never gave explicit instructions to Cohen to do wrong, but Cohen understood the “code.” Like a good Mafia underling, Cohen was not hesitant to threaten those who might stand in Trump’s way. When asked, Cohen said he issued about 500 threats on behalf of Trump (that includes threats of litigation) in his decade of employment. So, Cohen should not have been shocked that Trump used mob language in calling his former aide a “rat.” Nor should anyone have been surprised that on the eve of Cohen’s testimony, Florida Republican Representative Matt Gaetz, who has a history of incendiary comments, tweeted, “Hey @MichaelCohen212 — Do your wife & father-in-law know about your girlfriends?” (The tweet has been deleted, but the gist was repeated on the House floor.)

Cohen’s testimony — and the antics of a fool like Gaetz — demonstrate once again that, as Cohen pointed out, Trump corrupts everyone who comes in contact with him. That may be the greatest tragedy of this sordid presidency.

Posted March 1, 2019

It Is Called Congressional Oversight, Mr. President

What President Donald Trump calls “ridiculous partisan investigations” is constitutionally sanctioned congressional oversight. And, if the number of tweets and other comments are any indication, Trump is very worried about those investigations. He should be!

Congressional oversight refers to the accepted function of Congress to review, monitor, and supervise federal agencies and programs Congress has authorized and funded. The oversight role derives from implied powers granted Congress in the Constitution. Congress could not responsibly exercise its powers without knowing what the executive is doing. Nor does Congress’ role in legislating end with passage of a bill.

Republicans during the first two years of Trump’s presidency supinely abdicated their oversight responsibilities; Democrats, who now control the House of Representatives, will not. The day after Trump demanded in his State of the Union address an end to investigations, several House committees announced their plans. House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff, a California Democrat, issued a statement citing “credible reports of money laundering” and laying out a multi-faceted probe into Trump, the Trump 2016 presidential campaign, other members of his family, and business associates. 

Other committees are beginning to focus on sensitive targets, including the quest to secure Trump’s suppressed tax returns. The chair of the Judiciary Committee prepared a subpoena for acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker in case he attempts to duck questioning. Another House committee will look into administration rule-bending during the recent 35-day partial government shutdown. And, perhaps most worrisome for the president and those around him, the Oversight and Reform Committee is readying its broad probe into the administration’s myriad ethical lapses.

Trump’s attack on congressional investigations included a threat: “If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just doesn’t work that way.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi quickly struck back. “Presidents should not bring threats to the floor of the House,” she said. “It’s not investigation; it’s oversight. It’s our congressional responsibility, and if we didn’t do it, we would be delinquent in our duties.”

How is Trump’s threat to work? Imagine this scenario: Congress passes a bipartisan infrastructure bill, a possibility Trump has said he favors. At the same time, the Intelligence Committee is questioning Donald Trump Jr., about family business activity in Russia in 2016. Will Trump, in a fit of pique, not sign an infrastructure bill? Or Congress passes a drug cost-reduction bill, which everyone allegedly supports. Does the president veto it? What if Congress overrides the vetoes, assuming Republicans develop a spine?

In a one-person pity party, Trump tweeted Thursday morning about the investigations, “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT! It should never be allowed to happen again!” He also tweeted, “The Dems and their committees are going ‘nuts.’ The Republicans never did this to President Obama.” Actually, Mr. President, that statement is “nuts.” It is true there were never wide-ranging investigations of Barack Obama’s private businesses, for an obvious reason: Obama did not have a private business. We know that because he released his tax returns. Besides, Obama was squeaky clean, unlike the current mafioso-like president. Not that various non-congressional entities did not try to besmirch Obama. Trump surely remembers his connection to the odious and racist “birther” movement.

Republicans in Congress did investigate everything but Obama during the Obama years, turning up zilch in virtually every case, but not before spending millions of taxpayer dollars in the quest for dirt. Congressional committees looked into Operation Fast and Furious, a failed sting program organized by the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives. Another probe looked into unproven allegations that the IRS singled out conservative groups by rejecting their applications for nonprofit tax status. The inept rollout of the website to sell Obamacare policies received undue attention. A federal loan to the solar-panel company Solyndra was investigated as an instance of “crony capitalism.” And, finally, who can forget the mind-numbing number of committee hearings looking into the terrorist attack in Benghazi, Libya? 

The object of the Benghazi probe was Hillary Clinton, Obama’s first secretary of state and the presumptive Democratic 2016 presidential nominee. While errors occurred in the response to the terrorist attack, now-House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy foolishly admitted the real motive behind the endless investigations. “Everybody thought Hillary Clinton was unbeatable, right?” McCarthy said in September 2015. “But we put together a Benghazi special committee, a select committee. What are her numbers today? Her numbers are dropping.”

None of the investigations came close to Obama because, when it came to the president, there was nothing to investigate (not much else to probe regarding the rest of his administration, either — in contrast to the advisers Donald “Drain the Swamp” Trump has assembled). But, Trump is different. He leaves the odor of scandal on everything he touches. He called Schiff a “partisan hack” after first pretending he never heard of the new chair of the House Intelligence Committee, a pure Trumpian example of the alternate reality he weaves. Trump must have forgotten the time he tweeted a vulgarity riffing on Schiff’s name.

Trump can hurl all the insults he wants (and he will with all that “executive time” on his calendar ). Schiff, however, has the gavel, and he understands “why the idea of meaningful oversight terrifies the president. Look, several associates of his have gone to jail. Others are awaiting trial.”

Posted February 8, 2019

Donald the King

Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown. — William Shakespeare, Henry IV, Part II, Act III, Scene 1. 

And, you thought George III was the last monarch on these shores. Not so, given the stunning assertions of executive power this weekend by Team Trump. King Donald is assuming the throne (gold, naturally) and is being outfitted for a gold crown. All that remains is a decree commanding that supplicants before the king kiss his ring and walk backwards while leaving the monarch’s presence.

The claims of absolute power began Saturday with the revelation by The New York Times of a 20-page letter sent in January by President Donald Trump’s lawyers to special counsel Robert Mueller. Trump’s lawyers claim the president, “by virtue of his position as the chief law enforcement officer,” cannot obstruct justice “because that would amount to him obstructing himself.” But, the lawyers write, “He could, if he wished, terminate the inquiry [into collusion with Russia], or even exercise his power to pardon if he so desired.” The lawyers also assert the president cannot be compelled to testify. There words — the notion that the law is whatever the president says it is — should chill any democratic-thinking American. 

On the Sunday talk shows, Rudy Giuliani, a current Trump attorney, continued the full-court press on this expansive view of executive power, arguing that the president probably has the constitutional authority to pardon himself. “He probably does,” the brash Giuliani said. “He has no intention of pardoning himself, but he probably — not to say he can’t.” Giuliani also said a pardon was “unthinkable” because it would probably lead to impeachment. “It’s not going to happen. It’a hypothetical point,” he added. 

The president has been thinking about pardons. Last week, he pardoned conservative provocateur Dinesh D’Souza and floated the possibility of pardoning TV personality Martha Stewart and commuting the sentence of Rod Blagojevich, the former governor of Illinois. All three had been convicted of crimes similar to those brought against Trump aides in the Russia investigation. And, the president has given some thought to pardoning himself. Monday morning, he tweeted,  “As has been stated by numerous legal scholars, I have the absolute right to PARDON myself, but why would I do that when I have done nothing wrong?”

Perhaps, but all the protesting of innocence and claiming of executive power suggest that Donald Trump — and those around him — are “uneasy,” as Shakespeare put it. No one knows how much the special counsel knows, but we do know the president obstructed justice. Trump told NBC anchor Lester Holt (and everyone in America watching) he fired former FBI director James Comey because of “this Russia thing.” Now, we learn in the January letter from Trump lawyers to Mueller, “The President dictated a short but accurate response” on behalf of his son, Donald Trump, Jr., regarding stories that the younger Trump and others attended a meeting with Russians in Trump Tower to get “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. As Times reporter Maggie Haberman puts it in annotated notes to the letter, “This is the first time that representatives of Mr. Trump concede” his role in drafting the letter. The clear facts of presidential obstruction necessitated the lawyers’ insistence that the president cannot “constitutionally nor legally” obstruct justice.

The broad claim of presidential powers is reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s assertion, told to David Frost three years after the disgraced president left office, “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.” Most legal analysts believe a president has power to issue pardons and shut down an investigation, but if his motives in taking those actions are corrupt, then he has committed obstruction. As Neal Katyal, a former acting solicitor general, said, “The idea that a president can’t obstruct justice died with King George III, with a brief attempt at revival by Richard Nixon.” 

The letter to Mueller can be read, at least in part, as an attempt to lay down markers in the special counsel’s investigation. “This memo is a polite way of taking 20 pages to say, ‘He’s not coming in without a subpoena, and even then, you’re in for a protracted fight,’” said Jacob Frankel, a lawyer who worked in the independent counsel’s office in the late 1990s. Raising the possibility of a self-pardon is a warning, in the memo and by Giuliani and the president himself, that the president is prepared to escalate the dispute with Mueller by pardoning anyone under investigation. 

Trump and his advisers are playing a duplicitous game, insisting the president has the right to pardon himself while asserting he has no intention to do so because it might result in impeachment. “Listen, there’s no way that’ll happen,” said former New Jersey Republican Governor Chris Christie. “If the president were to pardon himself, he’ll get impeached.” Maybe, but House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, the front-runner to become the next House speaker, seemed to disagree, claiming the only issue in the Mueller probe should be whether there was collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia during the 2016 election. “What I was concerned most about, like most Americans, was there any collusion?” the California Republican said, adding, “If there is no collusion, it’s time to wind this down.” Certainly, Republicans, who control the House now, have no intention of beginning impeachment proceedings against the president. Democrats may take over the House in the November elections, but even if they succeeded in impeaching Trump, it is hard to imagine enough Republican senators voting to convict to achieve the necessary two-thirds majority. Trump may not be the brightest president, but he probably can do the math (and, if he cannot, certainly, one of those lawyers could do it for him). So, do not rule out a presidential pardon of the president.

But, most Americans would view such an act as a terrible admission of guilt. “It smacks of royal authority,” Jens David Ohlin, vice dean of Cornell Law School, said. “If a president can pardon himself, he’s basically saying, ‘Well, I’m above the law,’ and that sounds like the type of royal authority we rejected when we created America.” King Donald may not care about America’s history, but he has plenty of reasons to be nervous: Uneasy lies the head that wears a crown.

Posted June 5, 2018

The Real Victims

President Donald Trump donning the mantle of victimhood would be pathetic if it were not so dangerous. “SPYGATE” and “WITCH HUNT!” have become Trump’s favorite attack words on Twitter, his way of deflecting attention from the known and still unknown crimes committed during his campaign and administration and onto the investigators. Aided by both cooperating and complacent congressional Republicans — who will have to answer to the verdict of history for their shamelessness — Trump and his legal team now claim he is the victim of an uncontrolled investigation that stooped to embedding a spy in his campaign, and they have called for an investigation of the investigators. It is their latest legal strategy, and it threatens to undermine the rule of law. If they succeed, the American people — and the Constitution — will be the real victims.

No one knows how much special counsel Robert Mueller knows about the Trump campaign’s possible collusion with Russia during the 2016 presidential election nor the details of attempts by Trump and his allies to obstruct justice. The desperateness of Trump’s latest ravings suggest he knows that Mueller is tightening the noose. 

The last point is speculative, but here is what we know at this time. Intelligence officials have concluded that Russia — under orders from President Vladimir Putin — conducted a sophisticated campaign to influence the 2016 election, first seeking to “denigrate” Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, then developing “a clear preference” for Trump. American law enforcement officials warned Trump in 2016 that Russia would attempt to infiltrate his campaign and requested reports of anything suspicious, which the campaign did not provide. Instead, several Trump campaign officials — inlcluding his son, Donald Trump, Jr., and son-in-law, Jared Kushner — met with Russians to seek Moscow’s assistance, and, as the FBI became aware of these contacts, it ratcheted up its investigation.

Three things about this factual outline are important in assessing Trump’s claim that he is the victim of an illicit and conspiratorial campaign by the American justice system. First, the FBI and other officials went to extraordinary lengths to insure that its investigation of the Trump campaign did not become public, for fear it would influence the election. The bureau’s squeamishness regarding Trump contrasts with then-director James Comey’s openly discussing the FBI’s investigation of Clinton’s email server. If Trump is correct in claiming that the FBI’s tracking of his campaign is the nation’s “all time biggest political scandal!,” then why did it not leak or reveal its information about the Trump campaign’s Russia ties before the election, when it might have affected the outcome? 

Second, as part of its probe, the FBI used an informant to contact several Trump campaign figures whose names previously had surfaced during the bureau’s probe. The informant, Stefan Halper, a university professor previously connected to past Republican administrations, was not spying on the Trump campaign nor was he embedded in the campaign, as Trump alleges. The FBI would have been appallingly derelict in its duty if it declined to use available resources to investigate the contacts of Trump advisers with links to Russia, such as Carter Page and George Papadopoulos, given what it already knew about Russian meddling. 

Third, Trump’s attempt to investigate the investigators is a play stolen from the playbook of authoritarian rulers like Russia’s strongman Putin. Dictators and would-be dictators use their justice systems to punish enemies and deflect attention from their own wrongdoings. Leaders in countries without a strong tradition of the rule of law often engage in such tactics. For Trump to do so is a willful attempt to undermine the rule of law and threaten our constitutional government.

Trump’s success in deflecting attention from the investigation of him onto the investigators depends on the cooperation of willing accomplices in Congress and the conservative media. The latter will defend Trump to the bitter end. As for the former, some, like many conservative House Republicans, are quick to make the president’s case and even quicker to see nefarious motives on the part of the FBI, the special counsel’s office, and the wider Department of Justice.

The real culprits in the president’s current strategy are the enablers among Republicans in Congress, some of whom have spoken aloud in the president’s defense while others have defended him with their silence. The GOP House leadership has left the clownish Representative Devin Nunes (California) in charge of the House Intelligence Committee, allowing him to cook up various fake conspiracies and attack law enforcement. House Speaker Paul Ryan (Wisconsin) — who should know better — now says, “I do think it’s appropriate in the context of the legitimate Intelligence Committee investigation that this information [about the alleged embedded spy] be provided to Congress.” Ryan — and most of the rest of congressional Republicans — must be aware of the danger attacking the investigators presents to constitutional government. Actually, that is not quite right. Congressional Republicans actively are aiding Trump in deflecting attention by dredging up a time-honored Republican trope: They have called for yet another investigation of Clinton’s emails. For some reason, they continually forget who won the election. Ryan, for his part, is leaving Congress, but in his final months in office he cannot rise to the occasion and put country before party.

If President Trump can bend the justice system to his will — telling it who it should investigate and who it should not — American freedoms are in danger. On the one hand, it places the president above the law, free to do as he pleases without fear of answering for his actions. On the other, a president could direct federal law enforcement agencies to investigate his political opponents. Augmenting these threats to American freedoms is the inability or unwillingness of Congress to play its proper role in balancing power. The very soul of American democracy is at stake. 

Lawyers know the old saying, attributed to poet, journalist, and historian Carl Sandburg: “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.” Trump cares little about facts and even less about the law. In any event, both are against him, so he is pounding the table. The trouble is: The American people and the U.S. Constitution are the table, and we are taking an awful beating. We are the real victims of Trump’s assault on the rule of law.

Posted May 25, 2018