Charles P. Pierce — Paranoia Strikes Deep.
Something about Speaker Nancy Pelosi sets all the bats flying in his belfry. On Thursday, the president* and his administration* surrendered to the bats entirely. The belfry is too crowded with bats for anyone of them to think clearly and every damn one of them at this point is in some way barking mad. I warned you about the prion disease that was eating the higher functions of the conservative brain ever since Ronald Reagan first fed them the monkey-brains in 1980. They are the living dead now, and they are running the country.
First, there was this insane press availability—the second insane press availability in as many days, if you’re keeping score while fleeing the country—in which El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago dragooned his minions into public assertions that he had been, in his own words, “an extremely stable genius” during his brief meeting with Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the one that he ended with a badly rehearsed tantrum. From Politico:
In a remarkable scene, the president proceeded to name-check senior White House staff and advisers in the Roosevelt Room whom he said had attended Wednesday’s session on infrastructure initiatives with top congressional Democrats — which Trump abandoned after declaring that the lawmakers could not simultaneously negotiate legislation while investigating and threatening to impeach him. “Kellyanne, what was my temperament yesterday?” Trump asked White House counselor Kellyanne Conway. “Very calm. No tamper tantrum,” she replied before criticizing journalists’ coverage of the meeting, which Trump has complained portrayed him with a “rage narrative.”
It was a reporter’s question at the White House about Pelosi’s “intervention” remark — which Trump dubbed “a nasty-type statement” — that put the president on the defensive Thursday. He began turning to aides such as Mercedes Schlapp, the White House director of strategic communications, and pressing them for first-hand accounts of his scuttled meeting with Democrats. “You were very calm and you were very direct, and you sent a very firm message to the speaker and to the Democrats,” Schlapp said.
Next up was Trump’s top economic adviser, Larry Kudlow, who said the president’s conversation with Democrats was “much calmer than some of our trade meetings,” followed by White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, who described the president’s demeanor as “very calm and straightforward and clear.”
But the greatest praise for the commander in chief came from Trump himself, who told the assembled members of the media during one non-sequitur: “I’m an extremely stable genius. OK?”
Later on, after this brief comic interlude, the president* got down to some serious paranoia, and things stopped being funny very quickly.
He reiterated Thursday that he believes he is the victim of a long-running effort that meant to stop him from winning in 2016, delegitimize his presidency and remove him from office either through impeachment or by Democrats damaging him enough with investigations that he can’t be re-elected. He has charged that some of his adversaries are guilty of treason, and he was asked Thursday to provide the names of people who should be held accountable for a crime punishable by death. Trump answered with a list of names: McCabe, Comey, former FBI agent Peter Strzok and former Justice Department official Lisa Page. Strzok and Page exchanged text messages during the 2016 campaign — when the FBI was investigating Trump’s operation — that disparaged him, and Trump says attempted to prevent him from winning.
He answered with a list of names. Of people he thinks should be tried as traitors and subject to the only crime defined in the Constitution and one that is punishable by death. Think about that.
And, later on Thursday, he put the power of his office behind this angry fantastical snipe hunt of his. From the AP:
The move marked an escalation in Trump’s efforts to “investigate the investigators,” as he continues to try to undermine the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe amid mounting Democratic calls to bring impeachment proceedings against Trump. Press secretary Sarah Sanders said in a statement that Trump is delegating to Barr the “full and complete authority” to declassify documents relating to the probe, which would ease his efforts to review the sensitive intelligence underpinnings of the investigation. Such an action could create fresh tensions within the FBI and other intelligence agencies, which have historically resisted such demands.
Trump is giving Barr a new tool in his investigation, empowering his attorney general to unilaterally unseal documents that the Justice Department has historically regarded as among its most highly secret. Warrants obtained from the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court, for instance, are not made public — not even to the person on whom the surveillance was authorized. Trump explicitly delegated Barr with declassification power — noting it would not automatically extend to another attorney general — and only for use in the review of the Russia investigation. Before using the new authority, Barr should consult with intelligence officials “to the extent he deems it practicable,” Trump wrote in a memo formalizing the matter.
If you’re an FBI agent, and you’ve been chasing down, say, something about where Deutsche Bank got some of its money, and you hear this news, you’re not sleeping well tonight, I guarantee you. And that’s the point.
And the last signifying event on Thursday was the superseding indictment filed by the Department of Justice against Julian Assange, who now stands accused not of helping Chelsea Manning hack a government server, but of 17 violations of the Espionage Act in sharing the fruits of Manning’s hacking with various news organizations. This move runs headlong into both the First Amendment and the Supreme Court’s decision in the Pentagon Papers case. But with the very real possibility that Assange may never see the inside of a U.S. courtroom, it’s incumbent on us to look for another motive for this overreaching indictment. From The New York Times:
For the purposes of press freedoms, what matters is not who counts as a journalist, but whether journalistic activities — whether performed by a “journalist” or anyone else — can be crimes in America. The Trump administration’s move could establish a precedent used to criminalize future acts of national-security journalism, said Jameel Jaffer of the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University. “The charges rely almost entirely on conduct that investigative journalists engage in every day,” he said. “The indictment should be understood as a frontal attack on press freedom.”
If you’re an investigative reporter, and you get a tip about, say, where Deutsche Bank got some of its money, and you hear this news, you’re not sleeping well tonight, I guarantee you. And that’s the point. With the active connivance of his pet attorney general, William Barr, the president* is putting his own law enforcement apparatus and the free press on notice—do what I want or I will make your lives hell. The only saving grace in the whole situation is that Nancy Pelosi is driving him so far up the wall that he probably can’t concentrate long enough to be the dictator he wants to be. That’s a helluva thing to hang your republic on, but here we are.
Carl Hiaasen — Ghost Stories
The ghost of Richard Nixon sat down in his favorite armchair in front of the television. He still didn’t know how to work the remote, so the ghost of H.R. “Bob” Haldeman turned on the TV and handed the former president a glass of red wine.
“What channel?” Haldeman’s ghost asked.
“Anything but Dan Rather.”
The ghost of Haldeman got tired of reminding his former boss that the pesky Rather had been gone from CBS for years. He put on the Fox News network, which was broadcasting live from the Rose Garden at the White House.
“I never liked those outdoor press things,” the ghost of Nixon remarked sourly. “You’d always hear those damn hippies raising hell across the street in Lafayette Park. The anti-war crowd, you know. Did we ever find out who was paying them?”
Haldeman’s ghost said, “Still working on that, Mr. President.”
Just then, on television, the current non-ghost president entered the Rose Garden and announced that he’d just walked out of a meeting with Congressional Democrats because they were all out to get him.
“Welcome to the club,” muttered Nixon’s ghost, and took a loud sip of wine.
On TV, the mortal president began to fulminate, veering from one random topic to another —investigations, infrastructure, the Mueller report, his unfairly persecuted son Don Jr. On it went.
Fascinated, the ghost of Nixon edged forward in his chair.
“Didn’t his staff give him a list of talking points?” he asked.
“He pays no attention to his staff,” Haldeman’s ghost explained. “He likes to wing it.”
“Is he insane, or is this just an act?” Nixon’s ghost signaled for more wine. “They said I was nuts for talking to the White House portraits in the middle of the night, but I was drunk as a skunk at the time. What’s this guy’s excuse?”
Haldeman’s ghost shrugged. “Trump doesn’t drink. We’ve had this discussion before.”
The Rose Garden tirade went on for 12 full minutes. The ghost of Nixon watched transfixed, his expression pinched and brooding. Afterward, when the Fox commentators began chattering, he told Haldeman’s ghost to mute the volume.
“Bob, that was the most unconvincing, half-assed denial of a cover-up I’ve heard,” the ghost of Nixon said. “Mine were so much better.”
“Absolutely, Mr. President. Your denials were rock-solid. The gold standard.”
“Well, until the day I resigned.”
“This fellow won’t ever do that,” said Haldeman’s ghost.
“You think they’ll actually impeach him? That’s what he seems to want.” The ghost of Nixon gazed out the window, his mood sinking as it often did. “Maybe I should’ve gone the impeachment route instead of quitting. Made those bastards drag me from the Oval Office kicking and fighting.”
The ghost of Haldeman was accustomed to such maudlin talk. “Mr. President, they don’t have the votes in the Senate to convict Trump. That wasn’t your situation during Watergate. You did the honorable thing by sparing the nation a long, divisive trial.”
“That’s right — and the damn liberal media, they claimed I did it just for the pardon!”
“History will judge you kindly,” said the ghost of Haldeman, a line he used no less than 10 times a day to placate his old friend.
But the face of Nixon’s ghost was a familiar mask of bitter intensity.
“Bob, I could be spiteful, paranoid and anti-Semitic, but I never paid hush money to a porn star! I never hid my IRS returns from the public! I never grabbed women’s privates and bragged about it! I never got campaign dirt from the Russians, even in the McGovern race! And I never ordered anyone working for me to defy a Congressional subpoena. I might’ve asked them to tidy up their testimony a little, but —”
“Mr. President, all you ever did was lie about a third-rate burglary.”
“Exactly! Compared to this guy, I was a model commander-in-chief. My face ought to be up on Mount Rushmore next to Lincoln and FDR!”
It wasn’t unusual for the ghost of Nixon to mix up his Roosevelts after a few drinks. Haldeman’s ghost said nothing.
“Bob, answer me this. Trump tells more lies before lunch every day than I told in all six years I was there. How on Earth is he still sitting in that office? And don’t get me started on his hair! Did he steal that stupid wig from Carol Channing?”
“Time for your nap, Mr. President,” Haldeman’s ghost said gently. “Don’t worry. I’ll wake you up for ‘Jeopardy!’”
“That kid with the name I can’t pronounce — he’s still winning?”
“Yes, he is.”
“Hmmm,” said Nixon’s ghost, rising. “I guess that’s all right.”
Doonesbury — Act now!