Wednesday, February 19, 2020

A Law Unto Himself

Oh, come on; you knew this would happen.

Trump on Tuesday used his sweeping presidential pardon powers to forgive the crimes of a list of boldface names, including disgraced politician Rod R. Blagojevich, convicted junk bond king Michael Milken and former New York police commissioner Bernard Kerik.

Trump pardoned or commuted the sentences of seven convicted white-collar criminals at the center of federal anti-corruption and tax fraud cases spanning decades, alongside four women whose cases were not as well known.

The action frees Blagojevich, the former Democratic governor of Illinois, from the federal correctional facility in Colorado where he was serving out his 14-year sentence. He was convicted on corruption charges in 2011 for trying in 2008 to sell President-elect Barack Obama’s vacated Senate seat.

“He’ll be able to go back home with his family after serving eight years in jail,” Trump told reporters. “That was a tremendously powerful, ridiculous sentence in my opinion and in the opinion of many others.”

[…]

The executive actions announced Tuesday fit a pattern of highly personal presidential justice that largely bypasses the traditional pardon process administered by the Justice Department. Most of the people who have received clemency under Trump have been well-connected offenders who had a line into the White House or currency with his political base.

The justice system isn’t supposed to work based on “my opinion and in the opinion of many others.”  It’s supposed to work based on the laws and the rules passed by Congress and the legislatures.  And it’s not supposed to work based on who paid the most money to your friends and contributors or as a neener-neener to your predecessor.

Charles P. Pierce:

The banana republic is a republic gone bananas.

Trump has also declared himself to be the “chief law enforcement officer of the country.”

Trump’s constant commentary and increasing willingness to flout traditional legal processes signal that the president feels emboldened and unrestrained after Republicans voted almost unanimously to acquit him on impeachment charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, said Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers,” a history of White House chiefs of staff.

“It shows that Susan Collins was right — Trump has learned a lesson,” Whipple said, referring to a prediction by the Republican senator from Maine that Trump would be more cautious after impeachment. “The lesson he learned is that he’s unaccountable. He can do whatever he wants now with impunity.”

He’s also projecting what kind of treatment he’s hoping to get from the next Republican president when he’s rotting in jail in 2028.

It’s still not too late to impeach and convict the motherfucker.  And this time, do it right.

Sunday, February 9, 2020

Sunday Reading

The Firing of Lt. Col. Vindman — Benjamin Wittes in The Atlantic.

In 2018, Donald Trump waited to move against Attorney General Jeff Sessions until the day after the midterm elections—but he didn’t wait a day longer than that. No sooner were the elections over than Trump dismissed Sessions, who had upset the president by recusing himself from the Russia investigation. Sessions, Trump believed, was “supposed to protect” him. The first senator to endorse Trump’s bid for the presidency never regained his favor.

Trump managed to wait two days after his Senate acquittal before taking care of family business, as Michael Corleone would put it, with respect to those who had upset him in the Ukraine affair.

Yesterday, he removed from the National Security Council staff Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman—along with Vindman’s twin brother, who served as an NSC attorney, for good measure. Lieutenant Colonel Vindman had had the temerity to object to Trump’s “perfect” phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky and then committed the unforgivable sin of telling the truth about the matter when the House impeachment investigation sought his testimony. The brothers were, according to reports, escorted out of the White House complex.

Explaining himself this morning on Twitter, Trump, of course, went on the attack:

Fake News @CNN & MSDNC keep talking about “Lt. Col.” Vindman as though I should think only how wonderful he was. Actually, I don’t know him, never spoke to him, or met him (I don’t believe!) but, he was very insubordinate, reported contents of my ‘perfect’ calls incorrectly, & was given a horrendous report by his superior, the man he reported to, who publicly stated that Vindman had problems with judgement, adhering to the chain of command and leaking information. In other words, “OUT”.

Trump also fired Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, who had tried to play both sides—testifying in a fashion that upset Trump while being cagey at first and thus raising questions to House members about his candor. Sondland had managed to please nobody, and his presence on the scene at all was, in any event, a function of his large donation to the presidential inaugural committee. He had bought his way into service at the pleasure of the president and, having done so, proceeded to displease the president. Most eyes will, I suspect, remain dry as Sondland blusters his way back to the hotel business.

But Vindman is another story.

His was not a political position. He is an active military officer, rotating through the NSC on assignment. The president can put quotation marks around lieutenant colonel, as he did in today’s tweets, in an effort to demean Vindman’s service, but there is nothing to demean about his service, which has been in all respects honorable. The conduct for which his career has been attacked, what the president calls Vindman’s “insubordination,” was exceptionally brave truth-telling—both in real time and later when Congress sought to hear from him. When that happened, Vindman did not shrink from the obligation to say what had happened.

Unlike his boss, John Bolton, he did not withhold information from Congress, nor did he cite potential privileges that could be resolved only by court order or by book contract. Unlike Sondland, he didn’t waffle when called. Rather, along with a group of other public servants at the NSC, the State Department, and the Defense Department, he went up to Capitol Hill and told the truth.

And thus did Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman join a very special club—a motley crew of public officials who have drawn the public ire of a president of uncompromising vindictiveness for the crime of doing the right thing. It’s a club composed of former FBI officials, including two former directors of the bureau; American ambassadors; a former attorney general; some lawyers and investigators; even the former ambassador to the United States from the United Kingdom—anyone who has a line he or she won’t cross to serve Trump’s personal needs or who insists on doing his or her job by not hiding unpleasant realities.

Membership in this ever less exclusive club entitles Vindman to a number of, uh, benefits: unending, random attack by the most powerful man in the world using any of his available means of communication with the entire globe; mockery and derision by his associated media outlets, a category of abuse that in Vindman’s case includes anti-Semitic insinuations and frivolous allegations of inappropriate liaison with a foreign power; the security threats that inevitably come with such unwanted attention; damage to a distinguished career, a dramatic example of which happened yesterday; and, perhaps most unnerving of all for people who are used to anonymity, a kind of notoriety that leaves club members wondering if the person catching their eye on the street recognizes them with hatred or admiration or something else.

It is all part of a civil-liberties violation so profound that we don’t even have a name for it: the power of the president to suddenly point his finger at a random person and announce that this is the point in the story when that person’s life gets ruined.

Membership in this particular club has some genuine benefits, too. They are hokey things, such as honor and patriotism and duty. Because one thing all of the members of this particular club have in common is that—in very different ways—they all tried to do their jobs. They sought the truth. And they told the truth when called upon to do so.

In his congressional testimony, Alexander Vindman promised his father, “I will be fine for telling the truth.” It is the solemn obligation of the Pentagon and the military brass not to make a naïf of him for saying this. It is the job of the Washington policy community and the private sector to make sure that he is employable when he leaves military service—a role the community has not always played effectively with respect to members of this particular club.

And it is all of our jobs to make sure that Trump’s stigmatization does not work, to push back against his ability to turn public servants into nonpersons when honor and truth-telling displease him.

Thirteen (well, ten) Ways of Looking at an Impeachment — Adam Gopnik in The New Yorker.

(With apologies to Wallace Stevens, and in descending order of despair—though, perhaps, ascending order of importance.)

1. Impeachment was, despite it all, essential.

The purpose of impeachment was never political. It was never meant to be undertaken, and never should have been undertaken, with an eye to the Democrats being in a better political position after it was over. On those grounds it was, as Nancy Pelosi clearly felt, up to the very brink, a gamble not worth taking. The reasonable argument for why it had to be attempted was that to not impeach Donald Trump was not, well, reasonable. To allow obvious heedlessness to pass unchallenged was to collaborate in it. Impeachment was undertaken out of principle—the principle that the rule of law matters, and the corollary principle that political parties are not put in office to practice passivity. And it was, it must always be remembered, undertaken not at the political behest of a few radicals but in response to the collective and appropriate panic of national-security and intelligence professionals within the executive branch, who blew whistles and gave testimony because they believed that the President’s behavior was as wrong as wrong could be. Whether it was politically advantageous or not in the short run, it would have been politically disastrous in the long run to crawl away from such a conflict begun in such patriotic good faith. Right really should matter here.

2. Yes, but Trump won, and the consequences are terrifying.

As some people said at the time, the one good thing about an attempted impeachment was that at least the Republican senators, who all know exactly who and what Trump is, would at last be forced to own their bad consciences. What no one properly understood was that they had no consciences left to own—that their recognition of Trump’s obvious guilt would be overwhelmed by their fear of his opposition and that of his followers; exactly because they knew how bad he was, they would be compelled to redouble their irrational allegiance. They could not even look at any evidence, because they knew what it would show. Bad money always gets thrown in after good, as the gamble becomes ever more desperate. The trouble is that Trump is now left in firmer control of a party made passive by adherence to him, with his wounded narcissism leaving him more evidently deranged than before. His behavior during his post-impeachment appearances might have seemed extreme to Ludwig II of Bavaria, or caused Caligula to raise an eyebrow. Meanwhile, Attorney General William Barr will protect Trump while allowing the Justice Department to be used as a weapon against his enemies. Of all the truly frightening moments of the process, the worst might have been the attempt at reassurance by Senator Lamar Alexander, who insisted that, though Trump might have been mistaken to ask a foreign President to investigate his political rivals, he will now know that the right thing to have done would have been to ask his Attorney General to start investigations. That this idea—in itself a betrayal of every imaginable American constitutional principle—was proposed as more appropriate is a true mark of the defeat of the rule of law. Nothing now stands between Trump’s id and Trump’s actions.

3. Actually, Trump won, but it’s trivial.

Trump is an inherently weak President—one with a narrow base of support and zero persuasion skills, and, as of now, one who is too chaotic to be much good at suppressing dissent. His acts and their intended consequences are further apart than our fears and his unhinged rages make us believe. Imagine if the plot had succeeded and the President of Ukraine actually announced investigations into the Bidens—would anyone have actually been fooled about the origins of those investigations, aside from those among Trump’s followers who live to be fooled by him? The true pattern of Trumpism—oafish chaos with self-defeating results, evil talk, and impotent action—will continue. Nothing has altered. The best efforts of Trump are horribly ugly but ultimately meaningless. All that has happened is that we are exactly where we were before, but with one side marginally less passive and the other marginally more enraged. Allowing Trump to have gotten away with his “perfect” phone call would seem to us now far worse as policy, while having exactly the same effect of creating an ever more unbounded Trump. A Trump not called to order would be no different than one who has been.

3. And you know what? Actually, Trump lost.

The idea of a “verdict of history” is an absurdity. But the verdict of verdicts is not. In this regard, Mitt Romney’s speech was, however impotent judicially, dispositive morally. Scoffing at the idea that Trump’s behavior was not impeachable, showing that it obviously was, Romney ended all ambiguity and spoke for the truth, and to history.

4. Adam Schiff’s eloquence will always be remembered.

Certainly, the most permanent moment of the entire impeachment lay in Schiff’s performance before the Senate as the lead House manager. Often speaking extemporaneously, with a sobriety and a carefully paced intelligence that one might have thought had vanished entirely from the American lectern, let alone American politics, he was, without exaggeration, Lincoln-like. Lincoln-like, that is, in a highly specific, formal way: he laid a careful, even tedious foundation of elaborate law and evidence, and then rose to moral exhortation only on that basis. He turned legal argument into moral practice. It may be too late for anyone to act on this truth, but, if the Democratic Party could vote its conscience and its honor right now, it would surely end, en masse, by nominating Schiff for President.

5. And so will Romney’s courage.

John F. Kennedy’s famous book “Profiles in Courage” would be better off called “Profiles in Collaboration,” since, as all now know, it was largely written by his doppelgänger, Theodore Sorensen, albeit from J.F.K.’s ideas, while the courage of many of Kennedy’s subjects, especially those who voted to acquit Andrew Johnson in his impeachment trial, now seems less conclusive than it once did. No matter—the central idea is that democratic politics, though designed to conform legislator to constituency, sometimes demand a legislator who refuses to conform. This idea, of nonconformity through principle, is essential to the difference between demagogic democracy and liberal democracy, and Mitt Romney, whatever his flaws and faults, defined it for his time. (It was made all the more moving by his being inspired by that most echt American of scriptures, the Book of Mormon.)

6. There was a truly shocking collapse of conscience.

The real story was not the complete collapse of conscience among the Senate Republicans. That was to be expected—after all, the first vote for impeachment ever offered by a senator of the same political party as the President was Romney’s. The real collapse was among the higher-ranking politically appointed military and national-security professionals who had been part of Trump’s inner circle before departing it, voluntarily or not. John Bolton’s behavior, in particular, was inexplicable. Clearly filled with contempt for Trump’s manifest unfitness, he refused to speak openly against him, apparently out of some bizarre mix of distaste for the Democratic Congress and a will to sell books in the fall. The passivity of the Republicans was to be expected; that of Bolton was not. Nor was that of other high-ranking former officials, including respected retired generals like James Mattis—and H. R. McMaster and John F. Kelly, who spoke softly, but not sharply. Though they weren’t in the White House at the time of the Ukraine phone call, they know the character of the President. Yet they remained largely silent, seemingly out of a misplaced sense of professionalism and discretion. (Misplaced because of the unique gravity and urgency of the circumstance. Though it’s good for soldiers to be discreet, there are moments when their duties as citizens are more important than their habits as officers.)

7. It’s over, and Trump will win.

An overwhelming number of vectors now point toward Trump’s reëlection this year: the state of the economy, the disarray of the Democrats, and the general truth that incumbent Presidents win. How the Constitution will survive in the face of a second victory, given the speed with which Trump is demolishing it now, is hard to imagine.

8. It’s not over, and Trump will lose.

Trump’s disadvantages remain enormous. No incumbent President before him has done so little to win over even a small part of the opposition. The Democrats just need to nominate someone capable of understanding and acting on the basic truth of all liberal-democratic politics—that what is needed is the broadest possible coalition, the biggest imaginable tent in which to gather the forces against the autocrat. It should not really be as hard as it is threatening to be.

9. History has its eyes on you.

This quote from “Hamilton,” and the very fact that, not long ago, that work, with its image of glorious diversity, was the one great American entertainment, should remind us of how rapidly and suddenly political waves can crest and take over. The contingencies and chances that come with political life are far greater than its destinies and certainties. Any attempt to trace our current crisis to some inexorable pattern laid down in 1964 or 1980 or even 2007 is absurd. It was not very long ago when the natural culmination of the cycles of history seemed to be the Presidency of Barack Obama—a Presidency that had seemed to many impossible to imagine, and that, as hard as it is for progressives to accept, was sufficiently radical to inspire the wild reaction that we are living through now. History is made by lost regiments, late-arriving cavalry, or, in this case, by tens of thousands of votes hived off here and there in Midwestern states. Nothing is written, or fated, or certain, and, as momentous as this election will be, no one knows its outcome, which will depend as much on the tiny fractals of chance as on some inexorable plot in history.

10. History is happening.

One last quote from “Hamilton,” again, to coax us all out of the sudden, enforced numbness that many feel. There has been, perhaps, in the past three years, an undue lack of passion in the opposition to Trump’s degradation of democracy into PutinOrbán-style autocracy. Too much trust, perhaps, was placed in the workings of constructional processes, culminating in the impeachment and acquittal. During Trump’s term, there has been no march on Washington as large as the first Women’s March, right after the Inauguration, no turn to mass protest as the fundamental anti-democratic nature of the Administration deepens. History will forgive us our failures; it will never forgive us our passivity. The coming months are fateful for our democracy; everyone will be tested, and every vote will count if all these American ambiguities are, somehow, to be resolved.

Doonesbury — Surf you must.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Some Statement

I think it says a lot about the state of our nation when there are headlines and BREAKING NEWS banners on TV about one senator bucking his party and actually voting to convict Trump because of the evidence presented to him as a juror at trial.

In the wider world, Mitt Romey didn’t do anything that would warrant a Jimmy Stewart/Frank Capra movie; it’s not as if he really put his job at risk, and while I applaud him for showing what today could pass for courage in the face of the shitstorm he’s wrought, it shouldn’t be amazing or stunning that someone did the right thing.  What it does tell us is that the rest of his party and their anvil chorus of hypocrites and sycophants in the Orcosphere lack the moral stability of a honey badger and that they have no more foundation for moral clarity than a pimp.

What is really pissing off Trump and his horde is the fact that Sen. Romney stole their “perfect” exoneration moment away; they can’t say that every single Republican stood with Trump, and worse, he became the story, not Trump’s victory waddle around the Rose Garden.  And while I have always found the people who justify their actions based largely on their religious convictions to be both boring and suspect, I have to say that Mr. Romney’s testimony of faith sounds suspiciously like he’s been reading Faith and Practice, the Quakers’ owners manual, by risking material and earthly gains to take a stand based on something more than just political considerations.  It’s not what you wear on your sleeve but hold in your heart that really matters.

Like most of these kerfuffles, it will be over in a week and I’m very certain that in November the state of Utah will be solidly behind Trump and that Mr. Romney will be re-elected when he’s on the ballot again.  But for one news cycle, we saw at least a vertebrate moment in what is usually a sea of Jello and blubbering cowardice and mendacity.

Thursday, January 30, 2020

In The National Interest

We’ve always known that Trump has believed that anything he does to stay in office is not to be questioned, and yesterday on the Senate floor during the question phase of his impeachment, his lawyers said it out loud.

Every public official that I know believes that his election is in the public interest. And mostly, you’re right. Your election is in the public interest. And if a president does something, which he believes will help him get elected in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment. . . .

“The house managers . . . never allege that it was based on pure financial reasons. It would be a much harder case if a hypothetical president of the United States said to a hypothetical leader of a foreign country, ‘Unless you build a hotel with my name on it and unless you give me a million-dollar kickback, I will withhold the funds.’

“That’s an easy case. That’s purely corrupt and in the purely private interest.

“But a complex middle case is: ‘I want to be elected. I think I’m a great president. I think I’m the greatest president there ever was. And if I’m not elected, the national interest will suffer greatly.’ That cannot be an impeachable offense.

Put simply, no matter what Trump did — and they’re basically admitting that he did what the House impeached him for — as long as it was to get him re-elected, it’s not impeachable because having Trump as president is in the national interest.

Richard Nixon said pretty much the same thing: “When the president does it, that means it is not illegal.”  And look what happened to him.

Two things about this mindset bother me beyond just the WTF factor.  While we all know that it takes an out-sized ego to run for president and think that you have all the answers to our problems — or at least know how to work with people to solve them — this kind of megalomania is both toxic and anti-democratic in the most blatant way.  We hire presidents through an electoral process to run the country for a relatively short period of time, trusting that they will do their job without trying to remake the entire government in their image but in cooperation with a lot of other people in different offices with different functions — and often with different motives — and leave it either better than they found it or at least intact.  We’ve had our ups and downs, ranging from great to despicable, but by and large we have been able to survive and even thrive without the need to tinker with the basic foundation.  The president is supposed to represent us, not the other way around.  Our national interest — all of ours, including the people who didn’t vote for him — must be paramount, and if that means being thrown out of office by whatever legal means necessary, then that must be our national interest.  The majority of the forty-three* men prior to the current occupant who have held the job understood that, or at least kept their egos on silent mode, knowing that if they put their own personal interests above those of the nation, we would be on the road to authoritarianism of the likes of the nations the Founders rebelled against.

But Trump isn’t one of them.  He puts his own re-election above that of the national interest, believing in his Bond-villain-like ego that he knows best above everyone else, including the “best people” that he brings along, most of whom are either incompetent or corrupt, and destroying the occasional lucky hire that actually does have the national interest at heart.  This can’t be what the men who wrote the Constitution had in mind; if they did, there would be no remedy in the document to remove a corrupt or criminal official from office.  So the very idea that staying in office by any means necessary is not impeachable is, in itself, an impeachable offense, and attempting to carry it out should result in a conviction.

The second thing that freaks me out is that it appears that the majority of the United States Senate accepts the idea that anything Trump does to further his chances for reelection is okay with them, or at least doesn’t rise to the level of removal from office.  Either they are so intimidated by this thumbs on a Twitter account or they silently agree with him.  Neither of those possibilities are conducive to the American idea of democracy or a government with checks and balances as outlined in the Constitution, and it calls into question as to why we the people are not holding those representatives accountable.  Are they so afraid of losing the next election that they are willing to enable this kind of madness, or do they themselves believe that if it were up to them, anything they need to do to stay in office and further their own agenda is acceptable?

There’s a third possibility.  They’re cynical enough to believe that the average American voter doesn’t really care what happens as long as they get what they want out of the government, be it state, federal or local, and that it’s easy to frighten them with an abstract threat — lesbians are getting married! — than it is to rob them blind of their own money in the form of taxes being spent on farm subsidies to make up for the tariffs imposed that killed the soybean market in China.  They rightfully believe that by the time November 2020 rolls around, Trump and his chorus of minions, enablers, and thieves will have bamboozled the voters into believing that Joe Biden or Elizabeth Warren or whomever is the Democratic nominee is more of a threat to our nation than the dictator-fetishist they’re trying to replace.  No one ever lost an election by underestimating the greed, fear, and paranoia of the American voter.

“L’etat, c’est moi” — “I am the state” — is attributed to Louis XIV of France, although scholars can find no valid proof he actually said it.  It doesn’t matter if he did or did not; at the time monarchs pretty much had absolute power and were accountable to no one.  Both France and the American colonists fought revolutions to end that kind of tyranny, and this nation, as Lincoln reminded us, was conceived with the idea that all men are created equal and that the government that resulted was of, by, and for the people, not some egomaniac intent on turning us into Russia 2.0.  That there is even a doubt that he should be removed from office by a unanimous vote is scarier than whatever he does to stay in office.


*Forty-four men have been elected to the presidency, but there have been forty-five administrations.  Grover Cleveland had two different terms and is counted as both the twenty-second and the twenty-fourth president.  HT Schoolhouse Rock.

Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Can I Get A Witness

Looks like it might happen.

White House lawyers pleaded with senators Tuesday to acquit President Trump based on “the Constitution and your common sense,” concluding their defense even as Senate GOP leaders struggled to block demands for new witnesses that could throw the trial into turmoil.

In a closed-door meeting after closing remarks, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) told colleagues he doesn’t have the votes to block witnesses, according to people familiar with his remarks who spoke on the condition of anonymity to describe them. Just four GOP senators would have to join with Democrats to produce the majority needed to call witnesses — an outcome McConnell has sought to avoid since it could invite new controversy and draw out the divisive proceedings.

An initial vote to allow witnesses, expected Friday, does not ensure witnesses would actually be called, since the Senate would have to subsequently hold separate votes on summoning each individual witness. And Trump’s ultimate acquittal still remains all but assured, since a two-thirds vote in the GOP-run Senate would be required to remove him.

While everything is theory until it happens, and acquittal is still likely, it’s going to make it rather hard for the Republicans on the campaign trail to justify their vote if they get asked repeatedly how they could vote to let Trump off when they’ve had witnesses lined up to say “Yeah, he did it,” and, more importantly, it would completely freak out the White House and his toadies.

One could easily make the case that in the long run — that is, in November — it’s better that the Republicans get away with having this laughable show trial without witnesses and acquit Trump with a whoop and a “whew, we got away with it.”  The Democrats will have ready-made TV ads to run against the Republicans who, in spite of overwhelming evidence, still cravenly let him get away with it.  I would hope that’s the case.  But the electorate has the long-term memory of a goldfish, and by the time we get to October and the run-up to the election, the impeachment trial will be a distant memory to most of America.  So expecting them to hold Trump accountable for what happened in the summer of 2019 in the fall of 2020 is a big ask.

And then there’s the small matter of justice.  But this is politics, so justice is the last thing we’re supposed to be concerned with.  Still, it would be nice if we were to at least go through the motions.

Tuesday, January 28, 2020

Sanctimonious Toad

Charles P. Pierce on the appearance of Ken Starr in defense of Trump:

On November 28, 1998, a lawyer named Samuel Dash quit his job. Dash was a heavy hitter. 25 years earlier, he had been the majority counsel on the Senate Watergate Committee under Sam Ervin. But he couldn’t possibly continue because he thought he was being complicit in an act of constitutional heresy. From the AP:

You have violated your obligations under the independent counsel statute and have unlawfully intruded on the power of impeachment…I resign for a fundamental reason…Against my strong advice, you decided to depart from your usual professional decision-making by accepting the invitation of the House Judiciary Committee to appear … and serve as an aggressive advocate for the proposition that the evidence … demonstrates that the president committed impeachable offenses.

Dash directed his resignation at Kenneth Starr, who then was the independent counsel charged with rummaging through President Bill Clinton’s entire life. Along the way, as Dash knew, Starr’s runaway prosecution force, which included a young and lubriciously minded lawyer named Brett Kavanaugh, had demolished the lives of dozens of people, in Arkansas and in Washington. And Dash knew Starr’s investigation for the kangaroo stampede that it was, and Dash would have none of it.

You have no right or authority under the law, as independent counsel, to advocate for a particular position on the evidence before the Judiciary Committee or to argue that the evidence in your referral is strong enough to justify a decision by the committee to recommend impeachment.

All of which became relevant again when Ken Starr appeared on Monday on behalf of El Caudillo del Mar-a-Lago, arguing in a lengthy episode of what can only be called constitutional psychedelia that the House of Representatives had run a renegade investigation of a president* acting within the lawful powers of his office. I think the world went all purple and green amphibians when Starr—Ken Fcking Starr, the legendary bed-sniffing yahoo—had the audacity to put the name of the late Peter Rodino in his mouth. It’s a wonder his teeth didn’t burst into flames.

Speaking in the condescending tones of a Baptist preacher who you know has bondage gear stashed in a steamer trunk somewhere, Starr presumed to lecture the Senate on the parameters of its constitutional duties. It was altogether remarkable to hear the author of a soft-core-porn-novella of an impeachment report wax sententiously, and in cathedral tones, about being in “democracy’s ultimate court.” It was altogether remarkable to hear a guy who lost his job at Baylor University after he oversaw a period where the school’s athletics department was plagued by sexual-assault allegations lecture a chamber full of lawyers about how precious due process is.

If a more sanctimonious toad than Kenneth Starr ever has crawled through American politics, I’m hard-pressed to know who it was. He got up in front of the Senate chamber and had the webfooted gall to say this.

Impeachment is hell, or at least, presidential impeachment is hell. Those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment, members of this body well understand that a presidential impeachment is tantamount to domestic war…It’s filled with acrimony and it divides the country like nothing else. Those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment understand that in a deep and personal way.

The same Ken Starr who once insisted that this was the only way democracy could be saved from a dangerous president.

According to Ms. Lewinsky, the president touched her breasts and genitalia, which means his conduct met the Jones definition of sexual relations even under his theory. On these matters, the evidence of the president’s perjury cannot be presented without specific, explicit and possibly offensive descriptions of sexual encounters.

The same guy.

Newspaper taxis appeared on the shore…

Funeral arrangements for Irony are pending.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Anything For A Buck

The New York Times has gotten an advance — remember that word — copy of former Trump National Security Advisor John Bolton’s forthcoming book in which he spills the beans about what Trump knew and when he knew it about holding back the Ukraine aid until he could squeeze them on doing his bidding on the Bidens.  Much of this we already knew from the testimony to the House Intelligence Committee by various witnesses, but the Democrats have been trying to get Mr. Bolton to come forth and testify in the Senate to put the cherry on top of the impeachment sundae.

So far Mr. Bolton has been teasingly offering to come forth.

Mr. Bolton would like to testify for several reasons, according to associates. He believes he has relevant information, and he has also expressed concern that if his account of the Ukraine affair emerges only after the trial, he will be accused of holding back to increase his book sales.

So it would seem that Mr. Bolton is more interested in boosting his public image along with his book sales.  Forget the fact that Trump and his gang have been actively attempting to subvert the 2020 election; he’s got books to sell, and who’s gonna fork over $35 or whatever for old news and the word of disgruntled warmonger?

Even if Mr. Bolton was a stand-up guy who really gave a real damn about whether or not his former crime boss was trying to win reelection based on a phony piece of propaganda from the Kremlin, and even if he does come and testify in front of the Senate and provides proof beyond a reasonable doubt that not only did Trump do everything he’s accused of and also knows where the Lindbergh baby is buried and who cremated Jimmy Hoffa, the Republicans have enough votes and venality and self-ass-saving to acquit him.  So John Bolton can go ahead and sell his books, make his money.  He changes nothing.  Prove me wrong.

Sunday, January 26, 2020

Sunday Reading

They’re Not Listening — Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker.

Each day this week, when the Senate impeachment trial of Donald John Trump has convened at 1 P.M., the proceedings have opened with a prayer by the Senate chaplain, Barry Black, pitched to the tenor of the day. On Wednesday, responding to the ill-tempered partisan exchanges that marked the trial’s contentious first afternoon and evening, Black urged senators to “remember that patriots reside on both sides of the aisle.” On Thursday, he practically begged senators to take their role seriously, cautioning them against “fatigue or cynicism,” and insisting that “listening is often more than hearing.” Black warned against jeopardizing friendships of many years in the heat of the impeachment moment, and, on Friday, he returned to the theme of “civility and respect” and implored senators to maintain their ability to “distinguish between facts and opinions without lambasting the messengers.”

I came to look forward to these homilies, but only because they seemed like pleas to a country and a Senate that no longer exist. If anything, the chaplain was pleading with senators to do the exact opposite of what we all know they are doing. In Trump’s exhausted, jaded capital, there is some listening, but certainly no hearing. Civility is as often as not a dirty word, a synonym for moral compromise and not a prescription for practical politics. In days of watching the trial, I have observed only a handful of instances of Republicans and Democrats interacting with each other in any way. The Senate of the United States in 2020 is not a place where meaningful talking across the aisle is possible. It is not a place where facts are mutually accepted and individuals of good will can look at them and come to opposite but equally valid conclusions. The distance is too vast, the gulf unbridgeable.

We already knew this, of course, before Trump was impeached by the Democratic House of Representatives and put on trial by the Republican Senate, a trial that has been fast-tracked toward his inevitable acquittal. But what a sad and powerful demonstration of the phenomenon we are witnessing. On Thursday night, at the start of one of his most passionate—and ultimately partisan—speeches, the lead House manager, Adam Schiff, began by making an overture to the senators, going on at great length about their fairness and thanking them for keeping “an open mind.” To say this was aspirational would be a stretch. Schiff knew there were few, if any, open minds in the Senate, where, in the course of twenty-four hours spread across three days, he and his fellow House managers made their opening arguments.

The House team’s approach to the problem of having an essentially unpersuadable audience was to veer between lengthy and at times repetitive PowerPoint-enabled recitations of the evidence against Trump—which was plentiful—and impassioned appeals to the Senate to do something about it. As the week built toward the House managers’ Friday-evening close, the level of passion seemed to rise, along with every senatorial tweet and TV interview confirming that their eloquence was largely lost on their audience.

On Friday afternoon, Hakeem Jeffries, of New York, offered an impressive recap of the lengths to which the White House went to keep Trump’s Ukraine pressure campaign secret. He cited names and dates for the cover-up. At the end of his presentation, his tone changed. “There’s a toxic mess at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue,” Jeffries, who is often pegged as a future Speaker of the House, said. “I humbly suggest that it’s our collective job on behalf of the American people to try to clean it up.” A few hours later, Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee chairman and another of the managers, went further. After outlining Trump’s assertion of essentially unlimited executive privilege and pointing out that Trump is the first President to categorically refuse to provide a single witness or document in response to a congressional impeachment inquiry, Nadler compared Trump to a would-be king. Trump is “the first and only President ever to declare himself unaccountable,” Nadler said. If he is left unchecked by Congress, Nadler concluded, “He is a dictator. This must not stand.”

In his own closing, Schiff hit many of the same themes. He ran through a litany of Trump’s obstructive acts. “That has been proved,” he said, over and over again, as he checked off each item on his list. His disdain for the President was palpable. (“For a man who loves to mock others, he does not like to be mocked,” Schiff, a frequent target of Trump’s attacks, said.) And then he ended with an homage to “moral courage” and the real political bravery needed in “disagreeing with our friends—and our party.” It was a moving speech, as Schiff’s usually are, and it sought to acknowledge that Republicans would have to do something very brave indeed: listen to his case and truly hear it. He even proposed that Republicans merely punt the remaining question of whether to call witnesses in the trial to Chief Justice John Roberts, who is presiding over the Senate proceeding. “Give America a fair trial,” he implored. “She’s worth it.” But, of course, it was not to be. Indeed, a riff in Schiff’s speech citing a CBS story that Trump associates had reportedly threatened that any Republican who dared to vote against Trump would end up with his or her “head on a pike” soon had G.O.P. senators claiming to be offended and outraged by Schiff’s words. As Schiff was speaking, the Associated Press tweeted out a news story that captured the moment. It said, “Democrats do not appear close to getting the 4 GOP votes needed for witnesses to appear in President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial.” The game is all but over.

Who, in the end, were they speaking to? And to what end? Jeffries and Nadler and Schiff spoke of Trump as a liar running a dangerously dysfunctional Administration—which counts as an incontrovertible truth in their world but clearly does not in that of the Republican senators. Those senators, after all, have been Trump’s enablers and supporters for three years now, no matter how initially reluctant they were to back him. They have voted almost entirely in lockstep with his priorities, even those that diverged from the Party’s previously held orthodoxies or the senators’ own longstanding beliefs. If Trump’s Washington is the toxic hot mess that Jeffries spoke of, these folks cannot conduct the cleanup. They voted for the pollution.

There are two observations from the Senate floor that stick with me after three long days of hearing the House present its case. These observations speak to how essentially impossible the task of addressing the jury was for Schiff and his fellow-prosecutors. The Republican John Kennedy, a canny Rhodes Scholar from Louisiana who is nonetheless known for his folksy observations, told a reporter, as he headed into the arguments on Friday morning, that the managers had made a mistake in reading their audience. “Very few souls are saved after the first twenty minutes of the sermon,” he said. Less charitable was the view of Mazie Hirono, a Democrat from Hawaii, who said that she had been watching her Republican colleagues squirm in their chairs and understood that nobody likes to be forced to listen to something that they disagree with. “Most of us get restless when we are presented with information we don’t want to hear,” Hirono said, and of course she was right. Imagine doing that for twelve hours or more a day, confined to a hard wooden seat, with no food and every bathroom break you take scrutinized by reporters as proof that you are not taking your job seriously. That, roughly, is the predicament in which the Senate Republican members found themselves this week. It is no surprise that they looked unhappy.

But, still, if the goal of the House managers was to sway any votes, then it is hard not to see their presentation of the case as a failure. On Thursday night, the Republican Rob Portman, of Ohio, spoke to CNN’s Manu Raju outside the chamber and made what counts these days as a concession of sorts to the Democrats. Portman acknowledged that Trump’s withholding of millions in military aid and a White House meeting from Ukraine, as he sought politically motivated investigations, was problematic behavior. “Some of the things that were done were not appropriate,” Portman said. “I’ve used the word ‘wrong’ and ‘inappropriate.’ That’s a very different question than removing someone from office who was duly elected, in the middle of a Presidential election.”

This, in effect, is what I would have expected Republican senators to say in defense of Trump in a previous, less polarized era. It is a modified, updated, Trumpified version of the defense that Democratic senators used twenty-one years ago in voting to acquit Bill Clinton on charges of lying under oath about an extramarital affair: Wrong, bad, inexcusable, but does not rise to the level of impeachment and removal from office.

Had Senate Republicans adopted this argument en masse, the trial would still have the same partisan outcome, but at least it would have taken place in the world of shared facts and expectations. But Portman is no longer the mainstream of the G.O.P.; the center has not held. On Friday afternoon, Judy Woodruff, of PBS, asked Portman’s colleague Deb Fischer, of Nebraska, whether she at least accepted “their premise” that Trump had asked Ukraine to investigate his 2020 political rival, former Vice-President Joe Biden. “I don’t,” Fischer said. This is remarkable stuff. What must the Senate chaplain make of such willful defiance of the facts? The demand from Trump to investigate Biden—by name, no less!—is right in the summary of his July 25th call with the Ukrainian President—the “perfect” phone call, as Trump calls it. The President has tweeted dozens of times since September urging Americans to “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!” How is it possible that one of the hundred senators is so disdainful of her duty that she has not bothered to do so or, if she has, is so willing to ignore what it so plainly says?

This is not a serious defense of Trump, of course, but it is amazingly revealing. The Senate trial of twenty-one years ago was for the Rob Portmans; the Senate trial of today is for the Deb Fischers. There is no audience for Adam Schiff, or if there is it has shrunk to a small handful of Republicans who may or may not vote next week to keep the trial going with witnesses and further evidence. For the rest of the Republicans and the forty per cent or so of America that has unflinchingly supported Trump through his Presidency, there will be another show, produced personally by the showman-in-chief.

That starts on Saturday, when the Trump legal team begins its opening arguments. Senator Ted Cruz, of Texas, a Harvard Law School graduate who was the solicitor general of Texas before he became a senator, told the conservative radio host Hugh Hewitt, in an interview on Friday morning, that he was actively advising the Trump legal team after hours of sitting on the Senate floor each day. He said that he told the President’s lawyers, “No. 1, focus on substance more and process less.”

Don’t expect much substance. On Thursday morning, Trump gave a clear indication of the kind of defense he wants and where his mind is as he directs his lawyers. After “having to endure hour after hour of lies, fraud & deception by Shifty Schiff, Cryin’ Chuck Schumer & their crew,” Trump tweeted, “looks like my lawyers will be forced to start on Saturday, which is called Death Valley in T.V.” Later, Trump’s private lawyer for the impeachment, Jay Sekulow, elaborated, in the language of show business preferred by the reality-TV star in the White House. Saturday’s presentation by the Trump legal team will be like a “trailer,” Sekulow told reporters, during a break on Friday—a preview of “coming attractions.” The show, for a few more days at least, will go on.

Tick-Tock — Erin Blankemore in the Washington Post on really knowing what time it is.

If you tune a shortwave radio to 2.5, 5, 10 or 15 MHz, you can hear a little part of radio history — and the output of some of the most accurate time devices on Earth.

Depending on where you are in the United States, those frequencies will bring you to WWV and WWVH, two extremely accurate time signal stations.

Developed before commercial radio existed, WWV recently celebrated its 100th anniversary. It’s the oldest continually operating radio station in the United States.

Both stations are overseen by the National Institute of Standards and Technology, the federal agency that governs standards for weights and measures and helps define the world’s official time.

That time can be heard on shortwave radio 24/7.

Early on, WWV focused on experimental broadcasts (think Victrola concerts that wowed early radio users). Beginning in 1945, it began broadcasting time, too. In 1948, it was joined by a sister station in Hawaii for better Pacific Coast coverage. Unlike its Pacific counterpart, WWV also broadcasts at 20 MHz.

The format is bare-bones: Ticktock-like tones mark each second. Every minute, a voice announces Coordinated Universal Time, also known as UTC, which corresponds with Greenwich Mean Time. The stations also broadcast marine storm warnings, Department of Defense messages and updates on the status of GPS satellites and solar activity.

The information is provided by cesium atomic clocks and is accurate within less than 0.0001 milliseconds. The signal takes a tiny bit of time to travel to radio listeners, but is accurate within 10 milliseconds in most places within the United States. The stations are most recognizable to shortwave radio fans, and they are used to calibrate stopwatches, synchronize clocks for scientific and industrial applications, and even to tune pianos and time astronomical observations.

But another sister station, WWVB, is less familiar and arguably more widely used.

It doesn’t broadcast voices, just digital time codes over a ­low-frequency carrier. In North America, millions of radio-controlled watches and alarm clocks sync up with WWVB.

Don’t have a shortwave radio, but want to listen in? Call 303-499-7111 for WWV or 808-335-4363 for WWVH, and listen to up to two minutes of the oddly comforting broadcasts.

Doonesbury — Priorities

Saturday, January 25, 2020

Thursday, January 23, 2020

Bored Pettifoggers

For all the money we pay them and for all the things we expect from them, you might hope that the Republicans in the Senate would at least act like they’re not a bunch of bored middle-schoolers in detention.  And you would be wrong.

An excerpt from Dana Milbank’s column in the Washington Post:

Just minutes into the session, as lead House impeachment manager Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) presented his opening argument for removing the president, Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) displayed on his desk a hand-lettered message with big block letters pleading: “S.O.S.”

In case that was too subtle, he followed this later with another handwritten message pretending he was an abducted child:

“THESE R NOT MY PARENTS!”

“PLEASE HELP ME!”

Paul wrote “IRONY ALERT” on another scrap of paper, and scribbled there an ironic thought. Nearby, a torn piece of paper concealed a crossword puzzle, which Paul set about completing while Schiff spoke. Eventually, even this proved insufficient amusement, and Paul, though required to be at his desk, left the trial entirely for a long block of time.

[…]

Some of Paul’s Republican Senate colleagues were only slightly better behaved as the House managers presented the evidence.

Marsha Blackburn (Tenn.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa) read press clippings. (Blackburn had talking points on her desk attacking the whistleblower.) Sessions begin with an admonition that “all persons are commanded to keep silence, on pain of imprisonment,” but Ernst promptly struck up a conversation with Dan Sullivan (Alaska), who talked with Ron Johnson (Wis.). Steve Daines (Mont.) walked over to have a word with Ben Sasse (Neb.) and Tim Scott (S.C.), who flashed a thumbs-up.

Yeah, it’s all a big joke to them, and the reason is simple: they’re not going to do anything but vote in lockstep with the White House.  They could be presented with the corpse of the guy they just saw Trump shoot on Fifth Avenue and still acquit.  Hell, the dude just told the world he’s withholding evidence, and they’re still on their knees servicing him, assuming they can find it.

The Democrats know all this.  And so does karma.  November is coming.  And when Graham and Blackburn and Paul and the rest of the little toads get crapped on by the voters and Trump is dragged kicking and screaming out of the White House, they’re going to be the ones wondering why no one is paying attention to them.

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Collaborators

Charles P. Pierce on fleeting hopes that any Senate Republican might actually give a rat’s patootie about the rule of law and the Constitution as demonstrated yesterday.

In the Senate on Tuesday, the Republican Party, represented by its majority caucus, formalized its fealty to this renegade administration*. It had several chances to demonstrate a modicum of independence, a smidgen of human courage, and it failed every time. Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer proposed amendments to add further documents and witnesses to the deliberations. All of them failed by a straight, party-line 53-47 margin.

In this, no Republican was different from any other Republican. Lisa Murkowski and Tom Cotton were the same. Thom Tillis and Ted Cruz were the same. Cory Gardner and Jim Inhofe were the same. Mitt Romney and Ben Sasse were the same as Mike Rounds and Mike Enzi. And they were all the same as Mitch McConnell. There were no moderate Republicans in the Senate on Tuesday. There were no Never Trumpers. There were only collaborators. There was no independence in the Senate on Tuesday, only complicity. And it was a deadening, sad thing to watch.

[…]

“I like to look around and see how many of my colleagues are looking guilty,” said Senator Amy Klobuchar. “I saw a lot of them just sitting there, looking down.” The Democratic senators seem content to plug along, letting the majority keep voting down what would seem to anyone who’s ever watched a police procedural on TV to be reasonable requests. “All this talk about how they’re asking the Senate to do the House’s work, that’s just BS,” said Senator Mazie Horono. “I’m listening very carefully, I take notes, and then I make my comments parenthetically, like, ‘What a bunch of…’”

House manager Hakeem Jeffries later made a fine presentation of how many witnesses testified in previous impeachments. (Andrew Johnson’s trial had 40 of them.) That’s the kind of thing that will survive on the record after all the knee-jerk constitutional negligence has been toted up. Barack Obama was wrong in 2008 and Joe Biden is wrong today. The fever never will break. The patient is going to have to die.

What’s even sadder is that when all of this is over, even if Trump loses reelection ignominiously and the Senate returns to a Democratic majority, there will be no accountability for the collaborators.  They’ll appear on cable chat shows and even if they have a scintilla of remorse, shame, or guilt for letting Trump off the hook, they will smile sweetly and say something mealy-mouthed like “what’s past is past, let’s move on.”  Yeah, no.

At the end of World War II when the occupied territories were liberated from the Nazis, people who collaborated with the Germans were marched through the streets, the women with shaved heads and striped of their outer garments, and a lot of them were killed outright.  Well, we’re better than that; we shouldn’t physically harm them.  But we should never forget, and those who marched in lockstep with the criminals should be held accountable.

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Dumbing Down

As I noted below, the impeachment trial of Trump is a study in foregone conclusions to the point that, according to Paul Waldman in the Washington Post, his defense team isn’t even trying.

After the Democratic House managers released a 111-page indictment providing copious detail on the events that led to impeachment, the nature of Trump’s misconduct and the constitutional basis for his removal, Trump’s attorneys responded with a six-page document that would have been shocking were it not just the kind of thing we’ve come to expect from this White House.

Indeed, it reads as though it was written by a ninth-grader who saw an episode of “Law & Order” and learned just enough legal terms to throw them around incorrectly. It makes no attempt to contest the facts, instead just asserting over and over that the president is innocent and the entire impeachment is illegitimate, calling it “unlawful” and “constitutionally invalid,” with no apparent understanding of what those terms mean. The articles of impeachment, Trump’s lawyers say, “fail to allege any crime or violation of law whatsoever, let alone ‘high Crimes and Misdemeanors,’ as required by the Constitution.” They then repeat this argument multiple times throughout a screed seemingly pitched to the Fox News hosts who will spend the coming days repeating its absurd claims.

The trouble, as any historian or constitutional scholar will tell you, is that just as there are crimes the president could commit that would not be impeachable (say, shoplifting a candy bar), there has never been any requirement that impeachment can only be used for violations of criminal law. Not only were the Framers deeply concerned about the potential of the president abusing his office, at the time the Constitution was written, there was no such thing as a federal criminal code.

Trump has found the one constitutional “expert” who will take such a position, however: Harvard professor emeritus and frequent Fox News guest Alan Dershowitz, whom Trump added to his defense team last week. “Criminal-like conduct is required” in order for a president to be impeached, Dershowitz now claims, to the puzzlement of pretty much everyone who knows anything about this topic.

Since hypocrisy is something of a job requirement for working for Trump, Dershowitz is naturally on video making exactly the opposite argument in 1998. “It certainly doesn’t have to be a crime if you have somebody who completely corrupts the office of president and who abuses trust and who poses great danger to our liberty,” he said at the time.

The defense wasn’t written for a law school review or to be submitted as a legal brief in a court of law.  It was written solely for the consumption by the audience of Fox News denizens and the lawyers who are sworn to mount a zealous defense of their client until the money runs out.  I am certain that if this brief, written like a homework assignment on the bus to school the day it was due, was submitted to a judge, it would be tossed, followed by charges of contempt and referral to the Bar Association for malpractice.  But they’ll get away with it because even though the United States Senate is comprised of many lawyers, they are not going to be held accountable to the canons of judicial ethics or peer review: it will be by Twitter.

Open And Shut

The Senate trial of Trump will be a show trial of the likes of North Korea without the blaring music and TV broadcasters in native garb.  Other than that, the fix is in and over and out.

Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice has a detailed explainer of why it’s a pipe dream to think that there will be any Republicans with intact vertebrae and who will vote either to allow witness testimony or vote to convict.  They are, as they say, like bacon: fried, dried, and laid to the side.  And other than the few people who read this blog and others like this, the vast majority of Americans aren’t paying attention and don’t really care about the outcome.  Mitch McConnell knows that; he’s counting on it, and he’s very sure that next November the folks back home in Kentucky will re-elect him even if Trump is ground to ash.

Senator McConnell knows, because he has been doing it successfully since January 2009, that the majority of Americans do not care about process, if they even understand it. And that the vast majority of Americans aren’t political junkies either. So if he just does what he’s going to do, give his regular more in sadness than in anger remarks, and is boring, then the news media will move along to whichever shiny object catches their attention. This is how he stymied President Obama for eight years. This is how he brought the Republicans back into the majority in the Senate. This is how he stole a Supreme Court seat. This is how he stole over 150 Federal judgeships. And this is how he was able to place Brett Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court.

[…]

If you are counting on Senators Romney, Murkowski, Alexander, and/or Collins to do what Senators Corker and Flake did not in 2018, please email me about the great bridge I have to sell you on a lovely beachfront in Florida. The Senate runs according to McConnell’s rules and Senator McConnell’s only rule is doing whatever he can get away with to maintain power to achieve his objectives. That’s it. Expecting anything else to happen is self delusion.

Now, America, go out there and make your Super Bowl bets.

Sunday, January 19, 2020

Sunday Reading

Spoiler Alert: No Justice for Trump — Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker.

Shortly after 2 P.M. on Thursday, ninety-nine of the hundred members of the United States Senate raised their hands and swore en masse to do “impartial justice” in the impeachment trial of President Donald J. Trump. That, of course, is an impossibility in the political world they inhabit. Neither impartiality nor justice is on offer in this proceeding. Three years into Trump’s tenure, there is precisely no one in the U.S. Capitol who is undecided about the President, on the subject of his impeachment or any other. And yet there is real suspense, in the way that the Trump Presidency has conditioned us to expect: Will there be wild new revelations? (There already have been in the past twenty-four hours.) Will there be inappropriate tweeting by the defendant in the White House? (A given.) Will even a single senator break from the calcified partisan battle lines? (Who knows?)

This Senate trial is only the third such proceeding in American history, and, despite what appears to be its preordained acquittal of the President by his fellow-Republicans, it is starting out with such great uncertainty that it’s still not even clear if there will be witnesses called and evidence submitted. How can it be a trial without them? The Democrat-controlled House voted to impeach Trump in a party-line vote in December, and yet key facts about the President’s aborted scheme to pressure Ukraine for his personal political benefit remain unknown (although they are very much knowable), owing to an executive-branch information blockade ordered by Trump. Will those facts come out before the Chief Justice of the United States bangs down the gavel on the trial’s seemingly inevitable outcome?

In today’s brutally dysfunctional capital—in which institutions of government are controlled by feuding clans that communicate with each other almost exclusively via hostile tweets and cable-news sound bites—anything can turn into an exercise in raw power politics. Even the ministerial matter of transmitting the articles of impeachment from the House to the Senate and beginning the Senate trial became the subject of an entire holiday season of made-for-TV drama. For weeks, Speaker Nancy Pelosi refused to turn over the articles until she’d received assurances from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell about what kind of trial he planned to run. No such assurances were forthcoming, although Pelosi arguably succeeded in one respect—turning the debate away from her side’s forthcoming defeat in the Senate to the matter of what would constitute a fair trial. Democrats have redefined victory to mean not necessarily winning the case but merely getting a proper hearing for it. For now, at least.

On Wednesday, after Pelosi finally ended her hold on the articles of impeachment, she named seven members of the House as managers who will prosecute the case in the Senate. On Thursday, at the stroke of noon, the House managers marched across the Capitol and physically presented the articles to the Senate in a self-consciously anachronistic twenty-first-century enactment of a process dreamed up by our eighteenth-century founders. There was gravitas, solemnity, talk of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” There were “wherefore”s and “hear ye, hear ye”s. Chief Justice John Roberts was summoned over from the Supreme Court to administer the senatorial oath and take up his duties as the trial’s presiding officer. The Senate Minority Leader, Chuck Schumer, later said that, as Roberts entered the chamber, “I saw members on both sides of the aisle visibly gulp.” “The weight of history,” as Schumer put it, was visibly upon the Senate. “God bless you,” Senator Chuck Grassley, the Iowa Republican, who was sitting in the chair, told Roberts after he swore him in.

But even now that the constitutional formalities have been dispensed with, McConnell has not revealed whether and how there will even be votes on requiring the testimony of new witnesses and the submission of documents that the White House refused to provide to the House, a stonewall more complete than any Administration’s in history. If such votes do happen, they are not likely to be until a week or more into the proceedings. Meanwhile, new revelations continue to spill out about Trump’s Ukraine machinations, including a series of sensational interviews this week by the indicted Trump contributor Lev Parnas, who said that Trump knew of Parnas’s efforts with Rudy Giuliani to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice-President Joe Biden. The suspense surrounding the trial mixes the dread certainty that today’s Senate is ill-equipped to handle its constitutionally dictated obligation with a lingering curiosity about whether a handful of Republican senators will force McConnell to hold a proceeding that is something other than a sham.

“The Senate is on trial as well as the President,” Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said at the press conference where Pelosi introduced him and six others as the impeachment managers. It was a seemingly self-evident observation that nonetheless bears much repeating. The Senate trial could take between three and six weeks, according to one estimate, though Trump’s advisers are pushing Republicans for a much more abbreviated proceeding. However long it lasts, the trial will essentially consist of a hundred senators sitting silently at their desks, stripped of their cell phones and laptops and all the other accoutrements of modern political life, listening to the presentation of evidence in a case about which they have presumably already made up their minds. We listeners will have plenty of time to contemplate the Senate itself and what it has become in the Trump era.

“I understand that the politics of impeachment are difficult for many Senators,” Val Demings, one of the House managers, from Florida, tweeted soon after Pelosi appointed her to the job. “But I have not written off the Senate. Each Senator still has the power to do the right thing.” But this Senate is no closer to a real jury than the proceeding is to being a real trial. On Wednesday, Politico counted twenty-six Republican senators who had already put out statements or otherwise publicly indicated that they would vote against conviction and twenty-four more who probably would; Democrats were equally united around planned votes to convict. Republican sources have said that they don’t expect a single Republican defection on the final trial verdict, just as there was not a single Republican defection in the House on the impeachment itself.

For the past three years, the Senate has been one of the main arenas in which it has become clear just how totally and completely Trump has taken over the Republican Party. He has not only vanquished doubters; he has dominated them. Skeptics have been purged. Senators have abased themselves again and again. Those who stood up to Trump inside his own party have been exiled, silenced, or flipped. The President is on trial for holding hundreds of millions of dollars in congressionally appropriated aid to Ukraine hostage for his own personal political ends, and, indeed, the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan government watchdog, announced on Thursday, as the trial began, that the aid holdup was an illegal abuse of executive power. But Republican senators who claim an interest in national security have been loath even to acknowledge that there might be anything wrong with Trump’s behavior, even as an abstract matter of principle.

The suspense surrounding the trial, then, is not about the possibility that Republicans might suddenly change their minds about Donald Trump and his misdeeds. Lindsey Graham is not going to revert to his 2016 Trump-bashing self. Mitch McConnell and Chuck Schumer are not miraculously going to start talking and produce a plan for the trial that everyone can get behind. The Senate that voted 100–0 on the rules governing the impeachment trial of Bill Clinton, twenty-one years ago, is a thing of the distant past. Today’s uncertainty is about the nature, shape, and contours of the trial that will result from this more intemperate political moment. Mitt Romney, of Utah, and a few other so-called moderates—Lamar Alexander, of Tennessee; Susan Collins, of Maine; Lisa Murkowski, of Alaska—may yet force their colleagues to vote on bringing in Administration witnesses, such as Trump’s former national-security adviser John Bolton, whom the White House does not want to testify. But it is doubtful that even a single one of them will ultimately vote to convict. This is why the real uncertainty remains what it has been since the day Pelosi and the House embarked upon this impeachment course, last September: it is an uncertainty about what comes after the trial—after Democrats have taken their shot at Trump and, in all likelihood, failed.

Soon after the day’s ceremonial start to the Senate trial had wrapped up, Trump appeared before the cameras to call the case against him a “big hoax,” “a witch-hunt hoax,” “a complete hoax,” and “a phony hoax.” What will he talk about when the trial is over and he is completely and totally vindicated in the greatest acquittal of all time? How will he govern then?

Did Virginia Amend the Constitution Last Week? — Russell Berman in The Atlantic.

The commonwealth of Virginia [on Wednesday] voted to amend the U.S. Constitution, becoming the 38th and final state needed to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex. Virginia’s action could be a momentous day in the nation’s history, heralding far-reaching changes in the law and capping a nearly century-long fight to enshrine women’s equality in the Constitution.

Or it might mean nothing at all.

Whether the Constitution has actually been amended for the 28th time—and for the first time in more than a quarter century—is now officially in question and a matter for the courts to decide. Even before the two Democratic-led chambers of the Virginia legislature voted today, supporters and opponents of the ERA had filed dueling federal lawsuits, launching a legal battle that could wind up in the Supreme Court.

A deadline that Congress originally imposed (and later revised) for ratification of the amendment by the states has long since passed. ERA backers are trying to get the deadline invalidated, while foes want not only to keep the lapsed due date intact but to prevent Congress from retroactively eliminating it.

As a generation of American schoolchildren learned from Schoolhouse Rock, a bill becomes a law when the president signs it (or Congress overrides his veto). But the endpoint for affixing an amendment to the Constitution is a bit murkier. Congress, through a two-thirds majority vote in each chamber, proposes changes, and then three-quarters of the state legislatures must ratify them. But then what happens?

There is no assigned role for the president in constitutional amendments, nor one, directly, for the Supreme Court. Instead a relatively little-known federal official, the archivist of the United States, collects the documents from the states, certifies an amendment’s ratification, and publishes it in the Federal Register.

The current archivist is David Ferriero, an appointee of former President Barack Obama who has held the position since 2009. The bulk of Ferriero’s job is to oversee the National Archives and Records Administration, but he now finds himself caught in the middle of a rekindled fight over the Constitution as a named defendant in both federal lawsuits. Attorneys general for the states of Alabama, Louisiana, and South Dakota have asked a judge to prevent Ferriero from certifying the ERA’s ratification and to acknowledge that five states rescinded their ratifications and should not be counted among the 38. Two pro-ERA advocacy groups, meanwhile, are asking a different federal court to invalidate the 1979 deadline that Congress originally attached to the amendment, ignore the states that have tried to rescind their ratifications, and force Ferriero to certify the ERA as ratified once Virginia submits its paperwork.

In the past, Ferriero seems to have taken the position that the ERA is a viable amendment, the lapsed congressional deadline notwithstanding. He accepted the post-deadline ratifications of Illinois and Nevada and included both states on a list of those that had ratified the amendment. A National Archives and Records Administration spokesperson, Laura Sheehan, told me it was the archivist’s “responsibility to document the actions that have been taken by the states with respect to any proposed constitutional amendment. The [Office of Legal Counsel] opinion has separately determined that the recent state approvals cannot serve to cause the Equal Rights Amendment to be adopted.” (Ferriero was not available for an interview.)

Virginia was poised to become the 38th state to ratify the ERA in November once Democrats ousted Republicans from the majorities in the state House of Delegates and Senate. Party leaders immediately confirmed that they would make good on a campaign pledge to approve the amendment.

Facing a crucial decision and having already been sued preemptively by ERA foes, Ferriero asked the Department of Justice for legal guidance. Not surprisingly, the Trump administration came down on the side of the amendment’s opponents: In a 38-page opinion, the Office of Legal Counsel basically declared the ERA dead and said that in order to revive it, supporters would have to start from scratch. “Even if one or more state legislatures were to ratify the proposed amendment, it would not become part of the Constitution, and the Archivist could not certify its adoption,” the opinion states. “Congress may not revive a proposed amendment after a deadline for its ratification has expired. Should Congress wish to propose the amendment anew, it may do so through the same procedures required to propose an amendment in the first instance, consistent with Article V of the Constitution.”

In a statement last week, the National Archives and Records Administration said it would abide by the Justice Department’s opinion, “unless instructed otherwise by a final court order.”

Virginia Democrats knew that their votes today might be for naught, but they celebrated anyway. “We’ll see what happens, but from my perspective we have done what we needed to do to become the 38th state needed for ratification,” Delegate Charniele Herring, the majority leader of the Virginia House, told me by phone after the vote.

In addition to the courts, ERA backers are looking to Congress, where House Democrats hope to pass legislation that would remove the deadline for ratification altogether. Still, even action by Congress would provoke a certain legal challenge from ERA opponents who contend that lawmakers should not be able to remove a deadline long after it expired.

For now, however, Virginia Democrats are trying to tune out the obstacles, treating their votes today as a history-making moment. State Senator Jennifer McClellan told me she felt “a combination of joy and relief,” as well as the presence of a century’s worth of women activists “on my shoulders.” As for the possibility that the courts will block the ERA, leaving its adoption no closer than it was decades ago, McClellan sounded a note of optimism instead. “I don’t think that’s going to happen,” she told me. “I still have faith that this is going to happen sooner rather than later.”

Doonesbury — Jiminy Cricket!

Thursday, January 16, 2020

The Parnas Interview

The talk on TV today will no doubt devote a lot of time to discussing Rachel Maddow’s interview last night with Trump/Giuliani operative Lev Parnas and his attorney.  There’s analysis (no paywall) at TPM, and Adam L. Silverman at Balloon Juice goes through it and provides a critique of Ms. Maddow’s interrogation style.

The information that Parnas presented was a mixture of accurate information, misinformation, and agitprop. For instance, we already know, from previous reporting that has been verified by subsequent reporting, that Giuliani had a strange fixation on the Ukrainian black ledger that implicated Manafort. So it isn’t surprising when Parnas presented that in one of his answers. Nor was it surprising when he made it very clear that it was never about corruption, it was just about Vice President Biden, his son Hunter, and getting dirt on them for political purposes in the 2020 election. This too has been reported on extensively and verified in subsequent reporting. As was the information about the quid pro quo given to Ukrainian President Zelensky And the information about trying to get a deal cut for Dmitro Firtash in exchange for his help. And I have no doubt, despite his attempt to get ahead of things on Fox News tonight, that Congressman Nunes is up to his eyeballs in this meshugas.

[…]

The releases of the information that Parnas has turned over to the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence are all interesting. And like tonight’s interview some of that information is accurate and true, some is disinformation, and some is agitprop. The proof will be in the vetting of that documentary information, just as it will be in the vetting of the information Parnas provided this evening. It is important to remember that Parnas is alleged to be a low level member or associate of post-Soviet and Russian organized crime. He is only as credible as his statements and documentary evidence can be verified.

And that’s where I get to the format/process problem. I’ve conducted semi-structured interviews as part of my work for the US Army and I’ve trained Soldiers on how to do them to collect information and intelligence. I’ve mentioned before that over a four to five month period I interviewed around 50 sheikhs, imams, and other local elites and notables using a semi-structured format across central Iraq (Baghdad Province and parts of Anbar, Wassit, and Diyala Provinces). I’m a huge fan of putting the subject of the interview at ease and letting them tell you their story – the true parts, the false parts, and the parts that fall in between. But there is a difference between doing that, and being prepared to ask sound follow up questions rooted within the context of the answers and information you’re being provided, and credulously just eating it up while looking focused and concerned. And this means asking questions like: “how do you know?” and “can you provide verification for that?” or “do you have documents about that?” or “who else should we talk to in order to verify that?”. I’m not qualified to judge whether Maddow’s interviewing process made for compelling television, but from an information gathering standpoint it was a failure. Maddow was far too credulous and failed to ask the necessary follow on questions. I will make an important caveat: she may have been prevented from doing so by agreement with Parnas’s attorney about the format of the interview. But, if that was the case, then it should have been disclosed. I’ve seen Maddow do far more adversarial and far better interviews with friendly guests. This was not one of her best outings.

The bottom line is that no matter what Mr. Parnas said and no matter how good or bad Ms. Maddow was in conducting the interview, nothing of substance will come out of it in terms of the impeachment trial.  The die is cast, the fix is in, Trump will be acquitted, and Lev Parnas will show up as an answer on the “Jeopardy!” GOAT tournament in 2035.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

Another Straw

So John Bolton says he will testify before the Senate if he’s subpoenaed.

About a year ago a lot of people were hoping that the super-secret work of Robert Mueller would, when released, finally bring Trump and his gang to justice.  Yeah, well, it didn’t, and even the report itself didn’t really go far enough to give reasonable people something to pin their hopes on.

Now we’re looking at another possible moment that could, at last, bring about the demise before the election, which wouldn’t really help the situation because even if Trump is convicted in the Senate (which will happen at the same time I collect my Pulitzer), we’d be left with Mike Pence, and he’s just as bad, if not more, because he’s straight from Jesus.

First, I don’t think it’s going to happen.  The Senate under Mitch McConnell will not allow the Democrats to issue the subpoena, and I doubt that Mr. Bolton will show up uninvited and on his own.  If he really cared about righting the wrongs of this administration, he wouldn’t qualify his appearance.  In the words of my generation, he’s just a teaser.

Sorry to be so cynical, but I don’t think this is the straw that will break the camel’s back.  At this point, it’s just another straw to grasp at.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The Sting

At the end of the 1973 film The Sting, after Henry Gondorff (Paul Newman) and Johnny Hooker (Robert Redford) pull off an elaborate con on Doyle Lonnegan (Robert Shaw) in revenge for murdering a friend, Gondorff turns to Hooker and asks him if it’s enough.  Johnny Hooker thinks about it and says, “It’s not enough.”  Then he laughs and says, “But it’s close.”

I think that’s how I feel about the impeachment of Trump.  I know that the Senate Republicans will not vote to convict him on either count because they are either beholden to their party line and that party line is Trump No Matter What, or they are too afraid of angry old white guys with Truck Nutz and deer rifles to stand up for the oath they took.  Most of them, it would seem, signed off on their oath of office the same way most people sign off on their software terms and conditions; click Yes to agree and move on to the porn or shopping cart.  So Mitch McConnell will quickly dispatch the trial, not allow witnesses or testimony from the House committees, and let Trump off the hook.

But the damage has been done.  No matter what happens in the Senate, the first line of Trump’s obituary will include that he was impeached, sharing that honor with Bill Clinton, the husband of his nemesis, and the 19th century’s paragon of Confederate revenge, Andrew Johnson.  History will record it, the archives will contain his rants and ramblings, and generations from now our successors will ponder the mindset of a country that eight years before elected an African-American and then, in a paroxysm of splenetic vitriol, elected the perfect antithesis of Barack Obama.

The defenders of Trump have been saying that the Democrats are trying to overturn the election of 2016.  Yes, they are.  That’s why the Constitution has the remedy of impeachment.  The folks who wrote it knew that at some point, there would need to be a remedy for an election that turned out badly for the country and that’s how it is done.  They didn’t anticipate that it would be a partisan issue, but they had the foresight not to take it lightly, so that’s why they made it as hard to impeach a president as possible: both the House and the Senate had to concur, and in conviction it had to be more than just a majority of votes.  The only thing harder to pull off is amending the Constitution.  So far, none of the presidents that have been impeached have been convicted; Johnson escaped by one vote, and it was hardly close for Clinton.  But the remedy of impeachment still carries the sting, and if for no other reason, this is the mark that Trump will take with him to posterity.

Trump’s defenders also claim that this impeachment is revenge for the Democrats losing the election; that they never got over Hillary Clinton’s defeat.  But that’s where they’re mistaking a fundamental difference between those who follow Trump and those who follow the law.  Trump’s entire life is geared towards revenge: getting back at the people who didn’t take him seriously as a businessman and harboring hatred for those who by their very nature attract good people and inspire them to do good things for others.  His hatred of Barack Obama is palpable; everything he’s done in office has been to tear down what President Obama achieved, and to take back what he believes rightfully belongs to the white guys.  Trump has never done anything in his life to elevate himself, either financially or politically, without tearing down or cheating someone else on the way.  To him, he cannot rise without destruction, and the landscape and jails are littered with the desiccated remains of those who tried to stop him or, paradoxically, enabled him.  But this time both the Constitution and his betters caught up with him, and for committing acts that to him have been normal practice all his life: coerce, extort, and bury the evidence.  He’s proudly admitted to it: we have the tapes and the witnesses.  And for once, the justice system has marked him.  There is no settlement offer that he can weasel out of, and even if the Senate does acquit him, the indictment still stands.  It is not revenge; it is justice.  The Republicans and Trump, however, cannot distinguish between the two.

So no, it’s not enough just to impeach Trump.  But it’s close.

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Live Feed To The Foregone Conclusion

The House will vote sometime today to impeach Trump.  It will be very solemn, as it should be, and then turn it over to the Senate where we already know the fix is in.  I’m sure that there will be live coverage with lots of analysis and anecdotes about history and trivia.

At the moment I’m watching the gang on Morning Joe vamp until the coverage begins (interspersed with Christmas commercials) led by the sugared-up Chris Matthews, and they’re all saying that no Republicans are standing up to Trump.  And that’s news?

I get the historical meaning of it.  Twenty-one years ago the Republicans impeached Bill Clinton for lying about a blow job, and the roles were reversed: the Democrats saying it was a witch hunt and there was nothing to impeach him for.  We’re getting the same noise now from the Republicans.  We’re being told that this will forever mar the presidency* of Trump.  Um, even more than separating families at the border by force for seeking asylum?  For mocking and denigrating entire communities such as Muslims, the disabled, and Others?  For trashing the economy to benefit himself and his alleged friends?  Trust me, this interregnum has already been marred, tarred, and feathered.  The fact that he will have some sense of vindication the same way a dictator feels when he wins 99.9% of the vote in an “election” is just part of the show.

Writ Large

“Four score and seven years ago…” — Abraham Lincoln

“We have nothing to fear but fear itself…” — Franklin Delano Roosevelt

“Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country…” — John Fitzgerald Kennedy

“Waaaaaaaaaah!” — Trump.