The simple takeaway from the Mueller Report is the President betrayed his country and spent two years lying and breaking the law to try to hide that fact. He should resign and be tried for his crimes.
It won’t happen. But it should.
The simple takeaway from the Mueller Report is the President betrayed his country and spent two years lying and breaking the law to try to hide that fact. He should resign and be tried for his crimes.
It won’t happen. But it should.
Susan B. Glasser in The New Yorker:
In the most memorable scene in the most anticipated government report in recent history, the special counsel, Robert Mueller, takes us inside the Oval Office on May 17, 2017. President Trump, having fired the F.B.I. director in an apparent effort to shut down the investigation of him and his 2016 campaign, was in the middle of interviewing candidates for the new vacancy. Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who had recused himself from overseeing the Russia investigation, much to the President’s fury, stepped out of the room to take a phone call. He returned with bad news: his deputy, Rod Rosenstein, had appointed Mueller to be a special counsel and conduct an independent investigation. Russiagate would live on. Trump “slumped” over in his chair, according to the report. “Oh, my God, this is the end of my Presidency,” he said. “I’m fucked.”
For now, at least, it appears that he was wrong. The appointment of Mueller did not lead to the end of Trump’s Presidency. Not yet, and probably not ever. The release of the special counsel’s report, on Thursday, showed that Mueller did not turn up conclusive evidence of a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and the Russians who interfered in the 2016 election to boost Trump’s candidacy. But the report’s belated publication, almost four weeks to the day after Mueller submitted it to Attorney General William Barr, is hardly the “complete and total exoneration” that Trump initially claimed it was and that Barr misleadingly and incompletely portrayed to the country. We knew that wasn’t the case the minute Trump said it.
What we didn’t know until Thursday, when we finally saw the four-hundred-and-forty-eight-page document, is how much evidence Mueller had amassed about the President, panicked and in crisis mode, trying to shut down and block the investigation. The report documents ten different incidents that raise questions about the President’s behavior. Was it obstruction of justice? The Mueller report concluded (albeit in legalistic and unclear language) that that is a matter for Congress to decide. And Congress, as a matter of political calculation and senatorial math, remains unlikely to pursue the question to its bitter end.
Whatever happens, and for however long the Trump regime lasts, be it until 2021 or 2025, it will be scarred, tarred, and broken by the Mueller report, redacted or not, or whether or not it winds up as a series on Netflix. History will prove that how Trump got to office and how he dealt with the aftereffects will overshadow and skew anything he does, and just as Watergate will forever be the tagline and epitaph for Richard Nixon, not to mention the people who worked with and for him, the story of Russian meddling and how the Trump regime responded to it will be the first line in its obituary.
And it’s all his own doing. The only reason he’s not under indictment for collusion is that his campaign couldn’t get their act together to do it right. As for obstruction of justice, it’s certainly not for the lack of trying.
So despite all the crowing and calls to move on from the base and the Wormtongues at Fox, Trump called it: he’s fucked.
I’m not at all surprised that Attorney General William Barr told the Senate that there may have been some “spying” during the 2016 campaign. After all, he was hired by Trump to follow up on the right-wing nutsery claims about the Democrats doing it, and although he has no offer of proof, he basically echoed what Trump as been screaming about all along.
The fact that the FBI and other intelligence agencies may have had legitimate reasons to investigate the glaring clues that a foreign hostile power was trying to interfere with the electoral process doesn’t matter. All these conspiracy whacks hear is “spying” and they’re over the moon. Now the emboldened GOP will say “There should never have been an investigation of anybody at all!” That’s tantamount to saying, “Yeah, it was fine with me if the Russians wanted to put Trump in office.”
Trump got the attorney general he really wanted in William Barr: a yes-man who does his bidding.
It took long enough.
The chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee asked the IRS on Wednesday for six years of President Trump’s personal and business tax returns, a request with which the president immediately said he was not inclined to comply.
The committee chairman’s letter to the Internal Revenue Service — and Trump’s immediate and public response — set up what is likely to become an intense and drawn-out court fight as Democrats push to see tax records they think can shed light on numerous aspects of Trump’s business dealings and Trump resists their demands. The Ways and Means chairman’s request was expected but nonetheless represented a significant escalation in House Democrats’ wide-ranging probes of Trump and his administration.
The IRS was given until April 10 to respond. The panel’s chairman was able to make the request because of a 1924 law that gives the chairmen of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Senate Finance Committee broad powers to request and receive the tax returns of any American.
“Congress, as a coequal branch of government, has a duty to conduct oversight of departments and officials,” Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) said in a statement. “The Ways and Means Committee in particular has a responsibility to conduct oversight of our voluntary federal tax system and determine how Americans — including those elected to our highest office — are complying with those laws.”
Trump broke with precedent when he refused as a presidential candidate, and then when elected, to release his tax returns, something every president since Richard M. Nixon has done. The explanation he gave was that he was being audited, although numerous experts have said that an audit would not have prevented him from releasing his returns.
I’m going to predict that this battle, more than anything about the election of 2016 and who colluded with whom, will last long after Trump has left office and will lead eventually to civil if not criminal charges.
The Republicans will carry on about a fishing expedition (as opposed to what Ken Starr did with the Clintons?) and eventually it will end up at the Supreme Court where Trumpistas will challenge the right of Congress to have the temerity to investigate the Executive branch via a law that dates back 95 years.
The House committee is casting a wide net, including in their request not just tax returns for Trump himself but for a lot of his shell corporations and shelters. That’s probably why it took four months since taking control of Congress for Rep. Neal to gather together the support to make the request and prove in court why the House committee wants to look at the records. They knew this was going to be a long haul.
The New York Times is out with an analysis of how Trump and his minions have routinely tried to quash, silence, and intimidate anyone or any news organization trying to uncover the truth about whatever the hell is going in in his administration.
WASHINGTON — As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation, according to several American officials with direct knowledge of the call.
Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to “jump on a grenade” for the president, knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge because Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.
Trying to install a perceived loyalist atop a widening inquiry is a familiar tactic for Mr. Trump, who has been struggling to beat back the investigations that have consumed his presidency. His efforts have exposed him to accusations of obstruction of justice as Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel, finishes his work investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mr. Trump’s public war on the inquiry has gone on long enough that it is no longer shocking. Mr. Trump rages almost daily to his 58 million Twitter followers that Mr. Mueller is on a “witch hunt” and has adopted the language of Mafia bosses by calling those who cooperate with the special counsel “rats.” His lawyer talks openly about a strategy to smear and discredit the special counsel investigation. The president’s allies in Congress and the conservative news media warn of an insidious plot inside the Justice Department and the F.B.I. to subvert a democratically elected president.
An examination by The New York Times reveals the extent of an even more sustained, more secretive assault by Mr. Trump on the machinery of federal law enforcement. Interviews with dozens of current and former government officials and others close to Mr. Trump, as well as a review of confidential White House documents, reveal numerous unreported episodes in a two-year drama.
White House lawyers wrote a confidential memo expressing concern about the president’s staff peddling misleading information in public about the firing of Michael T. Flynn, the Trump administration’s first national security adviser. Mr. Trump had private conversations with Republican lawmakers about a campaign to attack the Mueller investigation. And there was the episode when he asked his attorney general about putting Mr. Berman in charge of the Manhattan investigation.
Mr. Whitaker, who this month told a congressional committee that Mr. Trump had never pressured him over the various investigations, is now under scrutiny by House Democrats for possible perjury.
On Tuesday, after The Times article published, Mr. Trump denied that he had asked Mr. Whitaker if Mr. Berman could be put in charge of the investigation. “No, I don’t know who gave you that, that’s more fake news,” Mr. Trump said. “There’s a lot of fake news out there. No, I didn’t.”
A Justice Department spokeswoman said Tuesday that the White House had not asked Mr. Whitaker to interfere in the investigations. “Under oath to the House Judiciary Committee, then-Acting Attorney General Whitaker stated that ‘at no time has the White House asked for nor have I provided any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation,’” said the spokeswoman, Kerri Kupec. “Mr. Whitaker stands by his testimony.”
The story of Mr. Trump’s attempts to defang the investigations has been voluminously covered in the news media, to such a degree that many Americans have lost track of how unusual his behavior is. But fusing the strands reveals an extraordinary story of a president who has attacked the law enforcement apparatus of his own government like no other president in history, and who has turned the effort into an obsession. Mr. Trump has done it with the same tactics he once used in his business empire: demanding fierce loyalty from employees, applying pressure tactics to keep people in line and protecting the brand — himself — at all costs.
It should be noted that the Justice Department’s denial of Mr. Whitaker’s actions is irrelevant. It’s that Trump tried to get an attorney that was on his side to run the investigation. Whether or not Mr. Whitaker complied isn’t the issue; that Trump tried is.
What emerges from this story is that Trump is obsessed with putting an end to any news coverage of him that isn’t fawning. Given his past and his personality, that’s not surprising, but where it has gotten him in trouble is that in order to win over the base and win the election, he and his minions engaged in illegal acts, and now they’re trying to cover them up and intimidate and demonize anyone who is trying to get to the truth. Innocent people don’t act like that. If they’ve done nothing wrong, they don’t need to.
The other element in this story is the acknowledgment that the public is basically immune to being outraged or surprised by Trump. That’s to be expected in a time when a viral meme can come and go with the lifespan of a fruit fly — this week’s media obsession is next week’s question in bar trivia contests — but whether or not the public cares or is aware of high crimes and misdemeanors really has no bearing on whether or not he should be held accountable. Nor should the attempts by his leather-lunged supporters to distract our attention with yet another attempt to bring up Hillary’s e-mails or Barack’s birth certificate. Those of us who are old enough to remember Watergate know that the public was far more interested in what happened to Patty Hearst than what Richard Nixon was doing in the West Wing. It wasn’t until the Senate hearings interrupted “The Price Is Right” and soap operas that the average voter was even aware that crimes had taken place, and their response was typical: “When will I get my stories back?”
Fortunately that doesn’t matter. Justice and the application thereof is not based on how it trends on Twitter, and no amount of threats and cries of “Fake News!” will put an end to it.
Time for my annual recap and predictions for this year and next. Let’s look back at how I did a year ago.
- There will be indictments at a very high level in the administration as the Mueller investigation rumbles on. Plea bargains and deals will be made and revelations will come forth, and by summer there will be genuine questions about whether or not the administration will survive. But there won’t be a move to impeach Trump as long as there are Republican majorities in the Congress, and invoking the 25th Amendment is a non-starter.
I’ll give myself a B on that since it was pretty much that way a year ago and the gears of justice grind slowly but irresistibly. No high-level members of the administration were indicted, but shame and scandal did bring down an impressive number of folks who had hard passes to the West Wing.
- The Democrats will make great gains in the mid-term elections in November. This is a safe bet because the party out of power usually does in the first mid-term of new president. The Democrats will take back the Senate and narrow the gap in the House to the point that Speaker Paul Ryan with either quit or be so powerless that he’s just hanging around to collect pension points. (No, he will not lose his re-election bid.)
I’ll go with a C on that since I hit the nail on the head in the first sentence; I should have just left it there. But no; I had it backwards: the House flipped but the GOP still has the Senate, and who knew that Paul Ryan would decide to quit?
- There will be a vacancy on the Supreme Court, but it won’t happen until after the mid-terms and Trump’s appointment will flail as the Democrats in the Senate block the confirmation on the grounds that the next president gets to choose the replacement.
I’ll take an A- on that since I got the timing wrong, but I think Brett Kavanaugh did a great job of flailing (“I like beer!”) before the Senate Judiciary Committee. The predator still got on the court, though, and we all hold RBG in the Light for at least another two years.
- There will be irrefutable proof that the Russians not only meddled in the 2016 U.S. election, but they’ve had a hand in elections in Europe as well and will be a factor in the U.S. mid-terms. Vladimir Putin will be re-elected, of course.
- Raul Castro will figure out a way to still run Cuba even if he steps down as president, and there will be no lessening of the authoritarian rule.
Another A+, but what did anyone expect? Trump’s half-assed attempts to restrain trade with Cuba, along with Marco Rubio doing his yapping perrito act, only make it more ironic when it’s the administration’s policy to cozy up to dictators like Putin and the Saudis. If Trump owned a hotel in Havana he’d be down there in a second sucking up to the regime with video to prove it.
- The U.S. economy will continue to grow, but there will be dark clouds on the horizon as the deficit grows thanks to the giveaways in the GOP tax bill. If the GOP engineers cuts to entitlement programs and the number of uninsured for healthcare increases, the strain on the economy will be too much.
I’ll take a B on this since I didn’t factor in tariffs and the trade war(s) he’s launched that led to wild uncertainty in the markets, not to mention Trump’s bashing of the Fed chair that he appointed and told him to do what he’s doing.
- This “America First” foreign policy will backfire. All it does is tell our allies “You’re on your own.” If we ever need them, they’re more likely to turn their backs on us.
I get an A on this because it has and they are.
- The white supremacist movement will not abate. Count on seeing more violence against minorities and more mass shootings.
Sadly, a very predictable A on that.
- A viable Democratic candidate will emerge as a major contender for the 2020 election, and it will most likely be a woman. Sen. Elizabeth Warren is considered to be the default, but I wouldn’t rule out Sen. Kamala Harris of California or Sen. Kristen Gillibrand of New York just yet. (Sen. Gillibrand would drive Trump even further around the bend. She was appointed to the Senate to fill Hillary Clinton’s seat when she became Secretary of State in 2009.)
I get a B on this because it was rather easy to spot and I’m already getting begging e-mails from Ms. Harris.
- On a personal level, this will be a busy year for my work in theatre with a full production of “All Together Now” opening in March and several other works out there for consideration. I will also be entering my last full year of employment in my present job (retirement happens in August 2019) but I’ll keep working.
This was a great year for my playwriting with a lot of new friends and opportunities out there and more to come in 2019 (see below).
- People and fads we never heard about will have their fifteen minutes.
Yep. I’ve already blocked them out.
Okay, on to the predictions.
Okay, your turn. Meanwhile, I wish continued good health and a long life to all of you and hope you make it through 2019 none the worse for wear.
The release of the sentencing memos by the Southern District of New York for Michael Cohen has launched a flurry of data and expectations about what could or will happen to the people who surround Trump, and inevitably, what will happen to Trump himself. Trying to summarize it all is very difficult, but I think Adam Davidson at The New Yorker has a pretty good handle on it.
Even if we never learn another single fact about Trump, his business and campaign, and any collusion with Russia, it is now becoming clear that Trump’s bid for the Presidency was almost certainly designed, at least in part, to enrich Trump, and that he was willing to pursue the political interests of a hostile foreign power in order to make money. This scheme was executed ineptly and in ways that make it highly likely that the intelligence agencies of Russia, as well as several other nations, have been able to ferret out most of the details. This means that Trump and the people closest to him have been at enormous risk of compromise.
We will learn more facts, no doubt—many of them. Mueller has revealed only a few threads of the case. He has established that Cohen spent the months between September, 2015, and June, 2016, actively engaging the Russian government to exchange political favors for money, and that, throughout this period, Cohen routinely informed Trump of his efforts (and presumably, though it’s unstated, received Trump’s blessing). This was the precise period in which Trump’s candidacy shifted from humorous long shot to the nominee of the Republican Party. Mueller’s filing also contains suggestions that people connected to the White House, possibly including the President, knew of Michael Cohen’s lies to Congress and federal investigators, and, also, that White House officials stayed in contact with Manafort, who had been revealed to be in close touch with a known Russian intelligence asset.
This is a lot. But it’s not the complete narrative. It is not clear what happened after the notorious Trump Tower meeting of June 9, 2016. Cohen appears to have been pushed aside, and no longer to have played the role of intermediary. Does this mean that Trump insisted that his team shut off all contact with Russia? Or did he hand the portfolio over to a more trusted staffer?
Mueller’s filings do mark a different sort of end. We are at the end of reasonable debate about whether Trump is hopelessly compromised. As Mueller’s filings encircle the President, the special counsel surely knows he is at ever-greater risk of being fired. Presumably, he wouldn’t have released memorandums as damning as these if he weren’t prepared to make a fuller case. Each filing fills in the over-all picture in ever more granular detail. It seems reasonable to assume that we haven’t yet learned the most disturbing facts. But, even if we learn nothing more, we are already in an unbearable condition. The President of the United States knowingly and eagerly participated in a scheme with a hostile foreign leader who he knew was seeking to influence the Presidential election. Trump sought to profit politically and financially, many of his closest subordinates executed this effort, and he then was aware of and, it seems likely, encouraged an illegal effort to hide these facts. His reckless, unpatriotic actions have left him compromised by at least one but likely many foreign powers and have left his election open to reasonable questions about its legitimacy. And, every day, he sets policies and makes decisions that have an impact on the lives of all Americans and the fortunes of the very autocrats who hold sway over him. It cannot stand.
The scary part of all of this is that we as a nation haven’t faced this sort of threat to the very foundation of our democracy in our collective lifetimes. Watergate was big and dangerous, too, but at the least the central figure in it — Richard Nixon — still bore some allegiance to the system of our government and yielded to the rule of law, ultimately abiding by the rulings of the courts and the Supreme Court. And when he went, he went without threatening to hole up in his office, daring armed officers to drag him out by his heels.
We can’t be that assured about Trump. For one thing, he has an embedded media operation that will back him no matter what. Second, we’re seeing that his supporters at various state and local levels are willing to cheat — albeit clumsily — to win an election, and of course he had an entire foreign government at his disposal to win the last one.
So dreaming about the chances of Beto O’Rourke or debating the ages and merits of Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are nothing compared to the fact that we are about to embark on a presidential campaign that has all the earmarks of one that kept Robert Mugabe in office for generations.
Which means that we need to win the next election or face the real possibility that it will be the last real one we have.
Josh Marshall may be on to something.
Sometimes it’s worth stepping back and stating the obvious. Over the course of these thirty months of cover-ups, every player in the Trump/Russia story has lied about their role in the conspiracy. And not hedging and spinning fibs but straight up lies about the core nature of their involvement, their overt acts. Most – though here what we know is a bit more tentative – seem to have lied under oath, whether to congressional committees or a grand jury. Not a single one of them told a story that wasn’t eventually contradicted and disproved. Not a single one.
Who? Well, let’s see. Donald Trump, Jr., Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos, Donald Trump, Jerome Corsi, Roger Stone, Paul Manafort, Rick Gates, Carter Page, Jared Kushner. These are ones who lied, the ones we can state definitively. I’m not including the marginal players, folks like Dutch lawyer Alex van der Zwaan. I’m not including those who just never spoke at all – at least not in public.
His inevitable conclusion is that they’re all guilty. Perhaps not of a crime, but an innocent person doesn’t risk criminal charges by lying.
Then again, there’s Trump who lies about everything without even thinking about it. It’s not even to cover up suspicious activity; it’s just his natural state. Does that mean he’s guilty? That’s a bit harder to prove, but it does mean that convicting him of a crime, whether it’s collusion with a foreign government to win an election or taking a lot of money from unsuspecting and gullible people for a fictional university degree, is a lot harder because you have to prove criminal intent. And it’s hard to prove that for someone who lies by nature, the same way some people fart.
So I think this is how it’s all going to end: Trump will be convicted — or at least indicted — for serial lying, not for the actual thing he’s lying about. Trump’s defenders have already come up with a way to dismiss it, but those were the same folks who went after Bill Clinton and demanded his head for lying about his affairs, so take that for what it’s worth. It’s an old song; it’s what’s been the downfall of just about everyone else who’s had scandal or questions arise about their behavior: the lying is what does it.
Paul Manafort is going to spend Christmas in the joint.
Paul Manafort, President Trump’s former campaign chairman, repeatedly lied to federal investigators in breach of a plea agreement he signed two months ago, the special counsel’s office said in a court filing late on Monday.
Prosecutors working for the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, said Mr. Manafort’s “crimes and lies” about “a variety of subject matters” relieve them of all promises they made to him in the plea agreement. But under the terms of the agreement, Mr. Manafort cannot withdraw his guilty plea.
Defense lawyers disagreed that Mr. Manafort had violated the deal. In the same filing, they said Mr. Manafort had met repeatedly with the special counsel’s office and “believes he has provided truthful information.”
But given the impasse between the two sides, they asked Judge Amy Berman Jackson of the United States District Court for the District of Columbia to set a sentencing date for Mr. Manafort, who has been in solitary confinement in a detention center in Alexandria, Va.
The 11th-hour development in Mr. Manafort’s case is a fresh sign of the special counsel’s aggressive approach in investigating Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential race and whether anyone in the Trump campaign knew about or assisted Moscow’s effort.
Mueller’s willingness to let the lawyers broadcast Manafort’s broken deal tells us that he — Mueller — doesn’t really need Manafort anymore in terms of gathering evidence and whatever happens now is beyond the scope of his usefulness. So, so long, Paul; have fun in the general population of Club Fed. (Why he would continue to lie even when he’s already in custody and found guilty is beyond comprehension, but then, the guy worked willingly for Trump, so go figure that into the equation.)
It also sends a very strong signal to anyone out there in Trumpland who is thinking about covering their boss or their own ass: Mueller and Co. are a force to be reckoned with and not to be trifled with.
Matthew Whitaker, the acting attorney general, seems like a perfect fit for the Trump administration.
Before Whitaker joined the Trump administration as a political appointee, the Republican lawyer and legal commentator complained that special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation of Russian interference in the election and of the Trump campaign was dangerously close to overreaching. He suggested ways it could be stopped or curtailed and urged his followers on Twitter to read a story that dubbed the investigators “Mueller’s lynch mob.”
Now — at least on an interim basis — Whitaker will assume authority over that investigation, an arrangement that has triggered calls by Democrats for him to recuse himself.
He also harbors interesting views on the role of the Supreme Court in the scheme of things, arguing that the landmark 1803 Marbury v. Madison case that affirmed the court’s role as the final arbiter of interpreting the Constitution was one of the worst decisions the court has rendered.
“There are so many,” he replied. “I would start with the idea of Marbury v. Madison. That’s probably a good place to start and the way it’s looked at the Supreme Court as the final arbiter of constitutional issues. We’ll move forward from there. All New Deal cases that were expansive of the federal government. Those would be bad. Then all the way up to the Affordable Care Act and the individual mandate.”
He also seems to think that our laws descend from a higher power.
During a 2014 Senate debate sponsored by a conservative Christian organization, he said that in helping confirm judges, “I’d like to see things like their worldview, what informs them. Are they people of faith? Do they have a biblical view of justice? — which I think is very important.”
At that point, the moderator interjected: “Levitical or New Testament?”
“New Testament,” Whitaker affirmed. “And what I know is as long as they have that worldview, that they’ll be a good judge. And if they have a secular worldview, then I’m going to be very concerned about how they judge.”
Religious tests for judges are barred by the Constitution, but I think we already know where he stands on interpreting it.
To round out the rest of the portfolio, as an attorney he’s been accused of defrauding clients.
When federal investigators were digging into an invention-promotion company accused of fraud by customers, they sought information in 2017 from a prominent member of the company’s advisory board, according to two people familiar with the probe: Matthew G. Whitaker, a former U.S. attorney in Iowa.
It is unclear how Whitaker — who was appointed acting attorney general by President Trump on Wednesday — responded to a Federal Trade Commission subpoena to his law firm.
In the end, the FTC filed a complaint against Miami-based World Patent Marketing, accusing it of misleading investors and falsely promising that it would help them patent and profit from their inventions, according to court filings.
In May of this year, a federal court in Florida ordered the company to pay a settlement of more than $25 million and close up shop, records show. The company did not admit or deny wrongdoing.
Whitaker’s sudden elevation this week to replace fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions has put new scrutiny on his involvement with the shuttered company, whose advisory board he joined in 2014, shortly after making a failed run for U.S. Senate in Iowa.
At the time, he was also running a conservative watchdog group with ties to other powerful nonprofits on the right and was beginning to develop a career as a Trump-friendly cable television commentator.
So, he’s got authoritarian-executive views of the basic laws of the country, he wants religious tests for judges, and he’s provided legal counsel to a fraudulent get-rich-quick scheme here in Florida.
My only question is why wasn’t he the first pick for Trump’s attorney general before Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III?
Bonus Track: According to two highly-respected legal scholars, Neal K. Katyal and George T. Conway III, Trump’s appointment of Mr. Whitaker as acting attorney general is unconstitutional.
What now seems an eternity ago, the conservative law professor Steven Calabresi published an op-ed in The Wall Street Journal in May arguing that Robert Mueller’s appointment as special counsel was unconstitutional. His article got a lot of attention, and it wasn’t long before President Trump picked up the argument, tweeting that “the Appointment of the Special Counsel is totally UNCONSTITUTIONAL!”
Professor Calabresi’s article was based on the Appointments Clause of the Constitution, Article II, Section 2, Clause 2. Under that provision, so-called principal officers of the United States must be nominated by the president and confirmed by the Senate under its “Advice and Consent” powers.
He argued that Mr. Mueller was a principal officer because he is exercising significant law enforcement authority and that since he has not been confirmed by the Senate, his appointment was unconstitutional. As one of us argued at the time, he was wrong. What makes an officer a principal officer is that he or she reports only to the president. No one else in government is that person’s boss. But Mr. Mueller reports to Rod Rosenstein, the deputy attorney general. So, Mr. Mueller is what is known as an inferior officer, not a principal one, and his appointment without Senate approval was valid.
But Professor Calabresi and Mr. Trump were right about the core principle. A principal officer must be confirmed by the Senate. And that has a very significant consequence today.
It means that Mr. Trump’s installation of Matthew Whitaker as acting attorney general of the United States after forcing the resignation of Jeff Sessions is unconstitutional. It’s illegal. And it means that anything Mr. Whitaker does, or tries to do, in that position is invalid.
I heard one conservative commentator suggest that the Federal Vacancies Reform Act of 1998 allows such appointments in the case of a vacancy or incapacity, but it is for a relatively short period, and besides, the Constitution has supremacy. So if Mr. Whitaker tries to fire Robert Mueller, he may face a legal challenge.
PS: Karma strikes again: George T. Conway III, the co-author of the op-ed, is married to Kellyanne Conway.
Politico puts together the pieces of evidence to speculate that the Mueller investigation has subpoenaed Trump.
These months before the midterm elections are tough ones for all of us Mueller-watchers. As we expected, he has gone quiet in deference to longstanding Justice Department policy that prosecutors should not take actions that might affect pending elections. Whatever he is doing, he is doing quietly and even further from the public eye than usual.
But thanks to some careful reporting by Politico, which I have analyzed from my perspective as a former prosecutor, we might have stumbled upon How Robert Mueller Is Spending His Midterms: secretly litigating against President Donald Trump for the right to throw him in the grand jury.
Paul Campos at LGM puts together the timeline.
(1) Somebody initiated a sealed grand jury case in the DC circuit on August 16th.
(2) The judge (Beryl Howell) issued a ruling on September 19th, and one of the parties filed an appeal on the 24th.
(3) A POLITICO reporter “overheard a conversation in the clerk’s office” (I wouldn’t be shocked if this is a cover story for some sort of leak, perhaps from a judicial clerk, since Mueller’s team is extraordinarily tight-lipped) that indicated the special counsel’s office is involved.
Then things get really interesting.
(4) The litigation has since been moving at remarkable speed. Procedures that normally take weeks or months are happening in a matter of days. Obviously this is no ordinary case.
(5) Most tellingly, the party that lost at the lower level immediately petitioned for an en banc hearing — that is, a hearing involving all the judges on the circuit court. That itself is significant, but what is most significant is that, in the order disposing of that petition, Gregory Katsas recused himself. Katsas is Trump’s only appointment to the DC circuit, and was previously Trump’s deputy White House counsel. If the appealing party was Trump, Katsas would certainly recuse himself.
Briefs in the case are due soon, and oral argument has been set for December 14th.
Get the popcorn.
The Washington Post:
Trump offered embattled Saudi Arabia a suggestion of support Tuesday amid mounting pressure over the disappearance of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, saying the kingdom is being judged “guilty until proven innocent.”
The remarks, in an interview with the Associated Press, put Trump widely out of step with many world leaders amid Turkish assertions that Khashoggi was killed by a Saudi hit team this month after entering the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.
They also could complicate talks planned Wednesday between Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Turkish leaders on the Khashoggi case.
“Here we go again with you’re guilty until proven innocent,” Trump told the AP, comparing the situation to allegations of sexual assault leveled against now-Supreme Court Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh during his confirmation hearing.
He’s basically said the same thing about Russia in similar situations: Hey, don’t judge before all the facts are in.
A noble sentiment indeed were it not for the fact that A) neither Saudi Arabia nor Russia work from the idea of a presumption of innocence, and B) Trump himself has been known to jump to the “guilty until proven innocent” side — “Lock Her Up!” sound familiar?
Trump has also noted that both Saudi Arabia and Russia will be buying “billions of dollars” worth of stuff from us — it’s all about the jobs, right? — and we can’t risk losing all that money. There’s a name for that, but it usually involves a pimp and a hotel with hourly rates.
For all that, it makes you wonder just what kind of hold Saudi Arabia and Russia have on Trump beyond the lure of money. What do they have on him that is so devastating that he’d sell out his own country to keep dictators and autocrats both happy and silent?
Hey, I wonder what Robert Mueller and his team are doing? Anybody heard from them?
From The New Yorker, Ronan Farrow and Jane Mayer report on another woman coming forward to accuse Brett Kavanaugh of sexual misconduct, this time in college.
As Senate Republicans press for a swift vote to confirm Brett Kavanaugh, President Trump’s nominee to the Supreme Court, Senate Democrats are investigating a new allegation of sexual misconduct against Kavanaugh. The claim dates to the 1983-84 academic school year, when Kavanaugh was a freshman at Yale University. The offices of at least four Democratic senators have received information about the allegation, and at least two have begun investigating it. Senior Republican staffers also learned of the allegation last week and, in conversations with The New Yorker, expressed concern about its potential impact on Kavanaugh’s nomination. Soon after, Senate Republicans issued renewed calls to accelerate the timing of a committee vote. The Democratic Senate offices reviewing the allegations believe that they merit further investigation. “This is another serious, credible, and disturbing allegation against Brett Kavanaugh. It should be fully investigated,” Senator Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii, said. An aide in one of the other Senate offices added, “These allegations seem credible, and we’re taking them very seriously. If established, they’re clearly disqualifying.”
The woman at the center of the story, Deborah Ramirez, who is fifty-three, attended Yale with Kavanaugh, where she studied sociology and psychology. Later, she spent years working for an organization that supports victims of domestic violence. The New Yorker contacted Ramirez after learning of her possible involvement in an incident involving Kavanaugh. The allegation was conveyed to Democratic senators by a civil-rights lawyer. For Ramirez, the sudden attention has been unwelcome, and prompted difficult choices. She was at first hesitant to speak publicly, partly because her memories contained gaps because she had been drinking at the time of the alleged incident. In her initial conversations with The New Yorker, she was reluctant to characterize Kavanaugh’s role in the alleged incident with certainty. After six days of carefully assessing her memories and consulting with her attorney, Ramirez said that she felt confident enough of her recollections to say that she remembers Kavanaugh had exposed himself at a drunken dormitory party, thrust his penis in her face, and caused her to touch it without her consent as she pushed him away. Ramirez is now calling for the F.B.I. to investigate Kavanaugh’s role in the incident. “I would think an F.B.I. investigation would be warranted,” she said.
In a statement, Kavanaugh wrote, “This alleged event from 35 years ago did not happen. The people who knew me then know that this did not happen, and have said so. This is a smear, plain and simple. I look forward to testifying on Thursday about the truth, and defending my good name—and the reputation for character and integrity I have spent a lifetime building—against these last-minute allegations.”
The White House spokesperson Kerri Kupec said the Administration stood by Kavanaugh. “This 35-year-old, uncorroborated claim is the latest in a coordinated smear campaign by the Democrats designed to tear down a good man. This claim is denied by all who were said to be present and is wholly inconsistent with what many women and men who knew Judge Kavanaugh at the time in college say. The White House stands firmly behind Judge Kavanaugh.”
What I find interesting about both this and the first story about the high school party that started all of this is Judge Kavanaugh’s insistence that neither that nor this incident took place at all. He’s not equivocating with lines like, “I don’t recall,” or even, “Yeah, I was there but it wasn’t me.” He’s going full-tilt denial, which makes it a binary choice: either he’s telling the truth and a bunch of other people are lying, or he’s lying and he’s counting on a bunch of other people to back him up. There’s no half-way on this for him or for the accusers.
If this was a court of law (and if I was a lawyer), I’d say he has the presumption of innocence and the burden of proof beyond a reasonable doubt was on the accusers. But it isn’t (and I’m not) so what it comes down to is who do you believe? Women who have nothing to gain and clearly are putting their careers (and in the case of Prof. Ford, her safety) on the line are coming forward. Judge Kavanaugh has his reputation — and that’s a valuable commodity — but his current job is not at risk unless the Senate chooses to open impeachment hearings. Clearly the stakes are not equal. So both Prof. Ford and Ms. Ramirez must be both sure of themselves and their recollections, while Judge Kavanaugh is not allowing for any room for error.
Which brings me back to my original point: why is he so dead-set certain that both women are lying and the incidents never happened? After all, if his supporters can say that it happened so long ago and the women were clearly intoxicated to the point that they can’t remember it clearly, how is it that Judge Kavanaugh recalls so clearly that nothing happened at all? Why isn’t his memory of events so long ago just as hazy? We already have circumstantial evidence that he knew how to party in high school; how is it that he’s so sure that he wasn’t at the party in question in Maryland or at Yale?
Either he’s relying on the fact that it’s very hard to prove a negative, or he’s taking his cues from the man who nominated him to the Supreme Court. Trump has never admitted to anything even when there’s undisputed proof. So far it’s worked for him.
Josh Marshall at TPM shares what he thinks will be coming up for Brett Kavanaugh and the Republicans trying to get him on the Supreme Court.
The smart people I talk to are fairly confident, or at least they were this afternoon, that in the end Senate Republicans will be able to push Kavanaugh through. I’m not sure they’re right. The situation has been changed dramatically in the 30 hours or so since the Post published Professor Ford’s account along with additional details which tend to bolster her credility [sic].
It was highly likely Kavanaugh would be confirmed before these revelations. But even then it was close. There’s very little room for error or defections. Quite simply, Kavanaugh wasn’t a terribly good witness for himself or a very good liar in his first hearing. (I mentioned earlier that I thought he should be removed from his current job as judge on the DC Circuit Court because of the pretty strong evidence he has repeatedly perjured himself about his connection to the Manny Miranda email hacking scandal from 2004.)
Based on all this, I strongly suspect that the upshot of this new hearing will be that a fair minded person, one without strong preconceived opinions, will believe that what Ford alleges likely did happen. That should allow every Democrat to vote against Kavanaugh. I don’t think it’s likely that every Republican walks that plank, even with all the conservative movement has invested in Kavanaugh. I have no secret knowledge on this. It’s just my sense. The nature of conduct, the high likelihood it’s true, the apparent fact that Kavanaugh is lying all combine with the intensity of the #metoo historical moment – I am just skeptical they can pull this off.
He worries that the backlash from the right-wing evangelical nutsery if Kavanaugh either withdraws or is not confirmed will be intense. He’s their big shot at getting Roe v. Wade overturned, and that is all they care about. But it would also energize women of all parties if he is confirmed; proof once again that men can do anything and get away with it. That will have an interesting impact on the mid-terms; a record number of women are running for federal and state offices across the country, and how this sideshow of a Supreme Court nomination plays out could be crucial in the outcome of races from Rhode Island to California.
Meanwhile, you can be sure that Trump isn’t going to let this go on without his braying via his thumbs.
Trump won’t let this go. We know Trump never likes to admit he’s wrong and cannot stomach defeat. In this case we have the additional factor that as a serial sexual predator, President Trump has a deep identification with any man accused of sexual misconduct. He won’t give this up easily or quietly.
Mitch McConnell reportedly warned Trump that of the people he was considering, Kavanaugh would face the hardest time getting confirmed. I don’t think McConnell had anything like this in mind. But Trump picked Kavanaugh because he liked him.
The White House has already signaled through their press minions and Fox News that they will release the banshees, including as many blonde white women on their payroll that they can get in front of a camera, that Prof. Ford is a lying schemer who was plotting ever since high school to get even with Kavanaugh because she knew back then that he would be appointed by Trump and this is payback time. (Just like Barack Obama’s mother planned to have him become president and faked the birth certificate.)
There will be a public hearing in front of the Senate Judiciary Committee next Monday where both Judge Kavanaugh and Prof. Ford will testify. Stock up on Jiffy-Pop.
Trump is insistent to the point of OCD obsession on claiming that neither he nor his campaign colluded with the Russians to win the election. Even in the flurry of news yesterday about his cohorts Manafort and Cohen ending up clapped in irons, he still insisted that there was no collusion.
Addressing reporters ahead of a campaign rally in West Virginia, Trump sought to distance himself from the Manafort case and ignored the perilous Cohen guilty pleas altogether.
“I must tell you that Paul Manafort’s a good man,” Trump said. “Doesn’t involve me, but I still feel, you know, it’s a very sad thing that happened. This has nothing to do with Russian collusion. . . . This is a witch hunt that ends in disgrace.”
Well, yeah, no one ever really claimed that Paul Manafort was in on the Russia collusion and he wasn’t on trial for it, but by bringing it up he’s showing that he’s thinking that somehow, somewhere there is a connection.
The Mueller investigation may not be able to prove in a court of law that these outcomes had anything to do with Russia interfering with the election to insure the election of Trump in 2016. But with what’s being revealed by Michael Cohen, they may not have to. There’s enough dirt floating to the top of the bowl to nail Trump and his minions on other charges.
In a guilty plea entered in a Manhattan federal courthouse, former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen implicated Trump directly in some of his acts, saying he arranged to pay off two women to keep their stories of alleged affairs with Trump from becoming public before Election Day — in coordination with the then-candidate.
And this is just the chocolate sprinkles on top:
Cohen’s admission that he violated campaign finance laws by paying hush money to two women at Trump’s behest came in the form of a standard plea deal rather than a cooperation agreement requiring that he aid other investigations.
That raised the question of whether Cohen would cooperate, and, more centrally, what his cooperation would be worth.
One possible answer came into view the very same day, as Cohen’s attorney, Lanny Davis, suggested on television — and in an interview with The Washington Post late Tuesday — that Cohen had knowledge “of interest” to special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and that his client was “more than happy to tell the special counsel all that he knows.”
Davis told The Washington Post that Cohen’s knowledge reached beyond “the obvious possibility of a conspiracy to collude” and included also the question of Trump’s participation in a “criminal conspiracy” to hack into the emails of Democratic officials during the 2016 election.
On “The Rachel Maddow Show,” Davis, who is a veteran of the Clinton White House, said his client had “knowledge about the computer crime of hacking and whether or not Mr. Trump knew ahead of time about that crime and even cheered it on.”
As any computer-savy kid will tell you, you don’t need the Russians to hack into an e-mail server.
It also sounds like Michael Cohen, desperate to not become the Sweetheart of Cellblock C, is willing to hang Trump and anyone else he touched out there on a whole variety of charges that have nothing to do with Russia and the election.
Just to recap August 21, 2018: Paul Manafort was convicted on eight counts; Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to eight counts and in doing so implicates Trump in violating campaign finance laws; Rep. Duncan Hunter (R-CA), a vocal supporter of Trump, was indicted on campaign finance charges, along with his wife.
And my niece gave birth to a baby boy.
If you think it’s crazy now, just wait until you see what’s lined up for this fall. And we’re not just talking about what’s coming up on Netflix.
- Paul Manafort will either be convicted or acquitted in his first trial, presumably this week (the jury is currently deliberating). And his second trial — which will deal more directly with his work in the former Soviet Union and the ways it may have affected his actions as Trump campaign chairman — will begin in mid-September.
- Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III could hand down more indictments, or even release a final report on all that he has learned in his investigation.
- Trump will likely continue to revoke the security clearances of his critics in the intelligence community, which will generate more bipartisan condemnation and comparisons to Richard Nixon.
- Omarosa Manigault Newman will release more tapes she recorded of conversations with people in the White House.
- A lawsuit will begin in Texas in which Republican states and the administration will be arguing for the entire Affordable Care Act to be struck down, handing Democrats a priceless campaign issue.
- Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings will take place. Even if the process ends with a win for Trump, it will also likely generate an immediate backlash, a wave of fear and opposition from Democrats as they realize the implications of an intensely partisan, intensely conservative Supreme Court.
And that’s just what we know about. As the last couple of years have shown, there’s a lot of surprises out there, and after the mid-terms and if the Democrats win control of the House, they’ll be holding hearings and issuing subpoenas — and we’ll all be subjected to the howls of the Republicans who spent millions of dollars on Benghazi! complaining about wasting the taxpayers’ money on “rigged witch hunts” and “fake news.” (Well, they are experts at both, so that does lend them a whiff of laughable credibility.)
And here I was getting all jazzed up about the reboot of “Murphy Brown.”
The Washington Post:
Trump on Sunday offered his most definitive and clear public acknowledgment that his oldest son met with a Kremlin-aligned lawyer at Trump Tower during the 2016 campaign to “get information on an opponent,” defending the meeting as “totally legal and done all the time in politics.”
So, if it was “totally legal,” why has he and his minions spent the last year making up fake news — and probably obstructing justice in the process — to cover up something that’s “done all the time in politics”?
Adam Davidson in The New Yorker:
The tweet contains several crucial pieces of information. First, it is a clear admission that Donald Trump, Jr.,’s original statement about the case was inaccurate enough to be considered a lie. He had said the meeting was with an unknown person who “might have information helpful to the campaign,” and that this person “primarily discussed a program about the adoption of Russian children.” This false statement was, according to his legal team, dictated by the President himself. There was good reason to mislead the American people about that meeting. Based on reporting—at the time and now—of the President’s admission, it was a conscious effort by the President’s son and two of his closest advisers to work with affiliates of the Russian government to obtain information that might sway the U.S. election in Trump’s favor. In short, it was, at minimum, a case of attempted collusion. The tweet indicates that Trump’s defense will continue to be that this attempt at collusion failed—“it went nowhere”—and that, even if it had succeeded, it would have been “totally legal and done all the time.” It is unclear why, if the meeting was entirely proper, it was important for the President to declare “I did not know about it!” or to tell the Attorney General, Jeff Sessions, to “stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now.”
The President’s Sunday-morning tweet should be seen as a turning point. It doesn’t teach us anything new—most students of the case already understand what Donald Trump, Jr., Paul Manafort, and Jared Kushner knew about that Trump Tower meeting. But it ends any possibility of an alternative explanation.
I’m not sure Mr. Mueller needs to interview Trump. All he needs to do is download his Twitter feed.
I think Josh Marshall is on to something when he says that Trump’s tweet tantrum yesterday telling Jefferson Beauregard Sessions III to fire Mueller and end the investigation now suggests that there’s something big happening behind the scenes.
I think we should assume that the President’s perception of the threat which the Mueller probe poses to him and his family has ratcheted up dramatically and very recently. He is mobilizing new threats to end it now. We can speculate on what that change might be. It might be connected to Michael Cohen. It might be connected to fears Paul Manafort will become a cooperating witness. It could be something happening in the background which we know nothing about. I’d say the last possibility is the most likely since we’ve seen so many times that we know very, very little about what is happening in the Mueller probe.
My clearly speculative guess is that Mueller told Trump’s legal team that they plan to subpoena Trump about obstruction, not collusion. And that’s what it all comes down to.