A Clear And Present Danger

“When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.”

— Maya Angelou

Following Tuesday’s national embarrassment, a disgusting display of attempted bullying, there is a lot to think about.  Probably, Donald J. Trump acted the role of the out of control drunk at the end of the bar because he knew he could not win a debate.  He does not have control of the facts, has barely put together a complete sentence in his entire term, and knows that former Vice President Joe Biden has plenty of experience in such a format.  Mr. Trump was probably not concerned about criticism for telling more lies — he has already accumulated over 20,000 documented lies since his inauguration — but he was concerned about losing.  The answer was to blow it all up, burn the place down, and attempt to look “strong” in an attempt to make Mr. Biden look weak.  He failed in every respect and in the process broke the rules of democracy and decorum and deprived the American public of the chance to assess both candidates, their policies, and their fitness for the job.

With all of the outrageous statements and shenanigans, two stand out above all and should alert every one of us to the clear and present danger to our country that exists in the persona of Mr. Trump.  We need to look no further than his two statements near the end of the debate.  When given the opportunity to clearly and forcefully condemn the antics, tactics and goals of white supremacists, he demurred.  (“The Proud Boys: stand back and stand by.”)  Indeed by all accounts by those that follow such things, the white supremacist groups took his answer as a call to arms.  (Several incorporated the words into their new logos and one leader tweeted out “Standing by sir!”)  Even on Wednesday as Mr. Trump claimed he did not know, then or now (really? c’mon man!), who the Proud Boys were, he still passed up the opportunity to publicly condemn white supremacists.

The second issue was his continued declarations that if he lost the election it was only because it was rigged against him.  In other words, he will accept no other result than his own victory and explicitly said that he didn’t know if he would allow for a peaceful transition of power should he lose.  Tuesday night he said that he is “urging his supporters to go into the polls and watch very carefully.”  If Mr. Trump sees “thousands of ballots being manipulated, I can’t go along with that.”  When asked about what he meant by that he said “it means you have a fraudulent election.” When asked specifically if he would warn his supporters against “civil unrest” and tell them to keep calm if the vote counting goes on longer than Election Day, he refused.

So let’s put this all together and then see what he, and unfortunately Attorney General William Barr have been saying over the last few weeks.

First, on Tuesday night Mr. Trump gave a green light to white supremacists and other supporters to use violence if the election goes for Mr. Biden.  Additionally, he told his supporters to engage in voter intimidation by going to polling places to keep people from voting or to claim voter fraud if they are not allowed into the polls (in most states poll watchers have to be certified and there are rules about their behavior).

Please do not say that Mr. Trump did not really mean what he said or that his words are being overly exaggerated.  He knew exactly what he was doing.  More importantly, the folks on the receiving end of his message know what he meant and will act on it, regardless of what “he meant to say.” He encourages vigilantes and is a major league fearmonger. There are people that believe him.  So get real.  The threat to a fair and open election is staring us in the face.

As I have written in this space before, autocrats tell you exactly what they are going to try and do before they do it.  Mr. Trump is no exception.

Here is the playbook as I see it.

Mr. Trump’s goal is to make things look so bad that he can claim, as he already has, that he alone can fix it.  As the pandemic continues to spread, the economy is ready to take another hit (today alone 35,000 airline employees are set to be laid off), schools are mostly still remote, demonstrations continue across the land, and golly, no one can even rely on the Postal Service anymore.  All of this and more creates a sense of crisis.

In a crisis, people want action.  By demonstrating that he is not afraid to break the rules — be it holding a political convention on the White House lawn or not abiding by debate rules — he is attempting to demonstrate that he is willing to do anything.  Anything.  Rules, norms, laws do not apply in a crisis and he is not afraid to throw all of them out the window to achieve “results.”  Without a bit of shame as to the illogical nature of his argument, he now tends to claim that things are so bad now (remember, he has been the president for the last four years and precipitated many of these crises himself), he needs a second term to restore order.  He argues that Democrats are the real problem and that they want anarchy.  “Law and Order” is required to bring back the America you love (read: white male Christian dominated society).  Contempt for the law is part of the message. It is necessary to get things done.  Straight textbook Autocracy 101.

He knows he is losing, so now he needs to bring it all home by suppressing the vote for Mr. Biden, and claiming that the election was a fraud.

In recent weeks he has railed against any and all mail-in ballots as being rigged.  He continually claims that all vote counting must stop on Election Night.  The Attorney General went on CNN and claimed that foreign entities were going to counterfeit absentee ballots and other cheaters were going to pay people for their votes, buy up blocks of blank ballots and fill in Mr. Biden’s name.  Indeed he even implied that postal workers might do that.

And on and on.  The point?  They are trying to lay the ground work for a legal challenge to the election results when Mr. Trump loses.  I suspect that they will have people try to forge ballots and pay for ballots and send in lots of crudely duplicated ballots in order to prove their point.  They are telling us what they are going to do.  Add to that some nut cases or groups of nut cases (I’m looking at you white supremacists) that hear that a county election office threw out some ballots (does not have to actually happen, just put it out over social media and they will come) and they storm the building to confiscate the “illegal” ballots.

The number of scenarios are vast.  We already know that Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr have no bottom for shameful and immoral behavior.  The only goal is to retain power.  Mr. Trump cannot stand the thought of losing — especially since he may end up going to jail in the not too distant future.  Mr. Barr is on some bizarre crusade to shape American society in the way that he thinks it should function and Mr. Trump is his blunt instrument to achieve his ends.

All of it sets up the conditions for a legal (yes legal) attempt to steal the election.  I am not a Constitutional law expert and I am not an attorney.  My understanding is it can work as follows:

  • Claim that the results in certain swing states (enough to give Mr. Trump a win) are suspect because of all the “illegal” ballots that were submitted by mail and because of improprieties at voting places.  Remember that Mr. Trump and Mr. Barr have already encouraged voters in North Carolina and Pennsylvania to vote twice.  Those two men know that is illegal, but if enough people try it, it really gums up the works and they can also claim that legitimate voters were turned away at the polls.
  • Go to the courts to invalidate the election results in enough precincts to change the state’s electoral outcome.  If that doesn’t work, go to state legislatures and claim that the Electors voted into the Electoral College from that state were illegitimately determined.  Under the law, state legislatures determine the Electors and certify their validity to the Congress.  Many states have laws that the legislature must certify Electors as voted on by the people, but not all.  Additionally, the laws are often vague and some experts believe that the courts could decide in favor of legislatures over those voted on by the people.  Reports from Pennsylvania already reveal that members of the Trump Campaign have talked to the leaders of the the Republican controlled legislature to do just that.
  • If the courts do not rule as to which slates of Electors are the legitimate ones, or the states decide to send the competing slates to the Congress, the Electors seated in the College are determined by a vote in the Congress.  The House and the Senate both vote.  Although new Representatives and Senators will be seated by then, Vice President Pence will still be the tie breaker in the Senate.
  • Should the House and the Senate vote to seat different slates of Electors, then the vote goes back to the House, but with different rules.  In this vote, each state votes as a block.  One state, one vote.  Thus South Dakota has as much power to decide the president as does New York.  Even though the Democrats have a large majority in the House, when decided on a state by state basis, currently 26 have Republican majorities (or only one Representative from that state) and 22 have Democrats.  The other two are split.
  • Meanwhile a parallel effort will go in in the courts.  If it makes it to the Supreme Court the result could go either way.  However, Mr. Trump specifically mentions Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett as the ninth justice he “needs” in order to “win” in the Court.  In her pre-hearing submission to the Senate answering a host of questions, she indicated that she would not recuse herself from any 2020 election cases that may come to the court.

Many people compare all of this to the 2000 election and the “hanging chads” in Florida.  Historically, it is closer to the election of 1876 where Democrat Samuel Tilden won the popular vote and came up one Electoral College vote shy of winning that over Republican Rutherford Hayes.  The electoral slates of three Southern states were in dispute and the decision came to the Congress.  After deliberation and the formation of a bipartisan commission comprised of Representatives and Senators, and the departure of the lone tie-breaking independent on the commission, replaced by a Republican, the disputed Electoral College votes were awarded to Mr. Hayes to give him a one vote Electoral College win.  In exchange for giving up their candidate, the Democrats secured the end of Reconstruction in the South.  It was a shameful and dirty chapter in the history of our country.

I am concerned that we may face another Constitutional crisis in this election.  Barring an overwhelming landslide in favor of Mr. Biden, I think that we may be in for a long final three months of the year full of unrest and probable violence.

Mr. Trump makes it abundantly clear that he has no qualms about ignoring the Constitution and bringing the full weight of the Federal Government to preserve his power.  One pundit likened it to the old saying that “if I’m going down I’m taking all of you with me.”  In his Attorney General he has an accomplice that will help him bend the law if not outright ignore it in the name of allegedly preserving the safety and security of our city streets.

Meanwhile we have a Republican Senate that has lost its backbone, its allegiance to the Constitution and its voice.  The president might Tweet about me!

We must all vote.  We must all be vigilant.  We must all be vociferous in our opposition to such a blatant attack on our Constitution.

I take solace in the fact that there are still good upstanding Americans in our midst.  For the scenario to unfold as I’ve sketched it here, an awful lot of people would have to go along with what is clearly a power grab by a budding autocrat and his cronies.  I have faith that enough people along the way will stand up to the bully and refuse to compromise or cooperate.

God Bless America.

 


The Coming War Over the Supreme Court

Last Friday we learned of the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.  Please take a moment to think of her and her family.  She was a great American and a great American success story, coming from humble roots in middle class Brooklyn New York to rise to the Supreme Court.  Along the way she was a true trail blazer and a forceful voice for human rights.  She will be missed.

Her death opens a seat on the Supreme Court and offers Mr. Donald J. Trump the chance to put a third Justice on the Court.  Elections do have consequences.  The question then becomes, when do the consequences of an election kick in?  In 2016 following the death of Justice Antonin Scalia, Senate Republicans kept an open seat on the Court for roughly a year claiming that no new Justices should be nominated or voted on until after the election of a new president.  President Barack Obama’s nominee Merrick Garland did not even get a hearing, much less an up or down vote.

The real player in the drama then and now is Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (Tr – KY).  As much as Mr. Trump has pushed and pulled and ignored the norms surrounding the office of the president, Mr. McConnell has done the most to undermine the legitimacy of the Senate and the norms that used to guide our selection of judges to federal courts and to the Supreme Court.  Along with unilaterally changing the required number of votes to approve a Supreme Court Justice from 60 — which normally meant that whichever party was in power would have to have some votes from the other party in order to confirm a nominee, thus allowing for more moderate judges to make it on to the court — it now only requires 51 votes which gives each party a chance to approve radical judges aligned with their party’s interests.

Indeed, Mr. McConnell has been so focused on getting judges on to the federal courts that very, very little else has been addressed over the last two years in the Senate.  Mr. McConnell put his pursuit of judges over the lives of the now 200,000 Americans dead from Covid-19.  He will not address any of the pandemic relief bills so desperately needed to fight the virus and to restore our economic well being.  So much for claiming to be pro-life.

Much has been and will be written about the sheer utter hypocrisy of Republicans surrounding the nomination and confirmation of a new Justice during an election year.  In 2016 it was a full ten months before the election.  This year it is only about six weeks before the election.  In fact, some states already have early voting underway.  You will see lots and lots of video clips of one Republican Senator after another twisting themselves into more knots than a pretzel trying to explain why it was different then than it is now.  Sad.  Additionally, please remember that there is no such thing as the “Biden Rule” or “Thurmond Rule” or even a “McConnell Rule.”  That is a lot of smoke to hide what is actually going on.  There is only the law.

The bottom line?  There is no shame in Trumpland.  They will do whatever they want and without regard to the lies, hypocrisy and sheer awfulness of it.  It won’t change so I won’t waste time arguing it or bemoaning it.  To quote the president’s remarks about the deaths of so many of our fellow citizens, “It is what it is.”

There is no shame.  It is just pure power politics.  In effect, they will steal a Supreme Court seat for the second time.

What action can those that still have a sense of duty do to stop it?  Procedurally, not much.  The Constitution is vague about this issue.  Article III, Section I of the Constitution says merely that:

“The judicial Power of the United States, shall be vested in one supreme Court, and in such inferior Courts as the Congress may from time to time ordain and establish.”

Significantly, there is no indication of how many Justices there shall be or exactly what their role should be.  Starting with the Judiciary Act of 1789, Congress shapes the size and authority of the Court.  Of the three branches of our government, the Supreme Court is probably the one that most resembles its origins and relies heavily on custom and tradition in the process of taking care of business.  Chief Justice John Marshall, appointed to the court by President John Adams, is credited with shaping the court into the form and substance we know today.  The number of Justices on the court varied over time until 1869 when the number became nine and remains so today.

All of this is background as to what means are available to Democrats, and perhaps a few Republicans, to delay the confirmation until after the election and leave the choice to the winners in the White House and the Senate.

Since it now takes only 51 votes to over-ride any legislative maneuvering and to confirm a nominee, the opposition to a hasty process can only come from political pressure.  It is an election year and several Republican Senators are up for re-election and find themselves in very tight races.  This issue could have a significant impact on who is elected or re-elected.  If their constituents forcefully voice their opposition to proceeding without regard to the election, some sitting Senators may find it difficult to support Mr. McConnell’s plan.

So far two Republican Senators have indicated that they do not support moving ahead with the process until after the election.  Is it possible more might join them?  Possible, but not a sure thing.  Tremendous pressure will be applied to every Republican Senator to stay in line.  In that regard, when the vote is taken will be critical.

By all accounts, the only thing that Senator McConnell values more than changing the face of the judiciary is retaining his power and prestige as majority leader.  He will use everything in his power to keep power.  It is conceivable that to protect vulnerable Senators that could be harmed by having to vote for a Trump appointee prior to the election, he will hold hearings before the election to gauge the political winds and hold off on the actual vote until after the election.  Those that are re-elected are safe, those that are not have nothing to lose.  The question then becomes a matter of conscience as to how individuals may vote, a commodity that unfortunately seems to be in short supply in the current political arena.

It would be a real insult to our democratic ideals if the Republicans lose the White House and their majority in the Senate but go ahead and confirm a Trump appointee.

There are many scenarios that could play out.  I have no idea what will happen.  The Republicans have a three seat majority.  If three Republicans vote against a nominee, the Vice President would be the tie breaker.  The Democrats would need to convince at least four Republicans to vote against a nominee, something that will be difficult to do should the nominee be a truly qualified jurist.

It seems that for the Democrats to stop the appointment of another conservative Justice, thus giving them a 6-3 advantage on the Court, they need to play hardball.

During the last four years the institutions of our government have been abused, even debased, in the pursuit of power by Mr. Trump and Mr. McConnell.  To play the same game, some advocate for the Democrats to say that should the process ignore the election results that they will expand the Court to include more Justices.  The law designating the number of Justices can be changed by a majority vote.

Personally, I think this is wrong.  It would never stop as eventually one party loses the majority and the other looks to regain the upper hand.  Our system of government has been under assault for four years, messing with the Supreme Court would be the beginning of the end of any restrictions on changing the rules to suit one party and undermining everything we used to hold as important to our fundamental system of government.

It may also backfire in that some voters may vote against the Democrats if they threaten to expand the Court.

There are some twists and turns that could influence the outcome.  Two Senate institutionalists are retiring this year.  Senators Lamar Alexander (TN) and Pat Roberts (KS), with no debt to pay to Mr. McConnell, or to Mr. Trump, may put the traditions and unwritten norms of the Senate and the judiciary above party politics.  Should Senators Lisa Murkowski (AK) and Susan Collins (ME) stick to their avowed decision to oppose a nominee that would be the four votes needed to stop this move.

Another wild card vote comes from Arizona where Senator Martha McSally is currently behind her Democrat opponent former astronaut Mark Kelly.  Since Senator McSally is an interim appointee (she fills the seat that belonged to John McCain), if Mr. Kelly wins the election he would be seated by the end of November bringing down the Republican advantage in the Senate.

Numerous possibilities will be floated in the coming weeks.  There are no arguments to be made or scenarios to play out should Mr. Trump get re-elected and Mr. McConnell retain his majority in the Senate.  There would be nothing that could, or should, stop Mr. Trump from seating his third appointee.  Mr. Trump will campaign on this issue and try to make it a referendum that he thinks will help him win.  Of course he wants the campaign to be about anything that distracts from his horrifying dereliction of duty mismanaging the pandemic and the loss of over 200,000 of our fellow citizens.

However the next few weeks unfold, two things are certain.  Our nation lost a truly historic presence in the Supreme Court and an already wild and improbable election cycle where anything can happen just got even wilder and more unpredictable.


R.I.P. Republican Party

Over the last four years the Republican Party as a whole, but especially in Congress, lost its way.  They abandoned everything that they used to believe in in order to assuage the Tweeter-in-Chief.  As a result, the party has been on life support most of that time.  We can now call the time of death as Sunday 23 August, 2020.

The Republican Party is now officially a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump Family, Inc.

Lest you think I am exaggerating, on the eve of the Republican National Convention, the party announced that for the first time in its history, they would have no platform.  In a one page declaration of “whereases” assailing the media and affirming their enthusiasm for Mr. Trump, they concluded by saying,

Resolved, That the Republican Party has and will continue to enthusiastically support the President’s America-first agenda;

Resolved, That the 2020 Republican National Convention will adjourn without adopting a new platform until the 2024 Republican National Convention.”

I guess it boils down to “I’ll have what he’s having.”  More succinctly, the Republicans now publicly declare that they stand for nothing.  There is no official vision, plan, policy, or goal that they will try to achieve over the next four years.  Whatever the president says at the moment, is, I suppose, what they will do, even if tomorrow they need to reverse course when he changes his mind after seeing something on Fox News.  The Republicans will just wait around for a kingly pronouncement.

Unfortunately, Mr. Trump does not have a vision or plan for the future either.  In interview after interview on Fox News and other friendly venues, interviewers have tossed him softball questions as to what to expect over a possible second term.  So far, zilch, nada, zip, nothing.  His replies only have been rambling statements about past grievances, pet peeves, or “acing” a cognitive ability test.

I find it sad, and a bad omen for our country.  I believe firmly in the two party system as part of the checks and balances that keep our country on a relatively middle of the road path to the future.

Arguably, many past platforms may have been exercises in producing wish lists by those that write them.  More positively, they provide a blueprint, plan, policies and aspirational goals that the respective parties want to accomplish should they carry the election.  Now, according to their own document, there is nothing that the Republicans want to achieve other than whatever Mr. Donald J. Trump and his family declare in the moment that they should do.

The Republican Party is dead.  The Cult of Trump is alive and well.

The Republican National Convention is now nothing short of a coronation for Mr. Trump.  Indeed, Mr. Trump has repeatedly declared that the upcoming election would be “rigged.”  Yesterday, to kick off his convention, he declared that “the only way they can take this election away from us is if this is a rigged election.”  Think about that.  His party has given him carte blanche to do whatever he wants, and he publicly declares, repeatedly, that the only election result he will accept is if he wins.

That is a combination that should concern us all, especially given Mr. Trump’s increasingly lawless actions.

I do not wish to insult the intelligence or motives of those that support Mr. Trump.  It is a long American tradition to distrust the government, the media, and experts about anything and everything.  Mr. Trump is nothing else if not a salesman.  He knows how to tap into that resentment.  No matter the facts, or the eloquence of the argument, no one is going to sway the die-hard Trump supporter that they should stop supporting him.  Listening to the language showered upon him in the first day of the Republican Convention shows he has attained a Messianic following.  It is truly a cult of personality.  His support rests upon cultural and emotional issues, not a coherent vision for the future.  That is not going to change no matter how outrageous his behavior becomes over the coming months.  His followers are going to “stick it to the man” no matter what.

The establishment Republican Party that may have moderated his behavior ceased to exist.  They will not do their Constitutional duty.  I blame the Republican members of Congress and their obvious cowardice in the face of actions by a president that they would have wholeheartedly condemned in any other modern president Republican or Democrat.  Perhaps future historians will be able to figure out why there has been such a wide-spread display of cowardice on their part.  I cannot explain it.

It is now up to the voters to decide.  We need to weed out the merely outrageous aspects of Mr. Trump’s behavior that distract us nearly every wearying day.  Instead it is time to focus on those actions of his, as aided and abetted by a cowering Senate, that threaten our future as a Republic.

We cannot be intimidated or cowed.  Too much depends on it.  Please vote, no matter what.

 

 


Putin’s Obedient Servant

As Mr. Donald J. Trump continues to work hard over the last week to cement his status as the Worst President Ever, there are numerous examples of his total failure as a leader and as a person.  Whether it is continuing to espouse that COVID-19 will “sort of disappear”; promoting “white power”; holding thinly disguised rallies at national monuments; or running for president of the Confederacy, there are large numbers of occasions when one can only shake your head and hope that the election gets here soon.

And then it gets worse.

There may be no part of the job of President as important as that of Commander-in-Chief.  People die when the president gets it wrong.  For that matter, people sometimes die even when everything goes as planned.  It is a tough world and it is part of the pact between the military and the American people that service men and women will go in harms way to protect and defend the Constitution and our way of life in exchange for the promise that their lives, talent and American treasure will not be wasted in futile exploits and that those in charge — all the way to the president — will do all that they can to keep them safe in an inherently dangerous profession.  In the military it is known as force protection.

As a country, we can be reasonably certain that the recent revelations that Russian operatives worked with the Taliban in Afghanistan to put a bounty on the lives of US and coalition service members are true.  The evidence is startlingly clear.  The price for an American death was as much as 100,000 dollars.

Within a normal administration this would have caused one of several, or multiple, courses of action to kick in immediately upon learning of this threat.  The Russians would be warned at the highest level of government that this was a dangerous game that must stop immediately.  Likely, sanctions would be leveled against all involved.  Probably, especially if further evidence was uncovered, those involved in Afghanistan would have been on the receiving end of a capture or kill operation.

As we know, sadly this is not a normal administration.  The official announcement was that no action will be taken against Russia.

And then it gets worse.

Mr. Trump says, “I think it’s a hoax by the newspapers and the Democrats.”  These remarks came on 1 July after several days of credible reporting that Mr. Trump continuously decried and belittled.

The excuses for inaction have come fast and furious.  Among those floated were the assertion that Mr. Trump was never briefed on the situation.  When that was reported to be inaccurate, the excuse was that it may have been in a written intelligence document but no one verbally briefed him.  When that did not quite pass the smell test,  the reason given was that the intelligence reports were not “verifiable.”  Well now.  That is not an intelligence term.  Most  intelligence reports in this vein are not verifiable.  The terms of art are “credible” or “not credible.”  When there is credible evidence of a terrorist attack, it is not verified that an attack is actually going to happen until it does.  The country does not — or at least did not — wait for an attack before acting.  The killing of Osama bin Laden was based on credible intelligence — they did not know for sure that he was in that villa at that time — it was verified when they got a DNA match from the dead body.  The terms that Mr. Trump and his enablers use are just gobbledygook designed to deflect from Mr. Trump’s dereliction of duty as Commander-in-Chief.

Rather than being bogged down in the weeds over who was briefed and to what level, etc. etc. etc.  the real question should be what action would a president take once the story broke?  The answer is easy.  The president picks up the phone and calls for an immediate update and then works with his staff for appropriate responses to counter the Russians or to put out a credible explanation as to what actually happened should the facts have been misinterpreted.

So now we all know about it.  Who knew about it when is not now important.  What is Mr. Trump going to do?  Apparently, whine about how it is unfair to him and that it is all designed to make him look bad and on and on with his usual “poor me” schtick.  Despicable.

It seems that the lives of US service men and women fighting our nation’s wars are less valuable than whatever political ax Mr. Trump has to grind.

The signal to Mr. Putin?  Do whatever you want Vlad because the USA is not going to hold you accountable.  It is open season on Americans abroad and on our national security at home.  Kill our folks.  Interfere in our election.  Conduct cyber attacks on our businesses and infrastructure.  Do whatever you want because the stable genius in the White House will not do anything to upset his personal apple cart full of Russian money.

To me, that is the best and most plausible explanation as to why Mr. Trump refuses, time and time and time again, to do anything to upset his “friend” Vladimir Putin.  My sense is not that Mr. Trump is protecting Mr. Putin.  My strong belief is that Mr. Putin is protecting Mr. Trump’s secrets and Mr. Trump is afraid that if he says or does the wrong thing, the Russians will put it all out there.  Putin is the name, blackmail the game.

No one with oversight responsibility has yet to see Mr. Trump’s taxes or the financial records of Trump, Inc.  Mr. Trump has fought long and hard in court to keep those records secret.  I am willing to bet that those records are full of illegal at the worst, unethical at the best, transactions.  Mr. Trump and Trump, Inc. had multiple bankruptcies.  US banks stopped lending him money for his far flung schemes.  My bet is that Russian oligarchs, beholden to Mr. Putin, bailed him out and in return Mr. Trump and his businesses helped the Russian Mafia to launder money and to conduct other illegal schemes.

Have you ever seen the movie The Godfather?  It’s all you need to know as to how Mr. Trump is entangled with the Russians.  And believe me, Mr. Trump is not the Godfather.  I don’t think he is even as smart or as skilled as Fredo.

We know that our values are totally corrupted when the Commander-in-Chief will take no action to protect our troops and the Party of Trump in the Congress stays silent.  It is hard for me to decide which is more loathsome — a president that will not do his job or members of Congress that protect and defend a corrupt president rather than our troops.


The Supremes And Our Presidential Election

While you were focused on the coronavirus pandemic and its devastating impact on our society, other government functions continue as intended.  Among those continuing to function, although for the first time in history they did so via video conferences, was the Supreme Court.  A number of pending cases could produce profound precedents that could change the ways our government functions.

Among these are two cases involving the Electoral College and whether or not the individual Electors are obligated to vote for the Presidential and Vice Presidential candidates with the most popular votes in their respective states.  The two cases stem from the 2016 election and are Chiafalo v. Washington [the state] and Colorado Department of State v. Baca.  In both cases, Electors voted for candidates other than the one with the most popular votes in their state.  In the Chiafalo case the Washington State Supreme Court ruled that under the Constitution the state has the power to enforce the state law that requires Electors to vote for their party’s candidate.  In the Baca case, however, the The United States Court of Appeals for the 10th District (in Denver) over-ruled the state’s law requiring Electors to vote for their party’s candidate saying that under the Constitution, once an Elector is appointed, they are free to vote as they choose.

In all, in 2016 seven Electors voted for candidates that were not the one’s they were supposed to represent.

It is now up to the Supreme Court to decide which determination is correct, with profound implications for our future elections.  The practices and traditions which have served us well for all these many years could be codified through the Court’s action or it could be thrown on its ear.

So what does this mean to us?  Perhaps a little background is in order as the Electoral College (which is a process rather than a place — and is never mentioned in the Constitution) is often misunderstood by many of us.

The Founding Fathers did not trust the great American unwashed average citizen to make rational choices as to our elected officials.  The House of Representatives was to be “The People’s House” where they could participate in governing, but the real power was in the Senate.  Recall that Senators were not popularly elected until the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment which was ratified in 1913.  Before that, State Legislatures elected each state’s Senators.

Likewise, the Founding Fathers did not trust a direct popular vote for president.  Alexander Hamilton wrote in the Federalist Papers that the Electors would have the “information and discernment” to determine the best person for President.  Under the original text of the Constitution, state legislatures selected the Electors and each Elector would cast two ballots for president.  The candidate with the most votes (assuming it is a majority) would be President and the candidate with the second most votes would be Vice President.  Then came the election of 1800 where Thomas Jefferson and Aaron Burr tied with 73 votes each.  The decision then went to the House of Representatives where after 36 ballots (neither could garner a majority), Jefferson was voted in as President.

Following this near debacle, the Twelfth Amendment was ratified in 1804.  This modified how Electors cast their ballots, separating the vote for President from that of Vice President.  It did not designate how the Electors would be chosen.

Over time, most states decided that the Electoral votes from their state would go to the candidate with the most popular votes.  (Maine and Nebraska have laws that divide the Electoral votes by Congressional district.  It is thus possible that votes from those states could go to two candidates.)  Twenty-six states and the District of Columbia (they gained Electoral votes under the Twenty-third Amendment in 1961) have laws that bind the Electors to vote the same as the popular vote.

In practice, when we vote we do not vote for the president.  We vote for Electors who promise to vote for a particular candidate.  Most Electors are party luminaries or workers in the same party as the candidate.  Where laws do not govern the specifics of how a state’s Electors must vote, it is assumed that by pledging their loyalty to a particular party’s candidate, they will so vote.

Over time, “faithless Electors” — those that do not follow the popular vote — have not decided any election.  However, there were at least five presidential elections where the winner would have been different if ten Electors had changed their vote.  Likewise, there have been five elections where a president lost the popular vote but won the Electoral College vote (1824, 1876, 1888, 2000, and 2016).

Here is another fun fact about presidential elections.  If the electoral vote is tied, the decision rests with the House for President and the Senate for Vice President.  But here’s the rub.  Each state votes as a block and each state counts as one vote.  Thus the vote for President from the North Dakota delegation (with only one Representative) counts the same as the vote from California with 53 Representatives.

Clearly, our president is not, and never has been, decided by the popular vote in any way that would be comparable to our election for every other office in the land since 1913.  Over the years there have been many attempts to do away with the current system and to have the voters directly decide on the President and Vice President.  It would require an Act of Congress and ratification from the states to do so because it would be a change to the Constitution.  The closest attempt to change it was the passage of a resolution in the House of Representatives in 1969 calling for a direct vote with a run off if no candidate received at least forty percent of the vote.  The resolution failed to pass in the Senate.

The dilemma the Supreme Court faces is how to interpret the Constitution without upending two centuries of practice.  Essentially, our country devised a new way of electing our presidents, different from the original ideas of the Founding Fathers, even if we keep the relics and traditions of that system.  If the “originalists” on the Court decide that the Constitution intended for Electors to use their discretion and vote for whomever they want, the popular vote could become meaningless as there would be no obligation to vote for the winner in their respective states.  They could vote for anyone, potentially throwing the system into chaos.  If the Court decides that states can in fact determine how their Electors are chosen and that the Electors must vote as per the state’s law, then they run the risk of voiding what some consider to be the original intent of the Founding Fathers.

Given the ongoing destruction of long-standing norms, practices and ethical behavior that previously stood the test of time, it is imperative that the Court codify existing practice and give the states the power to best determine how their Electors will be allocated.  Further, the Congress should again address the issues surrounding the use of Electors to determine our presidents.  Even if one is in favor of the way we have come to interpret the value of the Electoral College (theoretically giving more states a chance to participate in the selection of our presidents) it is time to put into law how those Electors are chosen.  To do otherwise invites disaster in either the near or long term.  I have voiced my opinion in this space in previous postings that I believe we should do away with the anachronistic Electoral College and provide for direct popular votes for president.

Either way, we should not leave it up to chance.  The forthcoming decision from the Supreme Court will have a direct impact on our future elections.  Let’s hope that they get it right and keep the states in charge of enforcing votes from their Electors.  The Congress must then follow up to instill a rigorous and uniform method for selecting Electors and their subsequent votes — either by putting our current system into law or by abolishing the Electoral College and providing for the direct election of President and Vice President.  The future of our Republic demands it.

 

 


Frightening

“I believe that the president has learned from this case.  The president has been impeached — that’s a pretty big lesson.”   — Senator Susan Collins (Tr-Maine)

Multiple Senators opined in a similar way that Mr. Trump learned his lesson as to the seriousness of his actions concerning Ukraine and that he would be more reserved and conventional in his approach to governing in the future.

Ha!

When asked by a reporter about Senator Collins’ statement, specifically, what lessons he’s learned from the impeachment, Mr. Trump responded:

“That the Democrats are crooked.  They’ve got a lot of crooked things going.  That they’re vicious.  That they shouldn’t have brought impeachment.  And that my poll numbers are ten points higher.”

It has only been a little over a week since the Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump concluded.  In that time, Mr. Trump embarked on a crusade of retribution and increasingly threatening behavior.  The list is too long — in just nine days mind you — to enumerate here but it started with the National Prayer Breakfast, continued in a rambling and profane State of Mind speech in the White House, and is clearly enumerated in his omnipresent Tweet storms.  It is, in a word, frightening.

Of greatest concern to our Republic is his stated intent to meddle in the Justice system of the United States of America.  Our legal system depends on the ability of our prosecutors, judges and juries to attempt to be as impartial as possible.  As with Joe Friday in the old “Drag Net” series, “just the facts, Ma’am.”  Just as important is the public’s perception that the system is unbiased and faithful to the law.  Mr. Trump is attempting to undercut both elements that are so important to our rule of law.

We got a preview of coming attractions a few weeks ago when the DOJ initially asked for a relatively long prison sentence (seven months) for confessed felon Mr. Michael Flynn.  That was later withdrawn and a recommendation for probation was substituted after the original career prosecutors were over-ruled by senior political appointee DOJ officials.

In case you missed it, Mr. Trump’s long time friend and confidant — and proud self proclaimed political dirty trickster — Mr. Roger Stone was convicted on seven felony counts including lying to Congress and witness tampering.  His is the last case to come from the Mueller Investigation which resulted in multiple defendants going to jail on convictions or admissions of guilt.

Mr. Stone is due to be sentenced next week.  This week the four career prosecutors from the Department of Justice (DOJ) used the existing formula under current law to recommend a sentence for Mr. Stone.  Prosecutors recommend a sentence, based on the guidelines, and then judges hand down the sentence based on those same guidelines coupled with any mitigating or aggravating circumstances and other factors that may have come out during the trial or that are presented by the defense attorneys in order to humanize the guidelines.

The DOJ prosecutors recommended in a brief presented to the court that Mr. Stone serve seven to nine years in jail.  That night, the president tweeted at two A.M. that “This is a horrible and very unfair situation.  The real crimes were on the other side, as nothing happens to them.  Cannot allow this miscarriage of justice!”  Later that day, under the direction of Attorney General William Barr, the court papers were withdrawn and a lighter sentence was put forward by DOJ.  Mr. Trump later publicly questioned whether there was “prosecutorial misconduct” in the case under the original prosecutors.

The four original career prosecutors resigned in protest.  Three resigned from the case and one from the case and from DOJ.

It gets worse.  As it always does with Mr. Trump.

The president then went after the presiding judge in the case on Twitter.  He went after Judge Amy Berman Jackson a judge in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia.  She is a highly respected member of the judiciary known for her fairness and lack of tolerance for shenanigans in the court room.  Oh by the way, she also was the judge in other prosecutions brought forward by Mr. Mueller including Mr. Paul Manafort and Mr. Richard Gates.  It was the sentencing of Mr. Manafort that particularly incensed the president, which he brought up in his latest attack on Judge Jackson.

It gets worse, as it always does.

The president then went after the forewoman of the jury that convicted Mr. Stone.  On Twitter, of course, he said of the forewoman, “Now it looks like the fore person in the jury, in the Roger Stone case, had significant bias.  Add that to everything else, and this is not looking good for the “Justice” Department.”  He then referenced “Fox and Friends” on Fox News.  Of course he did.  And of course he puts “justice” in quotations.

It gets worse, again.

Yesterday AG Barr, in what appeared to me to be a “CYA” (an old term — known in modern circles as damage control mode), held an interview with ABC News where he opined that the president’s Tweets were making it “impossible” for him to do his job.  To me, it looked like the AG was trying to tell Mr. Trump that he was taking care of the president and following up on his desired use of the Justice Department for his own purposes, but that the Tweets were giving away the ball game.  Basically, to me, he was saying to the president, “Cool it.  We’ve got your back but we can’t do it if you brag about it.  Just stop it.”

But no matter.  The president just — Could. Not. Let. It. Be.

Today the president says that he has “the legal right” to interfere in cases brought by the Justice Department.  Let that sink in for a minute.

Not only is he claiming that he can interfere in the prosecution proceedings against his friends and allies, but that he can direct the prosecution of his perceived enemies or those that he claims are disloyal to him.  Not to the Constitution, to him.  Personally.

That’s some scary stuff.

In case you don’t quite get it, note that Mr. Trump is pushing the Department of Defense to have the Army take disciplinary action against Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman for his reporting, through the chain of command, his uneasiness with Mr. Trump’s now infamous call with the Ukrainian president.  He testified to Congress under a subpoena — following orders and his oath to the Constitution.  Said Mr. Trump of Colonel Vindman, “He is over with the military.”  This from a man that pardoned three military war criminals.

The bottom line is this.  The President of the United States clearly thinks that he is squarely in charge of the country.  Not as a leader, but as an autocrat.  Whatever he wants, he gets.  Whatever he tells people to do, they must do it or be subject to retribution or worse, criminal prosecution.  Not legal orders, mind you.  Rather, anything he wants, regardless of legality or morality.

Sadly, though profoundly disturbed, I am not shocked by Mr. Trump’s behavior.  I am, however, dumbfounded that with only one exception, the former Republicans in Congress have formed a cabal that has gone over lock, stock and barrel to aiding and abetting his outrageous behavior.  Indeed, they cheer and applaud his every inane and threatening statement.  Literally.  Take a look at video of his public appearances the day after the Impeachment Trial.  You know, the “trial” where the Trumpists refused to allow any evidence or testimony.

Mr. Trump during his campaign famously said that he could shoot someone in broad daylight on Fifth Avenue in New York City and get away with it.  Sadly, that may have been a prophecy rather than an apocryphal statement.  Clearly he has come to believe that not only can he get away with that, but apparently he now believes that he has the right to do that if it is in the “national interest” — meaning in his interest.

Can you imagine what will happen if he wins a second term?

 


All Hail The King!

The Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump continues today.  It is impossible to know exactly what will occur over the next 30 hours or so, but a betting person would place money on the increasing likelihood that the Senate will vote “no” on calling witnesses or documents during the trial and then proceed to acquit Mr. Trump of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

And we will be the worse for it.

Politics aside, meaning whether or not you felt that Mr. Trump should be removed from office, all of us should be appalled that the Senate will conclude the trial without actually holding a trial as we all know it should be conducted.  Indeed, in the latest Quinnipiac Poll — a source respected by all mainstream politicians — 75% of respondents stated that there should be witnesses questioned and documents reviewed during the Impeachment Trial.  Only 20% said that they were not necessary.  Those in favor included a majority of Republicans as well as overwhelming numbers of Democrats and Independents.  The reasons for wanting them may vary — for proving either an acquittal or a conviction — but the fact remains that they are wanted.  So much for elected officials listening to their constituents.

More shocking, more incredible, more dangerous than all of the preposterous arguments being put forward by the Trump cultists, is the one proffered by Professor Alan Dershowitz, one of the president’s defense lawyers.  His twisted logic essentially says that a president can do anything that he wants.  Period.  He is totally in line with Mr. Trump’s declaration, “Then, I have an Article II, where I have the right to do whatever I want as president.”

Specifically, Professor Dershowitz argued that if a president is running for re-election and believes that being re-elected is in the public interest, then that person can do whatever is necessary to get re-elected.  After a long explanation, he summarized by saying, “If a president does something he believes will help him get elected is in the public interest, that cannot be the kind of quid pro quo that results in impeachment.”

Think about the ramifications of saying that a president can do anything to get elected and the Congress can do nothing about it.  The imagination runs wild.

So for those keeping score at home, here is where we are:

  • The president believes that he does not have to submit to oversight from the Congress and therefore refuses to turn over any documents or witnesses to help Congress do its Constitutionally mandated job.
  • The entire membership of one political party in Congress supports that assertion and actively works to keep witnesses and documents from their oversight.
  • The defense team of the president confirms that the president does not have to submit to Congressional oversight.
  • The defense team then goes one step further by saying that if a president believes that his actions are in the “national interest” then he can do anything that he wants to do.
  • The president believes, and now has had it affirmed, that he is the state.  Whatever is good for him is good for the country.
  • The Senate votes to affirm all of the above.

Put all the pieces together and we no longer have an accountable president.  We have the equivalent of a divine king.  (There are many evangelicals that believe that it is God’s will that Mr. Trump was elected.)  Our very own Louis XIV!  (Famous quote one:  “It is legal because I wish it.”  Famous quote two:  “Has God forgotten all I have done for Him?”)  I am not hyperventilating, or over-stating the case when I use that phrase because the arguments are in the same vein as those used for the divine right of kings.  To continue in this direction puts the great American experiment on life support.

Rather than “king” maybe we should worry that we will soon have an “emperor.”  Perhaps the best historical analogy is the end of the Roman Republic.  After long and bitter political infighting, the Senate abdicated its responsibilities to an Emperor.

Is there any doubt that Mr. Trump, given his track record to date and proven propensity to do only what he thinks personally benefits him, will stop at nothing to win the next election?  Then what?

The possible consequences are limited only by one’s own imagination.  Consider this scenario as an example.  Mr. Trump already believes that he lost the 2016 popular vote because three million people voted illegally.  He formed a commission to “prove” it.  (The commission disbanded without finding any evidence of such a thing.)  Suppose the polls show that he will lose again in 2020 and decides that all of those illegal voters were in California and that they were all illegal immigrants (another theory he has espoused with no proof what-so-ever)?  Suppose he then declares that it is in the national interest to prevent that from happening and shuts down polling places in California or, after the results are in, declares that it is in the national interest to nullify all votes in California?  What mechanism exists to prevent that?  Public outrage?  A dysfunctional Congress?  The press?

It is increasingly clear that our Founding Fathers assumed that at least a modicum of decency and fair play would exist in either the presidency or in the Congress in order to make the checks and balances actually work.  We now clearly can see that an individual who knows no boundaries and bursts through any guardrails that may have existed, coupled to the lack of any will to stop him, means that anything goes.

Here’s the thing to remember.  Whatever shenanigans happen in the next few days, whoever argues that the Trump cultists are on the wrong side of history, or that they are setting a terrible precedent for future presidents or even that our democracy may be in jeopardy, there is only one answer.

Repeat after me.

THEY. DON’T. CARE.

All that matters now is protecting Mr. Trump who in turn promises to protect them (Ha!) which allows them to retain power.

NOTHING. ELSE. MATTERS.

Is it too much to say that we now have a king rather than a president?  Perhaps.  Only the events over the next few months will let us know for sure.  I for one am extremely nervous about what Mr. Trump thinks he can do now that he feels no consequences for his election dallying with Russia and his extortion attempts on Ukraine.

Everything seems to be fair game to him and he sees no problem with his immoral behavior.  Our only recourse is to be vigilant, continue to cry “foul” while holding our Senators and Representatives accountable and turning out in record numbers in November to vote these people into obscurity.

 


Through The Looking Glass

“Why, sometimes I’ve believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.”

—- Alice in Alice in Wonderland

To believe the ongoing defense arguments in the Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump, it would help to be in Alice’s shoes.  Although, with the information coming out over the weekend, I’m not sure that even that would help.

Two revelations in particular make the president’s defense increasingly difficult to believe.  One is the roughly 80 minute long video and audio tape released by Mr. Lev Parnas — the “associate” of Mr. Rudy Giuliani in the Ukrainian shakedown scheme — where he discusses the firing of the then U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.  The second, and most important, is the report detailing the interactions between the president and his National Security Adviser John Bolton concerning the shakedown of Ukraine.

In the audio tape, Mr. Parnas and Mr. Trump discuss Ambassador Yovanovitch and the president is told that she is “bad-mouthing” him.  The response?

“Get rid of her!  Get her out tomorrow.  I don’t care. Get her out tomorrow.  Take her out.  Okay?  Do it!”

In addition to sounding like a bad mob movie, this is troubling in at least two ways.  While the president’s defense is true, that he can hire and fire whomever he wants as an Ambassador, it wasn’t what happened as much as how it happened.

Mr. Trump claims he doesn’t know Mr. Parnas.  This is just another one of his over 16,200 documented lies to date in office.  Listening to the tape, he clearly does know him.  The context is a general discussion about Ukraine and U.S. support to that fledgling democracy locked in a hot war with Russia.  Note that he doesn’t say “we need to look into that,” or tell an aide that he needs more information or talk to Secretary of State Pompeo about what to do.  Instead, on the spot, he commands her immediate removal.

This happens for one of two reasons.  It could be that there already had been long discussions about how the Ambassador refused to “play ball” in the scheme and in fact was acting to end corruption — by opposing the actions of Giuliani and Associates.

The other reflects the president’s decision making style.  Assume he really did not know Mr. Parnas.  Then that means anyone could walk into the president’s inner circle (the recording was made during an intimate sit down dinner of about ten people), say any old outrageous thing and the president would bring the most powerful office in the land to bear on the spur of the moment and act on it without study, knowledge, strategy or process.  That may be the scarier of the two prospects.

But now, as Alice would say, the situation is getting “curiouser and curousier.”

Mr. Bolton apparently is ready and willing to testify to what is in the manuscript of his upcoming book.  Specifically, that in mid-August, as all government agencies were pushing for the release of about $400 million in desperately needed assistance to Ukraine, the president told him that he would not do so until the Ukrainians provided information on the Bidens and on Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election.  These two conspiracy theories have been thoroughly and repeatedly debunked by his own administration’s officials.

The manuscript puts the lie to everything that the president, his lawyers and his cult followers in Congress have claimed since the whole mess became public.

The manuscript also reportedly shows the full depth and breadth of the conspiracy to extort Ukraine by illuminating the involvement of the Secretary of State, Attorney General and the Acting Chief of Staff.  The whole place seems to be rotting from within.

Here is the kicker.  The draft book was given to the White House staff on 30 December 2019.  That means that the president, his defense attorneys and others in the administration knew about the testimony Mr. Bolton was ready to give and therefore, not only did they continue to knowingly lie when they said no one could testify to the president’s direct involvement, they knew it when the Senate voted not to have any witnesses or documents produced at the trial.

Let that sink in.

I would postulate that as a minimum, Senator Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (TR-Ky) knew it too when he set the rules for the trial.  Clearly, they were ready to jam through a vote to preclude witnesses knowing that there was at least one person that could provide exceedingly damaging testimony about the president’s real intentions.

A total sham and whitewash of a trial executed with malice of forethought.

My theory is that they knew the facts would come out eventually, but they did not care.  The argument would be that the president was already acquitted and so, while “troubling”, too bad, so sad, we can’t do anything about it now.  The House should have done their job (another canard among many), but they didn’t and so now we just have to live with it.  Oh well. On to the election!

Only they got caught.

On Saturday I was convinced that the trial would end without any additional evidence or witnesses.  They almost got away with it, but now I think that as many as eight or nine Republican Senators will vote for witnesses.  What form that takes, and how many witnesses get called, I have no idea, but I would speculate that it is about a 60-40 chance that at least Mr. Bolton testifies.  It is also possible, of course, that Mr. McConnell (aka Midnight Mitch, aka Moscow Mitch) might pull a legislative rabbit out of his hat to protect Mr. Trump, but there also may be enough pressure from his own caucus that he relents.

Much attention focused on four Republican Senators and how they might vote.  In my view, and the view of several political analysts, there were never going to be four Senators joining the Democrats to vote for witnesses.  There needed to be safety in numbers of at least six or seven in order that no one of them is accused of having “caved” to the Democrats and been the deciding vote.  Otherwise, the Red Queen would have tweeted “Off with their heads!”

It is early in the proceedings, even if Mr. Trump and his accomplice in the Senate Mr. McConnell hoped to have it wrapped up by the end of this week.  But as we have seen so often in these proceedings, even twenty-four hours is an eternity in the current political environment.  Who knows what will happen?

I turn to Alice for one more parting piece of advice to the public and to those in Congress that may still care about holding this administration accountable.

“It takes all the running you can do, to keep in the same place.  If you want to go someplace else, you must run at least twice as fast as that!”

 


How Low Will They Go?

As more and more information becomes available through the release of sworn testimony concerning the shakedown of Ukraine perpetrated by the President of the United States and his minions, the Republicans in Congress have become increasingly desperate in their defense of his actions.

They have used arguments ranging from the ridiculous to the downright dishonest.  Recently, three Senators that I thought were relatively straight shooters, even if I didn’t usually agree with their ideas, grovelled in front of Mr. Trump in public.  At campaign rallies, Rand Paul (KY) and John Kennedy (LA) made speeches demeaning others in terms that would get any fourth grader in trouble as Mr. Trump stood behind them grinning his “look what I’ve made them do” grin.  Lindsey Graham (S.C.) increasingly is getting desperate in his attempts to be Mr. Trump’s bestie.  When asked about the most recent incriminating testimony from witnesses in the House of Representatives, he stated that he refused to read the transcripts.  In other words, a future juror in the president’s trial (should he be impeached which I think he deserves to be) refuses to even look at the evidence, much less give it due consideration.  Appalling.

Next week the public hearings in the impeachment inquiry begin.  After weeks of complaining that it was a secret “Soviet style” proceeding, the president and his underlings now claim that the hearings should not be public.  Because they know that unequivocal evidence exists that an orchestrated shakedown occurred?  Perhaps they fear that the public will continue the trend towards supporting impeachment if they hear the truth?

According to several reports, House Republicans are now contemplating claiming that the president did not know what his flunkeys, specifically Mr. Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Mick Mulvaney, and Ambassador Gordon Sondland, were doing.  They went “rogue.”  Nice try.  Mr. Trump himself released a Memorandum for the Record (MFR) that captures in his own words the  shakedown of the President of Ukraine.  Numerous individuals with direct knowledge, including listening to the phone call, have testified that there was a months long effort to make it clear to the Ukrainian government that to get what they so desperately needed to fend off Russian aggression was a public statement by the Ukrainian president.  According to the sworn testimony of Deputy Assistant Secretary of State George Kent that statement must include three words.  “Investigation.” “Biden.” “Clinton.”  No statement, no reward.  A shakedown at the direction of Mr. Trump.  Also known in legal circles as extortion.

In the Senate, it appears that their defense of Mr. Trump will boil down to a three pronged response. “He did it.”  “So what?”  “Get over it.”

Nice.

The evidence will continue to show that the president abused the power of his office.  He probably is used to doing business this way in all of his endeavors.  Additionally, there was a concerted effort, as outlined in sworn testimony, to cover it up.  We all know enough about Mr. Trump that if he gets away with this abrogation of the public trust he will do it again.

The story is not very complicated.  In the coming weeks we will hear it for ourselves.  All Americans believe that no one is above the law.  That is now being put to the test.  Impeachment and removal from office is a sobering responsibility given to the Congress through the Constitution.  It should be approached with the utmost care and with a full understanding of the consequences of such an action.  Trivializing the process with playground epithets and unserious rationalizations should not be a part of the process.  One would expect both Democrats and Republicans to understand the stakes and to live up to their oaths of office.  Undertake due diligence.  Review the evidence.  Treat career diplomats and military officers testifying under oath with respect.  And yes, search their souls for the strength to do what they think is in keeping with our national values and laws.  We should expect nothing less from our elected officials.  Unfortunately, one party is now a wholly owned subsidiary of Trump, Inc.

He did it so get over it is not a defense.  It is a desperate short-term effort to retain power that is unworthy of American values and our faith in the rule of law.  Politicians should rise to the occasion and reflect our better selves.  Unfortunately, I expect that the road ahead will only get lower and muddier.

 


A Sad Day For America

Yesterday the House of Representatives voted to authorize the rules to continue an impeachment inquiry into the actions of the President of the United States with respect to Ukraine.  It is a sober moment for our nation and it should be a reason for each of us to pause and to think about the ramifications of this action.

Contrary to what some have publicly stated, this was not a vote to impeach.  The vote pertained to the conduct of the public fact gathering portion of the proceeding.  Should the House decide that the president did in fact conduct himself in a manner contrary to the Constitution, they will draft Articles of Impeachment.  The entire House then votes to approve or disapprove each of the Articles.  Should one or more Article pass, the Senate then holds a trial, presided over by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, and votes to convict or acquit the president on each Article.

So far, the majority of Republicans in the House have made a mockery of the proceedings.  At the direction of the president, they are spreading lies and misinformation about the investigation.  This included storming a classified conference room to “expose” the “secret” proceedings.  Not mentioned is that over 40 Republican Congressmen already had access to those proceedings and indeed participated in them to the fullest extent.  Yesterday, they went to the House floor to decry the inquiry as akin to secret trials held in the Soviet Union.  It is shameful and dishonest behavior on their part.

Now reports indicate that Mr. Trump will monetarily support the election campaigns of Senators that promise to vote against any Articles of Impeachment.  He will withhold supporting funds from those that do not.  We used to call this bribery.

The Impeachment Inquiry rules incorporate everything that the Republicans asked for with public hearings.  Everything.  And the rules approved yesterday afford the president more leeway and ability to participate than either set of hearings involving President Nixon or President Clinton.

The process should be fair and open.  But here’s the deal.  We all already know the basics of what happened.  The president, his Acting Chief of Staff, and his personal attorney have all been on television telling us exactly what happened.  A long parade of career diplomats and military officers followed with contextual information that indicates just how wide-spread and long-planned the effort to extort the Ukrainian government actually was.  It was an old-fashioned shake down.  The president wanted “dirt” on his main political rival and to have the Ukrainian government fuel a conspiracy theory that the Russians did not really interfere in the 2016 election.  Rather, it was a set up by the Democrats to undermine Mr. Trump’s campaign run from, wait for it, Ukraine.  Both conspiracy theories have been long ago debunked by our entire intelligence service and by several of Mr. Trump’s own political appointees.

In exchange for made-up information fabricated by Mr. Trump and his henchmen, the president would release nearly $400 million in aid that Ukraine needed to fight off Russian backed separatists.  While Mr. Trump ran his crazy mob scam, Ukrainians were dying on the battlefield.  Mr. Trump undermined Ukrainian security and our own national security for his personal domestic political goals.  He used taxpayer money to extort another country to interfere in our domestic elections for his benefit.  This was not a government effort to eliminate corruption generally.  There is no such effort or policy in this administration unless the only country in the world that is corrupt is Ukraine and the only people in Ukraine that were corrupt was the Bidens.

It was not just one “perfect” phone call either.  The parade of witnesses deposed by the House committees (there were three committees involved) described a long-term, many pronged, concerted effort to run the scam.  The phone call was the result of months of heavy pressure outside of normal diplomatic channels to get Ukraine to fabricate lies to help the political fortunes of Mr. Trump.

There is also the little matter of the president standing on the White House lawn and encouraging China to interfere in the 2020 election, just as he publicly asked Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.

We already know all this.  (Although, I suspect that it is only the tip of the ice berg.)

The House of Representatives is focused only on his egregious behavior regarding Ukraine.  They are not considering impeachment based on his status as an unindicted co-conspirator for money laundering and campaign violations regarding payments to a porn star and a Playboy model.  They are not trying to impeach him for the 110 known contacts between his campaign and Russians during the 2016 election.  They are not drawing up Articles for the 10 clear cut unlawful efforts to obstruct justice during the Mueller Investigation.  They are not contemplating impeaching him for the over 13,500 documented lies to the American people.

Equally important, we all know that a president cannot be impeached because we disagree with his policies.  We cannot impeach a president because of an obnoxious personality.  We can impeach a president when our national security is put at risk through an abuse of power.

In my opinion the facts surrounding the Ukraine shakedown are not in dispute.  Please note that the Republicans are not defending Mr. Trump by disputing the facts or by providing an explanation of his actions.  They are only attacking the process, and now that process is of their own design.  If they had a factual basis to defend the president, they would use it.  They have no facts on their side.

If the facts are not in dispute then the only remaining question is whether they meet the standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”  I think that they do, in the context of presidential abuse of power — the major concern of the Founding Fathers — and obstruction of justice by refusing to turn over documents and witnesses lawfully subpoenaed by Congress.

Some argue that with elections about a year away the president should not be impeached but rather the people should decide Mr. Trump’s fate through the ballot box.  I think that argument is illogical.  Mr. Trump was trying to interfere with the 2020 election after we already know that there was interference in the 2016 election.  He knows better.  More to the point, how can we be sure that the 2020 election is legitimate if we already know that Mr. Trump is trying to stack the deck in his own favor?  He is already trying to steal the 2020 election.  We know this.  Why allow it to happen?

Likewise those that argue that this is just the Democrats trying to undo the 2016 election should take another look.  The inquiry is not about the 2016 election.  It is about what is happening now to influence the 2020 election.  It is not about the past, it’s about the future.

For those that argue that Mr. Trump was out of line to extort the Ukrainians, but that his actions did not rise to the level of an impeachable offense I merely ask, where is that line?  How much can a president put national security at risk before we say that it is too much?  How far can a president abuse the power of the office before we say that it was abused too much?  Whether or not the Senate convicts Mr. Trump on any charges — and I believe that inevitably there will be Articles of Impeachment approved in the House — it is important to put a Constitutional marker down that such behavior is not acceptable and that there are consequences to ignoring the law.

It is a sober day when an impeachment proceeding is necessary.  No one should take joy in the process.  It is also a sad day when an entire political party turns into a cult of personality and publicly attacks a Constitutional process while many of those same politicians privately agree that the leader of the cult abused his power.

There is no telling how events will unfold between now and the end of the year.  I only know that it will be a tough time for our country.