“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.
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.
The President of the United States wants to take away your vote. He tells us this now almost daily. Four years ago he told us that he actually won the popular vote in the 2016 presidential election. On 27 November 2016 he claimed that “In addition to winning the Electoral College in a landslide, I won the popular vote if you deduct the millions of people who voted illegally.” He had no proof of that then and he still has no proof. It did not happen. Of course, for a president that has told over 20,000 documented lies, we should not be surprised that he lied about this.
He continues to make this claim, and now that the 2020 election is approaching, he continues to assert that it will be “rigged,” “fraudulent,” “corrupt” and a host of other unsubstantiated claims that may put the integrity of the election into question in some people’s minds. In a July 2020 interview with Fox News host Mike Wallace, the president (of the United States!) would not commit to accepting the results of the election if he lost.
Remember, even though he is a known liar, the president, just like Saddam Hussein did, tells us what he is actually trying to do. He is up front about it. In my opinion, he tells us what he is going to do — in this case, try to steal the election — because he knows no one will stop him. Appeals to honor, ethics or the law have no impact on him. Repeat after me: “He just doesn’t care.”
The key feature of his intended interference in the upcoming election is his knowledge that he is likely to lose. He created an Electoral College victory in 2016 by the slimmest of margins (roughly 75,000 votes spread out over three states) and is unlikely to get more votes in 2020. Low turnout and protest votes against Secretary Hillary Clinton allowed him to sneak by. He knows that. The conditions in 2020 are totally different and the voter turnout will be very large — a fact not in his favor. What to do? Suppress the vote, claim fraud, and fight with every available tool in his dirty tricks bag to keep votes from being counted.
Is this my usual hyperbolic ranting about the Worst. President. Ever? No. The president told us what he is going to do. Right up front. In July he was complaining that the results of the election would not be available for “days, months or even years later.” He also said, wait for it, that the election results could be tied up in court for years. Aha! What is Mr. Trump’s favorite weapon? The courts. He sues everybody about everything. All the time. Rest assured that if he loses the election there will be a prolonged legal effort to invalidate ballots or even the results in key states that he loses.
More forthright still, the president has taken to attacking the validity of the process surrounding voting by mail. He claims absentee ballots are okay (he and his family vote that way) but mail-in ballots are not. (Yes, I know that they are the same thing.) Again, there is no evidence of any nefarious activity. Here is really what he means, as he put in a May 2020 Tweet (in all caps): “MAIL IN VOTING WILL LEAD TO MASSIVE FRAUD AND ABUSE. IT WILL ALSO LEAD TO THE END OF OUR GREAT REPUBLICAN PARTY. WE CAN NEVER LET THIS TRAGEDY BEFALL OUR NATION.” (It isn’t clear to me whether the tragedy is the end of the Republican Party or mail-in voting.)
In other words, the higher the turnout, by making it easier for people to vote during a pandemic, the less chance he has of winning.
What is he doing about it? Trying to destroy the United States Postal Service. As usual, he is upfront about it. I will relate the details of his scheme, but perhaps all you need to know is what he is continually saying, and to also think about the ramifications of what he is saying. Mr. Trump is blocking funding to the USPS to purposely keep the system from being able to handle the increased mail. Specifically, he is blocking 25 billion dollars for the post office and 3.5 billion to help states with the mailed ballots. This was supposed to be part of the Coronavirus aid package. His opposition is a major impediment to continuing the aid which ran out at the end of July. He explicitly tied them together in an interview on the Fox Business Network. But I’ll let him tell you how he is trying to disrupt a smooth election.
“Now they need that money to make the post office work, so it can take all of those millions and millions of ballots. Now, if we don’t make a deal, it means they won’t get the money. That means they can’t have universal mail-in voting, they just can’t have it.”
In May, the president installed a crony of his as Postmaster General. Since then over 30 seasoned leaders in the postal system have been reassigned, lay-offs have begun, there is a freeze on hiring and new required procedures have created great backlogs of undelivered mail. Think that will have an impact on mail-in (or absentee, if you prefer) voting? In addition, the new Postmaster General has decided that ballot information and ballots themselves will be treated as the class of mail with which they are marked. Traditionally, the states mail in bulk using third class rates with the knowledge that the postal system will move those pieces as if they were first class mail. So, if the states and the voters want to make sure that the ballots get out and back in on time, they have to spend millions of dollars more than before — states that are already seriously cash poor as they have worked to fight the pandemic.
All of this hurts everyday Americans. Millions receive needed prescriptions by mail. Others receive checks by mail. Business transactions are hurt. And on and on. All because the president is afraid of the voting results if Americans can vote without fear of catching a disease that has already killed over 165,000 of our fellow citizens.
Here is why it matters. First, 34 states currently have “no excuse” absentee ballots. That means you do not have to be out of the state to vote absentee. Other states have pending legislation to implement similar procedures. As more states move in that direction, the devil is in the details. States count absentee ballots if they are post marked on or before (some require at least a day before) Election Day. Thirty-two states require that the ballots reach election officials no later than, or the day before, Election Day. The other eighteen states have deadlines ranging from the day after to three days after to ten days after the election.(Some states have legislation pending that may increase or decrease the numbers with these requirements.)
Do you see a pattern here? Now you know why the president will provide no money for the postal system and why he placed a crony in charge of the system who is making changes that significantly slow down the process. Time matters.
So let’s sum it up. Mr. Trump is sabotaging the postal system to disenfranchise voters. It is probable that with the mailed ballots that make it in, the count will not be over on election night. It might be election week. Pretend that Mr. Trump is leading on Election Day in some key states that have large amounts of mail-in ballots. Over the following days, Mr. Biden overtakes Mr. Trump as the counts finish up. Mr. Trump calls it a fraudulent election and takes steps to overturn the results. He goes to court in every state that he claims he should have won. Chaos ensues. The mind can conjure all types of scenarios as to what he does in those circumstances. Possible nightmare scenarios.
Fret not, however, as all reputable scholars and Constitutional experts from all political views agree that the Constitution is clear that the president’s term ends at noon on 20 January 2021. Period.
If there is in fact no resolution to the election by then (inconceivable to me) then the third in line behind the former president and vice-president is the Speaker of the House.
President Nancy Pelosi.
Events unfolding around the country are the previews for coming attractions, and it won’t be fun. To look at what is happening in Portland Oregon one might see a trial run for more such activity — currently announced for, or underway in, Kansas City, Chicago and Albuquerque.
Going forward, remember that this is all right from the autocracy 101 hand book. I will explain my thinking in this piece, but two major things are happening. One is that Mr. Donald J. Trump is trying to get video to support his campaign claim that the cities are out of control and that “only I can fix it.” Second, and far more ominously, he is laying the ground work for declaring martial law leading into the election. Mr. Trump and his campaign know that he cannot win solely through the support of his base. He needs to keep people from voting for his opponent — voter suppression — and one way to do that is to intimidate the electorate and to make it too hard to vote. It is an election strategy that comes at the expense of American cities and their citizens. It threatens the very foundation of our democracy.
As a reminder, federal law enforcement units in full combat gear have been on the streets in Portland for about ten days. Theoretically, they are there to protect the federal court house from protesters. In fact, they have been patrolling the streets of the city picking up people that look like they might be willing to foment trouble. Let’s dive into this further.
The federal government has a duty and a right to protect federal property from destruction. In cases such as the court house in Portland, this would normally entail coordinating with the local city and state authorities for a cohesive plan and would amount to a defensive — rather than offensive — effort to keep trouble makers away. None of this is happening. There is no apparent coordination with local authorities — indeed the mayor and governor have explicitly asked those forces to leave — and they are definitely using offensive tactics with rubber bullets, tear gas, pepper spray and other agents against the crowd. To be sure, there are trouble makers in the ranks of the protesters. However, the vast majority are peaceful. Additionally, with proper techniques and coordination, peaceful protesters are likely to cooperate in identifying the bad apples in the crowd as it is in the best interests of the other protesters to keep it peaceful and to not provoke an over reaction by law enforcement. By all credible accounts, after weeks of protests, the demonstrations in Portland had settled into a peaceful occasion and were slowly dwindling in size. That is until the federal authorities arrived and began using their storm trooper tactics. In military combat gear, the federal authorities wear no name tags or unit identification badges, only a small generic “police” tag on their camos. Reportedly, they are from the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agencies of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). One might ask who is guarding our borders from the supposed hoards coming across from Mexico if they are in Portland? One might also ask what training these particular agencies give to their agents regarding community policing?
If you think it is an exaggeration, look at this video of a Navy veteran trying to talk to some of the agents and getting beaten and pepper sprayed while not even raising his arms or making any threatening movements.
All of this on its own is bad. Very bad. But it portends worse things to come. Remember Mr. Trump’s words earlier this week.
“I’m going to do something, that I can tell you. Because we’re not going to let New York and Chicago and Philadelphia and Detroit and Baltimore and all of these — Oakland is a mess. We’re not going to let this happen in our country. Look at what’s going on — all run by Democrats, all run by very liberal Democrats. All run, really, by the radical left.”
So, first of all, only Democrat mayors are “bad.” Secondly, there are currently no violent demonstrations in Philadelphia, Detroit or Baltimore or other cities he is going to “dominate.” This is pure, unabashed partisan politics using federal law enforcement agencies for his personal gain.
Additionally, the hypocrisy is all too familiar. The rationale behind the Portland deployment is to protect against citizens expressing their First Amendment rights on federal property. In 2018 Mr. Trump gave full pardons to two Oregonians — father and son — that set fire in 2016 to 139 acres of federal land during Red Flag Warning conditions, endangering firefighters working on another fire nearby. It resulted in a 40 day armed occupation of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge by protesters supporting their cause. He considered these men to be patriots. Peaceful protesters in cities are considered to be criminals.
As I have written in this space before, I was very involved in figuring out Saddam Hussein’s next moves during Gulf War I. We figured out after awhile that he pretty much always announced what he intended to do. He couldn’t always carry it out, but he was pretty straightforward in his pronouncements. Mr. Trump is the same way. He announces exactly what he plans to do.
Here is the diabolical back drop to his strategy. In my 8 May piece “American Carnage” I wondered aloud about how Mr. Trump could have so badly botched the national response to the pandemic and opined that perhaps it was deliberate. I am now sure of it. He did not create the pandemic, but he is going to use it to his advantage. Similarly, he will use the Black Lives Matter movement to declare that they are terrorists working to destroy America. He already barely hides his racism in this regard. Yesterday in a speech he blamed Mexico (again) and the BLM protests for the spread of the Coronavirus in the South and Southwest. He repeatedly declares that if the Democrats win the election, they will “destroy the suburbs,” a not-so-subtle racist canard.
Many pundits and political experts, as well as average citizens, have wondered for weeks and months why Mr. Trump refuses to put forward a national effort to halt the pandemic and to address racial injustice. It dawned on me yesterday that as former Maryland Lt. Governor and National Republican Chairman Michael Steele explained on TV yesterday — this is his plan. In other words, he will use the chaos currently engulfing our country to his advantage. He will trot out again his beliefs that the the Constitution gives him “absolute power” and that “I alone can fix it.” These will form the basis for action on his part to interfere in an election that he is already claiming — nearly daily — is rigged. He is against mail-in ballots (even though he, his family, many of his aides and many service members vote by mail) and has installed a long-time ally as Postmaster General. Mail bags mysteriously disappearing? Mail trucks mysteriously bursting into flames? The imagination can run wild.
The point is that we will not succumb to an outright coup on his part. It will be gradual with incremental decisions and policies that set the stage for him to declare the election invalid and that he must stay on to save the country. He is on record multiple times, most recently in his Fox News interview with Mike Wallace, that he will not accept the outcome of the election if he thinks it’s rigged. Asked directly if he would accept the results he said,
“I have to see. Look — I have to see. No, I’m not just going to say yes. I’m not going to say no.”
Since many of the states will use mail-in ballots, it could be days or weeks before the official results are in. If the election is close as the polls close on Election Night, and the results change dramatically against Mr. Trump when the absentee, provisional and other ballots are counted, he could well declare the entire election a fraud and cancel it. He is on record with the 2018 Florida election — which was very close and looked as if it would go against his preferred candidates — as saying that only ballots counted on Election Day should be valid. He tweeted without offering a single piece of evidence,
“The Florida Election should be called in favor of Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis in that large numbers of new ballots showed up out of nowhere, and many ballots are missing or forged. An honest vote count is no longer possible — ballots massively infected. Must go with Election Night.”
Rick Scott and Ron DeSantis both won their races.
We already know that Mr. Trump will do anything that benefits him. There is no ethical, moral or legal bottom for him. He now has an Attorney General that acts as his personal attorney and shares Mr. Trump’s belief in an Imperial Presidency.
The U.S. military put Mr. Trump on notice after they were used in a political stunt at Lafayette Square in Washington D.C. for his bible thumping campaign photo op that they would not be used for political purposes. Thus, Mr. Trump went to his flunkies in DHS (the top position and most of the sub-agencies are headed by “acting” leaders that do not have Senate approval) in order to create his own personal police force to pursue his personal goals.
Some may think that this is a “Chicken Little” scenario. Alarmist. Couldn’t happen here. That’s not America. Stop hyperventilating. No way. I hope that you are correct. Personally, I am watching out for our “Reichstag Fire” moment.
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.
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.
“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.
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?
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.
“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!”
It occurred to me as I watched the Impeachment Trial of Donald John Trump officially begin last Thursday, that like several banks and corporations during the Great Recession of the 2000’s, the amount of lying, conniving, lawbreaking, personal greed and damage to the dignity of the Office of the President of the United States is so much, that it becomes too big for him to fail. Or in this case, to be convicted. Republicans in the House and Senate, along with key Cabinet positions in his Administration, have bought into the Trump Cult to such a degree that they cannot afford for him to fail lest they expose their own weaknesses, misconduct, phoniness, fraudulent actions and other misdeeds.
As things now stand, the trial that begins in earnest next Tuesday will be a sham. The new developments coming out almost daily continue to show the depth and breadth of Mr. Trump’s efforts to rig the 2020 election. Those efforts are matched by the depth and breadth of involvement by members of his Administration and his supporters in Congress.
You want a good example? How about the fact the we are learning from written documents, including phone calls and text messages, that Representative Devin Nunes (R-CA) and his chief aide, Mr. Derek Harvey were in close contact with Mr. Lev Parnas, the chief “associate” (read thug) working with Mr. Rudy Giuliani. These are the guys on the ground involved in the Ukraine caper trying to find manufactured dirt on Mr. Trump’s probable election opponent Mr. Joe Biden. Mr. Nunes and Mr. Harvey were aiding and abetting the operation. This is the same Devin Nunes that is the ranking member of the House Intelligence Committee that investigated Mr. Trump’s activities. He is one of those guys who shouted (literally) throughout the hearings that it was all made up, a hoax and a sham. Even as he was in on it. And even as he was supposed to help supervise the proceedings.
It is sometimes difficult to keep track of all the names and institutions that are normally outside the course of daily events. Sometimes I think that, like at the ball park, “you can’t tell the players without a score card!” But it is important to see what is going on in plain sight as well as behind closed doors.
One of those institutions is the U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) (although Mr. Trump tweets it as GOA). This is the non-partisan group tasked by law to monitor government activities and to report its findings to Congress. The GAO determined last week that the president’s withholding of appropriated funds for Ukraine broke the law. Specifically, it broke the 1974 Impoundment Control Act (ICA) which was enacted in response to President Richard Nixon’s efforts to withhold appropriated funds to distract from his own Impeachment proceedings. Several emails among government officials had already surfaced that in the months that the funds were withheld, conscientious government officials cited the law as they sought to determine why the funds were not sent. It is not an obscure or non-relevant provision as some in the administration would like you to believe.
In the past week, Mr. Lev Parnas has been dropping some real bomb shells. While his testimony should not be taken as the absolute truth on its own merits, it does provide insight into the thinking going on and provides a road map for further investigation. While many impugn his character, keep in mind that criminals commit crimes and they often turn on their fellow criminals for purposes of their own. It does not mean that they aren’t factual. But don’t take him at his word. Look at the documents that he and his lawyers continue to turn over to Congress. People lie. Documents tend to lead to the truth.
In this busy week, revelations surfaced that the former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch (the ambassador Mr. Giuliani wanted fired for interfering with his extortion scheme) may have been under physical surveillance by Americans and in danger from Americans. Not a peep from the Secretary of State defending his career Foreign Service Officers until cornered at a press conference yesterday. He announced no action to conduct an investigation. Days earlier, Ukraine began an investigation. On their own. As of today, Ukrainian officials asked the U.S. FBI to help them, but still no investigation initiated by any U.S. agency to protect our diplomats. Is it because this administration does not care about U.S. citizens and diplomats overseas or is it because they do not want to know the answer?
More news this week as Mr. Giuliani, Mr. Parnas and the third thug in the ring, Mr. Igor Furman were reportedly being paid by a Russian oligarch (under indictment in the US) with close ties to Vladimir Putin. (Why is it that all of Mr. Trump’s roads lead to Putin?)
As the evidence mounts, it is clear that this extortion scheme went far deeper than “just” a phone call between two presidents. To date, no Republican has seriously contested any of the evidence produced around the Impeachment. They have attacked witnesses, sources of information, process and other things that have nothing to do with the facts. The facts are not in dispute. For that matter, Mr. Trump himself admits to them.
As part of their scheme to white wash the Impeachment Trial, the Senate Republicans are setting up false equivalencies. This is especially true with respect to witnesses and additional evidence not available when the House did its investigation. The president continues to block key information and to prevent witnesses from testifying (in my view this just reinforces that they have no exculpatory evidence). The Republicans will claim that since they did not get, say, Mr. Hunter Biden to testify, then not having Mr. John Bolton testify means that it is “even” — no one got what they wanted, and thus that it is fair. Baloney. Hunter Biden has no material testimony as to what Mr. Trump did. Mr. Bolton has significant first hand knowledge. There are a multitude of similar arguments being put forward to prevent the truth from coming out. This sets up their ultimate defense.
The Republican defense argument is likely to be “so what?” “Yes, he did it. What’s it to ya?” Reasonable people may dispute whether the punishment, removal from office, fits the crime, extorting a foreign power to get them to interfere in a US election, but the facts remain. Indeed, the vast scope of the whole scheme is becoming clearer and clearer. It was a classic mob action. It also indicates a pattern of behavior by the president. It is clear that he will continue to act this way. It is his nature and, we now know, the way he operates in every aspect of his life, past and present. It is time to hold him accountable. His behavior is not going to get better, and without accountability it can get a lot worse.
It seems to me that Mr. Trump now has sufficient accomplices in his administration, and in the Congress, that he feels he can get away with anything. They do not think that anything is off limits to them in the pursuit of their self-interests and their own power, including criminal activity. Nothing. And that is not hyperbole as we continue to see for ourselves.
I have also come to understand that we will never know the real truth behind, or the extent of the corruption. The system is not geared for fraud and criminal activity on such a scale, especially when it is coordinated by the President of the United States. And most especially when the Attorney General of the United States does everything in or out of his power to protect the actions of the president. It’s just “too big.” Sadly, this includes whatever it is Vladimir Putin has on him. (My view is that has to do with money laundering and other illegal financial ties.)
As Timothy Egan put it more eloquently than I in a New York Times essay, evil attracts evil. In the absence of good people acting, evil triumphs. There is evil in the White House and it is spreading throughout our government.