Tuesday Reads: The Constitutional Crisis Has Arrived And No One Is ProtestingPosted: May 22, 2018
It was almost more than I could bear to turn on my computer this morning. We’re experiencing a slow-motion Saturday night massacre, and there are no protests. Is this how democracy ends–“not with a bang but a whimper?”
Eugene Robinson at The Washington Post: The constitutional crisis is here.
Stop waiting for the constitutional crisis that President Trump is sure to provoke. It’s here.
On Sunday, via Twitter, Trump demanded that the Justice Department concoct a transparently political investigation, with the aim of smearing veteran professionals at Justice and the FBI and also throwing mud at the previous administration. Trump’s only rational goal is casting doubt on the probe by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, which appears to be closing in.
Trump’s power play is a gross misuse of his presidential authority and a dangerous departure from long-standing norms. Strongmen such as Russia’s Vladimir Putin use their justice systems to punish enemies and deflect attention from their own crimes.
When Trump demanded an investigation into the investigators, the DOJ caved to his demands rather than stand up to him.
Justice tried to mollify the president by at least appearing to give him what he wants. The Republican leadership in Congress has been silent as a mouse. This is how uncrossable lines are crossed….
The Justice Department answered Trump’s tweeted demand by announcing that an existing investigation by its inspector general will now “include determining whether there was any impropriety or political motivation” by the FBI. Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein may hope that is enough to avoid a showdown. I fear he is wrong.
I had the same fear last night, and now this morning Trump far-right allies are demanding a second special counsel to look into the investigation into his very real crimes. Fox News: House Republicans to call for second special counsel to investigate alleged FISA abuse, Hillary Clinton probe.
A group of congressional Republicans plans to introduce a resolution Tuesday calling for the appointment of a second special counsel to investigate alleged misconduct at the FBI and Justice Department.
The resolution is backed by Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus as well as two of the group’s co-founders — Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, and Rep. Ron DeSantis, R-Fla.
Fox News has learned the 12-page resolution will ask a second special counsel to probe matters related to three topics: The ending of the investigation into Hillary Clinton’s personal email server, the progress of the Trump-Russia investigation from its origins through the appointment of Robert Mueller as special counsel, and abuses of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) during the warrant application process.
The resolution is expected to say that a second special counsel would have greater autonomy to investigate those issues than the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General.
Trump biographer Timothy O’Brien at Bloomberg explains that Trump is simply following the playbook he used in his shady real estate business:
Back in 2011, Donald Trump published “Midas Touch,” one of his many how-to books offering secrets for financial success. This is where Trump, a lifelong performance artist, revealed that one of his favorite business personas is the “Outlaw.”
“The Outlaw archetype loves to break the rules,” the book noted. “The motto of the Outlaw is: ‘Rules are meant to be broken.’”
The president, who turns 72 next month, has prided himself on being a rule-breaker in business and politics for the past 50 years. Back in the 1970s, he and his father flouted federal housing regulations by discriminating against prospective renters of color at their apartment buildings in Brooklyn and Queens. During his own career as a New York developer, Trump routinely tried to strong-arm regulators and politicians who asked him to comply with local zoning and housing laws.
After flirting with personal bankruptcy in the early 1990s, Trump used his media platform to slag bankers tasked with keeping him on an allowance while they juggled more than $3 billion in loans he couldn’t repay. His biggest Atlantic City, N.J., casino, the Taj Mahal (which eventually filed for bankruptcy protection), violated anti-money-laundering regulations 106 times during its first 18 months in business, prompting the Treasury Department to fine the company about $500,000 in 1998. In 2002, the Securities and Exchange Commission forced Trump’s casino company to sign a cease and desist agreement after an investigation showed it had used “fraudulent” reporting tactics and doctored accounting in its public earnings statements.
Since his earliest days in Atlantic City, Trump also did business with organized crime figures, a practice he continued more recently in New York City when he helped develop the Trump SoHo Hotel. In yet another set of dustups, beginning in 2010, Trump University students and the New York State attorney general separately sued Trump’s company for fraud. Trump repeatedly denigrated a judge in one of the cases, then settled some of the claims for $25 million in 2016.
Please go read the rest. Anyone who belieChaves Trump is going to follow rules and respect norms now is delusional. He will keep pushing the limits until we stop him.
Charlie Savage at The New York Times: By Demanding an Investigation, Trump Challenged a Constraint on His Power.
When President Trump publicly demanded that the Justice Department open an investigation into the F.B.I.’s scrutiny of his campaign contacts with Russia, he inched further toward breaching an established constraint on executive power: The White House does not make decisions about individual law enforcement investigations.
“It’s an incredible historical moment,” said Rebecca Roiphe, a professor at New York Law School who helped write a coming scholarly article on the limits of presidential control over the Justice Department. Mr. Trump’s move, she said, “is the culmination of a lot of moments in which he has chipped away at prosecutorial independence, but this is a direct assault.”
Almost since he took office, Mr. Trump has battered the Justice Department’s independence indirectly — lamenting its failure to reopen a criminal investigation of Hillary Clinton that found no wrongdoing, and openly complaining that Attorney General Jeff Sessions recused himself from the Russia inquiry. But he had also acknowledged that as president, “I am not supposed to be involved with the Justice Department,” as he told a radio interviewer with frustration last fall.
As part of that pattern, he has also denied the account by James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director he abruptly fired, that the president privately urged him to drop an investigation into Michael T. Flynn, Mr. Trump’s first national security adviser.
But Mr. Trump has also been flirting with going further, as he hinted late last year when he claimed in a New York Times interview that “I have an absolute right to do what I want to with the Justice Department.” And now, by unabashedly ordering the department to open a particular investigation, Mr. Trump has ratcheted up his willingness to impose direct political control over the work of law enforcement officials.
Read the rest at the NYT.
One more before I retreat into some escapist fiction for awhile. Greg Sargent at The Washington Post: Believe the autocrat.
This morning, new details are emerging about the depth of President Trump’s efforts to subvert the workings of justice in order to undermine an ongoing investigation into himself and his cronies. We still don’t know how far Trump will go in this regard.
But here’s one thing we do know: He is seriously considering pushing this interference as far as he thinks he’ll be able to get away with, meaning that external constraints — or a belief that doing this will backfire on him politically — may be the only things capable of stopping him.
The Post and the New York Times report that at yesterday’s meeting between congressional Republicans allied with Trump and officials from the White House and the Justice Department, the White House brokered a deal to allow those Republicans to view highly classified documents relating to the FBI informant that Trump and his allies have railed about. It is still unclear precisely what Justice officials agreed to; we’ll learn more in coming days.
This may buy some time. But it represents yet another step in the president’s continuing encroachment on the independence of this investigation. It may serve as a setup for another lurch in this direction: Republicans will be given access to these documents and will profess themselves unsatisfied, arguing that they are now more convinced than ever that the informant improperly “spied” on the Trump campaign. (The best reporting indicates that the informant tried to gather information from Trump advisers after the FBI obtained evidence that those advisers had questionable contacts involving Russia — that is, as part of a legitimate counterintelligence investigation.) Perhaps those Republicans will selectively leak info to further the more nefarious interpretation.
Then Trump could potentially order a full Justice Department investigation into the genesis of the probe, or fire Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein and replace him with a loyalist to limit the probe, or even try to remove special counsel Robert S. Mueller III. But whatever is to be on that front, what we now see happening is that Trump is directly pressuring Justice to conduct this investigation into his campaign in a certain way, and at least to some extent, it is complying.
When will we see protests? When will the Democrats wake up and start fighting back?