Monday Reads: The New Badge of HonorPosted: August 20, 2018
Good Morning Sky Dancers!
I finished grading for the summer sessions and have moved towards preparation for the Fall. Fall is always a time of new beginnings for some one in education although it’s generally seen in terms of the harvest for every one else. Maybe it’s always been that way for me because I’m an election day baby. And, I await this Election Day, baby … not for the cake but for the Blue Wave that will come if we keep at it, vote, and bring others with us.
Paul Waldman–writing for WAPO-argues that we’re entering “the most intense and dangerous period of the Trump presidency”. There certainly has been a lot happening with the investigation of Trump Campaign cronies and their connections to financial crimes and Russia. There is certainly peak interest in the number of high level intelligence officials and members of old administrations both warning us of the dangers of this regime and wearing attacks–twitter-based or otherwise–by D’oh Hair Furor as Badges of Honor. What can we expect other than further chaos and descent into an Orwellian dystopic authoritarian grab for our nation’s wealth and rule of law?
Over the past year and a half, life in politics has often felt like an ongoing circus in which the madness never ceases. But for all that, the next 11 weeks could be the most intense and consequential of Donald Trump’s presidency.
Let’s begin with a report in the New York Times that the case against Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, might be coming to a head:
Federal authorities investigating whether President Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, Michael D. Cohen, committed bank and tax fraud have zeroed in on well over $20 million in loans obtained by taxi businesses that he and his family own, according to people familiar with the matter.
Investigators are also examining whether Mr. Cohen violated campaign finance or other laws by helping to arrange financial deals to secure the silence of women who said they had affairs with Mr. Trump. The inquiry has entered the final stage and prosecutors are considering filing charges by the end of August, two of the people said.
There’s a serious possibility that Cohen will cooperate with prosecutors in order to obtain leniency, and there’s no telling what he might be able to reveal about the Trump Organization, the president himself and the president’s children, with whom he worked closely. The company has a history of deals with questionable characters in questionable circumstances, including many that went south amid accusations of misconduct. If Cohen chooses to sing, he might have a thick libretto to work from.
Needless to say, if Cohen were to implicate the president or his family in some kind of criminal wrongdoing, it would be a political earthquake. But even if he doesn’t cooperate, if he is indicted in the coming weeks, that would itself be a serious blow to Trump’s presidency. Even if much of what Cohen is accused of doesn’t have to do directly with his former boss, it would contribute to the growing impression that Trump is a corrupt man who surrounds himself with other corrupt men.
A list follows of all the significant dates coming between now and November that includes the Manfort trials, the Omarosa Tapes, the Kavanaugh fight, more security clearance revenge removals, and a lawsuit in Texas designed to take down the entire Affordable Care Act.
It’s going to be a bumpy ride but hopefully we’ll all be surfing a big beautiful blue wave by then.
By the way, this surfer from Brazil just rode an 80 foot wave into the record books. I’m hoping it’s a great omen!!
As for the new pride in being a Drumpf Twitter target, Watergate’s John Dean has decided “it’s an honor”. –Via Axios
President Trump tweeted this morning: “The failing @nytimes wrote a Fake piece today implying that because White House Councel Don McGahn was giving hours of testimony to the Special Councel [sic], he must be a John Dean type “RAT.” But I allowed him and all others to testify — I didn’t have to. I have nothing to hide.”
What we’re hearing: This afternoon, I called up said “RAT,” John Dean, to get his take. Dean was Richard Nixon’s White House counsel and heavily involved in the Watergate cover-up before he became a key witness for the prosecution.
“I am actually honored to be on his enemies list as I was on Nixon’s when I made it there,” Dean told me. “This is a president I hold in such low esteem I would be fretting if he said something nice.”
On the campaign trail, Trump told evangelicals and other wavering Republicans they had no choice but to vote for him: “You know why? Supreme Court judges, Supreme Court judges.” He talked about judges nonstop and even released a list of 21 potential Supreme Court picks that he had gathered with the help of the Federalist Society and the archconservative Heritage Foundation. He would enter office with the most judicial vacancies since Bill Clinton — largely thanks to Republican filibustering of Obama’s nominees — and his administration has filled those vacancies as fast as possible.
As of this writing, Trump has put 26 new judges onto the appellate courts, more than any other chief executive at this point in the presidency. He has also nominated over 100 district-court judges and gotten 26 of those picks confirmed. These judges are overwhelmingly young, ideological and now set to serve lifetime appointments. And then, of course, there’s Justice Neil Gorsuch, Trump’s first pick for the Supreme Court, and Judge Brett Kavanaugh, the president’s second Supreme Court nominee, who stands a strong chance of confirmation. “Whatever anyone wants to say about President Trump, he was very explicit about which judges he wanted, and he’s gone about appointing them,” says Michael Gerhardt, a law professor at the University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill. “He made a promise and they’re keeping it.”
What unites these judges is the radical legal doctrine of originalism — that the text of the Constitution should be understood only as it was intended when written more than 230 years ago. Originalism was long seen as a fringe philosophy; taken to its logical extreme, an originalist reading of the Constitution could mean a country without same-sex marriage, federal child-labor laws or the Americans With Disabilities Act. Today, however, originalism is the dominant legal philosophy on the right and the litmus test for any judge appointed by President Trump.
That’s in large part due to the influence of Leonard Leo, who sat in the front row for McGahn’s speech. An owlish 52-year-old lawyer and operative, Leo is the executive vice president of the Federalist Society, where he has played a pivotal role grooming a generation of conservative lawyers and supplying dozens of names to the White House for judicial vacancies. (He has advised on the past three successful Republican picks for the Supreme Court.) “Our opponents of judicial nominees frequently claim the president has outsourced his selection of judges,” McGahn said. “That is completely false. I’ve been a member of the Federalist Society since law school, still am, so frankly it seems like it’s been in-sourced.”
Behind all the chaos and upheaval of the Trump administration, McGahn, Leo and Republican leaders including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell have steadily filled the courts with future Clarence Thomases and Antonin Scalias. In Donald Trump, they have found the perfect vehicle for executing a judicial takeover. “We’re now looking at the possibility of as many as three Supreme Court vacancies and more than 200 lower-court seats to fill just in these next few years,” Leo said last year. “We are at this unique point in history.”
This may usher in a Dark Ages that will last several generations. But the on-going attack on former and current members of the intelligence and federal law enforcement community is the headline story this week. How dangerous is the confrontation between KKKremlin Caligula and Brennan? Lawfare explores the answer.
President Trump’s revocation of former CIA Director John Brennan’s security clearance brings together in an unfortunate way two pathological trends in the Trump era, and highlights the conundrum of the former intelligence official who wishes to speak out against the president’s attacks on the Russia investigation and the intelligence community more generally.
The first trend is the politicization of intelligence. Through the 1970s, the intelligence community used its domestic surveillance powers to commit two kinds of abuses. FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover, for example, engaged in political abuse when he served political masters by spying on disfavored Americans (such as suspected communists, political dissidents and antiwar protesters) for political ends. And he engaged in sabotage when he used secret intelligence to further his or the FBI’s institutional interests at the expense of elected officials, sometimes to influence policy. Hoover’s key sabotage mechanism was to leak or threaten to leak secretly collected information about government officials or their friends and family either to enhance his power over the official or to achieve some other political end.
Ever since the domestic intelligence abuses by Hoover’s FBI and other agencies came to light in the 1970s, the intelligence community has been governed by a “grand bargain”: It was allowed to continue to surveil domestically in the homeland but became subject to legal restrictions on the collection, analysis, and dissemination of intelligence information; strict reporting requirements to Congress; intra-executive monitoring by lawyers and inspectors general; and judicial oversight. The grand bargain went a long way toward eliminating political abuse and, to some degree, also the sabotage. As Benjamin Wittes and I explained last year, the intelligence community’s compliance with the grand bargain helped bolster trust in it and its own legitimacy, which it needs to operate in secret, as national security requires, to protect the nation.
Since the beginning of the Trump presidency, the grand bargain, and the de-politicization of the intelligence community it was supposed to guarantee, have been under fierce assault from many quarters. The story begins with Russian meddling in the 2016 election, followed by the appropriate but inevitably politically fraught counterintelligence investigation of a Republican presidential campaign by a Democratic administration. As Wittes and I wrote, the investigation invariably “entered the dangerous land of surveillance related to politics,” and from the beginning it “spelled trouble for a community that wants, and needs, to stay clean of politics.”
In that unfortunate context came the main cause of the intelligence community’s difficulties: President Trump’s unceasing and increasingly heated charges that the investigation of Russian meddling is in fact politically motivated—attacks that sought to destroy intelligence community credibility. A string of unfortunate events—especially the unusual, so-called “Steele dossier” and Peter Strozk’s seemingly biased texts—gave the president’s mostly irresponsible charges a patina (or more) of credibility in many quarters. And Rep. Devin Nunes, the chairman of the House intelligence committee, churned this and other information in usually misleading and almost always norm-breaking ways that had the effect of further diminishing trust in the intelligence community.
It’s not that the intelligence community and the FBI hasn’t had a history of overstepping rational boundaries and is sore need of reform. It’s that blowing up the entire apparatus may not be the appropriate response. This isn’t for reform, however. It’s for obstruction of justice and self-preservation as the Trump Family syndicate comes closer to the precipice offered by the Mueller Investigation.
The big loser in all of this is intelligence community trust, on which we all depend for our safety. And the main cause is our institution-destroying president, who sees political advantage in attacking the intelligence community. Trump seems to realize that the more vile his personal attacks and the more norm-defying his actions, the more likely he is to invite a norm-defying response that lends credibility to the basis of his original attacks. He also seems to realize that in pursuing his goal of crushing these institutions, he wins if the objects of his attack are silent or if they respond—a point that applies as well (as I noted last year) to the media.
It’s likely Trump wants them out of the way as he snuggles closer to Russia and Autocracy. His rate of toxic tweets sure indicates a sense of panic.
With the exception of a few Republican elected officials at the periphery, Congress has worked to enable Trump’s abuses (witness the behavior of California Republican Rep. Devin Nunes to undercut special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation) and to minimize the outrageousness of his conduct.
When Trump revoked former CIA director John Brennan’s security clearance in retaliation for Brennan’s criticism of him (and, as Trump confessed in a Wall Street Journal interview, because he objected to Brennan doing his job in 2016 by probing connections between Trump’s campaign and Russia), the response from most Republicans was pathetic.
Trump’s actions were an abuse of presidential power far beyond anything Republicans used to complain about bitterly during President Barack Obama’s term. They are aimed directly at intimidating critics and interfering with a legitimate investigation. Where was House Speaker Paul D. Ryan on the issue? When Trump first threatened the security clearances of his critics last month, Ryan (R-Wis.) shrugged it off and said Trump was “just trolling people.” We still await a robust response from party leaders now that the president has shown he had more than “trolling” in mind.
And long before Trump ran for office, Republicans were eager to change the rules of the game when doing so served their purposes, as Michael Tomasky argued last week in the Daily Beast. Consider just their aggressive voter-suppression efforts and their willingness to block even a hearing for Merrick Garland, Obama’s nominee to replace Justice Antonin Scalia.
The list of ominous signs goes on and on: Trump invoking Stalin’s phrase “enemies of the people” to describe a free press; the firing, one after another, of public servants who moved to expose potential wrongdoing, starting with then-FBI Director James B. Comey; Trump’s effusive praise of foreign despots; his extravagantly abusive (and often racially charged) language against opponents; and his refusal to abide by traditional practices about disclosing his own potential conflicts of interest and those of his family. Add to this the authoritarian’s habit of institutionalizing lying as a routine aspect of governing, compressed into the astonishing credo Rudolph W. Giuliani blurted out on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday: “Truth isn’t truth.”
This is not business as usual. Yet our politics proceeds as if it is. Slowly, Trump has accustomed us to behavior that, at any other recent time and with just about any other politician, would in all probability have been career-ending.
President Trump on Monday referred to lawyers working for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III as “thugs” and accused them of trying to affect this year’s elections, further ramping up his rhetoric against prosecutors probing Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
In morning tweets, Trump called Mueller “disgraced and discredited” and said his team of prosecutors is “a National Disgrace!”
The tweets were the latest in a spate of complaints in recent days from the president about a probe into whether his campaign coordinated with Russia during the 2016 election and whether Trump has sought to obstruct the investigation.
In Monday’s outburst, Trump continued to attack a New York Times report over the weekend that White House lawyer Donald McGahn had participated in at least three interviews with Mueller’s team that spanned 30 hours.
“Anybody needing that much time when they know there is no Russian Collusion is just someone looking for trouble,” Trump asserted.
I’m gearing up to train on making calls for Flip the House and I’m not sure where in the country it will be but whatever the state, the county, the district I know I want to be part of the Blue Wave.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?