Friday Reads: The Final Countdown?Posted: December 14, 2018
Wow! Has it been cold here Sky Dancers! It’s finally crept back up into the more seasonal sixties . At least I’m not out in the cold but I’m thinking it’s just a bit of time before the Republican Party, its leaders, and the Golden Bull its been worshiping get thrown out on the ice floes. Let’s hope there’s enough of them left by the time the country vomits them into history.
Enjoy the winter scenery at some of our nation’s best National Parks! Let’s also hope they survive by the time we get rid of the party of corruption and destruction.
It’s not looking good for movement conservatives, war loving conservatives, or whatever Bill Kristol has become besides a Never Trumper. The headlines on the Trump mess are getting more brutal by the minute. But, the folks on the outside are fairing pretty badly too. The Weekly Standard is shutting down. John Poderhertz is out of a job but blogging all the same. It seems fitting that the demise of the Republican party should accompany the demise of the Standard.
The Weekly Standard will be no more. There is no real reason we are witnessing the magazine’s demise other than deep pettiness and a personal desire for bureaucratic revenge on the part of a penny-ante Machiavellian who works for its parent company.
There would at least be a larger meaning to the Standard’s end if it were being killed because it was hostile to Donald Trump. But I do not believe that is the case. Rather, I believe the fissures in the conservative movement and the Republican party that have opened up since Trump’s rise provided the company man with a convenient argument to make to the corporation’s owner, Philip Anschutz, that the company could perhaps harvest the Standard’s subscriber-base riches and then be done with it.
That this is an entirely hostile act is proved by the fact that he and Anschutz have refused to sell the Standard because they want to claim its circulation for another property of theirs. This is without precedent in my experience in publishing, and I’ve been a family observer of and active participant in the magazine business for half a century.
The creation of the Weekly Standard was my proudest professional moment. When Bill Kristol and I conceived the magazine at the end of 1994, our purpose was to create a publication that would help guide and keep honest the hard-charging Republican Party that had scored its stunning lopsided victory over Bill Clinton’s Democrats. This putative magazine would not cheerlead for Newt Gingrich’s Republicans, but instead represent the best thinking about how to lead the country through a new conservative era. We were criticized for not being part of the team from the get-go. Indeed, after the first issue came out in September 1995, a wag at a weekly meeting in Washington chaired by Grover Norquist handed out a parody of the Standard based on the precept that we had already gone off the reservation and weren’t being properly supportive of the Gingrich era.
As a matter of character, while the kindest and most generous of men, Bill is more the type for an ironic and deflating joke than a good “rah rah” about anything. And for better or worse, I was the kind of player on your softball team who would side with the other on a close call at second base if that’s what it looked like to me. Thus, not being a team player was part of the DNA of the Standard from the outset, for better or worse. Our loyalty was to the ideas in which we believed, not to the Republican Party. And to be truthful in our analysis. That sounds pompous, and I hate sounding pompous, but it’s true. And it has been ever thus in the 23 years of the Standard’s existence, from its opening personal essay (the “casual”) to the cultural essays of the back-of-the-book and even the parodies that bring the weekly issue to its close.
Where’s the tiniest violin in the world? Perhaps we should get an orchestra filled with them. Here’s a bit from George Packer of The Atlantic: “The Corruption of the Republican Party. The GOP is best understood as an insurgency that carried the seeds of its own corruption from the start.” At least we’ve switched from burying Nancy Pelosi to burying the Republican party. I still argue it came the minute they let white evangelicals in the door.
The corruption I mean has less to do with individual perfidy than institutional depravity. It isn’t an occasional failure to uphold norms, but a consistent repudiation of them. It isn’t about dirty money so much as the pursuit and abuse of power—power as an end in itself, justifying almost any means. Political corruption usually trails financial scandals in its wake—the foam is scummy with self-dealing—but it’s far more dangerous than graft. There are legal remedies for Duncan Hunter, the representative from California, who will stand trial next year for using campaign funds to pay for family luxuries.* But there’s no obvious remedy for what the state legislatures of Wisconsin and Michigan, following the example of North Carolina in 2016, are now doing.
Republican majorities are rushing to pass laws that strip away the legitimate powers of newly elected Democratic governors while defeated or outgoing Republican incumbents are still around to sign the bills. Even if the courts overturn some of these power grabs, as they have in North Carolina, Republicans will remain securely entrenched in the legislative majority through their own hyper-gerrymandering—in Wisconsin last month, 54 percent of the total votes cast for major-party candidates gave Democrats just 36 of 99 assembly seats—so they will go on passing laws to thwart election results. Nothing can stop these abuses short of an electoral landslide. In Wisconsin, a purple state, that means close to 60 percent of the total vote.
The fact that no plausible election outcome can check the abuse of power is what makes political corruption so dangerous. It strikes at the heart of democracy. It destroys the compact between the people and the government. In rendering voters voiceless, it pushes everyone closer to the use of undemocratic means.
Today’s Republican Party has cornered itself with a base of ever older, whiter, more male, more rural, more conservative voters. Demography can take a long time to change—longer than in progressives’ dreams—but it isn’t on the Republicans’ side. They could have tried to expand; instead, they’ve hardened and walled themselves off. This is why, while voter fraud knows no party, only the Republican Party wildly overstates the risk so that it can pass laws (including right now in Wisconsin, with a bill that reduces early voting) to limit the franchise in ways that have a disparate partisan impact. This is why, when some Democrats in the New Jersey legislature proposed to enshrine gerrymandering in the state constitution, other Democrats, in New Jersey and around the country, objected.
Taking away democratic rights—extreme gerrymandering; blocking an elected president from nominating a Supreme Court justice; selectively paring voting rolls and polling places; creating spurious anti-fraud commissions; misusing the census to undercount the opposition; calling lame-duck legislative sessions to pass laws against the will of the voters—is the Republican Party’s main political strategy, and will be for years to come.
One of the old things I won’t mind ringing out is Paul Ryan. I think I’ve made that pretty clear. John Nichols asks this for The Nation: “What the Hell Is Wrong With Paul Ryan? It is outrageous that the House Speaker continues to block action to end US support for Saudi atrocities against Yemen.” Paul Ryan is always wrong. Does why really matter?
What the hell is wrong with Paul Ryan? At a point when the whole world is demanding urgent action to end the Saudi-led bombardment and starvation of Yemen, the Speaker of the House has been scheming to prevent congressional debate on a resolution to get the United States out of a humanitarian crisis.
This is not about partisanship or ideology. As Ryan was blocking action in the House this week, 11 Senate Republicans—including some of the chamber’s most conservative members—voted with Democrats to open the Senate debate on ending US military support for the Saudi Arabia’s assault on Yemen.
The 60-39 vote to advance the bipartisan effort by Senators Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Chris Murphy (D-CT) and Mike Lee (R-UT) to invoke the war-powers authority of the Congress to constrain military interventions and engagements by the Executive Branch, cleared that way for a 56-41 vote on Thursday in favor of the S.J.Res. 54: “A joint resolution to direct the removal of United States Armed Forces from hostilities in the Republic of Yemen that have not been authorized by Congress.”
“Today we tell the despotic regime in Saudi Arabia that we will not be a part of their military adventurism,” declared Sanders, who has for months made the case for congressional action on Yemen, waging a two-pronged campaign for the resolution. First, he made a moral argument, telling his colleagues they have a duty to end US support for Saudi abuses that have fostered a “humanitarian and strategic disaster” in Yemen—a crisis so severe that United Nations officials say it could lead to the worst famine in a century. Second, the senator made a constitutional argument, explaining that “The Senate must reassert its constitutional authority and end our support of this unauthorized and unconstitutional war.”
Frankly, Paul Ryan is into starving and killing just about everything that’s of no interest to Paul Ryan’s pocketbook. Glad to see him go back to Wisconsin to hopefully freeze. As the nation’s justice system unwinds the Trump Crime Syndicate, we get a better idea of how exactly The Steele Dossier got so much right. Lawfare Blog has a good read up by Grad Student Sarah Grant of Harvard Law.
The dossier compiled by former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele remains a subject of fascination—or, depending on your perspective, scorn. Indeed, it was much discussed during former FBI Director Jim Comey’s testimony in front of the House Judiciary Committee on Dec. 7. Published almost two years ago by BuzzFeed News in January 2017, the document received significant public attention, first for its lurid details regarding Donald Trump’s pre-presidential alleged sexual escapades in Russia and later for its role in forming part of the basis for the government’s application for a FISA warrant to surveil Carter Page.
Our interest in revisiting the compilation that has come to be called the “Steele Dossier” concerns neither of those topics, at least not directly. Rather, we returned to the document because we wondered whether information made public as a result of the Mueller investigation—and the passage of two years—has tended to buttress or diminish the crux of Steele’s original reporting.
The dossier is actually a series of reports—16 in all—that total 35 pages. Written in 2016, the dossier is a collection of raw intelligence. Steele neither evaluated nor synthesized the intelligence. He neither made nor rendered bottom-line judgments. The dossier is, quite simply and by design, raw reporting, not a finished intelligence product.
In that sense, the dossier is similar to an FBI 302 form or a DEA 6 form. Both of those forms are used by special agents of the FBI and DEA, respectively, to record what they are told by witnesses during investigations. The substance of these memoranda can be true or false, but the recording of information is (or should be) accurate. In that sense, notes taken by a special agent have much in common with the notes that a journalist might take while covering a story—the substance of those notes could be true or false, depending on what the source tells the journalist, but the transcription should be accurate.
With that in mind, we thought it would be worthwhile to look back at the dossier and to assess, to the extent possible, how the substance of Steele’s reporting holds up over time. In this effort, we considered only information in the public domain from trustworthy and official government sources, including documents released by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s office in connection with the criminal casesbrought against Paul Manafort, the 12 Russian intelligence officers, the Internet Research Agency trolling operation and associated entities, Michael Cohen, Michael Flynn and George Papadopoulos. We also considered the draft statement of offensereleased by author Jerome Corsi, a memorandum released by House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Ranking Member Adam Schiff related to the Carter Page FISA applications and admissions directly from certain speakers.
These materials buttress some of Steele’s reporting, both specifically and thematically. The dossier holds up well over time, and none of it, to our knowledge, has been disproven.
Jared Kushner may be the only person in the administration more corrupt than his father-in-law. It astounds me to think he could wind up as Chief of Staff. The Daily Beast has this today from some of the stunners we learned this month: ” Jared Kushner Replaced Michael Cohen as Trump’s National Enquirer Connection. The president’s son-in-law grew tight with David Pecker during the early months of the administration.” I actually think this guy would make Nixon blush.
Shortly after the 2016 presidential election, Donald Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner was handed a task considered critical to the president’s operations. In addition to serving as a senior adviser in the White House, he would also be playing the role of the main conduit between Trump and his friend David Pecker, the National Enquirer publisher and chief executive of AMI, who prosecutors said on Wednesday admitted to making a $150,000 hush-money payment “in concert with” the Trump campaign.
During the early months of the Trump era, Kushner performed the task admirably, discussing with Pecker various issues over the phone, including everything from international relations to media gossip, according to four sources familiar with the situation. Pecker, for his part, bragged to people that he was speaking to the president’s son-in-law and, more generally, about the level of access he had to the upper echelons of the West Wing, two sources with knowledge of the relationship recounted.
The relationship underscored both the wide breadth of responsibilities that Kushner was given in the White House—a portfolio that saw him serve as a point person on some of the most critical government functions and as a chief protector of the Trump family image—as well as the degree to which Trump continued to value the relationships he’d built up with key media figures during his time in New York real estate and reality TV.
Pecker, after all, was no bit player. He has been a valuable asset within Trump’s orbit, at least until federal investigators came knocking. His ties to Trump began well before the president was elected to office. But before Kushner was his main conduit, that role was played by Michael Cohen, the president’s former attorney and fixer.
During the heat of the 2016 election, Pecker’s AMI and Enquirer—with Cohen helping facilitate matters behind the scenes—endorsed Trump, ran a catch-and-kill operation to suppress damaging stories of Trump’s alleged affairs, and published numerous negative articles on Trump’s political enemies and adversaries in the Republican primary. Trump himself used to contribute to the Enquirer and the future president reportedly also used the tabloid to settle his pettier, more personal scores. In late 2016, actress Salma Hayek claimed on a conference call hosted by the Hillary Clinton campaign that Trump had tried to date her and when she rejected him, he planted a false story about her in the Enquirer.
Pecker had banked on Cohen remaining in Trump’s political inner sanctum after the election. But during the presidential transition, it became clear that Trump’s then-fixer wouldn’t be landing a plum job in the administration—though he had told people close to him that he expected a senior position, even White House chief of staff, two sources with direct knowledge recall.
These folks are so corrupt that even Chris Christie won’t touch the Chief of Staff position. This is from ABC.
ABC News has learned former New Jersey governor and ABC News contributor Chris Christie interviewed for the position on Thursday, but released a statement Friday saying he’s asked the president to no longer consider him.
“It’s an honor to have the President consider me as he looks to choose a new White House chief-of-staff,” Christie said. “However, I’ve told the President that now is not the right time for me or my family to undertake this serious assignment. As a result, I have asked him to no longer keep me in any of his considerations for this post.”
The president is expected to continue the interview process over the weekend and next week, sources said.
Providing an update on his search Thursday, the president said he has whittled his list down to five candidates.
“We’re interviewing people for chief of staff, yes,” Trump told reporters, saying he has five “terrific” candidates lined up for the position so far.
Sources with knowledge of the president’s thinking told ABC News that Acting Attorney General Matt Whitaker, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer, Office of Management and Budget Director Mick Mulvaney and counselor to the president Kellyanne Conway are also on the list.
Speaking to reporters on Friday, deputy press secretary Hogan Gidley said the president is expected to make a decision on the post soon. He added, however, that Trump could decide to “extend” the current deal with Kelly. Kellyanne Conway also said Thursday on CNN that Kelly’s job could extend past the new year while the president continues his search.
So, we do seem to be in the middle of some TV presidency but I really don’t think it’s reality TV or even a crime series. It’s more like a never ending soap opera with the bad people center stage and the good people waiting in the wings. The New Congress cannot come soon enough.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?