Thursday Reads: Trump, Barr, and Russia vs. American DemocracyPosted: September 17, 2020
Former Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats spoke out about Trump in Bob Woodward’s new book Rage; now he’s authored an op-ed in The Washington Post about the 2020 election: What’s at Stake in This Election? The American Democratic Experiment.
We hear often that the November election is the most consequential in our lifetime. But the importance of the election is not just which candidate or which party wins. Voters also face the question of whether the American democratic experiment, one of the boldest political innovations in human history, will survive.
Our democracy’s enemies, foreign and domestic, want us to concede in advance that our voting systems are faulty or fraudulent; that sinister conspiracies have distorted the political will of the people; that our public discourse has been perverted by the news media and social networks riddled with prejudice, lies and ill will; that judicial institutions, law enforcement and even national security have been twisted, misused and misdirected to create anxiety and conflict, not justice and social peace.
If those are the results of this tumultuous election year, we are lost, no matter which candidate wins. No American, and certainly no American leader, should want such an outcome. Total destruction and sowing salt in the earth of American democracy is a catastrophe well beyond simple defeat and a poison for generations. An electoral victory on these terms would be no victory at all. The judgment of history, reflecting on the death of enlightened democracy, would be harsh.
The most urgent task American leaders face is to ensure that the election’s results are accepted as legitimate. Electoral legitimacy is the essential linchpin of our entire political culture. We should see the challenge clearly in advance and take immediate action to respond.
Coats argues that Congress should form a bipartisan commission to protect voting and ensure that Americans will see the results of the election as legitimate. Unfortunately, there’s almost no chance that Congressional Republicans would go along with such a project. They clearly support Trump’s goal of a “rigged” election.
At Vanity Fair, Chris Smith reports on Joe Biden’s preparations for dealing with election interference by Trump and his personal attorney Bill Barr: “We’re Not Going To Let Donald Trump Steal This Election”: Democrats Are Strategizing For All-Out Warfare.
Donald Trump, true to form, is stoking chaos, trying to undermine faith in the accuracy of November’s election. He has floated stationing armed guards at the 2020 polls and maintained a steady stream of lies about “rigged” mail-in ballots. Joe Biden’s counteroffensive is shaping up to be equally in character: It relies on his trust in rational process and in projecting calm. It’s a strategy that makes a great deal of sense—and also feels quaint considering Trump’s evil genius for asymmetrical warfare.
Biden has solicited the help of two former solicitors general, one former attorney general, and a small army of attorneys, building up its own law firm to beat back Trump’s attempts at voter suppression both before and after Election Day. Those lawyers are assisting in the legal battles already playing out in courts across the country that will shape the rules about whose votes get counted—in the words of Democratic strategist Brian Fallon, the “mini Bush v. Gores.” The lawyers and the vast voter-protection program being rolled out by the Biden campaign and the Democratic National Committee are designed to do two things: ensure that all legitimate votes are counted, and bolster Democratic turnout by raising confidence that their votes will be counted. Biden’s second tactic is more subtle, and riskier: By not engaging directly and loudly with Trump’s claims of rampant fraud, Team Biden believes it will reduce the potency of the president’s frenetic disinformation.
We’ll see. We all remember how the Supreme Court installed George W. Bush in 2000.
When Rosa Brooks, a Georgetown University law professor and a cofounder of the Transition Integrity Project, brought together dozens of party veterans, pollsters, and media players to simulate outcomes, only one scenario—a Biden landslide—led to a fairly orderly transfer of power. The rest devolved into a constitutional crisis mixed with street violence. “The Democratic elites, God bless them, have had a lot of faith, historically, in institutions and the law,” Brooks says. “But our exercises underscored the tremendous advantage the first mover has in a disputed election, and the tremendous structural advantage of incumbency….The president can have Bill Barr initiate a politically motivated investigation. And I think we can expect all kinds of efforts, legal and extralegal, to stop the counting and to challenge mail-in ballots.”
The Biden campaign and the DNC certainly see all the potential for Trumpian mischief—and Ron Klain, one of Biden’s longtime senior advisers, was a senior adviser to Gore in 2000. So the campaign has constructed “the largest election-protection program in presidential campaign history,” a Biden strategist says. Biden allies have met with major media executives, urging them to be cautious in calling states on election night when millions of mail-in ballots will have yet to be processed. Another hopeful sign is that the Biden campaign is leaning on the expertise of Stacey Abrams and Lauren Groh-Wargo, who managed Abrams’s 2018 run for Georgia governor and now runs Fair Fight, the group Abrams founded to push for, well, fairness in elections.
Read the whole thing at Vanity Fair.
Meanwhile, Bill Barr has come out as a full-on fascist. He seems to be working overtime to out-Trump Trump. Remember how Barr helped clear Lafayette Square so that Trump could have a photo-op with a bible? The Washington Post reveals more details about that episode: Federal officials stockpiled munitions, sought ‘heat ray’ device before clearing Lafayette Square, whistleblower says.
Hours before law enforcement forcibly cleared protesters from Lafayette Square in early June amid protests over the police killing of George Floyd, federal officials began to stockpile ammunition and sces that could emit deafening sounds and make anyone within range feel like their skin is on fire, according to an Army National Guard major who was there.
D.C. National Guard Maj. Adam D. DeMarco told lawmakers that defense officials were searching for crowd control technology deemed too unpredictable to use in war zones and had authorized the transfer of about 7,000 rounds of ammunition to the D.C. Armory as protests against police use of force and racial injustice roiled Washington.
In sworn testimony, shared this week with The Washington Post, DeMarco provided his account as part of an ongoing investigation into law enforcement and military officers’ use of force against D.C. protesters….
DeMarco’s account contradicts the administration’s claims that protesters were violent, tear gas was never used and demonstrators were given ample warning to disperse — a legal requirement before police move to clear a crowd. His testimony also offers a glimpse into the equipment and weaponry federal forces had — and others that they sought — during the early days of protests that have continued for more than 100 days in the nation’s capital.
DeMarco, who provided his account as a whistleblower, was the senior-most D.C. National Guard officer on the ground that day and served as a liaison between the National Guard and U.S. Park Police.
[Emphasis added.] Recall that Barr was seen inspecting the protests before officers attacked the crowd. Now Barr wants to charge protesters with trying to overthrow the government and actually suggested criminally charging the mayor of Seattle. The New York Times: Barr Told Prosecutors to Consider Sedition Charges for Protest Violence.
Attorney General William P. Barr told federal prosecutors in a call last week that they should consider charging rioters and others who had committed violent crimes at protests in recent months with sedition, according to two people familiar with the call.
The highly unusual suggestion to charge people with insurrection against lawful authority alarmed some on the call, which included U.S. attorneys around the country, said the people, who described Mr. Barr’s comments on the condition of anonymity for fear of retribution.
The attorney general has also asked prosecutors in the Justice Department’s civil rights division to explore whether they could bring criminal charges against Mayor Jenny Durkan of Seattle for allowing some residents to establish a police-free protest zone near the city’s downtown for weeks this summer, according to two people briefed on those discussions. Late Wednesday, a department spokesman said that Mr. Barr did not direct the civil rights division to explore this idea….
During a speech on Wednesday night, Mr. Barr noted that the Supreme Court had determined that the executive branch had “virtually unchecked discretion” in deciding whether to prosecute cases. He did not mention Ms. Durkan or the sedition statute.
“The power to execute and enforce the law is an executive function altogether,” Mr. Barr said in remarks at an event in suburban Washington celebrating the Constitution. “That means discretion is invested in the executive to determine when to exercise the prosecutorial power.”
More stories on Bill Barr’s latest crazy rantings:
Steve Benen at MSNBC: AG Bill Barr’s election deceptions go from bad to worse.
The Washington Post: Barr accuses Justice Department of headhunting and meddling with politics.
A couple more related stories:
Neal Kaytal and Joshua Geltzer at The New York Times: This Is How Bad It’s Gotten at the Justice Department.
In his time as the head of the Justice Department, Attorney General William Barr has alienated many federal prosecutors. The latest appears to be Nora Dannehy, a longtime prosecutor who has resigned from the department, where she was part of a team looking into the Russia investigation.
We don’t know for sure exactly what happened; she isn’t talking, nor is Mr. Barr. But The Hartford Courant, which broke the story, reported that Ms. Dannehy’s colleagues said that she departed because of Mr. Barr’s politicization — in particular, because Mr. Barr is evidently eager to break drastically with past practice and issue an incomplete report intended to help President Trump in his re-election efforts.
Her resignation looks like part of an extremely troubling pattern. Earlier this year, highly respected prosecutors in the Michael Flynn and Roger Stone cases dramatically resigned or withdrew. One of them testified to Congress that the Justice Department under Mr. Barr was treating Mr. Stone “differently from any other defendant because of his relationship to the president.” The Justice Department inspector general has opened an investigation.
When civil servants resign, skeptics often ask what difference one person really can make by leaving. The answer is simple: a lot. Ms. Dannehy’s departure isn’t just likely a major assertion of integrity by her; it’s also a big problem for Mr. Barr — and therefore for Mr. Trump.
Head over to the NYT to read the rest.
Julia Davis at The Daily Beast: Russian Media Is Rooting for Civil War in America: ‘The Worse, the Better.’
State-controlled media’s slant is a telling indicator of the Kremlin’s leanings. To imagine the relationship between Russian President Vladimir Putin and his massive media apparatus, one may reference the coziness between Sean Hannity and Trump—and magnify that intensity tenfold, with directives flowing only from the top down. Obsessed with retaining his dominance and fully realizing the power of propaganda, Putin leaves nothing to chance….
Russian lawmakers, state media experts and pundits on tightly-choreographed TV shows openly reveal that the Kremlin is still rooting for Trump. But Moscow has a growing concern that this time around, their preferred candidate might lose. Appearing on a state TV show The Right To Know, Margarita Simonyan, the editor-in-chief of the Kremlin-funded propaganda networks RT and Sputnik, said about Trump’s chances of re-election: “I think Trump will lose, but then I think there will be a major blow-up from the standpoint of accepting or not accepting the outcome of the election. They’ll be battling over that for a long time, who knows how it might end.”
Having openly wished for Trump to drive the United States into civil war, Russian state media figures are now relishing that idea with renewed enthusiasm. They believe it would destabilize America to such an extent as to undermine its very sovereignty, thereby untying the Kremlin’s hands to wreak even more havoc upon the Western world. Appearing on Russia’s state TV show The Evening with Vladimir Soloviev, analyst Dmitry Drobnitsky explained his belief that U.S. elections “can be considered America’s internal affairs only up to the point when an actual civil war starts there.” The idea of a coup d’état seems all but inevitable, Drobnitsky argued: “The loser in this election would be an idiot to accept the outcome.”
Russian state media repeatedly echoed Trump, who is doing the Kremlin’s bidding by attacking the legitimacy of the 2020 elections, falsely suggesting that mail-in voting is completely fraudulent, and that Democrats are rigging the process to falsify the outcome. There is no doubt that the Kremlin would align with Trump in case of a contested election, as the groundwork for accusing the Democrats of fraud has been laid in advance.
Russian state media analysts also make no secret as to the Kremlin’s preferred candidate. Writing for the newspaper Kommersant, Dmitry Kosyrev, political columnist for state media outlet RIA Novosti, pondered: “Is Trump ours?” This popular refrain can be interpreted in one of several ways: to signify Russia’s hold over the American president, to express that Trump’s position is in perfect alignment with that of the Kremlin—meaning, “he is on our side”—or to signal Russia’s preference: “He is the one we choose.”
Things are getting really scary. Unbelievably, this year’s election will likely be much worse than 2016. I don’t know what more to say. I guess we just have to take it one day at a time, and hope that Biden and the Democrats have the guts to stand up for democracy.
Take care, Sky Dancers!