Friday Reads: Countdown to Impeachment

Good Morning Sky Dancers!

We learned yesterday that we might have been closer to a repeat Saturday Night Massacre than we thought.  KKKremlin Caligula tried to fire Robert Mueller only to back off when the White House Council threatened to resign.  We have entered the Nixon Zone.

Here’s some analysis of the NYT investigative piece by Lawfare.

The  reported Thursday evening that President Trump ordered the firing of Special Counsel Robert Mueller in June and was only dissuaded when White House Counsel Don McGahn threatened to resign rather than transmit the order to the Justice Department. Mueller has reportedly become aware of the attempt to dismiss him in the course of investigating possible obstruction of justice by Trump and his associates.

According to the Times, Trump claimed that multiple conflicts of interests disqualified Mueller from overseeing the Russia investigation—including a fee dispute with a Trump golf club, his prior firm’s representation of Jared Kushner, and the fact that Trump had interviewed Mueller to potentially again become FBI director the day before he was appointed as special counsel. In May, career Justice Department ethics officials  Mueller to lead the probe, determining that he did not have disqualifying conflicts. In a follow-up story, the Washington Post  that McGahn “did not deliver his resignation threat directly to Trump, but was serious about his threat to leave.”

The Times also noted that Trump considered firing Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, who appointed Mueller, in order to place Associate Attorney General Rachel Brand in charge of the investigation.

At the time Trump ordered Mueller’s firing, he was still represented by his longtime lawyer Marc Kasowitz, who took an adversarial approach to the Russia investigation. Reportedly, Trump’s new counsel, Ty Cobb, has convinced the president that “the quickest way to clear the cloud of suspicion was to cooperation with Mr. Mueller, not to fire him.” Nevertheless, the Times reports that Trump has wavered in the intervening months over the decision to fire Mueller and that in his public comments on the subject Trump has kept open the possibility of dismissing Mueller.

A few observations:

First, the Times’s reporting demonstrates just how out of control the president had become in June, less than a month after firing James Comey as FBI director. A few of his tweets from that time offer a stark reminder that the special counsel’s investigation—and Rosenstein’s appointment of Mueller—weighed heavily even in his public statements …

Here’s the highpoints from Axios:

  • “Mueller learned about the episode in recent months as his investigators interviewed current and former senior White House officials.” (Including the counsel who threatened to resign, Don McGahn!)

  • Key point: McGahn disagreed with the president’s case and told senior White House officials that firing Mr. Mueller would have a catastrophic effect on Mr. Trump’s presidency.”

  • “McGahn also told White House officials that Mr. Trump would not follow through on the dismissal on his own. The president then backed off.”

  • “Amid the first wave of news media reports that Mr. Mueller was examining a possible obstruction case, the president began to argue that Mr. Mueller had three conflicts of interest that disqualified him.”

  • “First, [Trump] claimed that a dispute years ago over fees at Trump National Golf Club in Sterling, Va., had prompted Mr. Mueller, the F.B.I. director at the time, to resign his membership. The president also said Mr. Mueller could not be impartial because he had most recently worked for the law firm that previously represented the president’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner. Finally, the president said, Mr. Mueller had been interviewed to return as the F.B.I. director the day before he was appointed special counsel in May.”

  • Why it matters: “The White House has denied nearly a dozen times since June that Mr. Trump was considering firing Mr. Mueller.”

Be smart: As we told you Wednesday in our piece about Mueller following Trump like a dark cloud: These actions were taken in office knowing the whole world is watching for a cover-up. It’s the ultimate unforced error — and reason many around Trump fear him testifying.

P.S. CNN’s Groundhog Day headline this morning: “TRUMP TRIP OVERSHADOWED BY CONTROVERSY.”

Julian Zelzer of The Atlantic has the Nixonian take calling the Drumpf regime “The runaway President.”

The reason that so many Americans react badly to the news about Trump is similar to what drove the outrage about President Richard Nixon’s famous Saturday Night Massacre, as the Washington Post reporter David Broder named it, in October of 1973. The path to that scandal started when Alexander Butterfield, a former aide to H.R. Haldeman, revealed to the Watergate congressional committee that the president had recorded secret Oval Office conversations. Archibald Cox, the Harvard professor who had been appointed as an independent special prosecutor in May to investigate Watergate, wanted those tapes. He wanted to know just what they revealed about the June 1972 break in to the Democratic National Headquarters. On October 12, a U.S. Court of Appeals ordered Nixon to comply. Nixon tried to broker an agreement with Cox to release a small portion of the tapes, but the negotiations broke down.

Nixon was livid when he heard that Cox was demanding that the White House release all the recordings. It was bad enough that the Ivy-League professor was being so aggressive with him, but now Cox seemed to be taking the investigation to a new level that could be extremely damaging. Nixon, who believed that his office gave him the power to do almost anything, ordered that Attorney General Eliot Richardson fire Cox. The problem was that Richardson refused. “Let it be on your head,” the president angrily told the attorney general when they met. Soon after, Nixon turned to the next person in command, Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, who also refused to carry out the order. “I am, of course, sorry that my conscience will not permit me to carry out your instruction to discharge Archibald Cox,” he wrote in his resignation letter. It wasn’t until Solicitor General Robert Bork said yes that Nixon found someone to do what he wanted. “I am, as instructed by the President, discharging you, effective at once, from your position as Special Prosecutor, Watergate Special Prosecution Force,” Bork wrote in a letter. Cox’s staff of 38 lawyers and 50 staff was immediately dismantled.

The response was sheer outrage all over the country. “It was a terrifying night. It felt like we were in a banana republic,” the journalist Elizabeth Drew later recounted in an interview. The fact that the president took it upon himself to try to kill the investigation by getting rid of the investigator was evidence that Nixon was out of control. NBC Newscaster John Chancellor told his viewers: “The country tonight is in the midst of what may be the most serious constitutional crisis in its history.”

Here’s some other news. From WAPO, we learned the Guggenheim trolled the White House with total finesse. “The White House asked to borrow a van Gogh. The Guggenheim offered a gold toilet instead.”  The  artist “Cattelan has also suggested that he had in mind the wealth that permeates aspects of society, describing the golden toilet “as 1 percent art for the 99 percent.”

The emailed response from the Guggenheim’s chief curator to the White House was polite but firm: The museum could not accommodate a request to borrow a painting by Vincent van Gogh for President and Melania Trump’s private living quarters.

Instead, wrote the curator, Nancy Spector, another piece was available, one that was nothing like “Landscape With Snow,” the 1888 van Gogh rendering of a man in a black hat walking along a path in Arles, France, with his dog.

The curator’s alternative: an 18-karat, fully functioning, solid gold toilet — an interactive work titled “America” that critics have described as pointed satire aimed at the excess of wealth in this country.

For a year, the Guggenheim had exhibited “America” — the creation of contemporary artist Maurizio Cattelan — in a public restroom on the museum’s fifth floor for visitors to use.

But the exhibit was over and the toilet was available “should the President and First Lady have any interest in installing it in the White House,” Spector wrote in an email obtained by The Washington Post.

The artist “would like to offer it to the White House for a long-term loan,” wrote Spector, who has been critical of Trump. “It is, of course, extremely valuable and somewhat fragile, but we would provide all the instructions for its installation and care.”

You’ll have to get this Dutch article translated but it has a particularly interesting bit of news exposing Dutch intelligence on the “cozy bear” hackers and the Russian hacking of our 2016 election.

Hackers from the Dutch intelligence service AIVD have provided the FBI with crucial information about Russian interference with the American elections. For years, AIVD had access to the infamous Russian hacker group Cozy Bear. That’s what de Volkskrant and Nieuwsuur have uncovered in their investigation.

It’s a fascinating read worthy of a Le Carre novel.  It actually begins around 2014.

The Dutch access to the Russian hackers’ network soon pays off. In November, the Russians prepare for an attack on one of their prime targets: the American State Department. By now, they’ve obtained e-mail addresses and the login credentials of several civil servants. They manage to enter the non-classified part of the computer network.

The AIVD and her military counterpart MIVD inform the NSA-liaison at the American embassy in The Hague. He immediately alerts the different American intelligence services.

What follows is a rare battle between the attackers, who are attempting to further infiltrate the State Department, and its defenders, FBI and NSA teams – with clues and intelligence provided by the Dutch. This battle lasts 24 hours, according to American media.

The Russians are extremely aggressive but do not know they’re being spied on. Thanks to the Dutch spies, the NSA and FBI are able to counter the enemy with enormous speed. The Dutch intel is so crucial that the NSA opens a direct line with Zoetermeer, to get the information to the United States as soon as possible.

Finally, Phillip Bump  looks at and talks with Hillary voters.  Finally!  We get our due!!

And then, there’s this one too:

No, life on these blocks centers around a joint on Carpenter Lane called Weavers Way, the venerable corner food co-op that launched in the twilight of the hippie era in 1972, where today senior citizens and young social workers wander down from rambling old-stone houses with their reusable canvas bags to load up on bulk spices, home-baked muffins, or maybe a treat like pumpkin gingersnap ice cream.

It’s the kind of place where the regulars pause on the front steps to check out ads for dog walkers or fiddle lessons, then trade friendly banter with familiar neighbors in the narrow aisles. And so Brittany Barbato, a 29-year-old writer and photographer for mission-driven publications who lives nearby, was when she strolled into Weavers Way on the morning of Nov. 9, 2016 — just hours after Donald Trump was elected the 45th president of the United States.

“Usually there’s a buzz — you can hear people chatting, the bulk canisters flowing with what people are buying — and the cashiers are all chipper and friendly,” said Barbato, standing outside the food co-op in the January chill. “That’s why we love living here, the community. But I remember coming into the store and thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, it’s so eerie, so quiet.’ It did feel as if something had died. And I remember thinking, ‘This is how I feel, too.’ ”

More than a year after that funereal morning in Mount Airy, the neighborhood has a bit of a feel of an occupied territory. Behind ancient stone walls, on the narrow, sloping yards, stand the signs of resistance at home after home: “Impeach Trump,” or “Black Lives Matter/Philly Children’s March,” with more than a smattering of “Hillary” yard signs that owners refuse to take down, and one that declares: “In This House, We Believe: Black Lives Matter/Women’s Rights Are Human Rights/No Human Is Illegal/Science Is Real/Love Is Love/No Matter Your Faith Or Ability/Kindness Is Everything.”

Boston Boomer will undoubtedly have a lot to say on Tuesday on why we will not be live blogging the SOTU address.  This is something we have done for years but not this one. I, for one, can’t bear to hear or watch him mangle the English language and our American values.   However, we might give some consideration to listening to Representative Joseph Kennedy’s response.  Let us know how you feel.

Representative Joseph P. Kennedy III, one of the Democratic Party’s rising political stars, has been tapped by top party leaders to deliver the official Democratic response to President Trump’s State of the Union address next week.

The choice thrusts the 37-year-old, three-term congressman from Brookline into the national spotlight more squarely than he has ever been before. The job will put him on national television as the face of the Democratic Party and the voice of chief Trump critic at an extraordinary moment in the country’s politics. For many Americans, it will be their first introduction to the latest Kennedy on the political scene.

“Congressman Kennedy is a relentless fighter for working Americans,” Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said in a press release announcing the move. “While President Trump has consistently broken his promises to the middle class, Congressman Kennedy profoundly understands the challenges facing hard-working men and women across the country.”

The Republicans and Drumpf continue their assault on the FBI. Slate’s Impeach-O-meter is going off once more but stuck at 45% after the probing of Andrew McCabe’s 2016 voting records. He definitely is stuck on finding all of his men.

Not that I really care about what Bob Woodward thinks but in a recent interview with Poynter he says we’re still not reaching peak Watergate.

Bob Woodward would know better than most of us if Donald Trump was the new Richard Nixon.

But he’s not, said the reporting icon responsible for breaking the Watergate scandal during a talk at the Mahaffey Theater on Wednesday night. At least, it’s too early to tell.

“We talk about maybe what Russia did or the extent to which they did — it’s not clear — meddle in our election,” he said to a predominantly older audience of several hundred people. “But in 1972 we had the real thing: the inside destruction of our electoral system, funded, organized, championed, led by Richard Nixon.”

Woodward insists we still don’t know where it’s going. I think we’re inching closer to definite ‘Obstruction of justice’ charges.  We’ll be in a better place after a Blue Wave to take this menace out of office and his little dog Pence too.

What’s on your reading and blogging list today?