The U.S. is going through a very dangerous time. Joe Biden and Kamala Harris have been elected decisively, but Trump and his GOP cult followers are trying to overthrow the election results. They are, in fact, attempting a coup.
Masha Gessen at The New Yorker, November 5: By Declaring Victory, Donald Trump Is Attempting an Autocratic Breakthrough.
The President of the United States has called the election a fraud. He has declared victory without basis, tweeting on Wednesday, “We have claimed” Pennsylvania, Georgia, North Carolina, and perhaps Michigan—all states that were still counting votes. Donald Trump, who has been engaged in an autocratic attempt for the last four years, is now trying to stage an autocratic breakthrough.
I have borrowed the term “autocratic attempt” from the work of Bálint Magyar, a Hungarian sociologist who set out to develop analytical tools for understanding the turn away from democracy in many Eastern and Central European countries. I have found Magyar’s ideas surprisingly illuminating when applied to the United States.
Magyar divides the autocrat’s journey into three stages: autocratic attempt, autocratic breakthrough, and autocratic consolidation. The attempt is a period when autocracy is still preventable, or reversible, by electoral means. When it is no longer possible to reverse autocracy peacefully, the autocratic breakthrough has occurred, because the very structures of government have been transformed and can no longer protect themselves. These changes usually include packing the constitutional court (the Supreme Court, in the case of the U.S.) with judges loyal to the autocrat; packing and weakening the courts in general; appointing a chief prosecutor (the Attorney General) who is loyal to the autocrat and will enforce the law selectively on his behalf; changing the rules on the appointment of civil servants; weakening local governments; unilaterally changing electoral rules (to accommodate gerrymandering, for instance); and changing the Constitution to expand the powers of the executive.
For all the apparent flailing and incompetence of the Trump Administration, his autocratic attempt checks most of the boxes. He has appointed three Supreme Court Justices and a record number of federal judges. The Justice Department, under William Barr, acts like Trump’s pocket law-enforcement agency and personal law firm. Trump’s army of “acting” officials, some of them carrying out their duties in violation of relevant federal regulations, have made mincemeat of the rules and norms of federal appointments. Trump has preëmptively declared the election rigged; has incited voter intimidation and encouraged voter suppression; has mobilized his armed supporters to prevent votes from being counted; and has explicitly stated that he is changing the rules of the election. “We want all voting to stop,” he said on Wednesday morning, and vowed to take his case to the Supreme Court.
Please go read the rest at The New Yorker.
Ezra Klein makes a similar argument at Vox: Trump is attempting a coup in plain sight.
The Trump administration’s current strategy is to go to court to try and get votes for Biden ruled illegitimate, and that strategy explicitly rests on Trump’s appointees honoring a debt the administration, at least, believes they owe. One of his legal advisers said, “We’re waiting for the United States Supreme Court — of which the President has nominated three justices — to step in and do something. And hopefully Amy Coney Barrett will come through.”
If that fails, and it will, Mark Levin, one of the nation’s most popular conservative radio hosts, is explicitly calling on Republican legislatures to reject the election results and seat Donald Trump as president anyway. After Twitter tagged the tweet as contested, Trump’s press secretary weighed in furiously on Levin’s behalf.
That this coup probably will not work — that it is being carried out farcically, erratically, ineffectively — does not mean it is not happening, or that it will not have consequences. Millions will believe Trump, will see the election as stolen. The Trump family’s Twitter feeds, and those of associated outlets and allies, are filled with allegations of fraud and lies about the process (reporter Isaac Saul has been doing yeoman’s work tracking these arguments, and his thread is worth reading). It’s the construction of a confusing, but immersive, alternative reality in which the election has been stolen from Trump and weak-kneed Republicans are letting the thieves escape.
This is, to borrow Hungarian sociologist Bálint Magyar’s framework, “an autocratic attempt.” That’s the stage in the transition toward autocracy in which the would-be autocrat is trying to sever his power from electoral check. If he’s successful, autocratic breakthrough follows, and then autocratic consolidation occurs. In this case, the would-be autocrat stands little chance of being successful. But he will not entirely fail, either. What Trump is trying to form is something akin to an autocracy-in-exile, an alternative America in which he is the rightful leader, and he — and the public he claims to represent — has been robbed of power by corrupt elites.
“Democracy works only when losers recognize that they have lost,” writes political scientist Henry Farrell. That will not happen here.
It won’t happen, because the GOP is going along with Trump’s attempt.
Here’s the grim kicker: The conditions that made Trump and this Republican Party possible are set to worsen. Republicans retained control of enough statehouses to drive the next redistricting effort, too, and their 6-3 majority on the Supreme Court will unleash their map-drawers more fully. The elections analyst G. Elliott Morris estimates that the gap between the popular vote margin and the tipping point state in the Electoral College will be 4 to 5 percentage points, and that the GOP’s control of the redistricting process could push it to 6 to 7 points next time.
To say that America’s institutions did not wholly fail in the Trump era is not the same thing as saying they succeeded. They did not, and in particular, the Republican Party did not. It has failed dangerously, spectacularly. It has made clear that would-be autocrats have a path to power in the United States, and if they can walk far enough down that path, an entire political party will support them, and protect them. And it has been insulated from public fury by a political system that values land over people, and that lets partisan actors set election rules and draw district lines — and despite losing the presidency, the GOP still holds the power to tilt that system further in its direction in the coming years.
What happens when the next would-be autocrat tries this strategy — and what if they are smoother, more strategic, more capable than this one?
How is Trump’s autocratic attempt going so far? He has fired the Secretary of Defense and replaced him with a partisan loyalist.
In an exclusive interview with Military Times that dropped shortly after his abrupt firing, Mr Esper took exception with critics who have called him a “yes man”, the source of the derogatory nickname “Yesper” used by the president.
“Name another Cabinet secretary that’s pushed back… Have you seen me on a stage saying, ‘Under the exceptional leadership of blah-blah-blah, we have blah-blah-blah-blah?” Mr Esper said.
“At the end of the day, it’s as I said — you’ve got to pick your fights… I could have a fight over anything, and I could make it a big fight, and I could live with that —why? Who’s going to come in behind me? It’s going to be a real ‘yes man.’ And then God help us.”
The interview was conducted on 4 November, before Mr Esper’s replacement would have been known.
Trump also fired the three officials who were in charge of our nuclear weapons. NPR:
The Trump administration abruptly dumped the leaders of three agencies that oversee the nuclear weapons stockpile, electricity and natural gas regulation, and overseas aid during the past two days, drawing a rebuke from a prominent Republican senator for one of the decisions.
The sudden departures included:
- Lisa Gordon-Hagerty, administrator of the National Nuclear Security Administration, the first woman to oversee the agency in charge of the nuclear stockpile. She was required to resign on Friday.
- Bonnie Glick, deputy administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development. She was replaced by acting Administrator John Barsa, who had run out of time for his more senior role under the Federal Vacancies Reform Act.
- Neil Chatterjee, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and a former aide to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. He was replaced as chairman, though he will remain at FERC, an independent agency, as a commissioner.
The firings were overshadowed by the prolonged drama of the presidential election.
Trump is expected to fire CIA director Gina Haspel and FBI director Christopher Wray, according to Axios.
He has named another yes man as general counsel at the NSA. The Washington Post: White House official and former GOP political operative Michael Ellis named as NSA general counsel.
The Pentagon general counsel has named a White House official and former GOP political operative to be the top lawyer at the National Security Agency, the U.S. government’s largest and most technically advanced spy agency, U.S. officials said.
There’s much more at the link.
Bill Barr is also on the case. The New York Times: Barr Hands Prosecutors the Authority to Investigate Voter Fraud Claims.
Attorney General William P. Barr, wading into President Trump’s unfounded accusations of widespread election irregularities, told federal prosecutors on Monday that they were allowed to investigate “specific allegations” of voter fraud before the results of the presidential race are certified.
Mr. Barr’s authorization prompted the Justice Department official who oversees investigations of voter fraud, Richard Pilger, to step down from the post within hours, according to an email Mr. Pilger sent to colleagues that was obtained by The New York Times.
Mr. Barr said he had authorized “specific instances” of investigative steps in some cases. He made clear in a carefully worded memo that prosecutors had the authority to investigate, but he warned that “specious, speculative, fanciful or far-fetched claims should not be a basis for initiating federal inquiries.”
Mr. Barr’s directive ignored the Justice Department’s longstanding policies intended to keep law enforcement from affecting the outcome of an election. And it followed a move weeks before the election in which the department lifted a prohibition on voter fraud investigations before an election.
The head of the branch of the Justice Department that prosecutes election crimes resigned Monday hours after Attorney General William Barr issued a memo to federal prosecutors authorizing them to investigate “specific allegations” of voter fraud before the results of the presidential race are certified.
Richard Pilger, who was director of the Election Crimes Branch of the DOJ, sent a memo to colleagues that suggested his resignation was linked to Barr’s memo, which was issued as the president’s legal team mount baseless legal challenges to the election results, alleging widespread voter fraud cost him the race.
“Having familiarized myself with the new policy and its ramifications, and in accord with the best tradition of the John C. Keeney Award for Exceptional Integrity and Professionalism (my most cherished Departmental recognition), I must regretfully resign from my role as Director of the Election Crimes Branch,” Pilger’s letter said, according to a copy obtained by NBC News.
“I have enjoyed very much working with you for over a decade to aggressively and diligently enforce federal criminal election law, policy, and practice without partisan fear or favor. I thank you for your support in that effort.”
Finally, Trump is preventing the Biden transition team from beginning their work. The Washington Post: White House, escalating tensions, orders agencies to rebuff Biden transition team.
The Trump White House on Monday instructed senior government leaders to block cooperation with President-elect Joe Biden’s transition team, escalating a standoff that threatens to impede the transfer of power and prompting the Biden team to consider legal action.
While media outlets on Saturday projected Biden as the winner, President Trump has not conceded the election.
“We have been told: Ignore the media, wait for it to be official from the government,” said a senior administration official, who like others spoke on the condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to speak publicly.
The GSA, the government’s real estate arm, remained for a third day the proxy in the battle. Administrator Emily Murphy, a Trump political appointee who has lasted a full term in an administration where turnover has been the norm, is refusing to sign paperwork that releases Biden’s $6.3 million share of nearly $10 million in transition resources and gives his team access to agency officials and information.
So that’s where things stand right now, as we battle an out-of-control pandemic with no help from the federal government and the Supreme Court hears arguments that may end the Affordable Care Act and strip 20,000,000 people of health insurance.
Hang in there Sky Dancers! Take care of yourselves in this dangerous time.
Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is testifying before the House Intelligence Committee this morning. Maguire has given his opening statement and the questioning has begun. At about 8:30, the whistleblower complaint was released to the public. You can read it here.
So far Maguire is working pretty hard to obfuscate Adam Schiff’s questions, but he has admitted that he first took the complaint to the White House counsel’s office for advice. He keeps claiming that he can’t violate executive privilege but he also admits that the “president” has not asserted executive privilege. Next he went to the DOJ even though Bill Barr is specifically mentioned in the whistleblower complaint as likely being involved in Trump’s wrongdoing!
Anyway, if you’re watching, please post your thoughts in the comments to this post.
Here’s the latest:
The whistleblower complaint at the heart of the burgeoning controversy over President Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president claims not only that the president misused his office for personal gain and endangered national security but that unidentified White House officials tried to hide that conduct.
“In the course of my official duties, I have received information from multiple U.S. government officials that the President of the United States is using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election,” the whistleblower wrote in the complaint dated Aug. 12. The House Intelligence Committee released the document Thursday morning.
“This interference includes, among other things, pressuring a foreign country to investigate one of the President’s main domestic political rivals. The President’s personal lawyer, Mr. Rudolph W. Giuliani, is a central figure in this effort. Attorney General (William P.) Barr appears to be involved as well,” the complaint states.
In that phone call, Trump pressed President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden, one of his chief political rivals, and Biden’s son Hunter — offering to enlist Barr’s help in that effort while dangling a possible visit to the White House, according to a rough transcript of the call released by the White House on Wednesday.
Read the rest at the WaPo.
President Trump used the power of his office to try to get Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election to investigate a political rival “for personal gain,” according to an explosive whistle-blower complaint released on Thursday after days of damning revelations about Mr. Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Attorney General William P. Barr and the president’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani were central to the effort, the complaint said.
In addition, the complaint says that whistle-blower, an unidentified intelligence officer, learned from multiple American officials that “senior White House officials had intervened to ‘lock down’ all records of the phone call, especially the official word-for-word transcript of the call that was produced as is customary by the White House Situation Room.”
“This set of actions underscored to me that White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired in the call,” the complaint said.
The whistle-blower’s complaint was based on accounts from multiple White House officials who were “deeply disturbed” by what they heard on the call, the complaint said.
Read more at the link above.
The New York Times last night: Phone Call Showed Only a Slice of Trump’s Obsession With Ukraine.
Long before the July 25 call with the new Ukrainian president that helped spur the formal start of impeachment proceedings against him in the House, Mr. Trump fretted and fulminated about the former Soviet state, angry over what he sees as Ukraine’s role in the origins of the investigations into Russian influence on his 2016 campaign.
His fixation was only intensified by his hope that he could employ the Ukrainian government to undermine his most prominent potential Democratic rival in 2020, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
And Mr. Trump has put the powers of his office behind his agenda: He has dispatched Vice President Mike Pence and top administration officials with thinly veiled messages about heeding his demands about confronting corruption, which Ukrainian and former American officials say is understood as code for the Bidens and Ukrainians who released damaging information about the Trump campaign in 2016. This summer he froze a package of military assistance to Ukraine even as the country, eager to build closer relations with Washington, continued to be menaced by its aggressive neighbor Russia.
…there’s another whistleblower ― one with possible evidence that Trump tried to corrupt an Internal Revenue Service audit of his personal tax returns ― who has received relatively little attention.
The tax whistleblower…went straight to Congress ― specifically to the House Ways and Means Committee, which had sued the Trump administration for refusing to provide copies of the president’s tax returns in response to a formal request. Democrats say they need Trump’s returns to make sure the IRS properly enforces tax laws against the president.
But Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.) is far less outspoken than Schiff, and his approach to the tax case has been cautious. He decided to stay focused on the lawsuit, using the whistleblower’s material to bolster that case.
In a brief last month, the committee told the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia that a “federal employee” had approached them with “evidence of possible misconduct” and “inappropriate efforts” to influence an IRS audit of the president. The document provided no further detail about the whistleblower, but in a footnote, Democrats offered to tell U.S. District Judge Trevor McFadden all about it in private.
A spokesman for the committee said this week that McFadden, a Trump nominee who donated to the Trump 2016 campaign and volunteered for the Trump presidential transition, has so far not asked to hear more about the whistleblower. He denied a Democratic motion to speed up the case.
This one is really interesting. I hope you’ll read the whole thing by Murray Waas at the New York Review of Books: Trump, Giuliani, and Manafort: The Ukraine Scheme.
The effort by President Trump to pressure the government of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son had its origins in an earlier endeavor to obtain information that might provide a pretext and political cover for the president to pardon his former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, according to previously undisclosed records.
These records indicate that attorneys representing Trump and Manafort respectively had at least nine conversations relating to this effort, beginning in the early days of the Trump administration, and lasting until as recently as May of this year. Through these deliberations carried on by his attorneys, Manafort exhorted the White House to press Ukrainian officials to investigate and discredit individuals, both in the US and in Ukraine, who he believed had published damning information about his political consulting work in the Ukraine. A person who participated in the joint defense agreement between President Trump and others under investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, including Manafort, allowed me to review extensive handwritten notes that memorialized conversations relating to Manafort and Ukraine between Manafort’s and Trump’s legal teams, including Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani.
These new disclosures emerge as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced on Tuesday that the House would open a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s conduct. What prompted her actions were the new allegations that surfaced last week that Trump had pressured Ukraine’s newly elected president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Trump’s potential 2020 campaign rival, Biden, and his son Hunter, placing a freeze on a quarter of a billion dollars in military assistance to Ukraine as leverage. The impeachment inquiry will also examine whether President Trump obstructed justice by attempting to curtail investigations by the FBI and the special counsel into Russia’s covert interference in the 2016 presidential election in Trump’s favor.
New information in this story suggests that these two, seemingly unrelated scandals, in which the House will judge whether the president’s conduct in each case constituted extra-legal and extra-constitutional abuses of presidential power, are in fact inextricably linked: the Ukrainian initiative appears to have begun in service of formulating a rationale by which the president could pardon Manafort, as part of an effort to undermine the special counsel’s investigation.
Jonathan Chait at New York Magazine: The Ukraine Scandal Is Not One Phone Call. It’s a Massive Plot.
On July 25, President Trump held a phone call in which he repeatedly leaned on Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and Paul Manafort’s prosecutors. The episode is so blatantly inappropriate even Trump’s most fervent apologists are, with a few exceptions, having trouble defending it. What they are trying to do, instead, is define this phone call as the entire scandal. Trump emphasizes that he “didn’t specifically mention the explicit quid pro quo” of military aid in return for the investigation.
That is true, as far as it goes. The quid pro quo in the call, though perfectly apparent, is mostly implicit. But the real trick in Trump’s defense is framing the call as the entire scandal. The scandal is much more than that. The call is a snapshot, a moment in time in a months-long campaign that put American policy toward Ukraine at the disposal of Trump’s personal interests and reelection campaign.
Last spring, Rudy Giuliani was openly pressuring Kiev to investigate Joe Biden. Giuliani told the New York Times, “We’re meddling in an investigation … because that information will be very, very helpful to my client.” The key word there was “we’re.” The first-person plural indicated Giuliani was not carrying out this mission alone. A series of reports have revealed how many other government officials were involved in the scheme.
Read more at the link.
A few more:
Susan Glasser at The New Yorker: “Do Us a Favor”: The Forty-eight Hours That Sealed Trump’s Impeachment.
Lawrence Tribe at USA Today: Donald Trump’s call with Ukrainian president drips with impeachable crimes.
Neal Kaytal at The New York Times: Trump Doesn’t Need to Commit a Crime to Be Kicked Out of Office.
Please post your thoughts and links on any topic in the comment thread below.
Last night The Washington Post broke a story on the mysterious whistleblower complaint that Trump and Cover-up General Barr are trying to keep secret from Congress: Trump’s communications with foreign leader are part of whistleblower complaint that spurred standoff between spy chief and Congress, former officials say.
Trump’s interaction with the foreign leader included a “promise” that was regarded as so troubling that it prompted an official in the U.S. intelligence community to file a formal whistleblower complaint with the inspector general for the intelligence community, said the former officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly.
It was not immediately clear which foreign leader Trump was speaking with or what he pledged to deliver, but his direct involvement in the matter has not been previously disclosed. It raises new questions about the president’s handling of sensitive information and may further strain his relationship with U.S. spy agencies. One former official said the communication was a phone call.
Intelligence Community Inspector General Michael Atkinson determined that the complaint was credible and troubling enough to be considered a matter of “urgent concern,” a legal threshold that requires notification of congressional oversight committees.
But acting director of national intelligence Joseph Maguire has refused to share details about Trump’s alleged transgression with lawmakers, touching off a legal and political dispute that has spilled into public view and prompted speculation that the spy chief is improperly protecting the president.
The dispute is expected to escalate Thursday when Atkinson is scheduled to appear before the House Intelligence Committee in a classified session closed to the public. The hearing is the latest move by committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) to compel U.S. intelligence officials to disclose the full details of the whistleblower complaint to Congress. Maguire has agreed to testify before the panel next week, according to a statement by Schiff. He declined to comment for this article.
This seems like a very big deal. Atkinson is meeting right now behind closed doors with the House Intelligence Committee. And the Dotard is up and tweeting about it.
Yes, I’d say quite a few of us believe that the dummy in the WH would do that. Some background from the WaPo story:
The complaint was filed with Atkinson’s office on Aug. 12, a date on which Trump was at his golf resort in New Jersey. White House records indicate that Trump had had conversations or interactions with at least five foreign leaders in the preceding five weeks.
Among them was a call with Russian President Vladimir Putin that the White House initiated on July 31. Trump also received at least two letters from North Korean leader Kim Jong Un during the summer, describing them as “beautiful” messages. In June, Trump said publicly that he was opposed to certain CIA spying operations against North Korea. Referring to a Wall Street Journal report that the agency had recruited Kim’s half brother, Trump said, “I would tell him that would not happen under my auspices.”
Trump met with other foreign leaders at the White House in July, including the prime minister of Pakistan, the prime minister of the Netherlands and the emir of Qatar.
Most likely the call in question is the one with Putin. As you may recall, that was the call in which Trump supposedly offered Russia help with the wildfires in Siberia. The Russian readout of the call was very different. Putin claimed that Trump’s offer demonstrated that normalization of relations between the two countries was possible.
Putin, in response, expressed his “sincere gratitude” to Trump and said that if necessary, he will accept the offer, the Kremlin said on its website.
“The President of Russia regards the US President’s offer as a sign that it is possible that full-scale bilateral relations will be restored in the future,” the statement from the Kremlin read.
“The presidents of Russia and the United States agreed to continue contacts both in a telephone format and in person,” it added.
However, the two countries differed somewhat in their interpretations of the call.
As NPR’s Tamara Keith reports, “Russia announced the call first, saying President Trump offered Putin assistance fighting wildfires in Siberia. … Putin assessed the offer as a sign that relations between the two countries would be fully restored. Russia interfered in the 2016 presidential election, and is still under U.S. sanctions.”
Speculation from Twitter about what happened:
Shugarman has posted a thread with timelines from other twitter users of events that took place during the time in question. Click on the above tweet to read the thread. More timelines:
Response from @swatkins109:
“Also Huntsman (Ambassador to Russia) resigns Aug 6 Sept 3 trump announces military spending for NATO countries canceled.”
Make of all that what you will. I can’t wait till the whole story comes out, and it will.
On the 20th of July 1787, Gouverneur Morris rose inside the stiflingly hot Independence Hall, in Philadelphia, to explain why he had changed his mind and now favored including a power of impeachment in the constitutional text.
Until that point, he and others had feared that an impeachment power would leave the president too dependent on Congress. He had thought that the prospect of reelection defeat would offer a sufficient control on presidential wrongdoing.
But Morris ultimately changed his mind.
Foreign corruption inducing treason was the core impeachable offense in the eyes of the authors of the Constitution.
Which is why a whistle-blower report filed with the inspector general for the intelligence community, reportedly concerning an improper “promise” by President Donald Trump to a foreign leader, has jolted Congress.
Earlier in the constitutional debates—back when he still opposed an impeachment provision—Morris argued that a corrupt or treasonable president “can do no criminal act without Coadjutors who may be punished.” Trump is surrounded by coadjutors, yet so far all are acting with impunity, joined now by the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, who is withholding from Congress the apparently explosive information.
Trump has been engaged in improper contacts with foreign governments for years, and built deep business relationships with foreign nationals. Russian assistance helped elect him. Money from wealthy Russians reportedly helped keep his businesses alive from 2006 to 2016. Since 2016, more and more foreign money has flowed Trump’s way. Trump literally has a hotel open on Pennsylvania Avenue to accept payments—there’s a big carpet in front, his name on the door, nothing even remotely clandestine about the flow of corruption. That corruption seeks returns. Again and again, Trump has acted in ways that align with the interests of foreign states, raising questions about his motives.
Exactly what was promised in this particular conversation, and to whom, America and the world wait to hear.
I certainly hope we learn something from Adam Schiff when he emerges from that private briefing with the Inspector General.
The New York Times just broke a story about the hearing: Watchdog Refuses to Detail Whistle-Blower Complaint About Trump.
The internal watchdog for American spy agencies declined repeatedly in a briefing on Thursday to disclose to lawmakers the content of a potentially explosive whistle-blower complaint that is said to involve a discussion between President Trump and a foreign leader, according to two people familiar with the briefing.
During a private session on Capitol Hill, Michael Atkinson, the inspector general of the intelligence community, told lawmakers he was unable to confirm or deny anything about the substance of the complaint, including whether it involved the president, according to the people, who spoke on condition of anonymity to describe the closed-door conversation. The meeting was still underway.
The complaint, which prompted a standoff between Congress and Mr. Trump’s top intelligence official, involves a commitment that Mr. Trump made in a communication with another world leader, according to a person familiar with the complaint….
Few details of the whistle-blower complaint are known, including the identity of the world leader. And it is not obvious how a communication between Mr. Trump and a foreign leader could meet the legal standards for a whistle-blower complaint that the inspector general would deem an “urgent concern.”
Under the law, the complaint has to concern the existence of an intelligence activity that violates the law, rules or regulations, or otherwise amounts to mismanagement, waste, abuse, or a danger to public safety. But a conversation between two foreign leaders is not itself an intelligence activity.
And while Mr. Trump may have discussed intelligence activities with the foreign leader, he enjoys broad power as president to declassify intelligence secrets, order the intelligence community to act and otherwise direct the conduct of foreign policy as he sees fit, legal experts said.
The NYT has the name of the whistleblower’s lawyer.
Andrew P. Bakaj, a former C.I.A. and Pentagon official whose legal practice specializes in whistle-blower and security clearance issues, confirmed that he is representing the official who filed the complaint. Mr. Bakaj declined to identify his client or to comment.
Obviously this story will be making news all day today. As the Dotard likes to say, “we’ll see what happens. Please post your thoughts on this story or anything else you find interesting in the comment thread below.
The New York Times has really bitten the dust this time. Yesterday they announced they will no longer run any political cartoons. Not only are NYT editors terrified of offending Trump and his base, but also they clearly have no sense of humor.
Chapette reacted to his firing at his personal website: The end of political cartoons at The New York Times.
All my professional life, I have been driven by the conviction that the unique freedom of political cartooning entails a great sense of responsibility.
In 20-plus years of delivering a twice-weekly cartoon for the International Herald Tribune first, and then The New York Times, and after receiving three OPC awards in that category, I thought the case for political cartoons had been made (in a newspaper that was notoriously reluctant to the form in past history.) But something happened. In April 2019, a Netanyahu caricature from syndication reprinted in the international editions triggered widespread outrage, a Times apology and the termination of syndicated cartoons. Last week, my employers told me they’ll be ending in-house political cartoons as well by July. I’m putting down my pen, with a sigh: that’s a lot of years of work undone by a single cartoon – not even mine – that should never have run in the best newspaper of the world.
I’m afraid this is not just about cartoons, but about journalism and opinion in general. We are in a world where moralistic mobs gather on social media and rise like a storm, falling upon newsrooms in an overwhelming blow. This requires immediate counter-measures by publishers, leaving no room for ponderation or meaningful discussions. Twitter is a place for furor, not debate. The most outraged voices tend to define the conversation, and the angry crowd follows in.
In 1995, at twenty-something, I moved to New York with a crazy dream: I would convince the New York Times to have political cartoons. An art director told me: “We never had political cartoons and we will never have any.“ But I was stubborn. For years, I did illustrations for NYT Opinion and the Book Review, then I persuaded the Paris-based International Herald Tribune (a NYT-Washington Post joint venture) to hire an in-house editorial cartoonist. By 2013, when the NYT had fully incorporated the IHT, there I was: featured on the NYT website, on its social media and in its international print editions. In 2018, we started translating my cartoons on the NYT Chinese and Spanish websites. The U.S. paper edition remained the last frontier. Gone out the door, I had come back through the window. And proven that art director wrong: The New York Times did have in-house political cartoons. For a while in history, they dared.
Along with The Economist, featuring the excellent Kal, The New York Times was one of the last venues for international political cartooning – for a U.S. newspaper aiming to have a meaningful impact worldwide, it made sense. Cartoons can jump over borders. Who will show the emperor Erdogan that he has no clothes, when Turkish cartoonists can’t do it ? – one of them, our friend Musa Kart, is now in jail. Cartoonists from Venezuela, Nicaragua and Russia were forced into exile. Over the last years, some of the very best cartoonists in the U.S., like Nick Anderson and Rob Rogers, lost their positions because their publishers found their work too critical of Trump. Maybe we should start worrying. And pushing back. Political cartoons were born with democracy. And they are challenged when freedom is.
I agree that this isn’t just about cartoons. Trump is succeeding in his war against the press, and the editors of the New York Times are helping him. Twitter commentary from two cartoonists:
Thread from Pat Bagley. More tweets on Twitter
Continuing on the subject of press freedom, CNN’s Jim Acosta has a book out: The Enemy of the People: A Dangerous Time to Tell the Truth in America. Sam Donaldson reviewed the book at CNN:
Reading Jim Acosta’s new book “Enemy of the People” is like watching a train wreck in progress, with passengers bracing for the inevitable crash.
Friends and critics agree we have never seen a president like Donald J. Trump, whose disdain, even contempt and apparent hatred for many members of the press is almost daily on display.
Acosta cites instance after instance when this President and many of his staff show that they are bent on interfering with the ability of reporters to bring the public an accurate account of the administration’s stewardship.
For most of his adult life, President Trump courted the press, lived for its attention, even for a time pretended he was someone else when calling reporters to sing Trump’s praises. Whether now he truly believes that the mainstream press, as he says, reports “fake” news and is the “enemy of the American people,” or that such language is simply part of a tactic meant to stoke the anger of his “base” while escaping an objective accounting of his actions doesn’t matter. The effect is to undermine the credibility of the media, leaving him free to pursue policies that harm us at home and abroad….
History shows that tyrants and would-be tyrants always attempt to destroy a free press. And that is why the First Amendment to our Constitution specifically forbids government from interfering with the work of the press.
Read the rest at CNN. I don’t know if I’ll read Acosta’s book, but what Donaldson has to say is vitally important.
I’m feeling so discouraged about the Democratic primary. There are far too many candidates and the ones leading the pack are pathetic. Biden, Buttigieg and Sanders? Please. At this point, I think Trump will win a second term unless his dementia gets so bad the press finally has to begin writing about it.
Eugene Robinson writes at The Washington Post: We don’t need 23 presidential candidates. There’s another important role to fill.
Dear Democratic presidential candidates: I know all 23 of you want to run against President Trump, but only one will get that opportunity. If you truly believe your own righteous rhetoric, some of you ought to be spending your time and energy in another vital pursuit — winning control of the Senate.
I’m talking to you, John Hickenlooper of Colorado, who would have a good chance of beating incumbent Republican Cory Gardner. I’m talking to you, Gov. Steve Bullock of Montana, who could knock off GOP incumbent Steve Daines. I’m even talking to you, Beto O’Rourke, who would have a better chance than any other Texas Democrat against veteran Republican John Cornyn.
And I’m talking to you, too, Stacey Abrams of Georgia, even though you haven’t jumped in. You came within a whisker of being elected governor, and you have a national profile that would bring in a tsunami of campaign funds. You could beat Republican David Perdue — and acquire real power to translate your stirring eloquence into concrete action.
I agree that we absolutely need Senate candidates, but the even greater problem is the candidates that are topping the polls. Biden, Sanders, and even Warren are too old. Biden and Sanders have far too many negatives in their past histories. Buttigieg is too inexperienced, and can you really imagine him beating Trump? More from Robinson on the importance of winning the Senate:
As the Republican Party has long understood, it’s all about power. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) could not care less about lofty words and high ideals. Coldly and methodically, he has used his power to block widely supported progressive measures such as gun control, to enact a trickle-down economic agenda that favors the wealthy and to pack the federal bench with right-wing judges whom we’ll be stuck with for decades.
We all remember how McConnell refused even to schedule hearings for President Barack Obama’s final Supreme Court nominee, Judge Merrick Garland, ostensibly because the vacancy occurred during an election year. Were you surprised when he said recently that if a seat were to come open in 2020, he would hasten to confirm a replacement? I wasn’t. That’s how McConnell rolls. He exercises his power to its full extent and is not bothered by what you or I or anyone else might think. Charges of hypocrisy do not trouble his sweet slumber.
McConnell is not going to be reasoned, harangued or shamed into behaving differently. The only way to stop him is to take his power away, and the only way to do that is for Democrats to win the Senate.
Another danger we face is Cover-Up General Barr’s hostile takeover of the Justice Department. NBC News reports: New details of Barr’s far-reaching probe into ‘spying’ on Trump 2016 campaign.
The Justice Department on Monday offered new insight into what it called a “broad” and “multifaceted” review of the origins of the Russia investigation, and sought to assure lawmakers that the probe ordered by President Donald Trump would work to protect sensitive intelligence at the heart of it.
In a letter to House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd said the investigation — referred to throughout as a “review” — would evaluate whether the counterintelligence investigation launched in 2016 into potential contacts between foreign entities and individuals associated with Donald Trump’s campaign “complied with applicable policies and laws.”
“There remain open questions relating to the origins of this counterintelligence investigation and the U.S. and foreign intelligence activities that took place prior to and during that investigation. The purpose of the Review is to more fully understand the efficacy and propriety of those steps and to answer, to the satisfaction of the Attorney General, those open questions,” Boyd wrote.
DOJ announced in May that Attorney Gen. William Barr had assigned John Durham, the U.S. attorney for the District of Connecticut, to oversee a review long called for by Trump into whether the Russia probe, launched in the heat of the presidential campaign, was influenced by politics and whether established protocols were followed involving the surveillance of Trump campaign officials.
A counterpoint from former CIA Chief of Station John Sipher at The Washington Post: Trump’s conspiracy theories about intelligence will make the CIA’s job harder.
President Trump’s attempts to craft a public narrative that a government conspiracy was aimed at his presidential campaign moved off Twitter and into the real world of official documents last month. Trump issued a directive assigning Attorney General William P. Barr to probe the origins of the Russia investigation, giving Barr the authority to declassify secret intelligence. As the president stated, “We’re exposing everything.”
The order directly undercuts Director of National Intelligence Daniel Coats, who is responsible for both protecting and potentially releasing intelligence. And it suggests that Trump is still disputing the fact that Russia interfered in the 2016 election.
The president hardly needs to create a public furor to determine what the intelligence community knew about Russian interference, when they knew it or how they learned it. The CIA would gladly provide detailed briefings to him, the attorney general or anyone Trump might request one for. There are well-established means of sharing information within the executive branch. If the president wants to see the specific intelligence, he can.
But that’s not what Trump wants, is it?
But a private inquiry would not provide Trump with the political weapon of a public scapegoat. If he’s looking to discredit the intelligence behind the unanimous assessment by U.S. agencies in 2016 — since affirmed by the Mueller report, numerous indictments and no shortage of public evidence — he seems to want someone to blame. The recent directive hints at Trump’s eagerness to find a CIA version of his favorite targets at the FBI: James B. Comey, Peter Strzok, Bruce Ohr, Andrew McCabe or Robert S. Mueller III’s “angry Democrats.”
Creating a boogeyman inside the CIA is probably an effective tool if Trump’s goal is to persuade voters that he faced a “coup” and that the Russian attack was a “hoax,” as he has claimed. The necessary secrecy of the CIA’s activities makes it easy to spin a conspiracy and scare the public. A weaponized charge can appear simple and compelling, while the CIA’s ability to respond is limited; the issues involved are complicated and hard to explain in the length of a tweet. It is not hard to whip up fear and assume the worst of a powerful and shadowy secret agency if the most powerful man in the world is willing to deceive the public in the process.
That’s it for me today. What stories have you been following?
Good Afternoon Sky Dancers!
I give you exhibit one (see the twitter below) demonstrating that White Nationalist Christianity is a threat to this country. There is absolutely nothing normal, usual, or whatever about this suggestion or response given by the Russian Potted Plant occupying the White House. Jerry Falwell Jr. is a monster. Read on.
How do we explain all this? White Nationalist Christians want to revive the same brutality they inflicted on Black Americans and Indigenous Americans and Trump is their vehicle. They want him in office for as long as possible and the Wisdom Beings know he wants to be there until death sweeps him into the darkness.
This is from Gideon Rachman writing for the Financial Times: “Donald Trump is updating America’s historic ruthlessness. Promising US voters ‘greatness’ has led the president to celebrate a brutal past”
Donald Trump says so many strange and outrageous things that it is impossible to remember them all. But one Trumpian remark that has stuck with me is the US president’s repeated insistence that, after conquering Iraq, “we should have kept the oil”. To the ears of the Washington establishment, this was yet another Trump gaffe. Even Dick Cheney, the former vice-president and most hawkish of hawks, had never portrayed Iraq as a war of conquest. But Mr Trump’s deliberately provocative remark was an insight into both his philosophy and his appeal to voters. When many Americans feel frightened that both US power and their own living standards are in decline, Mr Trump is making an appeal to American ruthlessness. The US president says to voters that the country cannot afford to be “politically correct” any more. The way to Make America Great Again, in the words of his slogan, is to rediscover the ruthless instincts that made America great in the first place. In a nod to past American ruthlessness, Mr Trump has hung the portrait of Andrew Jackson, US president from 1829-1837, on the wall of the Oval Office. Jackson was once seen as one of the great builders of the American nation and his statue stands in Lafayette Square, opposite the White House. But a more recent generation of historians has accused Jackson of complicity in genocide for ordering the forced removal of Native Americans from their land — a policy that led to the “trail of tears” in which thousands died. By honouring Jackson, whom he praised as a “very tough person”, Mr Trump is honouring the brutal policies that allowed the US to conquer the west.
This is completely insane and ignores the rule of law and our constitutionally defined government institutions. I think Nancy Pelosi is right …. if he’s thrown out of office he will not leave either by ballot or impeachment. From WAPO this morning: “Claiming two years of his presidency were ‘stolen,’ Trump suggests he’s owed overtime”.
President Trump on Sunday seemed to warm to the idea of reparations — for himself, and in the form of an unconstitutional, two-year addition to his first term in the White House.
He retweeted a proposal offered by Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, that he be granted another two years in office as recompense for time lost to the Russia investigation. Half of his first term, Trump wrote in a Twitter dispatch of his own, had been “stolen.”
The argument was perhaps tongue-in-cheek, leading some legal experts to dismiss the comments as bravado. Others, however, saw the president’s apparent longing to overstay his four-year term in office as an assault on the rule of law. That it was raised playfully, they said, was small comfort, especially given Trump’s playful refusal, in the fall of 2016, to say that he would accept the outcome of an election that polling suggested he was destined to lose.
“I will keep you in suspense,” he said at the time.
None of this is normal. All of this is crazy.
Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee said they will vote Wednesday on whether to hold Attorney General William P. Barr in contempt of Congress after Barr missed a deadline to produce a complete version of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report.
The panel had set a deadline of 9 a.m. Monday for Barr to provide the unredacted version of Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. It announced the planned vote in a statement Monday.
“Although the Committee has attempted to engage in accommodations with Attorney General Barr for several months, it can no longer afford to delay, and must resort to contempt proceedings,” reads the text of a contempt report released by Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.). “The Committee urgently requires access to the full, unredacted Mueller Report and to the investigatory and evidentiary materials cited in the Report.”
The only good news is that Mueller has firmed up his commitment to address a hearing. In response, we have a Trumpf Twitter Meltdown:. This is via TBogg at Raw Story.
Reacting to news that special counsel Robert Mueller has made “tentative” plans to appear before a House Committee, President Donald Trump went on a furious Twitter rampage demanding Mueller not show up.
On Twitter, Trump ranted, “After spending more than $35,000,000 over a two year period, interviewing 500 people, using 18 Trump Hating Angry Democrats & 49 FBI Agents – all culminating in a more than 400 page Report showing NO COLLUSION – why would the Democrats in Congress now need Robert Mueller” before adding, …”to testify. Are they looking for a redo because they hated seeing the strong NO COLLUSION conclusion? There was no crime, except on the other side (incredibly not covered in the Report), and NO OBSTRUCTION. Bob Mueller should not testify. No redos for the Dems!”
And to that we remind Trumpf and all his minions of a simple definition that bit Nixon in the ass too. Barr can read up on Nixon’s jailed and disgraced AG John Mitchell.
I doubt any one as old as me will forget the day they actually arrested a US AG.
I was dreaming of my first year in college and just trying to wait out high school during this. Now, we’re living the nightmare again.
On March 2, 1974, a federal grand jury indicted Mitchell on six counts of conspiracy, obstruction of justice, false statements to the F.B.I., false statements to the grand jury and perjury. The charges stem from testimony in which he denied having any knowledge of Nixon’s efforts to spy on his Democratic political rivals.
Eleven months later, Mitchell was convicted on five counts and received sentences “from 20 months to five years on the conspiracy and obstruction counts, to run concurrently; to be followed by three concurrent terms of 10 months to three years for the three counts of lying under oath, for a total of 30 months as a minimum, after which Mr. Mitchell would be eligible for parole, and eight years as a maximum,” the New York Times reported at the time.
Mitchell was also slapped with a $10,000 fine.
In it, Mueller “expressed a frustration over the lack of context” in Barr’s summary of Russian election interference, contacts between Russians and members of Trump’s campaign, and Trump’s efforts to sabotage the investigation.
Barr’s four-page memo to Congress was fuzzy, Mueller wrote, because it downplayed the significance of the evidence Mueller collected, specifically on whether Trump obstructed justice.
“The summary letter the Department sent to Congress and released to the public late in the afternoon of March 24 did not fully capture the context, nature, and substance of this office’s work and conclusions,” Mueller said.
Barr took it upon himself to clear Trump of any wrongdoing, however, Mueller was clear in his report that Trump is not innocent and that he can and should face impeachment and/or criminal charges upon leaving office.
“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” Mueller wrote. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”
Instead, Barr made a surprising excuse for Trump. The president, he said, was upset about the investigation, and his alleged attempts to thwart the probe should be viewed as emotional and without criminal intent.
“There is substantial evidence to show that the president was frustrated and angered by a sincere belief that the investigation was undermining his presidency, propelled by his political opponents, and fueled by illegal leaks,” he said.
But the fact that Mueller had informed Barr of his misgivings about how the report was presented to the public conflicts with testimony Barr gave to the Senate last month.
During a hearing on April 10, Senator Chris Van Hollen (D-MD) asked Barr if Mueller “supported his conclusion” about Trump’s criminal culpability.
“I don’t know whether Bob Mueller supported my conclusion,” Barr replied.
Mueller’s letter is proof that Barr was not being truthful, and Beschloss’s hat tip to the past has struck a nerve.
I’m going back to the beginning of the year and an article from The New Yorker that might put some perspective on this creature who is determined to out-Nixon Nixon. This is from Sarah Larson: “Slow Burn”: What Can Watergate Teach Us? You should read it. I may have to strart listening to podcasts more and “Slow Burn” seems like a good place to start.
“I’m going to start with a story that you’ve probably never heard,” Neyfakh says at the beginning of the first episode. It’s the story of “the mouth of the South,” Martha Mitchell, whose husband, John Mitchell, is a former U.S. Attorney General and, at the time of the Watergate break-in, in charge of the Committee to Re-Elect the President. Martha Mitchell, Neyfakh says, enjoyed snooping on her husband and talking to the press, and was “treated by Nixon’s men as someone who knew too much.” First, Neyfakh says, “she was kept against her will in a California hotel for days. Then she was forcibly tranquilized while being held down in her bed. Later, when she went public, Nixon loyalists tried to discredit her in the press as an unreliable alcoholic.” She was called crazy; she seemed crazy. “But it turned out that she was onto something.”
Imagine John Mitchell’s conundrum, Neyfakh says: “You’re the President’s closest confidant, and you’re in charge of all kinds of political skullduggery. Meanwhile, your wife is famous for listening in on your meetings, getting hammered on whiskey, and blabbing to reporters.“ When John Mitchell heard of the break-in arrests, he and Martha were in California. He didn’t want Martha to learn the identity of one of the burglars, because she knew him: James W. McCord, a former C.I.A. officer who had worked in security for the Mitchells. “So when he left for D.C., Mitchell put a former F.B.I. agent named Steve King in charge of Martha, and he told him to keep her away from newspapers, TV, news, any coverage of the burglary,” Neyfakh says. She was “literally held a prisoner within four walls,” we hear Martha telling David Frost, in her languid Southern accent. She managed to get a copy of the L.A. Timesand call her friend Helen Thomas, the longtime White House correspondent; midway through the call, Thomas says, she heard Mitchell say “Get away! Get away!” We hear Mitchell say that King “rushes in and jerked out the telephone”—tore the cord out of the wall. Later, Neyfakh says, Martha and King got in a scuffle and she put her hand through a plate-glass door. King, now the Ambassador to the Czech Republic, appointed by Donald Trump, did not respond to Neyfakh’s request for comments.
Everybody knew about Martha Mitchell at the time, but if you weren’t of news-consuming age in the early seventies, it’s fascinating to meet her now. Remembering such figures and anecdotes, Neyfakh says on the show, helps us get a feel for the moment to moment, life in the time as it was lived. Martha Mitchell reminds him of Anthony Scaramucci: they are florid, larger-than-life characters who reveal much about the political moment and then are quickly forgotten. Watergate, he says, has “dozens of Scaramucci-level stories.” He goes on, “I think that’s why hearing Martha Mitchell’s story gives me such a vivid sense of what it was like to live through Watergate. It lets me inhabit that moment when no one knew what was going to happen, when the people involved didn’t know, the reporters covering it didn’t know. Nixon himself certainly had no idea.” Most of us listening are hoping that our unknowns will be resolved as definitively as Watergate’s did.
These days, “We’re living through this crazy time when we wake up in the morning dreading the alerts on our phones, and we have no idea how this is going to end,” Neyfakh told me. “And the last time we can remember it happening on this scale was during Watergate. Did it feel the way we feel now?” In some ways, yes; in others, no. A significant difference, I pointed out, was that the special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation and the Russia scandal, while gravely serious, are also seen as a possible savior from the greater disaster of Trump himself, whereas Nixon, while loathed by seventies liberals, was a more run-of-the-mill politician, feared by few. The stakes are higher now. Considering that idea, Neyfakh stuck up for the craziness of Nixon. “I have the impression that people didn’t quite realize the depth of Richard Nixon’s paranoia, emotional instability, anger, and taste for vengeance until after the tapes came out publicly,” he said. In public, “he was very practiced, and he presented as a President in a way that Trump has no interest in doing.” People were more unnerved about Nixon when they learned what he was really like—a problem we really don’t have. He mentioned a moment that I had found chilling in the episode, in which Feldbaum describes watching Nixon’s post-Saturday Night Massacre speech on TV and thinking, This guy is not well. At that moment, he feared where Presidential emotional instability would lead: What might an unstable Commander-in-Chief do? We’ve all wondered that, too. But Trump, in his hubris, often goofs up, and so did Nixon. Nixon’s particular portfolio of eccentricities, of course, included recording himself, not managing to avoid surrendering the tapes to the authorities, and incriminating himself. Neyfakh and I laughed about this, in amazement.
“It’s truly, in the language of the modern Internet, a great self-own,” Neyfakh said.
All of this is rolling on in front of us in one media platform after another. If Nixon’s tremendous hubris and personality disorders brought him down, I cannot help but believe the same will be done for Trump. It’s just watching this all reach new levels of craziness and lawlessness is not easy. It’s good to remember that we have been through some of these feelings before. It’s just that omnipresent media coverage amps up the assaults and insults.
It’s exhausting. Isn’t it? It is also important to remind ourselves that eventually, Trump never had the support Nixon had at one time. He may fall quicker than we think. However, Nixon loved just enough of the country to leave peacefully when the writing was on the wall. I worry about this with Trump
Remember Martha? She was the woman nobody believed. I don’t believe that Robert Mueller’s appearance before Congress or the folks that worked for him or any other number of Trump whistle blowers that were sent to Martha Land will be silenced by history. That is why Congressional hearings on all of this need to speak louder than the evil likes of Jerry Falwell, Jr. We need to up the volume.
We have to move public opinion. The only way to do that is with the same kinds of hearings we had with Watergate.
What’s on your reading and blogging list today?