On the Symbiotic Relationship between President Trump and Fox News Channel

I find President Trump’s recent criticisms of Fox News Channel mildly curious. The President has chided Fox for taking Jeanine Pirro off the air for a couple of weeks for anti-Muslim remarks directed at MN U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, for adding former Democratic National Committee Chair Donna Brazile to its stable of commentators, and for hosting the Town Hall with VT Sen. Bernie Sanders; Mr. Trump has also slapped at Fox newsman Shepard Smith, presumably for not being sufficiently supportive of Administration claims. Such outbursts have caused me to wonder whether the President recognizes the seeming vulnerability in having what amounts to a propaganda arm that he does not actually control. If the leadership at Fox, miffed at Mr. Trump, would ever choose to make even a small shift in the tenor its coverage, it could perhaps have a lethal effect on his political fortunes. Fox wouldn’t have to like Democrats, or indeed, be overtly critical of Mr. Trump, to severely hamper his 2020 re-election bid; it would merely have to be a little less supportive of the President – on-air talking heads possibly spending a bit more time discussing the fact that he won’t release his tax returns, expressing relatively greater dismay at the revelations of his unsavory behavior likely to be disclosed in the Mueller Report, etc., etc. – to quell enthusiasm for Mr. Trump in a sufficient number of Fox viewers to potentially swing what promises to be a close election. (A loss by Mr. Trump would arguably be of little account to Fox from a business standpoint; Fox is a money machine no matter which party occupies the White House, and the outlet may well consider it easier and more fun to attack a Democratic President than to lead cheers for a Republican.) Lyndon Johnson is famously reported to have said that if he had lost Walter Cronkite with regard to the Vietnam War, he had lost Middle America. The President apparently feels that he has the dominant position in his relationship with Fox; I question whether such is the case.

The Legacies of John and Paul

No, not those of Messrs. Lennon and McCartney; rather, those of John McCain and Paul Ryan.

Mr. Ryan first. In an item otherwise not widely reported (at least I didn’t see it mentioned elsewhere), the Wall Street Journal reported in late March that the former Speaker of the House of Representatives, whom I have asserted in earlier notes did precious little to protect the sanctity of this nation or maintain a Congressional balance of power in the face of President Trump’s aberrant excesses … has been named to the Board of Directors of Fox Corp., the newly formed corporation spun off from 21st Century Fox when Walt Disney Co. purchased 21st Century Fox’ entertainment assets. Fox Corp. owns, amongst other assets, Fox News and the Fox broadcast network and television stations. Lachlan Murdoch, the son of Rupert Murdoch, is the chairman and chief executive of Fox Corp. In its piece, the Journal circumspectly noted — as all who care are aware – that the Murdoch family is a significant shareholder in Fox Corp. and the Journal’s own parent, News Corp.

Mr. Ryan is undoubtedly making more money today than he ever made in his public career. Thus, perhaps the final meaningful entry to Mr. Ryan’s legacy: If you’re a good boy, keep your head down, follow the party line, smile respectfully and dutifully … you’ll ultimately be taken care of.

Mr. McCain last … but certainly not least. At about the same time that Fox Corp. was announcing the appointment of Mr. Ryan to its Board of Directors, President Trump renewed his virulent criticism of the late Sen. John McCain. Although those that read these pages are probably well aware of the President’s recent attacks on Sen. McCain – then seven months deceased — a link to a New York Times piece setting forth the litany of Mr. Trump’s comments is included below. The article also recounts the vigorous defenses of Mr. McCain and vociferous denunciations of the President that followed Mr. Trump’s declarations regarding Mr. McCain. A huge number of commentators decried the President’s castigation of a deceased war hero who could no longer defend himself.

Although worth reading in its entirety, two passages in the Times piece seem to me particularly noteworthy:

The paragraph citing UT Sen. Mitt Romney, who tweeted: “I can’t understand why the President would, once again, disparage a man as exemplary as my friend John McCain: heroic, courageous, patriotic, honorable, self-effacing, self-sacrificing, empathetic, and driven by duty to family, country, and God.”

And to me the most notable: the comment of Sen. McCain’s daughter, Meghan McCain, included near the article’s conclusion: “I think if I had told my dad, ‘Seven months after you’re dead, you’re going to be dominating the news and all over Twitter,’ he would think it’s hilarious that our president was so jealous of him that he was dominating the news cycle in death as well.”

https://www.nytimes.com/2019/03/20/us/politics/trump-john-mccain.html

Even before reading Ms. McCain’s comments, and while fully sympathizing with and understanding the McCain family’s vehement defense of Sen. McCain and the widespread denunciations of the President’s churlish attacks on a dead man, it had occurred to me that in whatever consciousness exists after death, as tough minded as he was, Mr. McCain would be thinking: “Trump can’t stand it. He can’t stand manifestations of honor, of guts, of sacrifice, of duty, of fidelity to something greater than himself. I’ve gotten in his head. Even when I’m dead, he can’t let it go. Even from the grave, I’ve won …”

That’s … a legacy …

A Baked Trump Cake

Although exhaustion if nothing else indicates that it is time to address one of the many matters facing us in addition to the contents of the Mueller Report – at least until we Americans get a chance to see what is actually in the report – I feel a postscript is in order to last week’s note suggesting that House of Representatives’ Speaker Nancy Pelosi was the only major political figure that seemed to recognize the Report’s potential political dangers. I think there could be another major political figure that might at least intuitively recognize, and is working to soften the snares of, the Report’s potential political trap: the President of the United States.

Attorney General William Barr has indicated that among the Mueller Report’s passages to be redacted before the Report is publicly released are those containing “… information that would unduly infringe on the personal privacy and reputational interests of peripheral third parties [My emphasis].” Democrats and the media have raised concerns that Mr. Barr was signaling that redactions could cover Report sections describing interactions that Donald Trump, Jr., Jared Kushner, and other Trump Campaign principals had with Russian operatives during and following the campaign. (Whether there is any basis to these concerns remains to be seen; it seems unlikely to me that Mr. Barr believes that he can with a straight face maintain that Messrs. Trump, Jr., and Kushner were peripheral to the campaign.)

That said, President Trump – while loudly, repeatedly, and incorrectly claiming that the Report completely exonerates him – has indicated that he has confidence in Mr. Barr, and that the full Report should be released. Although I am no fan of Mr. Trump, his position seems to me to be pretty savvy.

The Trump Cake is baked. I am confident that the President recognizes that perceptions of him, pro or con, are seared into the psyches of the vast majority of Americans. Since he knows that Mr. Mueller’s team did not find sufficient evidence of Russia-related criminality to convict him or his family members, and since he knows – we all know — that since that threshold wasn’t crossed, there aren’t 20 Senate Republicans brave enough to risk their careers by voting to impeach him no matter how unethical and unsavory the nature of his and his cohort’s behavior described in the Report … why not publish the whole thing? Is there anything of a noncriminal nature that Mr. Mueller could have found that will change any voter’s opinion of Trump Campaign principals? Trump supporters won’t care what’s reported. Trump adversaries can’t be any more adamantly opposed to him than they are (additional revelations might even entice wildly-wet-behind-the-ears young Democrats to force impeachment proceedings Mr. Trump will win). The centrists that will decide the 2020 election already understand that the President is unprincipled, but if they are still open to voting for him, their votes will be determined not by their knowledge of his character but by their assessment of the Democratic nominee and his/her positions.

If I was Mr. Trump, I’d be all for getting the full Report out as soon as possible; the longer disputes about redactions go on, the more that those few doubtful but persuadable centrists that he needs to win a second term might conclude that he does have something more to hide …

I hope Mr. Barr and the Special Counsel do take a couple of weeks to get the Report out. I’m ready to reflect on something else  ;).

On Adam Schiff

Immediately below is a link to a segment of today’s Morning Joe broadcast which aired in its entirety yesterday’s statement by the Chairman of the House of Representatives’ Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Adam Schiff, in which Mr. Schiff responded to the Republican Committee members’ call for his resignation from the Committee Chairmanship. Only the first six and a half minutes are worthy of note. Rep. Schiff was clearly aware that the call was coming, and was prepared with his response. He set forth a litany of undisputed facts demonstrating – there is no other way to say it – the Trump Campaign’s collusion with the Russian Government during the 2016 campaign. (You will find that Mr. Schiff was careful to distinguish his claim of collusion between the Trump Campaign and the Russians from the crime of conspiracy, for which Mr. Schiff specifically accepted Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s determination that there was insufficient evidence to obtain a verdict of Guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt against President Trump or other campaign principals.) There is no purpose to repeating here the facts Mr. Schiff covered; it can’t be said any better than he said it. You will note that near the conclusion of his statement, he used yet another “C” word to go with “collusion” and “conspiracy” in describing the effects of the Trump Campaign’s activities: compromise – a reference to the fact that the Campaign’s activities clearly made it vulnerable to pressure from the Russian Government.

https://www.msnbc.com/morning-joe/watch/joe-gop-has-overreached-in-calling-for-schiff-to-resign-1467539523775

I would offer that there are two more “C” words Rep. Schiff could have employed: as to the President, his family, and his staff: a complete lack of conscience; and as to the Republicans who have failed to stand up to the President despite the revelation of these undisputed facts: abject cowardice. How many of the Republican Intelligence Committee members that have called upon Rep. Schiff to resign would have supported Donald Trump’s run for the presidency at any point during the 2016 campaign had they known then what is undisputed now?

The Mueller Report’s Potential Political Trap

In their wrangling regarding the release of the full Mueller Report, both Democrats and Republicans may be overlooking potentially significant political damage each might respectively sustain if it is released … and, in the Republicans’ case, if it is not.

As to the Democrats: after touting Mr. Mueller’s competence and integrity for the last two years (which seems to me to have been validated by what we know of the Report thus far) and clearly anticipating that indictments would be handed down against at least Donald Trump, Jr. and Jared Kushner if not the President himself, they are chagrined that no such actions were taken by the Muller team and want to have their own look at the evidence that the Special Counsel gathered. As to the Republicans: after fearing for two years that the Special Counsel would uncover evidence of a conspiracy between the Russian government and the Trump Campaign, they and Mr. Trump are obviously giddy with relief with Mr. Mueller’s “headline” findings, and are outdoing themselves with claims that the Special Counsel completed exonerated Mr. Trump – which, given the Report snippet that Mr. Barr quoted in his letter to Congress, Mr. Mueller clearly did not.

As I indicated in the last post on Mr. Barr’s Advice to Congress, I consider it inevitable that large portions of the Report will be made public. I consider the points that Mr. Barr made in his letter regarding the need to redact passages describing grand jury matters and other ongoing matters such as those referred to other U.S. Attorneys’ offices by the Special Counsel to be valid reasons for withholding such content – while still serving as a useful subterfuge for Mr. Barr. (At one point I would have asserted that given the importance of the issues addressed by the Report to our Republic, the entire Report should be provided to select members of Congress, but any objective observer would have to concede that there are significant risks to such a course in Congress’ current hyper-partisan and sieve-like environment.)

That said, assuming much of the Report is ultimately released, it would seem that one of two outcomes will obtain:

  1. We will learn significant new information regarding the manners in which the Trump Campaign principals interacted with Russian agents, and find that Mr. Mueller and his team chose not to seek indictments against such principals because the evidence, although substantial, was not, in the Special Counsel’s view, sufficient to obtain a verdict of Guilty Beyond a Reasonable Doubt. Alternatively or in tandem, we could learn significant new information regarding the President’s efforts to pressure government officials to drop the Russia probe, and that the Special Counsel chose not to proceed with obstruction charges against him either due to Department of Justice guidelines against indicting a sitting President or because the Special Counsel considered the evidence insufficient to obtain a Guilty verdict. In this event, Republicans’ current satisfaction will be akin to pleasure at being ahead in the first quarter of a football game, and Democrats will – in the current vernacular – be able to “weaponize” the contents of the full Report to bedevil the President and Republicans for much of the next two years (not to speak of their relishing in the irony of the Republicans’ outrage at authorities’ similar decision not to prosecute former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton for her email peccadillos). Or …

 

  1. We learn nothing significant about the Trump Campaign’s interactions with Russian agents that we didn’t already know (e.g., the Trump Tower meeting in the summer of 2016; the President’s dictating of a fabricated account of the meeting on behalf of his son; that Trump representatives were, notwithstanding Mr. Trump’s denials, negotiating during the campaign to build a building in Moscow after the election; and that various government officials did feel that the President was pressuring them to squelch the Russia probe). As damning as these factors are to those of us that believe in integrity and are concerned with the dangers inherent in conflicts of interest, the President and his team have been brilliant at anesthetizing large segments of our people to these now-undisputed facts, and it seems likely that those voters that haven’t already decided to vote against the President will react to the release of such “revelations” with a yawn. In that case, the Democrats may well seem to be merely yammering, and President will appear to be vindicated … again.

At the same time, if large sections of the Special Counsel’s Report are never released, my inclination is that Mr. Trump and Republicans will lose ground with the undecided centrists that will determine the 2020 outcome. It will enable the Democratic nominee (whoever s/he is) to stand on the debate stage with the President and repeatedly ask why the Report hasn’t been released. Although Mr. Trump will try to place the responsibility on Mr. Barr, any adept Democrat will undoubtedly say, “Mr. Barr works for you – can’t you get him to do what you tell him to do?” (At such a juncture, the Democrat will be more interested in the issue than in the Report’s content.) One could pose that despite the Republicans’ current opposition to the Report’s release, they have more to gain than lose from its publication unless it contains truly new and damning information about the Trump Campaign’s activities.

I would accordingly suggest that the Mueller Report has become a potential political trap; the only uncertainty is upon which party the trap will spring. The only major political or media figure that seems to appreciate this is Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi; this week, while every other politician and commentator [including me 😉 ] has been discussing the Mueller Report, she’s been talking about … Democrats’ proposals to improve the Affordable Care Act   :).

On A.G. Barr’s Advice, Re: the Special Counsel’s Principal Conclusions

As I suspect is true of most that read these pages, I have read Attorney General William Barr’s advice to Congress regarding Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s “Report on the Investigation into Russian Interference in the 2016 Presidential Elections.” Assuming that the Attorney General is reporting accurately (which I think can be assumed, if for no other reason than large parts or all of the Report will, in some way or other, ultimately be made public), Mr. Mueller’s Report provides:

  1. A reaffirmation that the Russian Government sought to influence the 2016 election through (1) “disinformation and social media operations … designed to sow social discord, eventually with the aim of interfering with the election” and (2) “computer hacking operations designed to gather and disseminate information to influence the election … including [through] Wikileaks.”

 

  1. That the Special Counsel’s investigation “did not establish” that the Trump Campaign “conspired or coordinated” – expressly or tacitly – “with the Russian government in its interference activities.” (Given this finding, it is understandable that no indictments have been issued against Messrs. Donald Trump, Jr., or Jared Kushner.)

 

  1. That the Special Counsel elected not to make a traditional prosecutorial decision regarding any obstruction of justice by President Trump, instead listing incriminating and exonerating evidence related to the suitability of such charges. Mr. Barr did note the Special Counsel’s statement, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” Mr. Barr stated that given Mr. Mueller’s failure to reach a conclusion regarding obstruction of justice charges against Mr. Trump, it was for Mr. Barr himself, as Attorney General, to decide whether there was sufficient evidence to establish that the President had obstructed justice, and further indicated that he and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein (no fan of Mr. Trump) concluded that the grounds to proceed were insufficient.

 

(Given the seemingly oddly circumspect approach that the Special Counsel took to addressing the obstruction of justice issues – and in admittedly the type of pure speculation that I generally try to avoid in these notes — one might wonder whether the final weeks’ delay in the issuance of the Special Counsel report following Mr. Barr’s confirmation as Attorney General arose from a decision to significantly recast the Report’s obstruction of justice sections; Mr. Mueller is obviously acutely aware that Mr. Barr, in his lengthy memo that constituted a de facto application for the A.G. position, had challenged the premise that a President, absent evidence of illegal collusion, could be found guilty of obstruction of justice, due to an allegedly “improper motive,” for performing what Mr. Barr called “facially-lawful” acts. It would be interesting to see copies of Report drafts existing before Mr. Barr was nominated.)

Since I am no fan of President Trump, in the last weeks I have wondered whether I would feel a bit despondent if Mr. Mueller’s team failed to uncover sufficiently incriminating evidence to indict Mr. Trump (even if such indictment wasn’t sought, due to Department of Justice guidelines) and his family members; but I don’t. If we have learned anything during the Trump presidency, it’s that having honesty in government, having procedures that don’t predetermine a result, is what matters. The strength, rigor, and fairness of our processes is what separates us from Russia, China, and much of the rest of the world – allies and adversaries alike. Despite the unwarranted and despicable personal attacks on the Special Counsel by Mr. Trump and his cohort, Mr. Mueller demonstrated why he is widely acclaimed for his integrity, competence, courage, and thoroughness. No one can credibly claim that the Mueller Team was biased for or against the President. It was never a “Witch Hunt.” The system worked.

I would suggest that there are at least two benefits arising from this result that should encourage even the President’s harshest critics. First, the entire process – to employ what has admittedly become an overused phrase – moved the goalposts regarding the public’s understanding of Russian meddling in our elections. Two years ago, the President scoffed at the notion of Russian meddling, concerned that it would undermine the legitimacy of his presidency. As the threat of an election-related criminal prosecution seemingly loomed against himself and his family, he became less focused on defending the sanctity of his victory and more focused on disclaiming any relationship with Russian actors. At this point, the fact that the Russians meddled in the 2016 election on Mr. Trump’s behalf is seemingly accepted (albeit grudgingly in some quarters) across the political spectrum. Perhaps now, on the eve of the next election, Republicans if not Mr. Trump himself will collaborate more enthusiastically with Democrats to shore up our electoral processes. The President clearly isn’t going anywhere during the next two years; the key is to do what we can to limit the extent to which our people are manipulated by malign foreign actors in the next election.

Second, although a number of Democrats and liberal pundits are now undoubtedly licking their wounds, I suspect that Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is to some extent relieved by the outcome. Absent “smoking gun” evidence demonstrating that Mr. Trump had consciously colluded with Russia or sought to obstruct justice, there has never been a chance that the President’s opponents would muster 20 Senate Republican votes (even assuming all Senate Democrats stayed in line) to remove him from office; any attempt at impeachment would have yet further roiled the country and very likely resulted in an embarrassing defeat and attendant backlash much closer to the 2020 election – a result that would have significantly enhanced Mr. Trump’s reelection prospects.

That said, I would like to see the entire Mueller Report; I would wager that most other Americans would as well; but although there will undoubtedly be sections that Democrats will pounce upon to demonstrate untoward behavior by the President and his associates, I hope that liberals don’t expend undue energy on pointless quibbling. Aside from using the fruits of the Special Counsel investigation to gather Republican support to enact measures and controls to better guard against foreign meddling in the next election, it’s time to move on.

On Bernie Sanders

I know, I know: What possesses me to devote a post to Sen. Sanders at this point? BETO IS RUNNING! However, since I need some time to compose myself — to quiet my beating heart about the promise of a six-year U.S. representative and failed Texas Senatorial candidate – it seems likely that I’ll address Mr. O’Rourke’s candidacy for the Democratic nomination in the coming weeks. In the meantime …

This note is different from those I’ve done on former Amb. Nikki Haley and MN Sen. Amy Klobuchar. As with President Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, virtually everyone in America knows VT Sen. Bernie Sanders, what he looks and sounds like, and what he stands for.

Even so, the basics. Of the measures that I indicated a while back that I consider to be of paramount importance in selecting the Democrat that can defeat Mr. Trump, the Senator fares well in some, not in others. He will be able to hold the stage against the President; facing the President, his advanced age won’t be a drawback; he has a core base that if not as large as the President’s, is as dedicated; he’s not an identity candidate, but will undoubtedly receive the full support of identity-focused Democrats in a race against Mr. Trump; he has significant seasoning in Washington’s ways; he’s endearing in a curmudgeonly way; and even those that question his philosophies recognize his authentic dedication to helping our economically desperate people. On the other hand, he is susceptible to Republicans’ stirring voters’ fears about socialism; many of his ideas appear impractical to centrists, the voting segment that I submit will decide the election; and I’ve not seen him demonstrate any marked expertise in foreign affairs (while Mr. Trump, by dint of four years in office, will be able to credibly claim some expertise). Mr. Sanders is what he is.

What I find most intriguing about Sen. Sanders’ candidacy is the effect that it may have on the prospects of other Democratic candidacies. I find it striking that he received $6 million in donations within 24 hours after he announced his candidacy (as in 2016, through contributions averaging about $25). That remarkable (at least to me) outpouring seems clear evidence that his supporters are ready to march for him again, notwithstanding the plethora of other progressive candidates in the Democratic field; it means not only that he can compete widely against a field generally less well financed than he is [save, perhaps, Mr. Biden (if he decides to run), Ms. Harris, and Mr. O’Rourke], but that he still has supporters everywhere. One might reasonably surmise that Mr. Sanders may significantly dent the support that each of the other progressives (including the currently most notable – CA Sen. Kamala Harris and MA Sen. Elizabeth Warren) might otherwise receive in their regions, and that such a split of the progressive vote in a significant number of early primaries could pave the way for a moderate to secure the nomination – if only one (Mr. Biden, Ms. Klobuchar, or other) pulls ahead in the nominating process’ center lane relatively quickly.

Since I believe that Democrats need to nominate a moderate in order to beat Mr. Trump, I accordingly consider Sen. Sanders’ entrance into the race a positive. I will, however, also venture this: if I knew now that a progressive was going to win the Democratic nomination, I might well prefer Mr. Sanders, since I currently think that among the progressive candidates, he has the best chance to beat Mr. Trump in Wisconsin, which serves as my gauge for the swing states. Of one thing we can be sure: he will liven up the Democratic primary and debate process ;).