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?

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 … The Really Big One

I recently came across a reference to the New Yorker article to which I’ve provided a link below. Since many of us (including me) are perhaps only aware at the headline level of the seismic challenges our nation faces, this piece provides a disturbing description of the dangers our people seemingly face in a different part of the west coast than that which preoccupies conventional wisdom.

https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2015/07/20/the-really-big-one

On Political Fear and Loathing

“When a sieve is shaken, the husks appear; so do one’s faults when one speaks … one’s speech disclose[s] the bent of one’s mind.” Sirach 27:4-6

I didn’t watch Michael Cohen’s full testimony on Wednesday before the House Oversight and Governmental Reform Committee, but did see Reps. Jim Jordan and Mark Meadows and other Committee Republicans harangue and stage grandstanding attacks upon Mr. Cohen’s credibility. Although these are far from unique reactions, it did strike me real time (1) that the Republicans were abandoning their constitutional duty to ascertain the facts and (2) that they knew – they knew – that Mr. Cohen was substantially telling the truth. The only motive that I could conjure up for their behavior at the time was that they were trying to provide any remaining naïve Trump supporters with a rationalization for keeping the wool pulled down over their eyes. Mine was a fatuous thought. The lack of any meaningful political fallout for President Trump in the days since the hearing shows that Mr. Trump’s most diehard supporters already recognized and accepted the flawed nature of his character, something the Congressional Republicans almost certainly understood. It took me a little while to realize that they were motivated by baser emotions: fear and loathing.

I would suggest that Republicans’ abject defense of the President has little to do with substantive policy considerations, since if Mr. Trump left the presidency, he would be replaced by Vice President Mike Pence, who has been an obsequious supporter of the president’s agenda and would probably exert a stronger hand in confronting Russian aggression. (I’m confident that even the President’s most avid supporters recognize that Vladimir Putin is a bad guy.) Their unwillingness to seek truth seems manifestly driven by fear of retribution from Mr. Trump’s core supporters … combined with an aberrant desire not to let the Democrats win, even if they’re right – as they are – in demonstrating Mr. Trump a scoundrel unworthy of the presidency.

In the summer of 2018, a friend sent me an email string which had been forwarded to him entitled, “This is why you can’t vote democratic.” It was – there is no kinder description for it – an unhinged rant primarily focused on former Sec. Hillary Clinton and former FBI Director James Comey, primarily addressing Uranium One and Benghazi. Although no one would consider Ms. Clinton a saint and it is undisputed even by Mr. Comey that he made serious missteps prior to the 2016 Presidential election, this email completely ignored the fact that Republicans used their congressional investigatory powers ad nauseam on Uranium One and Benghazi without uncovering evidence of wrongdoing, and that Mr. Trump himself initially privately acknowledged that Mr. Comey’s public missteps regarding the FBI’s investigation of Ms. Clinton’s lost emails were probably the deciding factor in the election. This note demonstrated no indication of any desire to understand or accept facts; it was purely a manifestation of hatred of Democrats. Although the Committee Republicans were perhaps a bit smoother during the Cohen hearing, the emotions they feel are clearly the same. We are a long way from Republican TN Sen. Howard Baker’s effort to discover the truth in the Watergate scandal: “What did [Republican President Richard Nixon] know, and when did he know it?”

Democrats love grabbing the moral high ground – with Mr. Trump in the White House, admittedly easy ground to command – but recent accounts make them appear no better. Since January, a House of Representatives procedural maneuver known as the “Motion to Recommit” has, due to the aid of the votes of some moderate Democrats, allowed the Republicans to make small dents in certain progressive initiatives, thereby stirring the anger of Speaker Nancy Pelosi and young progressives, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has reportedly “suggested” to these moderate Democrats that should their behavior continue, she will alert her chain of progressive activists of their failure to stand with the Democratic majority on these votes. I would submit that by this posturing, Ms. Ocasio-Cortez is seeking to sow political fear among the moderates – and by doing so, is no better for it than Mr. Trump. As for unrestrained vilification of the opposition, over the weekend, former Vice President Joe Biden was lambasted by the left after suggesting that Mr. Pence is a “decent guy”; Progressives have loudly rejected any notion that Mr. Pence can be “decent” due to his staunch Evangelical stance against LBGT rights. Think what you will of the fawning way he has conducted the Vice Presidency or his position on gender rights or other issues, Mr. Pence apparently is a decent man on a personal level, motivated by what he sees as moral principles; South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, the first openly gay person to seek the presidency, has called Mr. Pence “a super-nice guy,” although Mr. Buttigieg obviously vehemently disagrees with Mr. Pence on virtually all issues. There is as great a need on the left to disparage all aspects of all political opponents – to see only malevolence in the other side — as there is on the right.

Not only should Republicans be aware that there will be life after Mr. Trump; Democrats should be as well. Those of us that see neither party as the font of all virtue or the source of all depravity are concerned that neither side recognizes that formulating constructive policy requires trust of and well-intended engagement with the other.

Joint Declaration Disputing President Trump’s Emergency Declaration

An event seemingly meriting a second post in one day.

Although most who read these pages are probably already aware of this, today 58 former national security officials published a “Joint Declaration” disputing President Trump’s claim of a national emergency that justifies the diversion of federal funds to add further wall at our southern border. From a quick review of this Joint Declaration, it would appear that about a quarter of the signatories provided at least part of their national service to Republican Administrations, including three that served in the Trump Administration (although to be fair, two of the three were holdovers from the Obama Administration).

The Joint Declaration’s introduction provides in part:

“On February 15, 2019, the President declared a “national emergency” for the purpose of diverting appropriated funds from previously designated uses to build a wall along the southern border. We are aware of no emergency that remotely justifies such a step. The President’s actions are at odds with the overwhelming evidence in the public record, including the administration’s own data and estimates. We have lived and worked through national emergencies, and we support the President’s power to mobilize the Executive Branch to respond quickly in genuine national emergencies. But under no plausible assessment of the evidence is there a national emergency today that entitles the President to tap into funds appropriated for other purposes to build a wall at the southern border.”

A link to the Joint Declaration appears below.

http://cdn.cnn.com/cnn/2019/images/02/25/2019-2-21.final.national.emergency.decl.pdf

I understand that a House Resolution terminating the National Emergency declared by the President will be passed by the House on Tuesday and sent to the Senate. Although there is no indication that if the Senate passes the measure it will survive a certain presidential veto, the most revealing part of this process will be ascertaining which and how many Republican Senators are willing to confront Mr. Trump, given indications that many have significant misgivings about what they reportedly consider an unwarranted presidential usurpation of Congressional power.  This Joint Declaration will seemingly add to those misgivings.  I will be watching Utah Sen. Mitt Romney.