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Hullabaloo


Wednesday, September 05, 2018

 

Under storm clouds

by Tom Sullivan

Day 1 of the Brent Kavanaugh confirmation hearings in the Senate Judiciary Committee is behind us. All the Sturm und Drang about the number of missing documents, not enough time to evaluate what's not missing, etc., makes Democrats appear hopelessly partisan rather than principled. Missing documents is a process argument. In the outside chance Kavanaugh's nomination fails, there will be another Federalist Trump nominee behind him and Democrats will mount the same stalling exercise again centered on complaints about the process.

Donald Trump is under a storm cloud, a potential felon and traitor. His presidency itself teeters on illegitimacy. His appointments are illegitimate if he is. That is the reason Judiciary should postpone hearings until special counsel Mueller issues his report(s). To the public, the rest is partisan chaff.

Sen. Thom Tillis, Republican of North Carolina, accused Democrats of having a strategy for stalling the hearings — as if Republicans had not provided Kavanaugh coaching in how to survive them. But if the Democrats' strategy is an attempt to persuade some Republican senator to vote no on process grounds, that argument died with John McCain.

Give Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) points for bringing a calendar showing 35 blacked-out months' worth of documents from Kavanaugh's time in the Bush White House. Citing numbers and percentages of missing documents to imply Republicans are hiding something is an abstraction. The visual illustrating a specific period blacked out makes the point without needing a thousand words. But that argument too suggests the Democrats' objections are about the nominee. They should not be.

It is not fair to Judge Brett Kavanaugh that he faces confirmation at such a fraught time in Washington, but so it goes. What is at question are not his qualifications, political views, the number of pages of public record held back, his personal qualities, or whether he coaches girls' basketball and loves his mother.

What is at issue is whether his nomination (or any of the sitting president’s judicial nominee’s) is legitimate at a time when the legitimacy of the president who nominated him is seriously in question, not to mention his competency.

After Trump attorney Michael Cohen’s court statements, the sitting president is an unindicted co-conspirator in an election law felony and perhaps worse. Americans deserve to know how much worse before granting him another Supreme Court pick who could sit on the court until 2050. Kavanaugh's vote could tip a court ruling in Trump's favor should the question of indicting a sitting president come before it. Such a ruling would call the legitimacy of the sitting president even further into question. Confirmation under these circumstances will call into question the legitimacy of every Supreme Court ruling for decades.

The Kavanaugh hearings satirize our ability to pretend with straight faces everything is normal while a mad king sits in the White House. Releases from Bob Woodward's new book on the Trump presidency are not blockbuster revelations. They are confirmations of what we already know and refuse to acknowledge publicly. The book reveals, CNN's Stephen Collinson writes, "There is an 'unhinged' 'liar,' a 'fifth grade' intellect and an aggrieved and abusive 'Shakespearean king' raging in the Oval Office."

No shit?

Dahlia Lithwick writes at Slate:

The more corruption, incompetence, and recklessness we witness spewing out of the White House, the more inclined we are to cling tightly to the blanket of institutional integrity, normalcy, and civility. It’s not just that it’s nuts out there. It’s almost as if the nuttier it gets, the more we need to pretend that wherever it is we’re sitting at the moment is a safe place in which the norms of dignity, respect, and goodwill are still in force. And if John McCain’s funeral was a symbol of that, so too is all the talk of “decorum” and “civility” in the U.S. Senate.

And so, Republicans spent the first day of Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearings telling us that nothing that’s happening in here has anything to do with the fact that Donald Trump is the president. None of the concern around this Supreme Court seat has anything to do with the fact that the president himself is under investigation for corruption and campaign finance violations, or that his personal lawyer swore under oath that Trump instructed him to commit crimes, or that a foreign power is currently interfering with our election systems. All of that is about a different thing. This hearing is about something stable and immutable and good. And anyone who implies that anything is abnormal is a hysteric or an opportunist or an attention-seeker.
The Democrats' "give us the documents" strategy is complicit in sustaining that fiction. At any moment another non-blockbuster report could arrive from Robert Mueller telling us the sitting president engaged in obstruction of justice and criminal conspiracy with a hostile foreign power. Meanwhile, Republicans and Democrats alike pretend we don't already know that. Where's Al Pacino when you really need him?

"The whole trial's hearing's out of order!"

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