In the hours leading up to an especially pivotal day in his presidency — the House begins public impeachment hearings Wednesday morning — President Donald Trump indulged in an epic Fox News binge.
Trump started watching Lou Dobbs on Fox Business sometime around 7:30 pm last night. He later flipped the channel over to Fox News to catch Sean Hannity’s show. Then, this morning, he began his day with Fox & Friends.
How do we know this? Because Trump provided commentary for each of the shows he watched on Twitter. He altogether posted 12 tweets quoting or tagging Fox News personalities over about a 12-hour stretch. And with one exception — a Dobbs-inspired post spreading misleading figures about crimes committed by DACA recipients — all of Trump’s Fox News-inspired tweets railed against the impeachment hearing.
None of them made a very convincing case. Trump, citing Dobbs, urged people to read the White House summary of his fateful July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky — a document that fueled the impeachment proceeding by indicating Trump used military aid to Ukraine as leverage for political favors
Trump then posted a string of tweets quoting a Hannity rant in which he called the Democrat leading the impeachment inquiry — Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-CA) — “compromised” and a “coward.” (Ad hominem attacks are a logical fallacy.)
“Sean the amazing warrior!” Trump tweeted in tribute to Hannity at the end of the thread.
Trump wasn’t done heaping abuse on Schiff. In his string of tweets responding to Fox & Friends on Wednesday morning, Trump attacked Schiff as “corrupt” and criticized the procedure the House voted to follow for the hearings. Citing host Steve Doocy, Trump falsely accused Democrats of “leaking out everything” when in fact they released hearing transcripts that were vetted by lawyers and broadly corroborate a government whistleblower’s account of how Trump abused his office during his dealings with Ukraine.
To close out his Fox News binge, Trump, citing commentary from Charles Hurt, suggested he did nothing wrong because Ukraine ultimately received the aid he withheld. But that talking point ignores the fact that aid was only released after the CIA’s top lawyer reportedly made a criminal referral to the DOJ about the July Trump-Zelensky phone call and on the same day House Democrats announced they were opening an inquiry into the matter. If you get caught robbing a bank and decide to leave the cash and make a break for it, that doesn’t mean you didn’t do anything wrong.
Even Trump seems less than satisfied. After he finished watching Fox News on Wednesday morning, he posted all caps tweets yelling, without any context, about “NEVER TRUMPERS!” and “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!”
Public presidential impeachment hearings into the actions of Donald Trump begin at 10 a.m. (EST). Today's two witnesses are William Taylor, America’s top diplomat in Ukraine, and George Kent, deputy assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs.
Expect Democrats to make the case that Trump's actions with regard to Ukraine amount to an abuse of power. The Washington Post's Dana Milbank reduced the matter to seven words: "He abused presidential powers for personal advantage." Axios quotes an unnamed Democrat involved in their strategy as saying, "The president abused his power to rig and fix elections in his favor." Democrats want to keep the issue easier for the public to digest than the 400-page Mueller report.
Axios outlines what today's witnesses bring to the investigation:
Ambassador Bill Taylor: The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine. He says it was his "clear understanding" that Trump would not release military aid to Ukraine until its president promised to conduct the investigations Trump wanted.
Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent: He says Trump wanted Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to go to the microphones "and say investigations, Biden, and Clinton."
In his closed-door deposition, Taylor said he threatened to quit after he was told Trump was withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in aid to Ukraine because he wanted "investigations." He texted another diplomat that "it's crazy to withhold security assistance for help with a political campaign."
Kent told investigators in his deposition that he'd raised concerns that Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani was poisoning Ukraine policy with "a campaign of lies" — and was warned to "lay low" by his boss afterward.
Republicans issued a memo to caucus members on Monday outlining their defense strategy. They mean to limit focus as best they can to the contents of the July 25 Ukraine call summary (not an actual transcript) released by the White House.
Democrats expect witnesses to provide the context behind the call. As other witness statements have already confirmed, Trump through intermediaries and especially through his personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani had been pressuring Ukraine for some time to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and his son, and to provide support for a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, had interfered in the 2016 presidential election. Trump withheld approved military aid to Ukraine pending Ukraine coughing up the "deliverables," including a public statement that Ukraine had launched an investigation into the Bidens.
Republicans will retool "no collusion" to read "no pressure" on the Ukrainian president. They will attempt to discredit any testimony based on second- or third-hand knowledge of events. If witnesses did not get their information directly from the president, Republican questioners will challenge it as unreliable.
Their "no harm, no foul" strategy argues not only did Ukraine's president Volodymyr Zelensky not feel pressured by Trump's ask for an investigation, Ukraine was unaware military aid had been withheld. And anyway, they argue, the aid got there without action by Ukraine. Trump, they'll argue, did nothing wrong. Or at least, nothing impeachment-worthy.
A majority of the public is already on the other side of that argument, according a Navigator Research poll showing "52% of Americans in favor of impeachment and 41% of Americans opposed." Furthermore (emphasis added):
While support for impeachment holds firm, there remains an additional segment of Americans not yet convinced. Eight percent (8%) are undecided, and nearly half of impeachment opponents (18% of the public) oppose impeachment currently but do NOT agree with Trump that he did nothing wrong (just 23% of Americans offer the president full exoneration).
Rudy Giuliani's shadow foreign policy apparatus, including his indicted colleagues Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, may be thrown under the bus during these hearings. Trump denies knowing the pair despite multiple interactions. That denial is already on its way to biting Trump in his broad, dorsal target. Parnas has signaled he will cooperate with investigators.
The New York Times anticipates some discussion of the ouster of former ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch and the Giuliani-led smear campaign against her. Yovanovitch testifies publicly on Friday.
Transcripts of prior testimony by Taylor and Kent are provided in the links.
ABC, CBS, NBC and PBS on Wednesday will preempt their regularly scheduled programming for live coverage of the House Intelligence Committee's open impeachment hearings of President Trump.
As expected, all of the major cable news networks, including Fox News, MSNBC, CNN and CSPAN will also offer live coverage.
NBC reports the hearing may run until somewhere between 2:30 and 4:30 p.m. Naturally, that will depend on how much of a show Republican ringmaster Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio puts on for his audience of one.
“Another day of secret meetings, secret hearings, secret transcripts, a secret whistleblower, non-whistleblower, hearsay whistleblower, all because of a phone call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine,” he said. House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) was “calling in witness after witness but only behind closed doors, without real Republican due process at all to speculate on the president’s intentions.”
Earlier that day, the witness who offered testimony to impeachment investigators was Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a member of the National Security Council who’d participated on the July 25 call referred to by Hannity. Last week, investigators released a transcript of Vindman’s testimony, more than 8,000 lines of text in which he told members of Congress what he’d been privy to in his role.
What that transcript also allows us to do is see how unbalanced it was for Republicans, the extent to which Democrats dominated the questioning. We went through it line-by-line (as you can, should you wish), categorizing what was being asked and answered depending on who asked it. We set aside contextual issues or objections as a separate category of engagement and identified the relatively few instances in which a speaker couldn’t be identified or information was redacted.
The result looked like this:
Following the introductory discussion and Vindman’s opening statement, there were five timed segments over the course of the day in which both Democrats and Republicans had the floor.
The flow is pretty obvious visually. Each party took turns asking questions of Vindman, led by the Democrats. Generally, questioning was delegated to staff attorneys for either the Democratic majority or the Republican minority. At some points, members interjected with questions, as did Schiff.
There were a number of verbal scuffles between Republicans and Democrats, generally when Republicans had the floor. Many of those debates were instigated by objections from Vindman’s attorney. Several were driven by the Republicans’ interest in asking questions about the whistleblower.
Overall, though, the distribution of the questioning is obvious. About 44 percent of the transcript is made up of questions or answers from Democratic members or staff. About 41 percent is from the Republicans. The remaining 15 percent was discussion and objections.
Give those little babies a blankie and put them down for a nap. They asked plenty of questions. They were all stupid, of course, but that's their own fault.
You know they will be doing more of the same with these impeachment hearings.
President Trump has discussed dismissing the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, because Mr. Atkinson reported a whistle-blower’s complaint about Mr. Trump’s interactions with Ukraine to Congress after concluding it was credible, according to four people familiar with the discussions.
Mr. Trump first expressed his dismay about Mr. Atkinson around the time the whistle-blower’s complaint became public in September. In recent weeks, he has continued to raise with aides the possibility of firing him, one of the people said.
The president has said he does not understand why Mr. Atkinson shared the complaint, which outlined how Mr. Trump asked the Ukrainian president to investigate Mr. Trump’s political rivals at the same time he was withholding military aid from the country. He has said he believes Mr. Atkinson, whom he appointed in 2017, has been disloyal, one of the people said.
Mr. Trump’s private complaints about Mr. Atkinson have come as he has publicly questioned his integrity and accused him of working with the Democrats to sabotage his presidency.
It is unclear how far Mr. Trump’s discussions about removing Mr. Atkinson have progressed. Two people familiar with what took place said they thought that Mr. Trump was just venting, and insisted that Mr. Atkinson’s dismissal was never under serious consideration.
But the mixture of public attacks and private discussions about a possible dismissal is a familiar way Mr. Trump has undermined investigators who have examined his conduct or that of people close to him. The president publicly criticized James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, and Jeff Sessions, the former attorney general, before he dismissed them for perceived disloyalty.
Mr. Trump believes he has the power to fire anyone in the executive branch, though aides say they have learned to ignore many of his private rants, unless the president brings up the subject repeatedly and appears on the precipice of making a move they feel could be damaging.
This is not the first time, of course:
People close to the president believe the political consequences of firing Mr. Atkinson could be devastating, especially when Mr. Trump needs all the Republican support he can get for a potential impeachment trial in the Senate.
Mr. Trump’s decision in May 2017 to fire Mr. Comey, who was leading an investigation into ties between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russia, set off a firestorm that led to the appointment of the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III.
The following month, after it became public that Mr. Mueller was investigating Mr. Trump for obstructing justice, Mr. Trump told the White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, to have Mr. Mueller removed. That incident later became a central episode in Mr. Mueller’s report, and House Democrats are still considering using that incident in an article of impeachment on obstruction of justice.
I don't know what Bolton is up to here. I don't trust him as far as I can throw him and I'm certain he has his own agenda. Nonetheless, he knew very well that this would be reported. And it contains more than just teasers for his book although he clearly teasing his book.
It's quite an indictment:
Former national security adviser John Bolton derided President Donald Trump’s daughter and son-in-law during a private speech last week and suggested his former boss’ approach to U.S. policy on Turkey is motivated by personal or financial interests, several people who were present for the remarks told NBC News.
According to six people who were there, Bolton also questioned the merits of Trump applying his business acumen to foreign policy, saying such issues can’t be approached like the win-or-lose edict that drives real estate deals: When one deal doesn’t work, you move on to the next.
The description was part of a broader portrait Bolton outlined of a president who lacks an understanding of the interconnected nature of relationships in foreign policy and the need for consistency, these people said.
Bolton has kept a low public profile since he left the administration on Sept. 10, and efforts by Democrats to have him testify in the House impeachment inquiry into the president have stalled. But his pointed comments, at a private gathering last Wednesday at Morgan Stanley’s global investment event in Miami, painted a dark image of a president and his family whose potential personal gain is at the heart of decision-making, according to people who were present for his remarks.
Bolton served as Trump’s national security adviser for 17 months. The Ukraine scandal began to unfold about a week after his contentious departure. Trump said he’d fired him, though Bolton said he had resigned.
Multiple people who attended Bolton’s private speech in Miami did not recall him mentioning Ukraine but said he told attendees that he had kept a resignation letter in his desk for three months. Bolton declined to comment for this article.
Bolton told the gathering of Morgan Stanley’s largest hedge fund clients that he was most frustrated with Trump over his handling of Turkey, people who were present said. Noting the broad bipartisan support in Congress to sanction Turkey after President Recep Tayyip Erdogan purchased a Russian missile defense system, Bolton said Trump’s resistance to the move was unreasonable, four people present for his speech said.
Bolton said he believes there is a personal or business relationship dictating Trump’s position on Turkey because none of his advisers are aligned with him on the issue, the people present said.
The Trump Organization has a property in Istanbul, and the president's daughter Ivanka Trump attended the opening with Erdogan in 2012. Though it’s a leasing agreement for use of the Trump name, Trump himself said in a 2015 interview that the arrangement presented “a little conflict of interest” should he be elected.
During an Oct. 6 phone call with Erdogan, Trump agreed to pull back U.S. troops from northeast Syria so Turkish forces could launch an attack against America’s Kurdish allies in the area. The presence of U.S. forces had deterred Erdogan from invading Syria, which he had threatened to do for years. Trump’s decision, followed by an order for all U.S. troops to exit Syria, was widely criticized even among the president’s Republican allies and was seen by many as a gift to the Turkish leader.
It was. Clearly. And a gift to Assad, Iran and Russia too. I don't know what specifically propelled him to do it but I think we should see the transcript of that call too. (It's highly unlikely that we ever will, however...)
Like other former Trump advisers, Bolton said regardless of how much evidence is provided to Trump that Russia interfered in the 2016 election, the president refuses to take any action because he views any move against Moscow as giving credence to the notion that his election is invalid, the people present for Bolton's remarks said.
At one point in his closed-door remarks, Bolton was asked what he thinks will happen in January 2021 if Trump is re-elected, people present for his remarks said. Bolton responded by taking a swipe at Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and Ivanka Trump — both of whom are senior White House advisers — and at Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., three people familiar with his remarks said.
Bolton said Trump could go full isolationist — with the faction of the Republican Party that aligns with Paul’s foreign policy views taking over the GOP — and could withdraw the U.S. from NATO and other international alliances, three people present for his remarks said.
He also suggested that Kushner and Ivanka Trump could convince the president to rewrite his legacy and nominate a liberal like Lawrence Tribe — a Harvard Law professor who has questioned Trump’s fitness for office and was a legal adviser to Barack Obama’s 2008 campaign — to the Supreme Court, the people present for Bolton's speech said.
Bolton said, with an eye roll that suggested he doesn’t take them seriously, that Kushner and Ivanka Trump could do so in an attempt to prove they had real influence and were in the White House representing the people they want to be in social circles with at home in New York City, the people present for his remarks said.
Those present said that at that point, the audience appeared shocked.
Bolton has been writing a book, having reached a deal with Simon & Schuster, and people present for his remarks in Miami said he suggested to the audience several times that if they read it, there would be much more material along the lines of what was in his speech.
I have decided that this excuse that Trump refuses to give credence to the Russian interference because it calls his victory into question is bullshit. He lies about everything. He could have just declared that the Russian interference didn't help him win and that trying didn't buy them any favors. His people would have been just as happy with that. And anyway, this explanation can't account for the dozens of other examples of him favoring Russia in inexplicable ways. Denying that Russia interfered in the election is the least of it.
As for Bolton, I just don't know what to make of him. He's self-dealing for sure. But it seems that he's made a calculation that's a little bit different from the rest of them. It may just be that he's pimping his book. Or he may have calculated that being in Trump's White House has ruined his professional reputation and he's trying to salvage it. Or maybe he's just as vicious as Trump and wants to get revenge.
I don't know. But his criticisms are sound whatever it is. Trump's foreign policy decisions are horrifying whether you look at them from the right or the left.
“Have you lost your minds that you want to remove our Donald Ivanovych?”
We don't know why virtually every foreign policy decision Donald Trump makes somehow ends up benefiting Vladimir Putin but we do know how the Russians see it, via their own state media From Joe Conason at the National Memo:
The message is emphatically not “Make America Great Again.”
No, the Russian outlook articulated by Russian commentators — who faithfully reflect Kremlin policy — is that Trump’s incompetence and incoherence greatly benefit the motherland by weakening its rival America. This mocking theme has aired consistently on the top Russian TV channels for years now and has only intensified as “their” president is threatened by impeachment and electoral defeat.
Indeed, the Kremlin’s broadcasters deride Trump not only for his crude style and obvious ignorance but also for his pathetic sycophancy toward their boss, President Vladimir Putin. In August, the top Moscow news program, called 60 Minutes, featured a video mashup with clips of Trump’s speeches to depict him warbling a pop song as Putin played the piano. The meaning was clear, especially to the snickering studio audience: The American president sings and dances to the Russian president’s tune.
But that disrespectful attitude toward Trump only strengthens their determination to protect and promote him, which is why the Russian media — and their friends in the United States, from far left to far right — so staunchly oppose impeachment.
“Have you lost your minds that you want to remove our Donald Ivanovych?” asked popular talk show host Vladimir Soloviev. Figures like Soloviev frequently apply that possessive (and protective) adjective to Trump, whom they discuss as if he were literally owned by a foreign state.
Of course, the Russians understand our system well and feel reasonably confident that even if the House votes to impeach Trump, he will survive a Senate trial. In the Daily Beast, Olga Skabeeva, host of that Russian 60 Minutes show, is quoted making a confident prediction: “A Republican majority in the Senate won’t allow the president whom we elected, wonderful Donald Trump, to be sent off. It’s impossible. He has 90 percent support in the Republican Party.”
In that same article, another prominent Russian media figure is even more candid. According to film producer Karen Shakhnazarov, who frequently appears on Russian TV: “They say Trump is making Russia great. That’s basically accurate. The chaos brought by Trump into the American system of government is weakening the United States. America is getting weaker and now Russia is taking its place in the Middle East. Suddenly, Russia is starting to seriously penetrate Africa … So when they say that Trump is weakening the United States — yes, he is. And that’s why we love him … The more problems they have, the better it is for us.”
That says it all, really.
Conason goes on to point out that this is why they've been happily exploiting all the right-wing useful idiots from Giuliani on down and getting them to profer this absurd alternate narrative that Ukraine frames Russia for 2016. As he says:
The entire right-wing apparatus is starting to look like a GRU intelligence operation.
That it is. And they're fine with that because their Dear Leader need all the help he can get.
The following is an unimportant story in the larger scheme of things. But it illustrates just how much Trump's impulsivity, ego and narcissism guide every aspect of the Executive branch:
Senior aides at the Commerce Department forced the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to publicly rebuke its weather forecasters in Birmingham, Ala., for contradicting President Trump’s comments about the threat Hurricane Dorian posed to that state, even after NOAA informed them that the agency’s meteorologists were not aware at the time they were contradicting the president, according to three officials familiar with the matter.
The NOAA officials spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity due to the sensitivity surrounding ongoing investigations into the agency’s actions regarding Hurricane Dorian. NOAA and its National Weather Service are part of the Commerce Department.
According to emails released via a Freedom of Information Act request from The Post and other news organizations, Julie Kay Roberts, NOAA’s deputy chief of staff and communications director, was told on Sept. 2 about the motivation behind a tweet that the National Weather Service office in Birmingham had sent at 11:11 a.m. the day before. When forecasters there tweeted that “Alabama will NOT see any impacts from #Dorian,” they were responding to an influx of calls from worried residents and not to an earlier tweet from Trump.
Trump had wrongly tweeted at 10:51 a.m. the same day that Alabama would “most likely be hit (much) harder than anticipated,” sparking confusion and fear in the state. Alabama was not in the so-called “cone of uncertainty” for Dorian at the time, or close to the zone most likely to be affected by its hazardous conditions.
“I wanted to let you know that the forecasters in Birmingham who made the clarification post for Alabama [were] unaware of the POTUS tweet when they made their post,” Susan Buchanan, director of public affairs for the National Weather Service, wrote to Weather Service and NOAA officials, including Roberts, in an email on Sept. 2.
The Washington Post reported on Sept. 11 that this was the case. However, Buchanan’s email brings to light that senior agency officials knew this four days before NOAA issued the controversial, unsigned statement critical of the forecasters for speaking “in absolute terms.”
The new emails also show that Chris Darden, the meteorologist in charge of the Birmingham office, had written in an email to Weather Service officials, including Buchanan, on Sept. 1: “Some in [the] media assumed, understandably so, that our social media posts were a direct response to the [White House] post. In fact, they were not as we were not even aware of them at the time. It was directly in response to the increase in calls from anxious and panicked citizens and core partners.”
As the political storm swirled during this period, between Sept. 2 and when NOAA sent out its statement on Sept. 6, the agency was dealing with the high-stakes work of forecasting the actual hurricane, which peaked at Category 5 intensity and devastated the northwestern Bahamas.
Roberts received an early-morning phone call on Sept. 6 from senior Commerce Department aides traveling with Secretary Wilbur Ross in Greece, directing her to put together a timeline of events involving the forecast for Hurricane Dorian and the risk it posed to Alabama and related agency communications on the matter, according to two of the NOAA officials. She and acting NOAA head Neil Jacobs were then involved in providing feedback to the Commerce Department regarding an unsigned statement the agency ultimately sent out the same day that was critical of the Alabama forecasters, as The Post previously reported.
Knowing that the forecasters had no political motivations, Jacobs and Roberts tried but failed to block the paragraph admonishing them, which originated from the Commerce Department.
Senior political officials at the Commerce Department, including Michael Walsh Jr., chief of staff to Ross, Dave Dewhirst, deputy general counsel, and Earl Comstock, director of policy, orchestrated drafting the statement, The Post reported.
The president fucked up with his ridiculous tweet and high ranking people in the Commerce Department ended up demanding that other people be reprimanded despite having done nothing wrong.
This is the US government under Trump in a nutshell. It is all about him.
Listen to this ridiculousness while reminding yourself that Trump's remarks to the Economic Club of New York is supposed to be an official White House event and hence not a campaign speech pic.twitter.com/LjiDbw7zI4
Trump on what kind of world leaders can visit his White House: "Dictators, it's okay come on in." He is currently facing bipartisan criticism for inviting Turkey's Erdogan to the White House. pic.twitter.com/eL2kBHMX6a
He says he does it because it's good for the country. Since he considers "the country" to mean "Trump" that is not reassuring.
Behind President Trump’s accommodating attitude toward Turkey is an unusual back channel: a trio of sons-in-law who married into power and now play key roles in connecting Ankara with Washington.
One, Turkey’s finance minister, is the son-in-law of its strongman president and oversees his country’s relationship with the United States.
Another is the son-in-law of a Turkish tycoon and became a business partner to the Trump Organization. Now he advocates for Turkey with the Trump administration.
And the third is Jared Kushner, who as the son-in-law of and senior adviser to Mr. Trump has a vague if expansive foreign policy portfolio.
Operating both individually and in tandem, the three men have developed an informal, next-generation line of communication between Mr. Trump and his Turkish counterpart, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who only weeks after his military incursion into northern Syria is scheduled to visit the White House on Wednesday.
At a moment when Mr. Trump has come under bipartisan criticism from Congress for a series of stands favorable to Mr. Erdogan, the ties among the three men show how informal and often-unseen connections between the two presidents have helped shape American policy in a volatile part of the world.
Mr. Erdogan predicted in a television interview this year that a private dialogue between Berat Albayrak, his son-in-law and finance minister, and Mr. Kushner would soon put “back on track” the vexed relations between Washington and Ankara. “The bridge works well in this manner,” Mr. Erdogan said.
“Backdoor diplomacy,” Mr. Albayrak called his work with Mr. Kushner.
Mr. Trump’s policy toward Turkey has confounded his fellow Republicans in Congress on a number of fronts. Mr. Trump twice surprised his own advisers by agreeing during phone calls with Mr. Erdogan to pull United States troops from northern Syria — and the second time, in early October, he followed through, clearing the way for Turkish forces to attack an American-backed militia there.
On the Russian missiles, banking sanctions and other matters, Mr. Erdogan has deployed both his own son-in-law and Mr. Trump’s Turkish business partner, Mehmet Ali Yalcindag, as emissaries to the administration, sometimes through Mr. Kushner, according to Turkish officials and public records.
In April, for example, Mr. Albayrak had come to Washington for a conference organized by Mr. Yalcindag at the Trump International Hotel. And in the middle of the event, Mr. Kushner summoned Mr. Albayrak to an impromptu meeting in the Oval Office, where Mr. Albayrak successfully pressed Mr. Trump to hold back the sanctions against Turkey for buying Russian weapons.
Both leaders appear to favor family or business connections as back channels, several advisers to Mr. Erdogan said, in part because both share a suspicion that the agencies of their own governments may be conspiring against them.
The term “deep state,” in fact, first emerged in Turkey decades ago, long before it came into vogue among Trump supporters, and Mr. Erdogan’s advisers say he has cultivated Mr. Trump by emphasizing their shared struggles against such entrenched forces within their governments.
“The U.S. has an established order that we can call a deep state — of course they are obstructing,” Mr. Erdogan said this spring, explaining his hopes for the “bridge” between sons-in-law. “These obstructions are one of our main troubles.”
Turkey is not the only case where Mr. Trump has applied an unusually informal, family-to-family approach to foreign policy. Mr. Kushner, for instance, has also played a role in managing relations with Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, the de facto ruler and favorite son of the king.
“Trump is replacing formal relations among nations in several cases with family-to-family relationship, or crony-to-crony relationships,” said Eric S. Edelman, who served as under secretary of defense for policy and United States ambassador to Turkey during the George W. Bush administration.
“Certainly Erdogan would prefer that kind of relationship as he runs a crony capitalist regime of his own,” Mr. Edelman said. “But it ought to be a matter of concern to all Americans.”
It should be. But from what I gather about half the country think this is just great because Donald Trump is owning the libs. This suggests that our country may be suffering from a much deeper intellectual and moral rot than just Trump.
That whole story about Trump and Turkey is instructive. He admitted during the campaign that he had a conflict of interest there and the article shows that it's as bad as you can imagine. This alone should be impeachable but I'm given to understand that he is too stupid to understand why this is unethical and he deserves to be reelected. So what do I know?
Dahlia Lithwick, who's written great pieces on the Supreme Court and legal matters for a long time, has penned a thoughtful, sobering piece called, "Why I Haven’t Gone Back to SCOTUS Since Kavanaugh." It's worth reading in its entirely for her recap of the disgraceful confirmation process, the continuing, dreadful treatment of Christine Blasey Ford, and Lithwick's personal experiences. Lithwick takes aim at sexism and misogyny, but also delivers a more expansive critique of power and its abuses:
That is the problem with power: It incentivizes forgiveness and forgetting. It’s why the dozens of ethics complaints filed after the Kavanaugh hearings complaining about the judge’s behavior have been easily buried in a bottomless file of appeasement, on the grounds that he’s been seated and it’s too late. The problem with power is that there is no speaking truth to it when it holds all the cards. And now, given a lifetime appointment to a position that is checked by no one, Washington, the clerkship machinery, the cocktail party circuit, the elite academy all have a vested interest in getting over it and the public performance of getting over it. And a year perhaps seems a reasonable time stamp for that to begin.
The problem with power is that Brett Kavanaugh now has a monopoly on normalization, letting bygones be bygones, and turning the page. American women also have to decide whether to get over it or to invite more recriminations. That is, for those keeping track, the very definition of an abusive relationship. You stick around hoping that he’s changed, or that he didn’t mean it, or that if you don’t anger him again, maybe it’ll all be fine when the court hears the game-changing abortion appeal this year. . . .
It is not my job to decide if Brett Kavanaugh is guilty. It’s impossible for me to do so with incomplete information, and with no process for testing competing facts. But it’s certainly not my job to exonerate him because it’s good for his career, or for mine, or for the future of an independent judiciary. Picking up an oar to help America get over its sins without allowing for truth, apology, or reconciliation has not generally been good for the pursuit of justice. Our attempts to get over CIA torture policies or the Iraq war or anything else don’t bring us closer to truth and reconciliation. They just make it feel better—until they do not. And we have all spent far too much of the past three years trying to tell ourselves that everything is OK when it most certainly is not normal, not OK, and not worth getting over.
The Beltway gang – or the Village, as Digby's sometimes called it – generally doesn't like accountability for their own, regardless of political party. The powerful rarely learn the error of their ways unless they are held to account. And when they're not held responsible, it also sends the message to other powerful people that they can get away with misdeeds as well. Even if no one served jail time for lying the U.S. into the Iraq War or the Bush administration's torture regime, at least we still could have a truth and reconciliation commission or something similar. But even that would go way too far for Beltway insiders like Peggy Noonan, who in 2009 said in reference to the torture regime:
Some things in life need to be mysterious. Sometimes you need to just keep walking. . . . It’s hard for me to look at a great nation issuing these documents and sending them out to the world and thinking, oh, much good will come of that.
Noonan, of course, was concerned with "good" coming to people in her social circle, of her class, not about justice for torture victims or all the other harm caused by the torture program. Nor was she concerned about ordinary U.S. citizens who might be bothered by abuses of power and might suffer the effects, later on if not immediately. She needn't have worried; no one was held accountable, and indeed no good came of it, if not the way she meant. Similarly, nothing good ultimately came of Gerald Ford pardoning Richard Nixon. Nothing good came of George H. W. Bush pardoning Iran-Contra conspirators. (So are they all, all honourable men.) Nothing good came of barely holding anyone responsible for the financial industry's malfeasance in creating the economic crash of 2008. Likewise, nothing good will come of the current human rights abuses on the border and grotesque and flagrant abuses of power by conservatives throughout government. This is not the time for politeness or gutless pleas for civility. A true "armistice" is impossible without remembrance, investigation and accountability.
Pentagon official Catherine Croft's testimony today featured this interesting little tidbit:
So Mulvaney, obviously working on Trump's orders--- and over the objections of everyone else in the government --- didn't want to release the military aid because Putin wouldn't like it? And he said this out loud?
This is interesting because we've been operating on the assumption that all Trump wanted was the CNN statement. But one of the witnesses, Bill Taylor, said that he was worried that even if the Ukrainians delivered the Biden and Clinton dirt, Trump would still not release the aid anyway. He wrote in his text to Sondland:
"The nightmare" is they give the interview and don't get the security assistance. The Russians love it (and I quit.)"
If it's true that they had earlier said they wanted to withhold the aid because it would make Putin unhappy, then that might very well be true. It sounds as though they might have had "other reasons" besides the dirt. Indeed, the silly DNC conspiracy theory was very much about defending Russia from the US and foreign alies' conclusions that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election. Maybe the Biden stuff was just Trump's little taste.
Here's the Taylor testimony:
a. What did you mean by "the nightmare" and what would the Russians love?
A "The nightmare" s the scenario where President Zelensky goes out in public, makes an announcement that he going to'investigate Burisma and the election interference in 2016 election, maybe among other things. He might put that in some series of investigations. But the nightmare was he would mention those two, take all the heat from that, get himself in big trouble in this country and probably in his country as we11, and the security assistance would not be released. That was the nightmare.
The Russians loving it. The Russians are paying attention. The Russians are paying attention to how much support the Americans are going to provide the Ukrainians.
The Russians are leaning on Ukraine. They are leaning on Ukraine about Donbas. They are leaning on Ukraine about sovereign small little sovereign countries here little statelets. They are leaning on economically, they have got the Nord Stream coming through, they have got they are putting pressure on they have to come to a new gas agreement by the 1st of January.
So they are leaning on them. And they, the Russians want to know how much support the Ukrainians are going to get in general, but also what kind of support from the Americans.
So the Russians are loving, would love, the humiliation of Zelensky at the hands of the Americans, and would give the
Russians a freer hand, and I would quit.
And why would that make you quit?
A That's exactly the scenario that I was worried about when I had my meeting with Secretary Pompeo on the 28th of May where I said: Mr. Secretary, you know, your current strong policy of support for Ukraine is one I can support and I would be glad to go out to Kyiv and support it and push it hard. However, I told him and the others who were in the room, if that changes and this would have been a change, this would have been it was a nightmare. This would have been throwing Ukraine under the bus. And I told the Secretary: If that happens, I'11 come home. You don't want me out there, because I'm not going to defend it, you know. I would
say bad things about it. And you wouldn't want me out there doing that. So I'm going to come home on that. So that was the message about I quit.
Update: Check this out...
The story here is consistent with so much else: a deep, inexplicable subservience to/admiration of Putin. Yet this is triggered, apparently by a CNN report, not some angry call from Putin. And a couple months later they went ahead and made the visit anyway. No CNN, no problem.
As we all watch the impeachment hearings unfold while Trump entertains his bud Recep Tayyip Erdogan in the White House let's keep in mind that Ukraine is just the tip of the iceberg.
This is from the Daily Beast's Rabbit Hole:
Golden boy: At the heart of the controversy over Trump’s relationship with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan is a criminal case. Reza Zarrab, a Turkish-Iranian gold trader, was charged in 2016 with helping Iran violate U.S. sanctions in New York by then-U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara. The Turkish bank implicated in Zarrab’s sanctions-busting scheme, Halkbank, was under investigation by New York prosecutors for similar Iran sanctions offenses for years until the Southern District of New York finally indicted the bank in October.
Turkey has long tried to get the U.S., under both the Obama and Trump administrations, to ditch the charges against Zarrab and the investigation of Halkbank. During a 2016 meeting with Joe and Jill Biden and Erdogan and his wife, Ermine, pressed the vice president to fire the prosecutors involved in the Zarrab case. After all, Erdogan had done the same thing himself in 2013 when prosecutors there charged Zarrab and the case threatened to implicate family members of senior officials in Erdogan’s cabinet.
Erdogan’s pitch to Biden to intervene in a criminal case echoes exactly what Trump and his associates have accused the former Vice President (without any evidence) of doing in Ukraine. Unlike Biden, however, Trump appears to have at least contemplated taking Erdogan up on the offer.
Bitch, pleas: For years, the U.S. mostly ignored Erdogan’s pleas. That is, until Trump.
Just two months after the Trump administration came to office, prosecutors in the Zarrab case learned that the defendant had hired Trump pal and soon-to-be personal attorney Rudy Giuliani.
Rudy soon went into action, lobbying former of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson to help him intervene in the Zarrab case. Officials told the Washington Post that Trump also pressed Tillerson for help with the idea towards using the Zarrab case as leverage to secure the return of an American pastor arrested by Turkish officials on bogus charges after a 2016 coup attempt in the country.
Call me, maybe: The efforts to kill the Zarrab case ultimately proved futile—Zarrab pleaded guilty in October of 2017, served his sentence, and returned to his home country. But the case against Halkbank, which had featured prominently in the Zarrab case, carried on, much to Erdogan’s annoyance.
In an April phone call eerily similar to Trump’s infamous July 25 chat with Ukainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Erdogan pressed Trump to kill the investigation underway against Halkbank, according to Bloomberg. And like the Ukraine call, Trump reportedly told the foreign leader that he’d put him in touch with Attorney General William Barr, who would handle the issue.
Like the Zarrab case, Halkbank ultimately couldn’t avoid charges. Federal prosecutors in New York indicted the bank on sanctions and money laundering charges in October. The charges came just as Trump was getting flak from Republicans incensed over his abandonment of U.S.-backed Kurdish forces in Syria to a Turkish invasion. The timing of the charges in the midst of a presidential Twitter tirade about possible sanctions on Turkey raised questions about whether the Trump administration had used the case this time not as a carrot but a stick against the Turkish government.
'Stache house: In any case, the appearance of political interference in a criminal case is the main point of tangency between Trump’s Turkey and Ukraine scandals. The most important difference—and the one that explains their differing impact in Washington—is that the alleged quid-pro-quo in Ukraine involved a personal and political benefit for Trump. The payoff for Trump’s alleged criminal justice interference for Erodgan, however, is less clear.
By the way, those bodyguards are back in town. Because:
U.S. prosecutors have quietly dropped charges against 11 of the 15 members of Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan's security detail who were criminally indicted in an assault on protesters last year during a visit by Erdogan to Washington.
Criminal charges related to the incident against four of the bodyguards were dismissed last November while the indictment against the seven others was withdrawn February 14, the day before outgoing Secretary of State Rex Tillerson visited Turkey to meet with Erdogan in a bid to mend ties between the two NATO allies.
The timing has fueled speculation that the decision to dismiss the indictment was made as a goodwill gesture to Erdogan, who saw the charges against his security personnel as an affront and called the indictment "a complete scandal."
Why he needs all these "goodwill gestures remains a mystery."
President Donald J. Trump delivers remarks at the National Prayer Breakfast | February 8, 2018 (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian).
Surrounding the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald J. Trump, what Americans and the world are witnessing is a Stanford Prison Experiment with a touch of Stanley Milgram. Or maybe Jesus. (I'll explain in a minute.)
In Dr. Philip Zimbardo's famous 1971 social experiment, he had a group student volunteer males "arrested" (there was a squad car), booked, and placed in a mock prison in the basement of one of the university's buildings for an experiment in the psychological effects of prison life. Another group of average, "healthy, intelligent, middle-class males" would serve as prison guards. All would receive $15/day for participating in the videotaped experiment.
Things went downhill within 36 hours. The guards became abusive. The prisoners rebelled:
Every aspect of the prisoners' behavior fell under the total and arbitrary control of the guards. Even going to the toilet became a privilege which a guard could grant or deny at his whim. Indeed, after the nightly 10:00 P.M. lights out "lock-up," prisoners were often forced to urinate or defecate in a bucket that was left in their cell. On occasion the guards would not allow prisoners to empty these buckets, and soon the prison began to smell of urine and feces – further adding to the degrading quality of the environment.
That assumes they were good people to start. A tweet that came across my feed questions that proposition when it comes to the Trump cult:
I have said this before and it bears repeating, President Trump doesn’t cause people to lose their character, he reveals people’s character for who they truly are. And for that we should all be grateful that we can see clearly.
Now, cult members are tasked with defending their leader's actions and (soon) their own. Trump places fealty to Himself above the national interest. His defenders so far are condemning the impeachment process. Trump demands they defend his actions vis-à-vis Ukraine explicitly. Will they accede to his demand and sink to defending the indefensible?
"Tribalistic party identity is basically all the president’s defenders have left," Eugene Robinson writes:
They complained that the House had not taken a formal vote to proceed with impeachment . . . but then the House held such a vote. They complained that the House impeachment investigators were taking depositions of witnesses in secret . . . but Republican committee members already had access to those hearings. They complained that transcripts of those interviews had not been released . . . but now they are being released, and one of the loudest complainers, Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) says he will refuse to read them. They complained that there had been no public testimony that would allow the American people to judge for themselves . . . but a public phase of the House investigation is beginning this week, with the first witnesses scheduled to appear Wednesday.
Team MAGA has already sunk to promoting propaganda and disinformation from a Russian-inspired effort designed to exonerate Russia's role in interfering with the 2016 elections. Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Fla.) is the ranking Republican on the House Intelligence Committee. He has made clear he plans to shrug off Trump's endangering national security and possible violations of law as justified by Trump's “documented belief that the Ukrainian government meddled in the 2016 election.”
The conspiracy theories that undergird the president’s “documented belief” aren’t really coherent, but they don’t have to be to serve their purpose, which is sowing confusion about the well-established fact that Russia assisted Trump’s campaign. They posit not just that [Paul] Manafort was set up, but also that Democrats worked with Ukraine to frame Russia for hacking Democrats’ emails, a dastardly Democratic plot that led to Trump’s election. Naturally, George Soros, perennial scapegoat for the far right, is also involved.
“George Soros was behind it. George Soros’s company was funding it,” Giuliani said on ABC in September, spinning tales of Hillary Clinton’s collusion with Ukraine. Speaking to The Post, Giuliani accused Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine, of “working for Soros.” Indeed, Hill in her testimony suggested that a sort of Infowars-era McCarthyism has been loosed on the national security bureaucracy, with “frankly an anti-Semitic conspiracy theory about George Soros” used to “target nonpartisan career officials, and also some political appointees as well.”
Some of these conspiracy theories originated with Manafort colleague Konstantin Kilimnik, a former Russian intelligence officer, and worked their way into Trump's already fevered brain.
But the behaviors exhibited by Trump's defenders from America's evangelicals to Capitol Hill wags seems to mirror those Jeff Sharlet found among "The Family." The powerful men among Washington's most elite, “invisible” prayer circle, Sharlet wrote in 2003, included "Senators Don Nickles (R., Okla.), Charles Grassley (R., Iowa), Pete Domenici (R., N.Mex.), John Ensign (R., Nev.), James Inhofe (R., Okla.), Bill Nelson (D., Fla.), and Conrad Burns (R., Mont.) are referred to as “members,” as are Representatives Jim DeMint (R., S.C.). Frank Wolf (R., Va.), Joseph Pitts (R., Pa.), Zach Wamp (R., Tenn.), and Bart Stupak (D., Mich.)."
Their mission? To bring Jesus to the world by removing him from "the religious wrapping.” Sharlet wrote about one of their Alexandria, Va. meetings:
“All right, how do we do that?” Tiahrt asked. [Todd Tiahrt, (R-Kansas)]
“A covenant,” Doug [Coe] answered. The congressman half-smiled, as if caught between confessing his ignorance and pretending he knew what Doug was talking about. “Like the Mafia,” Doug clarified. “Look at the strength of their bonds.” He made a fist and held it before Tiahrt’s face. Tiahrt nodded, squinting. “See, for them it’s honor,” Doug said. “For us, it’s Jesus.”
Coe listed other men who had changed the world through the strength of the covenants they had forged with their “brothers”: “Look at Hitler,” he said. “Lenin, Ho Chi Minh, Bin Laden.” The Family, of course, possessed a weapon those leaders lacked: the “total Jesus” of a brotherhood in Christ.
“That’s what you get with a covenant,” said Coe. “Jesus plus nothing.”
Except now that covenant is Trump plus nothing. Trump's base as well as his Beltway defenders have been condition — programmed, if you like — by their religious discipline to give themselves over to higher (spiritual) authority. In the inveterate alpha dog, Donald Trump, they've found a temporal one. Their predisposition threatens us all.
The Trump administration is preparing to significantly limit the scientific and medical research that the government can use to determine public health regulations, overriding protests from scientists and physicians who say the new rule would undermine the scientific underpinnings of government policymaking.
A new draft of the Environmental Protection Agency proposal, titled Strengthening Transparency in Regulatory Science, would require that scientists disclose all of their raw data, including confidential medical records, before the agency could consider an academic study’s conclusions. E.P.A. officials called the plan a step toward transparency and said the disclosure of raw data would allow conclusions to be verified independently...
The measure would make it more difficult to enact new clean air and water rules because many studies detailing the links between pollution and disease rely on personal health information gathered under confidentiality agreements. And, unlike a version of the proposal that surfaced in early 2018, this one could apply retroactively to public health regulations already in place.
“This means the E.P.A. can justify rolling back rules or failing to update rules based on the best information to protect public health and the environment, which means more dirty air and more premature deaths,” said Paul Billings, senior vice president for advocacy at the American Lung Association.
Public health experts warned that studies that have been used for decades — to show, for example, that mercury from power plants impairs brain development, or that lead in paint dust is tied to behavioral disorders in children — might be inadmissible when existing regulations come up for renewal.
For instance, a groundbreaking 1993 Harvard University project that definitively linked polluted air to premature deaths, currently the foundation of the nation’s air-quality laws, could become inadmissible...
I'm so old I remember when the Tea party was waving around the Constitution like it was a sacred text. They aren't so fond of it anymore with all that drivel about "the phony emoluments clause" and "freedom of the press" and impeachment and whatnot. Today it's all about one thing: their worship of Donald Trump. It just goes to show that they were always full of shit, which we knew right? But now it's so obvious that we really don't even have to pretend that they mean it. When they revert to being flag-waving patriots enamored of the "rule 'o law" I will just say, "two words: Donald Trump".
As many as 600 U.S. troops will remain in northeastern Syria to continue counterterrorism operations against the Islamic State, Gen. Mark A. Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, said Sunday.
“There will be less than 1,000 for sure,” Milley said, referring to the number present when President Trump ordered their complete withdrawal last month. Trump later was persuaded by national security advisers and congressional supporters, such as Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.), to retain an unspecified number of troops whose mission, the president said, was to “secure the oil” from a takeover by the Syrian government or militants.
Milley, speaking on the ABC News program “This Week,” said the number of troops that would remain was “probably in the 500-ish frame. Maybe 600.” He did not mention Syrian oil but said “there are still ISIS fighters in the region and unless pressure is maintained . . . then there’s a very real possibility that conditions could be set for a reemergence of ISIS.”
So basically the only reason for the "withdrawal" last month was to allow Turkey to ethnically cleanse the Kurds so they can move other refugees into their towns and Trump can claim he's "keeping the oil" (which the Pentagon just cooked up so he could save face with his base.)
And Republicans just let it happen. I guess we shouldn't be too surprised. The only reason they were so determined to invade Iraq was that they wanted revenge for 9/11 and any Arab country would do. But letting this imbecile get away with this without the slightest rationale other than wanting to please some strongmen to make him feel good about himself is just ... well, you know.
All that suffering, fear and death because this man had a phone call one night and said, "sure go for it." It's madness.
Yes there is a witch hunt. It's just not the one Trump shrieks about.
If you think it isn't a cult, read this about the demise of Congressman Francis Roney's congressional career after he spoke out about Trump:
Venting privately about the president has become a hallowed pastime in Republican-controlled Washington, a sort of ritualistic release for those lawmakers tasked with routinely defending the indefensible, and Rooney had long indulged without consequence. Certainly, his friends noticed, the Florida congressman had grown more animated in private over the past year—railing against the improprieties detailed in the Mueller report, decrying the Trump family’s brazen attempts to enrich themselves off the presidency, wondering aloud what the president needed to do before voters would turn on him. Still, there was no real risk. To the extent GOP leaders heard echoes of Rooney’s discontent, they dismissed it as just another member blowing off steam.
But as summer turned to fall, Rooney wasn’t just bitching and complaining anymore. He was talking about impeachment. And he was talking not in a manner that was abstract or academic, but concrete and ominous. Initially in one-on-one conversations, and then in larger group settings, Rooney cautioned his colleagues that there could be no turning a blind eye to the fact pattern emerging from Trump’s relationship with Ukraine. It seemed possible, if not probable, that congressionally approved military aid to the embattled country—long a cause dear to Democrats and Republicans alike—had been held up contingent on investigations into Trump’s domestic political rivals. The question, Rooney told his friends, was not whether there was clear evidence of wrongdoing, but whether the president himself was culpable—and if so, whether congressional Republicans were going to cover for him.
All of a sudden, the once-invisible congressman was the subject of constant surveillance. Rooney could go nowhere, say nothing, without the eyes of the party on him. House Republican leaders, having been made aware of Rooney’s agitating, deputized lawmakers to monitor the malcontent. The White House—both its political team and its legislative affairs shop—did likewise. Before long, the president himself was briefed on the threat from Rooney. Disturbed, Trump began calling his friends and associates, on Capitol Hill and in Florida, trying to make sense of the situation.
“Who the hell is this Rooney guy?” the president asked Florida Governor Ron DeSantis during one phone call, according to sources familiar with their conversation. “What’s his deal?”
All the president’s allies agreed Rooney was a problem. But there was no obvious solution. The congressman had yet to say anything menacing about Trump in public; taking some type of punitive measure against him, be it a closed-door belittling or a presidential tweet-lashing, would be strange and possibly counterproductive. If the overarching goal was to keep Republicans unified in the face of impeachment’s advance—for the sake of immediate political advantage, if not also for the president’s legacy—keeping Rooney close made more sense than alienating him.
Ultimately, Republican leaders in Washington and Florida settled on a simple course of action. They would beat Rooney at his own game, doing nothing to undermine him openly but instead orchestrating a whisper campaign aimed at sowing doubts about his devotion to the president. The focal point would be Florida’s 19th, Rooney’s bloody red district, which Trump had carried by 22 points. That way, if and when Rooney broke ranks, the uprising back home would appear instant and organic. The recoil wouldn’t just scare Rooney straight; it would provide a cautionary tale for any Republican tempted to follow his lead.
The latest impeachment resolution was starkly divided along partisan lines, but whether the Republican caucus will remain steadfast may depend on how some members weigh their support or distaste for the president against their own electoral futures, or lack thereof.
Rooney knew the trap was being laid, but he didn’t bother avoiding it. On Friday, October 18, the congressman appeared on CNN and said there was “clear” evidence of a quid pro quo based on acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney’s own description of events. Asked whether he was ruling out voting for impeachment, Rooney replied, “I don’t think you can rule anything out until you know all the facts.” He also added, “I’m very mindful of the fact that back during Watergate everybody said, ‘Oh, it’s a witch hunt to get Nixon.’ Turns out it wasn’t a witch hunt. It was absolutely correct.”
Rooney’s remarks—in particular, his unsolicited comparison of Trump to Nixon—left his colleagues slack-jawed. House Republicans, having received hair-on-fire emails from staffers alerting them to the comments, tip-toed through the Capitol to avoid reporters asking for comment. Video of the little-known congressman’s interview rocketed around Twitter and turned official Washington on its head for a matter of hours, fueling immediate speculation that a broader revolt might be brewing. Here, at last, was a Republican lawmaker openly entertaining the prospect of impeaching a Republican president.
And sure enough, as though a switch had been flipped, Rooney found himself under siege.
“The blowback from the people in Southwest Florida was something. I mean, I had people down here in the local Republican leadership mad at me, yelling at me, telling me nothing should happen to make me waver in my support of Donald Trump. Nothing,” he recalls in an interview. “Now, I’m pretty immune to pressure. I’ve got a great company, a great family, I’ve done some wonderful things in my life. So, the fact that I got criticized by some local Republican officials doesn’t bother me one bit. But still … ”
Rooney’s voice trails off. The intensity of that criticism—and the threats on his career, made implicit and explicit by Florida Republicans in the hours after his CNN appearance—left him with an inescapable conclusion: There would be no coming back to Congress. He had mulled retirement in the months prior, but now the decision was being made for him. The very next day, appearing on Fox News, Rooney announced he would not seek reelection in 2020.
I wish I understood the hold this monster has on these people, but I honestly don't think I ever will. But it's real. And I think we need to be aware of that and prepare for how they are going to react if he doesn't win another term. If they are doing this to their own, I'd imagine they are going to be overwhelmingly angry at the rest of us.
This piece by Adam Gopnik from May of 2016 really called it. I was writing in a bit of a panic at the time over Trump and I remember reading this and thinking, "wow, is it really going to be this bad?"
It is. In some way it's worse:
Vice is a monster of so frightful mien, / As, to be hated, needs but to be seen,” the poet Alexander Pope wrote, in lines that were once, as they said back in the day, imprinted on the mind of every schoolboy. Pope continued, “Yet seen too oft, familiar with her face, / we first endure, then pity, then embrace.” The three-part process by which the gross becomes the taken for granted has been on matchlessly grim view this past week in the ascent of Donald Trump. First merely endured by those in the Republican Party, with pained grimaces and faint bleats of reluctance, bare toleration passed quickly over into blind, partisan allegiance—he’s going to be the nominee, after all, and so is our boy. Then a weird kind of pity arose, directed not so much at him (he supplies his own self-pity) as at his supporters, on the premise that their existence somehow makes him a champion for the dispossessed, although the evidence indicates that his followers are mostly stirred by familiar racial and cultural resentments, of which Trump has been a single-minded spokesperson.
Now for the embrace. One by one, people who had not merely resisted him before but called him by his proper name—who, until a month ago, were determined to oppose a man they rightly described as a con artist and a pathological liar—are suddenly getting on board. Columnists and magazines that a month ago were saying #NeverTrump are now vibrating with the frisson of his audacity, fawning over him or at least thrilling to his rising poll numbers and telling one another, “We can control him.”
No, you can’t. One can argue about whether to call him a fascist or an authoritarian populist or a grotesque joke made in a nightmare shared between Philip K. Dick and Tom Wolfe, but under any label Trump is a declared enemy of the liberal constitutional order of the United States—the order that has made it, in fact, the great and plural country that it already is. He announces his enmity to America by word and action every day. It is articulated in his insistence on the rightness of torture and the acceptable murder of noncombatants. It is self-evident in the threats he makes daily to destroy his political enemies, made only worse by the frivolity and transience of the tone of those threats. He makes his enmity to American values clear when he suggests that the Presidency holds absolute power, through which he will be able to end opposition—whether by questioning the ownership of newspapers or talking about changing libel laws or threatening to take away F.C.C. licenses. To say “Well, he would not really have the power to accomplish that” is to misunderstand the nature of thin-skinned authoritarians in power. They do not arrive in office and discover, as constitutionalists do, that their capabilities are more limited than they imagined. They arrive, and then make their power as large as they can.
And Trump announces his enmity in the choice of his companions. The Murdoch media conglomerate has been ordered to acquiesce; it’s no surprise that it has. But Trump’s other fellow-travellers include Roger Stone, the Republican political operative and dirty-tricks maven, while his venues have included the broadcasts of Alex Jones, a ranting conspiracy theorist who believes in a Globalist plot wherein “an alien force not of this world is attacking humanity”—not to mention Jones’s marketing of the theory that Michelle Obama is a transvestite who murdered Joan Rivers. These are not harmless oddballs Trump is flirting with. This is not the lunatic fringe. These are the lunatics.
Ted Cruz called Trump a pathological liar, the kind who does not know the difference between lies and truth. Whatever the clinical diagnosis, we do appear to be getting, in place of the once famous Big Lie of the nineteen-thirties, a sordid blizzard of lies. The Big Lie was fit for a time of processionals and nighttime rallies, and films that featured them. The blizzard of lies is made for Twitter and the quick hit of an impulse culture. Trump’s lies arrive with such rapidity that before one can be refuted a new one comes to take its place. It wasn’t his voice on that tape of pitiful self-promotion. O.K., it was—but he never mocked the handicapped reporter, he was merely imitating an obsequious one. The media eventually moves on, shrugging helplessly, to the next lie. Then the next lie, and the next. If the lies are bizarre enough and frequent enough, they provoke little more than a nervous giggle and a cry of “Well, guess he’s changed the rules!”
He’s not Hitler, as his wife recently said? Well, of course he isn’t. But then Hitler wasn’t Hitler—until he was. At each step of the way, the shock was tempered by acceptance. It depended on conservatives pretending he wasn’t so bad, compared with the Communists, while at the same time the militant left decided that their real enemies were the moderate leftists, who were really indistinguishable from the Nazis. The radical progressives decided that there was no difference between the democratic left and the totalitarian right and that an explosion of institutions was exactly the most thrilling thing imaginable.
The American Republic stands threatened by the first overtly anti-democratic leader of a large party in its modern history—an authoritarian with no grasp of history, no impulse control, and no apparent barriers on his will to power. The right thing to do, for everyone who believes in liberal democracy, is to gather around and work to defeat him on Election Day. Instead, we seem to be either engaged in parochial feuding or caught by habits of tribal hatred so ingrained that they have become impossible to escape even at moments of maximum danger. Bernie Sanders wouldn’t mind bringing down the Democratic Party to prevent it from surrendering to corporate forces—and yet he may be increasing the possibility of rule-by-billionaire.
There is a difference between major and minor issues, and between primary and secondary values. Many of us think that it would be terrible if the radical-revisionist reading of the Second Amendment created by the Heller decision eight years ago was kept in place in a constitutional court; many on the other side think it would be terrible if that other radical decision, Roe v. Wade, continued to be found to be compatible with the constitutional order. What we all should agree on is that the one thing worse would be to have no constitutional order left to argue about.
The conclusion is extremely important and we all have to grapple with what that means:
If Trump came to power, there is a decent chance that the American experiment would be over. This is not a hyperbolic prediction; it is not a hysterical prediction; it is simply a candid reading of what history tells us happens in countries with leaders like Trump. Countries don’t really recover from being taken over by unstable authoritarian nationalists of any political bent, left or right—not by Peróns or Castros or Putins or Francos or Lenins or fill in the blanks. The nation may survive, but the wound to hope and order will never fully heal. Ask Argentinians or Chileans or Venezuelans or Russians or Italians—or Germans. The national psyche never gets over learning that its institutions are that fragile and their ability to resist a dictator that weak. If he can rout the Republican Party in a week by having effectively secured the nomination, ask yourself what Trump could do with the American government if he had a mandate. Before those famous schoolroom lines, Pope made another observation, which was that even as you recognize that the world is a mixed-up place, you still can’t fool yourself about the difference between the acceptable and the unacceptable: “Fools! who from hence into the notion fall / That vice or virtue there is none at all,” he wrote. “Is there no black or white? / Ask your own heart, and nothing is so plain; / ’Tis to mistake them, costs the time and pain.” The pain of not seeing that black is black soon enough will be ours, and the time to recognize this is now.
I don't think people have fully realized just how destructive it would be to have the system tested in this way and I'm afraid they don't get it even now. Those who just want to "go back to normal" are in for a rude awakening because that normal has been exposed as weak and porous. And those who are looking for massive systemic change may also find themselves frustrated because these same weaknesses are difficult to exploit for positive ends. Keep in mind that a huge number of people worship this demagogic imbecile and the entire Republican establishment has turned itself into his vassal. They aren't just going to bow down and submit. The wealthy are already gathering itself into opposition, illustrating once again that they are a huge part of the problem.
If we survive him, the aftermath is going to be very difficult.