It is maddening that Republicans don’t have enough humanity to wonder for a moment, “What if even a fraction of all this is true?” Clearly, they all would be busting veins in their necks if these same reports were about a President Hillary Clinton. But put aside their suffocating partisanship and Himalayan hypocrisy: Don’t they care enough about their country and their families at least to consider the overwhelming mass of evidence that says their president might have betrayed our country? (scroll down for full article)
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The New York Times published an important article last Tuesday. It is a must-read for caring citizens who haven’t had the opportunity to keep up daily with the president’s offenses and attacks on our country. The piece is significant for two reasons: 1) it reports new details about President Trump’s known and previously unknown attempts to obstruct justice and impede or shut down investigations of him and his administration; and 2) it reminds us of the dangerous numbness much of America has succumbed to surrounding continuously discovered new evidence of his campaign and administration’s criminality, amorality, and Russian conspiracy.
The Country Is Numb
“The story of Mr. Trump’s attempts to defang the investigations has been voluminously covered in the news media, to such a degree that many Americans have lost track of how unusual his behavior is. But fusing the strands reveals an extraordinary story of a president who has attacked the law enforcement apparatus of his own government like no other president in history, and who has turned the effort into an obsession. Mr. Trump has done it with the same tactics he once used in his business empire: demanding fierce loyalty from employees, applying pressure tactics to keep people in line, and protecting the brand — himself — at all costs.”
(Mazzetti, Haberman, Fandos, & Schmidt; “Intimidation, Pressure, and Humiliation: Inside Trump’s Two-Year War on the Investigations Encircling Him”; The New York Times; 2/19/2019.)
Media reports this week indicate that Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation is coming to an end, and he could produce his report to the newly confirmed Attorney General William Barr within one or two weeks.
Sure, there have been reports like this before. Heck, President Trump’s lawyers have been predicting the end of the investigation since 2017 (though this was likely to assuage the boss). But current reports are stronger in number and corroboration than in the past. They also contain more detail. Apparently, Mueller’s staff of attorneys is down from 17 to 12. Reporters have sussed out that many of those 12 have contacted their previous employers about returning to work. Additionally, a media stakeout team reported a large volume of files — actual paper documents and manila folders — was seen recently leaving Mueller’s office on a cart.
I’m happy about this. The chronic anxiety produced by Trump’s deleterious effects on the country has affected me and anyone else who regularly follows accurate reports of current events. Additional anxiety is caused by the fear that Donald Trump could successfully escape accountability for his egregious acts. Another fear is that he could finish his first term.
The more time that goes by without a report, the more time Trump has to put forth his mendacious side of the story with zero counter-narrative from the special counsel’s office. Unlike Donald, Robert Mueller and his team are bound by and committed to ethical guidelines that include public silence. To their credit, they have adhered to these principles in rock-solid solidarity. There have been no leaks and only rare statements since Mueller’s appointment in May 2017. His office’s commitment to the law has been beyond reproach among thinking people. To the detriment of Mueller’s side of the ultimate story, the president has been free to lie profusely about the investigation, without fear of contradicting information — or any response at all — coming from the special counsel team.
President Trump hides his crimes in plain sight. His attorneys say it can’t be conspiracy if the president threatens witnesses or obstructs justice publicly on Twitter. But it can.
President Trump hides his crimes in the sheer volume of them. It’s been said many times, but it’s true and bears repeating: Any one of Trump’s many outrageous acts or statements would have felled any other candidate or president. Donald’s offenses are committed and exposed in such rapid-fire fashion, however, that no one can remember what yesterday’s, last week’s, or last month’s outrage was. Few people can piece the complicated puzzle together. A common response from those who don’t pay attention every day is, “Oh, no one could be that bad.” But he can.
Of course, complicating the entire mess are Republican legislators and Donald’s base of supporters who have submitted completely to obsequious Trumpian worship, often in drastic contradiction to previously held morals and values. On the GOP side of Congress, it has become similar to mass hysteria and mob rule. Mostly this is out of self-preservation — if they cross Trump, they risk being voted out of office in their next Republican primary because they weren’t pro-Trump enough.
In 2013 the Republican Party conducted its famous election “autopsy” after Mitt Romney’s (R-Mass.) 2012 loss to re-elected President Barack Obama (D-Ill.). Interestingly, one of the primary lessons learned was the need for greater outreach to Latinos and other minorities. In 2016, they ran Donald Trump — who reached out and grabbed minorities’ by their throats.
Trump supporters will tell you it’s all about the courts and the economy. They got through two sharply conservative Supreme Court justices (one who likely committed sexual assault during an alcoholic blackout in his youth, and another whose slot was stolen from Obama by GOP Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell) and numerous lower-court appointees. Funny thing, though. They also got widespread support of latent and blatant racism and a white supremacy sympathizer. They got an admitted misogynist and sexual assaulter. They got thousands of immigrant children in cages who will be damaged psychologically for life, even the ones who were reunited with their families — many thousands more will live their lives sans parents, with guardians to which they were assigned.
With Trump, they got a global isolationist who praises dictators and disses our allies while threatening NATO and other U.S. alliances. They got an enemy sympathizer and apologist — he has defended and protected President Putin, whose Russian government attacked our 2016 election and is America’s most formidable adversary. They got a decades-long setback of climate change and clean air-water policy, i.e., they got galactically ignorant and/or colossally venal science-deniers. They got a government run by self-dealing autocrats, with the most corrupt one at the top. They got a dire national security threat — the guy at the top, again. They got hate and bitterness and division.
But they got their judges.
In 2021, there will be no Republican Party autopsy. There will be no Republican Party left strong enough to conduct one.
This is why we’ve been stressed and anxious. For those who are paying attention, it affects our lives, our day-to-day outlook on the world, our faith in humanity.
Known and Previously Unknown Obstruction
“As federal prosecutors in Manhattan gathered evidence late last year about President Trump’s role in silencing women with hush payments during the 2016 campaign, Mr. Trump called Matthew G. Whitaker, his newly installed attorney general, with a question. He asked whether Geoffrey S. Berman, the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York and a Trump ally, could be put in charge of the widening investigation. …
“Mr. Whitaker, who had privately told associates that part of his role at the Justice Department was to ‘jump on a grenade’ for the president [and who also told DOJ associates that the SDNY needed ‘adult supervision’], knew he could not put Mr. Berman in charge because Mr. Berman had already recused himself from the investigation. The president soon soured on Mr. Whitaker, as he often does with his aides, and complained about his inability to pull levers at the Justice Department that could make the president’s many legal problems go away.”
(Ibid.; Mazzetti, Haberman, Fandos, & Schmidt; 2/19/2019.)
Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker testified Feb. 8 before the House Judiciary Committee. In his prepared opening statement, he said, “At no time has the White House asked for, nor have I provided, any promises or commitments concerning the special counsel’s investigation or any other investigation.” When pressed to elaborate spontaneously during questioning by Representatives Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Val Demings (D-Fla.), Whitaker stammered, balked, claimed privilege, and referred them back to his prepared opening statement.
The Times article has exposed Trump’s request of Whitaker to install an ally as head of the Michael Cohen (Donald’s former personal lawyer-fixer) investigation at the U.S. attorney’s office in the Southern District of New York. This is important because the SDNY has essentially labeled Trump an unindicted co-conspirator who ordered the illegal hush-money payments to two of Donald’s paramours, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal. Whitaker’s prewritten congressional statement of no “promises or commitments” to the White House was carefully worded to protect Whitaker but later, if necessary, accommodate evidence of White House “requests” to influence investigations.
The Whitaker-SDNY-Cohen case caper is just the first of over a dozen episodes highlighted in the Feb. 19, 2019, Times article: “Intimidation, Pressure, and Humiliation: Inside Trump’s Two-Year War on the Investigations Encircling Him.” See the comprehensive summary below.
What if Even a Fraction of all This Is True?
It is maddening that Republicans don’t have enough humanity to wonder for a moment, “What if even a fraction of all this is true?” Clearly, they all would be busting veins in their necks if these same reports were about a President Hillary Clinton. But put aside their suffocating partisanship and Himalayan hypocrisy: Don’t they care enough about their country and their families at least to consider the overwhelming mass of evidence that says their president might have betrayed our country?
“Mr. Trump’s public war on the inquiry has gone on long enough that it is no longer shocking. Mr. Trump rages almost daily to his 58 million Twitter followers that Mr. Mueller is on a ‘witch hunt’ and has adopted the language of Mafia bosses by calling those who cooperate with the special counsel ‘rats.’ His lawyer talks openly about a strategy to smear and discredit the special counsel investigation. The president’s allies in Congress and the conservative news media warn of an insidious plot inside the Justice Department and the FBI to subvert a democratically elected president.”
(Ibid.; Mazzetti, Haberman, Fandos, & Schmidt; 2/19/2019.)
President Trump responded to the Times article:
“The New York Times reporting is false. They are a true ENEMY OF THE PEOPLE!”
(Trump, Donald, R-N.Y., U.S. president; Twitter post; 2/20/2019.)
(Stalinist) business as usual. Until Mueller’s report comes out. Until the Southern District of New York finishes their investigations. Until the Democratic House finishes their inquiries. Until Mr. Trump resigns to avoid impeachment or imprisonment of Don Jr., Ivanka, Jared, or himself. ■
REFERENCE: Other Highlights From the Times Article
If you can’t get to the entire article from The New York Times, review these highlights. Any content in quotation marks represents direct quotes from the Times authors.
— There were 18 days, in the young presidency’s first month, between when acting Attorney General Sally Yates first instructed the White House that the Russian government had compromised National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, and when Flynn left the administration. The president’s story was that he finally asked for Flynn’s resignation at the 18-day mark, which was considered outrageous on its own (i.e., 18 days of leaving a known compromised White House official in place to access top-secret materials and attend top-secret meetings). Now we know Trump lied about asking for the resignation because of the media firestorm. Donald never intended to fire his compromised top aide — Michael Flynn resigned on his own.
— According to former governor Chris Christie’s (R-N.J.) new book, the president told him at a lunch the day of Flynn’s departure, “This Russia thing is all over now because I fired Flynn.” Presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner agreed: “That’s right, firing Flynn ends the whole Russia thing.” Gov. Christie firmly contradicted them: “This Russia thing is far from over.”
— “White House lawyers wrote a confidential memo expressing concern about the president’s staff [especially White House press secretary Sean Spicer] peddling misleading information in public about the firing of Michael T. Flynn. … The lawyers’ main concern [among many others] was that Mr. Spicer overstated how exhaustively the White House had investigated Mr. Flynn and that he said, wrongly, that administration lawyers had concluded there were no legal issues surrounding Mr. Flynn’s conduct. … The White House never publicly corrected the record.”
— “Later that day [of Flynn’s departure], Mr. Trump confronted the FBI director, James B. Comey, in the Oval Office. The president told him that Mr. Spicer had done a great job explaining how the White House had handled the firing. Then he asked Mr. Comey to end the FBI’s investigation into Mr. Flynn, and said that Mr. Flynn was a good guy.”
— “By March, Mr. Trump was in a rage that his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, had recused himself from the Russia inquiry because investigators were looking into the campaign, of which Mr. Sessions had been a part. … [The president said in an interview] that he never would have named Mr. Sessions attorney general if he had known Mr. Sessions would step aside from the investigation.”
— “Mr. Trump finally fired [FBI Director James] Comey in May . But the president and the White House gave conflicting accounts of their reasoning for the dismissal, which served only to exacerbate the president’s legal exposure. A week after the firing, the Times disclosed that the president had asked Mr. Comey to end the Flynn investigation. The next day, the deputy attorney general, Rod J. Rosenstein, appointed Mr. Mueller, a Republican, as special counsel.”
— “On Twitter and in news media interviews, Mr. Trump tried to pressure investigators and undermine the credibility of potential witnesses in the Mueller investigation.”
— “Privately, Mr. Trump tried to remove [Attorney General Jeff] Sessions — he said he wanted an attorney general who would protect him — but did not fire him, in part because White House aides dodged the president’s orders to demand his resignation. The president even called his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski over the Fourth of July weekend to ask him to pressure Mr. Sessions to resign. Mr. Lewandowski was noncommittal and never acted on the request.”
— “One of Mr. Trump’s lawyers also reached out that summer to the lawyers for two of his former aides — Paul Manafort and Mr. Flynn — to discuss possible pardons. The discussions raised questions about whether the president was willing to offer pardons to influence their decisions about whether to plead guilty and cooperate in the Mueller investigation.”
— “The president even tried to fire Mr. Mueller himself, a move that could have brought an end to the investigation. Just weeks after Mr. Mueller’s appointment, the president insisted that he ought to be fired because of perceived conflicts of interest. Mr. Trump’s White House counsel, Donald F. McGahn II, who would have been responsible for carrying out the order, refused and threatened to quit.”
— “Mr. Trump had private conversations with Republican lawmakers about a campaign to attack the Mueller investigation. … The president cheered on the lawmakers on Twitter, in interviews and in private.”
— “Last April, Mr. Trump hired Rudolph W. Giuliani, his longtime friend and a famously combative former mayor of New York, as his personal lawyer and ubiquitous television attack dog. A new war had begun. In jettisoning his previous legal team — which had counseled that Mr. Trump should cooperate with the investigation — the president decided to combine a legal strategy with a public relations campaign in an aggressive effort to undermine the credibility of both Mr. Mueller and the Justice Department.”
— “Behind the scenes, Mr. Giuliani was getting help from a curious source: Kevin Downing, a lawyer for Mr. Manafort. Mr. Manafort, who had been Mr. Trump’s 2016 campaign chairman, had agreed to cooperate with the special counsel after being convicted of [eight] financial crimes in an attempt to lessen a potentially lengthy prison sentence. Mr. Downing shared details about prosecutors’ lines of questioning, Mr. Giuliani admitted late last year. … The arrangement angered Mr. Mueller’s investigators, who questioned what Mr. Manafort was trying to gain from the arrangement. [A quid pro quo for a presidential pardon was and is widely suspected.]”
— “In a court appearance in August, [Michael] Cohen pleaded guilty and told a judge that Mr. Trump had ordered him to arrange the payments to the women, Stormy Daniels and Karen McDougal[, with whom Trump had had extramarital affairs]. Mr. Cohen’s descriptions of Mr. Trump’s actions made the president, in effect, an unindicted co-conspirator and raised the prospect of the president being charged after he leaves office. … The president struck back, launching a volley of tweets that savaged Mr. Cohen and his family — insinuating that Mr. Cohen’s father-in-law had engaged in unexamined criminal activity. He called Mr. Cohen a ‘rat.’ [This treatment was seen widely as witness intimidation, as Cohen was and is preparing for congressional testimony.]”
— “This past December , days before Mr. Flynn was to be sentenced for lying to the FBI, his lawyers wrote a memo to the judge suggesting that federal agents had tricked the former national security adviser into lying. The judge roundly rejected that argument, and on sentencing day, he excoriated Mr. Flynn for his crimes. The argument about FBI trickery did, however, appear to please the one man who holds great power over Mr. Flynn’s future — the constitutional power to pardon. ‘Good luck today in court to General Michael Flynn,’ Mr. Trump tweeted cheerily on the morning of the sentencing.”
Trump Corruption Chronicles — We Must Never Forget