DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had been in hot water with Trump last year but appeared to have saved her job. Nielsen is an immigration hard-liner, but she drew her tough policy line at illegality. Trump decided she had to go. She’ll forever be tainted by association with The Donald. Another administration official hurtling headlong toward perennial Trump-stink is the new attorney general, William Barr. Barr also served as AG during the George H. W. Bush administration. Trump liked that Barr facilitated several Bush pardons for important Iran-Contra scandal players. These pardons were credited with sparing then-President Bush from any public culpability for his involvement. Some might call this dénouement a cover-up. Trump also liked that Barr said a president cannot obstruct justice. So Trump hired him. (scroll down for full article)
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“Nationwide Protests Staged to Demand Release of Special Counsel Mueller’s Full Report” (4/4/2019)
“4th Statement From DOJ Explaining, Defending AG Barr’s Handling of Mueller Report” (4/4/2019)
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“20 State Attorneys General Have Sued to Stop Trump S. Border Emergency Declaration” (4/4/2019)
“Trump Fires DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen; Her Child Separation, Other Immigration Policies Weren’t Tough Enough; Trump Was Angered That She Pushed Back Against Illegal Policies” (4/7/2019)
“Trump Reported to Be Planning Family Separation Policy Resumption” (4/7/2019)
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Of the (as usual) many Trump-related news stories this week, the standouts are the president’s purging of top leadership at the Department of Homeland Security (which oversees all immigration enforcement) and new Attorney General William Barr’s handling of the special counsel report.
(As of last Sunday, former) DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen had been in hot water with Trump last year, but it appeared she had saved her job. Reportedly, she implemented the cruel and barbaric child separation policy demanded by the president even though she personally was against it. Don’t misunderstand, though — Nielsen was an immigration hard-liner. She wanted to draw the tough policy line, however, at illegality. Trump decided she had to go.
In this Keystone Cops of a presidency, here’s how it all went down.
Keystone Cops Presidency
In a blow to Trump’s most bloviating claim to toughness, the illegal immigration rate has been rising, now at its highest level in about 12 years. This month’s terrible media coverage on the subject produced bad ratings for the man whose very presidential existence rests on a claim of tough immigration policy (and good ratings).
At the same time, White House adviser Stephen Miller has been gaining influence with the president, successfully appealing to Donald’s toughest (vicious, most racist) immigration policy instincts. Trump said to Miller at a White House meeting this week, “You’re in charge” of immigration. Miller officially has become the devil’s voice on one of Trump’s shoulders. The position of angel’s-voice-on-the-other-shoulder remains unfilled. There was an acting angel, but she was fired. And the deputy was fired.
Apparently, at Stephen Miller’s urging, it was time for DHS Secretary Nielsen to go. Now. But she was out of the country, meeting with foreign counterparts about anti-terrorism policy. See, the DHS secretary has other things to worry about besides immigration. The Department of Homeland Security, after all, was formed as a response to the 9/11 attacks in 2001. Nielsen had notified the White House of her multi-nation trip. But Trump was still bugged that she was not in Washington during the immigration “crisis” — and not available when he wanted to fire her.
So Donald called her home. Ended her trip. Had a meeting. She thought she could still hang on. Kirstjen came to the tête-à-tête (plus Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney) with charts and graphs and proposed solutions to the immigration increase.
Mulvaney helped write her resignation letter: “I have determined that it is the right time for me to step aside.”
Nielsen’s letter continued: “I hope that the next secretary will have the [nerve to break] the laws which have impeded our ability to fully secure America’s borders and which have contributed to discord in our nation’s discourse” (— writer’s embellishment). Yes, the “nerve to break the laws” part was my embellishment. But the president had asked her in recent weeks to keep asylum seekers out, and close ports of entry — and to start separating migrant families again. The secretary viewed those solutions as inefficacious and/or illegal.
Clown Car Operation
But this clown car ride was not over yet.
Currently there is no deputy secretary of Homeland Security because Trump never filled the position after then-Deputy Secretary Nielsen was elevated when Trump tapped then-Secretary John Kelly for White House Chief of Staff (who, like Nielsen, also was fired unceremoniously).
Further note that DHS has a legal policy for in-house top leadership line of succession, even for acting roles. This is unlike Justice, which allowed Trump to tap fawning yes-man Matthew Whitaker from outside the pond — i.e., swamp — and leapfrog him over Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein to replace temporarily then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions (who, like Nielsen and Kelly, also was fired unceremoniously).
Stay with me.
The acting DHS deputy secretary was the undersecretary for management, Claire Grady, who was legally required to be elevated to acting secretary. But Trump didn’t know about the DHS line-of-succession rule. He wanted his man, Kevin McAleenan, the commissioner of Customs and Border Protection, to be acting secretary. So upon learning of the rules, Trump had to fire Grady, a perfectly functioning career government professional who has served honorably under both parties.
Trump also pulled his ICE — Immigration and Customs Enforcement, a branch of DHS — nominee (supported by Nielsen) at the last minute because he wants the agency to go in a “tougher” direction.
Many political observers view Trump’s housecleaning at DHS as an attempt to cleanse his administration of all John Kelly influence. Kelly was Nielsen’s old boss, defender, and professional reference for the top slot at Homeland Security. Donald fired former General John Kelly as White House chief of staff because he had tried to control the president’s worst instincts and, in the process, described some of the president’s worst instincts in unflattering terms during moments of perceived confidentiality.
Anyway, like John Kelly, Jeff Sessions, Reince Priebus, Paul Ryan, and so many others before her, Kirstjen Nielsen will forever be unable to wash off the stench of association with Donald Trump, no matter how noble she says her initial intentions were.
Another administration official hurtling headlong toward perennial Trump-stink is the attorney general, William Barr, in office for less than two months.
Barr also served as attorney general under President George H. W. Bush, while the Iran-Contra scandal investigation was wrapping up. Trump liked that Barr facilitated several Bush pardons for important Iran-Contra players, which were credited by some experts with sparing then-President Bush from any public culpability for his involvement with the scheme while he was Reagan’s vice president. Some might call this dénouement a cover-up.
Trump also liked Barr’s 2017 unsolicited 19-page memo to the Justice Department criticizing the existence of Special Counsel Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation. Notably, Barr posited that no president can commit obstruction of justice by firing any FBI or DOJ official because he’s the boss of all of them, with unfettered HR powers. Barr argued in his memo that any corrupt intent for these actions would be moot because the president is all-powerful over the entire executive branch.
Many observers believe William Barr was auditioning for the job of President Trump’s attorney general by writing and sending this memo to the DOJ.
So what’s an embattled president under heat for obstruction to do? Why, fire his old AG — Jeff Sessions, (formerly) the worst political hack in Justice history — and hire William Barr, of course.
Barr is an arrogant bastard. We got a snootful of this in his Senate confirmation hearings. Though a lifelong Republican partisan — and arrogant bastard — even Democrats had held out hope that he would respect the norms, traditions, rule of law, and independence of the Justice Department.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller submitted his report to the Justice Department March 22, 2019.
William Barr submitted a public four-page “summary” of Mueller’s report to Congress March 24.
On conspiracy charges, Barr quoted Mueller as writing, “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.” The word establish is all-important because, legally, it means they didn’t find enough evidence to determine guilt beyond a reasonable doubt (the threshold legal observers believe Mueller had set).
But Attorney General Barr wrote, “The Special Counsel’s investigation did not find that the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia.” Many neutral legal experts believe these two statements are not compatible. In fact, there is plenty of public knowledge confirming attempted “collusion,” e.g., Don Jr.’s Trump Tower meeting and Paul Manafort’s passing of internal campaign polling data to Russian oligarchs via his Russian business partner, to name a small sample.
Regarding obstruction of justice, Barr quoted Mueller as writing, “[W]hile this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.”
But Barr wrote, “I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel’s investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense.”
Yuuge difference. You could drive a truck through this conclusional gap. Bigly.
The attorney general should not have given his opinion on presidential obstruction of justice. Legal experts say Special Counsel Mueller never intended him to, but rather, intended that Congress be the arbiter. The special counsel rules do not require an AG opinion. Barr never was invited to draw a conclusion. By his own words, the attorney general’s “summary” was supposed to be a “summary of the special counsel’s principal conclusions.” Barr went much further and gave the president an unwarranted, transparently political exculpation.
False Narrative Complete
Immediately after William Barr’s March 24 public letter to Congress, Trump World claimed total vindication. Donald tweeted, “No Collusion, No Obstruction, Complete and Total EXONERATION. KEEP AMERICA GREAT!”
Many believe Barr planned this, i.e., allowed the administration to establish a false favorable narrative long before the actual report comes out — in the spirit of a-lie-is-halfway-around-the-world-before-the-truth-can-get-its-boots-laced-up.
Since then, Bill has backtracked some, due to the critically thoughtful analysis of people who care about this stuff. Also, for the first time ever since the 22-monthslong investigation began, Mueller’s team began leaking; they were extremely unhappy with Barr’s “summary” and launch of a false narrative. On March 29, the AG sent another letter to Congress trying to tidy up his mess by saying he did not intend his summary to be a “summary.” On April 4, the DOJ issued another statement defending the boss’ handling of the report.
But we still don’t have even a redacted version. Barr has delayed the report. His projected delivery date — mid-April — comes, coincidentally, during a congressional recess, which means more time will elapse before the report can be analyzed and reported upon. Even then, he intends to obfuscate it with likely unwarranted redactions.
There were lingering hopes among thinking people that the attorney general, though partisan — and though an arrogant bastard — might still protect the independence and integrity of the institution, the Department of Justice. Those hopes were dashed completely by Barr’s performance before the Senate Wednesday as the top law enforcement officer in the country.
In his testimony this week, AG Barr was evasive about decisions made, communications had, and commitments kept. He answered questions that helped the boss and declined to answer questions that would have hurt the boss. He has refused to seek a court order to release grand jury-related information, which has been the norm in past presidential investigation reports. He made a wild claim, saying, “I don’t know” when asked if Mueller agreed with his determination of no presidential obstruction. Regarding redactions, he told Congress, essentially, you’ll get what I give you.
At the Senate hearing, Bill Barr exposed himself as another Trump obsequious factotum (— thanks to Jake Tapper, inspired by Stephen Miller). He perpetuated a long-, oft-debunked conspiracy theory. Barr said, “I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal. It’s a big deal. I’m not suggesting that those rules were violated, but I think it’s important to look at that. … I think spying did occur, yes, I think spying did occur.”
For Donald, this was like an adult film actress jumping out of his birthday cake during Shark Week — holding a folded copy of Forbes magazine (sporting his likeness on the cover) with which to spank him.
When pressed later in the hearing, Barr tried to walk back his “spying did occur” sentiments. He conceded he has no evidence to suspect any illegalities or misconduct by the FBI or other U.S. intelligence agencies: “I am not saying that improper surveillance occurred. I’m saying that I am concerned about it and looking into it. That’s all.”
Barr might as well have added: “I know the Russia-Trump investigation was initiated properly due to legitimate evidence of foreign election interference and multiple suspicious Russian contacts with the Trump campaign. However, I’m a partisan Republican trying to protect the president, which explains my vague, pro-Trump conspiracy dog whistles. I can do this because I am an arrogant bastard.” (— writer’s embellishment)
He intentionally, unprofessionally used the word spying knowing it would please the president and rile up the Trump-supporting-conspiracy-theory-touting-tin-foil-hat crowd, while giving himself plausible deniability with his walk-back.
When Barr said spying, he meant investigating. One person’s “spying” is another person’s counterintelligence investigation into evidence-based suspected traitorous activity involving a presidential campaign and America’s greatest foreign adversary.
The kicker here is that the U.S. — and American allies — had their intelligence operation lenses focused on Russia, as they generally do against western democracy’s most dangerous enemy. The problems arose for Donald when his relatives, campaign chairman, National Security Advisor-designate, and many other comrades kept showing up in the shot.
Also, Barr is an arrogant bastard.
Before this is all over, I predict Attorney General William Barr also will have acquired the inextinguishable stench of association with Donald Trump. ■
Trump Corruption Chronicles — We Must Never Forget
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