Friday, April 19, 2019

If Mueller were a Dem...

First: The NYT offers a good summary of the counterintelligence aspect of the Mueller investigation. For the most part, the report does not explore this territory.
The stark reality is that one might have a moderate to high confidence that decisions are being made by an American president who, in the process of getting elected and after assuming office, has acted with the interests of an often-hostile foreign power influencing him.

And that conclusion is deeply worrisome as a national security matter.
Unfortunately, the Times neglects to address what I consider the most worrisome indicator that Trump (or someone close to him) has directly aided Putin.

The moles.

Why the hell aren't more people concerned about the moles?

During the opening stages of the Trump presidency -- actually, it started during the transition -- Putin systematically arrested a number of people in his national security structure, most of whom were accused of being spies for America. See here and here. Why aren't more people concerned about the ultra-suspicious timing of this purge? Am I the only one willing to posit that someone high up in our national security establishment handed Putin a list of names?

About the report: No, I've not yet completely read all 400-plus pages. But I've read a fair amount, and I've followed the online and cable news discussions ravenously. Bottom line: The report surprised me. Mueller accomplished more than expected, delivering some actual meat to go with the gravy. Meanwhile, Barr's slimy performance unmasked him as the world-class deceiver that I always knew him to be. Arguably, his lies smell worse than those told by Trump, if only because Barr's higher intelligence allows him to beguile more suavely.

In short: I was pleasantly surprised by the report. Yet I remain disappointed.

As noted in a previous post, our political culture maintains an infuriating double standard: When a Democratic president needs to be investigated, only a Republican prosecutor is considered acceptable. Conversely, when a Republican president needs to be investigated, only a Republican prosecutor is considered acceptable. This, despite the fact that the Republicans have established a far more formidable history of trickery and deception. Obvious examples: Watergate, Iran-contra, the lies that begat the Iraq invasion.

If Mueller were a Dem, he would not have given Don Jr. a pass for his insufficient awareness of election laws. Ignorance of the law is no excuse -- except if you are a Republican.

(Winona Ryder should have declared herself a Republican: "Hey, I didn't know that there were laws against shoplifting." She would have walked.)

If Mueller were a Dem, he would not have followed that hoary DOJ guideline memo which forbids the indictment of a president in office. The insufficiency of that guide has become quite apparent; the memo in question was written at a time when no-one contemplated the possibility of a president receiving aid from a hostile foreign power. This "rule" is not a law, merely a tradition -- and tradition should serve the citizenry, not the other way round. Why did Mueller feel fettered by a non-binding memo?

If Mueller were a Dem, he would have explicitly asked for impeachment, as Ken Starr did.

If Mueller were a Dem, he would not have handed important national security cases off to the tender mercies of William Barr, who will surely upend the prosecutions.

If Mueller were a Dem, he would have explicitly stated that Trump committed obstruction of justice, as the evidence clearly demonstrates. It's not enough to say that Trump has not been exonerated; we need something more explicit. Perhaps Mueller should have trotted out that old Doonesbury line: "Guilty guilty GUILTY!" I'm not at all persuaded by the "fairness" argument -- the argument that Trump should not be accused of a crime until he can defend himself in court, and that a court case must be postponed until he leaves office. Trump can (and does) defend himself very effectively, via the presidential bully pulpit and via a massively-effective right-wing propaganda machine.

If Mueller were a Dem, he would have admitted that, by any reasonable standard, the Manafort/Kilimnik interaction constitutes collaboration between a Trump campaign official and a functionary of the Russian government.

If Mueller were a Dem, he would have expanded the inquiry to include non-campaign personnel who interacted with both Team Trump and the Russians. In particular, he would have followed the investigative trail that Marcy Wheeler indicated when she approached the FBI. The more I think about that matter, the more important it seems. (I may explain what I mean in a later post.)

If Mueller were a Dem, he would have made crystal clear that Trump avoided conspiracy charges by obstructing justice. Evidence was destroyed; text messages were deleted. Most importantly: Trump clearly dangled a pardon in front of Manafort's eyes.

(Manafort appears to have been the key Trump/Russia point man. Something similar, I'd wager, could be said of Roger Stone, although we can't be sure at this point because so much Stone material was redacted.)

Here we see the danger of Barr's declaration that an obstruction charge should not be levied without proof of an underlying crime. By Barr's reasoning, John Gotti did nothing wrong when he beat the rap through witness intimidation.

What bothers me most of all is this nation's shifting standard for obstruction of justice.

George Conway, of all people, raised an important point when he compared the Mueller report to the "smoking gun" tape that brought down Nixon. At the time, the tape was said to offer ironclad proof that Nixon had committed obstruction. In fact, the tape documented attempted obstruction: Nixon asked CIA Director Richard Helms to tell a false story to the FBI in order to shoo the Bureau away from investigating the Watergate burglary. Nixon made the ask because he thought he could trust Helms. But Helms did not do as requested.

As one wit noted, history does not repeat itself, but it does rhyme. Anyone should be able to see an obvious rhyme between Trump/McGahn and Nixon/Helms, the major difference being the contrast between McGahn's honorable resignation versus the covert backstabs exchanged between Tricky Dick and the Even Trickier Dick.

In the 1970s, attempted obstruction was considered insufferable: Nixon had to go. Now, in this report, Mueller has given us the Smoking Gun Tape times ten -- yet we tolerate and rationalize the criminality of Donald Trump. Suddenly, attempted obstruction doesn't count.

Can this Republic survive? 

I began this post with the intent to say much, much more -- particularly on the topic of Paul Manafort, about whom the report gave us much juicy new information. No-one seems to have noted that the new Manafort revelations buttress my long-held suspicion that the real Trump scandal involves election fraud. Few care to discuss the possibility that Russia directly interfered with the vote tabulation. Well, I'm foolish enough to go where angels fear to tread, and thus I will soon have more to say about that.

Right now, let us ponder both the strengths and the weaknesses of the Mueller investigation. Was he the right choice for the job? Would we have been better served by someone more partisan and less beholden to tradition?

Let us ponder, too, the chutzpah of the Republicans, who have declared vindication even when the report offers nothing of the sort. I'm reminded of that old joke from the Vietnam era: Nixon should just declare victory and pull our troops out. Trump is declaring victory even though he just had half his capacious ass handed to him.

Infuriatingly, this tactic will probably work. And at the height of his victory dance, Trump may well pardon both Manafort and Flynn, while Barr will deep-six all of the "mystery cases" which Mueller referred to the DOJ.

If Mueller were a Dem, he would have found some way to prevent that sorry outcome.


joseph said...

I'm just stunned that Mueller didn't get Trump's financials. Everybody seems to assume that Putin wanted Trump in so Trump could seriously damage America's brand and not object to Putin's actions in the international arena. But what if it's not that, but that Trump needed to repay Russian, Deutshe Bank, loans. What if Trump was in default, like he always is and offered to repay if he got elected? What if it's not the politics, but the money?

Alessandro Machi said...

If Trump asks someone, or orders someone, he has authority over to obstruct, and they refuse, Trump has not committed a crime. However, if Trump then punishes the person in any way for refusing to break the law on his behalf, then that is another story, and one that at the moment has not yet been addressed. Instead of looking to who refused Trump's Obstruction orders, everyone should be looking at everyone who was fired and see if Trump fired anyone because they refused to break the law on his behalf.

Joseph Cannon said...

Alessandro, that's silly. You've ignored the precedent I cite: The Nixon/Helms interaction documented by the "smoking gun" tape.

Okay, it IS true that Nixon fired Helms in February of 1973, ostensibly for other reasons. Nobody has ever suggested that the firing was motivated by the refusal to obstruct justice on Nixon's behalf, although I would not dismiss the idea. It gets kind of weird, because on pretty much the same day Helms was fired, Nixon offered him the post of ambassador to the USSR, a job Helms didn't take, although he DID accept a subsequent offer to be the ambassador to Iran. It's all pretty mysterious and I admit that I've never quite understood that series of events. I don't even have a proper theory. It is worth noting that McCord wrote his famous letter to Sirica in March of '73, and that McCord was (I'm told) a Helms loyalist.

At any rate, the special prosecutor never argued that Helms was punished for refusing to go along with the obstruction scheme. It was believed (correctly) that the mere existence of this scheme constituted obstruction.

The parallel to Trump/McGahn is striking.

gadfly said...

I am unsure that it makes much difference as to which political party the felonious president or his prosecutor belongs. After all, it was a GOP Senate that voted against Slick Willie's impeachment fate arising from his dalliances with Miz Lewinsky and then Independent Counsel Robert Ray, a Republican, let Bubba walk from further danger from perjury and obstruction of justice charges after his term of office ended for a mere 25 Grand and suspension of his law license. In 1994, Clinton had agreed to settle the Paula Jones lawsuit for $850K, but word has it that this princely sum didn't come from the president.

Mr Mike said...

If Robert Muller were a Dem in the manner of the Third Way caucus, he would have folded.
Though Trump has tried, the public knows the republican bona fides of Mueller, Comey, Rosenstein, et al. A flawed report better than none at all.
Pelosi was hoping Mueller would give her cover and she wouldn't have to go out on a limb. Now she has to spine up.
Here's a thought, the public is against impeachment in a way they weren't against the Iraq invasion. We need a Judith Miller/New York Times grinning up the call to impeach.

Alessandro Machi said...

Joseph, your Nixon analogy sounds similar, yet there are differences. Nixon was already in the White House when he ordered his people to shoo away any investigation, and he recorded his orders. But if his people did not follow his orders, he should not have been impeached UNLESS he then punished the people who refused his order to obstruct.

Alessandro Machi said...

Gadly, 50 Republicans voted for Impeachment, five did not. I hardly call that a ringing endorsement. 67 votes were needed, they got 50. And this was for lying about a CONSENSUAL BJ. Absolutely unbelievable.

A perfect example of abuse, over reach,, and excess, Indicting a President for lying abouit an act that did not break the law but would have caused a weakening of the President's Power if admitted do.