Impeachment is the logical result of a break-the-rules presidency

The Thinker by Rodin

It looks like the House of Representatives will formally vote this week to open an impeachment inquiry on Donald Trump. The move is unnecessary but doubtless the Trump Administration will quickly find another rationale for why it can’t provide testimony and documents for the inquiry. One thing Trump is good at is moving goalposts.

To be clear, the House has the sole power to impeach. The U.S. Constitution is silent on procedures it must use. If the House wanted to, it could conduct it entirely in secret, including the final vote on impeachment. An impeachment is not a trial; it’s the political equivalent of a grand jury indictment. Trump has no more right to open impeachment hearings than he had to be in the grand jury room during Robert Mueller’s investigation into him. An impeachment is a political indictment saying there are probable grounds to think that the president engaged in high crimes and misdemeanors. The Senate has the sole power to remove someone from federal office. Trump’s trial would happen there and both prosecutors and the defendant would have the right to present their case. It’s a very high bar to remove someone from office by impeachment, as it takes two-thirds of senators present to convict.

Trump’s reaction to the impeachment though is symptomatic of his general problem: he assumes he can make whatever rules he wants. His lawyer has taken it to the ultimate extreme, claiming in court that the Constitution gives the president blanket immunity from all actions while in office. This cannot be. If courts upheld this, it would be the end of our republic. A president truly immune from prosecution while in office could cancel elections and declare himself president for life.

So presumably this has no chance in the courts. But to Trump, it may not matter. He thinks he is a dictator and acts like one. So why not ignore the courts? He wouldn’t be the first president. Andrew Jackson ignored Supreme Court decisions he didn’t like, figuring that the court had no way to enforce its decisions. He was right and this points to a fundamental flaw in our system of government: it assumes our Justice Department is not corruptible, because it’s that department which enforces federal law. And ultimately the Justice Department reports to the President. It would be better if the Justice Department was run by our court system.

But lately it sure looks like the Justice Department under Bill Barr is corruptible. Recently, it announced a criminal investigation into Robert Mueller’s investigation of Donald Trump. Also, Bill Barr is running around Europe on taxpayer dollars trying to get foreign governments to investigate crazy allegations against Joe Biden and the Democratic National Committee. Barr is breaking the law by illegally interfering in our election. Logically, he should be impeached too. By statute, the department is supposed to enforce the law as written. Bill Barr though believes his job is to follow out orders by the president instead.

Likely most of the people who voted for Donald Trump were sick to death of our system of government. They saw Trump as the Great Orange Bully that would be the bull in the china shop, breaking things so that the inertia that has characterized our government for the last couple of decades finally comes to an end.

There’s no question that our system of government is hard to legally change. The task is made much harder when those who control it largely are not accountable to voters. Gerrymandering, voter suppression and the endless amounts of money the U.S. Supreme Court is content to allow to be spent on elections makes this already Herculean task that much harder. This explains why some of the most prominent Democratic presidential candidate are running a campaign a lot like Trumps: calling for large structural changes. Doubtless a President Warren or a President Sanders would try to push things to the limit to affect these changes. But it’s unlikely that they would openly break the law to do so. In some ways, this is an admission that their campaign promises are doomed to fail if elected.

So likely is Donald Trump’s presidency. He certainly is breaking things, but our bureaucracy is the bigger and more enduring force and will probably be able to fix the china shop when he is gone, though it may take a few decades. You can see this in whistleblowers coming forward and people agreeing to testify anyhow. The only way that Trump’s changes last is if he can get away with things.

Chances are he will, if he can stay in office. Assuming our justice system is still around after he leaves, he’ll be spending most of the rest of his life as a defendant, if not in prison. Which is why dictatorship appeals to him. He figures he doesn’t have much of a choice but to act like a dictator. His only way out seems to be to never relinquish power.

The most dangerous time for our republic is not yet here. It happens after the November 2020 election. If Trump is reelected, he may well succeed in destroying our government’s fundamental structures. Acquitted by the Senate and presumably given the go ahead by the American people, there is nothing to stop him. If the Senate couldn’t convict him the first time for his many egregious crimes, they likely won’t during a second term.

But if he loses, he has to be removed from office. At that point we all have to hold our breath. He will rally his supporters to take things into their own hands to protect him, which means civil unrest. Ultimately it will come down to our military: will they support Trump or their country? Chances are in January 2021, we will find out. God help us.

Reading the tealeaves on the Trump end game

The Thinker by Rodin

If it’s true that thirty Senate Republicans would convict Trump in an impeachment trial (if a secret vote were allowed), then perhaps what’s needed is a plausible reason they could openly vote to convict Trump. The obvious reasons don’t appear to be enough. Senate Republicans don’t seem to be bothered by his grifting, and likely won’t be the least bit fazed that he’s decided to host the next G-7 meeting at his money-losing Miami resort either. It appears that in general Republicans are on board with using public office for private gain.

They also probably won’t be bothered by what Trump’s chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, openly confirmed today: that aid was withheld from Ukraine specifically to force Ukraine to look into possible Democratic misdeeds there, misdeeds that only appear in the fevered imaginations of the rightmost of the right wing. That’s open lawbreaking, but is most likely wholly excusable by Republicans.

But Trump’s decision to abruptly withdraw our special forces from Northern Syria, in the process abandoning allied Kurdish separatists who were instrumental in neutering the Islamic State, well, that might do it. Hard to say yet but as bad as this is, it keeps getting worse. Turkish president Erdogan wasted no time in sending in paramilitary forces when our troops started to withdraw, and had them throw some volleys near our troops too for good measure too. The House voted 354-60 to condemn Trump’s actions in Syria. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is holding up a similar vote in the Senate, which would likely attract an even higher share of Republicans.

Trump is basically saying to Congress: Impeach me! I dare you!

His lawbreaking is open; the case irrefutable, and it will rest entirely on whether Republicans will put country over party. Right now that looks like a losing bet. However, this Kurdish mistake might be the fig leaf Republicans need. The scope of this disaster is just starting. It’s likely to get much worse.

For example, it looks like we have nuclear weapons in Turkey, a disclosure we only know about because Trump has seemed to confirm it, a breach of long-standing policy. We rent these bases from Turkey, but Turkey essentially control our forces there. Which means that Turkey might grab our nuclear weapons. Oops.

So it’s possible that Turkey would seize these weapons and once seized who knows where they might end up? Presumably it would be very hard to trigger one of these weapons. I hope all sorts of specially encrypted codes would be required, but who knows? They could probably be disassembled and, worse, reengineered. It’s not clear if there is anyone left in the Defense Department agile enough to get these weapons out of Turkey.

There is that plus a whole host of other bad things there that are underway. The Kurds were one of our few allies in the region, and now they are aligned with Syria and Russia simply to survive. There are already atrocities being committed against Kurdish fighters and civilians by Turkish paramilitary forces, if not the Turkish army itself. Hitherto, national security has been the Republican Party’s strong suit. Trump is rapidly making our country less secure. From this vote in Congress, it’s clear Republicans are deeply worried by Trump’s actions.

Trump gets more Captain Queeg-like every day. His latest meeting with Congressional Democrats was described as a Trump meltdown. Trump is pretty obviously cracking, if he hasn’t cracked already. I wonder if like Richard Nixon during Watergate he is talking to a portrait of Abraham Lincoln. Not likely. If talking to any portrait, it would be one of Andrew Jackson.

As Gallup pointed out, when a majority of Americans polled said Nixon should be impeached and removed, Nixon resigned. Trump has already met that milestone. This suggests that Trump’s resignation should also be forthcoming. Like Nixon, there would be no doubt that he would be impeached. It’s much less likely he would actually be removed from office, but that may be changing.

Our genius president would be wise to seriously consider resigning. That’s what most geniuses would do, looking at the bad hand of cards he has served himself. Many believed that Nixon made a secret deal with his then vice president Gerald Ford to pardon him for his offenses before resigning, which Ford did sometime later. A more rational Trump would be looking for a similar exit strategy. It’s really his best hope as his prospects for winning a second term diminish.

Why? Because of that darn U.S. Constitution, which he obviously hasn’t read. Article 2, Section 2 says that the president’s pardon power is unconditional, except in the case of impeachment. So a President Pence could not pardon a former President Trump who is impeached, convicted and removed from office by Congress. This means that after his trials for his many misdeeds are over, Trump would likely spend the rest of his life in prison.

Trump’s vanity and boundless ego probably won’t entertain such a suggestion, and it’s doubtless anyone on his staff has the spine to suggest something pragmatic like this. Nixon was rational enough to know when to resign. It’s unlikely Trump will ever see the bad hand he dealt himself.

Turning of the tide on Trump’s impeachment?

The Thinker by Rodin

Having recently written that there was no bottom for Republicans, I can’t help but wonder now if the tide is finally turning against Donald Trump.

I don’t mean his impeachment. I don’t see how that’s not going to happen now. I mean his removal from office. As I noted in the last post, it’s a high hurdle, since it takes 67 votes, which means 20 of 53 Republicans have to vote to remove him, along with all Democrats and independent senators. It’s never been done successfully before, but then arguably we’ve never had a president who is so chronically a liar and lawbreaker before. And that says a lot because if you study Andrew Jackson’s presidency, you can see why Trump is so busy emulating him.

I believed from the start that if Democrats opened impeachment hearings, the public would come along. And they are coming. The most recent omen that should scare Republican senators: a Fox News poll that 51% of Americans want to see Donald Trump impeached and removed from office. 45% are opposed, but that’s a nine-point shift since July.

It’s hard to see how this gets better for Trump. Not only is he our most reckless president, he’s also our stupidest. He admits lawbreaking that proves the Democrats’ points, making calling witnesses pretty pointless except as a means to add more charges. When you trust your gut more than you trust professionals who are supposed to manage your problems, expect to fall flat on your face. Trump does many times a day. Republicans keep looking for a way to excuse his behavior, but they can’t. Republicans in Congress are now largely running from the press. They don’t want to be pinned down by either the press or voters.

The thing is, there are apparently enough votes to convict Trump already … if senators could hold a secret vote. Maybe in the end, that’s how it will go: they’ll create some mechanism where they put their vote secretly in a box and have it counted. This is likely as brave as these senators will get, since they seem otherwise wholly intimidated by Donald Trump. But the loonier it gets, the easier it may be to summon the political courage required. There is, for example, this tweet by Donald Trump:

That’s right: no one has more wisdom than Donald Trump. How do we know? He says so!

Cracks are appearing all over his ship of state. It’s not just whistleblowers, but also the courts that are beginning to smack him down. Those summoned to testify in front of Congress are starting to come forward, particularly those that no longer work for him. Of course Trump and his Justice Department want to claim executive privilege over those they no longer employ. The real Trump toadies seem to agree, but people are coming forward and testifying anyway.

His stonewalling of Congress isn’t helping him either. First, it gives those who don’t like him more incentive to go against his will: whistleblowers are coming out of the woodwork. Second, the truth is coming out anyhow: there is too much to control, and it doesn’t help when your administration is wholly inept at it. It keeps getting uglier and more egregious. Our ambassador to the European Union was ordered to work with Ukraine, even though Ukraine is not part of the E.U. Our former ambassador to the Ukraine was abruptly fired when she wouldn’t do Rudy Giuliani’s bidding. Giuliani is not a federal employee and has no delegated responsibility. And then there’s Rudy himself, who seems as equally unhinged as Trump. He claims he is Trump’s personal lawyer, but it appears that Trump isn’t actually paying him. Trump loves to get something for nothing. In this case, Giuliani is more like a deadweight dragging him down.

Trump simply doesn’t understand that grifting is bad. He’s surrounded himself with sycophants who agree: the whole point of government is apparently to loot it. There’s no magic document out there that is going to clear him. Instead, day by day, the accumulating evidence will get worse as more grift is exposed.

Things will really hit the fan when his tax records are exposed. He’ll try to keep it bottled up in the courts, but this strategy won’t last forever. As for obstructing Congress, it’s not even slowing down impeachment hearings that much anymore. Trump likes to think he can control what the House can do, but he can’t. He’s impeached already; it’s just a matter of time.

What does it take to get at least 20 Republican senators to vote to convict this guy? It’s not so much finding their backbone, as finding their constituents have turned against him. Now 20% of Republicans support Trump’s impeachment and removal. By nine points, independents favor it as well. These numbers will only continue to grow. In this case though Nixon’s crimes and obstructions look relatively minor. The case against Trump is overwhelming. If there is enough of a political price to pay, Trump can be removed.

The job for the rest of us, particularly those represented by these Republicans, is to let them know they will pay a price. I’m not saying that enough Republicans will summon the necessary courage, but if it happens it’s likely to come like a torrent. The cracks have appeared. At some amorphous point I think it’s likely to come tumbling down.

Here’s hoping.

Trump is unraveling in plain site

The Thinker by Rodin

The governing phase of the Trump presidency is effectively over. Donald Trump is unraveling in plain site. As a result there is basically nothing he can get done between now and the election, assuming he survives that long. I am very skeptical now that he will make it that long.

You know what people care about by how they spend their time. Right now, all Trump cares about is impending impeachment hearings. He has no time to govern because most of the time he is tweeting, and mostly he is tweeting about Democrats having the audacity to hold impeachment hearings against him. There has been 36 tweets today so far, and it’s only 9:15 PM. The first one was at 5:00 AM. And most of them were related to the impeachment investigation. So far that’s nine more than the 27 tweets yesterday, again mostly impeachment related. It’s hard to find a waking hour when our president is not tweeting.

When you tweet all the time, it squeezes out the time you need to actually govern. To govern, you have to make decisions and take actions. You need to talk with your aides, consult with foreign leaders, heck, consult with your own party. Instead his presidency is now largely a series of multiple tweets an hour, mostly full of rage and hurt.

This self-professed extremely stable genius is proving he is none of these things. He is also proving himself awfully damned stupid, or perhaps just incredibly incurious. The main reason Nancy Pelosi approved an impeachment investigation was due to the “transcript” (actually, a bunch of Cliff Notes) of a call he had with the president of Ukraine back in July. It says right on it: declassified and released on authority of the President. And the notes say explicitly that he wanted political favors from Ukraine:

I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot and Ukraine knows a lot about it. I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say Crowdstrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation. I think you’re surrounding yourself with some of the same people. I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it. As you saw yesterday, that whole nonsense ended with a very poor performance by a man named Robert Mueller, an incompetent performance, but they say a lot of it started with Ukraine. Whatever you can do, it’s very important that you do it if that’s possible.

This is against the law: compromising our national security for political purposes. It’s not an ambiguous matter. But Trump denied he did this. So he either did not read the “transcript” he declassified or (perhaps because he is functionally illiterate) didn’t understand what he was reading. Most likely he had no idea that what he did was illegal, or felt that it shouldn’t be because his intent was pure somehow in his own mind. According to the still-anonymous whistleblower, someone figured it out, and moved these notes into a more secure electronic vault specifically for code word classified information, another likely violation of our classification laws.

Just today Trump publicly said China should investigate Joe Biden and his son too. It’s like he wants to be impeached. There are two incontrovertible egregious violations of our law right there.

No one is left in the White House to say no to him. Those who did are gone. All he has left are lackeys, who are easily disposed. His trusted source of news is the Fake News … no, not CNN and the Washington Post, but Fox News and right wing websites that are feeding him fake news, such as that Ukraine has an email server that contains the missing Hillary Clinton emails, or something.

Trump is worried about impeachment because it makes him look bad, which reduces the likelihood that he will win reelection. His chances of actually being removed from office are still slim, although I continue to be astonished that Republicans in Congress are still mostly sitting on their hands and biting their tongues while this Captain Queeg roams around the White House. Trump actually believes the fake news being fed to him. More worrisome (but not surprising) are that his aides do too … they actually believe this crap, or they are too timid to say they know better. Trump won’t brook any dissent. Oh the irony: Trump is being undone by the fake news he consumes because, well, it’s fake, instead of the “Fake News” which his actually real news. His fake news can’t be empirically proven. But his case of cognitive dissonance is so severe he can’t admit to himself that it could possibly be fake; or that his “friends” have been faking him out all this time simply so they could wield political power.

Obviously, this isn’t going to end well. The logical me knows what a more logical Trump should do: simply resign at some point, after getting a promise of a pardon from Mike Pence, as I mentioned in my last post. But Trump is severely mentally ill and is not playing with a full deck. Above all, he can’t acknowledge to himself that he is not the glorious image of himself that he sold to himself and to voters. And with an administration full of sycophants, they apparently mostly believe this stuff too, or simply are in it to the bitter end, like our so-called Attorney General Bill Barr.

My wife is expecting that Trump will bust a blood vessel or something and keel over dead. Given his obesity, his chronic lack of sleep, his refusal to exercise and his dangerously disordered mind, she may be right. He is clearly feeling the gates closing. It’s all he cares about.

His days of governing though are plainly over.

Promises of a Pence pardon is now the key to getting Trump out of office

The Thinker by Rodin

Maybe it was my last post that did it. After waiting all year for Democrats to open up impeachment hearings over a clearly lawless president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has finally decided to open impeachment hearings, or rather an impeachment inquiry, which amounts to the same thing.

It sure is curious though. Mueller’s report has been out since March and it documented ten episodes of obstruction of justice by Trump. The report technically wasn’t needed. There was plenty of impeachable conduct prior to its release that was illegal if true, along with a trail of Trump detritus-charged or convicted of crimes committed at Trump’s behest.

Trump’s former attorney Michael Cohen is sitting in jail right now for his offense, but his un-indicted co-conspirator “Individual-1” isn’t because, well, he’s the President of the United States, and the U.S. Justice Department has decided justice is deferred for presidents until they are out of office. Impeachment though is a political judgment, not a criminal one. There was no reason to wait other than cowardice, unless you believe in game theory.

Why is it that Trump’s attempt to strong arm Ukraine to help his reelection seems to be the straw that broke the camel’s back? After all, during the campaign Trump invited Russia to hack the Democratic Party, and they thoughtfully obliged. But our political wags didn’t see this offense as impeachable. It’s clear that Trump has crossed many big blue lines. I just thought any obstruction of justice allegation would be a big blue line too.

While no one is breathing a sigh of relief, this is the first truly hopeful sign that Trump won’t finish his term. It suddenly feels different, simply because it’s causing quakes in Congress that weren’t manifested before, mostly among Republicans.

Pelosi probably would not have opened an impeachment inquiry at all had it not been for these whistleblower’s charges, which we can finally read online. I’m convinced though that Trump feels truly victimized. He has no idea that his conduct could be illegal because, well, he is profoundly ignorant on matters of the law and avoids being educated. As far as he is concerned, ignorance is an excuse. Moreover, when his people tried to make him act adult-ish, he fired them. So now he has an administration full of sycophants.

He spent his life breaking the rules and largely getting away with it, so this is normal for him. You can often do that if you can afford to throw teams of lawyers at your problems. It’s the way he has always done business: running them like a criminal syndicate and ripping off anyone foolish enough to partner or work with him. He must have figured Republicans in Congress would keep him from facing any consequences. When Democrats won the House in 2018, that illusion was shattered. But he still has the Senate, its Republican majority and control of the 67 senators he needs to avoid conviction.

Is this still true? The Senate has 53 Republicans so at least 20 would have to be persuaded to convict him for him to go. I certainly thought so in my last post, but political friends are rarely true friends. Basically Trump has no friends. I don’t believe there is one Republican senator that wakes up and thinks, “Gosh, Trump and me have so much in common. I wish I could spend more time with Donald Trump.” He certainly has plenty of sycophants like Lindsey Graham that are ready to kiss up to him. Graham used to hate Trump until it was in his political interest to like him, i.e. when his voters voted for Trump. It’s an open secret that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell dislikes him. He’ll join Trump to advance goals of mutual interest, like getting more conservative jurists on our courts. I don’t think he has ever joined Trump for eighteen holes of golf.

Impeachment and conviction then are ultimately political decisions. That’s how it worked for Richard Nixon. So if a senator up for reelection determines he will pay a political price for not convicting Trump, he might bale on Trump. Trump’s running in 2020 is supposed to help his reelection, not hurt it.

As I noted though, Trump’s approval rating in many red states are tipping negative. Those senators up for reelection that clearly affected by Trump’s unpopularity include Susan Collins (ME), Joanie Ernst (IA), Thom Tillis (NC), Martha McSally (AZ) and David Purdue (GA). Right there that’s five seats that could go to Democrats, which would give Democrats the majority in, even if Doug Jones (AL) loses.

There are a number of red states where Trump’s net approval is at zero or only a few points above. I am using a Morning Consult Poll to track Trump’s approval by state, which is about a month old. This is potentially a concern for Steve Daines (MT, +0 Trump approval), John Cornyn (TX, +4), Ben Sasse (NE, +2) and Pat Roberts (KA, +4). If Trump turns toxic in these states, rather than riding his coattails, they could be pulled down with him.

There are other Republican senators up for reelection who are unpopular but haven’t gotten the memo. Take Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Just 18% of Kentuckians approve of the job he is doing, so he has less than half the national approval rating of Donald Trump. In a wave election, and with a good Democratic challenger, next year could be his last in the Senate, not to mention as majority leader.

Trump’s impeachment will be the dominant story for months, and probably all of 2020. If it goes to a trial in the Senate, each senator will be making their own political calculation and may decide they have better prospects if they vote to convict him. The Ukraine evidence is damning. There is no way to say it isn’t. All senators can say is that although it’s damning, they won’t convict Trump anyhow.

Still, getting 67 senators to convict is a huge problem. But will a vote ever be taken? Republican consultant Mike Murphy says 30 Republican senators would vote to convict Trump if the vote was secret. It’s not hard to see Mitch McConnell going to the White House to tell Trump that the votes to convict him are there, so he should resign. That might do it. It worked with Richard Nixon. More importantly, for Trump, resignation would be preferable to actual conviction, a distinction Donald Trump’s fragile ego could not endure.

But there’s another reason Trump should prefer to resign. Presumably Trump would require some conditions for his resignation: a promise from Vice President Pence to pardon him for all related crimes. Because what Trump is scared of the most is not his impeachment, or losing his reelection, but going on trial for his crimes. When he is out of office for any reason, at least before 2023, he’s fair game for prosecutors.

If he wins reelection, he’s golden: he can wait out the statute of limitations. But this is a huge and problematic bet for him, particularly with his unfavorables, a recent impeachment dogging him and a possible recession arriving. Doubtless there is some thought that by being exonerated by the Republican Senate he can claim innocence and ride that to a reelection victory. But look at it from Trump’s perspective: do you want to hope you can win reelection despite the unfavorable odds? Or do you want some assurance that you won’t ever go to jail, if you can be assured of a bunch of Pence pardons? Trump is mostly bluster. I think he’ll go with saving his own skin.

Ultimately, he’ll prefer the golden prison of Trump Tower to the bare metal one with cinder blocks in a federal penitentiary.

Democrats in Congress are proving pathetic

The Thinker by Rodin

The only thing sadder than Donald Trump and the current state of the Republican Party and our democracy may be the current state of the Democratic Party.

I’m reading Hillary Clinton’s book What Happened. It’s not particularly interesting or insightful, but I felt a duty to read it since it was a Christmas present from my daughter. I read it where I read most stuff I don’t want to read: when sitting on the john and in snippets.

I’m reading the chapter where she talks about “those damned emails” (as Bernie Sanders put it). It was such a nothing-burger. There was no rule requiring the Secretary of State to use a @state.gov email address. In fact, her successor John Kerry was the first SoS to use one. Nonetheless, Republicans in Congress and Donald Trump turned this nothing-burger into the major topic of the 2016 election. They used it to create unwarranted mistrust against her.

Arguably, James Comey (former FBI Director) threw the election to Donald Trump by reopening the issue just before the election. So if you can inflate a story that is basically nothing and go at it relentlessly, you can apparently win elections. Donald Trump has obviously used this tactic profitably and is busy repeating it relentlessly. Notice that when anything comes up that makes him look bad he makes up some other phony smear against someone else or some group and promotes it relentlessly. And stupidly, the media usually goes along. The latest one is to complain about homeless people in California. You don’t see the press looking a conditions at our border detention facilities anymore. They’ve moved onto something newer and fresher, and Trump has an infinite supply of bait.

Contrast this with what the Democratic Party is doing with regards to Donald Trump’s many misdeeds. The most recent one is the most egregious of all: an allegation by a whistleblower that is likely that Donald Trump asked the government of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden’s son for potential misdeeds in his work for Ukraine. Donald Trump has relentlessly been using his office for private gain since becoming president. It should not surprise us that he is also using it to undercut a potential opponent in the 2020 campaign.

If this was a quid-pro-quo arrangement with Ukraine, as in “I won’t release our aid to your country until you do this for me” (and Ukraine’s funds have been suspiciously held up), it would be a clearly illegal act, a national security issue and about the highest crime possible relevant to removing a president from office. No wonder this whistleblower felt compelled to blow the whistle. Compared to Hillary’s “crime”, it’s at least a thousand times worse.

So you would think Congress would be doing something to hold Trump accountable. House committees hold sporadic hearings where subpoenaed witnesses rarely show up. The Trump Administration simply stonewalls all Congressional subpoenas and witnesses. Trump claims powers that he doesn’t have. For example, Corey Lewandowsky never even worked for the White House, but Trump claimed executive privilege over his testimony. Lewandowsky did testify, sort of, but revealed little new and was rude and snide the whole time to the committee. The others didn’t bother to show up.

The obvious response by Democrats should have been to call the Sergeant at Arms and put Lewandowsky in the clink. The House has such a cell in the Capitol basement. They could let him out after he pays a fine TBD until he truthfully answered all their questions. The House has done this in the past for those showing contempt of Congress. Naturally, Democrats did nothing.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is convinced that impeaching Trump is bad politics. She fears a backlash that will strip Democrats of their majority in the house. This is despite polls consistently showing Trump deeply disliked, even in red states like Arizona. Whereas Republicans proved in its endless Benghazi – Clinton email investigations that going after someone relentlessly is good politics, regardless of whether it turns up anything. It’s Congress doing its job: oversight. Unlike Hillary Clinton though, Democrats have a mountain of credible crimes and misdemeanors against Trump. Any one of them done by Barack Obama would have resulted in impeachment by Republican House of the time.

By doing nothing of consequence, Democrats in Congress are basically enabling a bully. Bullies though just keep getting stronger until they are stood up to. They have to be faced down. If they get away with it, they try even more outlandish stuff. The sky is the limit for Donald Trump. Most recently he had his lawyers make the outlandish claim that he can’t be prosecuted for any federal or state crimes while in office. This is clearly false, but Trump makes his own reality. He’ll keep making his own reality until he is stood up to.

Yes, if impeached by the House he likely will not be thrown out of office because at the moment there are not 67 senators with the spine to do so. Nonetheless, the House should impeach his ass. First, if Congress doesn’t take action in these situations, God help the next Congress that tries to hold a president accountable. Second, keeping aides from testifying alone is impeachable conduct. A Congress that can’t perform its oversight role cannot function. It’s like expecting Congress to write laws without having access to any information. Third, there has never been a case of a president who deserved impeachment more. The legal and political case against Trump is overwhelming.

Also, the optics are changing. The country is now evenly divided about whether Trump should be impeached or not. A majority of House Democrats also favor impeachment hearings. It’s changing because more people are paying attention. The more that do, the more they realize it is not only justified, but necessary.

Democrats can look at history for perspective. Polls showed that Richard Nixon maintained good favorability ratings until shortly before he resigned, and Trump’s are much worse already. Calling attention to his misconduct, as relentlessly as attention was paid on Hillary Clinton’s emails, makes it newsworthy and draws attention.

But at some point, Congress simply needs to draw some boundaries. Simply obstructing Congress’s duty to conduct oversight is impeachable because he is thwarting the intent of the constitution he swore to uphold. It’s quite possible that by taking steps to open impeachment hearings that Trump will cave and start providing witnesses. Bullies after all are more smoke than actual power. Their power diminishes quickly when they are called to account.

Congress should be using every tool in its toolbox if for no other reason than to keep it relevant. The only power it is exercising so far filing lawsuits, which Trump wait it out until they are moot. He’ll probably ignore rulings he doesn’t like anyhow. This minimal oversight seems to be what Nancy Pelosi wants as well. She wants an election to impeach Donald Trump. Hopefully that will work in keeping him from getting a second term, but it does nothing to restore the rule of law and the proper balance of power within government. It’s the latter than is the worse threat in the long term.

Why we must impeach Donald Trump

The Thinker by Rodin

So the Mueller report (with many redactions) finally was made public. Unsurprisingly, the report did not exonerate Trump. It was quite the opposite, in fact. While Mueller could not prove beyond a reasonably doubt that Trump or his campaign conspired with Russia, he found plenty of evidence to show that Trump obstructed justice. He just refused to prosecute these obstructions, believing that constraints put on his investigation precluded this possibility.

Mueller basically laid out the obstruction charges and their underlying evidence and suggested that Congress could impeach Trump in part based on his evidence. Less noticed was another possible approach: wait until Trump was out of office and then prosecute him. But this is only viable if Trump does not win reelection and the subsequent administration chooses to prosecute these crimes within the five years of the statute. If Trump does win reelection, the statute of limitations effectively means he can’t be charged for these crimes. In short, in certain situations the president can circumvent his own accountability to the law. It’s all because of an opinion by the Justice Department that a sitting president can’t be indicted for crimes while in office. (This seems strange to me. What’s the point of having a vice president then?)

I noted before that Trump wouldn’t escape justice. Neither Richard Nixon nor Bill Clinton did. Nixon agreed to resign to keep from being impeached and convicted, a badge of shame that he carried to his grave. On Bill Clinton’s last day in office, Clinton agreed to pay a fine and lose his law license for perjury he committed testifying about his relationship with Monica Lewinski. This was to avoid facing these charges and possible jail time when out of office.

In some ways those were simpler times. Today’s hyper-partisan Congress means that if the House impeaches Trump, it’s almost a slam-dunk that the Senate won’t convict him, just as the Senate refused to convict Clinton and narrowly avoided convicting Andrew Johnson. Nixon would have certainly been removed from office for his cover up, i.e. obstruction of justice charges laid out by his special prosecutor. Mueller laid out ten obstruction of justice charges that could be filed against Trump and likely would have been filed against him if Justice Department regulations forbad it.

I’m surprised no one has filed a lawsuit to challenge these regulations. It’s possible but unlikely that the Supreme Court would declare them unconstitutional. There is no law that gives the president this special treatment, just an opinion (once amended) by the Justice Department’s legal team.

Mueller’s team made fourteen referrals to other prosecutors, only two of which we know about. It’s quite likely that some of these referrals will come back to bite Trump, either before or after he leaves office. It’s already quite clear that New York State will be prosecuting Trump and the Trump Organization for violating its charity laws. The Trump family may face prosecution since it looks like they fraudulently protected their father’s wealth to inherit more of it. Trump’s sister abruptly resigned her appellate court seat recently to avoid an internal investigation. So despite Attorney General Bill Barr’s spin that the report leaves the president untouched, it’s quite clear that Trump will be haunted by charges and court cases, probably for the rest of his life.

There are a lot of wags in Congress discussing whether Trump should be impeached or not. Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already stated she doesn’t want to open impeachment hearings unless there are enough Republican votes in the Senate to make Trump’s conviction likely. Others like my home state senator Liz Warren have publicly stated that Congress has a duty to open impeachment hearings and if the evidence is strong enough, to convict the president and remove him from office.

I’m with Liz. Certainly I’m aware that there is little likelihood that the Senate would convict Trump. I suppose it is possible that hearings would bring to light enough evidence to persuade enough Republican senators to throw Trump overboard. I am for impeachment not for an idealistic reason, but for a pragmatic reason: the lawless Trump Administration must not be used as a model by future administrations hoping to escape justice.

Just two posts ago I noted how alarmed I was because I felt we were at the edge of autocracy. I’m just as alarmed today. The way for a democracy to survive is not to acquiesce but to rise to the occasion. It’s likely if the House held an impeachment vote that it would impeach Trump. It would set a mark in the sand for future presidents that this conduct is unacceptable. It would also force a trial in the Senate that, even if doomed, would hold senators accountable. It would mark those voting against his conviction for life. The case for Trump’s lawlessness is inescapable.

So while it might not actually hold Trump accountable, it would formally tarnish his legacy, give little sanction to his behavior, uphold the principle that no one is above the law, demonstrate that Congress had the nerve to push back against a lawless president and make it easier in the future to maintain our democracy.

Pelosi is looking at the 2020 election and wondering if impeachment would distract from a winning message for Democratic candidates. I am thinking that standing up for democracy and the rule of law is the primary responsibility of any member of Congress. That’s what they are elected to do, not to be weasels. If the American people object to that, well then our democracy truly is lost.

Let’s not give in to hopelessness and unaccountability. Let’s do the right thing and open impeachment hearings.

Trump won’t escape justice this time

The Thinker by Rodin

Karmic payback is a bitch. Donald Trump has spent a lifetime avoiding accountability. He got out of serving in Vietnam by having the family doctor write letters saying he had bone spurs in his foot. He escaped poverty by being born into a rich family and by having a father who made him a millionaire (in today’s dollars) at age three.

Letting others take the hit for him cushioned most of his failures. His father bailed out his failing businesses at least three time. When his businesses failed, fellow investors often took it on the chin instead of him. He also stiffed lots of contractors. When things got tight financially, he found people and institutions willing to bail him out.

It’s pretty obvious now why he has refused to release his tax returns. They will show he is not nearly as wealthy as he claims to be. Investigations seem to be showing how he really got his money during the last decade or so: loans from Deutsche Bank, which were probably underwritten by Russian oligarchs. There was also lots of money laundering: selling condos for inflated prices, disproportionately to Russian oligarchs and always in cash.

For Trump, it’s always about the money. He’s assumed that money buys privilege. Wave enough green stuff under their noses and he can make affairs with Stormy Daniels and ex-Playboy bunnies disappear. And to his credit, between this, his late father’s money and lots of suspicious money laundering, it’s worked for him. All his life he has taken huge risks, but most of them were cushioned. It’s given him a brash and oversized obnoxious personality. Trump has always stayed one step ahead of the game. However, he’s going to find out that he can’t escape consequences and justice this time.

Trump will be able to postpone a lot of the accountability that is coming at him. His best strategy for holding on is to win reelection in 2020 or die in office. Because of a Department of Justice regulation that declines to prosecute presidents while in office, holding onto power is essential to continue his no-accountability lifestyle. He’s also hoping his latest Supreme Court pick, Justice Kavanaugh, will go to bat for him in a future ruling. The question likely to make it to the court: can a sitting president be indicted while in office for state crimes if federal regulations won’t let him be prosecuted for similar federal crimes? A decision by the court there might expand protections to exempt these as well as long as he is in office.

So far it’s not looking too good for Trump. A federal judge has allowed an emoluments lawsuit by Maryland and the District of Columbia to go forward; subpoenas of the Trump Organization will soon be issued.

It’s hard though to see a scenario where charges are not filed after he leaves office. There is one really wacky outlier possibility: Trump decides to pardon himself for any crimes he may have committed. A president’s pardon power in the constitution is not explicitly limited to prohibit him from pardoning himself. That’s because the constitution assumed that the president would not be wholly corrupt. It appears that a president cannot pardon crimes explicitly specified in the constitution itself. Ultimately it would be up to the Supreme Court again to decide if Trump could legally pardon himself. As stacked as the court is with right wing judges, it’s hard to see how even a court full of “strict constructionists” could uphold such a pardon. It would make a mockery of the rule of law. Trump of course has explicitly said he has the power to pardon himself.

So in early 2021 or early 2025 at the latest, the game is up for Trump and his accountability moment will finally arrive. Fortunately for prosecutors, Trump has left numerous breadcrumbs that will make documenting his complicity and intentions a no brainer; his Twitter feed is an obvious place to start. Trump is his own worst enemy, a condition due to his obvious case of malignant narcissism. Far from being a stable genius, he is an impulsive dumbass instead.

Maybe he still suffers from delusions that he can get the justice he wants by appointing people who will stifle Mueller’s investigation. That horse is already out of the barn. Mueller’s final report may be squelched by a new Attorney General (who won’t recuse himself from the Mueller investigation), but Mueller has already written de-facto reports. They are called indictments. Moreover, Mueller has smartly decentralized parts of the investigation, for instance, turning over the prosecution of Michael Cohen (Trump’s late personal attorney) to the Southern District of New York. It’s unlikely that whoever oversees Mueller will do much to restrain him. The political costs are too high.

Trump is stuck, but so is the nation. I’ve suggested before that Trump might just resign. A more reasonable president would when he saw the odds against him. But in Trump’s case, a resignation opens the door for prosecutions against him to start. Trump is obviously not playing with a full deck; he may be too stupid to realize this and resign anyhow. But he has every incentive to hang onto power simply to avoid the accountability that has always been chasing him. The House may impeach him, but he’s unlikely to be convicted in the Senate, even though the legal case for his corruption is overwhelming. So likely we have two more years of struggling with a slowly dissembling Donald Trump instead.

Given Trump’s obesity and the psychological stress he is obviously under, it may kill him first. As he gets loonier and loonier, a 25th amendment remedy could be triggered. Given though how much lunacy he has already inflicted on us, and Pence has not triggered the 25th amendment, it’s hard for me now to see how this can happen. But it certainly could. There may be some limit to his lunacy that those left in his administration simply can no longer tolerate.

Ultimately justice should be served, in the courts if not from his premature death from a stroke or embolism. It remains to be seen though whether there will be much left of our democracy at the end of this national trial. But while our courts at least seem to remain largely uncorrupted, there is plenty of reason to feel confident that justice will eventually be served on Donald J. Trump.

The 25th Amendment remedy to remove Trump is looking more probable

The Thinker by Rodin

In case it’s not obvious, we are amidst a current constitutional crisis. It’s only not a constitutional crisis if you are perfectly okay with authoritarianism over the rule of law or are fine with one branch of government refusing to hold the other accountable. If that’s you, then you don’t believe in our constitutional government.

The New York Times published an anonymous OpEd the other day. In it, a “senior administration official” admitted they were managing Donald Trump the man-child, by keeping many of his impetuous decisions from actually being carried out. This OpEd is perfectly consistent with Bob Woodward’s latest book Fear in which many other senior administration officials anonymously say similar things.

However, these self-styled patriots apparently couldn’t keep the man-child from a disastrous policy of separating foreign children from their parents at the Mexican border, probably because they liked the policy. But at least they were awake enough to distract Trump with something shiny and new until he forgot about a boneheaded impetuous decision to assassinate Syria’s president Bashar al-Assad. This anonymous insider says staff are whispering a 25th amendment while none of them are bold enough to actually resign and call for it to be invoked.

As for Trump, of course he is bursting blood vessels over this. He calls it fake news while demanding that the Justice Department find the official who wrote it and charge him/her with “treason”. This is his tacit admission that he believes it was written by someone on his inner staff. Our man-child president of course has no idea what actual treason is. It’s quite possible that Trump is guilty of treason by collaborating with Russia to rig our election. Given that no state secrets were released in this OpEd and freedom of speech and the press are privileges of our democracy, this argument makes no sense … unless it’s the open secret that our president is a narcissistic moron. Even Trump’s supporters must now agree he is one; they just see it as a feature, not a bug.

Apparently it takes a moron to bring down a constitutional democracy, which is what Trump means by Making America Great Again. I got to admit; I did not see this coming. I thought you had to be more devious to bring down our great democracy. But perhaps Trump is just a fool; unaware that overlord Vladimir Putin had surreptitiously pressed his buttons.

I have little doubt that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis has already had discussions with the president’s military attachés who carry around the black box with the nation’s nuclear launch codes: if Trump wants to launch nuclear weapons, he has to clear it with Mattis first. So maybe that is something of a safety valve for our country, at least until Trump decides to replace him with a toady.

I personally am betting that Trump’s all-consuming malignant narcissism keeps him distracted from executing some of these impulses. Since his ego is at stake, Job #1 is to obsessively watch the media to see how he is being portrayed and to counter the relentless narrative that he’s an impetuous and dangerous moron. Curiously, his every tweet reinforces the narrative that he is one. I’m actually hoping this state of affairs will prevail until November 6, when voters are likely to deliver Trump a clear message.

The midterm’s results may finally give Republicans a clear message too: Trump is toxic to their party. With an election behind them it might stiffen some spines to get rid of him altogether. It’s not likely, but it’s possible. If it happens though it will because Trump further careens off the rails. They will have to hope they can toss him overboard to calm the seas before 2020 elections.

Much depends on Republican voters, who support Trump with a 90% approval rating. Lost in his high approval numbers among Republicans is the shrinking size of the Republican Party as lukewarm Trump supporters move into the independents column. This explains why Trump’s overall approval rating now averages in the high thirties.

Trump will probably get impeached next year when Democrats retake the House. But even if Democrats retake the Senate too, actually removing him will require fifteen or so Republicans to develop spines. So in practical terms, Trump can probably only be removed by the 25th Amendment. A disastrous midterm might be enough of a catalyst for some cabinet members to call for it, members that Trump can conveniently fire.

Vice President Mike Pence though really would have to initiate this process. Some speculate that he is the anonymous author of this OpEd. He is also the one person in the Executive that Trump cannot fire, as he has a constitutional office. Pence, of course, has been working hard to excel in the role of Chief Toady. But doubtless he has presidential aspirations. He might make the leap to “Betrayer in Chief” if he thought he could get away with it. If not, then resigning and offering himself as a Republican alternative in 2020 is not a bad strategy. He’s just as evil as Trump but can at least run the machinery of government. That may appeal to Congressional Republicans who would have to give Trump the heave ho.

It all depends on Trump’s behavior, of course. He is showing all the predictable strains of someone with extreme narcissism in its final stages of unraveling under threat. The best case for the country would be his sudden resignation in a fit of pique, which I still think is the most likely, perhaps after Mueller issues his report (“rigged witch hunt”). If he survives impeachment and removal and if no 25th Amendment remedy succeeds, this crazy constitutional crisis is likely to drag on through 2020, assuming we survive as a nation until then.

Stay tuned. It’s not like we have any choice.

Coming up: a blog post on how we can prevent these crises in future presidencies.

Trump is an illegitimate president

The Thinker by Rodin

The day of Donald Trump’s election is certainly seared in my mind, as it is in most Americans’. Like most people, including apparently Donald Trump, I thought Hillary Clinton had the thing locked up. And she did if we elected presidents by popular vote: she won by three millions votes. Trump’s lopsided win in the Electoral College was made possible by margins of about 4000 votes in Pennsylvania, 10,000 votes in Michigan and 22,000 votes in Wisconsin. Had Clinton won those states she would have squeaked a win of 273-258 in the Electoral College.

That night was surreal and every day since has been too. I didn’t sleep that night but the next day I felt that our country had fundamentally changed. As someone not given to conspiracy theories, I felt his election had to be something of a fluke. But based on what we now know, it’s clear that Donald Trump was not fairly elected and is hence an illegitimate president.

I’ll grant you that Hillary Clinton was a poor candidate. If you want to win, a party should never nominate a candidate with negative likability scores. But Trump’s were just as bad. Two really unpopular candidates were nominated. No surprise then that, like in 2000, so many on the margins voted third party. Libertarian party candidate Johnson got 3% and Green party candidate Stein got 1%.

Events this week though show clearly that the odds were unfairly and illegally stacked to elect Trump. With these tiny margins in three swing states, it’s quite likely that had Americans known that Trump had paid off at least two mistresses before the vote that our national nightmare would not now be underway.

This Tuesday of course both Trump’s former lawyer Michael Cohen and ex-Trump campaign chair Paul Manafort were convicted of multiple felonies each. Cohen directly implicated Trump, making him effectively an unindicted co-conspirator. If Trump were a nobody instead of president, he too would have been indicted for these campaign finance violations, a felony. Cohen of course should have never participated in this crime, but he would have never had the temptation had Trump not directed him to do so.

Then there are the Russian government’s efforts to help Trump. It’s also clear that at least some in the Trump campaign, specifically Donald Trump Jr., Paul Manafort and Michael Cohen attended a meeting with Russians for the express purpose of learning dirt on Hillary Clinton. Since just hours after the meeting Trump tweeted that there would be forthcoming dirt on Hillary, it really sounds like he was in the know too. I expect that these links will come out in time and we’ll discover genuine conspiracy.

In any event, it was not a free and fair election. The Trump campaign did not play by the rules. And it was enough, by a tiny margin, to swing the election. There were of course other acts, arguably legal but morally repugnant, that helped as well. These included voter suppression efforts and making people in certain precincts wait inordinately long to cast a vote. It’s impossible to say if the election had been fair that Trump would still have won. But it is clear that by playing dirty and by participating in illegal activities, things that voters should have known were not known and probably would have changed a lot of votes. Former FBI Director James Comey’s announcement late in the campaign that the FBI was reopening its investigation the Clinton investigation, against FBI policy so close to an election, obviously had some influence too.

While it’s surprising to me that Trump won, it’s not surprising to me that the Trump campaign fought dirty. Trump hasn’t changed at all. He always jumps first and expects not to pay a consequence. He attracts people with similar inclinations, which apparently consist of virtually the entire Republican Party. Unlike Richard Nixon, he is likely to escape the political consequences of these actions because Republicans show no inclination to put country before party, which they did in the Watergate era. I remember.

Still, karma may pay Donald Trump a visit at last. While he is unlikely to be forced from office, he is likely to get impeached (but not removed from office) if Democrats retake the house this November. Also, Trump has a history of bailing when things get too bad. Thus it’s quite possible that when the evidence of his guilt becomes overwhelming he will resign in a fit of pique.

His behavior this week has been his most bizarre to date; he is clearly under great psychological strain. Even if he can escape impeachment and removal, he is likely to be charged with crimes in the state of New York, most likely for running his charity in an illegal manner but quite possibly for money laundering too. He can’t pardon himself or his lackeys out of state charges. At best he can only defer these trials until he is out of office. It’s quite possible that Trump will spend years in prison after leaving office, a dubious first for a U.S. president.

As far as his reputation is concerned, he can now never escape having an asterisk next to his name in the ranks of U.S. presidents. The footnote will have to note that his election was likely illegitimate. Trump accused Barack Obama of being an illegitimate president because he asserted that he was born in Kenya. Oh the irony that his accuser will forever live with this asterisk, and with overwhelming evidence that will show him to be the worst U.S. president in history.

Rest easier, Richard Nixon.