Investigations Of Trump Expand Along With Speculation That He Will Repeat Saturday Night Massacre

News reports discussed two avenues of investigation being pursued regarding Donald Trump. One of them, his business ties, appears to be of value. The other is of more questionable value–fake news on Facebook.

Bloomberg is reporting that Robert Mueller is expanding the investigation into Trump’s business ties:

The U.S. special counsel investigating possible ties between the Donald Trump campaign and Russia in last year’s election is examining a broad range of transactions involving Trump’s businesses as well as those of his associates, according to a person familiar with the probe.

FBI investigators and others are looking at Russian purchases of apartments in Trump buildings, Trump’s involvement in a controversial SoHo development in New York with Russian associates, the 2013 Miss Universe pageant in Moscow and Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to a Russian oligarch in 2008, the person said.

The investigation also has absorbed a money-laundering probe begun by federal prosecutors in New York into Trump’s former campaign chairman Paul Manafort.

The Wall Street Journal has further information related to the investigation of Paul Manafort:

Mr. Manafort, a Republican political consultant, spent years working for a pro-Russia party in Ukraine. He served as Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign manager for roughly three months in 2016 before resigning.

New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman and Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr. also are investigating Mr. Manafort’s real-estate transactions, The Wall Street Journal has reported, with both offices examining his dealings for possible money-laundering and fraud. Messrs. Schneiderman and Vance are Democrats.

Mr. Manafort has spent and borrowed tens of millions of dollars in connection with properties in the U.S. over the past decade, including a Brooklyn, N.Y., townhouse and California properties being developed by his son-in-law, the Journal has reported.

The nature of the investigation, along with the contempt for law enforcement expressed by Donald Trump in an interview with The New York Times, has many predicting that Trump will wind up firing Paul Manafort in a scenario reminiscent of Richard Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre. Periodically I receive comments that such criticism of Trump comes from out of touch left wingers, so I will note that the conservative National Review also predicts, Yeah, Trump Is Probably Going to Fire Robert Mueller.

While I hope to see Manafort pursue investigations into the business dealings of Donald Trump and his associates, I question whether Congressional investigators will really find out much of value in an investigation of fake news and Facebook. CNN reports:

Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate intelligence committee, met with Facebook officials in California more than a month ago as part of his committee’s investigation into potential collusion or election interference, and he’s convinced the company can explain whether anyone from the Trump campaign helped Russians boost fake news articles targeting Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton. Warner is testing the theory popular among Democratic operatives that Russia was behind spikes in fake news that were anti-Clinton and that Russia had help targeting those articles from US political operatives…

At the core of Warner’s questioning is a theory among Democratic operatives and former top-level Clinton campaign staff that Russia had help from domestic political operatives to micro-target fake news articles. No evidence has been uncovered to prove that theory.

Last month, Senate intelligence staff interviewed Brett Horvath, a social media technology expert who argues it’s possible that Russian operatives got political data that could then be used for successfully micro-targeting swing voters on Facebook.

“Facebook has all the data that could prove this is happening or not happening, that’s the starting point,” Horvath, a veteran Democratic political operative, told CNN.

The key line above is, “No evidence has been uncovered to prove that theory.”

There certainly was fake news spread during the campaign, as there also was against Barack Obama and John Kerry in their presidential campaigns. Only the Clinton campaign has gone so far as to blame Russia for this, with reporters covering the campaign to write the book Shattered reporting that Clinton developed the strategy of blaming Russia and others for her loss within twenty-four hours of losing, failing to take responsibility for her own mistakes. Whether or not the fake stories being spread came from Russia, they did far less harm to Clinton than the damage caused by her violation of State Department rules (as verified by the State Department Inspector General), and then repeatedly being caught lying about the matter. The truth was far more damaging than fiction.

The questionable business ties involving Donald Trump and others in his family and campaign appears to be worth investigating, but I bet it will be a mistake to divert resources from the more important issues to pursue partisan fantasies. If Democrats rely upon such weak attacks they risk allowing the Republicans to survive the actual Trump scandals.

Lessons From The Failed War On Terror

The United States has been at war in the Middle East since the invasion of Iraq in 2003, but has only been partially successful with regime change in Iraq, and far less successful in reducing terrorism. The United States has become the aggressor nation, with its actions only result in increasing anti-American sentiment and creating more “terrorists.” The “war on terror” started as a Republican mistake based upon lies under George W. Bush. Both major political parties now own this failure, with the Democrats nominating an ultra-hawkish candidate for president in 2016.

Hillary Clinton was not only one of the strongest proponents of the war in Iraq, making false claims of cooperation between Saddam and al Qaeda, but also was the major architect of the failed attempt at regime change in Libya, which was also based upon false claims. She also has pushed for greater intervention in Syria, including imposing a no-fly zone, which would have resulted in greater casualties, required U.S. troops on the ground to support, and would have put the United States into direct conflict with Russia. The revival of Cold War style anti-Russia hysteria and McCarthyism by establishment Democrats is also of great concern.

The Republican candidate, while less interested in interventionism, has been utterly incoherent on foreign policy. It is quite clear that Donald Trump’s claims of a secret plan to defeat ISIS were as imaginary as Richard Nixon’s secret plan to end the war in Vietnam. His only plan is more of the same type of counterproductive military attacks. At this point there are only signs of continued expansion of the warfare/surveillance state with no end in sight.

With both major political parties now becoming advocates of neoconservative interventionism, only third parties such as the Libertarian Party and the Green Party had a rational foreign policy position in 2016 opposing continued interventionism. In late June, the libertarian Cato Institute issued a policy paper entitled Step Back: Lessons for U.S. Foreign Policy from the Failed War on Terror. The full paper, along with an audio version, are available here.

Following is from the Executive Summary:

In the wake of the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, the United States launched an international war on terrorism defined by military intervention, nation building, and efforts to reshape the politics of the Middle East. As of 2017, however, it has become clear that the American strategy has destabilized the Middle East while doing little to protect the United States from terrorism.

After 15 years of considerable strategic consistency during the presidencies of George Bush and Barack Obama, Donald Trump now takes the reins having promised to “bomb the sh—” out of ISIS and “defeat them fast.” At the same time, however, Trump broke sharply in his campaign rhetoric from Republican orthodoxy on Iraq and Afghanistan. Whatever President Trump decides to do, an evaluation of the War on Terror should inform his policies.

We argue that the War on Terror failed. This failure has two fundamental—and related—sources. The first is the inflated assessment of the terror threat facing the United States, which led to an expansive counterterrorism campaign that did not protect Americans from terrorist attacks. The second source of failure is the adoption of an aggressive strategy of military intervention.

The lessons from the War on Terror indicate that it is time for the United States to take a different approach. Policymakers need to acknowledge that although terrorism is a serious concern, it represents only a modest security threat to the American homeland. Further, the United States should abandon the use of military intervention and nation building in the War on Terror. Instead, the United States should push regional partners to confront terrorist groups abroad, while the U.S. returns to an emphasis on the intelligence and law enforcement paradigm for combating the threat against the American homeland.

Democratic Congressman Files Article Of Impeachment Against Donald Trump

It was only a matter of when. A California Congressman has introduced an article of impeachment against Donald Trump. The Hill reports:

Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) formally introduced an article of impeachment against President Trump on Wednesday that accuses the president of obstructing justice during the federal investigation of Russia’s 2016 election interference.

This is the first time a lawmaker has offered an impeachment article against Trump, and it comes as Democrats have debated whether it is politically wise to press the case for impeachment at this time…

In filing his impeachment article, Sherman argues that Trump’s abrupt firing of James Comey as FBI director in May amounts to obstructing justice and “high crimes and misdemeanors” amid the probes of whether Trump’s campaign colluded with the Russian government to swing the election…

He cites Comey’s allegations that Trump pressured him to drop the FBI’s investigation into ousted former White House national security adviser Michael Flynn, as well as Trump’s shifting story on why he fired Comey.

“In all of this, Donald John Trump has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as president and subversive of constitutional government, to the great prejudice of the cause of law and justice and to the manifest injury of the people of the United States. Wherefore, Donald John Trump, by such conduct, warrants impeachment and trial, and removal from office,” the article of impeachment states.

So far only one other member of Congress, Al Green of Texas, is supporting the action.

Of course it is rather early and the number of members supporting impeachment could increase after the current investigations, which are still in an early stage, are concluded. The firing of James Comey does certainly appear to have been done in order obstruct his investigation. At present there is far further evidence of a cover-up on the part of Trump and members of  his administration than of the actual crime. While it is possible that evidence of collusion with Russia to swing the election will be uncovered during the course of the investigation, there is not yet clear evidence that Donald Trump did collude with Russia.

I have suspected that, at least, Trump was acting to protect members of his administration, and that any crimes very likely involved their financial dealings. The recent revelation of Donald Trump Jr.’s meeting with an attorney close to the Russian government, based upon an offer of information about Hillary Clinton, along with actions of Jared Kusnher, suggest that Donald Trump might have engaged in obstruction of justice to protect members of his family, along with members of his campaign staff and administration.

In order for impeachment to succeed it would require a simple majority vote in the House, but also require a two-thirds vote in the Senate to remove the president. Therefore it would require bipartisan support to remove Trump regardless of how well the Democrats do in the 2018 election. So far only two presidents have ever been impeached, including Bill Clinton, and technically no presidents have ever been removed from office by this route. Richard Nixon was forced to resign when his impeachment and conviction appeared inevitable.

An alternative mechanism under the 25th Amendment could also be used to remove Trump if he could be declared unfit to perform the duties of the presidency. While a quicker mechanism, this would be even more difficult to achieve as it would have to be initiated by the vice president and requires the support of two-thirds of each House should the president contest the action.

White House Plans Announcement On Whether Comey Tapes Really Exist

Donald Trump and James Comey have given a different account of what happened when the two met. Trump has suggested that he has tapes to verify his side of the story while Comey has said, “Lordy, I hope there are tapes” when the topic came up during his Congressional testimony.

This is just one aspect of the Russia investigations which have raised comparisons to Watergate.

The White House has been vague as to whether such tapes actually exist, but I noted this item from the Associated Press earlier today:

The White House says President Donald Trump is expected to make an announcement this week on whether any recordings exist of his private conversations with former FBI Director James Comey.

White House press secretary Sean Spicer says he expects an announcement “this week” on the possibility of tapes. Trump fired Comey in May and has suggested — but refused to confirm — that he may have tapes of his discussions with Comey. The FBI was investigating Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election and possible contacts with Trump campaign associates.

The House Intelligence Committee has asked White House counsel Don McGahn to provide an answer to the ongoing question about tapes by Friday.

It is hard to believe that the White House would actually release any tapes if incriminating, and risk suffering the same fate as Richard Nixon. In the unlikely event that there are tapes showing that it is Comey who was lying, I would expect Trump to be rushing to release them. At this time there is no evidence of collision between Trump and Russia to affect the election but there is considerable suggestion of obstruction of justice on his part. Tapes which were to show that Trump was telling the truth would take a lot of wind out of the investigations, but it is rather doubtful that this will be the case.

Trump Can No Longer Claim He Is Not Under Investigation

Donald Trump has now been forced to stop repeating his claim that “I’m not under investigation” and instead complain about being the subject of a “witch hunt.” The status changed with the report from The Washington Post yesterday that  Robert Mueller is now investigating Trump for obstruction of justice:

The special counsel overseeing the investigation into Russia’s role in the 2016 election is interviewing senior intelligence officials as part of a widening probe that now includes an examination of whether President Trump attempted to obstruct justice, officials said.

The move by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to investigate Trump’s conduct marks a major turning point in the nearly year-old FBI investigation, which until recently focused on Russian meddling during the presidential campaign and on whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. Investigators have also been looking for any evidence of possible financial crimes among Trump associates, officials said…

The obstruction-of-justice investigation of the president began days after Comey was fired on May 9, according to people familiar with the matter. Mueller’s office has taken up that work, and the preliminary interviews scheduled with intelligence officials indicate that his team is actively pursuing potential witnesses inside and outside the government…

Accounts by Comey and other officials of their conversations with the president could become central pieces of evidence if Mueller decides to pursue an obstruction case.

Investigators will also look for any statements the president may have made publicly and privately to people outside the government about his reasons for firing Comey and his concerns about the Russia probe and other related investigations, people familiar with the matter said.

Comey testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee last week that he was certain his firing was due to the president’s concerns about the Russia probe, rather than over his handling of a now-closed FBI investigation into Hillary Clinton’s use of a private email server as secretary of state, as the White House had initially asserted. “It’s my judgment that I was fired because of the Russia investigation,” Comey said. “I was fired, in some way, to change — or the endeavor was to change the way the Russia investigation was being conducted.”

There is significant cause to investigate Trump for obstruction of justice, but it remains unclear as to the actual crimes committed. There has not been any evidence presented of actual collusion between Trump and Russia to meddle in the election results. While I am waiting to see the results of the ongoing investigations, I have suspected that such claims might not hold up. This has often been raised by supporters of Hillary Clinton who do not accept her role in her failed campaign, with Shattered revealing that Clinton devised the strategy of blaming her loss on Russia and others within twenty-four hours of her loss.

My suspicion has been that any obstruction of justice involves a combination of covering for members of campaign and financial dealings with Russia. Along these lines,  The New York Times does report:

A former senior official said Mr. Mueller’s investigation was looking at money laundering by Trump associates. The suspicion is that any cooperation with Russian officials would most likely have been in exchange for some kind of financial payoff, and that there would have been an effort to hide the payments, probably by routing them through offshore banking centers.

Regardless of the specifics of the investigation, the news that Mueller is investigating Trump makes it much riskier for Trump to fire Mueller. There were reports earlier this week that Trump was contemplating this, replicating the infamous Saturday Night Massacre when Richard Nixon fired Archibald Cox during the Watergate investigations. Such a move would increase the chances that even Republicans might consider impeachment to replace Trump with Mike Pence. Pence, incidentally, has now hired outside counsel himself to handle Russia probe inquires.

Donald Trump Mocked For Claiming He Is Subject Of Greatest Witch Hunt In American History

Donald Trump, objecting to the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his administration, tweeted: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” The claim came after Robert Mueller was appointed to be special counsel after Trump fired James Comey. Comey is also saying that Trump was trying to influence his judgment about the Russia probe.

This resulted in responses from some of the late night comedians:

President Trump is having one heck of a week. The Justice Department appointed a special counsel to investigate ties between his campaign and Russia, which he did not like at all. But sources inside the White House say when he found out about it, he didn’t yell or scream. He told his staff, “We have nothing to hide.” He was calm. He punched Sean Spicer in the stomach a few times. Then this morning at 7:52 a.m. he got on Twitter and wrote: “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” Even his witch hunts are the greatest in American history. –Jimmy Kimmel

It’s been a wild week for President Donald Trump. On Wednesday, the Justice Department appointed a special counsel to investigate Trump’s connections to Russia. Robert Mueller will be the special counsel. And today, Trump reacted by saying, “No fair, why does that guy get to be called special?” I’m kidding; Trump reacted by tweeting, of course. This morning, Donald Trump tweeted that he is the victim of “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” The single greatest — even when he’s whining, Trump still has to be the greatest.–James Corden

Meanwhile, Trump started tweeting again. Today he criticized the Russia investigation, saying, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” Then one guy was like, “Do you still want to see my birth certificate?” –Jimmy Fallon

President Trump today called the appointment of a special counsel to investigate his campaign’s ties to Russia “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” Though it didn’t help his case much when he flew away on a broom. –Seth Meyers

But the best response came from The Washington Post, which reprinted this story:

Nixon, Aides Believe Hearing Is Witchhunt

By Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein
Washington Post Staff Writers
July 21, 1973

President Nixon and his top aides believe that the Senate Watergate hearings are unfair and constitute a “political witchhunt,” according to White House sources.

Despite apparent bipartisan and public support for the hearings and the manner in which they are being conducted, the sources said that the President in the last weeks has expressed bitterness and deep hostility toward the two-month-old proceedings.

“The President,” one source said, “sees the hearings as an attempt to get Richard Nixon and do it just damn unfairly.” According to four separate sources, the hostility toward the hearings is also pervasive in the White House staff, especially among former assistants to H.R. Haldeman and John D. Ehrlichman, the deposed former top presidential aides…

We know how that “witchhunt” turned out.

Donald Trump’s Ominous Parallels To The Rise Of Authoritarianism

The firing of James Comey by Donald Trump is yet another example of Donald Trump varying from Democratic norms. It is a disturbing case of a president working to destroy our system of checks and balances, demanding a pledge of loyalty from someone in a position designed to be independent of such political pressure.  I posted several opinions on this act yesterday, often from the perspective of comparing Trump’s actions to Richard Nixon’s acts to obstruct justice during the Watergate investigation.

There are even more ominous parallels which can be drawn. Donald Trump has already expressed a disturbing degree of admiration for dictators.  Vox looked at the firing of James Comey from the perspective of people who have studies the rise of authoritarian leaders. Some excerpts:

“Trump has talked like a would-be authoritarian since day one. … This is the first clear warning sign that he’s attempting to [act like one].”

Those are the words not of a Democratic political operative or a fringe liberal Trump critic, but of Yascha Mounk, a respected scholar of democracy at Harvard, reacting to Preisdent Trump’s abrupt firing of FBI Director James Comey…

To people who study the rise of authoritarian leaders, just those facts alone are terrifying.

“This is very common — in semi-authoritarian and authoritarian regimes,” Erica Chenoweth, a professor at the University of Denver, tells me. “Purges, summary firings, imprisonment: These are all things that authoritarian leaders do when they attempt to rid themselves of rivals within government.”

Comey’s firing, these political scientists say, fits a pattern that’s very common in democracies that collapse into authoritarianism in the modern era. It’s not that the elected leaders in these countries set out to become an authoritarian, per se. It’s that they care about their own power and security above all else, and do things to protect their own position that have the effect of removing democratic constraints on their power.

One of the first steps in this pattern is weakening independent sources of power that can check the executive’s actions. Like, say, the director of your domestic security service who just happens to be investigating your administration’s foreign ties.

Trump “has what you might think of as autocratic tendencies, which were probably perfectly normal in the business world but are very problematic in the political world,” says Sheri Berman, a professor at Barnard College. “What he would like to do is eliminate all sources of opposition to him — indeed, even sources of criticism of him — and he’s willing to do pretty much anything to do that.”

When most people think about the collapse of democracy, they think about the Nazis, or maybe a military coup. In both cases, a leader comes to power with the explicit goal of taking a democratic system and replacing it with an authoritarian one. They then immediately pass laws banning dissent and use force to shut down all sources of political opposition.

That actually doesn’t happen very much anymore. Outright fascist movements were mostly discredited after World War II, and data on military coups shows a clear decline in their frequency since a peak in the 1960s.

But in the past 20 years or so, we’ve started to see a new kind of creeping authoritarianism emerge in places around the world — something that, in the wake of Trump’s recent actions, now has ominous parallels to the United States.

Leaders in these kinds of countries — Viktor Orbán in Hungary, Recep Tayyip Erdoğan in Turkey, and both Hugo Chávez and Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela — don’t come into power and immediately dissolve the legislature and get rid of elections. What they do is corrupt those institutions, slowly and over time, rendering legislatures powerless and elections not truly competitive.

“It looks the same from the outside — there’s elections, there’s a judiciary, there’s a bureaucracy,” Berman says. “But the sort of power centers within those things, the people who populate them, have changed dramatically, so that … the substance of true democratic competition, true power competition, no longer exists.”

The vital first step toward this kind of “soft authoritarianism” is unified control over every key part of government. That starts with personnel: You can’t corrupt a judiciary staffed with impartial judges, or suborn election officials who are truly committed to running free and fair contests.

Instead, you need to fire people at key pressure points and replace them with cronies, or weaken the institution’s formal abilities to the point where it can’t really provide effective oversight…

There’s a reason FBI directors don’t get fired. The bureau handles, among many other things, criminal investigations involving the executive branch, so its leader needs to be as nonpartisan and clear of influence as possible. That’s why FBI directors have 10-year terms and are generally asked to stay on by new administrations, even if the director was appointed under a president of the opposing party…

“I don’t think we’ve crossed any bright lines distinguishing authoritarian systems from democratic ones,” Jay Ulfelder, a political scientist who studies the rise and fall of democracies, tells me.

The issue, instead, is the precedent that this sets for the Trump administration. If Trump’s firing of the man who’s investigating him successfully neuters the FBI and slows down its investigation of the Trump-Russia ties, that’s one less check on his power going forward. If he gets a clear message that the checks on him when he grabs for power are pliable, how far will he end up pushing the envelope?

The article also points out that Democratic institutions in this country are much stronger than in other countries mentioned which have fallen into authoritarianism, although it is of concern that many Republicans in Congress appear willing to go a long with Trump for partisan gain. The degree of protest over Trump’s actions around the country since his inauguration is also a hopeful sign.

Brian Beutler also addressed this topic:

The firing of James Comey has restarted a conversation about the vulnerability of public institutions in America that had gone largely dormant.

Before Tuesday, one of the most remarkable things about Donald Trump’s presidency was how sturdy it had shown competitor institutions, and the larger system of checks and balances, to be. Courts have beat back his power grabs; media, for all its flaws, has been more skeptical of the claims and actions of the Trump administration than of any administration in recent history. Civil society organizations have flourished, and a vital protest movement has both slowed the GOP legislative agenda, and forced some Republicans in Congress to expect a measure of accountability from the White House.

For those who were relieved by this, Comey’s firing should be a frightful awakening from complacency.

The immediate threat of the Trump presidency wasn’t that he would sap the public of its civic-mindedness, or intimidate judges and reporters into submission with his tweets. It was to the institutions under his control—the ones within the executive branch—and particularly those with meaningful independence from political actors in the White House. Because the path to neutralizing or coopting external institutions runs through corrupting internal ones…

If Trump gets away with firing Comey—if Republicans let him nominate any director he wants; if they resist the pressure to insist on appointing a special prosecutor, or to convene an investigative body; if they squash inquiries into the firing itself—he will read it as permission to run amok. As The Atlantic’s Ron Brownstein wrote, Trump’s “appetite for shattering democratic constraints is only likely to grow.”

Absent consequences, Trump will rightly feel liberated to appoint whomever he wants to run the IRS when the current commissioner’s term expires later this year. More alarmingly, he will know that he can get away with ordering a crackdown on voting rights or investigations of his political enemies. And, perversely, these are the reasons he is more likely to prevail. How many Republicans who entered the devil’s bargain with Trump for policy victories wouldn’t expand the terms to encompass electoral ones? Friends of Trump win elections and everyone else is at his mercy. Trump was reportedly upset that Comey did not pledge loyalty to him, and was charging ahead with an investigation that Trump finds threatening. When loyalty and corruption become job qualifications for political appointees, the president will have the power he needs to stifle protest leaders, judges, the free press, and political rivals. He won’t even have to make threats.

In Abusing Executive Powers By Firing Comey, Donald Trump Has Created A Cancer On His Presidency

Donald Trump, in abusing executive powers with the firing of James Comey, has created a cancer on the presidency the likes of which has not been seen since Watergate. While the president can legally fire the FBI Director, firing James Comey in this manner is unprecedented, violating the intent of the law to have an independent director for the FBI. Such independence does not fit in with Donald Trump’s personality. Few, if anyone believe his claim that firing Comey had anything to do with how he handled the investigation of Hillary Clinton. Trump is believed to have been waiting for a reason to fire Comey, between Comey contradicting Trump’s claim that Barack Obama had ordered a wiretap on him, and his investigation of the relationship between members of his staff and Russia.

Partisan differences should be put aside in defending the principle of an independent Director of the FBI. It would have been an abuse of powers if Hillary Clinton had been elected and fired Comey, and it is an abuse of powers that Donald Trump has now done so. The obvious comparisons to Richard Nixon firing Archibald Cox , which were previously raised when Trump fired Acting Attorney General Sally Yates for defying him on his unconstitutional immigration ban, have been raised again.

Dan Rather, who is very familiar with the abuses of power during Watergate, wrote this about Trump firing James Comey:

Future generations may mark today as one of the truly dark days in American history, a history that may soon take an even more ominous turn.

President Trump’s sudden firing of FBI Director James Comey is a matter that should deeply concern every American, regardless of party, partisan politics or ideological leanings.

The independence of our law enforcement is at the bedrock of our democracy. That independance, already grievously shaken under the brief tenure of Attorney General Jeff Sessions, is now shattered by uncertainty.

The firing of an FBI Director is always a very serious matter in normal times. But these times aren’t normal. Far from it. The Bureau is engaged in one of the most important and perilous investigations of this or any other presidency—the investigation of connections between the Trump election campaign and the Russian government.

The questions mount and the shadow grows darker. What were those connections? What did Mr. Trump know about them and when did he know it? How can the President explain the serious allegations against his former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn? And what is President Trump hiding in this regard? It’s imperative that the nation—We The People—get answers to those questions. It will take time, but the process must start now.

A politicized FBI is the last thing we need as we struggle through the maze of lies, concealment and ever-deepening mysteries. The last time a President fired prosecutors who were investigating him was Richard Nixon during the widespread criminal conspiracy known for short as “Watergate.” We all know how that turned out. In real ways, this potential scandal and coverup are much graver. We are talking about the very security of the United States and the sanctity of our republic.

Thomas Paine famously wrote in 1776: “These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman. Tyranny, like hell, is not easily conquered; yet we have this consolation with us, that the harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. ”

I see this as having the potential for a similar reflection point in our American story. If there is a cover up, if our nation is at the risk that has certainly been more than suggested, it is incumbent upon everyone who claims to love this nation to demand answers.

We need a special prosecutor. We need an independent investigation. There is, obviously, much we don’t know about what has just happened, why it happened and why now. Just as obviously there is much more, so much more that we need know. We need to damn the lies and expose the truth.

I, and many others, felt a special prosecutor was necessary even before yesterday, not trusting the independence of any investigation from the Trump Justice Department. James Comey, regardless of what one thinks of  him, was independent and nonpartisan, and may have been our last shot of a fair investigation. Of course Congress should also continue their investigations, but in a situation such as this we cannot risk political distractions in Congress, and the subpoena power of a Special Prosecutor is necessary.

Others have presented arguments similar to that of Dan Rather. John Cassidy also compared this to Nixon’s Saturday Night Massacre:

It amounts to a premeditated and terrifying attack on the American system of government. Quite possibly, it will usher in a constitutional crisis. Even if it doesn’t, it represents the most unnerving turn yet in what is a uniquely unnerving Presidency.

Things like this are not supposed to happen in a liberal democracy, especially in one that takes pride, as the United States does, in safeguards put in place against the arbitrary exercise of power. The F.B.I. is meant to be an independent agency, above and beyond partisan politics and personal grudges. (That is why its directors are appointed for ten-year terms.) The President is supposed to respect this independence, especially when it comes to matters in which he has, or could have, a personal interest.

There is little in American history that compares to, or justifies, what Trump has now done. In recent times, the only possible precedent is the Saturday Night Massacre, of October 20, 1973, when Richard Nixon fired the special prosecutor investigating Watergate, Archibald Cox. Arguably, Trump’s Tuesday Afternoon Massacre was even more disturbing. In 1973, the two top law-enforcement officials in the land—the Attorney General, Elliot Richardson, and his deputy, William Ruckelshaus, refused to carry out Nixon’s dictatorial order to terminate Cox. It was left to the wretched Robert Bork, who was then the Solicitor General, to do the deed.

Jonathan Chait described this as a progression of what we have already seen from Trump:

Trump has demonstrated his inability to tolerate any authority that lies beyond his control. He disputes the right of courts to review and overturn his actions; he regards his power as a vehicle for enriching himself and his family, and recognizes no public right to know even the contours of his self-interest. It is fitting that Trump sent his personal bodyguard to hand-deliver Comey’s letter of termination. He sees the federal government as a whole as personally subordinate to himself, exactly like his business. He would no more tolerate independent legal enforcement investigating his potential misdeeds than he would allow his own private security detail to dig up dirt on him.

There is no longer any serious possibility that he will respect the norms of conduct governing his office. The only questions are how far his fellow Republicans, who control all the power in Washington, will let him go before they stop him, or whether the midterm elections will give Democrats the chance.

We do no know the degree to which firing Comey was motivated solely by intolerance of any review of his actions, as opposed to a desire to cover up the actions of himself or associates. Firing Comey when he was not only leading the Russia inquiry involving members of the Trump administration but requesting increased funding does create a strong presumption of guilt. While there is currently no evidence of any collusion between Donald Trump himself and Russians who allegedly tampered with the presidential election, the behavior of members of  his staff do suggest that they, if not Trump himself, do have something to hide.

Trump’s decision to fire Comey is very likely to backfire against him, increasing questions regarding what Trump knew about the actions of his staffers. The immediate effect on the investigation is unknown, even to those within the FBI, but this is not likely to go away. As John Harwood wrote, Trump’s firing of Comey endangers his entire presidency. Such an abuse of power could ultimately lead to impeachment if Trump is found to have been acting to obstruct justice by firing James Comey.

Update: Donald Trump’s Ominous Parallels To The Rise Of Authoritarianism

A (Valid) Media Attack On Trump And A (Nonsensical) Defense Of Clinton

Apparently the 2016 election will never end. The week began with major pieces on both of the awful major party candidates. The Los Angeles Times started a four part series on Donald Trump yesterday, starting with Our Dishonest President. The major points were:

  • Trump’s shocking lack of respect for those fundamental rules and institutions on which our government is based.
  • His utter lack of regard for truth.
  • His scary willingness to repeat alt-right conspiracy theories, racist memes and crackpot, out-of-the-mainstream ideas.

Part II, Why Trump Lies, was posted today:

Even American leaders who lie generally know the difference between their statements and the truth. Richard Nixon said “I am not a crook” but by that point must have seen that he was. Bill Clinton said “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” but knew that he did.

The insult that Donald Trump brings to the equation is an apparent disregard for fact so profound as to suggest that he may not see much practical distinction between lies, if he believes they serve him, and the truth.

His approach succeeds because of his preternaturally deft grasp of his audience. Though he is neither terribly articulate nor a seasoned politician, he has a remarkable instinct for discerning which conspiracy theories in which quasi-news source, or which of his own inner musings, will turn into ratings gold. He targets the darkness, anger and insecurity that hide in each of us and harnesses them for his own purposes. If one of his lies doesn’t work — well, then he lies about that.

There is no doubt that Donald Trump is as terrible as the Times says, but we must not make the mistake of falling into the trap of binary thinking and ignore the fact that Hillary Clinton is not much better–and likely could have done more harm than Trump because she could act with the support of the establishment.

The Guardian has a pathetic attempt to white wash Hillary Clinton by Susan Bordo. It repeats pretty much every bogus argument which we have heard from Clinton apologists, and which I have already debunked in great detail in previous posts, so I will only touch on the highlights here. Bordo learned nothing from the 2016 election, blaming James Comey, sexism, and especially Bernie Sanders for Clinton losing, while showing zero understanding why Clinton was ethically and ideologically unfit for the presidency.

The absurdities of her argument begin the header which says her book “asks how the most qualified candidate ever to run for president lost the seemingly unloseable election.” She botched health care reform as First Lady. She promoted right wing goals in the Senate, including working with The Fellowship to increase the role of religion in public policy, pushed for war in Iraq based upon false claims of ties between Saddam and al Qaedda (despite failing to even read the intelligence prepared for Senators), and has consistently supported restricting civil liberties to supposedly fight terrorism (and flag burners). She was a failed Secretary of State who continued to promote interventionism, learning nothing from her mistake in Iraq, failed to abide by the ethics agreements she entered into, and used the position to make money from influence peddling. She was a terrible candidate in two presidential elections. She was wrong on virtually every major decision in her career. How does that translate to most qualified or make any honest observers all that surprised that she lost?

The excerpt from her book repeats the usual claims of sexism, ignoring the fact that the left has opposed DLC, Third Way Democrats like both Bill and Hillary Clinton since the 1990’s. We did not want to see any more Bushes or Clintons in office. Both Clintons and the Bushes all represent essentially the same thing, and the opposition was not limited to Hillary. Many of those who voted for Sanders in the primaries initially supported Elizabeth Warren, and some went on to vote for Jill Stein, with gender not being a factor.

Bordo complains that Sanders branded Clinton as “establishment,” even though Hillary Clinton was the strongest proponent of the Bush/Clinton establishment, and biggest opponent of change, around. She complains about Bernie running against her, ignoring the fact that this is a part of living in a democracy. She complained about how Bernie campaigned against Clinton, while failing to provide any real examples of improper conduct on his part. She ignored how dishonest Clinton’s campaign against Sanders was, from her repeated lies about his record in debates, to her lies about the email scandal and FBI investigation.

Bordo tried to claim Clinton is a progressive and minimize the difference in ideology between Clinton and Sanders supporters, despite rather vast differences of opinion on many issues.  Clinton’s record on corporate influence on public policy received the most publicity during the campaign, as this is what Sanders concentrated on, but those who opposed Clinton also disagreed with her on many other issues, including foreign policy and interventionism, civil liberties, many social/cultural issues, the drug war, and health care (especially with Clinton attacking Medicare for All with bogus claims).

Clinton’s negatives eliminated any advantage other candidates would have had against Donald Trump. Her dishonesty and influence peddling destroyed any advantage in running against the dishonesty and corruption of Trump. Clinton was out-flanked on the left by Trump during the election on foreign policy and economics, despite how incoherent his policies were. Her views on civil liberties were not all that different from what was expressed by Trump. The Clinton record on mass incarceration and immigration further negated Trump’s negatives.

Clinton lost because she was a terrible candidate and ran a terrible campaign, failing to give any reasons to vote for her beyond gender and claims that it was her turn. It is a mistake for Bordo to blame Sanders. Even if Sanders had not run, those of us who opposed Clinton would have still opposed her candidacy. I opposed Clinton in 2015/6 for the same reasons I opposed her eight years previously, and frequently for the same reasons I opposed George Bush. This was because of her dishonesty, her corruption, and how she has spent her career undermining liberal viewpoints. My opposition to Clinton had nothing to do with her gender and did not come from Bernie Sanders.

Update: Some Clinton apologists (including Peter Daou) have moved on from the bogus claims of sexism to adopting McCarthyist tactics in claiming that opposition to Clinton’s policies and support for Bernie Sanders were plot of a Russian plot.

Trump Returns To Madman Role In Tweets Accusing Obama Of Wiretapping His Phone

The attempts to portray Donald Trump as a sane president in his speech before Congress earlier in the week were destroyed in a series of Tweets this morning. Without citing any evidence, Donald Trump accused Barack Obama of having wiretapped his phones prior to the election. The Tweets said:

Terrible! Just found out that Obama had my “wires tapped” in Trump Tower just before the victory. Nothing found. This is McCarthyism!

Is it legal for a sitting President to be “wire tapping” a race for president prior to an election? Turned down by court earlier. A NEW LOW!

I’d bet a good lawyer could make a great case out of the fact that President Obama was tapping my phones in October, just prior to Election!

How low has President Obama gone to tapp my phones during the very sacred election process. This is Nixon/Watergate. Bad (or sick) guy!

This round was preceded by a Tweet accusing the Obama administration of setting up Jeff Sessions, and followed by a Tweet attacking Arnold  Schwarzenegger (who recently announced he is leaving Celebrity Apprentice).

Trump’s speech on Tuesday, received strong approval in the polls and the stock market soared. There were subsequently questions as to whether Trump was at least managing to act sane in public, and the Trump administration even postponed the release of the updated travel ban to take advantage of the positive reception. By late in the week, the news was dominated by stories of Attorney General Jeff Sessions having lied to the Senate about having met with the Russian ambassador. This does look like a warped response by Trump to the negative stories, and resolves any questions as to whether Trump is capable of changing his behavior.

While no evidence was cited, it appears Trump is repeating thing being said on right wing talk radio and at Breitbart. Once again, it is hard to take Trump’s attacks on “fake news” seriously when he, and his administration, have become the major source of spreading “alternative news.”

Former deputy national security adviser Ben Rhodes Tweeted in response to Trump: “No President can order a wiretap. Those restrictions were put in place to protect citizens like you.”

The New York Times adds:

Mr. Trump’s aides declined to clarify whether the president’s explosive allegations were based on briefings from intelligence or law enforcement officials, or on something else, like a news report. A spokesman for Mr. Obama did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The president’s decision to lend the power of his office to such an accusation — without offering any proof — is remarkable, even for a leader who has repeatedly shown himself willing to make assertions that are false or based on rumors.

It would have been difficult for federal agents, working within the law, to obtain a wiretap order to target Mr. Trump’s phone conversations. That would mean the Justice Department had gathered sufficient evidence to persuade a federal judge that there was probable cause to believe that he had committed a serious crime or was an agent of a foreign power, depending on whether it was a criminal or foreign intelligence wiretap.

Politico reports that Trump’s top aides were caught off guard:

Trump’s top aides were caught off guard by the tweets Saturday morning, a senior administration official said. The president is scheduled to spend a quiet day golfing and relaxing at his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla. After several days without a controversial tweet and a relative message discipline following his speech to Congress Tuesday evening, Trump’s angry Twitter tirade marked a return to form—and a trusted tactic of turning around the exact words being used against him on his opponents.