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Mueller: If worse comes to worst

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There could be a huge, unpleasant surprise at the end of this.

Remember, Trump surprised us all on Election Day of 2016 when, with Putin’s help, and Republican voter suppression efforts, he actually won. Is he capable of surprising us again, by being let off scot-free by the Special Counsel?

Like the rest of you, I’m a pretty good consumer of the news, and I try to figure out what’s really going on with the investigation from the [admittedly scant] pieces of evidence we get from Mueller from time to time.

My latest thinking (aside from the “feeling” that Trump personally has committed numerous felonies) is that no smoking gun has yet emerged. If Mueller has one, we certainly haven’t heard about it. Those individuals who have already been indicted, or have pleaded guilty, committed acts that were relatively minor, or were peripheral to the Trump campaign. Yes, we don’t know what we don’t know, including whether or not Donald Jr. and/or Jared will be indicted. We also have no definite outcome on the Flynn or Manafort cases. But right now–and it pains me to say it–there is some suggestion that Trump is correct when he says he did nothing provably illegal, even if his actions were questionable from an ethical point of view.

So it’s entirely conceivable that when Mueller issues his report (if we, the public, are allowed to see it), his conclusion will be that Trump skirted the boundary of illegality, but never actually crossed it. If that happens, we have to be ready for an extraordinarily violent reaction from the White House.

VINDICATED! will be Trump’s triumphant battle cry. The tweets will be all caps: I TOLD YOU ALL ALONG IT WAS A WITCH HUNT! I TOLD YOU ALL ALONG THERE WAS NO COLLUSION OR OBSTRUCTION! NOW I’M PROVEN RIGHT! As soon as the exculpatory report comes out, we can expect a Tweet Storm of unprecedented magnitude from the tweeter-in-chief, leading to what might be called the Witch Hunt of the Witch Hunters.

And his allies will be right behind him. Breitbart will scream for blood—Mueller’s, Hollywood’s, Democrats’, Hillary’s, anybody whom they deem a traitor. Limbaugh will demand that Democratic heads roll. The Republican Senate, already deeply compromised, will go to war with the Democratic House.

And what of that House? Democratic morale will collapse. The Adam Schiffs, Eric Swalwells, et al., who have been T.V. stalwarts in the anti-Trump Resistance, will find themselves embarrassed, reduced to sputtering protest. With a get-out-of-jail-free card, a victorious and vindictive Trump will be at the height of his powers—bloodied and battered, for sure, but ready to lick his wounds and march back into the arena, intent on extracting vengeance. And his legions of poor, white, rural followers will be emboldened as never before.

This is admittedly a worst-case scenario. But it’s a plausible one. There is of course an opposite one: that the Mueller report is highly condemnatory of Trump. That is what Democrats hope and pray for. And then, as is usual with clashingly different potential outcomes, there is the possibility of some wishy-washy middle ground: Mueller ultimately cannot determine if Trump committed specific crimes, because potential witnesses take the Fifth Amendment, or they live abroad and cannot be subpoenaed, or the documentation has been lost or destroyed or never existed. This would be the most unsatisfactory development of all: neither side would like it, because it would leave the whole issue hanging fire. Democrats would insist on digging deeper (which they would have the ability to do in the House). Senate Republicans would refuse to cooperate with any further investigations, and accuse Democrats of only trying to hurt Trump based on the hatred of “the mob” or a dozen angry Democrats. The end result: more stalemate. And before you know it, we’re into the 2020 election cycle.

The mood of Democrats is key. Despite reports of “pro-Impeachment” versus “anti-Impeachment” sentiment in the newly elected House, Democrats around the country remain enormously angry at Republicans, and especially at Trump. The Blue Wave which captured the House (and it was a Blue Wave, no matter how much Republicans deny it) was fine recompense for nearly two years of slander against Democrats (three years, if you count the campaign and the run-up to it).

But the piper has not yet been paid. Democrats, deeply wounded by and resentful of the non-stop horrors they’ve witnessed from the Republican Party and its president—horrors that continues to this very moment–demand more. They—we—want nothing less than tit-for-tat, karmic payback: Trump’s job and reputation, for starters. We want the prosecution of Donald Jr. and Jared. We want his remaining supporters in the Congress driven from office. We want the Republican Party entirely purged of extremist, evangelical-white supremacist elements. We want to see the McConnells pilloried before the Bar of History. We want to see Republican voters confused, frustrated, lost. We want Breitbart, the NRA, the anti-choice and homophobic wing of the Christian party broken and crushed. That sounds pretty rough, I realize; but what Trump and Trumpism have put America through has been simply terrible. Democrats will not settle for crumbs, not this time.

  1. Bob Henry says:

    I proffer these book reviews:

    From The Wall Street Journal Online
    (November 1, 2018):

    “Politics: High Stakes and ‘High Crimes’
    Just what is the standard for impeachment?”

    URL: https://www.wsj.com/articles/politics-high-stakes-and-high-crimes-1541119119

    By Barton Swaim

    In the Manichaean outlook of today’s congressional Democrats, Donald Trump is not a legitimate president. He didn’t win the popular vote; he is, in Democrats’ minds, a racist and an idiot; and his day-to-day behavior is so deeply “unpresidential” as to make him a de facto unpresident. Their rejection and hatred of Mr. Trump adds up to one policy aim: impeachment. Democratic officeholders rarely state this credo openly—“I do not think that impeachment is a policy agenda,” Nancy Pelosi coyly remarked in May — but it is the logical consequence of their manifest rejection of Mr. Trump’s legitimacy, and they will almost certainly have a go at it if they take the House in Tuesday’s elections.

    Impeachment is so obviously the Democrats’ one overriding aim that the book industry has tried to anticipate its fulfillment. On my desk sits an impressive stack of books, all published in just the past few months, all on the subject of impeaching a U.S. president.

    It’s strange, in a sense, that so much could be fruitfully written about a subject the U.S. Constitution says so little about. Apart from two clauses — one granting the House the power to impeach (or to charge), the other granting the Senate the power to try impeachments (either to convict or acquit) — the nature of impeachment is described in only one sentence, in Article II, Section 4: “The President, Vice President and all civil officers of the United States, shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

    Only two presidents have been impeached — Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 — and both were acquitted. A third, Richard Nixon, resigned before facing certain impeachment and likely conviction. But although the act of impeachment is a rarity in American history, fevered talk of impeachment, as Michael J. Gerhardt points out in his short and clearly organized “Impeachment: What Everyone Needs to Know” (Oxford, 249 pages, $16.95), is nothing new. Andrew Jackson was threatened with impeachment for removing funds from the National Bank, among other things; John Tyler for his robust use of the veto; and Ronald Reagan for diverting money to anticommunist fighters in Nicaragua.

    The question most readers will want answered, of course, is: What are proper grounds for impeachment? Or, more specifically: What are “high crimes and misdemeanors”? Everybody agrees that not all crimes are impeachable, and that not all impeachable offenses are strictly criminal. Justice James Wilson in the 18th century and Justice Joseph Story in the 19th century, Mr. Gerhardt explains, took “high” to mean simply political. A high crime is a political crime, an egregious breaking of the public trust. Alexander Hamilton, in Federalist No. 65 (written, of course, before the Constitution) seems to lend credibility to that view when he writes that impeachable offenses “relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” The injuries here aren’t necessarily crimes; they might be subjectively defined as political injuries.

    In context, Hamilton is arguing that the legislature can become less political and more like a court, but his oft-quoted line would seem to allow impeachment for just about anything. Republicans took more or less that attitude when they impeached Andrew Johnson for the “high crime” of not carrying out Reconstruction policies with the radical zeal they thought necessary.

    Just so, some of the more polemical books on impeachment published recently read as though Mr. Trump should be impeached for doing and saying indefensible things—that is, for being a bad president. In “The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump” (Melville House, 183 pages, $16.99), Ron Fein, John Bonifaz and Ben Clements discuss eight grounds on which Congress may impeach and convict Mr. Trump. Some are familiar: obstruction of justice in the firing of James Comey, “conspiring” with Russia to affect the outcome of an election. Others are novel. “Undermining the freedom of the press” is, in the authors’ view, an impeachable offense: “Trump has repeatedly made public statements designed to undermine major U.S. news organizations by describing them as ‘fake news’ and ‘the enemy of the American people.’ ” I wonder if Messrs. Fein, Bonifaz and Clements similarly favored the impeachment of President Obama for repeatedly impugning Fox News for covering his administration adversely, for having Fox News reporter James Rosen surveilled or for seizing the phone records of AP reporters. Probably not—because they know full well that presidents have often overstepped the bounds of legality and propriety and yet haven’t deserved impeachment.

    As Laurence Tribe and Joshua Matz rightly contend in “To End a Presidency: The Power of Impeachment” (Basic, 281 pages, $28), the fact that Congress has the power to impeach doesn’t mean it has the duty to impeach. If lawmakers have no legal agency or discretion in these matters and must always impeach when there are grounds to do so, “then legislators have broken their oaths countless times. . . . For the past 229 years, hardly a day has passed without an outraged legislator accusing the president of tyranny, corruption, or criminality.” The Constitution, in fact, doesn’t demand impeachment.

    Mr. Tribe, a Harvard professor of constitutional law, is among Mr. Trump’s fiercest and best-known critics and, professorial language notwithstanding, it’s pretty clear that Messrs. Tribe and Matz favor impeaching the 45th president. Even so, they repeatedly emphasize the costs of ending a presidency. A removed president’s supporters are likely to see his impeachment as political rather than necessary, in which case the victorious party risks provoking civil strife.

    On the all-important question of what “high crimes and misdemeanors” may be, consider a point made by Charles L. Black Jr. in “Impeachment” (Yale, 165 pages, $9.95). (The book was published during the Watergate crisis, reissued during the Clinton impeachment trial and reissued again this year.) Eiusdem generis — Latin for “of the same kind” — is the name of a principle of legal interpretation holding that, in a list of items, each successive item ought to be interpreted as being of the same class as the others. In the command “Bring me some ice cream or some candy or something else good,” Black explains, “something good” shouldn’t be a book or a bicycle tire pump, though these things may be “good” in other contexts. Hence in the Constitution’s line “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors,” high crimes and misdemeanors should be akin to treason or bribery. When Messrs. Fein, Bonifaz and Clements argue, for example, that Mr. Trump should be impeached for “recklessly” threatening nuclear war against North Korea, one suspects they’re defining “high crimes and misdemeanors” as any action of which they strongly disapprove.

    The sheer messiness of impeachments comes through powerfully in “Impeachment: An American History” (Modern Library, 270 pages, $26). The book includes three long essays on the impeachment efforts against Johnson, Nixon and Mr. Clinton. Peter Baker’s splendid essay on the Clinton impeachment — Mr. Baker covered the 13-month controversy for the Washington Post — leaves us just about where Mr. Clinton’s acquittal left us in 1999: in a state of moral uncertainty. Mr. Clinton couldn’t govern his appetites; he was a serial deceiver, to the point of telling bald-faced lies to a grand jury and urging others to do the same; and no ordinary citizen could have committed the crimes he did and stayed out of jail.

    What turned the struggle against his nemesis, independent counsel Ken Starr, was Mr. Starr’s decision to include in his report to Congress detailed descriptions of the president’s untrammeled sexual behavior. “The almost pornographic precision backfired on Starr and the Republicans,” Mr. Baker writes, making them look “voyeuristic . . . and raising the question of what that had to do with his performance as president.” From that point on, the president and his supporters were able to portray Mr. Clinton as the victim of prurient scolds. A fascinating detail, missed by Mr. Baker but only, I suspect, because he finished his essay too soon: As Mr. Starr explains in his memoir, “Contempt,” published in September, the staffer who urged against including the sordid details of Mr. Clinton’s exploits — whose advice, if taken, may have meant the president’s conviction—was a young attorney named Brett Kavanaugh.

    As unpardonably irresponsible as Mr. Clinton was, it’s hard, 20 years on, to credit the Republicans with anything but a thirst for power and vengeance. The result of their fanatical hatred for Mr. Clinton was to politicize the impeachment process yet further — and to exculpate, indeed lionize, the persecuted president. Today’s Democrats appear eager to repeat that mistake.

  2. Bob Henry says:

    “. . . We want to see Republican voters confused, frustrated, lost. . . .”

    Actually, you don’t.

    What you really want is Republican voters co-opted by an appeal to the better angels of their nature.

    https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/caveman-logic/201703/the-better-angels-our-nature

    Country first. Respect. Civility. Common decency. Inclusiveness.

    Republicans voters are needed for Democratic candidates to win elections.

    The Republican Party’s political base under Trump’s control represents about one-third of all likely-to-vote active voters.

    The Democratic Party’s political base represents about one-third of all likely-to-vote voters.

    A candidate needs a majority 50 percent plus one vote to be elected.

    Democrats need to appeal to the Center and Center Right to garner sufficient votes to be elected.

  3. Bob Henry says:

    Let me be clearer on a poorly chosen phrase.

    Substitute “Patriotic duty” [not “Country”] first.

    A sentiment expressed by Jeff Sessions in his forced resignation letter to Trump.

  4. There’s nothing wrong with appealing to “the Center and Center Right,” both of which are more or less independent and willing to swing. When I refer to “Republicans” I mean the “one-third of voters” you refer to who vote Republican. They are beyond repair. They have murdered their “better angels” in the crib; their minds are effectively gone. They cannot be reasoned with; they can only be beaten.

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