We found out yesterday that the FBI has been investigating possible collusion between the Russian government and the Trump campaign since last July—8 months ago—and we got that from the mouth of the FBI director himself, James Comey. He told the House Intelligence Committee how loathe he is to admit or deny the existence of an investigation but, in this case, due to the intense national interest, he felt compelled to do so.
Fine. But there’s a teeny weeny little problem with Comey’s position: He publicly announced the FBI’s investigation into Hillary Clinton’s email server one week before the election, while it was still ongoing, only to be forced, days later, to say, in essence, “Oops, forget it. She didn’t do anything wrong.” By that time, the damage was done. Enough swing voters decided at the last minute not to vote for Hillary—an understandable decision, if they thought she was about to be indicted—and Donald J. Trump won.
So how does Comey square this circle? He claims he never talks about investigations while they’re ongoing—yet he did with Hillary–and then he talks about his Trump investigation, eight months in, but only the most historic duress. Was he under duress a week before Election Day to kill Hillary’s chances? If he was, from whom?
Comey cannot square this circle. This man has painted himself into a corner from which escape is not possible. But let us put ourselves into his head and imagine what he’s thinking.
Comey to self: “Sure, I’ve done something reprehensible. I wanted Trump to win, and I did what I had to, even though it cost me many friends and, probably, my reputation. But so what? I still have my job—Trump wouldn’t dare fire me. And when I leave, in 2023, I’ll be able to name my price. Maybe Goldman Sachs: I’m told they’ll pay me $10 million a year. Let’s see: reputation versus ten mil. What will it be? Hmm, give me a second. Okay, second’s up: Ten mil it is!”
There was much talk during the hearings of how many dots there are leading from Trump and his campaign and associates all the way to the Kremlin. Adam Schiff pointed them out; so did André Duncan, the Democrat from Indiana, with whom I was particularly impressed. The question is if the dots are connected, or just a coincidence. Nobody knows the answer, yet. But I went through Watergate, followed it intensely. Lots of dots there too. Nobody knew how they were connected for a couple of years, until dogged reporting, followed by Congressional hearings and a Special Prosecutor Republicans did not want but could no longer avoid, connected them. As it turned out, they led all the way to the Oval Office—and we know how that ended.
Yesterday’s hearing was very significant. Trump will fight this every inch of the way, using his usual methods of lies, smears and disinformation. His credulous, low-information supporters might even buy it. But I believe that the end game is coming, and it will bring him down, as well as many of his associates. As for Comey’s post-Trump career, let him make his millions. His grandchildren will have to live with the legacy that their grandpa sold his soul to the devil and immeasurably harmed America.
There’s one huuuge reason: Because Repubs wouldn’t even allow Merrick Garland to have hearings. That was so unfair, so extremist, so partisan, it poisoned the well for Trump’s SCOTUS nominee/s—or should have, in a “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” reckoning.
Democrats seemed slow to get the message, at least in my reading of the situation. They couldn’t stop Gorsuch from having his day before the Senate Judiciary Committee—a courtesy denied Garland. And they won’t be able to outvote the committee’s Republicans, who then will send the vote to the floor for an up-or-down vote of the entire Senate.
But what Democrats can do is filibuster the nomination. The “filibuster,” you’ll recall, is a procedural tactic, applicable only in the U.S. Senate (but not the House of Representatives), by which a Senator, or group of Senators, can delay or prevent a vote from taking place. The only way to break a filibuster is if a super-majority of Senators—sixty, or three-fifths–votes to end it, in a move known as “cloture.”
The filibuster obviously has been, and can again be, used by either party, to obstruct a vote on a nominee it does not care for. This is why some Senators, both Republican and Democrat, have favored eliminating it entirely, since it goes against a central concept of our democracy: the majority rules. In recent years, especially since the Republicans took over the Senate, an alternative concept has arisen: the “nuclear option.” This is where the Senate’s presiding officer—the president pro tempore, in this case, Orrin Hatch—can rule that a simple majority is decisive in judicial nominations, thus ending the sixty-vote requirement, effectively killing the filibuster.
I love the term “nuclear option” because of its metaphoric symbolism: a thermonuclear bomb. Nobody wants an H-bomb to drop on their heads; it is literally the worst thing in the world. Republicans have implicitly warned that if Senate Democrats try to filibuster the Gorsuch nomination, they will invoke the nuclear option. This would result in two outcomes: it would guarantee a vote on Gorsuch (which would probably be favorable) but it also would end the filibuster in the future, when a Democratic President and Senate may make judicial nominations Republicans don’t like.
Democrats have seemed rattled by this possibility. Their thinking, until very recently, seems to have been: “If we have to accept Gorsuch in order to keep the filibuster, let’s do it.” I strongly disagree. For one thing, if both sides lose the filibuster, that would be a fair, even outcome. Neither side could complain it got the worse of the deal. For another, there’s no guarantee that, if Senate Democrats filibuster Gorsuch, McConnell will actually go ahead with the nuclear option. He said recently that the nuclear option “is up to our Democratic friends,” meaning that he’s not going to say in advance that he will or will not invoke it, until Democrats indicate whether or not they will use the filibuster. This thus becomes a game of chicken: both sides are in their souped-up cars, revving the engines; the cliff is 100 yards away. What will happen?
We can’t know, but there’s a third reason for Democrats to filibuster: the symbolism. What has annoyed and pissed off the Democratic base for years has been the appearance of Democratic Congressional leadership’s cravenness and spinelessness when it comes to fighting back against Republicans. The revolt of the left (for lack of a better phrase) is due to this sense among the rank-and-file: Republicans play hard and dirty, Democrats play fair and nice, and Republicans win. This revolt, which we have seen assume the magnificent form of The Resistance, is what my senior Senator here in California, Dianne Feinstein, has been feeling since the inauguration. A moderate centrist, Dianne always has gone along the path of least resistance, voting most of the time for Republican nominees; but in the last few weeks, she has heard from her constituents, loud and clear, that “moderation in the pursuit of justice is no virtue.” (Readers: Do you know where that quote comes from?) Dianne is in the process of discovering her inner warrior woman, which she’ll have to do if she wants to run again and be re-elected next year.
A filibuster would be the surest sign yet that Democrats are listening to their base. It would satisfy us that they’re no longer willing to roll over for their Republican colleagues; moreover, such an encouraging sign would come at a time of increasing restiveness among Congressional Republicans, as their President’s mental instabilities are increasingly evident. In fact, should nervous Republicans in the Senate wish to send Trump a message that they’re close to reaching their breaking point with him, a good way to do it would be for McConnell not to invoke the nuclear option. He could argue that it would be bad for Republicans in the future, a viable dodge; and while it would enrage Trump, what could he (Trump) do? He’s alienated nearly every power center in Washington; he needs his Congressional Republicans in order to institute his policies. McConnell, in other words, is holding the high cards.
So, to Democrats in the Senate, I say: Filibuster! Roll the damn dice, do the right thing, and let the chips fall where they may. After the weakness you have shown year after year, you owe this to us, who have remained loyal to the Party.
In today’s hearings before the House Intelligence Committee, FBI director James Comey assured us, “We will follow the facts wherever they lead.”
Why should we believe him? This is the man whose anti-Hillary interference in the recent election resulted in Trump’s victory and, in so doing, Comey may well have violated U.S. law.
The committee’s tea party chairman, Nunes, immediately let the world know how unseriously he takes his own committee’s hearings by asking the most ridiculous, irrelevant question of Comey and Rogers: Is there any evidence that the Russians tinkered with election results in a half-dozen states Trump won? The answer from both of them was an emphatic “No.”
Look, nobody ever suggested Russia physically interfered with voting results in individual states. No one, ever, period, hard-stop. The influence on American voters by the Russians was psychological, not technical: Comey’s announcement, one week before Election Day, that Hillary Clinton was a target of investigation caused enough swing voters to vote for Trump and against her. So, again, this red herring from Nunes was dastardly, and one can only conclude that his mind is made up: he is determined that nothing damaging will be found against the Trump administration, and no matter what anyone says, Chairman Nunes is going to protect his President, his party, and his majority in the Congress.
That is not patriotism; that is not justice; that is not bipartisan. It is a coverup.
Another smokescreen the Republican congressmen, particularly Gowdy, threw up was to focus on the leaks, which they professed outraged them—and, incidentally, to which they ascribed political, personal, “nefarious” motives, rather than high-minded whistleblowing. Of course the Republicans want to shift attention to the leaking, because they want to divert attention away from the content of those leaks. This, too, is shameful. America’s integrity is at stake here: the very soul of our democracy—our electoral integrity–is on the line, and what are Republican worried about? Leaks. (And by the way, Republicans had no problem when Trump urged Putin to leak Hillary’s emails—which he did. A little hypocrisy here.)
But the real action yesterday was Comey and Trump’s lie that Obama wiretapped him. Schiff got the action going, citing Trump’s libelous slander of Obama. “Was the President’s statement true?
Comey: “I have no information that supports those tweets.”
Schiff: “The President accused Obama and the FBI of engaging in McCarthyism. Do you agree?”
Comey: “All I can tell you is we have no information about that.”
Well, that’s it. Comey himself said it out loud, for everyone to hear: “No information that supports those tweets.”
While I watched the hearings I had Trump’s two Twitter pages onscreen. He seems to use @realDonaldTrump more profligately than @POTUS; often, @real refers to events almost immediately upon their occurrence. In this case, Trump’s most recent tweet went up several hours before the hearings began, but they tell us he was already worried. “What about all of the contact with the Clinton campaign and the Russians? Also, is it true that the DNC would not let the FBI in to look?”
Interesting how he tried to deflect attention away from Comey’s testimony even before he (Trump) knew what Comey was going to say! Has there been any suggestion whatsoever about Clinton campaign contact with the Russians? None that I’ve heard. Clearly another invention, like “Obama tapped my phones.” And what’s this about the Democratic National Committee? Have you heard anything about that? Me, neither. Another smokescreen.
So, really, this should end it. Comey pounded the last nail into the “Obama tapped Trump Tower” coffin. It didn’t happen—and Trump is going to have to deal with the political fallout and embarrassment of his lie, as well as to apologize for slurring President Obama and lying to the American people. But—to mix metaphors—there are more shoes to drop: Roger Stone, Michael Flynn and Paul Manafort, for starters.
We now can see, after eight weeks, the rough outlines of Trump’s “game plan,” although that might be too grandiose a term to use for the behavior of this impetuous, angry and easily bored man.
The plan comprises two parts: first, to let this super-conservative Congress, led by the tea party, have its way with legislation. In this, Trump, who has few fixed beliefs as far as we know, will not interfere, leaving Ryan-McConnell free passage to selectively enact the “small government” they have advocated for years.
The second part of the plan—and this is more to Trump’s liking—is to have fun playing the game. What game? you ask. The game he’s played for decades—the game he’s good at—the game that informs his life and gives it meaning. We might call the game, for want of a better term, “the reality show.”
Trump has long been a very famous person. His fame rested, not merely upon his real estate success in New York City and flamboyant personality, but, in more recent decades, upon his fabulous career in show business. And there is every indication that Trump loved and loves the action, the notoriety, the fact of his name being on so many people’s lips. His love of money obviously is first and foremost among his drives, but this craving for fame follows close behind. And, as famous people know, managing fame is practically a fulltime job in itself. For all the advantages, there are pitfalls. Behind every achievement lurks the possibility of scandal, even downfall. Wending his way through these perilous shoals appeals to someone of Trump’s risk-taking, adventurous spirit. And to be President of the United States of America!! There is nothing on earth riskier, more exciting than that.
So those are the two notions upon which to understand this President. But there is a further, third leg to this complicated stool, and one, moreover, Trump did not count on, and cannot control: The Resistance. It came out of nowhere. It has gathered steam, with increasing articulateness, since his inauguration. And, by all accounts, it baffles, frustrates and infuriates him.
We know this from his tweets, and from remarks made by his associates to the media. When he barrages Twitter in the early morning hours, as he did with his libelous accusation that President Obama wiretapped Trump Tower, he is expressing his rage in 140 characters. But beyond the words themselves, we can discern his emotional state: “Why doesn’t everyone love me? Why don’t they see what I’m trying to do?” Anyone who has ever felt misunderstood, battling impersonal forces that one cannot control, can empathize.
Yet these impersonal forces will not go away; for all the power Trump possesses, he reminds one of Lear, “all powerful to be impotent,” creator and victim of his own madness, bringing his associates down with him. And this is where we now find ourselves and our country: mid-episode in Trump’s latest reality show.
There is great disequilibrium within this unwieldy structure: “The center cannot hold.” I suspect all of us know that this will not have a happy ending. The centrifugal forces of politics cannot long stand all these opposing pushes and pulls. If the first two components of Trump’s plan—leaving the Congress alone, and playing his reality games—were all there were, he could continue for quite some time. There would be bumps, and explosions, but Trump has shown the Teflon-like quality of enduring bumps and explosions. But this Resistance—that’s different. As long as it continues—and it will—and as long as Trump continues to give it ammunition to use against him—and he will, because, like a serial arsonist, he can’t stop himself—The Resistance will infuriate him, chipping away at his plausibility and eroding his base. He will become increasingly irrational, and eventually his fellow Republicans in the Congress will start to wonder—if they don’t already–if this Faustian bargain they made with him is worth it. And the people who voted for him are bound, sooner or later, to understand how much these tea party policies are hurting them and their loved ones. Then we will have reached Gladwell’s “tipping point.” Perhaps by summer.
What is the biggest story in the country? Right—Trump’s wiretapping allegation against Obama. It’s a huge story—historic, as big as new stories get—but you wouldn’t have known it, to read yesterday’s Wall Street Journal, which didn’t have a single mention of it: not on the front page, not on the editorial pages, nowhere.
Can you imagine a major American newspaper not reporting on, say, John Dean’s “cancer on the Presidency” remark during Watergate? How are we to account for this mysterious lapse? Several possibilities suggest themselves. One is that the paper’s managers honestly don’t think that WiretapGate is a big story. I don’t happen to agree, and I don’t think you do, either; but it is conceivable, in some alternative-fact universe.
Another possibility, more likely, is that word has floated down from MurdochLand: Play this story down! One can imagine the consternation in Rupert’s family. They were concerned about Trump from the beginning; didn’t support him; let Karl Rove, their pet columnist, maul Trump. But once Trump began winning primaries, one noticed a softening of tone; when he was actually elected, the coverage went from skeptical to, Well, let’s give him a chance. Now that he’s POTUS, the tone has changed to obsequious servitude: the Wall Street Journal is discovering all the goodness about Donald J. Trump they had somehow previously overlooked.
How this must make the Journal’s reporters—the real ones, not the hacks, like Daniel Henninger—is hard to imagine. They, the authentic journalists, work their asses off every day to do real reporting, only to have Murdoch’s proconsuls in the office kill stories left and right that are unflattering to this President and his regime. I mentioned Henninger just now. I like picking on him, because he’s so transparent. I can see the wheels turning: “How can I please Mr. Murdoch today?” And yet, even a broken clock is right twice a day, and Henninger, in yesterday’s column, actually said something true, although he didn’t do it because he’s interested in “truth” as a noble concept. No, he did it because, as a tea party radical, he really wanted Trump to do as he promised and repeal Obamacare, without bothering to replace it, because…well, he’s a Republican. As we all know, now, there is no repeal, nor will there be; nor is there quite the “replacement” that the tea party demanded, for there is no rational way of replacing it, as Republicans are ruefully coming to realize (but about which they were amply warned).
So here’s Henninger, peering out into the future, predicting that, “If this [Trumpcare] bill fails, there is only one Plan B. It will be a single-payer system enacted after 2020 with votes from what’s left of the Republican Party [which will] get wiped out in 2018 and lose the presidency two years later.”
Good stuff! But you have to understand, Henninger is not pleased with this prognostication, although I am. He’s royally pissed. When the Republicans lose the House and the Senate next year, reactionaries like Henninger will be able to say that it happened because Trump wasn’t radical enough—that he wasted his “mandate” (as if!) by compromising with Democrats. That unprovable assertion will be made by everyone who goes down with Trump. It will be their “The South will rise again” swan song; instead of flying the Stars and Bars, perhaps the diehards will put on their little MAGA caps.
In the end, why does WiretapGate matter? Because in the whirlwind of crazy Donald Trump lies, this one stands, majestically, Everest-like, above all the others. It is majestic in its evil. And it is something that the simplest American “gets.” Right now, the fact of its falsity is beginning to sink in, around the water coolers and dinner tables where the tea party gathers. “Do you think–?” “Could it be–?” “Did he make it up?” “I didn’t like Obama, but really…” Give this thing a few more weeks to fester. And, as for the senior Democrats in the House and Senate, a warning: If you let this go, you will kill your Party. Even I will look to a third party that still believes in honesty.
Well, Trump has accomplished one thing, anyway: Congressional Republicans and Democrats have achieved a rare degree of bipartisan agreement—on the need to investigate Trump!
It is almost unprecedented for Adam Schiff and Devin Nunes to appear side-by-side, and in complete unanimity. The occasion was yesterday’s press conference concerning the House Select Intelligence Committee’s progress in investigating the various Trump scandals, including his fake tweets that Obama wiretapped Trump Tower.
The Committee’s conservative Republican chair, Nunes: “There is no evidence that President Obama tapped Trump Tower. If you take the [Trump] tweets literally, the President is wrong.”
The Committee’s ranking Democrat, Schiff: “It deeply concerns me that the President would make such a statement with no basis. You can’t level an accusation of this type without retracting it or explaining just why it was done.”
Meanwhile, across Capitol Hill, comes this vapid statement from the White House: “We remain confident the President will be vindicated in this claim.” As he was with “Obama was born in Kenya” and “Five million illegals voted for Hillary.”
The man just can’t help himself.
We are down the rabbit hole, friends. The question concerning this President always has been, When will his supporters turn against him? He currently has two main pillars of support: Congressional Republicans, in both the Senate and the House, and the ordinary people who voted for him. These two groups don’t necessarily march in lockstep; I always felt that Trump’s voters would be the last to turn on him, for several reasons: (a) they’re low-information voters anyway, who don’t know what’s happening, and (b) they have so much invested in Trump’s success, emotionally-speaking, that it will be very difficult for them to admit they made a terrible mistake.
So it will have to be Congressional Republicans that take him on, and that’s exactly what we’re seeing, with this dramatic team effort in which Nunes was aware of the powerful symbolism of standing next to Schiff. Nunes is from a solidly red district in California’s Central Valley; unlike his Republican colleague, Darrell Issa, Nunes won re-election last Fall by a huge majority, nearly 64% of the vote against the Democrat. Politically, Issa has to pretend to be cozying up to independents; Nunes doesn’t, which is why what he did, in fundamentally coming out and calling Trump a liar, is so breathtaking.
For conservative Republicans, the election of Trump, and his aberrant behavior, presents them with a Hobson’s Choice: they can accept his lies, his immorality, his fundamental indecency as a human being, in exchange for getting some tea party things done; OR they can uphold the “Christian” values they, themselves, profess to believe in, every one of which is negated by this flawed President. It’s either-or, not both: They cannot stand by their man and at the same time look their children in the eye, or themselves in the mirror, and pretend to be proud of their leader. Conservative, tea party Republicans are the most partisan group of extremists I’ve seen in my lifetime; but even they are starting to realize they’re going to have to do something courageous that extends far beyond partisan politics: Be a patriot and start thinking about America before party.
The old question of “what is a right” has become current again with the Republican insistence on repealing the Affordable Care Act and the (predictable) finding by the Congressional Budget Office that, if they do, 24 million Americans will lose their healthcare coverage.
The Constitution brought the concept of “rights” into our ongoing national discussion. Some rights are both explicitly spelled out—“the right of the people peaceably to assemble,” “the right of the people to keep and bear Arms,” “the right of the people to be secure in their persons,” ”the right to a speedy and public trial”—while others are implicitly suggested: for example, there is no “right” to be protected from the government seizing private property, but if it does, “due process of law” and “just compensation” must be regarded.
But what “originalists” always miss, when it comes to their interpretation of the Constitution, is that it was ratified in 1789, nearly 230 years ago, before a lot of realities of modern life were even conceived; and thus, to insist on interpreting it exactly as the Founders would have thought is crazy. Does a gay couple have the right to marry? The Constitution is silent; there was no such thing in 1789. Does a sperm donor have the right to be involved in the rearing of his biological child? The question would have made no sense to the Founders—but it does today. In these instances, as in so many others, we grapple with the answers—through the courts, and through the political process. But to insist that the only rights—explicit or implicit—that Americans have are those spelled out in the Constitution is really very stupid.
Clear-thinking Supreme Court justices understand this. One of the best was William O. Douglas, who wrote the majority opinion in one of the most famous Supreme Court decisions in history, Griswold v. Connecticut. In this case, the Court found that Americans do have an inherent “right to privacy,” even though this right is not spelled out in the Constitution. The specifics of the case were prompted by Connecticut trying to outlaw birth control; by a 7-2 decision the Court held otherwise, declaring that, even though there was no explicit right in the Constitution to birth control (interpreted as “privacy”), that such a “right by implication” exists in the form of a “penumbra,” an “emanation” from the Constitution, which seems to foster human freedom, autonomy and liberty. This decision was widely ridiculed by conservative elements—“originalists”—who argued, and continue to argue to this day, that such “penumbras” are fantastical imaginations on the part of liberal judges. (Clarence Thomas and the late Antonin Scalia are the most recent examples of such illogical “originalists.”)
So we now come to the conversation over whether healthcare is a “right,” a “penumbra,” or something else. I ask: What the hell difference does it make? The hard fact is that every American needs it. The Founders could not possible have envisioned our system of healthcare, with insurance, premiums, actuarial tables, high-tech machines and pharmaceuticals, not to mention the fabulous sums of money healthcare costs, particularly when people are old. They made no provision for it, so we have to decide for ourselves.
Meanwhile, lost in the arcane subtleties of “what is a right and what isn’t?” are 24 million Americans, mostly elderly, who will lose all healthcare insurance. Lost, too, are the millions more whose premiums will go up significantly. Lost are the hospitals and related healthcare services that will close, lost is the research that will not be funded and the drugs that will not be developed. Lost, politically, will be the trust that the people who voted for this catastrophe, Trump, invested in him, and in his Republican Party. That laid-off 52-year old white man who voted for Trump now will lose his and his family’s health insurance. When Trump was stumping through the Rust Belt, invoking the name of “Obama” as a curse word to thousands of similar angry working-class white men, they wore their little “Make America Great” hats and cheered him on, even as they screamed “Mexico” when he asked them who would pay for the wall and “Jail her!” when he invoked Hilary’s name. Now, you will permit me an indulgence when I say I’m glad these white men are going to have their comeuppance. “I told you so” is not a pretty thing to have to say to someone. But they were told; they were warned; and they refused to heed. Now, their worlds are going to be thrown upside down. This healthcare fiasco, is it goes through, is going to cost them and their families a lot more money than many of them can afford; and many of them are going to die. Whose fault will that be? Obama’s? Certainly not, although Trump will lie and say it is. Will it be Trump’s fault? No, not really. He is only the manifestation of their stupidity. It will be their own fault, the credulous, low information, angry white people who voted for him. They will have met the enemy—and it is themselves.