This Cowardice Cannot Stand

There is no better encapsulation of the difference between the two American political parties than this: Republicans start from the presumption that “treason” and “spying” will be prosecuted without evidence, while Democrats start from the presumption that only once they have seen all the evidence of everything ever, they might conclude that some further investigation is warranted.

Donald Trump leads deranged stadium rallies in chanting “lock them up” without even specifying who committed what crime. Democrats, faced with a case of what would be felony obstruction of justice but for a legal guidance against prosecuting a sitting president, insist that they cannot initiate impeachment proceedings because they need to gather more information.

This isn’t a new problem. Those who feared that the Mueller Report would never be the smoking gun Democrats were dreaming of warned that limiting the scope to criminal obstruction and illegal “collusion” needlessly blocked out a massive range of criminal and impeachable offenses committed by Trump and his confederates.

For House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, political calculus continues to take precedence over the rule of law. That position is becoming more and more untenable, as cracks appear in the Democratic front and even a Republican member of Congress is able to point out what is right in front of us. “Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment,” GOP Rep. Justin Amash understands what is obvious to anyone who has read the Mueller report in good faith: We have more than enough data to name and investigate the crime. Amash has been joined by a fistful of renegade Democrats who are finally content to say “we know enough.” If not enough to impeach, then at least enough to initiate an inquiry.

The problem is that if congressional Democrats refuse to see the big picture, after the staggering proof put forth in the Mueller report, the daily reports of gross financial misconduct and corruption, and the administration’s growing refusal to accede to any form of congressional oversight, one has to wonder what hypothetical evidence might persuade them that, um, CRIMES.

Perhaps some belief in Trump’s infamous boast that he could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot a man without losing support has spooked Democrats to the point of paralysis. The reality is that Democratic Leaders on the Hill know what criminal obstruction looks like, they’re just too terrified to say so. At any rate, I would stay off of Fifth Avenue.

The other problem is that House Democrats want to look like measured and rational adults in the face of the biggest toddler tantrum ever witnessed in presidential history, one in which the Constitution is being re-purposed as a diaper. But as any parent or even uncertified Red Cross babysitter will tell you, every time you decline to impose consequences, you move the line for acceptable behavior a little further.

Mueller is himself trying to look measured and rational by demurring from testifying. Looking adult and rational in the face of abject insanity is not always synonymous with bravery, especially when the other side is shouting TREASON and LOCK THEM UP and INVESTIGATE THE INVESTIGATORS.

“But wait!” Democratic leadership might say. “What’s the downside of these drawn-out court fights brought on by what is itself impeachable conduct?” (See: Article III of the Nixon impeachment articles). The downside is the appearance that there is virtually nothing Trump could do to trigger an impeachment proceeding, something Trump sees, relishes, and will bank on in whatever he does next.

Democrats who say they want to focus on the economy, or the 2020 elections, or other “kitchen table” issues give up more and more authority to the reckless, power-snatching Gröpenführer by the day. By attaching no real consequence, they are essentially telling the country that Steven Mnuchin can keep defying House subpoenas of the president’s tax records and Donald McGahn can keep refusing to testify on obstruction of justice.

In ceding that power to Trump, who already believes himself to be all-powerful, they’re making it so.

Just Do It Already

Every presidential scandal has at least one memorable line that everyone recognizes immediately. Nixon had “I am not a crook,” and Bill Clinton will be forever remembered for “I did not have sexual relations with that woman.” The line that will likely be most remembered from the Trump regime is from the Mueller report: when Attorney General Jeff Sessions told Donald Trump that a special counsel had been appointed. He slumped in his chair and said, “Oh my God. This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”

The Mueller investigation had Trump in despair from the very beginning. He was so anxious about it that he spent the next year and a half obstructing justice in a dozen different ways, publicly trashing everyone involved in it and attacking the reputations of the FBI and the Department of Justice. Whether that reflected his guilt over his behavior in the Russia matter or concern that the FBI was turning over other rocks he’d rather not be touched is still unknown. These are not the actions of an innocent man.

The debate about impeachment gets hotter wth Lord Dampnut’s every refusal to acknowledge congressional power under the Constitution. On Thursday the Washington Post reported that Nancy Pelosi held a closed-door meeting with the Democratic caucus, telling them to stick to policy issues that people really care about and forget about impeachment. She acknowledged that some Democrats are feeling a little down about the refusal to consider impeachment, but no one in the room objected to her edict. Evidently, they are all convinced that voters are not concerned about whether their president is a criminal or that American democracy is in peril.

Voters are not going to buy that. People understand that getting a conviction in the Senate in an impeachment trial will be nearly impossible, but they also know that passing any Democratic bills in the Senate, and then getting Trump to sign them, is just as unlikely.

Every Democrat knows that Donald Trump deserves impeachment. They just can’t decide whether it’s good strategy to do it. Pelosi obviously doesn’t think so. Others are saying they should.  Many legal observers believe that impeachment proceedings will give the House leadership the clout they need with the courts to force the administration to comply with subpoenas, so in that sense it’s almost a necessity.

Voters didn’t hand Democrats a big majority in the midterms for the purpose of passing a dream agenda only to watch it die in the Senate. There are currently 23 presidential candidates talking about the bread-and-butter issues every single day (the ones that will actually talk about policy anyway), and people will be hearing all about them. They sent the Democrats to Washington in 2018 for one reason: To stop Trump.

It’s becoming more important every day that Democrats focus on doing that. Trump is still the most powerful man in the world and downplaying the threat of impeachment gives him a green light to keep doing everything he’s doing. It’s not just about the 2016 election or even the pattern of obstruction of justice anymore. It’s about what he’s doing right now.

Even if Democrats never actually vote on articles of impeachment, holding hearings, using the power of their congressional mandate, and showing the Gröpenführer that they will turn over every rock whether he likes it or not is the only way to keep him from doing his worst.

Bullies only back down when someone stands up to them.

Drumbeats in the Distance

Has the American media learned anything since George W. Bush drove the country into the Iraq War on false pretenses and warped intelligence? Hopefully it has, but we are be on the verge of a high-stakes test of this hypothesis.

The Trump administration appears to be on the cusp of walking us into a conflict with Iran. And we need to be clear about how this all started: Against the advice of many of his top aides, Trump decided to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal crafted under President Barack Obama. The deal strictly limited Iran’s ability to create a nuclear weapon, a goal nearly everyone in the U.S. shares, but Republicans decided that anything with Obama’s name on it made them sad, so it had to go. Then, last month, the administration announced it was labeling the Iranian Revolutionary Guard a terrorist organization, and unprecedented and aggressive move.

That brings us to this month, when officials have been trying to convince the public that there is intelligence suggesting that the threat from Iran is growing even though U.S. Central Command released a report saying the regime had no interest in going on the offense against the United States unless provoked.

So the administration decided to provoke them. National Security Adviser, and talking mustache, John Bolton announced that he would send aircraft carriers and bombers to the Persian Gulf in response to some new information. But Bolton is the quintessential unreliable narrator. He was, after all, a part of the administration that manipulated the intelligence to make the case for the Iraq War under Bush. Even Bush would later sour on his former ambassador to the United Nations, saying, “I don’t consider Bolton credible.”

The Associated Press credulously reported Monday that a U.S. official said that the military has assessed that Iran is likely responsible for a recent attack on oil tankers near the United Arab Emirates over the weekend. But the story was thinly sourced, relying only on one anonymous official citing a military assessment.

Bolton has never seen a regime that he didn’t want to overthrow and he is clearly gunning for Iran. And given how stupid and easy to manipulate Trump is, Bolton may well lead him into war.

Reporters must be particularly skeptical of what administration sources are saying, whether they’re speaking anonymously or before Congress. Who’s agenda are they serving? How reliable is the information they’re citing? We’ve seen how the government can manipulate the media into banging the war drums for them. And there are signs it is making such a mistake again.

The American role in any rising tensions, beginning with Trump’s tearing up of the nuclear deal, is the important context for understanding any emerging conflict. Reporters need to be particularly skeptical of any claims they’re hearing as the Trump administration, with John Bolton at the helm of national security, coalesces around the idea that Iran poses an imminent threat.

Long-Form Worth Certificate

We still haven’t seen Donald Trump’s tax returns, but on Tuesday, the New York Times published a detailed report examining information about his taxes between the years of 1985 and 1994.

The Times didn’t obtain his actual tax returns, but it did receive information about his taxes from a source who had legal access to the returns. And the paper was able to corroborate the validity of the returns by comparing it to publicly available records and information it had previously obtained.

Here are some…interesting findings from the report:

$1.17 billion in losses

The big take away of the piece is astounding: Over the ten years, Trump had more $1.17 billion in business losses. Keep in mind that a lot of this is during the late 80s, at time of strong economic growth. Not a time when rich white men typically lose money. Also, this was when Trump as running casinos, a business that is rigged in favor of the proprietor, which he bankrupted. More than anything, this report should put to rest the myth that Donald Trump is a smart business man.

Much of that was concentrated in 1990 and 1991

In just two years, Trump lost a staggering $250 million annually.

No income taxes for eight out of ten years

Because his businesses were arranged as partnerships, the losses were reported on his personal tax returns rather than through corporate filings. With such massive losses, Trump was able to avoid paying personal income tax for eight out of the ten years the Times reviewed.

No, that is not common

Trump defenders will say he had some tough times and some good times, and that this is just the life of a high-profile businessman. Not so. According to the Times, Trump “appears to have lost more money than nearly any other individual American taxpayer.” Again, this was during the economic boom of the 80s.

Trump’s father, by contrast, made money

One person who appears to have done much better than Donald Trump? His father, Fred Trump, the man who really made the Trump family wealthy and bequeathed the fortune to his children. Keep in mind, Donald was a millionaire before he was out of diapers.

“We now have tax info on Fred Trump & Donald Trump for a number of years,” said reporter Susanne Craig, one of the reporters in the story. “The upshot: Fred always made a lot of money. Donald always lost a lot of money.”

“It’s been good financially.”

One of the most amazing parts of the story is a graph that shows Trump’s accumulated losses as they rack up on his returns. Next to some of the bars, the chart includes quotes from Trump talking about his finances.

In 1990, the Times reported that Trump said, “It’s been good financially” a year in which he had lost $400 million.

Put simply, Lord Dampnut has always been an outrageous liar.

Trump made money in the stock market by lying

As his businesses were tanking in the late 1980s, Trump had to find other ways to rake in cash. One method, the Times found, was to buy stock in a company, claim he was going to take over that company, watch the stock rise, and then sell his shares. He would profit, and never buy the company after all. Eventually, the Times reported, this scam stopped working when investors gave up on taking his boasts seriously.

This is also a pretty strong reason, among many, that Americans should not look to the stock market as an indicator of how well the overall economy is doing.

Focus groups of Trump voters in 2016 thought the fact he was a ‘hugely successful’ businessman would make him an ideal president. The fact he was a loser in business will hurt him. And that is why he’s been doing everything he can to keep his taxes secret.

The Mueller Impeachment Referral

A redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report on Russian interference in the 2016 election was released Thursday, allowing Congress and the public to read the findings for themselves.

Attorney General William Barr went to bat for Trump at a press conference on Mueller’s report early Thursday, shortly before the report’s public release, in which he repeatedly echoed the the president’s talking point that there was “no collusion” during the 2016 election. The Trump-picked attorney general’s decision to speak on the redacted report before it was sent to Congress drew fierce criticism. Democratic lawmakers then requested that Mueller testify about his findings before the House Judiciary Committee as soon as possible.

Throughout the special counsel’s nearly two-year investigation, six Trump campaign associates and dozens of Russian operatives were charged with various crimes.

Some key takeaways from the report are as follows:

Mueller looked at 10 instances of obstruction by Trump.

The report details multiple instances in which Trump attempted to obstruct justice by using his position to interfere with the special counsel’s investigation. Mueller declined to make a determination about whether the president obstructed justice.

The report pointed to instances like Trump telling former White House Counsel Donald McGahn to fire Mueller, and asking political operative Corey Lewandowski to tell then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit the scope of the investigation to future elections.

An obstruction of justice charge would require the special counsel to determine that Trump’s actions, which may have impeded the Russia probe, were done with that intent, Mueller said in the report. It seem obvious that was exactly what Trump was trying to do, but for some reason the special counsel didn’t come to that conclusion.

Trump’s attempts to obstruct justice were foiled by his staff.

Trump may have been saved from an obstruction of justice charge due to his aides’ refusal to follow his illegal orders.

Then-FBI Director James Comey, for instance, ignored Trump’s request to stop investigating the president’s first national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who was later convicted of lying to the FBI; McGahn didn’t help fire Mueller, and Lewandowski didn’t pass along Trump’s message to Sessions saying Mueller’s investigation was unfair to the president and to limit its scope.

I have only minimal legal training, but is seems like that should still be a crime. Either Mueller didn’t feel that it was or felt that Congress should make that determination.

Mueller’s report detailed Russia’s extensive interference in the 2016 election.

The report goes into two main operations through which Russians interfered in the election: First a Russian group carried out a social media campaign designed to “sow discord” in the U.S. political system, supporting then-candidate Trump and disparaging Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton; second, Russian intelligence hacked the Clinton campaign volunteers and employees and released stolen documents, infamously through WikiLeaks.

Mueller did not find that Trump’s campaign illegally conspired to aid Russia’s interference in the election.

Mueller’s investigation did find extensive links between members of the Trump campaign and Russian officials. “The links included Russian offers of assistance to the campaign,” he wrote. “In some instances, the Campaign was receptive to the offer, while in other instances the Campaign officials shied away.”

Despite establishing election interference by the Russian government, Mueller wrote that “the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

The special counsel report specifically said that it was looking at “conspiracy” and not “collusion.” Barr in his press conference on Mueller’s report echoed the president’s refrain that there was “no collusion.”

It seems that there clearly was, but it didn’t reach the level of criminality, at least not for rich people…

The special counsel found plenty of other criminal leads that were forwarded on to other investigators.

The special counsel found evidence of crimes outside its scope and made 14 criminal referrals to other jurisdictions.

Only two of the referrals are publicly known to date. Mueller found evidence of potential wire fraud and Federal Employees’ Compensation Act violations related to Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal fixer, and referred that evidence to federal prosecutors in New York and the FBI’s New York Field Office. Cohen received three years in prison on charges including campaign finance violation and lying to Congress, and gave testimony in February that revealed the inner workings of the Trump campaign.

The second public criminal referral includes potential Foreign Agent Registration Act violations related to Gregory Craig and his former litigation firm, Skadden. A federal grand jury recently indicted Craig on charges of making false statements and hiding information from the Justice Department related to his and his firm’s work on behalf of Ukraine. The charges stemmed from investigating former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his work on behalf of a pro-Russian political party in Ukraine.

The Mueller team chose not to subpoena Trump because it wasn’t worth it.

Mueller’s report addresses why Trump was never subpoenaed, which would have forced him to testify as part of the investigation into his campaign and Russian interference in the election.

Essentially, after the president refused to be interviewed voluntarily, the special counsel’s office “weighed the costs” of a potentially long legal battle to obtain an interview with Trump versus the value of completing the investigation sooner. Mueller’s team ultimately decided it had gathered enough information from other sources for its investigation.

Ultimately, Trump ended up submitting written answers to some of Mueller’s questions in November 2018, which the report called “inadequate.” The president reportedly only answered questions related to Russia’s interference in the election, and not about whether he tried to obstruct the investigation into his campaign’s potential links with Russian meddling.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders lied to the press about circumstances surrounding James Comey’s firing.

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders claimed that the president only fired FBI Director James Comey because Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein had recommended it. Mueller’s report, however, indicates that Sanders’ May 2017 explanation for the president’s actions was not true (which was obvious); Trump wanted Comey gone because the director wouldn’t publicly state that the president was not under investigation.

Sanders also admitted that when she told reporters the “rank-and-file of the FBI had lost confidence in their director,” her statement had no basis in fact, as was reported at the time.

Shocking, I know.

Yes, Donald Trump did try to cover up the real reason for that Trump Tower meeting.

Donald Trump Jr. eventually ended up tweeting out screenshots of emails setting up the now-infamous June 2016 meeting between himself, senior Trump campaign officials and a Kremlin-linked lawyer said to be offering information that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign. Before that, though, his father had attempted to cover up the true reason for the meeting, held at Trump Tower in Manhattan.

Trump never wanted his son’s correspondence to become public. In the summer of 2017, the president repeatedly told Hope Hicks, then serving as a communications adviser, that he did not even want to speak about the emails, which she believed would be inevitably leaked. Trump did not believe her.

Later, however, the president ended up “edit[ing] a press statement for Trump Jr. by deleting a line that acknowledged that the meeting was with ‘an individual who [Trump Jr.] was told might have information helpful to the campaign’” instead, he stated only that the meeting was about adoption. Michael Cohen, at the time still serving as Trump’s personal lawyer, repeatedly denied that the president had helped craft the story given to reporters.

Again, not something you or I would get away with, but that’s the privilage of being a rich, white,Republican.