The Beast is Freed

Over the last few months, we’ve have grown accustomed to Donald Trump in his cornered-rat mode, lashing out and ruminating obsessively over the possibility of his impeachment. But his tweets so far this week have been surprisingly cheerful, and a cheerful Trump is bad news for everyone.

First, overcome with the pleasures of racist sadism, Trump tweeted o Monday night that “ICE will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens.” No reason to think that’s not going to be horror show.

Trump’s gleeful sadism continued a few hours later, when the always highly caffeinated Gröpenführer wrote, at 1:10 a.m. on Tuesday, “Only a few people showed up for the so-called Impeachment rallies over the weekend.” “The numbers were anemic, no spirit, no hope,”

As painful as this is to admit, Trump is right that the impeachment rallies attracted poor turnout. That’s not due to a lack of public support for an impeachment inquiry however. More than half of Americans support at least an impeachment investigation, which is much higher than support for impeaching Richard Nixon was before the Watergate hearings began. Instead, as Trump correctly diagnosed, the low turnout was because liberals and progressives are demoralized, since it seems the House Democratic leadership is determined to do nothing to shine a light on Trump’s extensive corruption and criminal behavior.

After Trump admitted on camera that he’s open and eager to keep doing crimes, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remained as firm as ever on her refusal to start an impeachment inquiry. If Trump telling us that he plans to commit more crimes won’t move the needle, a bunch of people in a plaza with witty-but-angry slogans on a placard isn’t going to do it either. So of course the only people who showed up are the insufferable types who actually enjoy protests.

Trump has realized that he can do whatever he wants and no one is going to stop him. Which is clearly his greatest pleasure in life, one that even outstrips buying the silence of porn stars whom he pressures into underwhelming sex.

Half the reason Trump does bad things is because he gets off on getting away with it, as demonstrated by the innumerable contractors he’s screwed over and the wives he’s cheated on (all of them). He infamously bragged, “I could stand in the middle of Fifth Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn’t lose voters.” Apparently, it also won’t’ convince Nancy Pelosi to allow an impeachment inquiry.

Pelosi’s reaction (continue to do nothing) to Trump’s admission to Stephanopoulos that he would be happy to commit more election fraud in 2020 lets him know there are no limits. There’s nothing he can do, no crime so big that he can admit to doing, or say he would do again, that will actually propel Democratic Leadership to allow an impeachment inquiry.

Starting the inquiry and taking stronger measures to arrest witnesses who refuse subpoenas would go a long way towards wiping the gloating smirk off Lord Dampnut’s face. But for some reason, Democratic leaders seem more interested in complaining that no one cares about their go-nowhere health care bills than in taking the fight to Donald Trump.

So it’s no wonder Trump is feeling good. He realizes that accountability for his abundant misdeeds isn’t coming and he’s free to do what he wants with no danger of facing any consequences. Trump has slowly become more emboldened over the past couple of years, but now he’s coming into the realization that the Blue Wave of 2018 was not the threat to his power he thought and feared it was. Now there’s reason to worry he’ll conclude the same about the prospect of losing the 2020 election.

What happens when a man who has no moral compass realizes he can do whatever he wants without consequence?

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.

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.

He Brought Receipts!

Before Michael Cohen’s testimony to Congress Wednesday, pundits were split over whether the hearing would be a bonanza for those looking for damaging information about President Donald Trump or a total bust. It turned out to be a blockbuster performance.

Despite his agreements with prosecutors to hold back on ongoing investigations, including some that he said directly involve the president, Cohen’s testimony implicated Trump in at least five felonies:

  1. Conspiracy to defraud the US (knowledge of Stone/Wikileaks email dump)

“In July 2016, days before the Democratic convention, I was in Mr. Trump’s office when his secretary announced that Roger Stone was on the phone,” Cohen said. “Mr. Trump put Mr. Stone on the speakerphone. Mr. Stone told Mr. Trump that he had just gotten off the phone with Julian Assange and that Mr. Assange told Mr. Stone that, within a couple of days, there would be a massive dump of emails that would damage Hillary Clinton’s campaign.”

It’s not clear if Stone, WikiLeaks, or Assange will be charged with a conspiracy to defraud the United States, though some prosecutors say that the elements of the case point to that eventuality. However, Cohen’s testimony implies that, if this charge does materialize, Trump himself may be a party to the conspiracy.

  1. Lying to FBI/Special Counsel (false answers on Stone/Wikileaks and Don jr/Trump Tower)

Cohen’s testimony above says directly that Trump spoke Stone about WikiLeaks, even though CNN has reported that he told the opposite to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s team in his written testimony. Cohen also said that, while he is not positive, it is overwhelmingly likely that Donald Trump Jr. told his father about the meeting in Trump Tower with a Russian lawyer offering dirt on Hillary Clinton. CNN has also reported that Trump claimed the opposite to the special counsel. That’s a crime.

  1. Suborning perjury (approving Cohen’s false testimony to Congress)

Cohen said his false testimony to Congress wasn’t explicitlydirected by the president but that Trump had made it clear to him through his public lies that he did not want the truth to be known. Not exactly rock solid, but perhaps most damning was when Cohen said that his false statement was made in cooperation with the president’s lawyer Jay Sekulow. If Sekulow was acting on Trump’s orders to get Cohen to lie, that could implicate the Trump in the crime.

Long story short, that BuzzFeed article was essentially true.

  1. Campaign finance (hush money payment)

This was the crime for which Cohen is already on the record implicating the president. When he confessed to arranging two hush money payments as part of a criminal campaign finance scheme during the 2016 campaign, he said he carried out the plot at Trump’s direction. Now, he has provided Congress with a check, signed by Trump (also one signed by Trump Jr. implicating him and Trump Organization CFO Allen Weisselberg as well) that shows the president’s repayment for this scheme while serving in office.

One Republican tried to poke holes in Cohen’s story, noting that the check could have been for legal services or some legitimate payment; Cohen though, noted that Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s lawyer, has already confirmed that the president paid Cohen back for the hush money payment.

Given that Cohen has plead guilty and is going to jail (partially) for this crime, in which Trump is an unnamed co-conspirator, and the documentation provided, this seems (to my very limited expertise anyway) to be the most rock-solid of the charges levied against Lord Dampnut.

  1. Bank, wire and tax fraud

Cohen testified that Trump inflated his assets to win bank loans and deflated them to reduce his tax burden, precisely the kind of scheme for which Trump’s former campaign manager, Paul Manafort, is now facing lengthy prison time. Cohen added that he knew of other offenses that federal prosecutors are still investigating.

The Republican strategy in the hearing was pretty clear. They planned to discredit the testimony from Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer by painting Cohen as a liar, a criminal, and a cheat. Never mind the fact that Cohen was Donald Trump’s liar, criminal, and cheat for a decade.

No one denies that Michael Cohen is all those things, especially Cohen himself. In fact, it’s obvious that Cohen’s willingness to lie and cheat was the main reason that Trump employed him in the first place. For some reason though, Republicans kept harping on Cohen’s history of misbehavior as if it exonerated Trump.

It’s difficult to understand their strategy, assuming there was one. If their goal was to convince the American public that Trump is not a criminal, repeatedly reminding them that his right-hand man for a decade is now on his way to prison for the numerous crimes he committed on Trump’s behalf seems counter-productive. Perhaps they think Americans are too stupid to connect those adjacent dots.

The question at the end of the day is: Will any of this actually matter? Will Republican Red-Hats in Congress make the calculation that they don’t want to go down with the Trump ship? Or, if you want to get unrealistically optimistic, actually put their country over loyalty to their party?

I doubt it, but I’ve been wrong before.