On the Mueller Hearings

And our obligations as citizens.

There was no way that Robert Mueller was going to move the needle today on the issue of impeachment. If you went into the Mueller hearings–before the House Judiciary Committee and the House Intelligence Committee immediately thereafter–favoring the impeachment and conviction of the worst president we have ever had and the worst person to ever have become president, then nothing Republicans said or did in terms of trying to slime Mueller, his team, or the entire investigatory process was going to change your mind. (Nor should it have changed your mind, of course). Similarly, if you went into the hearings as a Trump cultist–“partisan” seems too light a word to describe the Trumpenvolk–no amount of facts uttered by Mueller or written in black and white in the Mueller report were going to change your thing-resembling-a-mind. Both sides are completely and entirely dug into their positions, and will continue to be dug into their positions for the foreseeable future.

In the meantime, the best that can be hoped for is that Democrats will continue to use their majority in the House to keep the Trump administration–and the Trumpenvolk cultists who now dominate the Republican party–on the defensive, so as to garner whatever electoral advantage they can garner by portraying the president and his enablers as the crooks that they are, and by portraying the Trumpenvolk who make up the corps of Republican elected officials as the unpatriotic, disloyal cultists they are. Democrats will have to continue to press for documents, and for fact witnesses. To the extent that these entirely justified demands are resisted by an obstructionist White House, and to the extent that Democrats are hampered in getting the documents and fact witnesses they need by counterclaims on the part of the president and his allies that these Democratic demands serve “no legislative purpose,” Democrats should immediately begin an impeachment inquiry to satisfy the “legislative purpose” requirement (not to mention because Donald Trump deserves to be impeached and convicted).

Some stylistic points–because it is 2019 and style so often unfairly shares the same stage with substance:

1. Yes, Mueller is older. Yes, at times, he seemed as though he was not at the top of his game. Of course, part of the reason his answers may have been halting was because of the Justice Department’s demand on the eve of the hearings that Mueller not go outside the bounds of his report–a demand that Mueller respected, even though he did not have to, given that he is no longer an employee of the Justice Department. Respecting the demand may well have made Mueller reluctant to offer full and expansive answers. That having been said, even if Mueller has lost some of his mental fastball, the proper response in any sane and decent society is “who f***ing cares? The report is the report, it says what it says, and the facts surrounding the corruption and lack of patriotism on the part of Donald Trump and his associates would be–and are–the same, regardless of Mueller’s mental performance.”

Of course, we do not live in a sane and decent society, because–as mentioned above–it is 2019 and style so often unfairly shares the same stage with substance. As such, we are enduring a slew of stories regarding the stylistic issues surrounding Mueller’s appearance. That a number of jibes concerning Mueller’s supposed lack of a mental fastball come from the supporters of the dumbest, most dimwitted, most painfully idiotic president in American history proves to just about anyone and everyone with a functioning brain (and therefore, not named “Trump) that irony is dead.

2. This has been said by zillions of people, but I will say it as well: Few–if any–people in Congress know how to ask questions that actually generate meaningful answers. Members of Congress have their questions written out by staff, and as soon as the questioning of the typical member of Congress goes even slightly off the rails as a consequence of an unexpected answer or set of answers from a witness, the member in question is totally and entirely lost, and has demonstrates that s/he has no clue whatsoever how to adapt. In particular, the overwhelming number of members have yet to learn that in hearings such as the ones held today, one does not ask questions whose answers one does not already know. Relatedly, when it became abundantly clear that Robert Mueller would not discuss internal Justice Department discussions, would not read from his own report, and would not entertain hypothetical questions from members of Congress, Democrats should have taken the hint and should have just asked questions that entailed quoting from the language of the Mueller report, with Mueller then being asked to confirm that the language did indeed appear in the report. It is utterly mystifying that Democrats seemed to think that if they just remained stubborn, Mueller would somehow change his style of answering questions in order to make Democrats happy.

Relatedly, Democrats would have been better off yielding time to committee lawyers to ask Mueller leading questions and elicit more devastating response from the special counsel. Committee lawyers are invariably better–by orders of magnitude–at asking questions and getting answers than are members of Congress. If Democrats did not feel the need to seek viral moments in their questioning of the special counsel, the special counsel might have been made a more valuable witness for Democrats today.

3. The above having been written, House Judiciary Committee Committee Democrats were quite clever to have ended all of their questions with the pronouncement that “no one is above the law.” A winning electoral message could be crafted out of those six words alone.

4. Republican questions can only be understood by the use of the secret Fox News decoder ring, but Republicans don’t care about the fact that only the people in their echo chamber can understand all of the QAnonisms found in Republican questions and statements. Again, no one was going to move off their pro or anti-impeachment positions, and all Republicans were interested in doing was further solidifying their base against the prospect of impeachment.

Finally, some substantive points: Noah Bookbinder is dead-on accurate:

Several episodes stand out, all of which Democrats highlighted in their questions to Mr. Mueller at the morning hearing before the House Judiciary Committee.

First, there was President Trump’s June 2017 direction to the White House counsel, Don McGahn, to fire the special counsel in the wake of news reports that he was investigating the president for obstruction of justice — and Mr. Trump’s later insistence that Mr. McGahn create a false internal memorandum that would contradict reporting about this order.

Then there was President Trump’s instructions, in summer 2017, to his former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, who was then a private citizen, to direct Attorney General Jeff Sessions to limit Mr. Mueller’s investigation with the intent to, as stated in the report, “prevent further investigative scrutiny of the president and his campaign’s conduct.”

Democrats also noted Mr. Trump’s repeated instructions that Mr. Sessions “unrecuse” himself from running the investigation, which Mr. Mueller said in the report lead to a “reasonable inference” that the president wanted his attorney general to act as a shield from the investigation.

And finally, Mr. Mueller described how Mr. Trump sought, in part through his private attorneys, to influence the cooperation and testimony of several possible witnesses, including his former campaign chairman Paul Manafort and his former lawyer Michael Cohen, by making public and private threats, and by floating the possibility of pardons.

These facts, starkly affirmed on Wednesday by Mr. Mueller after months of mischaracterization of his report by the president and others, are catastrophic.

All of this is entirely true, no matter what one might think of the nature of Mueller’s appearance before the two committees. And so is this:

President Trump has threatened to dismantle the proposition that no person is above the law. But given what we have all now heard from Mr. Mueller, it is clear that Congress must assert itself as a constitutional protector of the rule of law.

In opening an impeachment inquiry, Congress must confront other questions that Mr. Mueller was not asked to answer — the most important of which is whether President Trump has engaged in other constitutionally repugnant abuses of power. In addition to obstruction of justice, there are at least two more, independent bases for impeachment that Congress should assess.

[. . .]

The American people deserve a process that will facilitate a thorough assessment of the evidence presented and the gravity of the president’s misconduct. Far from being a distraction from Congress’s other responsibilities, checking abuses of executive powers is one of its core functions.

Mr. Trump has spent his entire presidency trying to foreclose the possibility of accountability for his misdeeds. Mr. Mueller, in his testimony on Wednesday, made clear that such a path is unacceptable. Congress must take it from here.

I’ll just add one more observation: Some may have hoped that Mueller would land a death blow against this degenerate and absurd presidency with his appearances before the Judiciary and Intelligence committees. Some may still hope that the House of Representatives will do what it needs to do, and begin an impeachment inquiry in order to demonstrate the “legislative purpose” that will help relevant committees get the documents and fact witnesses that they need. Some may still hope that the full House of Representatives will do what they would do in any sane and decent world, and impeach the president of the United States, regardless of what Mitch McConnell and a Republican Senate will do in response. But while it is well, proper and justified for us to expect and demand that our public officials do the right thing, at the end of the day, in a democracy such as ours, the power to remedy the current, awful situation, ultimately lies in our own hands, and we can exercise that power when we go and vote.

I hope that our public officials turn out to be heroes. But we have the power to be the heroes our country needs and deserves at this dangerous and appalling moment in American history. Let us use that power when the time comes for us to use it. Donald Trump and his minions show America at its worst. We can show the true face of America–America at its best–by voting Donald Trump and his enablers into political oblivion.

More than once–throughout his report, and during the course of his testimony before the Judiciary and Intelligence committees–Robert Mueller stated that because of the Office of Legal Counsel’s memo on the subject, Donald Trump, the sitting president of the United States, could not be indicted. But as Mueller also said today, a formerpresident can be indicted.

And wouldn’t that be a lovely sight to see? The sooner Donald Trump becomes a former president, the sooner all of us can see that lovely sight. All that is required for that to happen is for us to be the heroes our country needs and deserves.

Be those heroes. That is the ultimate takeaway message from the Mueller hearings.

(Photo Credit.)

Book Party Review--"Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump"

It's not just a game.

My tremendous jet-setting ways landed me at a book party this evening for Rick Reilly, the celebrated ESPN talent whose new book, Commander in Cheat: How Golf Explains Trump, has garnered significant amounts of attention and favorable reviews. I of course have not yet had time to read the book—having just purchased it this evening, at the book event—but sometimes, one actually can judge a book by its cover, and doubtless, gentle readers, you have all figured out that this book is about Trump cheating at golf and about what Trump’s predilection for cheating say about how we can judge him as a pitiful human being and as a garbage president of the United States.

Notwithstanding the fact that the audience was overwhelmingly—actually, who are we kidding; probably entirely—anti-Trump, Reilly’s stories about Trump cheating at golf, cheating his friends, inflating his skills and standing by artificially deflating his handicap, and inflating the number of club championships he “won” actually managed to draw gasps of surprise and disgust from members of the audience—people who one might have thought had grown numb to Trump’s never-ending displays of stupidity, sub-humanity and all-around immorality in our #lolnothingmatters culture. Reilly contrasted his reverence for golf—and that of members of his family—with Trump’s utter irreverence and disregard for anything and everything other than himself. Even though our culture and lives have been saturated by news and evidence of Trump’s manifest inability to be a decent human being (let alone a president of the United States), Reilly still was able to give those attending his book party a unique (and appalling) insight into the character (or lack thereof) of the 45th president of the United States. A revealing non-golf story: Trump once introduced Reilly to Melania Trump, who at the time was Trump’s girlfriend. After the introductions, Trump insisted that Reilly give Melania the once-over, from her head to her toes, with Melania standing right in front of Reilly, hearing her then-boyfriend encourage Reilly to check Melania out. After Reilly jerked his head up and down as fast as humanly possible—because, like normal people, he found treating a woman like a piece of meat disgusting and degrading—Trump then enthused to Reilly that “everything’s real,” in offering (off) color commentary regarding the physical attributes of the now-first lady of the United States.

Feel free to excuse yourself and retch into the nearest toilet.

Back again? Awesome. Let me write some more about this event.

When it came time for questions, I decided to play devil’s advocate and challenge Reilly. I asked what he would say to a Trumpkin who might hear of Trump’s pathetic and childish need to cheat at golf, and might respond with “I’m still winning to vote for Trump because of tax cuts/judges/tariffs/allegedly making American great again.” Reilly responded by quoting from his book. Here is the passage he read to all of us:

I suppose it is worth noting that the crowd at the book party was well-to-do, by all appearances, and that the atmosphere was not . . . shall we say . . . non-festive. I mean, it was a party. There were drinks served. Those drinks contained alcohol. People were in a good mood, and were having a good time. And perhaps, just perhaps, some people there were not thinking past Trump’s tortured relationship with golf and how Reilly’s stories make Trump look like the especially ridiculous buffoon that he is. Perhaps, for some people, the discussion and subject was comical, but nothing more than that.

And to be sure, I enjoyed the event as well. After all, I got an autographed copy of Reilly’s book, and everything.

Cool stuff, right? Well, yes, it actually is. I’m not going to lie; I got something of a kick out of getting Rick Reilly to autograph my book. He’s a nice guy, and I like the fact that I got a little something from a nice guy—who also happens to be famous.

But just because I attended a party, and just because there were alcoholic drinks served, and just because much—or most—of the conversation was about Trump and golf, and just because I got Rick Reilly’s autograph and got a kick out of getting Rick Reilly’s autograph, does not mean that there are not more serious issues to consider when contemplating Trump the kinda-sorta-man and Trump the to-our-eternal-shame-president. Recall the last paragraph of the passage from Reilly’s book, featured above: “If you’re adamant that the poor don’t deserve golf, is it that much further to think they don’t deserve health care, clean air, safe schools?”

Have you read that again? Excellent. Now, read this about the existence of—and conditions in—concentration camps (yes, concentration camps) in the United States of America.

In our country. This is what is happening in our country:

A 14-year old told us she was taking care of a 4-year old who had been placed in her cell with no relatives. "I take her to the bathroom, give her my extra food if she is hungry, and tell people to leave her alone if they are bothering her," she said.

She was just one of the children we talked with last week as part of a team of lawyers and doctors monitoring conditions for children in US border facilities. We have been speaking out urgently, since then, about the devastating and abusive circumstances we've found. The Trump administration claims it needs even more detention facilities to address the issue, but policy makers and the public should not be fooled into believing this is the answer. 

The situation we found is unacceptable. US Border Patrol is holding many children, including some who are much too young to take care of themselves, in jail-like border facilities for weeks at a time without contact with family members, regular access to showers, clean clothes, toothbrushes, or proper beds. Many are sick. Many, including children as young as 2 or 3, have been separated from adult caretakers without any provisions for their care besides the unrelated older children also being held in detention.

We spoke with an 11-year-old caring for his toddler brother. Both were fending for themselves in a cell with dozens of other children. The little one was quiet with matted hair, a hacking cough, muddy pants and eyes that fluttered closed with fatigue. As we interviewed the two brothers, he fell asleep on two office chairs drawn together, probably the most comfortable bed he had used in weeks. They had been separated from an 18-year-old uncle and sent to the Clint Border Patrol Station. When we met them, they had been there three weeks and counting.

[. . .]

Based on our interviews, officials at the border seem to be making no effort to release children to caregivers-- many have parents in the US -- rather than holding them for weeks in overcrowded cells at the border, incommunicado from their desperate loved ones. By holding and then transferring them down the line to ORR facilities, the government is turning children into pawns for immigration enforcement.

A second-grader we interviewed entered the room silently but burst into tears when we asked who she traveled with to the US. "My aunt," she said, with a keening cry. A bracelet on her wrist had the words "US parent" and a phone number written in permanent marker. We called the number on the spot and found out that no one had informed her desperate parents where she was being held. Some of the most emotional moments of our visit came witnessing children speak for the first time with their parents on an attorney's phone.

It may actually be too much to say that cheating at golf leads to a willingness to arrange for children to be held in inhumane conditions at American concentration camps. Indeed, let’s go ahead and say that lying about a golf lie—or about anything else relating to golf—does not automatically translate to a willingness to violate any and all standards of human decency when it comes to dealing with migrant children.

But it is not too much to say the following: Donald Trump is a horrible, repulsive, despicable excuse for a human being, and his horrible, repulsive, despicable character and personality is made manifest in all sorts of ways. It is surely made manifest when playing golf. It is also made manifest in his willingness to charge taxpayers exorbitantly to travel to golf courses he owns in order to play golf, instead of, you know, doing his job. It is also made manifest in his treatment of women (and of course, Trump’s treatment of women is hardly an old scandal). It is also made manifest in his willingness to encourage violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause so that Trump and his businesses can make money off of the presidency of the United States. It is also made manifest in Trump’s stupid trade and foreign policy decisions, which deprive the United States of allies, encourage our adversaries, undermine our national security and impose taxes on American consumers (we all know that tariffs are taxes on American consumers, right?). It is also made manifest in Trump’s willingness to leave elections vulnerable to foreign hacking, because Trump probably wants to benefit from Russian interference in our elections again. It is also made manifest in Trump’s willingness to promote the worst possible people to government positions, and to leave a host of positions without permanent officeholders, thus throwing a host of cabinet departments and executive agencies into a state of permanent chaos. It is also made manifest by Trump’s willingness to pay off porn stars so that they don’t talk about their affairs with him—those payments constitute campaign finance violations, by the way. And it is also made manifest by a host of Trumpian activities that warrant impeachment and conviction, and would have already subjected Trump to indictment by the Department of Justice were it not for the fact that back in 1973, the department’s Office of Legal Counsel concluded that a sitting president cannot be indicted.

Here is one more passage from Reilly’s book:

I’m glad that I am not weighed down by the mental and emotional ills that afflict Donald Trump, or by the deficiencies found in his character and soul. Reading Reilly’s words—and having him read them to us—makes abundantly clear how much wealthier I am than Donald Trump, no matter what is in his bank account, or what is in mine. I rather like being who I am. So, for that matter, do a lot of people. By contrast, Donald Trump, for all of his bragging, boasting, and ridiculous lies and exaggerations, offered for the purpose of self-promotion and self-glorification, quite plainly hates being who he is—thus the need to brag, boast, and offer ridiculous lies and exaggerations for the purpose of self-promotion and self-glorification. Donald Trump is a fantastically stupid human-resembling-thing, but for all of his stupidity, he is not so stupid as to be unaware of his many fatal deficiencies and flaws. No matter how much bragging, boasting, and ridiculous lies and exaggerations, offered for the purpose of self-promotion and self-glorification, issued by the 45th president of the United States, there just has to be a tiny, but insistent voice, sounding in Donald Trump’s head, reminding him that no amount of hype and publicity can hide the fact that Trump is evil, moronic, incompetent, buffoonish and repulsive. Donald Trump has bought more trophies at pawn shops than one can shake a stick at. All of them reflect the face of a loser, and deep down, the alleged “Very Stable Genius” is painfully aware of the fact that he is a loser of epic proportions.

The question facing us is the same question that has faced us since January 20, 2017: How much longer do the rest of us have to pay for Donald Trump’s mental and emotional deficiencies? We are by no means a perfect country. We, as a country, have our own flaws, our own deficiencies, our own shortcomings and weaknesses.

But we are still a great nation—and always have been; Trump’s “Make America Great Again” garbage notwithstanding. And we deserve better than to have a failed human-resembling-thing saddle us with a failed and still-failing president. To complete the golf analogy, impeachment, conviction, and/or the 2020 election cycle offer this country a mulligan. We should take that mulligan as soon as possible.

And while none of us should get our hopes up, perhaps we’ll be able to take that mulligan soon.

Stranger things have happened.

(Photo Credits: Me.)

Regarding the Fix . . .

It's In.

The more one looks at the Barr letter concerning the Mueller report, the more one is convinced that there is something exceedingly fishy going on. Let us count the reasons why:

For one thing, the Barr letter is filled with what William Saletan properly calls “weasel words.” Read the whole thing, as they say, but the conclusion Saletan reaches is striking and accurate:

When we get our hands on Mueller’s report—and ultimately, Mueller’s evidence—we’ll have a fuller picture of what he found. We know from Barr’s letter that in the report, Mueller “sets out evidence on both sides” of the obstruction question—and that Mueller says his report “does not exonerate” Trump. For now, all we have is the letter. And it doesn’t show that Trump is innocent of collusion or obstruction. It shows that collusion and obstruction were defined to exclude what he did.

Renato Mariotti calls shenanigans on the speed with which Barr released his letter:

As a practicing lawyer, it would take me dozens of hours to create a 19-page single-spaced memorandum containing nuanced legal analysis on any subject. I would not do so for free unless I felt very strongly about the issue. Although Barr claims otherwise in his letter, it is hard to escape the conclusion that he prejudged the matter and let his strong feelings about the subject influence his judgment.

To be fair to Barr—and to Rod Rosenstein, who apparently was involved in the decision as well—there have been reports from the Department of Justice stating that Barr and Rosenstein have been aware of Mueller’s findings for the past three weeks, and that because of this advanced knowledge, it was possible for them to reach legal conclusions a mere 48 hours after Mueller delivered his report to Barr and the Department of Justice. But I will repeat what I have written before: Mueller is at least as good a lawyer—and a significantly better investigator—than both Barr and Rosenstein, and yet, according to Barr’s letter, he chose not to make any conclusions regarding the possibility that the president of the United States committed obstruction of justice. Are Barr and Rosenstein so incredibly much better than Mueller that they can do in 48 hours—or, let us be generous; three weeks—that which Mueller could not do, or chose not to do for the twenty-two months during which his investigation was running?

Indeed, we are confronted with a fundamental question when considering this entire issue: Why is Bob Barr involved with the decision to prosecute at all?

Nearly 45 years after Richard Nixon resigned the presidency, there remains no evidence that Nixon had advance knowledge of the Watergate break-in, even as evidence that he was deeply involved in efforts to cover up the crime has only grown. If one accepts Attorney General William Barr’s reasoning in the letter he sent Sunday purporting to exonerate Donald Trump of obstruction of justice, perhaps we should consider a belated exoneration of the disgraced former president as well. But Barr’s reasoning should not be accepted, because it sits squarely at odds with settled law and amounts to an attempt to preempt Congress’ constitutionally assigned role to determine if the president has committed high crimes and misdemeanors.

[. . .]

According to Barr, because Mueller concluded that “the evidence does not establish that the President was involved in an underlying crime related to election interference,” it would be difficult to prove beyond a reasonable doubt to a jury that the president had a “corrupt intent” to interfere with a grand jury or other official proceeding. Barr’s argument thus suggests that if a subject of a criminal investigation avoids indictment for the underlying offense—whether it be insider trading, burglary, or election interference—he should not be charged with criminal liability for efforts to obstruct the investigation of the potential offense, either.

That is simply not the law. Proof of an underlying crime is not an element of an obstruction charge, and individuals are regularly charged with obstruction without facing criminal liability for an underlying offense. To take just one example, Martha Stewart was charged with obstructing an investigation into insider stock trading without facing criminal liability for her trades.

The attorney general’s position is not only flatly wrong; it’s dangerous. If Barr’s view was widely adopted by federal prosecutors, it would provide a truly perverse incentive to engage in obstruction. If wrongdoers knew they were unlikely to be charged with obstruction if prosecutors are unable to obtain sufficient evidence of an underlying crime, they would have every reason to engage in obstruction and witness tampering in an effort to prevent prosecutors from gaining access to underlying inculpatory testimony and other evidence that might lead to such charges.

[. . .]

A final mystery regarding Barr’s opinion regarding the Mueller obstruction investigation is why it was rendered at all. According to the attorney general, the special counsel did not reach a conclusion regarding whether the president should be criminally charged with obstruction of justice but limited his report to an elucidation of the evidence on both sides of the matter.

That makes a great deal of sense when one considers that, as Barr reiterates, there is a longstanding Department of Justice policy against indicting sitting presidents. Rather, the only remedy for criminal conduct by the nation’s chief executive so long as the president remains in office is impeachment by the House and removal by the Senate. Because the president cannot be charged, there is simply no charging decision to be made by the Department of Justice.

Mueller appears to have properly taken that policy into account. Because any opinion on whether Trump should be charged with a crime would be wholly hypothetical, he chose not to express an opinion. That is the same approach taken by Watergate special prosecutor Leon Jaworski, who, in his “road map” memorandum to Congress, transmitted the evidence he had compiled of Nixon’s involvement in an obstruction of justice scheme without reaching any conclusions on the president’s culpability, a matter Jaworski believed was properly assigned to the Congress.

The question, then, is why Barr felt the need to supplement Mueller’s account of the relevant evidence on the obstruction issue—none of which Barr detailed in his letter—with an answer to the entirely hypothetical question of whether the DOJ would seek to charge Trump if it could. One can’t help but question whether Barr’s letter amounts to an attempted usurpation of the constitutionally assigned authority of the House to determine whether the president engaged in an impeachable offense.

We are not yet done detailing the reasons why Barr’s conduct might very well stink to high heaven:

. . . Barr provided a clue to his reasoning, by suggesting that he did not see evidence Trump hampered the Russia probe with “corrupt intent.” As former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal has noted, it is hard to understand how Barr, or Mueller, or anyone, could gauge Trump’s intent, because the president has not been interviewed about his intentions. Why not? We know at least one person vigorously opposed to compelling Trump to submit to an interview: Bill Barr, whose 2018 memo declared that Mueller could not legally do so.

[. . .]

. . . As Ken White wrote in the Atlantic, “we don’t know whether Barr concluded that the president didn’t obstruct justice or whether he couldn’t obstruct justice.” But Barr’s lightning-fast judgment certainly points toward the latter possibility. We know that the report does not “exonerate” Trump of obstruction, and that Mueller himself felt it appropriate to leave certain “legal conclusions” to the attorney general. Mueller’s considerable deference to Barr could allow the attorney general to take a step the special counsel never did—interview the president. The fact that Barr chose to issue his judgment without doing so raises the strong possibility that he felt obstruction was simply not worth pursuing because it is constitutionally untenable, an argument that Barr has already endorsed.

There is a second problem with the obstruction analysis in Barr’s summary: Rosenstein’s participation. Remember that Rosenstein wrote the memo that justified Trump’s termination of Comey, on grounds that Trump later revealed to be pretext. The New York Times has reported that Rosenstein believed the “White House used him to rationalize the firing” and deeply regretted his role in the incident. Former Deputy Director Andrew McCabe has written that Rosenstein wrote the memo under duress under orders from Trump. At a minimum, Rosenstein has a massive conflict of interest with regard to these obstruction allegations. And yet he consulted with Barr in deciding that Trump did not engage in “obstructive conduct.” It is bewildering that Barr invited Rosenstein to help him decide whether conduct that Rosenstein helped to justify legally might have been illegal.

Not content with all of this, Barr is also giving the White House first crack at examining the report. As I have written before, I am willing to accept the fact that redactions need to be made regarding sensitive national security material, references to grand jury testimony and information concerning sources and methods. But no one in their right mind would trust this president and his team to fairly and accurately review the Mueller report, and ensure that the integrity of its message is not violated in any way. It appears abundantly clear that William Barr is less the attorney general of the United States. and more the chief legal hack of the Trump administration’s political team.

Of course, the behavior of the attorney general of the United States is not the only reason to be outraged that the fix may very well be in. As this Twitter thread makes clear, the Trump administration and its odious allies are currently involved in lying and gaslighting on a scale that should appall and disgust even those who have gotten used to these sorts of reality-bending insults to human intelligence—the ones that have plagued our lives ever since June 16, 2015, when Donald Trump first announced that he was a candidate for the presidency of the United States. And to be sure, lying and gaslighting are only amplified by instances of remarkable hypocrisy.

To be sure, Jed Shugerman is exaggerating. But not by much. This isn’t much of an exaggeration either, when it comes to discussing the state of affairs. Also, speaking of instances of remarkable hypocrisy, it is amazing that anyone in the Trump administration would think that they are well-positioned to sanctimoniously lecture media outlets about honesty.

I presume, by the way, that the sanctimonious lecturers in question would have us believe that we are not supposed to be at all concerned about this:

Felix Sater, a Russian-born real estate developer who allegedly helped President Donald Trump pursue a Trump Tower project in Moscow, is no stranger to legal battles.

While in his 20s, the now 53-year-old developer spent a year in prison for stabbing a man in the face with a broken margarita glass during a bar fight. He was also recently sued by singer Mariah Carey’s former manager for allegedly hacking into her computers and stealing her personal data while staying as a guest in her home.

Now, a new lawsuit filed in the Southern District of New York by a bank from the Central Asian country of Kazakhstan alleges that Sater helped launder millions of dollars stolen from the bank and funnel them into real estate projects, some of which may have been linked to President Donald Trump.

I am sure that all of this is just perfectly normal, that there is nothing to see here, and that we should go about minding other business.

Finally, in the event that you have forgotten the character and personality of the president of the United States, I give you this:

On Twitter, Mr. Trump has continued his usual drumbeat against the news media, but has cast a wider net by calling all “mainstream” journalists the enemy of the people.

[. . .]

In a closed-door meeting with Senate Republicans at a policy lunch on Tuesday, where he promoted his emboldened administration’s decision to try to strike down the Affordable Care Act, Mr. Trump praised Mr. Barr for releasing such a quick summary of Mr. Mueller’s report.

“I love the A.G. He works fast. I love this guy. You told me I would,” Mr. Trump told the group, according to a person familiar with his remarks, before suggesting that he would not like to see any leaks coming from the meeting. He also shared his reasoning for doubling down on his targets.

“People love it when you attack the press,” he told the group.

We can’t do better than this when it comes to selecting our leadership class?

And Now, a Hopefully-Not Ridiculously Quick Take on the Barr Letter about the Mueller Report

"More questions than answers" may be a cliché, but that doesn't make it an inaccurate summary of all that has gone on today.

William Barr has released his summary of the Mueller report to Congress. The two big takeaways from the letter are as follows:

  1. Concerning the question on whether “the Trump campaign or anyone associated with it conspired or coordinated with Russia in its efforts to influence the 2016 U.S. presidential election,” the Barr letter states (quoting from the Mueller report—which we have not yet seen) that “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

  2. Concerning the issue of obstruction of justice, Barr writes that “[t]he Special Counsel therefore did not draw a conclusion - one way or the other – as to whether the examined conduct constituted obstruction. Instead, for each of the relevant actions investigated, the report sets out evidence on both sides of the question and leaves unresolved what the Special Counsel views as ‘difficult issues’ of law and fact concerning whether the President's actions and intent could be viewed as obstruction. The Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.’” Without explaining why, Barr then goes on to state that this finding on obstruction “leaves it to the Attorney General to determine whether the conduct described in the report constitutes a crime.” Barr then further states that “Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and I have concluded that the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense. Our determination was made without regard to, and is not based on, the constitutional considerations that surround the indictment and criminal prosecution of a sitting president.”

Those are the main points from the Barr letter. Now, here are my main points of commentary:

  1. Robert Mueller was an outstanding public servant before the delivery of his report and before the delivery of the Barr letter regarding the report, he remains an outstanding public servant today, and he will remain an outstanding public servant tomorrow, and likely for all of the tomorrows to come. As a nation, we should be entirely grateful for his service, especially given the fact that during the course of his work, he was under unremitting and utterly dishonest and disreputable attack from the sitting president of the United States, and all of the hacks—inside and outside of Congress—who sacrificed whatever integrity and honor they had to take Trump’s side over Mueller’s.

  2. There has been an astonishing amount of coordination between Trump officials and Russia, and it is all chronicled. If it is not true that “members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” then I would like to know why so many of these Trump officials lied about their contacts with Russia and Russian officials. Why lie when there were supposedly no crimes committed? Why would any halfway intelligent person do that? To answer this question, of course, we need to have access to the full Mueller report. If—as Barr claims—the Mueller report has indeed found no evidence of collusion or coordination, then I presume that neither Donald Trump nor any of his hacks and minions will have any objections to making that report public, once the necessary redactions have been made to protect national security, ensure the integrity of ongoing investigations, and ensure that sources and methods are not compromised.

  3. Does failing to protect future elections against Russian interference count as coordination with Russia? Just wondering.

  4. Regardless of any findings regarding coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia, it is indisputable that Russia has compromised the president of the United States. As with so many other scandals, this alone justifies the impeachment and conviction of Donald Trump.

  5. If any special counsel investigating the actions of Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton wrote that “. . . [t]he Special Counsel states that ‘while this report does not conclude that [either Barack Obama or Hillary Clinton] committed a crime, it also does not exonerate [him or her],’” Republicans would have entirely lost their minds, and demanded drawing and quartering—let alone impeachment, conviction and prosecution. The fact that Mueller wrote this language about Trump and his obstruction of justice, and that Trump’s handpicked attorney general reported this language should, in any reasonable situation, be a devastating conclusion that would bring this or any other presidency to an end. That it may not—at least in the mere term—is as much of a scandal as any other surrounding this revolting president and presidency.

  6. How on Earth, or in any alternative universe, does William Barr conclude—a mere 48 hours after the delivery of the Mueller report to the Department of Justice—that “the evidence developed during the Special Counsel's investigation is not sufficient to establish that the President committed an obstruction-of-justice offense”? The best answer I have heard to that question is that Barr has been aware of the details of the Mueller report for some time, and that Rod Rosenstein—the deputy attorney general who appointed Mueller after Jeff Sessions recused himself, and who has directly overseen the bulk of the investigation—was also familiar with the details of the investigation and the report, and that as a consequence, both Barr and Rosenstein were in a good position to swiftly make the determination not to prosecute on obstruction. I don’t buy this. Robert Mueller is just as good a lawyer—and an infinitely better investigator—than either Rosenstein or Barr, and he couldn’t make that determination after twenty-two months of looking into the facts. The notion that Rosenstein and Barr could do in two days what Mueller could not do in twenty-two months is nothing short of absurd, even if we presume that they were in possession of the facts for as long as Mueller has been.

  7. Relating to the above, Jennifer Rubin reminds us that “[b]ecause it is the Justice Department’s position that Trump cannot be indicted as a sitting president, there is no requirement — indeed, it is inappropriate — for Barr to weigh in. The job is up to Congress, according to Barr’s own department guidelines.” Rubin further notes that Barr “writes that he must separate out grand jury testimony and other material that could “impact other ongoing matters,” and follows with “WAIT. What?! If Mueller came across evidence of crimes that the Southern District of New York or other parts of Justice are investigating, shouldn’t we know if the president is under investigation?” Well, yes. Yes, we should.

  8. Of course, maybe the reason why Barr concluded that the president should not be indicted on obstruction of justice is that in the past, Barr has concluded that the president cannot be indicted on obstruction of justice. This raises the very serious concern that the attorney general’s decision was already baked in, no matter what the facts are. Which means that the Barr decision not to prosecute on this matter cannot be taken seriously, making it all the more imperative for Congress to proceed with its own investigation (it is already entirely imperative for Congress to proceed with its own investigation, of course).

  9. As David Frum reminds us, the kindest interpretation of the Barr letter is that Donald Trump “was the beneficiary of a foreign intelligence operation, but not an active participant in that operation. He received the stolen goods, but he did not conspire with the thieves in advance.” If you feel good about even this state of affairs,” then I have no problem whatsoever stating that I don’t want to know you. Frum goes on to state that “[t]he question unanswered by the attorney general’s summary of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report is: Why? Russian President Vladimir Putin took an extreme risk by interfering in the 2016 election as he did. Had Hillary Clinton won the presidency—the most likely outcome—Russia would have been exposed to fierce retaliation by a powerful adversary. The prize of a Trump presidency must have glittered alluringly, indeed, to Putin and his associates. Why?” Good questions, and the potential answers are hardly flattering to Trump or to his deranged fans. Frum continues: “Trump remains a president rejected by more Americans than those who voted for him, who holds his job because a foreign power violated American laws and sovereignty. It’s up to Congress to deal with this threat to American self-rule.” Indeed it is, and that is why investigations need to continue and ramp up.

  10. As I wrote earlier today, “can we try to recall and bear in mind the fact that there are such things as the Southern District of New York and state attorneys-general, like the one in New York, who have proven themselves to be more than willing to investigate Trump scandals? And it’s not like there aren’t a whole bunch of Trump scandals to investigate. Robert Mueller’s office is not—and never was—the only game in town, when it comes to bringing Donald Trump and TrumpWorld to justice.”

  11. All of this having been written, despite the fact that Donald Trump deserves impeachment and conviction more than any American president ever has—and that’s not even taking into account Gene Healy’s cogent and entirely accurate observation that impeachment is and has been intended to be a no-confidence vote in the president, and not just a determination that the president engaged in and committed crimes—the odds that this utterly disreputable president will be impeached and removed from office are quite low; more because Republicans refuse to admit the basic facts surrounding this president, this administration and all of the scandals associated with it than because of anything that Robert Mueller may have written in his report. Indeed, at this stage, it is easy to imagine a situation in which Mueller may have written the most damning report imaginable, but Republicans still refuse to abandon him politically. Republicans won’t, after all, abandon this president even after Barr has written that Meuller has concluded that the president of the United States may have obstructed justice. And again, in any reasonable universe, this language alone would and should be enough to cause this presidency to utterly collapse, and yet, in our universe, it won’t—at least not in the near term. So, the best remedy to removing this president from office is to vote him and his minions out of office in 2020. This means that Trump opponents should not make the perfect the enemy of the good in determining which candidate to support, that removing a wholly corrupt, national security-compromising malevolent president is more important than renewing interminable arguments about abortion, school prayer and/or tax cuts, and that as a general rule, normal, pre-Trump arguments about policy and politics can and should wait until the Trump presidency finally comes to an end.

It is bad enough that Donald Trump was ever elected to the presidency. It would be truly catastrophic—not just tragic; catastrophic—if we are forced to endure this abomination of a presidency for a second term. Despite the clear and entirely obvious evidence of rampant corruption and despicable behavior on the part of this president and his minions, all the people who told us that Robert Mueller will not save us were right. It is up to us to save our country.

Let’s go forth and do it.

(Photo Credit.)

A Ridiculously Quick Take on the Mueller Report

Things happened prior to the release of the report, and they are continuing to happen. Let's . . . um . . . not forget that.

Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report has finally been released to the Department of Justice, and thus far, the item on which people are focusing the most is the apparent fact that Mueller has recommended no further indictments. This little bit of news has apparently caused “glee” in the White House, which believes that “this was a great day for America and we [Trumpkins—ed.] won.”

I recognize that in Trumpland, coherent thoughts are not exactly commonplace events, but this may represent a new low in Trumpian cogitation . . . at least for the next five minutes or so. I suppose that it should come as no surprise that the Trumpkin crowd is screaming “No Collusion!”, but they were going to do that no matter what the report said, and . . . well . . . we are not sure what the report said, because it has not been revealed to the public, so it is more than a little insane for anyone to be screaming any conclusions whatsoever right about now.

Instead, why not focus on what we already know? I recognize that a million things are happening each day, so that which happens yesterday feels like it happened a million years ago, and it is almost too exhausting to focus on that which happened yesterday—let alone that which happened last week, or last month, or over the past two years and change—but in the interests of accuracy and honesty, we actually do have to focus on a past and a history that has existed before the Mueller report.

So, let’s do that real quick. Let’s remember that which was reported in the first link in this story, for starters:

. . . referring to Trump’s oft-used slur against the Mueller probe as a “witch hunt,” NBC national security correspondent Ken Dilanian noted that Mueller “caught a lot of witches.”

In all, seven people pleaded guilty or were found guilty of crimes, while 27 individuals and three Russian firms were indicted as a result of the Mueller probe.

“It’s a remarkable record. It is much more than we could have anticipated at the beginning of this investigation,” Dilanian said. “Not only the vast expanse of charges against Russians and laying out in speaking indictments how the Russians attacked our electoral system, but indictments of people very close to the president. The campaign chairman, his personal lawyer. So in that respect, it has been a very significant investigation that will go down in history. 

“At the same time, many people will be surprised that no one — no member of the Trump campaign, no one around Donald Trump has been charged with conspiring with that Russian election interference effort,” he allowed. “We have to wait to see what the report says about all of these suspicious contacts with the Russians, about whether Donald Trump was warned by the FBI, as we’ve reported, and what he did with those warnings, how he behaved and how Robert Mueller evaluates that behavior. That’s, I think, the missing piece here that we’re just going to have to wait to see what the report says.”

Perfectly reasonable comments, which causes one to wonder, of course, why it is that so many Trumpkins are rushing out to claim vindication.

While we are busy recalling history, let’s remember all of the items recorded on this very good Twitter thread, which makes clear that we are much closer to the end of the beginning, than we are to the beginning of the end. Speaking of sane takes, here is Ben Wittes:

There are other possibilities as well. It’s possible, for example, that Mueller is not proceeding against certain defendants other than the president because he has referred them to other prosecutorial offices; some of these referrals are already public, and it’s reasonable to expect there may be other referrals too. In this iteration, what is ending here is not the investigation, merely the portion of the investigation Mueller chose to retain for himself. It’s possible also that Mueller is finished because he has determined that while the evidence would support a prosecution of the president, he is bound by the Justice Department’s long-standing position that the president is not amenable to criminal process. On the obstruction front, he may well have concluded that, while the president acted to obstruct the investigation, he cannot prove beyond a reasonable doubt that the president’s obstructive acts were not exercises of Trump’s Article II powers. It’s also possible that Mueller has strong prudential reasons for not proceeding with otherwise viable cases.

My gut instinct is that it is some combination of these factors that explains the end of the probe. Without knowing the reasons the investigation is finished, it is impossible to know how to assess its end—and nobody should try.

Related to Wittes’s points, can we try to recall and bear in mind the fact that there are such things as the Southern District of New York and state attorneys-general, like the one in New York, who have proven themselves to be more than willing to investigate Trump scandals? And it’s not like there aren’t a whole bunch of Trump scandals to investigate. Robert Mueller’s office is not—and never was—the only game in town, when it comes to bringing Donald Trump and TrumpWorld to justice.

Bottom line: We don’t know what is in the report. We are waiting to find out. But we do know that a lot of bad things have been revealed about Donald Trump and TrumpWorld. How Trumpkins can spin any of this as any kind of vindication is beyond me . . . possibly because they can’t.

At least, not with a straight face.

(Photo Credit.)

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