senate might do the right thing maybe

An interesting thing happened in the Senate recently. Senator Lindsay Graham, who has the moral courage of a blancmange, said he would ask the Senate for a resolution condemning the House impeachment inquiry. That wasn’t the interesting thing, of course. Since the death of his friend John McCain, Graham has morphed into Comrade Trump’s attack poodle — alternately snarling at Trump’s critics and wagging his tail in the hope that Trump will give him a treat.

The interesting thing is what happened after Graham made that announcement. He didn’t get universal Republican support. Let me just say that one more time; Graham DID NOT get total support from Senate Republicans for a resolution condemning the impeachment inquiry by the House of Representatives. A month ago, that wouldn’t have happened.

So Graham sort of tempered the resolution. Instead of a savage condemnation of the impeachment itself, Graham presented a request for a more transparent process. And even that watered down version failed to get total support from his Republican colleagues. Only 44 of them signed on.

Lindsey Graham, Republican Attack Poodle, South Carolina.

Granted, that means only nine Republicans refused to go along with the weakened version of Graham’s resolution — but hey, that’s how erosion works. And remember, he offered this resolution AFTER Trump called on Republicans to get tougher against the impeachment process, and AFTER the Republicans in the House staged their Charge of the Lightweight Brigade into the SCIF for pizza. Despite those stunts, nine Senate Republicans still couldn’t bring themselves to support a weak resolution against the impeachment process.

And remember this: we haven’t yet had any public testimony from the most damaging witnesses against Trump.

At this point, it’s almost a certainty that the House will vote to ITMFA. We’ve always assumed Senate Republicans would refuse to vote to convict if Comrade Trump was impeached. That’s still the safe bet. But Graham’s resolution shows some weakening in his support. The thing is, we can be fairly confident that few, if any, of them support Trump because they like him. Or trust him. Or believe in his ability to lead the nation. They support him out of fear and their own self-interest. They know Trump is bleeding support from every sector except evangelical Christians. They also know the only way Trump can win re-election is through a combination of foreign interference, voter suppression, and gerrymandered precincts. They’ve got to be asking themselves if that’ll be enough to save them. Or if they’d be better off to drown him before the election drags them down with him.

Nobody really likes or trusts this loudmouth asshole.

So it’s possible…it’s actually within the realm of possibility…that a combination of public testimony, a corresponding shift in public sentiment, Trump’s own continued erratic and destructive behavior, along with a politician’s cockroach-like sense of self-preservation MIGHT be sufficient to sway enough of those hateful Nazgûl motherfuckers to vote to convict him and remove him from office.

It would be a LOT better if we could count on Senate Republicans to simply do what’s best for the country, but c’mon…that ain’t gonna happen. But maybe we can hope they’ll manage to do the right thing even if it’s for the wrong reasons.

the trash party

There used to be Republicans I disagreed with, but still respected. I could list names, but it doesn’t really matter because that Republican Party no longer exists. It’s gone, it’s history. Republicans with integrity are now creatures of myth.

The Republican Party as it exists today is…well, trash.

I kinda hate saying that. To call someone ‘trash’ has been insulting since the 16th century; even Shakespeare used trash to refer to worthless, contemptible people. But if the adjective fits…well.

It’s not just that the GOP has abandoned an internally consistent conservative ideology (or anything resembling an internally consistent ideology), or that they’ve completely abdicated any interest in governance, or even that they have no respect at all for truth, decency, law, compassion, science, or the U.S. Constitution. I mean, all that is horrible, but that’s not what makes them trash.

What makes them trash is the joy they seem to take in pissing all over the traditions and norms they claim to represent. Wednesday’s stunt was a perfect example. Matt Gaetz pulled together a squad of knuckleheads and decided to interrupt a deposition being held in the Sensitive Compartmented Information Facility used for sessions involving issues of national security. Why would they do such a boneheaded thing? There are their stated reasons (all of which are the most rancid types of bullshit) and there are the real reasons.

You can put them in suits, but they’re still trash.

Here’s how Gaetz introduce the event to the media (because of course they alerted the media):

“I’m gathered here with dozens of my congressional colleagues underground in the basement of the Capitol, because if behind those doors they intend to overturn the results of an American presidential election, we want to know what’s going on.”

Gaetz got a couple of things right. The basement is underground and the doors to the SCIF were closed. It was underground because that’s where basements are, and the doors were closed because 1) you always close the doors to keep out the noise made by fuckwits in the hallway, and 2) when you’re deposing a witness about issues of national security, the operative term is security. The entire point of holding it the SCIF was because it’s right there in the goddamn name. The information is sensitive.

But the claim that the point of the deposition (and the impeachment hearings) is to ‘overturn the results of an American presidential election‘ is stupid on a galactic scale. Overturning the election would mean Hillary would become president if/when Comrade Trump is impeached and convicted. That won’t happen. We’d end up with Mike Pence. So impeaching Trump is basically like curing Ebola and getting genital herpes. Nobody wants that, but with treatment it’s something we can live with.

Another thing — if Gaetz and his cadre of chucklewits wanted to know what was going on behind those closed doors, all they had to do is ask their Republican colleagues who are attending those sessions. About half of them could have actually attended the deposition if they’d wanted; they sit on committees that are cleared to attend. But there’s no drama in that.

Comrade Trump, Trash-in-Chief

Those are Gaetz’s stated reasons for crashing the SCIF. The real reasons? There are a couple of those. The first is because that’s all they’ve got. Lies and stunts and insults and scams. That’s all the Republican Party is now. A party of head-fakes.

They barely make any pretense at legitimate governance. Legitimate governance requires political parties to propose policies grounded in principle. Different parties have different principles, of course, but the policies would still be directed in good faith toward what the party sincerely believes is the common good of the public.

Principles, good faith, sincerity, common good of the public — that shit is gone from the Republican Party now. It’s been replaced with naked self interest. And even that self interest can be set aside for the perverse glee of publicly ‘owning the libs’. And that’s the second real reason Gaetz and the Chucklewits invaded the SCIF —  because they knew it would piss off Democrats, and because they knew they’d get away with it.

That’s what makes them trash.

wetting the beak

It’s like this. Remember when young Vito Corleone is driving his delivery truck down the street in Little Italy, just trying to make semi-honest living, and suddenly Don Fanucci of the Black Hand swings aboard? And Vito looks at him like “Dude, what the actual fuck are you doing, swinging aboard my goddamn truck? I’m working here.”

Newbie gangster can’t even drive a damn truck without some Black Hand mobster in a white suit slotting in and giving him a ration of shit.

Then Don Fanucci explains. He says:

“Young man, I hear you and your friends are stealing goods. But you don’t even send a dress to my house. No respect! You know I’ve got three daughters. This is my neighborhood. You and your friends should show me some respect. You should let me wet my beak a little… Tell your friends I don’t want a lot. Just enough to wet my beak.”

That’s basically what Comrade Trump did during his phone call with the newly-elected president of Ukraine. But he wasn’t looking for dresses for Ivanka. He was looking for dirt on Joe Biden. And, like Don Fanucci, he didn’t care how President Zelensky came by the dirt — or even if the dirt was true. He just wanted the dirt. According to the ‘transcript’ the White House released to the public, Trump says:

“I would like you to do us a favor though because our country has been through a lot… I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine… I guess you have one of your wealthy people… The server, they say Ukraine has it. There are a lot of things that went on, the whole situation… I would like to have the Attorney General call you or your people and I would like you to get to the bottom of it.”

If anything, Comrade Trump was nastier than Don Fanucci. Imagine if Fanucci had said, “Vito, paisan, you got a new baby, you got a nice apartment with a toilet you don’t have to share with neighbors. You want to keep those things, you should wet my beak, capiche?” That’s basically what Trump said in his chat with Zelensky.

Zelensky needed some Javelin missiles — these are portable fire-and-forget anti-tank missiles — to keep the Russian Army from seizing more Ukrainian territory. Trump basically told him, “Look, you guys got Russians at your gate. You need missiles. I got missiles. You can have those missiles. I’d love to give you those missiles. But first you got to wet my beak.”

Comrade Trump is not your daddy’s mafia don. He’s a cheap imitation, made in China, shoddy construction.

But here’s the thing. In the old mafia movies, they play up the concept of omertà. The Sicilian Mafia code of silence. You don’t rat. Ever. You get caught, you stay quiet. It’s a matter of honor, of discipline, of loyalty. You don’t rat.

Comrade Trump is no mafia don. He has no honor, he has no discipline, he doesn’t inspire loyalty. The Trump administration is comprised entirely of rats-in-waiting. His people aren’t soldati. They’re not made men. They’re sycophants. They’ll turn on Trump in a New York minute to save their own asses.

And like Don Fanucci, Trump will eventually get what’s coming to him. Okay, I admit the analogy breaks down here. Nobody is going to drop Trump the way Vito did Fanucci, and nobody would really want that. But right now the House Judiciary Committee is wrapping a metaphorical towel around a metaphorical revolver and is waiting for a metaphorical Feast of Saint Rocco.

ain’t nothing fake about that

A few days ago, during an informal press gaggle held just before Comrade Trump flew off to whatever rally or golf course he had on his schedule, a reporter asked him about the renewed press for impeachment. This is Trump’s response:

“You know, it’s interesting — nobody has even mentioned this question to me in so long. Until last night at the very end, it wasn’t even mentioned in the debates. People aren’t even thinking — it’s a hoax. I don’t know if you know that. You know it’s a hoax, right? So, nobody has mentioned it to me. One thing I will say that you haven’t covered: Two days ago, a highly respected judge in the Southern District of New York, in Manhattan, came out with a decision on the whole Russia hoax, and he said exactly that: it’s a hoax. You ought to read the decision. This is a decision by a judge who is highly respected — who was appointed by Bill Clinton when he was President — and he came out and he said, “It’s a hoax.” And that’s exactly what it is. This was a case brought by the Democrats against me, and nobody wants to talk about it. You know why? Because it’s fake news.”

I know this isn’t going to surprise you, but that’s not exactly what the judge said. In fact, it’s not even remotely close to what the judge said.

Here’s what happened. The Democratic National Committee sued the Russian Federation for hacking into its servers. As a result of that hack — and the Trump campaign’s cooperation in disseminating the illegally obtained information — the DNC suffered significant damages, including a “dramatic drop” in donations and a million dollars to repair and fix the cybersecurity issues. DNC staff members also suffered online harassment and death threats as a result of the leaks. The suit also included a number of defendants who were members of the Trump campaign who’d actively aided the Russian Federation in distributing the stolen material.

Judge John G. Koeltl ruled that the Foreign Sovereign Immunities Act prevented the DNC from suing the Russian Federation for damages in U.S. courts, even if Russia had acted illegally and damages were suffered. The judge also ruled that since the “second level participants” (the Trump campaign) didn’t aid in the actual hacking, they weren’t liable for that act. And finally, the judge ruled the Trump campaign’s distribution of the illegally obtained information was protected by the First Amendment “in the same way it would preclude liability for press outlets that publish materials of public interest despite defects in the way the materials were obtained so long as the disseminator did not participate in any wrongdoing in obtaining the materials in the first place.”

(Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

So no, the judge didn’t say Russian interference was a hoax. What he said was that Russia had committed a crime, that the Trump campaign benefited from that crime knowing it was a crime, but was protected by the First Amendment when they disseminated information obtained by that crime.

“You ought to read the decision,” Comrade Trump said. As if he’d actually read it. If he had read the decision, it’s possible — oh hell, it’s probable — he didn’t understand it. I mean, the guy is a fucking idjit; the complexities of the law are as meaningless to him as the physics of Frisbee flight are to a dog. The dog can catch the Frisbee without doing the math, and Trump can understand the suit was dismissed without understanding why. But it’s a mistake to assume the dog or Trump has any sort of grasp on the underlying mechanics that spark their behavior.

In addition to being a fucking idjit, Trump is also a fucking liar. Even if he had read the decision and understood it, he’d almost certainly would have lied about it. Because that’s what he does.

The news media knows all this. Yet because of tradition and the institutional inability to adapt, the news media will continue to ask questions of Comrade Trump, knowing his answers are essentially meaningless in terms of reality. And the news media will continue to repeat those answers as if they have meaning, when the shared reality of all legitimate news agencies is this: Trump is a fucking idjit and a fucking liar.

Ain’t nothing fake about that.

NOTE: By the way, there hasn’t been an official White House press briefing since March 11, when former Press Secretary Sarah Sanders gave an eleven minute briefing. That’s 145 days, nearly five months, without a press briefing. The current Press Secretary, Stephanie Grisham, hasn’t held any press briefings at all. Her salary is around US$180,000. Assuming she actually exists.

tire iron transition of power

I had a horrible thought yesterday afternoon. It led to a horrible belief that has now solidified into a horrible certainty.

A Facebook friend had said, “I want to scream when Pelosi says, about impeachment: ‘We’re not there yet.‘” I’ve heard lots of folks say that, and sometimes I’ve felt the same way. But I’ve also been telling myself that Nancy the Knife Pelosi has been around the block a few times. She’s cagey enough to say ‘not yet’ to impeachment in order to seem reluctant to engage in a process that could most definitely would be seen as primarily political. But all the while she’s prepping for impeachment like a boss.

I said as much to my friend — and when I said it, I believed it. Or at least I wanted to believe it. This morning, I think there’s a pretty fair chance that I was just full of shit. Why? On account of I’ve now read that Pelosi says the only real way to rid ourselves of this turbulent fuckwit is to defeat him in 2020 by a margin so big that he can’t challenge the validity of his loss.

Which is when I had the horrible thought. Which was as follows: There IS no margin of victory so large that Comrade Trump wouldn’t challenge it. And that led to this horrible belief: Even if he was impeached by the House and convicted in the Senate, he’d refuse to accept it. Which led inevitably to this horrible certainty: Motherfucker ain’t gonna leave without an ugly fight, no matter what.

Let’s face it, Trump has ignored every norm, every standard of presidential behavior, every yardstick of diplomacy, and every rule of protocol so far. So why in the hell would we assume he’ll abide by our tradition of a peaceful transition of power?

He won’t. He just fucking won’t. It’s horrifying for me to say this, but even though he doesn’t really even want to be president, I can’t imagine him just giving it up. No matter whether he’s impeached or defeated in 2020, he’s going to claim the system has been rigged against him. He’s going to claim his enemies have conspired against him. He’s going to claim his defeat is a fraud perpetrated by deep state traitors. He’s going to rage and complain and threaten and bellow that he was somehow cheated.

And a lot of his supporters will believe him.

Here’s another horrible but true  thing: Trump won’t care how much damage he does before he leaves. He won’t care about the harm done to the office of POTUS, to the system of checks and balance, to our entire system of democracy. He won’t care if he leaves the nation in shambles. Trump is the kind of guy who’d shit in the driver’s seat if he thought you were going to repo his car.

I really believe we need to start thinking in those terms. I think we need to accept the fact that no matter the circumstance, Comrade Trump is not going to make a peaceful and dignified exit from the White House. He’d rather burn the place down.

With that in mind, there’s no reason the House of Representatives shouldn’t start a long, detailed impeachment process. We’re going to have to pry this jamoke out of the White House with a tire iron; we might as well take a few deep breaths and get started.

we’re not that stupid

Now that we’ve had a couple of days to calm down and/or sober up, let’s take a more rational and dispassionate look at AG William Barr’s letter summarizing the Mueller report. Specifically, let’s look at the way ‘coordination’ is defined in a footnote.

Before we can look at the footnote, we need to read the sentence referred to in the footnote.

As the report states: “[T]he investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

On the surface, that seems pretty clear, doesn’t it. But it’s not. I mean, Barr doesn’t even give us the entire sentence. We don’t know if the phrase that precedes that bracketed [T] reinforces or undermines the conclusion of the sentence. For all we know, the entire sentence could be something like this: “Despite extensive circumstantial evidence to the contrary, the investigation did not establish that members of the Trump campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government.” Until/unless we get to see the unredacted version of the report, we’re expected to assume Barr is accurately stating what Mueller found.

Even if Barr IS being accurate, there’s the problem of the footnote. It contains the operative definition of the term ‘coordination’. It’s a very narrow definition. According to Barr, coordination is:

an “agreement — tacit or express — between the Trump Campaign and the Russian government on election interference.”

I’m no counter-intelligence expert, but I’ve been around the block a time or two. I know enough about people and conspiracy to know that definition is absurd. That’s not how intelligence services work. Hell, that’s not even how normal people operate.

Now THERE’S some collusion. (Official White House Photo by Tia Dufour)

Here’s a simple example. Let’s say you’re the sort of dick who wants to upstage your ex-spouse by giving your kid a better birthday present. You don’t call up your ex and ask what she’s going to give the kid; you get a friend to chat with your ex and find out what she’s giving the kid. You don’t tell your friend you want the information so you can be a dick. You might just say you want to give the kid something of similar value.

Guess what: intelligence agents are just as smart as you are. I mean, the whole point of having spies and covert intelligence agents out doing shit is to avoid tacit or expressed agreements. It’s all about plausible deniability, putting distance between what you seem to be doing and what you’re actually doing.

Barr’s definition becomes even less useful because he restricts coordination to the actual Russian government. When Jared Kushner and Paul Manafort and Comrade Trump Jr. met with Russian attorney Natalia Veselnitskaya in Trump Tower to discuss ‘dirt’ on Hillary Clinton, they could deny she was there representing some facet of the Russian government. When Maria Butina hosted a party attended by Trump campaign aides, they could accurately claim she  deny she wasn’t actually employed BY the Russian government. Veselnitskaya and Butina might be serving the interests of the Kremlin while not actually being directly paid by them.

Finally, Barr’s definition of ‘coordination’ caves in on itself when he confines it to deliberate electoral interference. When Manafort shared polling data with Konstantin Kilimnik, who has ties with Russian intelligence agencies, he could claim he wasn’t trying to interfere with the election — he was just trying to demonstrate the probability of Trump being elected.

Barr limits the meaning of coordination to tacit and express agreements, then restricts it to actual members of the Russian government, and further confines its use to blatant election interference. By doing so, he basically claims there couldn’t be any collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia unless somebody from the Russian government met with somebody from the Trump campaign and clearly stated he wanted to work with them to disrupt the election.

The Russians aren’t that stupid. Barr isn’t that stupid. But apparently he thinks the American public is that stupid.

One more example. Let’s say you wanted to be the Attorney General in order to protect the President of the United States from being impeached and/or indicted for a criminal act. You wouldn’t announce that, would you. No, you’d write a 19 page memo arguing that the president could only be guilty of obstruction of justice under very specific circumstances, then you’d repeat that argument in a confirmation hearing controlled by supporters of the president, and you’d tell the opposition party that of course you’d obey the law, and you’d promise to give the public as much of the Mueller report as possible.

Plausible deniability, y’all. We can’t allow ourselves to be that stupid.

something to think about

In his letter summarizing the findings of the Mueller final report, AG Barr says this about his decision not to pursue an obstruction of justice case against Comrade Trump:

After reviewing the Special Counsel’s final report on these issues; consulting with Department officials, including the Office of Legal Counsel; and applying the principles of federal prosecution that guide our charging decisions, 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.

I highlighted that one section for a reason. There’s actually a Department of Justice manual that articulates the Principles of Federal Prosecution for criminal and civil matters. It lays out reasons for initiating or declining prosecution. The manual says:

[A]s a matter of fundamental fairness and in the interest of the efficient administration of justice, no prosecution should be initiated against any person unless the attorney for the government believes that the admissible evidence is sufficient to obtain and sustain a guilty verdict by an unbiased trier of fact.

Admissible evidence. Not all the evidence, only the evidence that’s admissible. Since Mueller’s mandate includes a counter-intelligence aspect, it’s possible — and maybe even likely — evidence exists that can’t be admitted in open court without compromising counter-intel methods and practices.

Remember too, that it’s Barr’s opinion that Trump didn’t commit obstruction — an opinion he’d actually argued for prior to being selected by Trump to be the Attorney General. Mueller, according to Barr’s memo, “did not draw a conclusion” whether Trump should face obstruction charges.

Why would Mueller decline to make that decision? The answer might be in that same Principles of Federal Prosecution manual. In the section that describes conditions for declining prosecution, the manual includes this:

[T]he attorney for the government’s belief that a person’s conduct constitutes a federal offense and that the admissible evidence will probably be sufficient to obtain and sustain a conviction is not sufficient standing by itself to commence or recommend prosecution. The prosecution must also serve a substantial federal interest, and the prosecutor must assess whether, in his/her judgment, the person is subject to effective prosecution in another jurisdiction; and whether there exists an adequate non-criminal alternative to prosecution.

In other words, the prosecutor can believe there’s enough evidence to convict the accused BUT still decide NOT to prosecute the case IF

  • he feels prosecution wouldn’t serve a federal interest. Mueller might feel that charging a sitting president with a crime would be harmful to governance.
  • the accused is subject to prosecution in another jurisdiction. We know Trump is facing possible criminal charges in the Southern District of New York, in the Eastern District of Virginia, in the District of Columbia, and in New York state. Perhaps Mueller thought one or more of those jurisdictions had a better case against Trump.
  • there’s a non-criminal alternative to prosecution. Like, say, impeachment.

Obviously, I don’t know what Mueller was thinking. What I do know — and what Mueller’s prosecutions demonstrate — is that every guilty plea or guilty verdict he obtained included the accused lying to Congress and/or the FBI. And what did they lie about? Their connections with Russia. Those connections might not directly link them to collusion, but there’s a pattern of behavior that’s obvious.

There was some seriously nasty skullduggery taking place between Trump, his people, and Russian agents. It may not have been actually criminal. It may have been criminal but not prosecutable. It may have been criminal and prosecutable, but not convictable. It may have been criminal and prosecutable and convictable, but not in the best interests of the US government.

But there’s a Russia-shaped piece of the puzzle that’s missing, and right now we can only guess what it represents.