Vaccinate or Else!

Somewhat, and only somewhat, like the Most Interesting Man in the World from the beer ads, I don’t usually curse but when I do, well …. run.

As the world crumbles around us, I am sick to f*cking death of the whining, immoral, selfish, ignorant, indifferent fools who refuse to get vaccinated because of … what? Their “rights?” Their “freedom to choose?” I am not interested. I don’t want to hear it anymore. We now have people seriously saying we should pay these people to vaccinate. Or just be nice and understanding of their concerns. Or just leave them alone because they’re Americans and have the right to decide how to protect themselves and their families, never mind the impact their intransigence and ignorance may have on others, including children who are, for all practical purposes, entirely at the mercy of decisions made by adults.

No, no and more no. I lost a relative to COVID. I lay her death at the feet of Donald Trump and the mob of lying, sniveling cowards who supported him while he knowingly downplayed the severity of the coronavirus, promoted the use of medically unsound remedies, and generally allowed the country to sink into near oblivion. More than 600,000 dead in the United States alone. Most of them On Trump’s watch.

In early 2020 we lived in New York City, the epicenter of the initial coronavirus explosion in the United States. Within days of my wife’s office in midtown Manhattan closing (in mid-March,) I experienced what turned out to be mild symptoms of COVID as then understood. A local clinic doctor, dressed like a spaceman, said, “You almost certainly have COVID, but we have no tests for people like you who are still standing. Even if we confirmed it, we would just send you home. So, go home, stay there and good luck.” Given my health history, this was a terrifying direction that felt like a potential death sentence.

My wife was not as lucky as I was. She had been incredibly healthy, worked out all the time, ate right and all the rest but within days was in extremis with every known COVID symptom except the very worst ones – she had no lung or brain involvement. Some days you just get lucky. It was terrible. No other words for it.

I did what I could to help her through long nights when she was unable even to walk unaided, fevered, with severe body aches and all the other horrors you have likely read about by now. We lived about 50 yards from the Emergency Room entrance to Mount Sinai West hospital and, on many nights, I thought we were on the verge of having to take her in, knowing that she would be alone under the “no visitors” policies. The horror went on for over two weeks around the clock. People were dying left and right. Many of those who survived had permanent heart, lung and brain damage. The sirens bringing victims to the hospital blared throughout the day and night, day after day. It felt like the end of the world.

We were among the most fortunate in that we both recovered, long before much was even known about the virus, long before there was any realistic suggestion that a vaccine might be developed in less than a year. We were, of course, in lockdown. Our essential needs, and a few luxuries, were met by a stranger in our building, with a big heart and a lot of courage. [See the text of Angels In New York reposted below, originally in my discontinued blog AutumnInNewYork.net]

COVID is thus not an abstraction for us. It has taken the life of someone we knew and loved. It destroyed our sense of security in life – that if we worked hard and subject to the usual ups and downs, all would somehow be well. The pandemic stole more than a year of my waning lifetime. We burrowed in like animals, waiting for an invisible monster to slide silently into our lives again and possibly destroy us. We were afraid of everything: the mail, the Amazon boxes, the concierge at the front desk, the neighbors.

But, as I said, we were among the very fortunate who survived, almost entirely intact. When we moved to Washington in late 2020, a flukish circumstance enabled us to be vaccinated in January-February of 2021. We joined the growing legion of the saved, eventually able to walk outside without masks, to eat outdoors in restaurants without feeling we were placing our lives on the line and generally to resume a semblance of normal life. This was true freedom.

Now, inevitably it seems, the Delta Variant of COVID has arrived, reaching the United States virtually overnight, and is rampaging through the country. And what happens? The former president, who downplayed the virus at the outset, called the virus a “Democrat hoax,” secretly had himself vaccinated and is focused entirely on promoting the Big Lie that the 2020 election was stolen. His voice could have been influential in altering the course of the Delta Variant infection but, no, he only cares about himself. One of his chief sycophants, Ron DeSantis, Governor of Florida, has taken up the mantle of COVID-denier-in-chief, while the Delta Variant ravages his state. His continuous mixed messages just end up reinforcing the resistance.

And on and on it goes. If this keeps up, we are facing another wave of avoidable deaths (almost all current COVID deaths are from unvaccinated people) and possibly nationwide lockdowns that would deal a death blow to the economy and to hope itself.

I am in no f*cking mood for more of this ignorant nonsense. This is like sitting in theater watching a group of fools enter the haunted house, knowing they are headed into dangers they don’t see even though the evidence is everywhere. The feeling of impending doom can be a high for fans of horror movies, but I always hated them. My new sense of impending doom is far more profound and realistic now.

And, so, what is happening? CHAOS. The Republican Governor of Alabama has awakened from her self-induced political coma to say “it’s “time to start blaming the unvaccinated folks.” https://wapo.st/3x2eOSo Why now? Here’s why: her state has had a “92 percent increase in coronavirus infections and a 72 percent rise in hospitalizations over the past week.” But just one-third of Alabamians are fully vaccinated, one of the lowest levels in the nation. Meanwhile, “exhausted health providers say they are bracing for case spikes that are largely preventable, driven by the hyper-transmissible delta variant.” And, once again, and totally predictably, “hospitals are becoming overwhelmed in states with low vaccination rates.” And, also predictably, “a number of prominent Republicans and conservative media voices continue to shower vaccines with skepticism, and social media disinformation continues largely unabated.”

Examples of failed strategies abound. The National Football League adopted new rules that a team

“could be forced to forfeit a game if there is a coronavirus outbreak linked to unvaccinated players. The move has both competitive and financial implications: Players won’t get paychecks for forfeited games, the NFL said. About 80 percent of all NFL players had at least one shot before the rules took effect, said league spokesperson Brian McCarthy, who credited seminars about the vaccines’ benefits, on-site vaccinations and other tactics.”

The operative word is “could,” because the policy has two conditions: a game must be canceled because of a coronavirus outbreak among unvaccinated players or staff members and cannot be rescheduled. In any case, many players among the college-educated vaccination holdouts may well be prepared to take the chance. The policy applies to mostly very well-off athletes and staff for whom the risk of financial sacrifice may be a small price they can easily afford to pay. If the NFL wants to stop the virus, it needs to tell the players: “vaccinate or you’re off the team.” More on that in a moment.

A well-meaning article in the New York Times, Should Vaccinated People Start Wearing Masks Again?  https://nyti.ms/3BBvaoq has a lot of nice advice and information about masking and distancing practice in the face of the Delta Variant, but the problem now is that the complexity of the situation has worsened.  People generally don’t do well with such complex decision-making. The article presupposes freedom of choice, deep understanding of risks, a multitude of factual situations and more. It’s just too much to expect.

Contrast that with the decision of more than 400 colleges and universities requiring returning students for in-person classes to be vaccinated. The schools have simplified the decision-making: vaccinate or study elsewhere. Period. Hospitals and health systems are now also lining up to mandate vaccination or strict testing regimens that could lead to being sent home without pay or termination of employment.

The federal government has stated, correctly in my view, that private companies may require vaccination to return to work in offices. Failure to return could result in loss of employment and unemployment benefits.

Meanwhile, the data on the benefits of vaccination is overwhelming:

As of July 12, more than 159 million people in the United States had been fully vaccinated against Covid-19. Of those, just 5,492 had breakthrough cases that resulted in serious illness, including 1,063 who died. That’s less than 0.0007 percent of the vaccinated population. Meanwhile, 99 percent of deaths from Covid-19 are among the unvaccinated.

 In this one instance, I find myself partially aligned with Dr. Leana S. Wen, a regular WAPO columnist who seems always to find grounds for disagreeing with Democratic health policies. https://wapo.st/3iK5ddB  Dr. Wen says, “the Biden administration needs to strongly urge a return of covid-19 restrictions.” She’s not referring to lockdowns, at least not yet. She notes that “the CDC’s honor system didn’t work” but that “vaccinated people are still well-protected” and thus “in settings where everyone is known to have immunity, no additional restrictions are needed.”

In all other contexts, however, where the risk of infection spread is present, “indoor mask requirements should be reinstated.”

The problem, yet again, is that urging jurisdictions to follow science is no longer a realistic option. Los Angeles County issued a new mask mandate, only to find that its sheriff declined to enforce it. At the risk of letting some reality creep in, Dr. Wen notes, correctly, that “the areas with the lowest vaccination rates are also the ones least likely to implement mask mandates.” Nevertheless, she sticks to the “Biden administration can make a difference” theme.

Then, Dr. Wen makes what I believe to be a classic mistake:

The federal government could also use this opportunity to — finally — incentivize vaccination. It could say that areas with high vaccine uptake do not need to reimplement mask mandates, and mandate vaccination on planes and trains and in federal buildings.

Incentives have been tried in various places and they don’t solve the core problem. And a random policy on travel will just confuse everyone even more and lead to further non-compliance. Wen gets its right with her next suggestion:

And [the Biden administration] can finally get behind a vaccine verification system that would allow restaurants, gyms, workplaces and universities to create safe, maskless environments where everyone is vaccinated.

But, it’s going to require more than encouragement and cheering from the sidelines to get this done. We need, must have, a nationally mandated policy on vaccination.

I’m with Max Boot on this. https://wapo.st/3i55mt4: “Stop pleading and start mandating.”

…. even as evidence grows that vaccines are safe and effective, resistance to them is also growing. A recent Post-ABC News poll found that 29 percent of Americans said they were unlikely to get vaccinated — up from 24 percent three months earlier. Only 59 percent of adults are fully vaccinated.

…. the biggest obstacle to vaccination is now Republicans who are being fed a steady diet of anti-vaxxer propaganda by Fox “News” Channel, Facebook and other social media, and reckless demagogues such as Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) and Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.).

This is madness. Stop making reasonable appeals to those who will not listen to reason. (According to an Economist/YouGov poll, a majority of those who refuse to get vaccinated say vaccines are being used by the government to implant microchips.) It’s a waste of time. Start mandating that anyone who wants to travel on an airplane, train or bus, attend a concert or movie, eat at a restaurant, shop at a store, work in an office or visit any other indoor space show proof of vaccination or a negative coronavirus test.

I understand the argument that Republican Governors may resist a national vaccine passport, but that’s too damn bad. The federal government has the authority under the Commerce Clause, among other powers, to compel compliance. It should act before it’s too late.

The argument that the federal government should step in with financial awards for getting vaccinated suffers from multiple problems. Principles developed in behavioral economics tell us that people are more concerned about loss than about gain. Offering some modest amount, declining over time, as recommended by Charles Lane in WAPO, https://wapo.st/3kSyfue, not only rewards the wrong behavior, it assumes that the recalcitrance of anti-vaxxers and COVID-deniers can be overcome with a few pieces of silver. For some, maybe that’s true, but it seems unlikely for the vast majority, and we have little time to lose with such experiments.

Adopting a strong, mandatory federal policy that supersedes all conflicting state laws, regulations and mandates (recall the Constitution’s Supremacy Clause), with significant consequences attached to non-compliance, is now the fastest path to assuring the bulk of holdouts are vaccinated in time to prevent the worst consequences of an uncontrolled pandemic resurgence. The mandate must be accompanied by clear and specific instructions on the acceptable proof of vaccination.

Anticipating the objections, yes, of course, the plan would require some form of exception for limited religious and demonstrable medical issues involving people with relevant co-morbidities, small children and the like. Compared to the consequences of an uncontrolled and continuously morphing viral pandemic, those are small problems. Some of those affected would, however, experience limitations on their behavior until we can be satisfied that herd immunity has been achieved.

Will this approach have implementation issues? Very likely. We have fiddled around so long that a rational, well-executed plan may be nearly impossible, but that’s not cause to shy away from trying. At this stage, we are grasping at straws, but it seems apparent that nothing of a “voluntary nature” is going to overcome the suicidal tendencies of, mainly, Republican anti-vaxxers. They are unmoved by the data showing that most of the deaths and other serious consequences of COVID infection are among the unvaccinated.

We must, therefore, remove the question from consideration: you want to drive, you get a license. You want to go to restaurants, movies, bars, travel, etc., you get vaccinated. Otherwise, stay home in lockdown. Our lives depend on it. End of story. If the vaccine resisters don’t approve, well, return to the first sentence of my second paragraph ….

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Repost of Angels in New York [from April 20, 2020]

Just when you least expect it and are sinking into the despair of self-isolation with a sick spouse and extreme personal vulnerability to the coronavirus, someone appears as if by magic to save the day. It’s not magic, of course; it’s human kindness and generosity at its best. I referred to her as an angel in an email and, with no prompting from me, my wife used the same terms. It must therefore be true.

The story is simple enough. My wife has come down with what appears to be COVID-19. We don’t know how it happened. We’ve taken all the precautions. Nonetheless, a doctor in a televisit said she thought it was COVID. It fits the symptoms list perfectly. Fortunately, so far, there are no breathing issues. But you may take my word for it – this virus is mean as a junk yard dog. Everything bad you’ve heard about it is true.

Anyway, my own vulnerability has led my wife to vehemently object to my leaving the apartment. Since she became ill six days ago, I have left only twice to pick up food deliveries and packages at the concierge desk and that was over her protest. When she started to need some things we had consumed, like ginger ale, I found that it is impossible to order online at CVS for delivery of items sold “only in store.” We then recalled that a few people in our building (700 apartments in two towers) have volunteered through the resident portal to help people like us. One of them was recent. I found her message and we began to communicate.

Skipping some of the details, she instantly agrees to trek to the CVS around the corner to buy whatever we need. Faced with imminent store closure (it’s Saturday night at 8 pm and the normal “open 24 hours” has apparently been suspended), she makes them stay open until she gets everything we asked for and delivers it to our door. She exhibits no impatience whatsoever as we text back and forth about the options/brands, etc. She wants us to have exactly what we want, not just what is convenient for her to grab and go. I am a bit overwhelmed.

This leads to a second trip the next day when we discover other needs. She texts me from the store to recommend an over-the-counter medication that may help my wife’s nausea (it did) after consulting with the pharmacist about it. She sends photos of various options so I can choose specifically what she should buy.

She patiently helps me struggle to reimburse her through her website (standby re that), but refuses to accept anything beyond the actual cost of the purchases. She says: “no way I’m taking anything other than exact amount.  Grandpa, who stormed the front in Battle of Bulge, would be horrified and embarrassed if I were to dishonor family name during time of national crisis.”

Now, I know I’ve encountered someone very special. An angel in human disguise. In New York City. We exchange a bunch more emails and texts after I check out her website where she manages, as a hobby, a meditation/mindfulness training program for working people. My wife in particular is interested in this for her post-recovery work life. It turns out this new friend-by-text and I are both alums of Yale University (me, Yale College, she the Law School) and Harvard (me the law school, she the Business School). To respect her privacy, I will not identify her by name. Her resume is intimidating. I joke that I and members of my class often observe that we probably couldn’t get into Yale now and her background shows why. She finds this amusing. She has a sense of humor and an infectious positive attitude toward life. [Is it a pun to refer to “infectious positive attitude” during a pandemic?]

I explain that since there is an immutable rule of life that no good deed goes unpunished, there will be two consequences to her work as Good Samaritan for us: one is that my wife must make dinner for her when the lockdown ends and life returns to some semblance of normality. The other is that I will write about her in this blog.

This is a story that must be told and included in my tales of life in New York City. She demurs on the blog but we agree she will bring dessert of her choice to the dinner. She sends me a remarkable photo of a multi-color dessert cake she had baked and says, “be afraid.” Date to be determined but I am optimistic we will make this happen.

And, for sure, my wife and I will be made better by having known this generous, ebullient, kind-hearted person, an unexpected benefit from the pandemic. As I conclude this post at 7 pm, I hear the New Yorkers that have balconies applauding, banging pots and cheering for that other group of angels working in the Emergency Rooms and ICUs around the city. This happens every day and apparently has started a national “movement,” as well it should. Giants and angels come in all sizes and in many disguises. If you’re lucky enough, an angel will find you too. I hope so.

Twilight Time?

It is a desultory day in Washington, overcast and gray, with predictions of potentially catastrophic storms, flash floods and tornados, almost none of which are likely to happen. They are predicted every time a “storm” passes through. We persist. But the weather threatens to postpone the baseball game on which I have been counting to distract from all the other negatives – being alone on Saturday night, the air outside so heavy that it is hard to breathe (earlier the heat index was 111, now a refreshing 92), Chinese leftovers from last night for dinner (wasn’t great then, likely less so now), and so on.

And then there is the blow to my already dwindling hopes for our country. No doubt I am under the stultifying influence of having, foolishly I admit, undertaken to argue with a bunch of “business people” on LinkedIn, which has, sadly, become yet another forum for right-wing hysteria. At times the people involved have been vicious, but what is most dispiriting is that they, as classical Trump acolytes, simply cannot accept what I believe to be reality. One example: they reject the reality of the January 6 assault on the Capitol. One of them flat-out called it “all lies.” The videos are just “fake news” to them, further evidence that the “left” has stolen from them their rightful leader whom some still appear to believe will be “restored” in August. They think the violence following George Floyd’s murder is no different than the insurrection at the Capitol.

I have been seeking to understand that type of thinking for some time. For a while I was impressed by George Lakoff’s Moral Politics, that argues the core issue is different understandings of proper family life and hierarchies of morality and social order. And there are others that, at one time or another, seemed to be on to something.

Then, today, I finished Anne Applebaum’s Twilight of Democracy, subtitled The Seductive Lure of Authoritarianism. I didn’t much care for most of it; too much personal style and mostly about Europe, Poland in particular, but … near the end, I am afraid to think she nailed it. The book mainly lays out the ways in which authoritarian ideas emerge and irreparable divisions develop in societies that were seemingly oriented toward, if not in fact, functioning democracies. The stories are compelling if remote from my experience.

But the ultimate conclusion is something else again: it’s as if the explanation was staring us in the face, was so obvious, and the same time so frightening, that we didn’t see it.

Applebaum notes that Trump’s inaugural speech signaled the beginning of the revelation in its early and repeated references to the decline of America and its values, what he called the “American carnage.” He posited a state of fundamental conflict between the government and the people, and between the United States and the rest of the world. Trump’s solution: “America First.”

Applebaum tellingly analyzes Trump:

To the millenarianism of the far right and the revolutionary nihilism of the far left he adds the deep cynicism of someone who has spent years running unsavory business schemes around the world. Trump has no knowledge of the American story and so cannot have any faith in it. He has no understanding of or sympathy for the language of the founders, so he cannot be inspired by it. Since he doesn’t believe American democracy is good, he has no interest in an America that aspires to be a model among nations.  [Twilight at 154]

Applebaum then observes that Trump’s embrace of Vladimir Putin’s rhetoric translates directly to a form of moral equivalence. The essence of that equivalence is that all countries, certainly all governments, are corrupt in equal measure. If all are corrupt, then “whatever it takes to win is okay.” [Twilight at 155] This, she notes,

is the argument that anti-American extremists, the groups on the far-right and far-left fringes of society, have always made. American ideals are false, American institutions are fraudulent, American behavior abroad is evil, and the language of the American project – equality, opportunity, justice – is nothing but empty slogans. The real reality, in this conspiratorial view, is that of secretive businessmen, or perhaps “deep state” bureaucrats, who manipulate the voters into going along with their plans, using the cheesy language of Thomas Jefferson as a cover story. Whatever it takes to overthrow these evil schemers is justified….

This form of moral equivalence – the belief that democracy is no different, at base, from autocracy – is a familiar argument, and one long used by authoritarians….

… this is what Trump has proven: beneath the surface of the American consensus, the belief in our founding fathers and the faith in our ideals, there lies another America, Trump’s America – one that sees no important distinction between democracy and dictatorship. This America feels no attachment to other democracies … The unity of this America is created by white skin, a certain idea of Christianity, and an attachment to land that will be surrounded and defended by a wall. This America’s ethnic nationalism resembles the old-fashioned ethnic nationalism of older European nations. This America’s cultural despair resembles their cultural despair. [Twilight at 155-158]

This explanation flies in the face of much of the rhetoric of the Republican Party, including Trump’s most ardent acolytes who speak passionately, but falsely, after freedom and “the American way of life.” The relentless drumbeat of USA, USA and the flags and all the rest obscure the real message.

Applebaum’s book has many other insights to commend it for reading by anyone interested in the question whether we are in the twilight of democracy, but for me, she has encapsulated in the above quotes the true explanation of the Trump phenomenon. It comes down to the simple proposition that Trump and those who support him do not believe in the democratic principles on which the country was founded.

Some time back I had speculated that Trump’s election in 2016 led him to believe that he had somehow been granted ownership of the country, that he was owner and CEO of the United States vested, as he saw it, with unlimited power (“I can do whatever I want”). He is another dictator in the making, another Viktor Orbán (Hungary), another Vladimir Putin wannabe. Those men aren’t interested in democracy – they just want to rule. That is Trump as well, and the Republican Party now belongs to him, just as Don Jr. proclaimed a while back.

These people do not recognize the fundamental legitimacy of the legal and traditional arrangements that have been the foundation for our democracy since the Constitution was ratified. Think back to Trump’s statements and behavior. Trump does not believe in democracy. That is why Trump saw no real problem in proclaiming, against all the evidence, that the election was stolen and why he saw no problem in directing a mob of true believers to attack the Capitol on January 6.

This is not about policy disputes over immigration policy or tax philosophy or deficit spending. It is about the essential principles that must be respected if a democratic republic is to function. Thinking of this as just another, though perhaps more serious, dispute about political philosophy, fatally overlooks the reality that the Republican Party no longer operates under the rules and principles of a free democracy.

Democratic politicians who think that Trump is just a temporary phenomenon who can be dealt with by traditional political means are making a potentially fatal mistake. The danger of further attacks on the national government is very real. All elements of the government, including particularly law enforcement and the military, must be prepared to respond as necessary to put down any such assaults. The next time must be the last or surely we will lose our republic, just as Ben Franklin warned. It is past time for the government to demand accountability for the many crimes committed by Trump and his henchmen while in office. This is necessary to make clear that there will be no repeat.

 

Return to New York City—Jazz and More

That reads like the title of a novel, but it was just us finally getting back to the Great City for a visit, the first since moving to Washington on December 1, 2020. We stayed in the Loew’s Regency on Park Avenue, a nicely updated hotel with a surprisingly large room and, except for the bathroom, well designed.

We had planned this trip for some time and near the departure date learned that Birdland, one of New York’s legendary jazz clubs, would be re-opening for live performances just before our arrival. So, of course, we booked ourselves in there for Saturday night to see a group we had not known before – the Emmet Cohen Trio. The owner of the club opened the music part of the evening with a special welcome back to a packed and enthusiastic crowd, everyone excited to hear live jazz again. Then Cohen led the band in an opening medley of well-known jazz standards. Everyone was moved by the first piece—the classic Lullaby of Birdland made famous by George Shearing back in the day. An emotional and perfect way to start the evening.

Emmet Cohen proved an adept pianist in the jazz genre, moving easily among classical forms and more contemporary vibes. He and his musical mates, Russell Hall on bass (details about him here: http://www.russellhallbass.com/bio)  and Kyle Poole on drums (details about him here: http://www.kylepooledrums.com/about-1)  were perfectly matched and clearly had a great time entertaining the crowd.

The food at Birdland was decent and the service excellent, especially considering they had just reopened two nights before. Interesting to us that there were so many young people in the audience. Here are photos of the line waiting to get in for the second show:

When we emerged after the show, we saw this:

a moving reminder of the scene just out of our apartment window during our three-year sojourn in the big city.

Sadly, we have lost the Jazz Standard to the pandemic, but the Village Vanguard and Smoke will hopefully reopen soon, and jazz will once again resound through the streets of New York.

On Sunday we lunched with a New York friend at Tavern on the Green, another great nostalgic return. That night, we dined at The Leopard at Des Artistes on West 67th. Our guest was my wife’s ballet instructor, Finis Jhung, New York City’s renowned ballet master. He danced with Joffrey Ballet, had his own company at one point and has trained some of the world’s greatest ballet dancers and Broadway stars. A very interesting person with whom to chat.

On Monday my New Jersey-resident daughter and family, my two grandsons in tow, joined us for lunch at Rosa Mexicano near Lincoln Center, which is just up the avenue from our old apartment. After lunch, we walked to Josie Robertson Plaza, the center element of the Center with its Revson Fountain running again. The Plaza has been completely covered in AstroTurf, with seats and other features (food stall, reading area) and is perfect for lounging around on a lazy day, which is just what we encountered:

Finally, when in NYC, one should always look up. In addition to surprising art and architectural features, there is the sheer magnitude and daring of buildings like these:

If you don’t look up from time to time, you miss it.

“Lawless White House” – the Mueller Report – “Oh! What A Tangled Web We Weave …”

The rest of line, you likely know, is “when first we practice to deceive.” Originally published in 1808 but completely relevant to the politics of today. The quote of a “lawless White House” is in the extraordinary book I’m about to describe.

We’ll never know the whole truth about Russian interference in the 2016 election or, most likely, many of the other crimes committed by Donald Trump and his White House/Congressional enablers. Most of the relevant documents have likely been destroyed or hidden away from the prying eyes of investigators armed with subpoenas and, one may wish, indictments. Trump and his enablers have shown they have no regard for law and will do anything to avoid being held accountable.

A bitter pill to swallow. There is, however, still much we don’t know that can be discovered despite the fact that the relevant rules favor the criminals and traitors – see, e.g., the accused is innocent until proven guilty, proceedings of the grand jury are secret, non-disclosure agreements are enforceable, attorney-client privilege and executive privilege, to name just a few.

In 2019 I read every word of and wrote extensively about the Mueller Report, with emphasis on what seemed to me the glaring shortcomings of the investigation and the conclusions reached. The links to those posts are set out at the end of this post for those who care to look back. Little did I know what was really going on. I had only the report itself and various news reports as sources.

But now we have Andrew Weissmann’s remarkable book, Where Law Ends—Inside the Mueller Investigation, published in Sept. 2020, but which I have just discovered and read compulsively. It is a barn burner in the truest sense and should be read by everyone who is genuinely interested in saving our democracy. When you are done, you will understand much better the frailties of our constitutional system and the means by which a putative dictator can undermine the separation of powers and subvert the rights we have taken for granted.

You know you’re in for a wild ride in the Introduction, where Weissmann describes AG William Barr’s 4-page letter purporting to explain and elaborate on the Mueller Report as “so many deceptions,” “deliberately worded obfuscations,” and “unbridled lies.” Weissman, after a long career in the FBI under Mueller, was put in charge of the “M Team” for the Special Counsel Investigation. The M Team was the group of lawyers, FBI agents and others who would determine what crimes had been committed, if any (obligatory qualification there) by Paul Manafort, who for a time was Donald Trump’s campaign manager, among many other roles. The other teams were the “R” (to investigate Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible collusion by the Trump campaign with Russian bad actors) and the “600” team (to determine whether Trump had obstructed justice in violation of federal law).

Weissmann thus was in the center of the investigation, privy to most of the challenges and involved in most of the discussion of strategy and tactics as Trump’s determination to undermine the investigation at all costs became apparent.

I am only going to touch on some highlights, that I hope will induce everyone reading this to acquire and digest Weissmann’s book. A full summary would far exceed the bounds of a reasonable blog post and give away too much of the astonishing revelations.

With books like this one, there are often questions about the content and timing of publication. The Twitterverse and other commenters reacted as expected, with some questioning “why wait so long?” “why not reveal everything, including the secret grand jury evidence?” and so on. My response to those critics is (1) pre-publication review was essential to the book’s publication at any time, (2) the book is meticulously fact-oriented and replete with legal analysis (presented mainly in laymen’s’ terms) – something of this nature could not be rushed, and (3) Weissmann gained nothing personally or professionally from delay – he was and is committed to the preservation of law and would have been foolish to violate the confidentiality of grand jury proceedings.

It is also telling that, atypically of exposé books, Weissmann does not make himself the unsung hero of the tale. Quite the contrary, he admits to more than one serious error of judgment in dealing with Mueller and Mueller’s uptight top deputy (Aaron Zebley, Mueller’s former Chief of Staff at the FBI) who was brought in from Mueller’s law firm even before Weissmann was hired. Weissmann takes great pains to explain the competing considerations and why he made particular decisions, while also, appropriately in my view, assigning serious errors to people who deserved the rebukes in light of everything known at the time. Anyone who has been involved in any kind of serious investigation (I have) can surely appreciate the difficult choices confronting the leadership of the investigative teams. Nevertheless, rigid thinking and timidity in the face of threats from the subjects of the investigation led to catastrophic errors.

More important, this is a true inside account of the investigation. Weissmann, while in thrall of Mueller before, during and after the investigation/report, is unrelenting in exposing the investigation’s problems and mistakes, laying out the consequences in stark terms. Examples abound throughout the 346 pages. It reads like a good murder mystery, but you know from page one that it is real, not fiction, and all the more chilling for that.

Weissmann flatly accuses the Trump administration of unlawfully interfering with the DOJ Criminal Division in Foreign Corrupt Practices Act cases. Trump had always railed against the FCPA because it interfered with his ability to bribe foreign officials to get development rights he was after overseas.

James Comey comes in for particularly harsh assessment regarding his decision, shortly before the 2016 election, to disclose the discovery of additional emails on the computer of Anthony Weiner who was (inexplicably, to me) the husband of Huma Abedin, a senior aide to Hillary Clinton. Weissmann sets out the multiple options Comey had in addition to the two he claimed were the only ones open to him. Weissmann at 54.

Weissmann also endorses the critique of Comey by Deputy AG Rosenstein while noting that Rosenstein was effectively covering for Trump’s desire to remove Comey because Comey refused to drop the investigation of General Michael Flynn. Weissmann notes that Trump’s statement on the Comey firing was drafted by Trump with Stephen Miller before Rosenstein became aware of Trump’s plan to fire Comey. Thus, “The White House’s effort to pass off the Comey firing as Rosenstein’s idea was a fabrication.” Weissmann at 60. Only one of many, it would turn out.

The White House also withheld from the Special Counsel an important document pertinent to the Russian interference in 2016. Trump’s lack of concern or interest about it made for Obstruction of Justice No. 11 in the pantheon of obstruction uncovered by Mueller, or would have been uncovered. If Mueller had insisted that Trump testify under oath.  Weissmann at 61. In any case, the firing of Comey is explained and shown to be a clear case of obstruction of justice by Trump. Weissman at 64.

An entire chapter of the book is devoted to the infamous Trump Tower meeting, that was the subject of withheld information (Jared Kushner) and lies (Papadopoulos). Weismann at 86. Among the conclusions: “it was clear that the highest levels of the Russian government were trying to help Trump and damage his opponent” and “the Trump campaign was extremely receptive to this help.” Weissmann at 88.

In a second chapter entitled “The Trump Tower Cover-Up,” Weissmann notes that neither Donald Trump nor Don Jr. ever agreed to meet with the investigators voluntarily and neither was brought before the grand jury. And the parties coordinated their versions of events to, among other things, support Don Jr’s claim that he had never meet any Russian officials. Weissmann at 103. Weissmann concluded that Trump himself lied about the Trump Tower meeting, that lying was in effect a basic Trump strategy for solving problems and that he seemed to believe there were never any consequences to his doing so. Weissmann at 107. History, so far, shows that Trump’s belief in his invulnerability is justified.

That episode reveals one of the serious points of disagreement within the investigative team. Team 600 concluded that it had found no evidence, through a witness or documents, that proved the president’s motive in lying was to deceive Congress and thus he could not be found to have engaged in criminal obstruction of justice. Weissmann calls this conclusion “timorous,” which in retrospect seems an understatement at best. Weismann at 108. At 110, Weissman concludes, more precisely, that the Trump Tower meeting was “damning.”

This episode, however, was prescient for the future of the investigation as Mueller and Zebley adopted a narrow and rigid view of the mission of the Special Counsel, what the evidence showed and what was risked by being too aggressive in the investigation. See, e.g., Weissmann at 128-129. Eventually, for a time at least, Mueller realized how impactful Russian interference could be and authorized a more full-throated investigation into all aspects of Russian interference, Weissmann at 132, but the ongoing reality was that Mueller was influenced far too much by Trump’s shenanigans throughout the investigation and creation of the final report.

That observation brings me to the most important points about this book. I may have more to say about the details in a future post, but it is vital to understand the overall process and how Mueller’s and Zebley’s conservatism led to a flawed process and failed report.

The harsh and ugly truth is that the presidency, in the wrong hands, gave the subject of the investigation an unequaled power to influence the behavior of witnesses, principally in this case Paul Manafort, but others as well. One such influence is the pardon power that Trump unsubtly dangled to assure witnesses that if they remained loyal to him, even to the extent of repeatedly lying to the investigators, they would be spared any consequences. And we know that this was a situation where loyalty to Trump was indeed rewarded with pardons or commuted sentences– for Manafort, for Flynn, for Stone, for Bannon, for Papadopoulos and others. https://bit.ly/3hfx7O3

The other major influence was Trump’s ability to fire the Special Counsel and thus end the investigation. If Mueller’s fears about this were based on the idea that the Republican Party (his party) would not hold Trump to account, he would have been right to be concerned. Nevertheless, Weissmann argues, persuasively, that the impact of this concern unduly colored many of the most important judgments made in the ultimate report.

Whether or not our skepticism is warranted, the book makes very clear that these two elements: Trump’s ability to pardon wrongdoers and his power to fire the Special Counsel, when used to serve Trump’s personal interest, are matters of the most profound concern for the future of our governance.

One of the most remarkable effects of this, when combined with the relentless attacks from the right-wing “media,” was that while Ivanka Trump, for example, almost certainly had relevant information about, for example, the Trump Tower meeting, the decision was that Ivanka was not to be interviewed. Weissmann at 117-118. Don Jr similarly could have been subpoenaed after refusing to be interviewed, but this was not done either. Weissman at 118. Astonishing. Fear of being fired also impacted decisions regarding how broadly to look into Trump’s finances in search of indirect Russian contributions (the Deutsche Bank subpoenas, for example, still not fully fleshed out). Weissmann at 147-148.

It is clear that Trump’s willingness to, directly and indirectly, threaten the Special Counsel with termination had major effects on the scope and aggression of the investigation. That reality explains many of the obvious and serious defects in Mueller’s final report discussed in detail in my earlier blog posts and exposed by Weissmann’s inside knowledge.

Weissmann demonstrates a clear-eyed understanding of the extent of Donald Trump’s corruption: “One cannot plausibly deny that Trump was seeking foreign assistance from Russia and was open to accepting it if offered.” Weissmann at 126, 135, 140. He labels Trump a continuing “counterintelligence threat.” As long as he remains free and unindicted for his multiple crimes in office, Trump remains such a threat despite his lazy indifference to national security briefings that have been a daily staple in the lives of presidents for a very long time. He knows a lot that would be valuable to our adversaries. Continuing through to the end of his presidency, Trump never acted against the Russian interference that was proven to continue into the 2020 campaigns. Weissmann at 218-219, 222. The book lays out a stark and disturbing list of failures to confront the Russian interference threat. Weissmann at 224.

Similarly, Weissmann describes how Rick Gates was aggressively pressured by Paul Manafort and unnamed others to refuse cooperation to the investigation. Weissmann at 206-208. The prospect of a pardon from Trump was part of the “package” of sweeteners to keep Gates quiet. Ultimately, the pressure failed to silence Gates, but just barely.

One particularly interesting story involved Manafort ginning up attacks from Fox’s Sean Hannity against the Special Counsel investigation in violation of the trial judge’s bail orders that had permitted Manafort to remain free pending trial. The investigators correlated Manafort’s texts to Hannity with on-air smears of Mueller and staff. Aaron Zebley, however, prevented the submission of the texts to the court, saying, “they are too explosive.” Weissmann at 209.

Much of the story of the Mueller investigation reads like the script of a television drama series. Typically, parts of such plots are so over the top, so corrupt and malign that they strain credulity. Trump, however, must have studied those shows because his conduct with people like White House counsel McGahn showed a willingness to flout the law at will. Trump never believed, and likely still does not believe, that he can be held accountable. He genuinely believes he is above the law and able, as he said, “to do whatever I want.”

Skipping much material that I may cover in a future post, Weissmann’s narrative ends full circle, reviewing then-Attorney General Barr’s letter purporting to summarize the Mueller Report, but which in fact was a green light to unleash Trump’s corruption in full and unrestrained flower. It led directly to the Ukraine extortion attempt that led to Trump’s first impeachment. Weissmann at 331. And to Giuliani, Nunes, and the political forgiveness of Roger Stone and Michael Flynn, that Weissmann refers to as the “gaggle of presidential defenders and conspirators.” At 332.

Weissmann surgically dissects Barr’s falsities, noting, for example, that Barr’s claim that the president had “full cooperated” with the investigation “”is not just untrue, it’s astonishingly far from the truth.” Weissmann at 333. The same for Barr’s claim that Trump had not asserted presidential privilege to withhold information.  And the same for Barr’s assertion that Trump had formed a “sincere belief” that his presidency was being undermined by the investigation, a claim whose provenance was never explained and in any case was irrelevant to the question whether Trump had obstructed justice.  Weissmann rips Barr’s claim that the Russian active measures were directed at “social discord” rather than helping Trump defeat Hillary Clinton. Lie after lie after lie.

Weissman concludes with some recommendations for ways to strengthen the Special Counsel regulations but, more importantly, disputes compellingly the DOJ policy, adhered to strictly by Mueller, that if the president could not be indicted, it was improper to accuse him of wrongdoing. Weissman at 342. A sitting president can indeed defend himself if he chooses to do so. The policy makes no sense. I addressed the no-indictment policy in a prior post on this blog.

Finally, and perhaps most important of all, Weissman notes that the presidential pardon power in the Constitution should not be used to protect the president personally by, in effect, covering up the crimes of others who would, absent the pardon power, have incriminating information on the sitting president. He argues that it should be unconstitutional for a president to use the pardon power to protect himself, independent of whether that power could be used to directly pardon himself. Weissmann at 344. That seems exactly right to me, although I have some doubts that the “conservative” majority now on the Supreme Court wouldn’t just take the simple-minded approach that the words conferring the pardon authority contain no limitations and therefore are absolute. That is a view that would further cement the anti-Constitutional idea of the imperial presidency that Trump tried to impose on the country. We can see in the events of January 6, among many other examples, where that leads.

*********

Links to Posts re Mueller Investigation:

Mueller’s Indictment of Russia Hackers   https://bit.ly/3gQe7Xb    July 13, 2018

Mueller’s Indictment of Russia Hackers – Updated  https:://bit.ly/3h33lvl July 14, 2018

The Mueller Report – Where From Here? https://bit.ly/3gZQElm   March 24, 2019

Semi-Final Thoughts on Mueller Report https://bit.ly/3j8gVRh  March 25, 2019

Issues raised by Mueller/Barr/Rosenstein https://bit.ly/3wSPjni March 27, 2019

Redactions of Mueller Report Must Be Coded  https://bit.ly/3j8nX8q April 6, 2019

MUELLER REPORT PART I – TRUMP CANOODLING WITH RUSSIA https://bit.ly/3jeBNGr  July 9, 2019

MUELLER REPORT PART I — TRUMP CANOODLING WITH RUSSIA – A https://bit.ly/3dagOkk  July 10, 2019

MUELLER REPORT PART I – TRUMP CANOODLING WITH RUSSIA – B https://bit.ly/3zNATqe  July 10, 2019

MUELLER REPORT PART I – TRUMP CANOODLING WITH RUSSIA – C  https://bit.ly/3xTRsPI  July 11, 2019

MUELLER REPORT PART I – TRUMP CANOODLING WITH RUSSIA – D  https://bit.ly/3vUR1D9  July 11, 2019

MUELLER REPORT PART I – TRUMP CANOODLING WITH RUSSIA – E https://bit.ly/2U46bIX  July 11, 2019

Mueller Report Part II – Trump Guilty of Obstruction of Justice-A   https://bit.ly/3gQAXOu   July 23, 2019

Mueller Report Part II – Trump Guilty of Obstruction of Justice-B, C  https://bit.ly/3A5gf5l   July 23, 2019

Mueller Report Part II – Trump Guilty of Obstruction of Justice – D    https://bit.ly/3wVcw8l   July 23, 2019

Mueller Report Part II – Trump Guilty of Obstruction of Justice-E   https://bit.ly/3gRyKlW  July 23, 2019

Mueller Report Part II – Trump Guilty of Obstruction of Justice – F   https://bit.ly/3gRHR61  July 23, 2019

January 6 Video: Capitol Under Siege

The New York Times has published a video covering the events of January 6, 2021 at the U.S. Capitol Building. There is nothing to add to this at the moment, except to wish that the government arrests, convicts and sends to long prison terms the Proud Boys, Oath Keepers and other white supremacist groups that planned their attack, along with those who joined them in a lunatic rampage of violence and desecration. I also urge everyone to subscribe to the New York Times. You may not agree with everything the publish (I don’t) but their comprehensive coverage and analysis is unparalleled in journalism.

Here is the link to the video: https://www.nytimes.com/video/us/politics/100000007606996/capitol-riot-trump-supporters.html?

 

A Tree(s) Grows in DC

When I first noticed this tree, near where I live, I failed to grasp its unusual nature. On first look, it’s another large member of the pine family (don’t hold me to that – maybe a fir?).

On closer examination, something extraordinary is revealed.

You see the stump that has apparently been cut off:

Then notice that the trunk turns to parallel the ground and then rises vertically again.

And on closer inspection, you see the second trunk rising out of the first one half the distance from the center trunk to the point where the horizontal trunk turns vertical again on the right. This gives the appearance of two separate trees when you first see the high tops as in the first photo above.

I have no idea what event(s) led to this tree taking this conformation but it seems remarkable, especially for such a large tree adjacent to a busy city intersection. In any case, I have never seen anything quite like it after many years of tree hugging, so I decided to share it.

What Do You Call a Collection of Traitors & Cowards?

There is a gaggle of geese (also a press gaggle and, generically, any group)… a coven of witches, pride of lions (definitely not lions), herd of giraffes (also cattle) … getting warmer.

Not that important, I suppose, to have a name for the mob of people who attacked the Capitol on January 6, 2021, in an attempt to stop the election of Joe Biden and replace him with the dictator Donald Trump. I was inspired to think about this when I found this site https://bit.ly/3xRc2QA which the FBI’s display of 1,175 photos of people they are still seeking to arrest for their role in the January 6 insurrection (a very few since arrested). The list bears this note:

If you have any information on the individuals pictured above, please call 1-800-CALL-FBI or submit a tip online at tips.fbi.gov. Please reference the photo number, including the AFO or AOM if applicable, when calling or submitting information online.

Aside from the outrageous nature of the attack itself, the shocking thing about these photos is that many of them are very clear, full face shots that could be identified readily by any number of friends, family, acquaintances, co-workers or customers. Still, however, these people are at large. I’m sure most people who read this blog will not know any of these charmers, but just in case, I am writing this post in the hope that readers will review the photos and report anyone they know.

I understand the idea that “ratting out” someone is frowned upon, even by upstanding people of strong religious and patriotic values. But these people were trying to overthrow the democracy on which your freedoms depend. Don’t think for a moment that if they had succeeded in installing Trump for a second term, despite his election loss, everything would just have continued as before. Recall that Trump himself spoke on multiple occasions about a third term, to rousing applause from his rally acolytes. It was no joke then and certainly no joke after January 6. So, please review the photos and see if you recognize anyone. If you do, report them to the FBI.

And don’t miss the list of arrest announcements at the bottom of the pages of photos. Each is linked to a press release with details of the person’s involvement in the January 6 attack. Makes interesting reading.

While I’m on this subject, I want to make a few comments about some of the “defenses” that I have heard made by January 6 defendants who have been arrested.

One is the “pure of heart” defense, which goes something like, “I was there because I truly believed what Trump had said and I thought I was patriotically defending my country…blah, blah.” Nonsense, you don’t get passing grades in school even if you convince yourself that Martians ate your homework. Belief is a choice you make and every person who claims they believed Trump had access to information that would have shown he was lying about the election. No defense.

Then there is the “I didn’t know it was illegal” defense, based on the idea that the Capitol is a “public building” and therefore the public has the right to go there any time and under any circumstances the public chooses. No, actually, untrue and any person with a functioning mind would know, from personal experience and casual observation, that “public” buildings are normally guarded now-a-days and access is strictly controlled. Moreover, and it pains me to have to add this, there were Capitol police on site who were obviously indicating that access to the building was not open, and no normal person would think it’s just fine to ignore their presence and their resistance to entry.

Finally, there is the “I just got caught up in the crowd” argument. Well, that could possibly be true for a few of the people who walked to the Capitol from Trump’s incendiary speech, but … once there, it should have been clear, again to anyone with a functioning mind, that the crowd had turned into a violent mob and that it was better to skedaddle than to just go along to get along. This “defense” is nonsense and, in my view, even if factually accurate in a handful of cases, it is no excuse. It reads a lot like “yeah, I knew my friends were going to rob the store, but I drove the get-away car anyway because, you know, they were my friends.”

Rant over. Please look at the FBI photos and see your fellow Americans at play. If you recognize anyone, turn him/her in to the FBI. You will feel better for it.

 

AMTRAK Responds

If you read this blog with any regularity, you know that I took AMTRAK to task a while back for what I considered an amateurish performance in its communications about the resumption of “normal service,” wherein it had failed to mention and reinforce the federal mask mandate. https://bit.ly/3dekJwC I emailed AMTRAK to inform them of my posted statement. It took a while (pandemic, you know), but to my pleasant surprise, AMTRAK responded.

The reply contained what by now is the obligatory standard chiché for every public issue by virtually every enterprise, for-profit or otherwise:

… the safety of our passengers and employees is our number one priority.  Therefore, we have documented and forwarded your correspondence to the appropriate management for their review and appropriate action.  Please rest assured that we take matters such as these very seriously and appreciate your bringing it to our attention. [emphasis mine]

 OK, I admit to being a bit testy. The message went on to assure me that,

all passengers must complete this pre-trip COVID-19 check within 24 hours prior to departure. The pre-trip check includes acknowledgement that passengers agree to wear a mask at all times in compliance with federal laws and Amtrak policy. If they cannot acknowledge this, they will be asked [sic] reschedule.

That, of course, is good news and nice to know. The AMTRAK website does contain a clear statement of the mask rule that is still in place. I haven’t received any more promotional emails since my exchange with AMTRAK so I can’t say what, if anything, has changed in their communications. But I can say, GO AMTRAK!”

There, I feel better already.

Chump Play in Philadelphia

I confess I’m still bothered by the scene in 2012 when Jason Werth, playing outfield for the Washington Nationals,  broke his wrist on a diving catch in a game against the Philadelphia Phillies and the Philadelphia crowd jeered him. There seems to be something about Philadelphia.

Last night, 3-time Cy Young Award winner Max Scherzer, fresh off an injury of his own, was pitching against the Phillies, now managed by former Yankees manager Joe Girardi. Because of renewed concerns in major league baseball about pitchers using illegal substances to get better or different spins on pitches, it was apparently thought appropriate for the umpires to check Max. Not once, not twice, but three times –after the first inning, after the third inning and then, unbelievably, in the middle of the fourth inning. Scherzer was upset to have his inning interrupted and, of course, nothing amiss was discovered. https://atmlb.com/3gRbxR6

This fourth check was apparently instigated by Girardi who, after Max struck out the final batter of the inning, came out of the dugout and began challenging Scherzer to meet him on the field for, presumably, a physical altercation that would, almost certainly, have resulted in Max being ejected and both dugouts would have engaged in the typical scrum. Instead, Max smartly remained in the dugout and, appropriately, Girardi was ejected.

Bob Carpenter, the Nationals announcer, was upset, also understandably, remarking that if this kind of gamesmanship is permitted, a manager could easily disrupt a possible no-hitter in the middle of the ninth inning and throw off a pitcher’s timing.

This was a chump move by Girardi. Major League Baseball needs to be careful here to assure that the concerns about substances on baseballs do not turn the game into a contest of repeated disruptions to damage pitcher performance. To be clear, I don’t think pitchers should be permitted to use anything other than the classic rosin bag that has been part of baseball for a very long time, but this should not lead to disrupting a pitcher in the middle of an inning as occurred in Philadelphia last night. Girardi coming out of the dugout to entice Scherzer to fight on the field was completely unacceptable, and he should be fined substantially for it. Just my opinion.

A Darkness in the Heart

A few days ago, Rep. Carolyn Maloney, Chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, releaseddocuments showing ex-President Trump’s efforts to pressure the Department of Justice (DOJ) to overturn the results of the 2020 presidential election.  https://bit.ly/35wq4uL Maloney’s release says, in part,

These documents show that President Trump tried to corrupt our nation’s chief law enforcement agency in a brazen attempt to overturn an election that he lost. Those who aided or witnessed President Trump’s unlawful actions must answer the committee’s questions about this attempted subversion of democracy.

This is not really new. Recall that on May 3, 2017, more than four long long years ago, I published, https://bit.ly/3vObOrS that included a 24-item list of indictable/impeachable offenses by Donald Trump. That was long before the March 2019 Mueller Report, laying out conclusive evidence of at least ten instances in which Trump obstructed justice. And longer still before the July 2019 phone call in which Trump threatened the President of Ukraine that he would withhold Congressionally-approved aid if Ukraine did not announce an investigation of Joe and Hunter Biden. See https://bit.ly/3vBQ7LF It was even longer before the January 6, 2021 Trump-inspired and Trump-led (“I will be there with you.”) attack on the Capitol, for which I recommended that Trump be indicted, arrested and charged with Sedition & Felony Murder. https://bit.ly/3q7iaSb

Thus, it comes as no surprise that unleashed Trump has once again committed multiple crimes. [An aside: this is not an exaggeration. I will soon be reviewing the extraordinary memoir, Where Law Ends, by Andrew Weissmann, the inside account of the Mueller investigation that reveals in horrifying detail the determination of Donald Trump to retain power and remain unaccountable to the people, including multiple crimes in office]

In a nutshell, as exposed in the released documents, here is how Trump attempted to subvert the Department of Justice in the wake of his 2020 election defeat [full details here; https://bit.ly/35wq4uL]:

Trump Sent Bogus Election Fraud Claims to Top DOJ Officials Minutes Before Announcing Their Promotions to the Top Two Spots in the Department

Trump Used Official White House Channels and a Private Attorney to Pressure DOJ to Urgently File a Supreme Court Lawsuit to Nullify the Election

      • The draft 54-page complaint demanded that the Supreme Court “declare that the Electoral College votes cast” in six states that President Trump lost “cannot be counted,” and  requested that the Court order a “special election” for president in those states.

Trump Enlisted Assistant AG Jeffrey Clark in an Attempt to Advance Election Fraud Claims; The White House Chief of Staff Pressured DOJ to Investigate Conspiracy Theories At Least Fives Times

 Examples [“Rosen” refers to then Deputy AG Jeffrey Rosen]:

      • On December 30, 2020, Mr. Meadows forwarded Mr. Rosen an email from Cleta Mitchell, a Trump advisor who later participated in a January phone call with Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger.  During that call,  President Trump reportedly asked Georgia election officials to “find” enough votes to declare him the winner of the state.  The December 30 email contained allegations of “video issues in Fulton County.”  Mr. Meadows wrote to Mr. Rosen:  “Can you have your team look into these allegations of wrongdoing.  Only the alleged fraudulent activity.”
      • Later on December 30, 2020, Mr. Meadows emailed Mr. Rosen a translation of a document from an individual in Italy claiming to have “direct knowledge” of a plot by which American electoral data was changed in Italian facilities “in coordination with senior US intelligence officials (CIA)” and loaded onto “military satellites.”  This individual claimed that the true data, as well as sources within the conservative wing of the Italian secret service, confirmed that Donald Trump was “clearly the winner” of the 2020 election.

Further nuances and details about these sorry episodes were reported in the Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3q4tP49 One element of that recital is the repetition of “no comment” and no response to inquiries from the press about the narrated events. Even those Justice Department officials who were steadfast in declining Trump’s overtures to overturn the election are apparently unwilling to address the revelations in the emails released by the Oversight Committee. And, quite expectedly, Mark Meadows and Trump himself had nothing further to say regarding their blatant attempts to overturn the election.

 What Should Happen Now

Trump and all of the people involved in attempts to suborn the Department of Justice should be indicted under 18 USC § 371,arrested and tried. It’s past time to put a stop to Trump’s campaign to undermine the central fabric of our democracy.

The US Criminal Code, 18 U.S.C. § 371, if violated when two or more persons conspire either to (a) commit any offense against the United States, or (b) defraud the United States, or any agency thereof in any manner or for any purpose. Both offenses require the traditional elements of conspiracy: an illegal agreement, criminal intent, and proof of an overt act.

In Hass v. Henkel, 216 U.S. 462 (1910) the Supreme Court stated:

The statute is broad enough in its terms to include any conspiracy for the purpose of impairing, obstructing or defeating the lawful function of any department of government . . . (A)ny conspiracy which is calculated to obstruct or impair its efficiency and destroy the value of its operation and reports as fair, impartial and reasonably accurate, would be to defraud the United States by depriving it of its lawful right and duty of promulgating or diffusing the information so officially acquired in the way and at the time required by law or departmental regulation.

In Hammerschmidt v. United States, 265 U.S. 182 (1924), the Court elaborated:

To conspire to defraud the United States … also means to interfere with or obstruct one of its lawful governmental functions by deceit, craft or trickery, or at least by means that are dishonest. It is not necessary that the Government shall be subjected to property or pecuniary loss by the fraud, but only that its legitimate official action and purpose shall be defeated by misrepresentation, chicane or the overreaching of those charged with carrying out the governmental intention.

A multitude of later cases confirm the ongoing vitality of those early definitions.

Proof of conspiracy requires knowledge by the perpetrators that the statements were false. The claims made by Trump, Meadows and others acting on Trump’s behalf were not just obviously false but bordered on hallucinatory. Trump’s repeated claims that there was “no way” he lost Georgia, for example, have no plausible factual predicate and after sixty lawsuit failures, no plausible factual basis has been presented. Trump’s claims were a blatant attempt to both “interfere or obstruct legitimate Government activity” and/or to “make wrongful use of a governmental instrumentality.”

The Manual of Model Criminal Jury Instructions: 8. Offenses Under Title 18, referring to 18 USC § 371,  states,

A conspiracy is a kind of criminal partnership—an agreement of two or more persons to commit one or more crimes. The crime of conspiracy is the agreement to do something unlawful; it does not matter whether the crime agreed upon was committed….

One becomes a member of a conspiracy by willfully participating in the unlawful plan with the intent to advance or further some object or purpose of the conspiracy, even though the person does not have full knowledge of all the details of the conspiracy. Furthermore, one who willfully joins an existing conspiracy is as responsible for it as the originators.…

An overt act does not itself have to be unlawful. A lawful act may be an element of a conspiracy if it was done for the purpose of carrying out the conspiracy. The government is not required to prove that the defendant personally did one of the overt acts.

A conspirator may not defend on the basis that he believed in fantasies when he made claims he knew were unjustified. In this case Trump and his henchmen tried to enlist the personnel and resources of the nation’s top law enforcement agency to accomplish what they failed to accomplish in the election, knowing to a moral certainty that their claims lacked a basis in reality. The conduct in question occurred almost two months after the election and after numerous lawsuits throughout the country failed to persuade a single judge (including some Trump himself appointed) that there was any basis for claims of election fraud that could change the result. Even Trump’s Attorney General Barr publicly rejected the fraud claims.

I am not alone in advocating strong and prompt action to stop Trump’s continuing effort to overturn the election . Jennifer Rubin suggested the following in the Washington Post on [https://wapo.st/3wz0sJM]:

    1.  criminal investigation into post-election actions in which officials were pressured to change election outcomes, including attempts at DOJ and at state officials such as Georgia Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger,
    2. create strict guidelines for Justice Department attorneys regarding efforts to undo lawful elections, including whistleblower protections and mandatory duty to report such actions to Congress,
    3. sue to stop the bogus so-called “audits” in Arizona and elsewhere,
    4. develop federal legislation to strengthen the Electoral Count Act, such as requiring a supermajority to challenge electoral votes.

Rubin’s final recommendation is probably the most important: establish an election-monitoring program for 2022 and 2024 that will assign Justice personnel to prevent voter intimidation, measure wait times, observe election counting, receive complaints and, ultimately, render a report on the functioning of elections in all 50 states.  That’s the most critical because Republicans throughout the country are legislating changes in local election procedures to enable Republican-controlled legislatures and political appointees to control and even overturn election results.

Following Republicans’ uniform refusal to hold Trump accountable for any of his many crimes in office, it is now clear that the fate of the nation’s election system is under systemic attack. It is no exaggeration to say that Republicans are prepared, without compunction, to adopt totalitarian tactics to establish themselves as the permanent ruling party in American politics. They seem to believe that the majority of Americans will accept such actions in peaceful submission. That, I believe, is a fundamental misjudgment, the consequences of which are unimaginably horrible. Among many other things, the United States is no longer separated from its enemies by oceans that take weeks or months to cross. A violent civil conflict would expose the country to attacks from which it could never recover.

In any case, there is no reason to sit idly by while the Republicans attempt in plain view to subvert the Constitution and establish a Republican dictatorship under Donald Trump. Aggressive and immediate actions can prevent the unthinkable and avert more drastic measures later. Trump and his co-conspirators should be indicted forthwith. Time and opportunity are wasting.