Three Things to Know About the Acting Attorney General

By now, everyone awake knows that Trump fired Jeff Sessions. Standing alone, no loss in my opinion. I have expressed my views of Sessions in earlier posts in this blog.

But there is the major issue of how this relates to Trump’s determination to abort the Mueller investigation. If successful at doing that, Trump might well immunize himself from the laws of the United States and, in effect, become the dictator he wants to be. That catastrophic constitutional crisis-in-the-making will play out however it plays out. It is far from clear that Trump’s ploy to replace Sessions with Matt Whitaker is going to work because the constitutionality of Whitaker’s status as Acting AG has been challenged by legal authorities on all sides of the political spectrum.

Meanwhile, there is more to the Whittaker Walt story. Sorry, I got confused with the movie, The Russians Are Coming, in which Carl Reiner plays Walt Whittaker whose name is a challenge to the Russian submarine captain whose sub has gone aground on a Martha’s Vineyard-like island. It’s Matt Whitaker we’re concerned with here. Though I do recommend everyone rent The Russians Are Coming. It’s very funny and we could all use a laugh right now.

Back to Matt Whitaker. Here are the three things:

  1. He believes that good judges should administer “biblical justice” (New Testament only) ahead of the justice prescribed by the statutes enacted by the government; I know that sounds batsh*t crazy but here is the evidence: https://wapo.st/2PLGiKr
  2. Whitaker, who was Chief of Staff to Jeff Sessions before Trump axed Sessions and made Whitaker “acting,” believes that Marbury v. Madison was wrongly decided: https://wapo.st/2JRQsUh For those not initiated into the secret cult of law and lawyers, Marbury was decided in 1803 in an opinion written by one of the imminent jurists in American legal history, John Marshall. Here is a nice summary of the case:

“Thomas Jefferson defeated John Adams in the 1800 presidential election. Before Jefferson took office on March 4, 1801, Adams and Congress passed the Judiciary Act 1801, which created new courts, added judges, and gave the president more control over appointment of judges. The Act was essentially an attempt by Adams and his party to frustrate his successor, as he used the act to appoint 16 new circuit judges and 42 new justices of the peace. The appointees were approved by the Senate, but they were not valid until their commissions were delivered by Secretary of State James Madison.

William Marbury had been appointed Justice of the Peace in the District of Columbia, but his commission was not delivered. Marbury petitioned the Supreme Court to compel the new Secretary of State, James Madison, to deliver the documents. Marbury, joined by three other similarly situated appointees, petitioned for a writ of mandamus compelling the delivery of the commissions….

The Court [unanimously] found that Madison’s refusal to deliver the commission was illegal, but did not order Madison to hand over Marbury’s commission via writ of mandamus. Instead, the Court held that the provision of the Judiciary Act of 1789 enabling Marbury to bring his claim to the Supreme Court was itself unconstitutional, since it purported to extend the Court’s original jurisdiction beyond that which Article III, Section 2, established.

Marshall expanded that a writ of mandamus was the proper way to seek a remedy, but concluded the Court could not issue it. Marshall reasoned that the Judiciary Act of 1789 conflicted with the Constitution. Congress did not have power to modify the Constitution through regular legislation because Supremacy Clause places the Constitution before the laws.

In so holding, Marshall established the principle of judicial review, i.e., the power to declare a law unconstitutional.”

Marbury v. Madison, Oyez, 10 Nov. 2018, http://www.oyez.org/cases/1789-1850/5us137.

  1. Whitaker also believes that states can overrule federal law. https://cnn.it/2FgIFRs

That position, which harkens back to the attitude of Southern states before the Civil War, is in direct conflict with the Supremacy Clause of the U.S. Constitution that, I believe, Whitaker has sworn to uphold. Again, for the uninitiated, here is the pertinent part of the Supremacy Clause:

“This Constitution, and the laws of the United States which shall be made in pursuance thereof; and all treaties made, or which shall be made, under the authority of the United States, shall be the supreme law of the land; and the judges in every state shall be bound thereby, anything in the Constitution or laws of any State to the contrary notwithstanding.

The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

So, this Matt Whitaker is the man Trump picked to be Acting Attorney General of the United States.

And, if that weren’t enough, when confronted with questions about the legitimacy of the appointment, Trump claimed not to know Whitaker and that he had acted on the basis of what other (unnamed) people had said about him. The media, of course, took a deep breath and immediately found the audio tape in which Trump had declared he did know Whitaker.

You just couldn’t make this stuff up. Trump has demonstrated once again that he, and the people supporting him in the White House, are corrupt, bumbling, incompetent, dishonest and, dare I say it, just “terrible people.” That was Trump’s characterization of the media people who dared to press him for answers about all this as he had one foot on the plane to fly to Paris where he promptly humiliated himself and the United States, again.

The Republicans in Congress will almost certainly continue to play the Kids Gallery to Trump’s version of Clarabell the Clown from the Howdy Doody Show. https://bit.ly/2qECe0r For those too young to know (Howdy aired from 1947 to 1960), Clarabell did not speak. He had a squeeze- horn on his belt and used exaggerated gestures to communicate with Buffalo Bob and the Kids Gallery. Maybe that’s a partial solution to Trump: let’s get him a belt-mounted squeeze-horn and a gag. General Kelly can continue to play Buffalo Bob.

Media Should Stop Playing Wag the Dog

The battle continues to rage on Twitter and elsewhere about whether CNN report Jim Acosta “put his hands” on a White House intern during a Trump press conference conflict over whether Acosta could ask a third question Trump didn’t want to hear. I have an opinion about what happened: Acosta tried to hog the questioning, a mistake but understandable in the circumstances; the intern was trying to do what she thought, correctly, the President wanted her to do, which was prevent Acosta from continuing to speak by taking the microphone out of his hands. Acosta resisted what, to me, looked like aggressive, even assaultive behavior by the intern. She should have stepped back at the first sign of resistance, but didn’t. Instead, she reached across Acosta and tried to snatch the microphone from his grip. He resisted, bringing the wrist of his hand, which was pointing at that moment, across the intern’s arm. Gently, I thought. She turned back to Trump with a “what do I do now” look on her face. Game over.

Well, not quite. The White House revoked Acosta’s press credentials claiming he had “put his hands” on the intern, a demonstrably false (are you surprised?) assertion. He did no such thing and the claim otherwise is a bald-faced lie. Putting aside the screaming irony of the idea that Donald Trump gives a good damn about what happens to a young female who works for the White House, the White House is now clutching its pearls and acting all offended on behalf of womankind.

In fact, they went so far as to release what appears to be a doctored video of the incident, altered to make it appear that Acosta was more aggressive than he actually was. I don’t know if the video was changed by the White House or by the source on the far far far right wing of the propaganda machine that, curiously, provided the tape used to the White House. The White House couldn’t get its own video? Really?

But here’s the thing. The WH Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders outright lied when she said that Acosta put his hands on the intern. He did not and even the doctored, if it was, video of the incident shows that clearly. Sanders, like all Trump’s Press Secretaries before her, has zero credibility, just like her pathetic excuse for a president.

So, what about it then? Here’s what I think.

Acosta and the rest of the WH press corps needs to learn how to ask questions. Acosta challenged Trump over whether the word “invasion” accurately describes the “caravan” of immigrants walking through Mexico toward the US border. This gave Trump the easy counter move of saying “we have a difference of opinion” and dismissing him. Acosta set himself up for that response. I have seen many other press people asking similar questions.

Instead, Acosta’s question should have been: “Mr. President, what supportable facts do you have to show that the immigrant caravan members are armed and intend to force their way into the United States?”  Or, “Mr. President, what investigation has been conducted to determine whether the caravan intends to crash the U.S. border or instead intends to seek asylum here as permitted under U.S. law?”

Trump likely will still lie but at least the “conversation” will be about facts and not about whether a group of people represents an “invasion” or something else.

Since Trump’s most ardent supporters are immune to new information and believe anything and everything Trump says, the change in approach won’t matter much to them. The rest of the country, however, would benefit by refocusing the questioning of the President on facts that can be verified, or not. Trump’s continuing strategy of diverting attention from his real problems, like the Mueller investigation, is a classic example of “wag the dog.” The press owes it to the country to learn how to ask questions that deflate rather than feed that game.

Just my opinion.

Trump Guilty of Impersonating a President

According to a law passed in 1948, it is a federal crime to impersonate a federal officer. Title 18 of the U.S. Code, section 912 provides:

Whoever falsely assumes or pretends to be an officer or employee acting under the authority of the United States or any department, agency or officer thereof, and acts as such, or in such pretended character demands or obtains any money, paper, document, or thing of value, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.

In the case of Donald Trump, I vote for “both.” Any relationship between Donald Trump and an actual president of the United States is both purely coincidental and fictitious. He was elected with the help of a hostile foreign power and lost the popular vote. I understand that he and the White House Press Secretary continue to claim he won the popular vote but that assertion, as with so many others, is blatantly and demonstrably false. We have a serial liar for president.

The latest example of Trump’s grossly inappropriate conduct is his visit to Pittsburgh that was resisted by most of the responsible, and respectful, people there. It wasn’t that they all opposed his visit. They just didn’t want the distraction while they were grieving and planning the prompt burials required by the Jewish faith.

Trump, however, could care less about the latest victims of AR-15 enabled mass violence. His visit was a political gesture that, like so many others, was designed to suit his political base and has nothing to do with respect for the dead, for Jewish people or anything other than self-interest and maintenance of political power. If it were otherwise, Trump would have respected the request of local officials and families of the dead to come at another time. His political calculation is that this is the best time. Otherwise, according to the White House, the visit might have interfered with Trump’s planned election rallies for the mid-term elections. Always first-things-first at the Trump White House.

I actually expect that Trump is quite happy that the Pittsburgh visit has stirred yet another hornet’s nest of turmoil. Trump’s political strategy is to dominate the news regardless of the circumstances and regardless of who may be affected. It’s part of his deflection strategy that often works because the news media, the people he claims to hate because they criticize him, hang on his every word and his every move. Jake Tapper just stated on CNN that Trump came with the “best of intentions.” How Tapper knows that will remain a mystery. Why he felt it was appropriate to say it is beyond my understanding as well. It is just one example of the media fawning on the man that responds to them with the charge that they are the “enemy of the people.” Someday, historians will explore the devil’s bargain the media have made with Trump: “kick me again, I love the pain and the attention.”

Look at it this way. The school yard bully beats up a different kid every day for six months. Then, as the school year ends, he gives some candy to one of his victims. Should everyone conclude from this one act of generosity amidst dozens of acts of evil that the bully had good intentions and was “doing the right thing?” I rest my case.

Maybe the media should try another approach – like ignoring what Trump says and does once in a while. CNN, for example, will apparently spend the entire day and evening rehashing and rehashing Trump’s visit to Pittsburgh. Surely there is more news to report than this. Nothing new is emerging. The same people are interviewed repeatedly and asked the same questions and make the same remarks. Many local officials are obviously reluctant to question the president’s motives publicly. Why?  Because they know he’s a bully and could turn on them in a heartbeat with vicious tweets and humiliating statements at his “rallies.” How about the media tries depriving Trump of the constant free national and worldwide publicity he seeks and see how he likes it? Fox News will always be there for him, making stuff up and promoting his far-right authoritarian agenda.

The so-called mainstream media have, I suggest, aided the “normalization” of Trump’s behavior to such an extent that many of his outrageous lies get little or no pushback, further enhancing the fantastical beliefs of his sycophants that he speaks the truth. The mid-term elections may well be the last chance the United States has to re-establish some balance of power in the government, rebuilding the system of checks and balances that the Framers of the Constitution assumed would always exist. They were wrong. Having all three branches of the federal government in the hands of one political party headed by an authoritarian bully has been catastrophic for American democratic institutions. One need look no further than the voter suppression activities being pursued by the Republican Party around the country in an effort to steal another election from the people. If you agree with me about this, it is imperative that you vote, no matter where you live. And take some other people with you. Don’t let the apathy of others undermine your rights as an American. November 6. Do it.

No Führer in America

Donald Trump, the illegitimate president of the United States, hasn’t brought up the idea of a master race yet, but it seems likely that it’s only a matter of time. The concept is already implicit in his views on immigration and citizenship. How long will it be before it gives up that ridiculous thumbs up routine of his and demands some form of salute from everyone? Meanwhile, he continues his deflection strategy as the mid-term elections draw near.

Trump has ordered more than 5,000 American troops to the U.S.-Mexico border to, presumably, confront the “caravan” of refugees and asylum seekers moving slowly through Mexico toward the United States. He has claimed, with the usual lack of evidence or truth, that the group has been seeded with Middle Eastern terrorists.

So, what do we expect to come of this?  Will the troops be ordered to fire on the refugees? Is this going to be another Kent State to a higher power with mass casualties? Will Trump’s racist base support a massacre of unarmed people fleeing oppression? Will the troops follow an order to fire on unarmed immigrants for trying to cross the border illegally? Or bayonet them? Beat them into submission? He will stop at nothing to get what he wants. What could possibly go wrong?

Maybe this incident, if it turns violent, will be the Trumpian equivalent of the Reichstag fire that gave Hitler the excuse he wanted (blaming the attack on the communists) to begin the final takeover of Germany by the Nazi Party. As reported by Wikipedia, “The term Reichstag fire has come to refer to false flag actions perpetrated or facilitated by an authority to promote their own interests through popular approval of retribution or retraction of civil rights.” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reichstag_fire That’s close enough.

Trump no doubt loves the idea of ordering the Army around but he is not, and never will be, the American version of the Führer. One of those in history was one too many. But he is playing with fire, literally, in ordering troops to the border. Will the troops cross the border, entering under arms a foreign country’s territory? If so, Trump will, in keeping with his usual approach, blame the outcome on the members of the caravan. “If they hadn’t threatened to cross our border, we would not have had to invade Mexico and shoot them!”

In a related vein, and also connected to the imminent mid-term elections, Trump has announced that he has received advice that he can, by executive order, nullify the 14th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Almost all authentic legal commentators believe that idea is ridiculous. Here is the relevant text:

All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. [emphasis added]

The idea that Trump can change the meaning of the 14th Amendment is indeed ridiculous. Even a few Republicans think so. That doesn’t mean he won’t try. He knows he’ll be challenged in the courts, which is fine with him. Being challenged in court will give Trump yet another pretext for accusing the court system of bias against him, giving his political base yet another reason to feel oppressed by the “system.”

Rick Santorum was on television last night, playing the role of the loyal Republican mouthpiece, blathering and blaming the divisiveness surrounding Trump’s Pittsburgh incursion on the local people in Pittsburgh rather than Trump’s typically insensitive decision to visit when he was told it was too soon and he was not welcome. Some of CNN’s pundits are falling all over themselves to justify Trump’s decision, arguing that Trump is actually trying to engage in healing actions rather than taking political advantage of the national focus on the Pittsburgh situation.

It is beyond remarkable that these same pundits who routinely question Trump’s divisive comments about race now wipe out that record in an effort to attribute sincerity to his visit. Trump is an insensitive, self-interested bully and nothing he does in one moment can wipe out his racism, misogyny and hate-filled agenda that he pursues at every other opportunity. It comes with ill grace every time the press says “oh, look, Trump is acting like a human being.” It’s not only rare but it’s utterly false.

Trump’s proposal to override the Constitution by executive order reflects a total lack of understanding of the Constitution but, more fundamentally, total indifference to its meaning. Trump will do whatever he thinks will win him political points with his hard-core base of supporters who apparently have also not been schooled in the fundamentals of the Constitution they claim to revere. Trump has violated his oath of office multiple times and this would be just another one. He’ll lose in court and use that to proclaim himself and his supporters as victims. And his base will buy it.

It’s time for Trump to go.  Time to say goodbye. But first there is an election. To paraphrase Benjamin Franklin, “you’ll have a republic if you can keep it.” People of good will must vote for Democrats or we will lose the republic. History teaches that once democracy fails, it is nearly impossible to restore. Let’s not fail. Take your family and friends to the polls and vote.

 

Woodward & Rhodes – Two Worlds

I have just finished reading two books: Bob Woodward’s Fear: Trump in the White House and Ben Rhodes’ The World as It Is: A Memoir of the Obama White House. I read them more or less together, two chapters of Woodward, then one or two chapters of Rhodes. I did this because reading the inside story of Trump and his enablers inside the nation’s presidential home was so disturbing that I literally needed an ongoing antidote to avoid being ill. Woodward’s authorial bio needs no recital here. Rhodes was officially the Assistant to the President and Deputy National Security Advisor for Strategic Communications and Speechwriting.

It did not help that the fools comprising the Republican majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee were, as I neared the end of my reading, pretending to take seriously the testimony of a woman claiming that Trump’s nominee for the Supreme Court had sexually assaulted her in high school. That charade ended in what purported to be a serious investigation by the FBI into the allegations, and similar ones from other women, but it’s now abundantly clear that the FBI’s investigation was compromised by the instructions issued by the White House to assure that it led nowhere. And the so-called president of the United States has quickly, and predictably, moved from stating that he was impressed by Dr. Ford’s testimony to openly mocking her at yet another of his mob gatherings in Mississippi. And, also quite predictably, Press Secretary Sanders once again spoke the ludicrous words that Trump was not mocking Dr. Ford but repeating “facts.” Of course, Trump’s mockery itself denied there were any facts, so Sanders once again is tangled up in her own deceits.

Returning to the matter at hand, I have thought a lot about the essential narratives of the two books. The table below represents what I believe are the fair and true portraits of the two presidents. One , who was elected twice, successfully led the country out of a recession/depression that threatened to bring down the world economy and also tracked down and directed the killing of Osama bin Laden. The other, elected with the help of a hostile foreign power whose authoritarian leadership he now embraces, is dedicated mainly to enriching himself, his family and the already extremely well-off top one percent of Americans while reversing as fast as possible the environmental and financial protections emplaced by the Obama administration for the welfare of all Americans.

OBAMA TRUMP
Collaborative Solitary
Reflective & Deliberative Impulsive
Honest Remorseless liar
Intelligent & Studious Uninformed & uninterested in learning
Empathetic Completely lacking empathy
Student of history Driven by money
Outwardly focused Self-centered
Hard working Lazy, physically & intellectually
Able to understand complex ideas Simplistic; gets ideas from Fox News
Calm under pressure Chaotic & unstable
Reads Watches TV
Listens to advice Claims to already know everything
Humane Cruel & shallow
Appeals to traditional American values Appeals to economic fear & racial anxiety

Anyone watching closely has to be aware that there are many Trump supporters who literally hate Barack Obama. The source of those feelings remains something of a mystery, though many of us believe it’s racism, pure and simple. But one thing seems certain – no matter what one may think of Obama’s policies, no one of even modest intelligence could argue that Barack Obama was dumb. On the other hand, several of Trump’s enablers in the White House have characterized him asa “moron” who is “unable to learn anything.”

One of the most prominent ideas in Rhodes’ memoir is the sheer difficulty of accomplishing anything meaningful, especially in foreign affairs, even without considering the relentless Republican obstruction of virtually everything that Obama sought to do. Obama had a clear-eyed understanding of what he wanted to achieve, not just because he had campaign promises to keep, but because he was trying to establish policies that would lift up the entire country for the benefit of all its citizens.

Trump, on the other hand, has surrounded himself mainly with right-wing ideologues who are often blatantly incompetent to manage a complex government while dishonestly stealing from the government, and thus from the people. They don’t understand how the government works, and they don’t expect it to work. Their goal is to undermine it. Theirs is a victory of ignorance, assisted by a foreign power hostile to the interests of the United States. The Party of Lincoln is now the Party of Putin. Trump led his party there and it went along enthusiastically. Republicans in Congress and at his “rallies” cheer wildly for his sneering denunciation of American values.

Rhodes’ personal life was drastically affected by his tenure in the Obama White House, as you would expect. His memoir is worth reading for its insights into the person of President Obama and as an insider reveal of life in and around the White House during a tumultuous period in our history. We can only hope that Trump’s administration will somehow avoid any major crises during what I hope will be a one-term, or less, presidential term. We must hope for this because there is a serious question whether the leadership can manage a crisis with Donald Trump at the helm of the ship of state. According to many reports, Trump will clean house after the mid-term elections. If that happens, we will have yet another collection of inexperienced incompetents surrounding the president and another otherworldly leadership failure.

Final Thoughts on Kavanaugh Hearing

Dr. Ford was entirely credible. She had no reason to expose herself to this notoriety if she were lying. She, and she alone, was prepared to subject herself to an independent FBI investigation.

Kavanaugh’s refusal to say, simply, “yes, I want an FBI investigation” is definitively and finally condemnatory. He was playing the Republican-Trump songbook and not prepared to deviate, even when trapped in the corner where Senators Durbin and Harris put him.

Kavanaugh’s opening intemperate outrage and hostility and the attacks on the “left-wing” Democrats are, by themselves disqualifying because they demonstrate a person of questionable temperament. These attacks raise the serious question whether Kavanaugh can fairly decide any case in which there are left-right political implications. Will he not be faced with demands to recuse himself from every such case if he is affirmed for the Supreme Court?

The Republican majority continued their partisan march to affirming the nomination. Chairman Grassley repeatedly interjected himself into the process to challenge what he thought were threats by Democrats to the pure record he wanted to come out of the hearing at the end of the day. Without explaining it, Grassley abandoned the Republican strategy of having Rachel Mitchell conduct the witness examinations. He did this to give Senator Graham to gain the floor, during which Graham went berserk in attacking the Democrats, playing into the Kavanaugh theme that his character had been assassinated and his reputation and family “permanently destroyed.” Graham’s performance was Oscar-worthy; in my view it was designed to do two things: (1) disrupt the rhythm of the hearing, and (2) show Donald Trump that Graham is still totally and relentlessly loyal to him. On the second point, everyone should read Bob Woodward’s book, Fear, wherein Graham’s very close relationship as consigliere to Donald Trump is demonstrated beyond a doubt.

In my opinion, every move, including the tenor of Kavanaugh’s remarks and his disrespectful responses to several Democratic senators, was likely cleared by Kavanaugh with the Republican strategists managing his campaign for the Court seat. The anguish of the Republican members of the Judiciary Committee was largely feigned political showmanship.

At the end of the day, even if it is true that the Democrats have somehow orchestrated the alleged “attack” on Kavanaugh in an effort to prevent the filling of the Supreme Court seat until after the midterm elections, a sufficient question of character and temperament has been raised to warrant two steps: (1) ask the FBI to conduct an independent investigation of Dr. Ford’s allegations against Kavanaugh, and (2) disclosure of all the withheld documents, including public disclosure of the “committee confidential” documents that do not contain national security or other serious private information. This should be done regardless of how long it may take.

 

Final Thoughts About the Judiciary Committee Hearing on Kavanaugh

On the verge of hearing Judge Kavanaugh’s testimony, which should be very brief (“I am not guilty; I didn’t do it; I didn’t go it), Sen. Lindsey Graham has, in perfect character, come out as Trump’s attack dog, threatening Democrats with the idea that “if this is the standard by which to judge a nominee, Democrats will pay in the future.” Graham claims Democrats are just playing political games to prevent a vote before the midterms. Maybe, but so what? Remember Merrick Garland? Couldn’t even get interviewed and a vote? Never had a chance in Republican controlled Senate. If this is just politics, and not a serious issue regarding the composition of the Supreme Court, it is just desserts for Republicans whose perfidy has come around to hit them in the head.

Graham’s display of anger at what he claims was an “ambush” by Democrats is misplaced but that is par for the Republican course. Did he really expect that Dr. Ford would come in and confess to something? The extent of Graham’s rage is a direct reflection of the reality that Dr. Ford carried the morning.

A final total speculation: Rachel Mitchell, the professional interrogator, actually believed Dr. Ford and was, perhaps involuntarily, hampered in her ability to get hard new information about Dr. Ford’s story. She had a tough job and with the regular interruptions to hear from Democratic senators and an emotional but credible witness, she probably could not succeed no matter what she did. Good.