Author Archives: shiningseausa

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.

 

 

More Thoughts About the Judiciary Committee Hearing on Kavanaugh

Sen. Whitehouse says he will pursue an investigation by whatever means possible. Grassley immediately interjects his “rebuttal.” Reading from a prepared list of alleged actions, including various “rebuttal” information to the substance of Ford’s statements. Grassley cuts off Sen. Klobuchar who tries to respond to Grassley’s remarks. Classic behavior by Grassley who is doing Trump’s bidding here by supporting Kavanaugh regardless of what evidence may show.

Mitchell refers to the “incident that we’re here about,” a curious choice when the more accurate and precise term would be “sexual assault.” Thereafter, the assault becomes the “incident” or the “event.” Now Mitchell is suggesting that Ford may have experienced other situations that contributed to her PTSD and other results of the attack on her. She also appears to suggest that Ford’s failure to mention Kavanaugh’s name in earlier discussions of the event is somehow significant. Then she suggests through multiple questions that Ford may have lied about her fear of flying when she used that as a reason she asked for the Judiciary Committee staff to come to her for an interview.

Sen Klobuchar brings up the polygraph test that indicated she was truthful in her statements about Kavanaugh. Klobuchar astutely brings up the issue of Kavanaugh’s employment history as being helpful to reconstructing the events. Grassley jumps in again to say that the committee made an offer to go to California.

Debate breaks out after Klobuchar asks that polygraph results be entered in record. Grassley now says more information needs to be in record after he previous refused Ford’s request to have the polygraph examiner testify. Grassley’s role as proponent of the President’s nominee could not be clearer, making a mockery of the concept of “advise and consent.”

Mitchell suggests something amiss in that Ford did not discuss the incident with Republicans. Ford indicates that she did not understand the committee was offering to come to California to interview her. Mitchell makes several chummy comments/jokes to suggest that she is a “friend” of the witness. Obvious technique.

Sen. Blumenthal spends most of his time praising Ford’s courage and hoping for bipartisan recognition of it, citing Sen. Graham’s book on the point. Fat chance, because the Republicans are locked into the Trump position that Ford’s story is a “con job.”

Mitchell explores the polygraph test, including whether she was counseled on how to take a polygraph. Ford is not aware of who paid for the polygraph test. Mitchell indicates the committee has requested copies of audio and or videotapes and other documents involved in the polygraph. Ford “assumed” the polygrapher was taking both video and audio with his computer, but is not sure.

At the root of the problem here is the refusal of the Trump camp to get an FBI investigation. The root is “we don’t want to risk finding out what a real investigation of the specific allegations might produce.” With all due respect to the staff of the Judiciary Committee, they cannot possibly conduct a validated and objective investigation of the person that the majority, their employers, has made absolutely clear is their selection for the Supreme Court.

 

Early Thoughts About the Judiciary Committee Hearing on Kavanaugh

Chairman Grassley opens the hearing with an apology for the way the witnesses have been treated. Then, he proceeds to undermine Ford’s position with commentary about Ford’s “secret” letter, complaining about Democrats’ handling of the letter, reciting statements submitted by witnesses adverse to Ford’s. This, Grassley argues, prevented investigation of Ford’s allegations. He also argues that the FBI investigation would have been useless, citing a statement from Joe Biden about how FBI investigation would have reached no relevant conclusions.

Then Grassley spends time promoting the credentials of the woman selected by the Republicans to examine Dr. Ford. Finally, he turns to attacking the other two women who have made allegations against Kavanaugh because they have allegedly not responded to requests for more information. This seems like another attempt to undermine Ford.

Ford struggles through her prepared testimony, on the brink of breaking down from the outset. She appears somewhat bewildered by the process details, which is understandable in that she has never testified before Congress. Dr. Ford’s attorney is engaged and supportive when she seems lost.

Under examination from Ms. Mitchell, Ford astutely suggests that an investigation of Kavanaugh’s employment history would help narrow the details of when the attack occurred. Chairman Grassley ignores this.

Sen. Durbin puts in record a long list of Kavanaugh classmates and others calling for an FBI investigation. Again, ignored. Grassley explodes at Durbin’s comments about the investigation issue, with Grassley claiming the committee could have conducted an investigation while preserving Ford’s privacy. If the situation were not so serious, this would be laughable, the declaration that the committee would have preserved Ford’s privacy while conducting an “investigation” in circumstances where the Republican majority is totally committed to confirming Trump’s nominee no matter what.

Force Trump to Plead the 5th Amendment

Shortly after Brett Kavanaugh, with full support from the Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee, stonewalled on all the important questions put to him, and may have lied about others, the news arrived that Trump’s attorneys have advised that Trump will not respond to questions from Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller in any manner, oral or in writing. This latest zigzag in Trump’s position regarding the Russia investigation may be a direct result of Kavanaugh signaling that nothing Trump does could lead Kavanaugh, as a Supreme Court Justice, to decide in favor of presidential accountability while in office.

Given that the Republicans have once again prevented the Senate from fulfilling its constitutional mission of advising and consenting to a presidential appointment to the highest court, it seems to me it is time to call the question on the bigger questions related to presidential accountability. It is time, I suggest, that Mueller should stop fooling around with Giuliani and camp and subpoena Trump to testify under oath about the Russia collusion issues before a grand jury. This would, of course, expose Trump to huge risks that he would perjure himself, further establishing the existence of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” the Constitutional threshold for impeachment. For that reason, among others, Trump would undoubtedly refuse to comply with the subpoena and the issue would then be put to the courts.

If, as is almost certain, Brett Kavanaugh is confirmed and the issue reaches the high court, which it will, Kavanaugh will be faced with the non-hypothetical question whether he will recuse himself from a decision regarding the power of the presidency to stand above the laws that apply to every other person in the country. Having just vanquished a king to gain the freedom of a new country through the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, it is quite unimaginable that the Founding Fathers intended such immunity. Nevertheless, the issue has not been decided by the Supreme Court. It is also hard to imagine a better case to present the issue than one in which the nation’s chief executive declares that he is not accountable to even testify about his possible corrupt obstruction of justice and interference in the election that placed him in office. This is likely the best case that will ever exist for getting a ruling that the president is not above the law.

Of course, the president would have the ability to avail himself of the protection against self-incrimination afforded other citizens under the 5th Amendment. To avoid incriminating himself,

Trump would almost certainly be advised by his attorneys to plead the 5th Amendment in response to all questions put to him by Mueller’s investigators.

Imagine for a moment that Trump is asked direct questions about his knowledge of contacts with Russians, cooperation with Russians and more regarding the suborning of the election that we know to have occurred in 2016. He has four choices.

One, tell the truth. That’s probably not a good choice for him since the publicly available information strongly suggests his active complicity in the Russian election activities. We don’t know what Mueller knows but neither does Trump. In any case, truth-speaking is not his style, especially when it will make him look bad, so telling the truth is likely off the table.

Option Two, lie. This is the course he would be most tempted to take since he, and this is thoroughly and incontestably documented, lies multiple times a day about all manner of things, great and small. Telling lies about his conduct in this situation would expose him to a perjury charge, however, not a place he would want to be. Recall that he does not know what Mueller knows and can prove. Trump’s attorneys would be, indeed have said they are, so concerned about Trump’s propensity to fabricate that they would likely insist that he take Option Three.

Option Three, plead the 5th Amendment. Refuse to answer “on the grounds that answering may incriminate me.” Under American law, pleading the 5th does not constitute an admission of guilt and pleading may not by itself be the basis for a finding of guilt. In the minds of many members of the public, however, a president pleading the 5th Amendment on matters of this seriousness would be tantamount to a confession.

Option Four, refuse to appear for questioning. This might be seen as the “nuclear option,” whereby the president says, in effect, “I refuse to be held accountable and will not cooperate in the process that is trying to destroy me.” This question, I believe, was decided by the Supreme Court in United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974), a unanimous decision by the eight Justices participating (Justice Rehnquist did not participate). The opinion upheld a subpoena directing the president to produce to a grand jury certain tape recordings and documents relating to his conversations with aides and advisers. The grand jury’s prior indictment of seven people had named the president as an “unindicted coconspirator” in defrauding the United States and obstructing justice.

Trump’s attorneys would certainly argue that the Nixon decision was “distinguishable” from the Trump case. That is one of an attorney’s jobs and there is no doubt Trump’s lawyers would present the question to the courts, which would then make the final decision regarding the scope of the president’s immunity from the legal processes that apply to everyone else. To simply refuse to cooperate would, I think, not only create a “constitutional crisis,” but it would go a long way to weakening Trump’s political support in Congress.

I do not suggest, of course, that all Trumpers would turn on him in these circumstances. For reasons not fully understood, there apparently are millions of people who are so entranced by the Trump persona that nothing he does or says, or fails to do or say, will change their view of him. But they are already a minority of the voting population and, I suggest, the president taking the 5th Amendment on questions related to subverting the American electoral process or, worse, simply refusing to cooperate, would move many voters across the line. Unmoved though they may be by the reality that Trump supports policies directly injurious to their economic, social and physical well-being, many of those at the margin of acceptance would finally say “enough.” We don’t need them all to achieve a massive reversal in the polity in favor of reason and the rule of law. If, on the other hand, I am wrong about this, we are probably no worse off than before but we will have a better understanding of where the law stands on these issues and can take whatever actions are then necessary and appropriate.

Therefore, I submit, it is time to call the question on Trump. Time to force him to choose between telling the truth, lying, pleading the 5th Amendment or simply declaring “I am above the law.”