Tag Archives: January 6

Trump’s Documents – Trump’s Crimes

By now you are likely aware that Trump’s attempts to prevent the disclosure of emails and other documents related to his attempted coup on January 6 are failing across the board. This is clearly the correct outcome. The observations of one judge, in particular, have attracted some news attention but, as usual, have disappeared into the fog of astonishing disclosures about Republican obstruction and corruption in Congress and elsewhere.

I am therefore using this forum to share with you a few quotations from the March 28 opinion in Eastman v Thomson, the federal District Court opinion that heard Trump attorney John Eastman’s claims of attorney-client and work product privilege for a tranche of 111 emails demanded by the January 6 Select Committee. These messages related to Eastman’s role, and Trump’s actions, in Trump’s legal and political strategy regarding the results of the 2020 election. [NB: footnotes and citations, the bane of effective communication, have been omitted; my helpful headings are underscored & italicized; opinion points of emphasis bolded by me] [NB2: the opinion is 44 pages long; you can read the whole thing here, https://bit.ly/3tZ0tax , but the gist is set out below. I read it so you don’t have to.]

There Was No Election Fraud in 2020

In the months following the election, numerous credible sources–from the President’s inner circle to agency leadership to statisticians–informed President Trump and Dr. Eastman that there was no evidence of election fraud.

… after “dozens of investigations, hundreds of interviews,” the Department of Justice had concluded that “the major allegations [of election fraud] are not supported by the evidence developed.”

By early January, more than sixty court cases alleging fraud had been dismissed for lack of evidence or lack of standing.

Eastman’s Plan to Overturn the Election

Ultimately, Dr. Eastman conceded that his argument was contrary to consistent historical practice, would likely be unanimously rejected by the Supreme Court,38 and violated the Electoral Count Act on four separate grounds.

Knowing that his legal theories were invalid, Eastman addressed the mob that assembled on January 6 at Trump’s invitation:

We no longer live in a self-governing republic if we can’t get the answer to this question. This is bigger than President Trump. It is a very essence of our republican form of government, and it has to be done. And anybody that is not willing to stand up to do it, does not deserve to be in the office.

But,

Before the Joint Session of Congress began, Vice President Pence publicly rejected President Trump and Dr. Eastman’s plan.

Then, and then, they threw themselves on the railroad tracks …  [NB3: paraphrase of 1969 song, Along Came Jones]

Even as the rioters continued to break into the Capitol, President Trump tweeted at 2:24 pm: “Mike Pence didn’t have the courage to do what should have been done to protect our Country and our Constitution, giving States a chance to certify a corrected set of facts, not the fraudulent or inaccurate ones which they were asked to previously certify. USA demands the truth!”

As the attack progressed, Dr. Eastman continued to urge Vice President Pence to reconsider his decision not to delay the count.

The rampage on January 6 “left multiple people dead, injured more than 140 people, and inflicted millions of dollars in damage to the Capitol.”

As the House of Representatives later wrote, January 6, 2021 was “one of the darkest days of our democracy.”

 Refusal to Produce Documents to January 6 Select Committee

 Dr. Eastman declined to produce any documents or communications to the Select Committee and asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege against production.67 During his deposition, Dr. Eastman asserted his Fifth Amendment privilege 146 times.

 NB4: You know, the Fifth Amendment that says you don’t have to testify to facts that might incriminate you. The government must find someone else to incriminate you. Or some documents ….

 The plan proposed by Dr. Eastman’s memo involve actions by the Vice President without recourse to the courts.

Litigation was never Dr. Eastman’s motivation for planning the events of January 6, perhaps because, as he conceded, his legal theories would be rejected “9-0” by the Supreme Court.

The true animating force behind these emails was advancing a political strategy: to persuade Vice President Pence to take unilateral action on January 6.

Trump Committed Crimes

The crime-fraud exception applies when (1) a “client consults an attorney for advice that will serve [them] in the commission of a fraud or crime,” and (2) the communications are “sufficiently related to” and were made “in furtherance of” the crime. It is irrelevant whether the attorney was aware of the illegal purpose or whether the scheme was ultimately successful. The exception extinguishes both the attorney-client privilege and the work product doctrine.

The Select Committee alleges that President Trump violated 18 U.S.C. § 1512(c)(2), which criminalizes obstruction or attempted obstruction of an official proceeding.

President Trump attempted to obstruct an official proceeding by launching a pressure campaign to convince Vice President Pence to disrupt the Joint Session on January 6.

Together, these actions [meetings at White House, statements to the January 6 mob] more likely than not constitute attempts to obstruct an official proceeding.

Dr. Eastman does not dispute that the Joint Session is an “official proceeding.”

A person violates § 1512(c) when they obstruct an official proceeding with a corrupt mindset. The Ninth Circuit has not defined “corruptly” for purposes of this statute. However, the court has made clear that the threshold for acting “corruptly” is lower than “consciousness of wrongdoing,” meaning a person does not need to know their actions are wrong to break the law. Because President Trump likely knew that the plan to disrupt the electoral count was wrongful, his mindset exceeds the threshold for acting “corruptly” under § 1512(c).

President Trump and Dr. Eastman justified the plan with allegations of election fraud—but President Trump likely knew the justification was baseless, and therefore that the entire plan was unlawful.

President Trump’s repeated pleas for Georgia Secretary of State Raffensperger clearly demonstrate that his justification was not to investigate fraud, but to win the election.

President Trump likely knew the electoral count plan had no factual justification.

The plan not only lacked factual basis but also legal justification.

Vice President Pence “very consistent[ly]” made clear to President Trump that the plan was unlawful, refusing “many times” to unilaterally reject electors or return them to the states.

Dr. Eastman argues that the plan was legally justified as it “was grounded on a good faith interpretation of the Constitution.”  But “ignorance of the law is no excuse,” and believing the Electoral Count Act was unconstitutional did not give President Trump license to violate it. Disagreeing with the law entitled President Trump to seek a remedy in court, not to disrupt a constitutionally-mandated process. And President Trump knew how to pursue election claims in court—after filing and losing more than sixty suits, this plan was a last-ditch attempt to secure the Presidency by any means.

The illegality of the plan was obvious.

… Court finds it more likely than not that President Trump corruptly attempted to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.

… the evidence shows that an agreement to enact the electoral count plan likely existed between President Trump and Dr. Eastman.

President Trump likely knew that the electoral count plan was illegal.

President Trump continuing to push that plan despite being aware of its illegality constituted obstruction by “dishonest” means under § 371.

Dr. Eastman himself repeatedly recognized that his plan had no legal support.

Dr. Eastman admitted more than once that “his proposal violate[d] several provisions of statutory law….”

Dr. Eastman’s views on the Electoral Count Act are not, as he argues, a “good faith interpretation” of the law; they are a partisan distortion of the democratic process. His plan was driven not by preserving the Constitution, but by winning the 2020 election.

The evidence shows that Dr. Eastman was aware that his plan violated the Electoral Count Act. Dr. Eastman likely acted deceitfully and dishonestly each time he pushed an outcome-driven plan that he knew was unsupported by the law.

President Trump’s acts to strong-arm Vice President Pence into following the plan included meeting with and calling the Vice President and berating him in a speech to thousands outside the Capitol.

Based on the evidence, the Court finds that it is more likely than not that President Trump and Dr. Eastman dishonestly conspired to obstruct the Joint Session of Congress on January 6, 2021.

Finally,

Dr. Eastman and President Trump launched a campaign to overturn a democratic election, an action unprecedented in American history. Their campaign was not confined to the ivory tower—it was a coup in search of a legal theory.

At most, this case is a warning about the dangers of “legal theories” gone wrong, the powerful abusing public platforms, and desperation to win at all costs. If Dr. Eastman and President Trump’s plan had worked, it would have permanently ended the peaceful transition of power, undermining American democracy and the Constitution. If the country does not commit to investigating and pursuing accountability for those responsible, the Court fears January 6 will repeat itself.

Is It Too Late?

On Sunday, January 2, 2022, the New York Times published an Editorial entitled “Every Day Is January 6 Now.” https://nyti.ms/3qKLbEH Rather than summarize it, I am going to quote liberally from it so that it’s clear who is speaking and what is being said. I may add some thoughts of my own here and there, clearly indicated, and, of course, at the end.

This is not to say that I think the Times is the final word on this or anything. I have, and will continue to, criticize the writing in the Times and other media whose careless and/or deliberate use of words takes news reporting into another realm. A recent example is this headline: “American officials scrambled to clarify Biden’s suggestion that Putin ‘cannot remain in power.’” https://nyti.ms/3NlwD8a Three co-authors are shown and, presumably, at least one editor reviewed the headline before publication. Drop the word “scrambled” and you have the same news: that officials offered clarifications of Biden’s statement. That is the fact, shorn of the authors’ nuances implying confusion and that Biden was making a proposal rather than some of the other possible interpretations of his remark. See https://bit.ly/3tKPiTa It’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the Times was tilting the table against the President here. Why would it do that?

It’s likely part of the journalism philosophy that leads to “both sides-ing” stories. In any case, the practice is inconsistent with the editorial position of the Times on one of the most important issues of our time. Returning, then, to my main purpose here, I quote now extensively from the editorial of January 2, noting in passing that it is now March 28, another fact to which I will return at the end. Bear with me. This is really important. Really. [ As usual, the bolded text is my doing]

Jan. 6 is not in the past; it is every day.

It is regular citizens who threaten election officials and other public servants, who ask, “When can we use the guns?” and who vow to murder politicians who dare to vote their conscience. It is Republican lawmakers scrambling to make it harder for people to vote and easier to subvert their will if they do. It is Donald Trump who continues to stoke the flames of conflict with his rampant lies and limitless resentments and whose twisted version of reality still dominates one of the nation’s two major political parties.

In short, the Republic faces an existential threat from a movement that is openly contemptuous of democracy and has shown that it is willing to use violence to achieve its ends. No self-governing society can survive such a threat by denying that it exists. Rather, survival depends on looking back and forward at the same time….

The effort extended all the way into the Oval Office, where Mr. Trump and his allies plotted a constitutional self-coup.

We know now that top Republican lawmakers and right-wing media figures privately understood how dangerous the riot was and pleaded with Mr. Trump to call a halt to it, even as they publicly pretended otherwise. We know now that those who may have critical information about the planning and execution of the attack are refusing to cooperate with Congress, even if it means being charged with criminal contempt….

Over the past year, Republican lawmakers in 41 states have been trying to advance the goals of the Jan. 6 rioters — not by breaking laws but by making them. Hundreds of bills have been proposed and nearly three dozen laws have been passed that empower state legislatures to sabotage their own elections and overturn the will of their voters ….

Thus the Capitol riot continues in statehouses across the country, in a bloodless, legalized form that no police officer can arrest and that no prosecutor can try in court….

A healthy, functioning political party faces its electoral losses by assessing what went wrong and redoubling its efforts to appeal to more voters the next time. The Republican Party, like authoritarian movements the world over, has shown itself recently to be incapable of doing this. Party leaders’ rhetoric suggests they see it as the only legitimate governing power and thus portrays anyone else’s victory as the result of fraud — hence the foundational falsehood that spurred the Jan. 6 attack, that Joe Biden didn’t win the election….

Polling finds that the overwhelming majority of Republicans believe that President Biden was not legitimately elected and that about one-third approve of using violence to achieve political goals. Put those two numbers together, and you have a recipe for extreme danger….

Democrats aren’t helpless…. They hold unified power in Washington, for the last time in what may be a long time. Yet they have so far failed to confront the urgency of this moment — unwilling or unable to take action to protect elections from subversion and sabotage. Blame Senator Joe Manchin or Senator Kyrsten Sinema, but the only thing that matters in the end is whether you get it done. For that reason, Mr. Biden and other leading Democrats should make use of what remaining power they have to end the filibuster for voting rights legislation, even if nothing else.

Whatever happens in Washington, in the months and years to come, Americans of all stripes who value their self-government must mobilize at every level — not simply once every four years but today and tomorrow and the next day — to win elections and help protect the basic functions of democracy. If people who believe in conspiracy theories can win, so can those who live in the reality-based world.

Above all, we should stop underestimating the threat facing the country. Countless times over the past six years, up to and including the events of Jan. 6, Mr. Trump and his allies openly projected their intent to do something outrageous or illegal or destructive. Every time, the common response was that they weren’t serious or that they would never succeed. How many times will we have to be proved wrong before we take it seriously? The sooner we do, the sooner we might hope to salvage a democracy that is in grave danger.

[End of Times editorial]

Three months have passed since that editorial was published. We are now a year and three months past the January 6 attack on the Capitol and on American democracy. Here’s where we are:

  1. No main planners behind the January 6 insurrection (referring here to members of the Trump administration, members of Congress and Trump himself) have been indicted,
  2. Members of Congress and others continue to spit in the face of the Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the United States Capitol by defying demands, including subpoenas, for records and testimony.
  3. The Select Committee is moving at a pace that makes the tortoise in the famous tale look like War Admiral, the fourth winner of the Triple Crown. At this rate nothing of substance will have been accomplished by the mid-term elections of 2022.
  4. Attorney General Merrick Garland’s Department of Justice has not produced a single indictment of any of the principal conspirators behind January 6, or any indictments of those refusing to comply with lawful orders of the Select Committee, meaning that any indictment now almost certainly would not be tried before the 2024 elections.

I practiced law for 48 years, including conducting investigations of lying and highly resistant conspirators, and closely observed Watergate, the Clinton impeachment, and other sordid political matters. Strategies such as “run out the clock” are well-known by prosecutors. The statute of limitations has already run on at least one of Trump’s crimes. See https://shiningseausa.com/2022/02/18/trump-may-skate-obstruction-justice/

I understand the natural reluctance of prosecutors to bring cases they fear might lose and that might lead to judicial decisions with lasting negative effects on our politics. No one wants to be associated with losing a big case. But failing to bring a case that is justified by evidence, but where the law may be unclear, for fear of defeat is to be defeated already. You have beaten yourself and the country too. That’s where we seem to be now. We are defeating ourselves by allowing the primary perpetrators of the January 6 insurrection to escape swift justice.

Lawyers lose cases all the time. Every trial has a winner and a loser. It’s rare that losing a case has long-term consequences for the attorneys involved.

We’ve seen this before, as I noted in reviewing Andrew Weissmann’s remarkable analysis of the Mueller investigation in Where Law Ends: “rigid thinking and timidity in the face of threats from the subjects of the investigation led to catastrophic errors.” https://bit.ly/3uTJ7M7 Among the leading ones were decisions not to interview Trump’s children who worked in the White House throughout his term.

Even more egregious was the decision not to force Trump’s hand regarding testimony under oath. I almost fell over yesterday when reading in Jeffrey Toobin’s True Crimes and Misdemeanors [started before the 2020 election but only now being finished – more on that in a future post] that Aaron Zebley, Mueller’s chief of staff at the FBI and a senior member of the investigation team, committed one of the worst negotiating sins imaginable.

A meeting was held between Mueller’s people and Trump’s defense team, for the purpose of introducing Rudy Giuliani as the new lead defense lawyer. According to  Toobin, Giuliani wanted to,

nail down Mueller’s commitment that he would follow the DOJ’s Office Legal Counsel policy barring indictments of sitting presidents. Aaron Zebley volunteered that Mueller would. [True Crimes at 236]

It appears that Mueller got nothing in exchange for this astounding concession that removed one of the largest leverages that Mueller had. I would not have believed this happened were it not consistent with Weissmann’s descriptions of the influence Zebley exerted at critical moments in the investigation.

Successful investigations require maximum pressure. I don’t mean that the investigators should behave unreasonably or unfairly. That approach would likely backfire at some point. But there is no reason whatsoever to give away leverage without securing at least an equal value in some other form. As it happened, Trump himself was never placed under oath  for an interview, never answered many of the written questions posed to him and almost certainly lied in answering many others in which the self-declared “stable genius” claimed to not remember much of anything. See my series of posts about the Mueller investigation, beginning at https://bit.ly/3tLT2Us.

The Select Committee is run by politicians so there is perhaps even less reason to expect world-class investigative technique, but if something doesn’t change soon, the entire point will be lost. In what universe do leaders of a democracy, all sworn to follow the law and sustain the Constitution, walk free in the face of evidence that they conspired to overthrow the democratically constituted government?

I say ‘evidence’ recognizing we don’t have all of it. But if all the evidence would show they were innocent, is it plausible that so many members of Congress and of the Trump administration would refuse to cooperate, refuse to produce documents, and refuse to testify under oath? Enough is already known to warrant very aggressive and immediate action to bring the Republican dogs to justice. ALL of them.

As the New York Times astutely said back in January 2022,

Jan. 6 is not in the past; it is every day.

The White House and the Department of Justice had better wake up before it’s too late.

Past the Point of No Return

The New York Times just published a “guest opinion” piece by J. Michael Luttig, a former judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit and an advisor to Republican senators. https://nyti.ms/3HS9cjT

The article is entitled, The Conservative Case for Avoiding a Repeat of Jan. 6. That language suggested to me that the argument would be that we should just accept the Big Lie that the last election was stolen, accept massive voter suppression legislation around the country in red states and, as a democracy, roll over and not only play dead but be dead. My second reaction was, over my dead body.

Turns out, I was overreacting. My first impression of the topic was wrong. Moral: always read the story before falling for the headline. So, I did.

Luttig, to be sure, is a learned man, shaped in the higher echelons of Republican politics and the judiciary during the halcyon days of the Reagan and G.W. Bush administrations. I say “halcyon” because this was the time when the Republican Party still purported, at least, to stand for something. Luttig eventually resigned from the Court of Appeals to become Boeing’s General Counsel with a reported pay raise of more than $2.5 million. https://bit.ly/3Jvs88e Pretty good for a boy from Tyler, Texas.

I mention all that because, as is often true, challenging someone of his standing and accomplishment can be … challenging. But what are they going to do? I don’t practice law anymore and I do love a challenge. So, let’s look at Luttig’s latest thoughts on the all-important subject of avoiding another violent attack on the government and the Constitution.

To his credit, Luttig recognizes that Trump and his Republican devotees represent a “clear and present danger” to our democracy. Noting issues with the language of the 1887 (yes, over 120 years ago) Electoral Count Act, he further acknowledges that the efforts of Senators Hawley and Cruz to overturn the election were based on “little more than a wish” and notes that Trump has confessed to his perfidy, both past and looking forward.

Trump’s continued promotion of the Big Lie has never been an issue. As president he stated he could do “whatever I want” and he still thinks that. Here’s where things get sticky for Judge Luttig.

Referring to the mythical remnants of the Republican Party after deducting Trump fantasists, Luttig says they are “mystifyingly stymied by Mr. Trump” and while they allegedly reject his lies about 2020,

they are confused as to exactly how to move on from the 2020 election when their putative leader remains bewilderingly intent on driving the wedge between the believers in his lies and the disbelievers.

This political fissure in the Republican Party was bound to intensify sooner or later, and now it has, presenting an existential threat to the party in 2024. If these festering divisions cost the Republicans in the midterm elections and jeopardize their chances of reclaiming the presidency in 2024, which they well could, the believers and disbelievers alike will suffer.

In moving with such facility from “clear and present danger to democracy” to concern about the “existential threat to the {Republican] party,” the Judge reveals his true goal is to right the listing Republican ship and enhance its political fortunes, notwithstanding its hypnotic devotion to Trump. If so, his argument has little or nothing to do with protecting the country from the collapse of democracy.

Luttig’s argument is another variation of “can’t we all just get along?”

the right course is for both parties to set aside their partisan interests and reform the Electoral Count Act, which ought not be a partisan undertaking.

“Ought not,” indeed. My, oh my, what a wonderful world it could be.

Luttig completes the fantasy analysis by assigning mutually reinforcing goals to the two parties. This is a standard tenet of books and courses on negotiating for “mutual gain.” Democrats, Luttig imagines should want to reform the Electoral Count Act to protect democracy which he admits is failing.  This, he speculates, would “prevent another attack like the one at the Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021.” The logic of that premise-conclusion escapes me. As Peter Navarro has insisted, the aim of the January 6 mob was to force the election into the hands of the states, where the Republican majority would install Trump. They didn’t really care what the law said or what power Vice President Pence actually had under the law.

The mutual gain in Luttig’s conception is that “Republicans should want to reform the law for these same reasons, and more.”  Uh huh. He asserts that, while Trump and Trumpers won’t join, “there are consequential reasons of constitutional and political principle for the large remainder of Republicans to favor reform in spite of the former president’s opposition.”

“Consequential reasons of constitutional and political principle” —  got it. I am rolling on the floor LMAO. Except it’s not funny. Luttig’s thesis, right out of the old and long-ago discarded Book of Republican Orthodoxy, is that,

Republicans are proponents of limited federal government. They oppose aggregation of power in Washington and want it dispersed to the states. It should be anathema to them that Congress has the power to overturn the will of the American people in an election that, by constitutional prescription, is administered by the states, not Washington. If the Democrats are willing to divest themselves of the power to decide the presidency that the 49th Congress wrongly assumed 135 years ago, then it would be the height of political hypocrisy for the Republicans to refuse to divest theirs.

Well, now, isn’t that wonderful. Republicans favor limited federal government. Unless, of course, their state gets hit by a big hurricane or flood. Then they are more than happy to line up for federal money and manpower. Actually, I had understood that Republican orthodoxy was opposed to big government everywhere, but that idea was trashed in Texas recently. Republicans are perfectly fine with big government telling people what to do and not do, as long as it aligns with their religious or so-called freedom and family values.

Putting aside Luttig’s phantasmagorical search for coherence in Republican political doctrine (it being the party that advanced no platform in 2020), he next argues that Republicans should want reform of the Electoral Count Act because it is blatantly unconstitutional.”

Trump acolytes like Mr. Cruz and Mr. Hawley should appreciate the need to reform this unconstitutional law.

… no Republican should want to be an accessory to any successful attempt to overturn the next election — including an effort by Democrats to exploit the law.

Did you catch that unsubtle attempt to both-sides the question? He goes on to suggest that it’s the Democrats that may abuse the ECA in 2024 and thus Republicans should support a statutory redo to prevent that heinous outcome.

Someone please make him stop. Cruz and Hawley caring about the constitution? Seriously?

Luttig argues that reform should include giving federal, yes, federal, courts the power to resolve disputes over state electors and to ensure compliance. Right. Remember Gore and Bush?  And recall that the courts do not have command of the means to enforce anything. That power largely, if not entirely in practice, resides in the Executive Branch.

There are other details to Luttig’s proposals, but, frankly, madam, I don’t give a damn. The Republicans are so dug in on resisting any and every action supported by Democrats that the debate over electoral count reform could last decades. All the while Trump would be whining that he was cheated and his lunatic fringe supporters would continue attacking state capitols and Congress … unless and until the leaders of these fascist efforts are indicted, arrested, tried, and imprisoned.

Recall that the Republican Party has, among other things, embraced many of the conspiracy theories of QAnon, failed to discipline members like Lauren Boebert and Marjorie Taylor Greene, supported a president who lied and dissembled about a deadly virus that has now killed more than 915,000 Americans and maimed countless more, and twice refused to convict on impeachment in the face of overwhelming evidence of guilt. These people are not going to do anything to help the country resist the fascism they regularly promote.

If Luttig is right that “the future of our democracy depends on reform of the Electoral Count Act” that was enacted in 1887, we are in more trouble than rewriting an obscure statute can fix. It’s fine to say that “Republicans and Democrats need to put aside their partisan differences long enough to fix this law.” Fine indeed, but such proposals will have no credibility as long as the planners/leaders/major perpetrators of January 6 walk free. Senators Manchin and Sinema have put the last nail in the myth of bipartisanship.

And that’s the one point that Luttig got right:

the only members in Congress who might not want to reform this menacing law are those planning its imminent exploitation to overturn the next presidential election.

If you remain in doubt as to who they are, their names may be found here, https://bit.ly/3gPVNwM, in the updated Congressional Hall of Dishonor

In closing, let me repeat: no statutory language changes are going to protect our democracy from elected and unelected officials who have no respect for law or oaths of office. The Republican Party has made clear beyond reasonable doubt that it is committed to obtaining and keeping power permanently by whatever means are necessary. If it were otherwise, it would have formally repudiated the lying traitor Donald Trump. Instead, it has embraced him as its leader. Just ask Lindsey Graham.

People who believe in the American democracy, however flawed it may be, had better remain alert to the danger and act/vote accordingly. Don’t be distracted by appeals to bipartisanship and unity, however (or not) well-intended. We’re well past the point of no return.

Good, Bad, Ugly and … Bad

My last post at, or as close as my reflexes allowed, the stroke of midnight, when last year became this year, was a record of brevity. Nevertheless, last year had some moments and I am sharing them now. Some are good, some are bad, some are ugly, and some are just plain bad. The narrative will help sort them out, but you will, as always, be the judge.

Looking ahead, and backward as well (2021 will not go away that easily), we have much to look forward to, even as many of us crave the justice that so far has failed to materialize regarding, among many other things, the attempt by Donald Trump to overturn the results of the 2020 election. Trump’s attempt was supported by, and likely planned by, many Republicans in Congress who remain in their positions, enjoying the extraordinary privileges and comforts accorded to nationally elected representatives of the people. The same is true of members of Trump’s Cabinet who, from some compelling indications, were complicit and indeed actively engaged in the coup attempt.

Those of us who retain our rational faculties even after the Trump presidency and a year of non-stop Republican-led terror and fantasizing are not going to be satisfied with letting bygones be. As the clock ticks down toward the 2022 mid-term elections, and many experts predict a traditional outcome in which the “out” party resumes control of Congress, the omens for the future of our democratic republic appear dark indeed. But it doesn’t have to be that way. We outnumber them – our future is in our own hands, not theirs, unless our indifference lets them have the victory they do not deserve.

With that in mind, and given the dual personality of this post, here are some of the planned topics you can look forward to in 2022:

Fahrenheit 2021 – the crypt has opened and the book-burners walk among us

Life Under Republican Rule – do you want leaders who believe in magic?

States – What Good Are They? – how states promote tribalism

Anti-Vaxxers Must Take No Medications – if they read the labels ….

Books, Truth and Elections – truth is not infinitely malleable

Voice Bots – how to remove the human element from humanity

The Fear Equation – what is everyone so afraid of?

Communicating with the Voter – ya think?

Cliches of the Day – substituting slogans for thought

… and others in a seemingly infinite list. Meanwhile, back at the launchpad, here are some things to ponder and, hopefully, enjoy in a perverse 2022 kind of way.

Cloudy skies as seen from the roof:

In the Yikes Department, these cars were, according to reports, parked on leaves that had been deposited in the curb and a hot catalytic converter did its thing. I don’t know whether that’s really what happened, but Yikes.

On Christmas Day, we visited the National Mall to get some fresh air and see what was going on. Generally, it was a normal-looking day, as these photos show. Many visited the military memorials.

Some walked along the Reflecting Pool.

One person visited with himself. We’re pretty sure he enjoyed the experience.

A few days later we drove into the Virginia countryside to introduce my stepdaughter to the wonders of Hill High Orchard and pie place extraordinaire, about which I have previously written. The plan was to eat lunch outside at a restaurant in Bluemont, VA. When we arrived, however, we saw these “signs” hanging from a building on the property:

We returned to the car and went elsewhere. We will NEVER eat at a place owned by people who believe Trump won the election. Not now, NOT EVER.

Which brings us to Meme Time. Someone wise once said that a picture was worth a thousand words. I think that’s mostly true. These memes/photos were copied from tweets and Facebook posts. Where they originated, I have no idea but kudos to the people who created them. They speak volumes about the challenges we face. There is no doubt the country has made many mistakes. In that sense it is “normal.” But we also aspire to higher ideals, and it is those that we say “define America.” So, with a smile on our faces, let us confront our ghosts and move ahead as a people dedicated to the principles stated in the Declaration of Independence:

We hold these truths to be self-evident ….

 

 

An American Team No More

Americans once believed that when push came to shove, we would unite against common adversaries. A generalization, to be sure, but I believe it was accurate overall. It was true despite our ongoing differences about things like balanced budgets, the size and role of government and many others arising from America as the Melting Pot. Differences in the Pot were inevitable and, in some cases, resulted in sharp divisions. But, still, we believed that, faced with an outside adversary, Americans would come together as one nation to fight back.

World War II was a good example in “modern” times. Men and women went to war, more women worked in factories doing the necessary, and often dangerous, work that men had performed before going off to fight the Nazis and the Japanese. It was a terrible time. Many were grievously wounded, physically and mentally, and many died, leaving behind others ill-equipped to go it alone. People did without many luxuries. Ration stamps were used to allocate food, among other things. It was a a terrible time.

The idea of Americans united against outside adversaries found expression in movies involving alien invaders. Some of those movies showed the entire world coming together to fight the aliens. Faced with an outside threat, often with more advanced technologies, “we” prevailed with grit, ingenuity and a sense of common purpose. That was, of course, a fantasy but “we” always won in the end.

No more. We have a new common enemy that is attacking the entire world from within. This enemy is invisible and highly adaptable. We have seen its like before and always, always came together, solved the puzzle and prevailed. And yes, I know there were always outliers, but they were the exceptions. In 1918, the closest modern parallel to COVID-19,

It is estimated that about 500 million people or one-third of the world’s population became infected with this virus. The number of deaths was estimated to be at least 50 million worldwide with about 675,000 occurring in the United States. Mortality was high in people younger than 5 years old, 20-40 years old, and 65 years and older. The high mortality in healthy people, including those in the 20-40 year age group, was a unique feature of this pandemic. [https://bit.ly/3ql2V8v]

You likely know that the United States blew past that 675,000 death figure some time ago. As of two days ago, December 22, U.S. COVID deaths had reached 805,112 and climbing – almost 1,400 deaths on that one day and a 7-day moving average approaching 1,200 and rising.

The numbers are so large that our minds balk at acceptance and comprehension. But the numbers are real. The sickness and death are real. We are not even counting the cases of Long Covid, the condition in which the debilitating effects on the heart, lungs and brain (among others) last beyond the initial illness for … no one knows how long.

Our inability to comprehend is part, but only part, of the reason that so many – in the millions – people deny that COVID is real. Some are so deep in denial that, even when hospitalized in critical or worse condition, they continue to claim their disease is something else, that the doctors and nurses are lying to them when they say, “you have COVID.”

Whatever the roots and reasons that tens of millions refuse to get vaccinated, those people appear to be lost to the team – to Team America. The huge number of unvaccinated Americans – two years into the pandemic – are a breeding ground for the virus to mutate. And mutate it does. All viruses do. The anti-vaxxers are responsible for the prolongation of the pandemic and the personal and economic destruction that the virus has inflicted. Omicron has swept across the globe in weeks, displacing the Delta variant. There is no end in sight. And the next variant may not be as “mild” as Omicron.

The best we can hope for is that, slowly and at huge unnecessary cost, we will reach the point of so-called “herd immunity” when there are an insufficient number of vulnerable hosts that the virus cannot continue its deadly passage through the population. And, of course, medical science is delivering more effective treatments, the latest of which (in pill form) was just announced. Maybe we’ll reach the point where COVID is “just another flu.” Maybe.

Meanwhile, millions more will suffer. According to every credible source, COVID deaths in the United States are expected to exceed 1,000,000 in the near future. Eventually, maybe, we will win again. But it won’t be because of Team America, the coming together of citizens to fight and vanquish a common and deadly enemy. It seems we’re past that. Tens of millions of our fellow citizens are content to have others suffer and die under the name of mindless slogans. Freedom! My body, my choice! Nobody tells me what to put in my body! And on and on.

Instead of a united front against this deadly enemy, we have tens of millions reciting slogans to justify and explain why they are no longer members of the team. The price for their ignorant intransigence has been/will be very steep indeed.

This problem is, of course, only one manifestation of a mental state that afflicts our society. We can conclude that because there is a powerful identity among the anti-vaxxers and the evangelicals/Trumpists/Republicans. Their delusional state of mind regarding the pandemic is closely aligned with their willingness to believe many other unbelievable ideas. Chief among them is the idea that the January 6 assault/attempted coup was not Trump supporters but was engineered, rather like the pandemic, by a global elite of BLM, antifa, liberal/progressive Democrats and others of like mind, aided, if not led, by the federal government (you know, the Deep State lying in wait to destroy the country).

People who hold such beliefs do not comprehend the logical absurdity that those “elites” would have tried to stop the certification of President Biden’s victory (the candidate they favored) in order to continue the presidency of Donald Trump (the candidate they fervently opposed). If they can’t see that, they can’t see the point of joining with other Americans, and other peoples around the world, to stop the pandemic with the only tools that work. They are lost to our team, probably forever. Donald Trump didn’t create these people, but he surely inspired them.

Going forward, then, policy makers must understand the full extent to which our “team” has been broken, perhaps permanently. That means, among other things, that there is no longer anything like “politics as usual.” The aliens have arrived, and they are among us. If we’re not careful, they may kill us all.

The Cat is Out of the Bag

When it was revealed that General and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Mark Milley, had intervened in anticipation that Trump might use the military to keep himself in office, strong backlash was heard from some in the military, present and former. They appeared to believe that it was wrong for Milley to move independently of the president who was his commander-in-chief, regardless of his fears that Trump might act to subvert the election with military force or start a nuclear conflict and declare martial law.

That position was, I thought at the time, unbelievably short-sighted and mindless. Accepting that chain-of-command is important, I thought, and still believe, that General Milley is an American hero for seeing a fundamental danger to the country and acting to prevent it.

Now come three other generals (retired) arguing that “The military must prepare now for a 2024 insurrection.” https://wapo.st/3e8J6vH “We are chilled to our bones at the thought of a coup succeeding next time.”

I am too, and so should you be. We are facing the most serious threat to our democracy since the Civil War.

The case made by the generals is compelling:

  • Many of the insurrectionist mob on January 6 were veterans or, even more remarkable, active-duty military;
  • The commander of the Oklahoma National Guard refused to compel COVID vaccination of his Guard members because the Governor of the state said he should not follow the President’s directive;
  • “The potential for a total breakdown of the chain of command along partisan lines … is significant should another insurrection occur. The idea of rogue units organizing among themselves to support the “rightful” commander in chief cannot be dismissed;”
  • The real possibility exists that state Guard units will follow their political preferences if their candidate loses the next election;
  • Access to state arms repositories might be loosened to aid insurrectionists prepared to do battle;
  • Often ignored, the distraction of a violent domestic conflict over the election with a divided military would make the U.S. vulnerable to attack by international enemies;
  • We have passed the stage of mere strong political disagreement and must urgently prepare for worst-case scenarios, by, among other things, holding the leaders of January 6 to full accountability for their actions;

The generals who have spoken out about the danger have made several compelling proposals for preventive measures:

  • An immediate civics review for all uniformed and civilian military regarding the Constitution they have sworn to uphold and on the subject of election integrity, the laws of war and how to deal with illegal orders;
  • Re-inform members about the “unity of command,” so there is no question about who is in command;
  • “identify, isolate and remove potential mutineers” and “propagandists who use misinformation to subvert the chain of command.”
  • war-game the next potential post-election coup attempt to identify weak spots, debrief the findings and act to prevent breakdowns in the military and in connected civilian agencies.

A major step in support of this pro-democracy agenda involves the military and Department of Justice acting aggressively and urgently to hold accountable those who participated in and/or led and/or conspired to induce the attack on the Capitol. Regardless of what led people to involve themselves in what was a blatantly and unquestionably unlawful assault on the government, minds are not going to be changed any time soon.

The remedy for now is to make clear that the penalties for such conduct will be administered severely and promptly. Military who participated should be expelled from the service. They have no excuse for violating their oaths of loyalty to the Constitution. Similarly, the January 6 House Select Committee must adopt a sense of urgency and work continuously until its mission is completed.

Simultaneously, the Department of Justice must, with equal urgency, complete its investigations and indict the leaders in Congress and the former White House (and associated advisors) and elsewhere who participated in, conspired to incite or aided-and-abetted the January 6 assault. It should not take a week or more to hold in contempt individuals who refuse to comply with subpoenas or who falsely claim the Fifth Amendment while simultaneously proclaiming their innocence and make false accusations about the process.

Among the other obvious dangers here is that these investigations will drag on, the TrumpPublican Party will regain full control of the Congress (not dependent on the cooperation of people like putative Democrat Sen. Joe Manchin) and activity to investigate and hold accountable will be halted. If that happens, you can kiss our democratic republic goodbye, perhaps for good. The authoritarian goals of the TrumpPublicans are to entrench their power permanently. Democracy is at stake. Time is running out. Politics as usual is not good enough. If we do not act in the face of the threat, we will deserve what we get.

Why Is Media Not Naming the Names?

We now have reports of a 38-page PowerPoint document laying out a plan for Trump to declare a national emergency and continue in office. That’s 38 pages, not likely something just scrabbled together by some bozo whose mind is infected with conspiracy theories. But, whatever the case there, the document, or versions of it, apparently has been circulating on the internet for a while. Where on the internet, and when and by whom, is a bit fuzzy in the media reports.

What is significant about this report is not that such a PowerPoint exists. It has been clear throughout Trump’s presidency and during the coup attempt near its end that there are around the country numerous people, many holding public office and many just out there is the woods somewhere, who believe, without rational or evidentiary basis, that the election was stolen by various fraudulent means.

No, what is important here is that the document sets out [with the same excitement as the 8th item in food recipe] that members of Congress – both senators and House representatives – received briefings based on the document two days before the January 6 insurrection! https://nyti.ms/31Hho6N

But let’s back up. The title of the New York Times article is “Jan. 6 Committee Examines PowerPoint Document Sent to Meadows.” Sufficiently bland to be easily passed over. But, in case your interest is piqued, the summary deck beneath the headline seems further calculated to prime you to think nothing all that important is going on.

Mark Meadows’s lawyer said the former White House chief of staff did not act on the document, which recommended that President Donald J. Trump declare a national emergency to keep himself in power.

Well, of course, Meadows’ lawyer said that. What else was he going to say?

If you were still interested enough to read it, the article explains that the PowerPoint contained “extreme plans to overturn the 2020 election,” the idea being to have Trump declare a national emergency that would delay certification of Biden’s win. It relied upon claims that “China and Venezuela had obtained control over the voting infrastructure in a majority of states.”

We’ve heard about those types of claims before. FOX “News” and Trump’s team of lawyers promoted such claims repeatedly, without investigation or plausible evidence, and have been sued and sanctioned by courts for filing frivolous suits based on such nonsense.

As reported in NYT, the provenance of the PowerPoint is this:

Phil Waldron, a retired Army colonel and an influential voice in the movement to challenge the election, said on Friday from a bar he owns outside Austin, Texas, that he had circulated the document — titled “Election Fraud, Foreign Interference & Options for 6 JAN” — among Mr. Trump’s allies and on Capitol Hill before the attack. Mr. Waldron said that he did not personally send the document to Mr. Meadows, but that it was possible someone on his team had passed it along to the former chief of staff.

You can almost hear the theme song from the Twilight Zone playing in the background.

The actual author is unknown but “it is similar to a 36-page document available online, and it appears to be based on the theories of Jovan Hutton Pulitzer, a Texas entrepreneur and self-described inventor who has appeared with Mr. Waldron on podcasts discussing election fraud.”

More Twilight Zone.

NYT reports further that,

On Jan. 4, members of Mr. Waldron’s team — he did not identify them — spoke to a group of senators and briefed them on the allegations of supposed election fraud contained in the PowerPoint, Mr. Waldron said. The following day, he said, he personally briefed a small group of House members; that discussion focused on baseless claims of foreign interference in the election. He said he made the document available to the lawmakers.

NYT notes that Rudy Giuliani, sometimes known on Twitter as Rudy Colludy, has cited Waldron “as a source of information for his legal campaign.” That would likely be the “legal” campaign that led to Giuliani’s law license suspension in New York.

But wait, stop the music. Where in this article are the names of the House members and Senators who received these briefings two days before the insurrection and attempted coup at the U.S. Capitol? You won’t find them.

Why not? How can the New York Times, one of the country’s most prestigious newspapers report a story saying that members of Congress were briefed by private parties seeking to overturn the presidential election two days before the coup attempt that took lives and inflicted massive damage on the Capitol and there is no reference to the names of those members of Congress and no explanation as to why they are omitted?

And note how casually the article reports that Meadows, a founder of the ludicrously named Freedom Caucus and later Chief of Staff for Trump’s White House, has told the House Select Committee that “he had turned in the cellphone he used on Jan. 6 to his service provider, and that he was withholding some 1,000 text messages connected with the device.” Given Meadows’ central role in the effort to keep Trump in office despite having lost the election, could there be a clearer case of evidence tampering? Why would Meadows turn in the cell phone he used on January 6 if not to hide evidence it might contain? No plausible explanation appears in the article.

And at the same time the article gives Meadows a pass with this: “Even though Mr. Meadows did not appear to act on the PowerPoint….” Why? Because Meadows’ lawyer said so? Really? Meadows is clean because his lawyer says he is?

This article was written by seasoned award-winning reporters. Are they really content with this treatment? Were these details in the article but removed by editors?

Almost simultaneously, the Washington Post, my hometown rag, added more shocking details to the story. https://wapo.st/3lX90Xz Waldron is reported to have said he visited the White House multiple times after the election and “spoke with President Donald Trump’s chief of staff “maybe eight to 10 times.”” He also said he “briefed several members of Congress on the eve of the Jan. 6 riot.”

But, again, no names. No mention of efforts to get the names. Why not?

The names are particularly significant because,

The PowerPoint circulated by Waldron included proposals for Vice President Mike Pence on Jan. 6 to reject electors from “states where fraud occurred” or replace them with Republican electors. It included a third proposal in which the certification of Joe Biden’s victory was to be delayed, and U.S. marshals and National Guard troops were to help “secure” and count paper ballots in key states.

In short, the document set out a plan to overthrow the legitimate government, prevent the transfer of power and install Donald Trump as de facto dictator of the United States.

 These “briefings” of members of Congress are not casual affairs. Anyone who has practiced law/politics in Washington for any length of time will confirm how difficult it is to get direct access to members of Congress and especially to a group of them. Someone inside had to be helping arrange all of this and multiple staff would have known about it. Yet, here we are, almost a year from the January 6 attack and we’re just learning that members of Congress were briefed two days beforehand.

The WAPO report goes along with the “both sides” narrative by assuring us that,

it is not clear how widely the PowerPoint was circulated or how seriously the ideas in it were considered. A lawyer for Meadows, George J. Terwilliger III, said on Friday that there was no indication that Meadows did anything with the document after receiving it by email. “We produced it [to the committee] because it was not privileged,” Terwilliger said. A Meadows spokesman, Ben Williamson, declined to comment. Waldron said he was not the person who sent the PowerPoint to Meadows.

Nevertheless, the Post report recognizes that Meadows’ efforts to disappear himself in the post-coup investigation are fading in light of these revelations and the previously reveal fact that Meadows had personally “pressed senior Justice Department leaders to investigate baseless conspiracy theories about election fraud.”

According to Waldron, Meadows sought to help his group pursue their conspiracy theories about foreign interference, quoting Meadows as, “What do you need? What would help?” Of course, the Post also reports comments from an unnamed “person familiar with the matter” purporting to exonerate Meadows from any responsibility. Despite Meadows’ critical role in the White House, he is presented as someone who just received and passed around documents without paying attention to their content. If so, Meadows is monumentally incompetent or monumentally stupid.

Then there is the Giuliani connection.

Waldron said that he and Meadows “weren’t pen pals” and that their communication was often through Trump’s personal attorney Rudolph W. Giuliani, who sometimes asked him to “explain this to Mark” over the phone.

Unsurprisingly, “Giuliani did not respond to requests for comment.”

Waldron’s explanation of events included a claim of a meeting with Trump himself (November 25) and some Pennsylvania legislators in the Oval Office. Waldron also claimed to have briefed Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.) “at the White House, in the chief of staff’s office, with Giuliani present.” Naturally, Graham also had nothing to say about that meeting. And Trump, of course, had no comment about the November 25 meeting.

Still, no disclosure of the attendees at the January 4 briefings. The Post did get one thing right,

The role played after the election by Waldron is another example of how the president aligned himself with a cast of fringe personalities as he worked to sabotage the U.S. democratic process

But the issue of members of Congress meeting with, and possibly conspiring with, a person like Waldron to overturn the election is a matter of the utmost national importance. The revelations in the New York Times and Washington Post articles about meetings in the days immediately leading to the attack are evidence suggesting that members of Congress knew about, likely approved of and possibly participated in the planning of the attack.

It is very hard to understand why the Times and WAPO would treat so cavalierly the issue of which members of Congress attended briefings about thoroughly debunked election fraud just two days before the deadly attack on the Capitol. These are FACTS, and the papers owe readers an explanation of why this information was so casually ignored.

Closing Note: I have been told that this post is uncomfortably close to the kinds of attacks Trump routinely levels against the mainstream media with his “fake news” trope. Not so, I say, because I am not saying the news reports are false, only that information crucial to complete reporting has been omitted without explanation. I want the media to tell the whole important truth and when it cannot find it, explain why not.

 

The Fourth Reich — It’s Them or Us

Disclosure: Much of this post depends on information from the Bob Woodward- Robert Costa book, Peril. Woodward and I were friends in college and have had sporadic contact since then. I still consider him a friend, though we do not communicate regularly. Back in the day, a national magazine (not to be named) briefly suspected I might be Deep Throat. As everyone now knows, I was not Deep Throat. I never was.

This post is also inspired both by the column in the Washington Post by Margaret Sullivan [https://wapo.st/3v4LeMv] that asks the question why the “news” has largely ignored or downplayed the revelation that John Eastman, a Trump lawyer (and thus, legally, Trump himself), produced an outline for the steps to overturn the 2020 election and replace the real winner, Joe Biden, with Donald Trump.

The third inspiration is a line in Steven Pinker’s new book, Rationality:

Many facts, of course, are hurtful: the racial history of the United States, global warming, a cancer diagnosis, Donald Trump. Yet they are facts for all that, and we must know them, the better to deal with them.

So we must.

Since I began thinking deeply about this, we have also learned that Trump’s Department of Justice deliberately sat on its hands and did not brief Congress or others in the administration about what it apparently understood could be a day of violence against the government. https://bit.ly/3npJLON

We have also become aware that,

Republican leaders loyal to Trump are vying to control election administrations in key states in ways that could drastically distort the outcome of the presidential race in 2024. With the former president hinting strongly that he may stand again, his followers are busily manoeuvring themselves into critical positions of control across the US – from which they could launch a far more sophisticated attempt at an electoral coup than Trump’s effort to hang on to power in 2020.

… in recent months Trump has emerged as an unashamed champion of the insurrectionists, calling them “great people” and a “loving crowd”, and lamenting that they are now being “persecuted so unfairly”.

A poll released this week by the Public Religion Research Institute found that two-thirds of Republicans still believe the myth that Trump won. More chilling still, almost a third of Republicans agree with the contention that American patriots may have to resort to violence “in order to save our country”. [https://bit.ly/3ckbwlq]

As Donald Trump Jr has asserted, the Republican Party is now the Party of Trump. He owns it. His army of sycophants are as loyal to him as ever. Despite all the evidence to the contrary, his people believe the 2020 election was stolen, just as Trump continues to claim.

This is so despite Trump’s admitted bungling of the response to COVID that added significantly to the death toll, his incessant grifting and lying and treasonous acts of disloyalty to the United States, and, of course, his many “ordinary” crimes, such as giving secrets to Russia, extorting the president of Ukraine and a multitude of documented obstructions of justice, among many others. Evidence of cultish blindness to Trumpism is everywhere – mainstream media, Fox Propaganda, Twitter, Facebook, even LinkedIn and more.

Even with all that, the Eastman memo, unearthed in Woodward and Costa’s book, is shocking. As explained by Sullivan,

Written by Trump legal adviser John Eastman — a serious Establishment Type with Federalist Society cred and a law school deanship under his belt — it offered Mike Pence, then in his final days as vice president, a detailed plan to declare the 2020 election invalid and give the presidency to Trump.

In other words, how to run a coup to overturn the election in six easy steps.

Yet, Sullivan reports, the mainstream media largely ignored it at first. She rightly asks why this was not the multi-alarm firestorm – a presidential advisor casually informing him of the steps needed to undermine the outcome of a national election and claim the presidency that he had clearly lost.

The answer, it turns out, is as disturbing as the memo itself.

As reported by Sullivan, network executives thought the story unworthy because it was “crazy” and unsurprising. In effect, Trump has so normalized the idea of overthrowing the election that evidence of actual work to do so is not important enough to report. Another didn’t address it because “There’s no indication that Pence considered it seriously.” Others responded that there was much other news that seemed more important. What would be more important than an attempt to overthrow the government?

The normalization of the Trump-Republican attempt to subvert the Constitution and reinstall Trump as president, and de facto dictator, is being enabled by publications as venerable as the Wall Street Journal. The Journal published a letter from Trump on October 27. It did so without comment or any attempt to address the truth or falsity of his claims. The grotesque problems with the letter and the Journal’s decision to publish it are addressed in detail by Philip Bump in the Washington Post. https://wapo.st/3GTiYCg

The obvious and logical, and profoundly disturbing, conclusion is that WSJ supports Trump’s claims of election fraud and his belief that he was denied re-election by widespread vote fraud. Thus, the Wall Street Journal joins the campaign to undermine American democracy and replace it with a Republican autocracy led by Trump and his family.

At the same time, Trump is desperately fighting to prevent the release to the House committee investigating the January 6 insurrection/coup attempt of a large trove of documents that would reveal his role, and that of his key enablers, in the attack on the Capitol. https://nyti.ms/3wgXYAc His claims of executive privilege have been rejected by President Biden, but Trump maintains he can assert the privilege even though no longer in office. Trump’s claim of privilege fails on multiple grounds, not least of which is that most of the documents sought have nothing to do with this execution of the job of president – they are related to his personal political objective to remain in office despite the electoral outcome.

Thus, Trump continues to maintain his thoroughly debunked claims of election fraud while resisting efforts to uncover facts that might expose his role in trying to overthrow the federal government.

What else does the Woodward/Costa book contribute to our understanding of all this? A lot.

  • The chair of the Joint Chiefs, Mark Milley, after plenty of chances to observe Trump’s thinking and behavior as president, agreed with Speaker Pelosi’s observation that Trump was “crazy” and had been “crazy for a long time.” Peril at xxii. Colin Powell, former Chair of the Joint Chiefs described Trump as a “f*cking maniac.” Peril at 106.
  • Pelosi characterized the Oval Office under Trump as an “insane snake pit.”Peril at xxiii.
  • Referring to the white supremacists who marched in Charlottesville, and under pressure from then-Speaker Paul Ryan, Trump refused to criticize the marchers because “These people love me. These are my people. I can’t backstab the people who support me.” Peril at 8.
  • Trump was often unaware of his own actions. He did not know that the money for the border wall in the early 2018 spending bill was an amount he had approved. He finally agreed to sign the bill to prevent a government shutdown. Marc Short, Trump’s legislative advisor told Ryan this chaos was typical of “every day around here.” Peril at 9. Bill Barr, who was committed to run the Justice Department in Trump’s best interest to promote his re-election thought Trump’s big problem was his “pigheadedness and his blindness.” Peril at 71.
  • Trump failed to grasp the nature of the threat posed by COVID-19 and refused to accept information that conflicted with his view. Peril at 82.
  • Trump rejected advice of Gen. Milley and other senior advisors to rename military bases from Confederate traitors to Medal of Honor winners. Peril at 108-109.
  • Even as the U.S. pandemic continued to escalate (approaching 4.9 million cases and more than 160,000 deaths), Trump insisted that it was “disappearing. It’s going to disappear.” Peril at 113.
  • Trump tweeted that the “deep state” was interfering with the development of vaccines. When his own appointed head of the FDA tried to explain the process, Trump changed the subject. “the president had no idea how the FDA operated and had made no effort to find out.” Peril at 113-115.
  • Aware of his failing election campaign, Trump primed his followers for the possibility of defeat by repeatedly claiming that the only way he could lose was a rigged election. Peril at 131.
  • As soon as Trump’s defeat was reported, he announced from the White House that the election was a “fraud on the American public.” Peril at 133.
  • Even Michael Pompeo, one of Trump’s most loyal sycophants, told Gen. Milley that “The crazies are taking over,” referring to Giuliani, Sidney Powell, Michael Flynn and Mike Lindell, the key players on Trump’s legal defense team. Peril at 150.
  • On November 10, following Trump’s firing of the Secretary of Defense, Gina Haspel, the CIA Director, presciently predicted, “We are on the way to a right-wing coup.” Peril at 152.
  • Mark Meadows made repeated efforts to install a Trump super-loyalist into a leadership position at the FBI and, stymied by Barr, later at the CIA, stymied by Haspel. Peril at 154-156.
  • Trump acknowledged that Giuliani was “crazy” but claimed that “sane lawyers” would not represent him in attacking the election. Peril at 164. Trump’s AG Barr referred to Trump’s legal team as a “bunch of clowns.” Peril at 170. See also Peril at 180.
  • Trump’s team of incompetents had no plan to efficiently distribute COVID vaccines. Peril at 187.
  • Steve Bannon advised Trump to focus on January 6, the day the Electoral College votes would be certified by Congress, the last step to elect Joe Biden as President:

We’re going to bury Biden on January 6 …. If Republicans could cast enough of a shadow on Biden’s victory on January 6 … it would be hard for Biden to govern. Millions of Americans would consider him illegitimate. They would ignore him. They would dismiss him and wait for Trump to run again. “We are going to kill it in the crib. Kill the Biden presidency in the crib… [Peril at 207-208]

  • Trump directly threatened VP Pence if he refused to reject the Biden Electoral votes and hand the election to Trump. Peril at 229-230.

The above references are just a small taste of the astonishing revelations in Peril. Most of the rational people in the White House at the time of the election and its aftermath appeared to believe that Trump was mentally unstable, incapable of and uninterested in the complexities of governing and focused only on retaining power. There was palpable fear, even among some Republican leaders, that Trump was so unhinged and desperate that he might start a war or try to use the military to retain power. His distraction likely played a role in the continued spread of COVID and  his administration’s failure to respond appropriately.

These concerns, which continue in the wake of the January 6 insurrection that Trump inspired and encouraged, raise the gravest questions about the capacity of the American democratic republic, and the Constitution on which it is based, to survive the presidency of an incompetent psychopath like Trump.

Thus far, the only action against the insurrectionists has been to arrest just over 700 of the perpetrators out of what appeared to be several thousand involved in the assault. No charges have been leveled against anyone in Congress or the Trump administration in relation to the attempted coup. Trump continues to claim in every available forum, without any factual basis and in the face of more than 60 defeats in legal proceedings, that the election was stolen. His supporters in Congress continue to obstruct President Biden’s efforts to end the pandemic and restore the economic health of the country.

Republicans around the country continue to alter election rules, gerrymander districts and prepare to overturn the results of any election defeats they may experience in 2022 and 2024. The Doomsday Clock on American democracy is ticking down and, as far as can be told, more than a year after Joe Biden’s election, no meaningful actions to hold the real leaders of the January 6 coup attempt accountable has been made.

Watch this video, produced by Don Winslow Films, listing 19 critical questions central to the January 6 insurrection, that remain unaddressed as far as anyone can tell.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z2cG1PIhLIA

We are told we must be patient, that building a solid criminal case against a former president requires time. To a lesser extent the same “principle” is offered regarding the members of Congress who actively promoted the insurrection and have worked very hard to sustain a ludicrous phantasmagorical version of what occurred on January 6.

I understand the need for careful preparation, but in a little over a month we will have reached the one-year anniversary of the attack on Congress. I ask what evidence of conspiracy, perjury, sedition and obstruction of justice, to mention just a few of Trump and team’s major crimes, is missing? Has a grand jury been impaneled?

As Don Winslow’s video compellingly asks, why have so many key witnesses not been subpoenaed by the House Select Committee and placed under oath? What kind of investigation is this? Are we going to get another version of the Mueller Report that says we can’t find enough evidence to indict but neither do we exonerate? How could such a conclusion be reached without a full investigation? Mueller failed to fully investigate, as revealed in Andrew Weissmann’s book, discussed at length in an earlier post in this blog, “Lawless White House” – the Mueller Report – “Oh! What A Tangled Web We Weave …” https://bit.ly/32GUDA1

Trump is infamous for using legal processes to stall and delay investigations and actions against his multi-various criminal activities and civil offenses. If the government takes much longer, there will be no chance for meaningful action while Republicans scheme to undermine the democratic process whose survival is central to a full accounting from Trump and his enablers. I am encouraged, not much but more than zero, by the fact that the Biden administration has not announced that it is closing any investigations but that is not sufficient.

Winter for American democracy is theatening and once it is here, there may be no chance for a renewal.

 

 

 

The Doomsday Scenario – Strangelove as President

You’ve seen one of the movies, most likely. One masterpiece that comes to mind is Dr. Strangelove, subtitled, “How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb.” If you are one of the five living people who hasn’t seen it, Wikipedia summarizes the story like this:

The story concerns an unhinged United States Air Force general who orders a first strike nuclear attack on the Soviet Union. It separately follows the President of the United States, his advisors, the Joint Chiefs of Staff and a Royal Air Force (RAF) exchange officer as they attempt to prevent the crew of a B-52 plane (who were following orders from the general) from bombing the Soviets and starting a nuclear war. [https://bit.ly/39fqU0M]

There are other such stories, including the similar Seven Days in May, about a “military-political cabal’s planned takeover of the United States government in reaction to the president’s negotiation of a disarmament treaty with the Soviet Union.” [https://bit.ly/2Xip8cF]

At the root of each drama is the conflict between the civilian and Constitutional leader of the military (the President) and the military leadership. Usually, it’s the military people that go off the reservation. In the real world, we had the opposite, terrifying scenario of the President of the United States becoming unhinged from reality and unrestrained by Constitutional or any other restraints (including his Cabinet). Trump was behaving so irrationally that the senior military authority, General Mark Milley, Chair of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, undertook steps to be sure that Trump’s lunacy did not destroy the world.

Republicans, and even a few Democrats, are losing their minds over this. Ignore the Republicans, who, as with COVID-19, Ukraine and many other situations, can be counted upon to suspend all rational thinking in favor of obeisance to Donald Trump. Especially people like the morally compromised Senator Marco Rubio. Their reaction is predictable and meaningless.

Our attention is captured, however, as it should be, when someone like Ret. Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, driven out of the service by Donald Trump, complains that Gen. Milley should be removed because he “usurped civilian authority, broke Chain of Command, and violated the sacrosanct principle of civilian control over the military.” https://wapo.st/3zbu9Ry

Despite my great respect for Lt. Col. Vindman for his courageous stand against Trump’s lies about the Ukraine extortion, I disagree with his judgment on Gen. Milley.

In time of crisis, there are two essential options: (1) look to an authority source for direction and mechanically do what it says, or (2) use judgment to assess whether the authority source works in the situation at hand and, if not, choose another course of action. People face these choices every day in one way or another, thankfully almost always in situations trivial by comparison to the problem Gen. Milley faced. They make such choices on the spur of the moment, often without much thought. Sometimes they are right and sometimes not.

For example, in a different realm, the standard instruction is: don’t run from a bear; running will trigger its predatory instincts to attack. Also, don’t get between a mother bear and her cubs.

Fine, but what if you’ve wandered between the mother and cubs before you are even aware of their presence. The rules then are more complicated: if it’s a brown bear and it charges you, fall into a fetal position, trying your best to protect head, neck and stomach. If it’s a black bear, fight back. Throw things, get “big,” shout. Brown bears are more aggressive typically but may lose interest when you cease to be a threat. Black bears are ferocious but may yield and run from a fight.

If it’s a polar bear, well, hope your estate plan is in order.

The point is that these “rule book” principles are fine until they don’t work. If a grizzly attacks, you go fetal and he starts eating you, it may be that the stick lying beside you is your only remaining hope of survival. So, you grab the stick and poke him in the eye or other sensitive place, make a lot of noise and fight like hell for your life. You’re going to die otherwise, so you do what you have to do. Your options are few so you do what you can to change the odds.

Imperfect as analogies may be, the ultimate question is crisis is: will following the authority solve the problem or do I have to improvise and do the unthinkable?

Gen. Milley was faced with precisely this situation. [Disclosure: I haven’t yet read the Woodward/Costa book that revealed this story and even then might not have all the information.]

Gen. Milley had the real-life Dr. Strangelove in the role of President of the United States. His choice was to follow the rule book, let events take their course. He realized he could possibly be witness to, and complicit in, the destruction of the world as we know it if Donald Trump, desperate to cling to power, were to issue orders for a nuclear strike against China. Evidence was abundant that Trump was having serious mental disfunction. This was nothing new, but the loss of the 2020 election unhinged him from reality to a degree not previously seen. He claimed without evidence that the election had been stolen; he refused to cooperate in the peaceful transition of power; on January 6 he had urged his followers to use force to stop the final step in certifying the election result; he openly sought to reverse election counts in multiple states by pressuring state officials.

Donald Trump spit in the face of the constitutional order, giving every indication that he might be prepared to do something even more unprecedented in human history to retain power.

In those circumstances, perhaps one person alone stood as the final bulwark against insanity on the loose. That was General Milley. He chose to act rather than be another passive instrument of Trump’s delusion. I think I understand the tendency of people like Lt. Col. Vindman to turn to the “book” in cases like this, but history should vindicate the judgment of Gen. Milley that the evidence of irrational behavior was too strong, and the weakness of the inner Trump circle was too compromised, to simply hope for the best. The nation, indeed the world, should be grateful.

Note: Jennifer Rubin’s Washington Post opinion piece on this issue raises questions regarding the lessons to be taken from this episode and how we shore up the constitutional order against a future Trump. https://wapo.st/3hEyKpm Those are very important questions that require the most serious consideration.

 

The Road Not Taken

Kudos to President Biden for taking the hard but right path to restoring the physical and economic health of the country. Shame on those who continue to harp on the ignorant and irrationally resistant themes of “my rights” at the expense of the health and welfare of others. ENOUGH!

We’re at the fork in the road. Nothing short of a full-on frontal attack on the virus is going to get us out of this mess. The great American poet Robert Frost captured the idea in his famous poem, The Road Not Taken:

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I –
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

Biden has taken the road that many politicians would eschew – the one that will, and has, inevitably create another furor. Rather than the “safe path,” Biden has shown the courage of a leader by doing the right thing rather than the safe or easy route. You can hide from destiny only so long, as this great story reminds us:

A merchant in Baghdad sent his servant to the market.
The servant returned, trembling and frightened. The
servant told the merchant, “I was jostled in the market,
turned around, and saw Death.

“Death made a threatening gesture, and I fled in terror.
May I please borrow your horse? I can leave Baghdad
and ride to Samarra, where Death will not find me.”

The master lent his horse to the servant, who rode away,
to Samarra.

Later the merchant went to the market, and saw Death in
the crowd. “Why did you threaten my servant?” He asked.

Death replied, “I did not threaten your servant. It was
merely that I was surprised to see him here in Baghdad,
for I have an appointment with him tonight in Samarra. 

The choice we face now, that we must face, is between aggressively striking at the virus with all the tools at our disposal or continuing to beg the irrational and uninformed to do the right thing. The former has a chance to stop the pandemic, to take advantage of the astonishing opportunity that the rapid deployment of vaccines has provided. The latter approach has virtually certain terrible consequences: more illness, more death, more permanently damaged bodies.

The reality is that the vaccines are safe and effective. The reality is that the rapid spread of the Delta variant has again overwhelmed the nation’s medical capabilities. COVID infections that are mainly in unvaccinated individuals are denying needed medical services for people with other medical conditions.

I have read some of the insane rantings of primarily right-wing and libertarian “authorities” who claim to have inside knowledge that the virus was released deliberately by agents of the federal government who are cashing in on the vaccines. These people claim that the vaccines contain various poisons, microchips and who knows what else.

It seems that one can always find someone who claims to have the inside track on awful secrets and conspiracies that are constantly being plotted against the rest of humanity. These sometimes include people with “medical credentials,” but often they are former workers in the pharmaceutical industry who are certain that they have inside information to expose the crimes being perpetrated in the name of … whatever. They readily accept the plausibility of conspiracies involving many thousands of people around the globe, no one willing to spill the beans, all in the name of “follow the money” or some other cliché that substitutes for actual thought.

We see this same theme played out in science fiction movies and what I call “caper movies” in which bad guys pull off, at least temporarily, extraordinary schemes to steal, blow up, capture huge sums of money, power over the world, etc. Movies like Air Force One, Die Hard and so many others. I have struggled through a few episodes of a TV series called Eureka that is loaded with utterly implausible, preposterous concepts and science-like doublespeak and gibberish. Some people apparently take such stories to be true. It’s an easy shift from one phantasmagorical storyline to another. Harry Potter is real, flying broomsticks and all.

Reality is more mundane. Two kinds of sickness pervade the country. One is the COVID-19 virus. We’ve learned a lot about it and about how to prevent its worst manifestations. Vaccines, masks, social distancing – that’s pretty much the essence. Study after study confirms the validity of these measures, if, at least, they are applied broadly and consistently.

But it’s damned inconvenient and mighty annoying. COVID has shuttered many businesses, interfered with our fun and instilled a deep-seated fear in many people that they and their loved ones, including children for whom they are responsible, are being exposed to an invisible, highly transmissible and deadly disease. More than 648,000 dead from a disease that our former president assured us would “soon disappear like magic.” Damned annoying.

The other sickness is the resistance to the solution. We know what to do but for many Americans, the disease isn’t the real enemy. The real enemy is the government. Many people appear to believe the government unleashed the virus. Why would the government do that? Did the government want to destroy the economy? Weaken our national defenses? Reduce the population? End civilization? Apparently, many believe so.

Logic and reason have little to do with this mindset. It’s analogous to those who argue that the January 6 insurrection was actually the work of the winners of the election who wanted to stop the certification of their win so that the loser, whom they hate, would be installed as the winner. That make sense to you? If so, take two giant steps to the right.

Along comes the new president who starts an unprecedented and initially successful campaign to deliver life-saving and pandemic-ending medicine into tens of millions of citizens without any meaningful adverse consequences and at no cost. And yes, yes, I understand we can’t prove that ten years from now there won’t be some inexplicable adverse outcome for somebody. There is no scientific or medical reason to suspect that could or would happen, but we can’t predict the future with 100% certainty, so ….

But, you know, in the long run we’re all dead anyway. In the meantime, we can return to “normal life.” All we have to do is get vaccinated and comply with a few annoying but otherwise trivial practices a while longer with a few minimal restrictions on our behavior.

But, no, this is apparently asking too much for millions of Americans. They have their “rights” to protect, regardless of the consequences. “Freedom” is their watchword. Don’t tell me what to do even if it’s for my own good. Sounds like a teenager who thinks he knows everything already and is invulnerable. Or the guy with the boat who insists on going out in the hurricane because he can “handle anything.”

Many of these people end up in the ICU, begging for the vaccine, only to be told by doctors, “it’s too late for you. You should have taken the vaccine earlier. It can’t help you now. Nothing can help you now.”

The solution is in our hands, if only our minds will allow us to see it. I despair of it, after engaging yet another person who on first encounter seemed reasonable and thoughtful, but then insisted “we are being lied to” and that the vaccines contain deadly poisons that make them magnetic. She argued with me that the vaccination program was unnecessary because “natural immunity” was superior protection to the vaccines and lasted longer. How she knows this: read on the internet.

I end where I began. History will record that Joe Biden acted justly and rightly in ordering mandatory vaccination programs, with, in most cases, very generous opt-outs for people with true medical conflicts and genuine religious objections (I don’t know what religion that is, but the exemptions are available).

I find some inspiration in these closing words from Ulysses by Alfred, Lord Tennyson:

Though much is taken, much abides; and though
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven; that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.