Escalation Dominance

Donald Trump always wins, even when he loses. That’s what all the bankruptcies were all about. Declare bankruptcy, say you’re broke and cannot pay off any outstanding loans or pay any vendor for any goods or services, and the courts will recover what they can for those who want to be paid – maybe ten cents on the dollar – but you’ve already made your money. No one can take from you what you’ve already spent. And you move on. No bank will ever lend you money again, but there are ways around that. Trump turned to the private division of Deutsche Bank to lend him perhaps two billion dollars over all the years. The commercial side of that back would have nothing to do with him – no bank would – but this was a private matter. Yes, Deutsche Bank has paid heavy fines for money laundering – billions in funds for rich Russian oligarchs – and will pay even more fines – but that Russian connection seems to be a coincidence. Both of Trump’s sons have also said most of Trump’s funding comes from Russian sources – and then they said they never said that at all, even if that’s on record. Who knows? There’s Saudi money too. It’s all a mystery, but Trump declares bankruptcy, no one gets paid, but there’s always money out there. He loses and he wins. When he doesn’t pay vendors – he’s notorious for that – they sue – and he sues them right back, for defamation. He has deep pockets. They don’t. They lose. He wins. He doesn’t pay his bills – he’s a real loser – and he wins. The guy who painted the walls at his new hotel can’t un-paint those walls, and there are always other vendors. Those vendors who merely warn others get sued too. That’s defamation too, and he has the deep pockets to ruin them too, and they know it. They shut up. He wins.

He always wins, because losing is, one way or another, winning. The Mueller report made him look like a total jerk, but he won that one too. He came across as such an awful person that the Democrats had no idea what to do:

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report gave House Democrats a road map for investigating President Trump and the cue they were waiting for – but the party was divided Friday over what, ultimately, should be their end game.

In one camp, a faction of Democrats determined to pursue impeachment of Trump was emboldened by the report, seizing on Mueller’s detailed findings about 10 potential instances of obstruction of justice to revive calls for delivering the ultimate congressional censure.

Ramping up the pressure for impeachment Friday were two presidential hopefuls – Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Julián Castro, former Housing and Urban Development secretary in the Obama administration.

“The severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty,” Warren said. “That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the president of the United States.”

Well, maybe not:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her leadership team have tamped down talk of impeachment, with a sense among top Democrats that the Mueller report – which many Democrats see as incriminating in its details of a president trying to undermine the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election – has changed nothing when it comes to the impeachment question.

Democratic leaders appear to be coalescing around a strategy of continuing their investigations of Trump, while arguing that their constitutional mandate doesn’t necessitate that they impeach the president — even if they agree he broke the law. Rather, they argue that Congress can unearth corrupt information about him – then take it to voters in the 2020 election…

Some Democrats see impeachment as a political exercise that could cost them the House majority and the presidency in 2020, and is largely futile with Republicans controlling the Senate.

That is, they’d fail to get rid of Trump – they just don’t have the votes in the Senate – while angering and energizing his base and disgusting swing voters, who’d wonder why they were wasting everyone’s time on something that was never going to work anyway, when they could have been doing something useful:

Democratic leaders have been in touch with lawmakers hosting town halls throughout the two-week congressional recess, and voters are rarely expressing a desire to impeach the president, according to one leadership official. Instead, constituents are focused on health care, transportation, jobs and prescription drugs…

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) highlighted that view during a CNN interview Thursday night when pressed on whether Congress had to impeach Trump for his actions.

Jeffries argued that “our primary focus has and will continue to be on executing our ‘For the People’ agenda as it relates to kitchen table pocketbook issues.” Rather, Congress, he said, would do their utmost to allow Mueller to tell his story in public through testimony, and promise to try to get the full document released to the public to illuminate the extent of what Democrats call Trump’s corruption.

“The avenue is not impeachment,” he said. “The avenue is further disclosure to the American people.”

And then let the American people decide, but there will be little disclosure:

The House Judiciary Committee, which would be tasked with starting any impeachment proceedings, on Friday issued a subpoena to the Justice Department for the full Mueller report by May 1, after the release of the redacted version on Thursday…

Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec called the subpoena “premature and unnecessary” in light of how much of the report is already public, and because the Justice Department has already made arrangements for lawmakers to see a less-redacted version of it.

It’s all there. What is the matter with these folks? That would be this:

Democrats have maintained that it is difficult for them to weave all their potential lines of inquiry into one focused trajectory because they don’t know how it came together for Mueller – and for that, they fault Barr, who has not yet given lawmakers access to Mueller’s un-redacted product, much less the evidence that informed it.

But they actually will be able to see all of that, or four of them will, in a windowless soundproof secure room, for a few minutes, but they cannot take notes or discuss what they saw with anyone else at all. If they don’t like that they can sue, but Trump’s DOJ and his AG will sue right back. This could be in the courts for years, and here even if Trump loses he still wins. He could instruct Barr not to give the Democrats anything even if the Supreme Court eventually rules, unanimously, that Barr must do that. Who is going to enforce that Supreme Court decision? How many divisions does John Roberts have?

But impeachment is still possible:

Some Democratic investigators say it’s too early rule out an effort to oust the president.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, unequivocally backed impeachment in a statement Thursday evening, arguing that “Congress’ failure to impeach is complacency in the face of the erosion of our democracy and constitutional norms.”

“Congress’ failure to impeach would set a dangerous precedent and imperil the nation as it would vest too much power in the executive branch and embolden future officeholders to further debase the U.S. presidency, if that’s even possible,” said Waters, who is investigating Trump’s businesses and plans to continue to do so.

Maxine Waters will get what she needs from Deutsche Bank, eventually. She does have subpoena power. House Republicans have been sending letters to Deutsche Bank and major consulting firms – do NOT comply with any congressional subpoena if you know what’s good for you – but they may have to stop doing that. That seems illegal. No one has ever tried that before so that will have to be litigated, but that seems illegal.

That will have to be worked out, but for now it seems that Trump has won, by losing, again, and Andrew Sullivan rules things this way:

The merit of the Mueller report is that it gives us the whole narrative again, a chance to review the last three years with new perspective and fresh eyes, to get above the daily drizzle of short-attention-span disinformation and lies.

First of all, it lays out a foreign government’s extraordinary attempt to corrupt our democratic system – in very close and damning detail. At the same time, the report comes very close to destroying the notion that Donald J. Trump was and is a Russian agent, that his campaign was actively conspiring with a foreign government to hack and defeat his opponent in 2016, that Putin had (and still has) something that could be used to blackmail Trump, and that his foreign policy since has been dictated by the Kremlin.

The much more believable truth, in fact, is a large-scale version of that infamous “I love it!” Donald Jr. Email. The Trump campaign had no problem with foreign interference if it could help them, were eager and hopeful it would occur, publicly encouraged it… but never initiated this or followed through.

Team Trump was too disorganized and incompetent for any of that Russia stuff to be true. That’s winning by losing. And there’s a simple answer to that one big question:

Why the mutual love between Trump and Russia? The answer is overdetermined. Trump is an authoritarian; he reveres thugs and bullies and murderers and mobsters; he believes in an economy based on fossil fuels; he has a thing, believe it or not, for cult-worshipping kleptocracies. From Trump’s point of view, what’s not to like? Trump prefers Kim Jong-un to democratic leaders; and Bolsonaro and Duterte over May or Merkel. Putin has said nice things about him; and the CIA worried Trump might be compromised. Of course Trump prefers Putin to his own intelligence services. The idea that Trump could only be pro-Putin because Putin has some dirt on him is silly.

But then there is that other matter:

The conspiracy question is far less important than what Mueller discovered on obstruction of justice. Mueller quite rightly notes that obstruction of justice can easily occur even without an underlying crime. And his report, quite simply, is devastating. To be fair to the conspiracy believers, the lies and obstruction and abuse of power would, in most cases, suggest that the president is guilty of something criminal – and was obviously trying to cover it up. But this is not most cases and Trump is different. He needed no fear of being found guilty of treason to obstruct justice. He merely had to believe that the investigation would cloud his presidency and subject him to an authority beyond his control. This is something we now know his psyche cannot tolerate. In a contest between his own diseased ego and the rule of law, there has never been any contest.

And the rest just falls into place:

Of course he lied when he didn’t have to. And of course he tried to kill an investigation that might have embarrassed him, even if it would not convict him of a crime. Mueller spells it all out in agonizing detail. He kept pressuring his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, to curtail or end the inquiry; he asked James Comey to be personally loyal and to go easy on his first national security adviser; he then fired the FBI director because he wouldn’t preemptively exonerate the president and because of the “Russia thing.” Once the investigation began, and Trump realized he could be vulnerable on obstruction of justice, he stepped up the obstruction!

Of course he did. He instructed White House counsel Don McGahn to get Mueller fired; he engaged in character assassination of potential witnesses; he “launched public attacks on the investigation and individuals involved in it who could possess evidence adverse to [him], while in private, [he] engaged in a series of targeted efforts to control the investigation.”

Mueller cites ten separate cases of obstruction. In six of them, he establishes an obstructive act; a link with an official proceeding; and a corrupt intent – which is to say there is no doubt that this is what Trump did six times. In another case, Mueller found substantial evidence of obstruction.

But wait, there’s more:

He dangled pardons for anyone who might incriminate him. His initial blandishments toward Michael Cohen shifted to calling him a “rat” as soon as he started cooperating with legal authorities. Donald McGahn’s recollection under oath of being told by Trump to get Mueller fired was met with Trump’s attempt to get McGahn to “do a correction” and lie to Mueller and the press. (Trump was amazed, like any criminal, that McGahn took notes.) He tried to identify someone “on the team” at the DOJ who could replace Sessions. He told his press secretary to lie to the public. Then there was a relentless, outrageous attempt to accuse the FBI of spying on Trump for partisan reasons, the CIA of trying to oust him, and to promote the Roy Cohn tactic of arguing that the only Russia conspiracy was actually that of his opponent, Hillary Clinton. He continuously described the investigation as a “hoax”, a witch hunt, entirely staffed by partisan Democrats, and is now angling to get his docile attorney general to initiate an investigation of public servants doing their job. All of this is outside the boundaries of any previous president, including Nixon. It’s appalling.

But wait, there’s more:

And then there is Trump’s persistent claim that a president is effectively above the rule of law. This is attorney general William Barr’s belief – that a president has total executive control over the administration of justice and can direct it away from himself for any reason with complete impunity. Yesterday Trump tweeted that “I had the right to end the whole Witch Hunt if I wanted to. I could have fired everyone, including Mueller, if I wanted to.”

Worth noting this claim for the future, don’t you think? The only reason he didn’t get rid of Mueller was because a handful of his underlings – Priebus, McGahn, and Sessions among them – resisted him. And so this is not just about past obstruction; it is about the very high likelihood of future obstruction. It’s about recrafting the rule of law into one where one man controls everything and can do anything he pleases.

And that’s the final straw:

All of this is an unprecedented series of impeachable offenses. It is a textbook definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” It is the story of a president assaulting the rule of law, attempting to manipulate the justice system, dangling pardons to induce perjury, and reflexively putting his own personal interests – or simply ego – before any interest of the country as a whole.

Mueller openly states that his own investigation was thwarted by the president to the extent that the “the justice system’s integrity [was] threatened.” When a president openly threatens the integrity of the justice system, and says he has unlimited power to do so in the future, he not only can be impeached, he must be impeached.

Fine, but Sullivan sees issues with that:

I worry about pushing Trump into outright insanity. And I worry that the contemporary GOP is all too happy to create a presidency – as long as it’s theirs – beyond the rule of law. Even though no previous impeachment process has ever engaged in the kind of assault on our entire system of government that we see now before us, the GOP will protect their cult leader. They are far gone. There will never be enough Republican votes to convict.

So don’t do it, but for this:

What are the consequences of not impeaching? They are, it seems to me, real and immediate. Trump now has a Justice Department run by a loyalist who believes in total executive supremacy, and who has just revealed himself as a man willing to lie and deceive and distort to please his master. Every official who might have restrained this president is gone. There are almost no heads of agencies, and no dissent in the Cabinet. The country is effectively being ruled by a monarch and his court. Foreign policy has been given to family members. The Fed is being rigged to remove professionals and install loyal toadies. The judiciary is being filled with judges who defer to presidential power in every circumstance. We have a president who only last week told his new acting DHS secretary, Kevin McAleenan, to break the law if necessary to stop asylum seekers from entering the country, and that he’d have his back and pardon him if he got into trouble. In any other time, that alone would demand impeachment. We know now, however, that this is just one instance of a clear pattern of lawlessness.

So do it:

What more do we need to know? To refuse to use the one weapon the Founders gave us to remove such a character from office is more than cowardice. It is complicity. It is surrendering to forces which aim to make the world safe for authoritarianism. It may not work. But if we acquiesce, pretend it isn’t happening, or look away, it cannot work.

So do it:

How long before we take a stand? Mueller has given us the road map. He has done his duty. Now it’s our turn to do ours: “to support and defend the Constitution and laws of the United States of America against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”

Impeach Trump now? And, after the Democratic House impeaches him, and then the Republican Senate holds the trial and refuses to convict him, and he stays in office, smirking, then what? He will have exited one more bankruptcy again, winning by losing.

What should the nation do about this guy? Michael Hirsh, in an item in Foreign Policy, finds this strange hint:

Following in the footsteps of Alexis de Tocqueville, Gérard Araud has made a study of the United States while serving as France’s ambassador to Washington for nearly five years. Araud has also frequently expressed frank opinions on the fate of the West, sometimes on Twitter. After a stellar career in the French Foreign Service that earned him a reputation as an able negotiator on Middle East issues and took him to an ambassadorship in Israel, as well as to senior positions at NATO and the United Nations, Araud officially retired on April 19. He plans to publish a memoir of his experiences this year. Araud, 66, sat down with Foreign Policy to give his parting reflections on how to handle U.S. presidents -based on his own experience with Barack Obama and Donald Trump.

Gérard Araud says this:

On one side, you had this ultimate bureaucrat, an introvert, basically a bit aloof, a restrained president. A bit arrogant also but basically somebody who every night was going to bed with 60-page briefings and the next day they were sent back annotated by the president. And suddenly you have this president who is an extrovert, really a big mouth, who reads basically nothing or nearly nothing, with the interagency process totally broken and decisions taken from the hip basically.

Trump and his seemingly random tweets were a major problem:

I will tell you the advice I gave to Paris about the tweets. He once criticized the French president [Emmanuel Macron], and people called me from Paris to say, “What should we do?”

My answer was clear: “Nothing.” Do nothing because he will always outbid you. Do nothing because he can’t accept appearing to lose. You have restraint on your side, and he has no restraint on his side, so you lose. It is escalation dominance.

So do nothing. Let him think he’s won. And then go about your business. And win. He probably won’t notice.

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The Jerk

Attorney General William Barr, brand new to the job, had promised to release the Mueller report to the public, the report on whether President Trump had been a bad boy, and so he did, one month after he had received the report from Robert Mueller. Barr had already reported that Mueller had cleared Trump of absolutely everything and that was that. Of course no one but Donald Trump believed him – so Barr repeated that several times – this report cleared Donald Trump of every single thing. No one believed that either, but the day would come when he’d release the full report to Congress and to the American people, with light redactions of course. And the day came. Barr held his press conference. He said it again. Mueller cleared Trump of everything. And now people could see that. An hour later he released the report – on compact discs to Congress and then posted on the justice department’s website. And that really was that. It was over.

And then people read the report. William Barr had been bullshitting everyone and he had known it all along. Trump had been pleased, for almost a month. He hadn’t exploded. He hadn’t fired anyone, except for his Secretary of Homeland Security and most top officials in that department. Barr had kept Trump (relatively) calm for almost a month. America can thank him later. But the report ended that calm. Mueller had carefully and thoroughly documented the jerk in the White House. The Washington Post’s Philip Rucker and Robert Costa put that this way:

The moment President Trump learned two years ago that a special counsel had been appointed to investigate Russian election interference he declared in the Oval Office, “This is the end of my presidency.”

Trump nearly made that a self-fulfilling prophecy as he then plotted for months to thwart the probe, spawning a culture of corruption and deception inside the White House.

Trump’s advisers rarely challenged him and often willingly did his bidding, according to the special counsel’s report released Thursday. But in some cases, they refused when Trump pushed them to the brink of committing outright crimes.

Trump ordered Donald McGahn to instigate special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s firing, but the White House lawyer decided he would resign rather than follow through.

Trump urged Corey Lewandowski to ask then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to curtail the investigation, but his former campaign manager only delivered the message to an intermediary.

And Trump demanded that Reince Priebus procure Sessions’ resignation, but the White House chief of staff did not carry out the directive.

The vivid portrait that emerges from Mueller’s 448-page report is of a presidency plagued by paranoia, insecurity and scheming – and of an inner circle gripped by fear of Trump’s spasms. Again and again, Trump frantically pressured his aides to lie to the public, deny true news stories and fabricate a false record.

And thus Trump was not innocent:

“If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the president clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” the report says. “Based on the facts and the applicable legal standards, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

The report gives ten examples of what is clearly obstruction of justice, surrounded by lies. Mueller cannot clear Trump, but it’s not his job to do something about that. The DOJ rule is that no one there can indict a sitting president for any crime at all. Congress can impeach a president. That’s the only remedy. But something is amiss here:

The Mueller report revealed how a combustible president bred an atmosphere of chaos, dishonesty and malfeasance at the top echelons of government not seen since the Nixon administration.

Trump officials frequently were drawn into the president’s plans to craft false story lines. In one instance, while he was watching Fox News, Trump asked Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein to hold a news conference and claim that Trump fired James B. Comey as FBI director based on Rosenstein’s recommendation. Rosenstein declined and told Trump that he would tell the truth – that firing Comey was not his idea – if he were asked about it.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders attempted to buttress Trump’s cover story. She said at a news briefing that countless members of the FBI were seeking Comey’s removal, but she later admitted to Mueller’s team that her comment had been completely fabricated, calling it a “slip of the tongue” that was not founded on evidence.

In another example, Trump dictated to communications director Hope Hicks an intentionally misleading statement for the media about Donald Trump Jr.’s 2016 meeting with a Russian lawyer at Trump Tower.

There are pages and pages and pages of this stuff in the report, and the New York Times’ Peter Baker and Maggie Haberman open with this:

As President Trump met with advisers in the Oval Office in May 2017 to discuss replacements for the FBI director he had just fired, Attorney General Jeff Sessions slipped out of the room to take a call.

When he came back, he gave Mr. Trump bad news: Robert S. Mueller III had just been appointed as a special counsel to take over the investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election and any actions by the president to impede it.

Mr. Trump slumped in his chair. “Oh, my God,” he said. “This is terrible. This is the end of my presidency. I’m fucked.”

It has not been the end of his presidency, but it has come to consume it. Although the resulting two-year investigation ended without charges against Mr. Trump, Mr. Mueller’s report painted a damning portrait of a White House dominated by a president desperate to thwart the inquiry only to be restrained by aides equally desperate to thwart his orders.

Their assessment:

The White House that emerges from more than 400 pages of Mr. Mueller’s report is a hotbed of conflict infused by a culture of dishonesty – defined by a president who lies to the public and his own staff, then tries to get his aides to lie for him. Mr. Trump repeatedly threatened to fire lieutenants who did not carry out his wishes while they repeatedly threatened to resign rather than cross lines of propriety or law.

At one juncture after another, Mr. Trump made his troubles worse, giving in to anger and grievance and lashing out in ways that turned advisers into witnesses against him. He was saved from an accusation of obstruction of justice, the report makes clear, in part because aides saw danger and stopped him from following his own instincts.

No one listens to him. They humor him. They don’t do what he tells them to do and don’t tell him they haven’t done what he told them to do, and never will do what he asked – but he doesn’t have to know that. That works, and as for Russia:

The outreach had begun by August 2015, when Donald Trump was a newly announced presidential candidate in a crowded Republican field and a Russian news outlet emailed a top Trump aide to request an interview.

It persisted through the next 15 months of the 2016 campaign and into the presidential transition, when a Russian banker back-channeled a plan for reconciliation between the United States and the Kremlin to the new administration through a friend of Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

The portrait painted by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III in his report released Thursday is one in which, again and again, Russian officials and business executives offered assistance to Trump and the people around him.

And that was fine:

The campaign was intrigued by the Russian overtures, Mueller found, which came at the same time that the Russian government was seeking to tilt the outcome of the race in Trump’s favor.

The special counsel did not find any of the contacts between Trump associates and Russians constituted a crime. Mueller said his “investigation did not establish that members of the Trump Campaign conspired or coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities.”

But the episodes detailed in his report show that Trump aides declined to forcefully reject the Russian offers or report them to law enforcement. Amid a growing awareness that Russia probably had hacked and disseminated Democratic emails, the campaign eagerly made use of the material – and its flirtation with Russian figures continued.

Team Trump and Team Putin had the same goals. They cooperated and had a fine time, but there was no formal agreement, with terms and conditions, signed and notarized and filed somewhere – so there was no crime. They were just walking down the road together, headed in the same direction, chatting. Jared handled the details. Ivanka made some money. But there was no conspiracy – just mutual interests.

On the other hand there were odd details:

Trump asked former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn to find Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails. Per the report, Trump “made this request repeatedly, and Flynn subsequently contacted multiple people in an effort to obtain the emails.”

One of the people Flynn contacted, Senate staffer Barbara Leeden, who was then working for Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA), reportedly said that “even if a single email was recovered and the providence [sic] of that email was a foreign service, it would be catastrophic to the Clinton campaign.”

Leeden claimed to have found a “trove” of Clinton’s emails from the “dark web” – but they proved inauthentic.

That’s was okay, the Russians came through, but Mueller did consider charging Donald Trump Jr. for his participation in the Trump Tower meeting:

“Taking into account the high burden to establish a culpable mental state in a campaign-finance prosecution and the difficulty in establishing the required valuation, the Office decided not to pursue criminal campaign-finance charges against Trump Jr. or other campaign officials for the events culminating in the June 9 meeting,” the report reads.

That just wasn’t worth the trouble, but this is curious:

Russia hacked and extracted voter data from the Illinois State Board of Elections, may have broken into a Florida county government and targeted private companies that help run elections.

In an alarming detail, the redacted report confirms that Russian hackers successfully broke into the Illinois State Board of Elections’ network and “extracted” the information of thousands of voters before the hack was detected.

The FBI believes – though the special counsel did not independently verify – that the hackers also got into a Florida county government’s database.

Outside the governments themselves, hackers targeted private companies involved in administering elections and providing voting technology.

That’s a bit alarming but this is a big yawn:

Trump Jr. gave a heads up about the Trump Tower meeting before it took place to a group of senior staffers and Trump family members. Former Trump campaign deputy chairman Rick Gates said that Trump Jr. announced the upcoming Trump Tower meeting during a meeting of senior campaign staff in 2016. The group included former campaign chairman Paul Manafort, former communications director Hope Hicks and Trump family members Eric, Ivanka and Jared Kushner.

Hicks reportedly denied knowing about the meeting before 2017.

Yeah, well, they all deny everything, but Trump does plan a few things:

Trump started putting out feelers to dump Comey at the first sign of trouble when the FBI interviewed Flynn. In January 2017, then-acting Attorney General Sally Yates talked to White House Counsel Don McGahn about Flynn’s interview with the FBI, leaving him with the impression that the FBI did not yet have enough evidence to nab Flynn but that he was getting into hot water.

After McGahn conveyed the conversation to the President and explained the situation, Trump immediately started softening the ground to fire Comey. That night, at dinner with senior advisers, he started asking around for impressions of Comey, a classic Trump tick when he’s going cold on someone.

But he did have friends willing to bend the rules:

Senate Intel Committee Chairman Richard Burr gave the White House information about the FBI’s Russia probe. Burr confirmed to the White House Counsel’s Office that the FBI was investigating “4-5 targets” as part of the investigation into Russia’s election interference, and gave the lawyers status updates.

This is significant because McGahn’s chief of staff wrote in her notes that the President was “in panic/chaos” after Comey briefed the Gang of Eight on the investigation and was desperate for more information.

He got his information, but this is just odd:

Even after his lifetime of various legal troubles, Trump thinks “great lawyers” don’t take notes. In a more lighthearted aside, a conversation between Trump and McGahn suggests Trump has gotten some shoddy legal representation over the years.

Trump to McGahn: “Why do you take notes? Lawyers don’t take notes. I never had a lawyer who took notes.”

McGahn said he did so because he is a “real lawyer”

“I’ve had a lot of great lawyers, like Roy Cohn,” Trump replied. “He did not take notes.”

Okay, fine, but there was this too:

Trump dictated a statement to former Campaign Manager Cory Lewandowski for Sessions to deliver publicly that said Trump was being treated “very unfairly” by the special counsel’s investigation, and that would limit Mueller’s scope to future election interference only.

“But our POTUS is being treated very unfairly,” the dictated statement reads. “He didn’t do anything wrong except he ran the greatest campaign in American history.”

“I am going to meet with the Special Prosecutor to explain this is very unfair and let the Special Prosecutor move forward with investigation election meddling for future elections so that nothing can happen in future elections,” it concludes.

By this juncture, Trump was already hopping mad with Sessions for recusing himself and saw his attorney general as “weak.”

And of course nothing came of that. Lewandowski never contacted Sessions about that, and it seems Trump didn’t follow up – he’d moved on other matters. He was just venting.

That may be the real problem here, as Slate’s Dahlia Lithwick sees this:

What this report, released Thursday, does, irrefutably and in eye-scraping detail, is tell us what we already know. Some may find this frustrating – in many people’s eyes, Mueller went right up to the brink of finding serious criminal misconduct and then blinked, or punted, or declined to interview the president. But knowing, as he must have known, that anything short of a smoking gun, and perhaps even a smoking gun, would be met with cries of “no collusion” and “total exoneration,” Mueller took a slightly different approach. Rather than make specific recommendations of what comes next, he laid out the case and left it to Congress to do the work that he could not, for all sorts of constitutional and structural reasons, complete himself.

And Mueller’s efforts managed to do one important thing: They cement the story. They paint a picture. We now have the montage.

And this is not a pretty picture:

The quote that became the very first hot take of the day was that the president, upon learning that Mueller had been appointed to investigate, shouted, “I’m fucked.” He declared that his presidency was over. The reason this matters is that it cements in the collective consciousness what everyone already knew – that the president wanted this probe ended and knew it was an existential risk to his presidency. What follows in the rest of the report is a highlights reel of things even the most casual observer already knew, at some level, regardless of ideology or politics.

The Russians tried to steal the election. Some members of his campaign were happy to help. The president wanted to protect Michael Flynn. The president wanted to kill the special counsel investigation. The president materially and significantly tampered with witnesses to that investigation. The president lied and told others to lie.

And that’s that:

None of this was ever really in dispute. Almost everything about the president’s impetuousness and vindictiveness and malevolence was known, even before the election, because it’s been on full display, to all of us, for years. What Mueller has done is hold up a mirror to the presidency and shown us what was happening…

After two years without facts, we now have facts. Thus far the White House and Trump boosters haven’t disputed the facts. What they say is “no collusion,” because that’s what they were going to say, no matter what.

But the facts in this movie are devastating. They paint a picture of Trump campaign members helping Russia steal an election, with polling data and secret meetings, and of a lawless and King Lear-like Trump trying desperately to obscure what was really happening. Mueller may not have taken the American public anywhere specific on questions of law. But he sure as hell took us all to the same place on the question of reality. And the facts that the American public -at least those who don’t have an intravenous hookup to Tucker Carlson’s worldview – are seeing today, whether by way of quotes, or hot takes, or television punditry, is a walk down the well-trod lane of how Trump operates. He lies. He tells others to lie. He fires people. He threatens. He demands loyalty.

Of course he does all that, so Lithwick just goes with it:

In some ways, I’m enjoying this movie more this time around precisely because, as 448-page encapsulations of all the facts I thought I’d become insensible to go, this is a hell of a read. And in its own pointillist and nuanced way, that story makes the conclusions of law somewhat less frustrating. It’s as if Mueller was just saying, “You all know this happened and continues to happen. Now you decide what to do about it.”

And that may be the whole point:

Despite what Attorney General William Barr has asserted, Mueller makes it very clear that Congress is entitled to act on this report. But despite the heavy lawyering and the very lawyerly parsing, I actually read the Mueller report as a fundamentally political document, as much as a legal one. It’s delineation – chapter and verse – of how Trump has conducted himself in office, and for anyone who believes that the president should not be above the law, this is a damning report of presidential lawlessness. It’s lawlessness sometimes erased by staff, lawlessness sometimes declined by underlings, lawlessness sometimes erased by cluelessness and stupidity, lawlessness sometimes elided by technical definitions. But while Mueller may have avoided making explicit legal conclusions about criminality, he has sealed into amber a story that we all needed to hear.

And that means this:

Mueller has shown us what is true. Nobody in the White House has disputed it. We can decide we’re fine with it or that we are not fine with it. That’s a political question, not a legal one. I think that may be what needed to happen all along.

And that just happened. There are no more legal questions. The guy in the White House is kind of a jerk. Are we fine with that? If not, then what?

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Before One Has Data

There was that Scandal in Bohemia and Sherlock Holmes did turn to Doctor Watson and say this – “It is a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Insensibly one begins to twist facts to suit theories, instead of theories to suit facts.”

In short, wait. Assume nothing. Watch. And then Holmes gets bested, by a woman. Irene Adler fools him. And he’s impressed. But that’s still good advice. Wait. Watch.

And no one could follow that advice on a curious Wednesday night in Washington, the night before Attorney General William Barr, brand new to the job, had promised to release the Mueller report to the public, or at least to Congress, the report on whether President Trump had been a bad boy. Of course he said he would redact any classified stuff, and the protected grand jury stuff, even if he could ask that those protections be lifted, and he’d redact stuff related to ongoing investigations, and of course anything that would embarrass anyone he thought shouldn’t be embarrassed. That last category was odd. Everyone expected about seventeen words – nothing at all – but this was his right. Robert Mueller was a special prosecutor, reporting to him, not an independent prosecutor, so he could withhold anything he wanted to withhold, and redact anything he wanted to redact, and show no one anything and tell the nation what he said that Mueller had said. And he had already done that two weeks earlier – Mueller had cleared Trump of absolutely everything and that was that. Mueller said nothing. He’s disappeared. But his people raised holy hell – that’s not what they had found and they had written their own summaries that Barr had blown off – so Barr said his initial summary shouldn’t be seen as a summary, even if he had called it a summary. He’d release the report. People would see what was what – don’t theorize before one has data – except most of the report would be blacked out.

That was the plan for Thursday morning, but things got weird on Wednesday evening. The New York Times had reported that Barr’s folks had spent two weeks telling Trump’s lawyers exactly what was in the report, so they could prepare detailed packages of clever rebuttals. Barr’s folks didn’t give them their own copies of the full report with no redactions – they’re not that dumb – but they helped out. And then President Trump mentioned, in passing, that Barr was going to hold a Thursday morning press briefing to explain the release of the Mueller report. That was news to Barr, so Barr scheduled that. There’d be a morning briefing. He’d explain everything. Mueller would not be there. Not one of Mueller’s staff could be there. He, William Barr, would explain everything. He’d say, once again, what was in the report – but no one in Congress or anyone else would see the report until late afternoon – just before Good Friday and the Easter weekend. If people were going to compare his assessment with what was in the report, heavily redacted as it was, and disagree with his assessment that Trump had done nothing wrong, ever, that would have to wait until the following Monday. It was a holiday weekend.

This was, of course, like Nixon and the Watergate tapes. President Nixon said he’d provide summaries of what was on those tapes, proving he had done nothing wrong. The Supreme Court – in a unanimous decision way back when – said that wouldn’t do. No summaries – no redactions – turn over the tapes. It was like old times. Democrats were outraged. Barr explains everything and they get their heavily redacted Mueller version of events many hours later, after everyone has left town, but it’s a capital mistake to theorize before one has data, and Barr knew better all along:

The Justice Department plans to release a lightly redacted version of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s 400-page report Thursday, offering a granular look at the ways in which President Trump was suspected of having obstructed justice, people familiar with the matter said.

The report – the general outlines of which the Justice Department has briefed the White House on – will reveal that Mueller decided he could not come to a conclusion on the question of obstruction because it was difficult to determine Trump’s intent and because some of his actions could be interpreted innocently, these people said. But it will offer a detailed blow-by-blow of the president’s alleged conduct – analyzing tweets, private threats and other episodes at the center of Mueller’s inquiry, they added.

That could be deadly, but it had to be done. Barr was looking like one more pathetic fool for Trump:

Thursday’s rollout plan – and news of the White House’s advance briefing, which was first reported by ABC News and the New York Times – sparked a political firestorm Wednesday, with Democrats suggesting the attorney general was trying to improperly color Mueller’s findings before the public could read them.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said at a news conference that Barr “appears to be waging a media campaign on behalf of President Trump” and had “taken unprecedented steps to spin Mueller’s nearly two-year investigation.”

He said after his committee had time to review the redacted report, he would ask Mueller and other members of his team to testify before Congress.

They want to know more:

While the report’s light redactions might allay some of their concerns, Democrats are likely to bristle at any material that is withheld. What the Justice Department and Trump’s lawyers might view as modest, lawmakers might see as overly aggressive. The redacted version of the report is expected to reveal extensive details about Trump’s actions in office that came under scrutiny, but it is unclear how much the public will learn about how the special counsel’s team investigated the Kremlin’s efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and Russian contacts with Trump associates.

And of course there’s this:

Barr also is likely to face scrutiny over the Justice Department’s talks with the White House – which could help Trump and his attorneys hone in advance their attacks on the report.

Rudolph W. Giuliani, one of Trump’s lawyers, has said he is preparing a counter-report to Mueller’s findings and in a recent interview said his document would explain from the president’s viewpoint every episode that could be considered obstructive. Giuliani and others have long feared Mueller’s findings on obstruction, viewing them as potentially more damaging than anything found on the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russians.

Rudy now has his detailed packages of clever rebuttals, thanks to Barr, who is now waiting for what comes next:

Barr has faced intense scrutiny from the public and lawmakers on Capitol Hill for his handling of Mueller’s report so far. The Thursday news conference could give him an opportunity to address his critics – and perhaps provide them fresh ammunition. It is sure to be watched closely by Trump, an avid TV viewer whose relationship with his attorney general will almost certainly be colored by Mueller’s findings and what Barr says about them.

But it’s a capital mistake to theorize before one has data – perhaps Barr is fair-minded and not Trump’s enforcer – but there’s more to this:

The Justice Department also revealed in a court filing Thursday in the criminal case against longtime Trump friend Roger Stone that it plans to let a “limited number” of lawmakers and their staff review Mueller’s report “without certain redactions, including removing the redaction of information related to the charges set forth in the indictment in this case.”

Roger Stone stands accused of working with Julian Assange and the Russians, on behalf of Donald Trump, to destroy Hillary Clinton and get Trump elected. Stone’s attorneys want to know what’s in that report. At least someone will know. A “limited number” of lawmakers will know too, although not one of them knew a thing about this until late Wednesday. But what does anyone know? It’s all theorizing before the facts, whatever they might be, if anyone will ever know, if anyone can ever know.

It’s probably best to plan some damage control. Politico’s Nancy Cook reports this:

When the Mueller report crashes into a Washington feverish with anticipation on Thursday, the White House hopes to show President Donald Trump busy doing his job – and far away from a phone-sized keyboard.

Trump typically spends the first half of his workday in the White House residence in “executive time” – making phone calls, reading news reports, keeping an eye on the TV and talking to top officials.

That’s exactly when the Department of Justice is expected to release special counsel Robert Mueller’s long-awaited report, and when the freewheeling tweeter-in-chief is likely to have the least amount of supervision.

So on Thursday, the president’s hands will not be idle: Trump and the first lady will host an event for wounded warriors before he meets with the secretary of state and then departs for a long Easter weekend at Mar-a-Lago, according to his public schedule and a Federal Aviation Administration notice.

The goal for Thursday is to use the bully pulpit of the White House to give the appearance of a president consumed by the demands of his office.

That seems a bit of a stretch after the last two years, but that’s the plan, for good reason:

“The White House’s intent is to brush this off and move on as quickly as possible,” said one Republican close to the White House. “That is the approach the White House counsel will want the president to take – though it is up the president to do it,” the same Republican added. A White House spokesman declined to comment.

Aside from the uncertainty of what will be disclosed in the report itself, there’s a second major wild card: Trump.

What could trigger the president is any hint in the Mueller report that one of his current and former aides, many of whom cooperated with the investigation at the direction of then-White House lawyer Ty Cobb, gave evidence or recounted conversations that somehow embarrasses Trump or his family members.

Keep him busy or he’ll be angry:

Mueller’s team talked to a raft of Trump aides including former chief of staff Reince Priebus, former senior strategist Steve Bannon, former top attorney Don McGahn, former attorney general Jeff Sessions and press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, among others. McGahn alone sat reportedly sat with the special investigators’ team for 30 hours of interviews.

“It is an important thing to the president that these people are not seen” in the report as attacking him personally, said the close White House adviser.

That’s trouble:

McGahn’s tenure in the White House ended in a deeply broken relationship between the White House counsel and the president. McGahn was frustrated by the frequency of president’s outbursts, causing him to nickname the commander-in-chief, “King Kong,” and Trump felt equally frustrated that the White House’s top attorney did not do more to shield him personally, or stop the special investigation.

Since McGahn left in October 2018, Trump has continued to complain about him with some frequency – fuming about the various ways he feels McGahn failed him, according to the close White House adviser.

But Bill Barr hasn’t failed him. Josh Marshall sums up the situation:

The fix is in. The goal here is to max out every avenue to protect the President from the contents of the Report. Bill Barr and his friends at the White House clearly do not care what anyone outside of Trump world thinks at this point. They are not even bothering to keep up appearances at the margins. A good and increasingly relevant question for Bill Barr at this point would be at what point the statutory powers of the Attorney General can amount to obstruction of justice if exercised with corrupt intent.

Yes, Barr is obstructing justice:

Barr and his lieutenants at the DOJ have repeatedly briefed the President’s lawyers about the contents of the Mueller Report. So the President and those working for him have gotten a privileged advanced look at the results of the investigation into the President himself – ahead of Congress and ahead of the public. Indeed, it appears that the President and his lawyers have gotten more of a look at the Report than the Attorney General ever intends to give to Congress or the public.

This raises a related and critical point. Barr and his lieutenants have been briefing the White House about the contents of the Report and discussing its contents while the process of redaction is underway. Even if we posit the hypothetical that Barr didn’t consciously want to give the President and his lawyers a voice in the redaction process, it’s basically impossible for one conversation not to infect or influence the other.

This is a bedrock assumption in every regulation or administrative guideline addressed to conflicts of interest. The dialog between the DOJ and the President’s lawyers is explicitly about rebutting or defending allegations or asserted facts in the report. Having one side of that discussion in charge of deciding what gets hidden from the public and what doesn’t fatally delegitimizes the redaction process. Of course, there’s little reason to believe giving the White House such a voice wasn’t a planned and explicit part of those discussions.

And there’s this to consider:

Barr had basically no role in the probe. He took over at DOJ when it was substantively finished. He is on record as arguing that both components of the probe – the 2016 election and obstruction of justice – were essentially baseless and illegitimate. He has no reasonable basis to be the person who describes the findings of the report. Very clearly, he’s there to spin the report in the President’s favor.

A few days after what was actually the Second Barr Letter (the exoneration letter), Barr justified that letter by telling Chairman Nadler that he did “not believe it would be in the public’s interest for me to attempt to summarize the full report.” Now he’s decided it actually would be in the public’s interest to summarize the report. Things change.

As I said, there’s little attempt here even to keep up appearances…

Every detail of this has been planned to spin the Report or maximally conceal it in the interests of protecting the President.

None of this is on the level.

But it’s a capital mistake to theorize before one has data. Barr might not be a pathetic Trump tool. Wait. Watch. Yeah, right.

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The End of Continuity

Out here in Hollywood the script supervisor is really the continuity supervisor, the member of the film crew who oversees the continuity of wardrobe and props and set dressing, and hair and makeup too. It can take several days to film a particular scene. The evil businessman has to wear the same necktie the whole time. The same stuff has to be on the table in the same place. Someone has to make sure nothing ruins the illusion that all of this is its own solid reality. No cowboy fires seven shots from his six-shooter. Continuity is everything. Continuity is reality, and in real life continuity assures sanity.

That’s understandable. That mountain out back is still out back, and the ocean is always where it’s supposed to be, as are London and Paris. There’s no conspiracy of cartographers. London and Paris are there. And so are Big Ben and Notre Dame. When they disappear madness follows, but they won’t disappear.

This was the day for madness:

Notre-Dame cathedral, the symbol of the beauty and history of Paris, was scarred by an extensive fire on Monday evening that caused its delicate spire to collapse, bruised the Parisian skies with smoke and further disheartened a city already back on its heels after weeks of violent protests.

The spectacle of flames leaping from the cathedral’s wooden roof – its spire glowing red then turning into a virtual cinder – stunned thousands of onlookers who gathered along the banks of the Seine and packed into the plaza of the nearby Hôtel de Ville, gasping and covering their mouths in horror and wiping away tears.

In the fog, at the airport in Casablanca – actually a soundstage in Burbank – Rick assures Ilsa that they’ll always have Paris. Hemingway said that if you are lucky enough to have lived in Paris as a young man, then wherever you go for the rest of your life, it stays with you. But it won’t be the same:

Around 500 firefighters battled the blaze for nearly five hours. By 11 p.m. Paris time, the structure had been “saved and preserved as a whole,” the fire chief, Jean-Claude Gallet, said. The two magnificent towers soaring above the skyline had been spared, he said, but two-thirds of the roof was destroyed.

“The worst has been avoided even though the battle is not completely won,” President Emmanuel Macron said in a brief and solemn speech at Notre-Dame on Monday night, vowing that the cathedral would be rebuilt.

“This is the place where we have lived all of our great moments, the epicenter of our lives,” he said. “It is the cathedral of all the French.”

But it won’t be the same:

A jewel of medieval Gothic architecture built in the 12th and 13th centuries, Notre-Dame is a landmark not only for Paris, where it squats firmly yet gracefully at its very center, but for all the world. The cathedral is visited by about 30,000 people a day and around 13 million people a year.

For centuries France’s kings and queens were married and buried there. Napoleon was crowned emperor in Notre-Dame in 1804, and the joyous thanksgiving ceremony after the Liberation of Paris in 1944 took place there, led by Charles de Gaulle.

But it needed work:

The cathedral had been undergoing extensive renovation work. Last week, 16 copper statues representing the Twelve Apostles and four evangelists were lifted with a crane so that the spire could be renovated.

The cathedral had been in dire need of a thorough and expensive restoration, André Finot, the cathedral spokesman, told The New York Times in 2017.

Broken gargoyles and fallen balustrades had been replaced by plastic pipes and wooden planks. Flying buttresses had been darkened by pollution and eroded by rainwater. Pinnacles had been propped up by beams and held together with straps. In some places, limestone crumbled at a finger’s touch.

And it seems some workman got careless with a torch or something. No terrorist group of any kind is claiming responsibility for this. These things happen, but Martin Longman argues the real tragedy here is the end to a kind of continuity:

 Consider the dedication and persistence that was required to carry out a major urban project across the administration of four kings, two of whom reined for over forty years. Our longest-serving leader, Franklin Delano Roosevelt, served for twelve years. Try to imagine us celebrating the completion of a building that had been started in 1800 and you’ll begin to get an idea of the scope of the thing.

It takes a sustained period of relative cultural and societal stability and security to achieve something like that, and then there is the additional six hundred years after completion that the French have managed to sustain and periodically update the structure.

It takes cultural and institutional continuity to achieve that. And now it’s gone – it’s just a shell. And it’s not just Catholics or the French who suddenly feel unmoored. Notre-Dame was always going to be there. Paris was always going to be there, and not some rebuilt replica. Like that mountain out back, some things are just supposed to be there. And then they’re not there anymore.

For some, this fire was the final straw, and that had nothing to do with Paris. This fire was oddly symbolic. Everything that is solid and real – or seemed to be solid and real – is burning down. Paris won’t be Paris any longer, and of course America can never be America again, not after Donald Trump. He burned down the presidency. He made it into something else:

President Trump escalated his attacks on a Muslim member of Congress and “Radical Left Democrats” on Monday ahead of a reelection campaign that is quickly taking shape around divisive messages centered on immigration and patriotism.

Speaking Monday at an event billed as a tax and economy roundtable, Trump told a suburban Minneapolis audience “how unfairly you’ve been treated as a state” when it comes to immigration, and he rattled off a litany of grudges against the current system: The loopholes are “horrible and foolish,” the visa lottery is “insane,” and the concept of asylum is “ridiculous.”

He’s the president who sneers and rants at whatever seems to rile up anyone listening. He opposes the whole concept of asylum, in spite of laws and treaties and obligations, or because of laws and treaties and obligations, or just out of spite:

“People come in, they read a line from a lawyer that a lawyer hands them out online,” Trump said at the event as he mimicked an asylum seeker reading from a piece of paper. “It’s a big con job. That’s what it is.”

Those sneaky (brown) people have to be kept out, but this change is American thinking goes back to August 2017:

White House senior policy adviser Stephen Miller brushed aside a reference to the famous poem inscribed on the Statue of Liberty at Wednesday’s White House press briefing, noting that it was added after the monument was erected in the US.

As part of a question about President Donald Trump’s support for a new skills-based immigration proposal, CNN’s Jim Acosta invoked Emma Lazarus’s poetic words.

“The Statue of Liberty says, ‘Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free.’ It doesn’t say anything about speaking English or being a computer programmer,” Acosta said. “Aren’t you trying to change what it means to be an immigrant coming into this country if you’re telling them that you have to speak English?”


“I don’t want to get off into a whole thing about history here, but the Statue of Liberty is a symbol of American liberty lighting the world. The poem that you’re referring to was added later (and) is not actually part of the original Statue of Liberty.”

That’s technically true, but so what? Miller writes all of Trump’s speeches now, and he sets all specific immigration policy for Trump, who is more of a “big ideas” guy, and meanwhile, in suburban Minneapolis:

The afternoon remarks came hours after he took a direct shot at one of the state’s members of Congress, Rep. Ilhan Omar (D) – whom Trump called “out of control” – as Omar continued to come under criticism for comments that critics view as dismissive of the tragedy of the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks.

He was having fun, but maybe too much fun:

While the broader GOP apparatus is attempting to focus on the economy, the campaigner in chief is seizing on more confrontational messages that may appeal to the base but potentially turn off swing voters.

“If they’re focused on expanding his popularity and the party’s popularity, they should be talking about the economy, and they should be talking about tax cuts,” said Tony Fratto, a former White House and Treasury Department spokesman during the George W. Bush administration. “Every time they choose to double down and talk about immigration, they lose an opportunity.”

But the man is who he is:

“American Workers Are Thriving Thanks To President Donald J. Trump’s Middle Class Tax Cuts,” the White House said in a news release Monday morning. That statement came about 30 minutes after another release titled “Secretary Mnuchin: ‘The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act Is Working,’ which linked to a CNN opinion piece by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

Meanwhile, officials at the National Republican Senatorial Committee released a colorful video set to peppy music that touted the benefits of the GOP tax law, while the group’s chairman, Sen. Todd C. Young (R-Ind.), co-wrote an op-ed that celebrated “higher wages, record economic optimism, record low unemployment” thanks to Republican policies.

Trump, on the other hand, fired off several morning tweets that veered far off topic.

He began his day with a 6:29 a.m. tweet advising Boeing to “REBRAND” its troubled 737 Max planes, then followed that with a stream of tweets that included attacks on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), a demand for Congress to return to Washington to “FIX THE IMMIGRATION LAWS!” and a call to “INVESTIGATE THE INVESTIGATORS!” behind special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report.

In one tweet, Trump accused Omar of making “anti-Semitic, anti-Israel and ungrateful U.S. HATE statements.” In another, he complained: “The Radical Left Democrats will never be satisfied with anything we give them. They will always Resist and Obstruct!”

Republicans need a continuity supervisor, but they will follow their leader:

Republicans rationalized Trump’s use of 9/11 imagery by saying that Omar’s remarks from a March speech  in which she emphasized the discrimination that Muslims in the United States faced after the 2001 attacks, when “some people did something” – were deeply offensive. On Friday, Trump had tweeted a video that included footage of the burning twin towers on Sept. 11, 2001, mixed with clips from Omar’s speech before the Council on American-Islamic Relations – which triggered an outcry from Democrats that he was politicizing the terrorist attacks.

But she’s a Muslim! She brought down those towers! She beheads journalists! She beheaded Daniel Pearl!

Yeah, well, whatever:

Trump’s inability to focus on a single message – last year during a tax event, he threw his prepared remarks in the air, calling them “boring” – is a key reason some of his accomplishments haven’t gained traction with the public, said Chris Whipple, author of “The Gatekeepers,” a history of White House chiefs of staff.

“He can’t even focus on the few things that he’s accomplished,” Whipple said. “He goes for the jugular. He throws raw meat to the base. That’s his comfort zone. It’s not talking about accomplishments.”

He has burned down the presidency, and earlier, Greg Sargent got specific:

On Monday, President Trump is set to travel to Minnesota for an economic roundtable that will take place just outside the congressional district of Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar. This comes after Trump tweeted out a video that wrenches some recent Omar remarks out of context to portray her as trivializing 9/11.

The New York Times reports that the decision to hold the event near Omar’s district is a “calculated choice,” one that’s part of a broader effort to elevate Omar into the “most prominent voice of the Democratic Party.” The Times adds that Trump and his team see “limited downside” to this strategy.

Limited downside? Omar just released a statement claiming: “Since the president’s tweet Friday evening, I have experienced an increase in direct threats on my life – many directly referencing or replying to the president’s video.”

And that’s the problem here:

One cannot conclusively establish one way or the other whether Trump actively wants to see physical harm befall Omar. But here’s what we can say right now: Trump’s attacks absolutely are designed to incite hatred of Muslims, and the fact that this could have horrifying consequences does not weigh on him in the slightest.

We know these things, because Trump’s monumentally dishonest treatment of Omar’s quote as well as his own long history leave no doubt about them. Trump has used 9/11 to stir up hatred of Muslims before – relying on massively deceptive agitprop to do so – and he has repeatedly continued trafficking in various tropes even after they have been confirmed to potentially play some kind of role in inciting hate and even murder.

And this was nonsense anyway:

The offending quote from Omar, as represented in the video that Trump tweeted, reads: “CAIR was founded after 9/11, because they recognized that some people did something.” The video then segues to footage of the attacks, interspersed with repetition of the phrase, “some people did something.”

The full context shows Omar to be talking at length about the discrimination and loss of civil liberties suffered by U.S. Muslims in the wake of 9/11. The phrase “some people did something” is an aside. The obvious intent is to isolate the act of 9/11, its perpetrators and their ideology, and separate them from the enormous majority of U.S. Muslims.

Thus, even if you think the isolated phrase was not commensurate in tone with the gravity of 9/11, the overall thrust of the construction is inarguable. The point was that U.S. Muslims should adamantly not accept efforts to tar them by association with 9/’11 – which itself is inherent condemnation of the attacks – and that they should be vocal in asserting their right not to suffer that association.

Omar is urging American Muslims to be citizens, that is, to be politically active in resisting discrimination and in defense of their rights as Americans.

And that, Sargent argues, is what really bothers Trump:

One of Trump’s foundational agenda items was the vow to ban Muslims from entering the United States until we “can figure out what is going on.” We forget about the other part of his statement that day: He also claimed Muslims harbor “great hatred towards Americans.” Perhaps the highest-profile way he illustrated this supposed hatred was with a lie: the claim that “thousands and thousands” of U.S. Muslims celebrated 9/11.

Thus, we know Trump uses lies about 9/11 to incite hate against Muslims, because he has done it before.

We also know Trump continues using language even after it is shown to incite hate and violence. The man who allegedly gunned down 11 people in a Pittsburgh synagogue did so after ranting that Jews “bring in invaders” – refugees – who “kill our people.” After that happened, Trump publicly lent support to the conspiracy theory that George Soros was funding the migrant caravans. He has described them as invaders many times since.

And there’s this:

After we learned that the man who allegedly murdered dozens of people in New Zealand mosques used that same word – “invaders” – Trump insisted that “illegal aliens” constitute an “invasion.” And that’s not all: There are zero grounds for believing that Trump was troubled by the alleged shooter’s declaration that he sees Trump “as a symbol of renewed white identity and common purpose.” When acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was asked what Trump thinks of this, Mulvaney brushed off the question, as if it wasn’t worth answering.

It’s worth answering:

We don’t know whether Trump actively wants to see harm befall Omar – he probably does not. But we do know that the possibility that his attacks on her, and their hateful and dishonest content, might make that more likely does not trouble him sufficiently to dissuade him from them.

He has burned down the presidency, although Michael Gerson puts that this way:

So another norm of public decency falls, like a historical building demolished to make way for one of Donald Trump’s tasteless towers.

When the president of the United States goes after an American Muslim – in this case Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), who came to the United States as a Somali refugee – using images of the 9/11 attacks, it is cruel, frightening and dangerous in new ways.

It is cruel because Trump essentially delivered his political rant while standing on desecrated graves. The images he employed not only included burning buildings but burning human beings, drafted into a sad and sordid political ploy. Is nothing sacred to Trump? When said aloud, the question sounds like an absurdity. Trump has never given the slightest indication of propriety, respect or reverence. His narcissism leaves no room to honor other people or to honor other gods. Both the living and the dead matter only as servants to the cause of Trump….

But it’s worse than that:

By all the evidence, Trump is an anti-Muslim bigot. At one campaign event in 2015, a member of the audience stated, “We have a problem in this country, it’s called Muslims.” And he went on to ask, “When can we get rid of them?” Trump responded: “We’re going to be looking at that and plenty of other things.”

Imagine a normal politician on the left or right being asked about the possibility of getting rid of all the Christians, or getting rid of all the Jews. They would likely use such a moment to clarify that they aren’t, in fact, insanely prejudiced monsters. Trump used such a moment to affirm the instinct of mass deportation and to promise a range of other anti-Muslim actions.

None of this requires us to believe that Omar is a wise or thoughtful public figure. She isn’t. She traffics in the worst anti-Semitic tropes. But Trump’s perception of religious liberty as freedom only for the faiths he prefers is a potential threat to every religious group.

What if some future leader views Mormonism as incompatible with American democracy, or evangelical Protestantism? By what principle would Trump supporters be able to criticize discrimination against such groups?

So this is quite simple:

Religious freedom is either rigorously equal, or it becomes an instrument of those in power to favor or disfavor religions of their choice. And those believers who are currently in favor may someday discover what disfavor is like.

They also will have discovered that the American presidency is now just an empty shell of the amazing edifice it used to be – kind of like Notre-Dame. Both can be rebuilt, but they’ll never be the same. There will be no continuity now, just madness.

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America’s Mayor 2.0

Rudy Giuliani was “America’s Mayor” after 9/11 – he rode that national tragedy to fame and fortune – before everyone noticed that he’d screwed up a lot in his city’s response to it all. But that came later. He was named Time Magazine Person of the Year in 2001 and then ran for president in 2008 – and bombed. Joe Biden killed his candidacy with a single quip – “There’s only three things he mentions in a sentence, a noun, a verb, and 9/11.” And that was that. Rudy had nothing else to offer. He was pro-choice, supported same-sex civil unions, and embryonic stem cell research. He stuck with that, saying it is better to make abortion rare and increase the number of adoptions rather than to criminalize it. He was also known for dressing in drag – here he is almost twenty years ago dressed as a woman flirting with a much younger Donald Trump – who tries to feel him (her) up. One of his advisors thought that would get Giuliani the gay vote. Rudy played along. So did Trump.

There’s not much more to say. When Giuliani took office he appointed a new police commissioner, William Bratton, who applied the broken windows theory of urban decay, the idea that minor disorders and violations create a permissive atmosphere that leads to further and more serious crimes – so the police should enforce minor “quality-of-life” laws – public drinking, littering, and jay-walking. That seemed to work, and then it seemed it was all racial profiling and quite illegal. And it didn’t really work. Then there was Bernard Kerik, who started out as an NYPD detective driving for Giuliani’s campaign – his personal driver. Giuliani appointed him as the Commissioner of the Department of Correction and then as the Police Commissioner. George W. Bush appointed Kerik as the interior minister of the Iraqi Coalition Provisional Authority. In 2004, Bush nominated Kerik to be the head of the Department of Homeland Security. And then Kerik withdrew his candidacy. Something was up. Kerik eventually pleaded guilty in 2009, in a New York district court, to eight federal charges, including tax fraud, and on February 18, 2010, he was sentenced to four years in federal prison. After that, no one listened to “America’s Mayor” anymore.

That’s not quite true. Donald Trump hired him to go on national television and explain that Donald Trump had done nothing wrong, and what seemed like crimes were not really crimes, or if they were they didn’t matter much, and that Robert Mueller was a fool and possibly a traitor, leading a coup against the duly-elected president, Donald Trump. So everyone had to listen to “America’s Mayor” again. But no one took him seriously, not even Donald Trump. Giuliani was useful. He kept everyone confused. That’s still his job.

The job of “America’s Mayor” fell vacant. Maybe there can be no such thing. Mayors are local, specific to a time and place, not national figures. The job is locally specific too. Fill the potholes. There’s no way to scale-up that job. But that may not be true. Rudy Giuliani could do that. The new guy may pull that off. Robert Costa reports this from South Bend:

Pete Buttigieg, the 37-year-old mayor of this northern Indiana city who in just weeks has vaulted from being a near-unknown to a breakout star in the Democratic Party, officially started his presidential bid here on Sunday, presenting himself as a transformational figure who is well positioned to beat President Trump, despite being young and facing off against many seasoned rivals.

“I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern, millennial mayor, but we live in a moment that compels us each to act,” Buttigieg said in front of thousands of supporters, jacket-free with his sleeves rolled up. “It calls for a new generation of leadership.”

Buttigieg added, “It’s time to walk away from the politics of the past and toward something totally different.”

He wants to be America’s mayor, but the one who doesn’t lie about what’s what:

The scene for Buttigieg’s rally was a hulking former Studebaker assembly plant, whose closure decades ago rocked this region’s economy. The site has since become a data and education hub pushed by his administration – and central to his technocratic, hopeful pitch that he is ready to help communities still struggling with the effects of globalization.

“Change is coming, ready or not,” Buttigieg told the crowd. “There is a myth being sold to industrial and rural communities: the myth that we can stop the clock and turn it back,” and he touted his attempts in the city to assist the workforce with training and skills programs.

No one is going to be making Studebakers ever again – the old Ford Model-T assembly plant in Los Angeles is now a tech center too – and mining coal by hand is not America’s future either – and Donald Trump is not going to bring back the steel industry either. The world has moved on, and in more ways than one:

Some attendees drove from around the country after being inspired by Buttigieg’s message and the historic nature of his campaign as a gay presidential candidate.

For Buttigieg, Sunday’s upbeat gathering on a dreary, snowy mid-April afternoon was an important political juncture: a reintroduction to a party that has only begun to pay attention to this mayor with a hard-to-pronounce name, but is now certainly listening closely as it searches for a standard-bearer.

Yeah, he’s gay, but no one cares:

As rain fell on this city of roughly 100,000 on Sunday morning, thousands lined up under umbrellas and bundled up in jackets, waiting to enter the facility, holding homemade signs and carrying coffee cups and copies of his book, “Shortest Way Home.”

One of them was Ashley Pawlowski, 34, a self-described independent from South Bend who works at a local nonprofit. “The South Bend we all grew up in was very different. He changed this city and brought a new attitude,” she said. “He’s got this ability to help people deep down in his bones.”

And he’s not Trump:

Buttigieg has worked to rub off the heavy sheen of implausibility from his upstart candidacy, insisting that being a two-term mayor of a city in the middle of the country gives him more governing experience than Trump and that he is the face of a new generation that wants to bypass the partisanship and rancor that has gripped Trump’s Washington.

“My face is my message,” Buttigieg often tells voters on the campaign trail, a catchall way of referring to a calm persona that has drawn comparisons to President Barack Obama and to his own political profile: a gay Midwestern mayor, a retired Navy officer who served in Afghanistan and a Rhodes scholar who, if elected, would be the youngest president in U.S. history.

One can hear Trump’s initial attack. Yeah, but is he rich? And this mayor does have baggage:

In recent days, Buttigieg’s record in South Bend has come under scrutiny. His administration’s efforts to knock down blighted houses in the city have been criticized by some Democrats as a policy that was overly aggressive in revamping lower-income areas that are home to many minority voters. South Bend also continues to grapple with a quarter of the city hovering on the poverty line.

Buttigieg’s record on race has drawn criticism from Democrats as well, particularly his demotion of South Bend’s first black police chief, Darryl Boykins, in 2012. Buttigieg has cited a federal investigation of Boykins as his rationale for the ouster, but Boykins went on to sue the city for racial discrimination.

But he can work with that:

Buttigieg’s campaign is aware of the growing spotlight on his mayoral decisions and is determined to showcase his record and make the case that running a city like South Bend enables him to understand vexing national issues from a ground-level perspective. Sunday’s rally featured introductory speeches from mayors from other states who have become allies, following Buttigieg’s work in mayoral groups and his unsuccessful run for Democratic National Committee chairman in 2016.

“The horror show in Washington is mesmerizing. It’s all-consuming. But starting today, we’re going to change the channel,” Buttigieg said.

So bring it on:

On Sunday, he spoke out against the rise of white nationalism, voter disenfranchisement, gerrymandering and the influence of corporate money in campaigns.

“Sometimes a dark moment brings out the best in us,” Buttigieg said.

Buttigieg may mean something quite specific by that. That’s what the New York Times’ Alexander Burns explains here:

The question was simple enough, but Senator John Edwards squirmed painfully. For 49 long seconds, the North Carolina Democrat, a masterful courtroom orator, sputtered before a crowd at Harvard, unable to settle on a favorite movie.

Taunted by the MSNBC anchor Chris Matthews, who accused him of scrambling political calculations in his head, Mr. Edwards eventually supplied a thoroughly inoffensive answer: “The Shawshank Redemption.”

Pete Buttigieg watched in horror.

Two weeks later, in October 2003, Mr. Buttigieg vented his dismay in The Harvard Crimson. Contrasting Mr. Edwards’s hollow presentation with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s brazen campaign for governor of California, Mr. Buttigieg wrote that Republicans had cornered the market on political swagger.

“Across the aisle,” Mr. Buttigieg lamented, “members of a Democratic Party, aghast at the hypocrisy of their counterparts’ personalities, seem themselves reluctant to demonstrate any personality at all.”

So he’s now doing something about that:

Sixteen years later, that observation informs Mr. Buttigieg’s underdog campaign for the White House, an enterprise driven powerfully by personality. Other candidates have anchored their candidacies in ideological or social causes, like Senator Elizabeth Warren’s opposition to corporate power or Senator Cory Booker’s concern for racial justice.

Mr. Buttigieg’s distinctive political passion appears to be storytelling, wrapping conventional liberalism in an earnest, youthful persona that Democrats might see as capable of winning over the middle of the country.

So he’s a storyteller, telling the other story of America, not Trump’s:

Dan Glickman, a former secretary of agriculture in the Clinton administration who knew Mr. Buttigieg at Harvard, said he saw him as a “tonal” moderate with a “calm, sensible demeanor.”

“He’s got this way of articulating a vision, which is progressive but not off-putting,” said Mr. Glickman, 74, who led Harvard’s Institute of Politics at the time.

This may be a matter of who tells the best tall tales:

As a student, Mr. Buttigieg, now 37 and the mayor of South Bend, Ind., habitually discussed Democrats’ challenges in terms of language and argument, rather than policy or ideology. Mr. Buttigieg urged liberals in his student columns to speak in terms of “effective political values,” and he recalled corresponding in college with the University of California, Berkeley, linguist George Lakoff, who in 2004 published a best seller about political communication…

In an interview, Mr. Buttigieg said his college writings were no longer fresh in his mind. But then, as now, he acknowledged, he was focused on the interaction of “narrative and politics,” and how parties connect with people beyond policy decrees.

“The story that we tell, not just about government but about ourselves, and the story we tell people about themselves and how they fit in, really grounds our politics,” Mr. Buttigieg said.

And that’s why John Kerry was never president:

Mr. Buttigieg said in the interview that Democrats in 2004 faced a “crisis of authenticity,” with too many “pretending to be more hawkish than their consciences were.”

He channeled that frustration at the time into columns that ripple with disappointment about the “spineless Democratic Party.” Mr. Buttigieg wrote in passing about policies he found intriguing, like enacting single-payer health care and eliminating oil as a fuel source. But campaigns hinged on wider themes, he wrote: “Americans need a narrative.”

And now they have this one:

Despite lacking traditional qualifications for the presidency and declining, so far, to detail a distinctive policy agenda, Mr. Buttigieg has risen to the middle of the Democratic field in polling numbers and fund-raising.

Propelling Mr. Buttigieg is an anxiety-free persona of the kind he once identified as lacking in Mr. Edwards. He has presented himself as a cerebral type of Jimmy Stewart character, plain-spoken in manner but boasting degrees from Harvard and Oxford, discoursing happily about James Joyce and flaunting his proficiency in Norwegian.

Mr. Buttigieg often appears beside his husband, Chasten Buttigieg, a teacher and emerging social-media star. Both men speak with unselfconscious pride about their marriage, and they display public affection of a kind never seen before in a presidential campaign.

And they’re good people. And they’re not going to hurt you. They might even help. And they won’t bore you:

Liberals’ conviction that their defeats stemmed from failing to communicate made a 2004 tome about political argument, Mr. Lakoff’s “Don’t Think of an Elephant,” into an influential commercial success. Mr. Buttigieg confirmed through a spokeswoman that he had read the book, and said he corresponded as a student with Mr. Lakoff but doubted the linguist would remember.

Mr. Lakoff said in an interview that he did not recall interacting with Mr. Buttigieg, but praised him as a communicator with a gift for breaking down ideas for voters.

“He knows how to talk plainly,” Mr. Lakoff said. “Usually, Democrats are saying: What are your ten most important policy areas? And he doesn’t do that.”

And the usual Democrats are outraged:

In the left-wing magazine Current Affairs, the editor Nathan J. Robinson ridiculed Mr. Buttigieg as a clever political marketer without ideas or a record undergirding his ambition.

“He’s from the Rust Belt so he’s authentic, but he went to Harvard so he’s not a rube, but he’s from a small city so he’s relatable, but he’s gay so he’s got coastal appeal, but he’s a veteran so his sexuality won’t alienate rural people,” Mr. Robinson wrote. “This is literally the level of political thinking that is involved in the hype around Buttigieg.”

Buttigieg tells these people to calm down:

Mr. Buttigieg said he would outline more proposals with time. But he rejected the idea that the Democratic race might hinge on “who has the most elegant policy design.” Because a president cannot execute his plans freely in office, Mr. Buttigieg argued, it would be “inauthentic” to make too many detailed promises.

“I actually think I’ve been plenty specific; it’s just that we don’t lead with it,” Mr. Buttigieg said. “I don’t want to drown people in minutiae.”

Hillary Clinton did, and maybe that was the problem:

In 2004, he co-wrote a New York Times column describing research into the platforms of political parties, concluding that winning parties tended to have shorter platforms. And in his final column in his college newspaper, Mr. Buttigieg urged Democrats to focus chiefly on reclaiming terms like “morality” and “compassion” from the right.

In short, Democrats should tell a better story. So he made his announcement:

Buttigieg said he was running “to tell a different story than Make America Great Again.” Because there’s a myth being sold, the myth that we can stop the clock and turn it back.

“The problem is that they’re telling us to look for greatness in all the wrong places. As South Bend has shown, there is no such thing as an honest politics that revolves around the word “again.” It is time to walk away from the politics of the past and towards something totally different.”

“They call me Mayor Pete. I’m a proud son of South Bend, Indiana, and I am running for president of the United States.”

And he’s running for Mayor of America:

Saying he was part of the first generation to grow up with school shootings and to expect to live with the fallout from climate change – “Climate security” is “a life-and-death issue for our generation” he said – Buttigieg outlined a campaign he said would spotlight the themes of freedom, security and democracy.

“I recognize the audacity of doing this as a Midwestern millennial mayor,” he said. “More than a little bold… but we live in a moment that compels us each to act. The forces changing our country today are tectonic.”

“This time, it’s not just about winning an election. It’s about winning an era. It’s not just about the next four years; it’s about preparing our country for a better life in 2030, in 2040, and in 2054 when, God willing, I get to be the same age as our current president.”

That’s the story. And now think of the character Alex P. Keaton – the Young Republican with the hippie parent as played by Michael J. Fox on the television show Family Ties – and then read Olivia Nuzzi:

Sick of old people? He looks like Alex P. Keaton. Scared of young people? He looks like Alex P. Keaton. Religious? He’s a Christian. Atheist? He’s not weird about it. Wary of Washington? He’s from flyover country. Horrified by flyover country? He has degrees from Harvard and Oxford. Make the President Read Again? He learned Norwegian to read Erlend Loe. Traditional? He’s married. Woke? He’s gay. Way behind the rest of the country on that? He’s not too gay. Worried about socialism? He’s a technocratic capitalist. Worried about technocratic capitalists? He’s got a whole theory about how our system of “democratic capitalism” has to be a whole lot more “democratic.”

If you squint hard enough to not see color, some people say, you can almost see Obama the inspiring professor. Oh, and he’s the son of an immigrant, a Navy vet, speaks seven foreign languages (in addition to Norwegian, Arabic, Spanish, Maltese, Dari, French, and Italian), owns two rescue dogs, and plays the goddamn piano. He’s actually terrifying.

What mother wouldn’t love this guy?

And out here in Hollywood there’s TMZ:

The mayor of South Bend, IN, who’s expected to officially announce his candidacy Sunday, stopped by our office and downloaded us on his favorite music. Seems he’s got a thing for jam bands because he told us the Dave Matthews Band and Phish were his faves during high school and at Harvard.

He also told us his pops got him hooked on Creedence Clearwater Revival, and he’s been revisiting those tunes lately. Now, we knew he played guitar growing up… so we kinda put him on the spot by handing him a Gibson Les Paul.

Mayor Pete didn’t disappoint as he started riffin’ “Hey Joe” by Hendrix!

Seriously – politics aside, for just a moment – it would be pretty cool to have a President who can play Hendrix, right?

Rudy Giuliani couldn’t do that, and Jimi Hendrix is far too black for Donald Trump, and Trump wasn’t at Woodstock in August 1969 to hear Hendrix reinterpret the Star Spangled Banner – but Mayor Pete can play Hendrix. And he’ll tell a different story. He’s America’s Mayor after all, isn’t he?

He is now.

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America the Merciless

Things are always a bit strange in Texas. Those folks don’t give a good God-damned about what any of the rest of us think. And things are big in Texas. Everything is big in Texas. And religion is big in Texas too. They’re all-in down there. There are no half-measures in Christianity. The Washington Post’s Isaac Stanley-Becker reports on the latest full measure for Jesus:

Men and women, young and old, native Texans and immigrants, they rose to ask lawmakers to protect life, describing a “genocide” and foreseeing the arrival of “God’s wrath.”

The act of public atonement they are seeking is passage of a bill that would criminalize abortion without exception, and make it possible to convict women who undergo the procedure of homicide, which can carry the death penalty in Texas. Though it faces steep odds of becoming law, the measure earned a hearing this week amid a larger legislative push in GOP-controlled states to curtail abortion rights, in a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.

The legislation is the brainchild of state Rep. Tony Tinderholt, a Republican from Arlington, Tex., who was placed under state protection because of death threats he received when he first introduced the bill in 2017. The Air Force veteran, who has been married five times, argues that the measure is necessary to make women “more personally responsible.” He said Tuesday that his intention is to guarantee “equal protection” for life inside and “outside the womb.”

No one can fault his logic. This is just a series of if-then arguments. If abortion is murder then this is necessary and just. Execute the murderers, the women who chose to murder another person. They made that choice. But that leads to other troublesome if-then arguments. If there is no statute of limitations on murder – there never is, anywhere – this would mean the execution of tens of millions of American women. They committed murder last year, or ten years ago, or decades ago. And there are millions and millions of them. Follow the logic. Should they all be executed? Is it time to do this, for Jesus?

This may be the time:

That the Texas bill is a clear violation of the 1973 landmark Roe decision appears to be precisely the point for those who asked lawmakers to advance it out of committee. The measure directs authorities to enforce its requirements “regardless of any contrary federal law, executive order, or court decision.” In testimony, proponents hailed President Trump as a champion of the “unborn” and beseeched state lawmakers to do their part in giving him a “chance” to help advance their agenda before a Supreme Court whose makeup he has shifted to the right.

And after all, the powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people:

“Roe v. Wade is unconstitutional,” said Jim Baxa, president of West Texans for Life. “And the 10th Amendment puts it to you all to stand up to that tyranny and do what’s right.”

Baxa said the bill was his organization’s “number one priority” because it was the first to treat abortion fully as a capital felony, giving those who claim to “believe abortion is murder” a chance to “prove that.”

“A woman who has committed murder should be charged with murder,” he affirmed.

And that’s that, but there are places other than Texas. Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern tells of one:

Niki Quasney was dying of ovarian cancer when she sued Indiana to recognize her marriage. Quasney and her wife, Amy Sandler, had two young children and obtained a Massachusetts marriage license in 2013. If Indiana refused to acknowledge their marriage, Sandler would have a limited ability to make medical decisions for her wife or obtain survivors’ benefits after she died. Quasney’s death certificate would list her as single.

On April 10, 2014, a federal judge ordered Indiana to recognize Quasney and Sandler’s marriage – a decision that Gov. Mike Pence’s administration promptly appealed, with the governor’s enthusiastic support. The state, however, failed to invalidate their Indiana marriage license, and Quasney died less than a year later.

Despite Pence’s best efforts, her death certificate listed her as married.

Pence did his best to be severely and mercilessly Christian, almost Texan, but he lost, and now he’s losing again:

This story and others like it lie in the background of the emerging narrative regarding Pence’s “feud” with South Bend mayor and 2020 Democratic hopeful Pete Buttigieg. On the campaign trail, Buttigieg has denounced the vice president’s anti-gay policies; in response, Pence and his wife, Karen, have expressed surprise given Pence and Buttigieg’s cordial professional relationship.

Pence was always nice to that young man, and that young man was nice right back, but he is gay, with a husband, and now saying things like this:

People talk about things like marriage equality as a moral issue, and it is certainly a moral issue as far as I’m concerned. It’s a moral issue because being married to Chasten has made me a better human being – because it has made me more compassionate, more understanding, more self-aware, and more decent. My marriage to Chasten has made me a better man and yes, Mr. Vice President, it has moved me closer to God. …

If my being gay was a choice, it was a choice that was made far, far above my pay grade. And that’s the thing I wish the Mike Pences of the world would understand: that if you’ve got a problem with who I am, your problem is not with me. Your quarrel, sir, is with my creator.

Stern is impressed:

This speech was not merely a defense of marriage equality or an attack on the Mike Pences of the world. It was a defense of Buttigieg’s right to exist – to exist as an equal citizen, with full access to the liberties afforded all other Americans. As the story of Niki Quasney illustrates, this right was under constant threat in Mike Pence’s Indiana.

And that threat was and is real:

Pence vigorously supported and defended the state’s same-sex marriage ban and sought to codify it into the state constitution. He urged his attorney general to appeal the federal court decisions that first protected Quasney and Sandler’s right to wed as well as a follow-up ruling that forced the state to let all same-sex couples marry.

Even after the U.S. Supreme Court mandated nationwide marriage equality, the Pence administration continued to deny equal parenting rights to same-sex couples until a federal judge ordered the state to stop. (The state appealed and is still trying to prevent same-sex couples from placing their names on their children’s birth certificates.) As Pence fought to deny marriage rights to gay couples, he signed a law that could allow businesses to refuse service to LGBTQ people on religious grounds, only backtracking after nationwide outcry.

And then Trump named him as his vice president, because Trump was selling merciless Christianity to those who loved that concept and lived by it, in Texas and elsewhere, and now there’s this guy:

Reflecting on those harrowing months when she fought in court to secure her wife’s rights, Amy Sandler wrote, “Let my family’s painful experience be a window into the soul of Mike Pence.”

Here is a man who did not want to let a woman die with the basic comfort of knowing that her spouse would be recognized as her lawful widow. Why? Simply because she was gay. It hurt, back in 2014, to see politicians strive to undermine our civil rights. It still hurts to think about today.

By pointing out the depth of Pence’s aversion to gay people and our families, Buttigieg isn’t playing petty politics. He is reminding Americans that marriage equality is a very recent and still tenuous right that no one should take for granted. It was, after all, not so long ago that “the Mike Pences of the world” ensured that people like Buttigieg were condemned to die “single” in the eyes of the state.

So, this one man is impressed. So what? Well, the nation isn’t Texas:

Two new polls from the states that will be the first to weigh in on the Democratic field next year show former Vice President Joe Biden and Sen. Bernie Sanders continue to stand ahead of the rest of the field, and provide the best evidence yet that the small group of candidates standing just behind those two includes South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

A Monmouth University poll of likely Democratic caucus-goers in Iowa, out Thursday, finds Biden at the top of the pack with 27% support, Sanders at 16%, Buttigieg at 9%, Sens. Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren at 7%, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke at 6%, Sen. Amy Klobuchar at 4%, Sen. Cory Booker at 3%, and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro at 2%. The rest of the field stood at 1% or less in the poll, with a sizable 12% saying they are undecided among the 24 candidates tested in the poll.

In New Hampshire, site of the nation’s first primary elections, a St. Anselm College poll also out Tuesday shows a similar lineup: Biden at 23%, Sanders at 16%, Buttigieg at 11%, Warren at 9%, Harris at 7%, O’Rourke at 6%, Booker at 4% and Klobuchar at 2%. The rest of the tested field landed at 1% or less. Nearly 1 in 5 said they were undecided or backing someone not named in the list of 14 candidates presented to those who took the poll.

Both surveys show Buttigieg earning broadly positive reviews as voters get to know him, with room still to grow.

On that side of things everyone knows Joe and loves him. And they know and love Bernie. They wonder about all the others, but they don’t wonder about Pete, and another gay man, Andrew Sullivan, sees the possible answer to Trump:

Trump would be the oldest president in history at 74; Buttigieg would be the youngest at 39. Trump landed in politics via his money and celebrity after years in the limelight; Buttigieg is the mayor of a midsize mid-western town, unknown until a few weeks ago. Trump is a pathological, malevolent narcissist from New York, breaking all sorts of norms. Buttigieg is a modest, reasonable pragmatist, and a near parody of normality. Trump thrives on a retro-heterosexual persona; Buttigieg appears to be a rather conservative, married homosexual. Trump is a coward and draft dodger; Buttigieg served his country. Trump does not read; Buttigieg does. Trump’s genius is demonic demagoguery. Buttigieg’s gig is careful reasoning. Trump is a pagan; Buttigieg is a Christian. Trump vandalizes government; Buttigieg nurtures it.

To put it simply, Mayor Pete seems almost designed to expose everything that makes the country tired of Trump.

That assumes the country is tired of Trump, but a third would die for Trump. Still, Mayor Pete is really something else:

He’s Midwestern – the swingy region where the election will likely be decided – and, unlike the vast majority of his fellow elite members, he didn’t stay on the coasts, but returned home to the heartland after he won the glittering prizes, including being named a Rhodes Scholar. That says something about him (either that he’s the real thing, or that his ambition really is sky-high). He’s absurdly brainy, but doesn’t give off an air of condescension or exasperation with the less IQ-ed – like Al Gore did…

There remains something boyish about him, which is something Trump would immediately fasten onto as rendering him a lightweight. But Buttigieg can rebut that in a simple and powerful way: He can say he was man enough to serve his country in uniform, which should be man enough for any president. (The contrast with the aged, spoiled draft-dodger brat could be deadly.)

And then there’s his Christianity:

“When I think about where most of Scripture points me, it is toward defending the poor, and the immigrant, and the stranger, and the prisoner, and the outcast, and those who are left behind by the way society works. And what we have now is this exaltation of wealth and power, almost for its own sake, that in my reading of Scripture couldn’t be more contrary to the message of Christianity. So I think it’s really important to carry a message (to the public), knitting together a lot of groups that have already been on this path for some time, but giving them more visibility in the public sphere.”

This guy is not from merciless Texas – his Christianity isn’t theirs – and that pleases Sullivan:

His candidacy is as historic as Obama’s. His potential presidency even more so. That so many see him as a credible, formidable candidate is a reminder that in America, we can still unite in a more humane consensus. Trump has eclipsed that possibility in a welter of poison. Buttigieg quite simply rescues it again.

Not if Trump can help it, as Greg Sargent notes here:

As you may have heard, President Trump openly fantasized about the prospect of U.S. troops unleashing violence on desperate migrants, many of whom are trying to exercise their legal right to seek refuge in the United States.

At a fundraiser in Texas late Wednesday, Trump seethed that our military is constrained from getting “a little rough” at the border, because “everybody would go crazy,” preventing it from acting the way it would “normally act,” or how “another military from another country would act.”

Every military in the world acts without mercy or compassion or even carefulness, abusing and intimidating everyone in sight, because merciless abuse is power, and that’s winning. So why should our military, alone, have rules of engagement? Sargent finds that telling:

In saying these things, Trump previewed an important component of his reelection strategy.

We know this, because Trump basically has now told us so.

The New York Times reports that at the very same event, Trump declared that the current humanitarian crisis at the border will be a political winner for him against Democrats in the 2020 campaign.

“I think they’re going to pay a very big price in 2020,” Trump said. “I think the border is going to be an incredible issue. And they’re on the wrong side. They want to have open borders.”

No, they don’t, but that’s kind of beside the point. Trump has a plan. Run as the man who will show no mercy to anyone, ever, to win the votes of those Texas folks, who want those tens of millions of women to die, because they’re murderers and deserve a painful death at the hands of the Godly state. But then there really is nothing new here:

You may recall that we heard the same boast in the lead-up to the 2018 elections. Top immigration adviser Stephen Miller crowed that “the fundamental political contrast” would pit Trump’s vision against the “open borders” Democratic Party, which, he said, was “completely marginalizing itself from the American voters.”

The arrival of asylum-seeking migrants was also central in 2018. House GOP incumbents across the country ran ads saturated in ugly and lurid demagoguery about them, and Republicans suffered their biggest House loss since Watergate. Even Republicans admitted Trump’s immigration focus helped cost them the suburbs.

Show no mercy – take those little kids away from their parents forever, and win over that merciless Texas crowd, and lose everyone else, but this is a plan:

It’s worth noting that painting migrants as criminals, and creating the vague impression that military force might be required to repel them, were also key in 2018. Trump lied endlessly to criminalize them, and sent in the military as a prop to dramatize the supposed danger they posed. He even made this explicit by saying things like: “This is an invasion of our Country and our Military is waiting for you!”

Thus, it doesn’t look like an accident that at the Texas event, Trump also said that “I’m gonna have to call up more military,” while claiming that Central American countries are “sending” the “tough ones” and “the gang members.” This telegraphs we’ll likely see more of the very same lies and hate-mongering in 2020.

That does seem to be the general idea:

Trump’s swagger about 2020 is of a piece with an argument Trumpworld has been making: that the enormous spike in asylum-seeking families proves he was right all along – it helps politically because it confirmed his underlying diagnosis of the situation.

But this is utterly ludicrous on just about every level. The centerpiece of that diagnosis has been Trump’s treatment of the situation as a security crisis that required a border wall to manage. But more barriers can’t prevent these arrivals due to basic geographic and legal realities. The very fact that the crisis continues even as Trump’s national emergency to build barriers is in effect reveals the profound folly here.

Then there are Trump’s efforts at deterrence. Trump’s now-canceled family separations did not slow the arrivals. Various efforts to make it harder to apply for asylum have been blocked in court.

It seems that the general idea was a dumb idea, but there is a specific plan:

The core of the administration’s argument is that families keep coming – despite not qualifying for asylum – because they can get past an initial “credible fear” screening and can exploit backlogged courts and legal settlements preventing the detention of children to vanish into the interior while awaiting a hearing.

Thus, Trump and Miller are now plotting new efforts to make it harder to pass that initial screening, by putting tougher-minded border patrol officials in charge of it, and are demanding the right to hold families indefinitely.

But the first of those is probably illegal and unworkable, and the second might be illegal as well and even some inside Trump’s administration are resistant to it.

But at least all of it is mean-spirited and nasty, which gets votes in Texas and other like-minded places, but this will not end well:

Trump cannot go around calling migrants criminals, threatening to shut down the government and the border, and bashing Democrats as “TREASONOUS” while simultaneously demanding serious Democratic engagement on this problem. It’s absurd. That’s another way Trump’s whole approach is proving a disastrous failure. Trump thought he could solve this with maximal “toughness” both toward migrants and Democrats. Nope.

But he has his plan:

Trump obviously believes that the worse this gets, the more easily he’ll persuade swing voters that the migrants are a criminal “infestation” that must be repelled through cruelty or even force. There’s no need for Democrats to fear this argument, and one hopes they will engage it frontally.

Mayor Pete will do that. Cruelty or even force can be useful of course, at times, but they are nothing to be proud of – unless you’re from Texas – or we now live in America the Merciless.

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Generalissimo Trump

Donald Trump is not subtle. Donald Trump does not like “rules” or conventions or niceties or norms or traditions. Fools follow those. Losers follow those. He is neither so doesn’t follow those at all. He won’t be politically correct. He won’t be courteous. He will, in fact, do what no one else will do, and everyone saw that in the last presidential debate:

Donald Trump on Sunday night issued a remarkable threat against Hillary Clinton, telling the Democratic presidential nominee he would seek to imprison her if he was elected next month.

“If I win, I am going to instruct my attorney general to get a special prosecutor to look into your (missing email) situation,” Trump said, “because there has never been so many lies, so much deception.”

Of course he had been saying that for months:

“I will say this, Hillary Clinton has got to go to jail,” Trump told supporters here as he slammed Clinton’s foreign policy speech earlier in the day in which Clinton called Trump dangerous and “temperamentally unfit” to be president.

“Folks, honestly, she’s guilty as hell,” Trump said of the Clinton’s use of a private email server during her time as secretary of state.

So that led to this at that last debate:

Clinton responded first by calling Trump’s comments about her emails false and then said, “It’s just awfully good that someone with the temperament of Donald Trump is not in charge of the law in our country.”

Trump, as if continuing her sentence, added: “Because you’d be in jail.”

After the debate, Clinton campaign chairman John Podesta dismissed the remark, telling CNN’s Brianna Keilar that Trump would never get the chance to follow through.

John Podesta was wrong about that, but Trump did not follow through. He didn’t direct Jeff Sessions to get a special prosecutor to begin the process that would end with her in jail for life, or executed for treason, or whatever else Trump’s base thought that they’d heard him say. He let that slide. Perhaps he wanted to appear magnanimous. Perhaps it was an insult – she wasn’t worth the effort – or perhaps he got wind of all the words written about this. Banana republics work that way – despots retain power by jailing their political rivals – and reporters too (he had suggested that too) – and America is not a banana republic. Here, so far, we argue. We disagree. Then we vote, to settle things, and then we do it all again. Our leaders don’t remove those who oppose them. Our leaders convince voters that they have better ideas than that other person. No one goes to jail. No one is “disappeared” like all those pesky people in Chili long ago.

Trump asked why not? At the nomination convention, Michael Flynn led the chants – Lock her up! That was chanted at every rally. It still is – and Flynn is now the convicted felon going to jail. So are Trump’s campaign manager, and that manager’s assistant, and Trump’s personal lawyer, and so on. Trump named Flynn his national security advisor. Flynn lasted twenty-four days. But none of that seems to matter. The core idea here is that you don’t stop when you win. You wipe out those who had challenged you. You punish them for challenging you. Democracy may thrive on the lively or even nasty clash of competing ideas, but there’s a way to bypass that tedious nonsense. Jail those who oppose you. That ends all future argument. Even a credible threat of jail (or worse) does the job. They’ll shut up. You win.

The message is clear. Don’t go up against this guy. If you win he’ll make sure you pay for that – he’ll never forget and he’ll never forgive anything, ever. And if he wins he’ll destroy you anyway, for daring to challenge him in the first place. It’s a message he likes to send to the rest of the world. Raise an issue and your life as you know it is over.

Hillary Clinton is safe. She really doesn’t matter at all now. Something else matters more now. Robert Mueller and all the rest investigated President Trump. Attorney General Barr reviewed their findings. The president is fine – no issues, really – so now it’s time for all of those investigating the president to pay, big time, but not for clearing him of course. They’ll pay for looking into things:

Attorney General William Barr suggested to lawmakers Wednesday that Donald Trump’s presidential campaign was spied on, saying he will be looking into the “genesis” of the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation that began in 2016 of potential ties between the campaign and the Russian government.

“I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said, echoing some of the more inflammatory claims lobbed by the President for months, but declining to elaborate on his concerns. “I think spying did occur.”

He did not provide evidence for his claims.

That wasn’t necessary:

The news will likely be viewed as a welcome development to the President, who has regularly called for an investigation and, as recently as last week, told reporters more should be done to examine the origins of the Russia probe.

That was not welcome elsewhere:

Congressional Democrats fumed Wednesday over Barr’s statements, accusing the attorney general of mischaracterizing the FBI’s counterintelligence investigation in an effort to please Trump.

“I’m amazed that the AG would make that kind of statement, I think it’s in many ways disrespectful to the men and women who work in the DOJ, and it shows, I think, either a lack of understanding or willful ignorance on what goes into a counterintelligence investigation,” Virginia Sen. Mark Warner, the top Democrat on the Senate Intelligence Committee, told CNN.

“These comments directly contradict what DOJ previously told us,” tweeted House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, who authorized the subpoena for the Mueller report. “I’ve asked DOJ to brief us immediately.”

Barr got it and started the walk-back:

“For the same reason we’re worried about foreign influence in elections, I think spying on a political campaign is a big deal,” Barr said. “I’m not suggesting those rules were violated but I think it’s important to look at… I think it’s my obligation.”

He added that he’s not launching a full blown investigation into the FBI and does not view it as a problem that is “endemic” to the FBI, but has in mind some colleagues to help him “pull all this information together, and letting me know if there are some areas that should be looked at.”

So this was a legitimate investigation with a few flaws, but that’s not how Barr’s boss sees it:

Trump said Wednesday morning that Barr was doing a “great job” and “getting started on going back to the origins on where exactly this all started because it was an illegal witch hunt.”

“This was an attempted coup, this was an attempted takedown of a president,” Trump said.

And will Barr now agree with that? Kevin Drum sees this:

What Barr is talking about is normally referred to as “investigation.” The FBI did indeed investigate various members of the Trump campaign, and there has never been the slightest evidence that it was improper. The case was precipitated by a tipsy George Papadopoulos telling an Australian diplomat that the Russians had dirt on Hillary Clinton. The Australians reported the meeting and the FBI began its investigation.

Donald Trump doesn’t see that. He sees an attempted coup. Paul Waldman sees this:

As we now know, in 2016, Russia mounted a comprehensive effort to help get Trump elected president of the United States. That effort included social media propagandizing, outreach to Trump campaign officials and the hacking of Democratic emails.

The FBI began its counterintelligence investigation in the early summer of 2016 when it was alerted that a Trump campaign adviser had bragged that Russia had in its possession stolen Clinton emails that could be used to embarrass her.

And then what should have been straightforward got odd:

That investigation confronted two broad questions: What was the nature of Russian meddling in the U.S. election, and was the Trump campaign involved? We can argue about how to interpret everything the investigation eventually uncovered. But the Republican position – and we have to be clear about this, because it’s utterly bonkers – has in effect been that there should never have been any FBI investigation at all into the Russian attack on the U.S. election.

A more sane group of people would say that while of course Russia’s attack on our electoral system was important to investigate, that investigation hasn’t shown criminality by the president and his associates (well, apart from the crimes Mueller found by members of Trump’s inner circle), so in the end, they were vindicated, sort of. We could argue about that conclusion, too, but that’s not the position Republicans are taking. They’re saying the entire investigation was illegitimate from the get-go.

A less ludicrous position might be that though the investigation was legitimate, the particular way it was carried out was problematic. Republicans make arguments on this score as well, but they’re not much more tethered to reality. Their theory is that there was a vast and ruthless conspiracy within the Justice Department and specifically the FBI – just for the record, probably the most politically conservative agency in the entire federal government – to destroy Trump.

And a saner and less ludicrous Republican approach would note this:

There is no genuine evidence that any actions anyone took in the course of the investigation displayed improper anti-Trump bias. Peter Strzok? Nope. Strzok, who had a key role in the counterintelligence investigation of Russian meddling, exchanged text messages in which he disparaged Trump, in what must surely have been the first case in history in which an investigator held one of his targets in low esteem.

Those texts were publicly released by the Justice Department, which is why we know they exist. What we don’t have, for instance, are text messages exchanged by the FBI agents in the New York office who were reportedly consumed with their hatred of Hillary Clinton, because they were not released.

But having established that someone working on the Russia investigation disliked Trump, Republicans spun out a story of a vast conspiracy to destroy the future president running through the government. The only trouble was that they could never find any evidence that such a conspiracy existed.

But they will keep looking, and the Washington Post’s Greg Sargent will look elsewhere:

Attorney General William P. Barr made the remarkable claim that the Trump campaign might have been the target of “spying” by law enforcement during the 2016 campaign… In an interview, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, suggested that this claim is nothing short of alarming.

“I’m shocked to hear the attorney general of the United States casually make the suggestion that the FBI or intelligence community was spying on the president’s campaign,” Schiff told me. “I’m sure it was very gratifying to Donald Trump.”

It’s unclear what “spying” Barr was pointing to, beyond the fact that law enforcement did undertake an investigation of Russian interference and possible conspiracy with it. Trump has made many extremely lurid variations of the same claim, including suggesting that President Barack Obama ordered his phone tapped.

Things had gotten out of hand, it was Democrats Gone Wild, but it was only Trump:

Schiff pointed out that the bipartisan Gang of Eight -the leaders and intelligence committee chairs in both parties – were already briefed by the Justice Department after Trump made yet another version of the assertion. At the time, the Democrats issued a joint statement saying nothing they had been told supported the notion of untoward conduct.

“It’s unclear to me what Barr was referring to,” Schiff said. He noted that he was unaware that the statement he and other Democrats put out had ever been “contested by anyone on either side of the aisle.”

“All I can make of it is that he wanted to say something pleasing to the boss, and did so at the cost of our institutions,” Schiff said.

And pleasing the boss is a serious problem in this case:

“His testimony raises profound concern that the attorney general is doing what we urge emerging democracies not to do, and that is, seek to prosecute your political opponents after you win an election,” Schiff continued, in an apparent reference to Barr’s vow to examine the beginnings of the investigation, precisely as Trump has long demanded.

This could presumably include figures such as former FBI director James B. Comey, who has emerged as a leading Trump critic. (In this context, recall that Barr had previously said the fake Uranium One Hillary Clinton scandal was more worthy of investigation than collusion with Russia was.)

“The big picture is this,” Schiff said. “The post-Watergate reforms are being dismantled, one by one. The Trump precedent after only two years is that you can fire the FBI director who is running an investigation in which you may be implicated as president.”

That’s banana republic stuff as is this:

“You can hire an attorney general who has applied for the job by telling you why he thinks the case against you is bogus,” Schiff continued. “That new attorney general can then selectively edit the work of an independent or special prosecutor, and allow the Congress and the public to see only parts of it. And that new attorney general can also initiate inquiries into the president’s political opponents.”

And then you can toss your political opponents in jail. And then you can wear the Generalissimo uniform, with all the braid and the riding crop and the high shiny boots. That might be next, but Donald Trump never was a subtle man.

And this is what the nation walked into. This really is bananas.

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