Not Quite Harassment

“An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics, or ridiculous partisan investigations.”

That’s what people will remember from Donald Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address, but for different reasons. Economists see no economic miracle. Obama turned the economy around – it’s been strong steady growth for years. Trump goosed that a bit. Things got a bit better – but the equity and bond markets have been all over the place and all the tariffs do cause damage. There are the headlines – Farmer Bankruptcies Swell to Decade High in Midwest – and there will be more. There is no miracle. Trump hasn’t screwed things up too badly, yet, so perhaps that’s the miracle. But others see other things – an authoritarian threat and of course bad grammar. The only THINGS that can stop the miracle – plural THINGS – are the three things mentioned.

The issue is verb agreement, but of course there have been reports that this sort of thing is intentional. Bad grammar makes Trump a man of the people. He’s not one of the elite – not him. His base hates those arrogant bastards with fancy college degrees who think they know everything. Those who dropped out of school after the eighth grade are more authentic. They’re the real Americans. Trump is always signaling he’s one of them. It’s the tweets. He makes sure he sounds like an eighth-grade dropout. That works. He has their vote forever. Former English teachers weep. His base also hates English teachers.

And he actually said this:

An economic miracle is taking place in the United States, and the only thing that can stop it are foolish wars, politics or ridiculous partisan investigations. If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation. It just does not work that way. We must be united at home to defeat our adversaries abroad.

That’s the authoritarian threat. Dissent, or disagreement, or even sullen grumpiness, cannot be allowed. If those are allowed we’ll lose the war. Everyone must agree with him, cheerfully, or we’ll all die. That’s just how things work. Everyone knows this. Or everyone who is not a total fool knows this. And everyone knows there will be no legislation to fix anything if these damned investigations continue.

Yeah, well, Jennifer Rubin has some questions:

How is Trump’s scenario supposed to work? Congress passes a bipartisan infrastructure bill and what? Trump won’t sign it while the House investigates potentially unconstitutional emoluments? Congress passes a wholly popular drug cost-reduction bill and Trump vetoes it because Congress is investigating his inhumane family-separations policy?

Forget that:

Trump’s threat is an empty one, and one that serves to highlight his inability to stop investigations rather than his ability to withstand them – or his confidence that they won’t amount to anything. As Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) put it during an appearance on CNN on Wednesday morning, “He’s got something to hide. Because if he had nothing to hide, he’d just shrug his shoulders and let these investigations go forward. He’s afraid of them.”

This seems to have been nonsense all along:

Democrats know Trump’s bluff is absurd, and his congressional allies know it, too. Only the lowest of his low-information base thrills to the sound of his words.

Ultimately, as is so often the case (with the wall and shutdown, most especially), Trump’s own supporters will be disappointed. Like Scarlett O’Hara, Trump perhaps thinks he’ll worry about that another day. For the brief satisfaction of spitting out a nonsensical soundbite, Trump sets himself up for embarrassment and disappointment.

This won’t end well:

A man entirely ignorant about policy and governance playacts his way through his presidency, using language that dense people think is smart and ignorant people imagine sounds erudite. The problem for Trump remains – reality.

And now he must face reality. Trump set himself up. Democrats are calling his bluff:

President Trump called Democratic investigations into his administration and business “ridiculous” and “presidential harassment.” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi in turn accused the president of delivering an “all-out threat” to lawmakers sworn to provide a check and balance on his power.

That’s the dispute. Oversight is really pointless mean spirited harassment. No, what may seem like pointless mean spirited harassment is simply proper and required oversight. Things don’t work that way! No, calm down. That’s how things are supposed to work.

And that’s how things have started to work:

The oversight wars officially kicked into high gear this week as House Democrats began investigating the Trump administration in earnest. With Thursday hearings scheduled on presidential tax returns and family separations at the Mexican border, and a Friday session to question acting attorney general Matthew G. Whitaker, the lights are about to shine brightly on a president who has, until now, faced little examination from a Republican Congress.

But the Democrats are being careful:

Democrats are moving carefully after spending weeks forming their committees, hiring staff and laying the groundwork for coming probes – mindful that Trump is eager to turn their investigations into a political boomerang as his critics demand swift action to uncover various alleged misdeeds.

But his threat is still out there:

In his State of the Union address Tuesday, Trump lambasted “ridiculous partisan investigations” and built a case that undue Democratic oversight would impede progress for the American people.

“If there is going to be peace and legislation, there cannot be war and investigation,” he said. “It just doesn’t work that way.”

Pelosi (D-Calif.) reacted sharply to Trump’s insinuation that there could be no progress on legislation while lawmakers pry open the doors of his administration.

“Presidents should not bring threats to the floor of the House,” she said. “It’s not investigation; it’s oversight. It’s our congressional responsibility, and if we didn’t do it, we would be delinquent in our duties.”

Trump disagrees:

On Wednesday, Trump dismissed a new probe launched by the House Intelligence Committee into his foreign business entanglements, calling its chairman, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), a “political hack.”

“No other politician has to go through that,” he said. “It’s called presidential harassment. And it’s unfortunate. And it really does hurt our country.”

No. Every politician has to go through that, and that helps our country. Each of the three branches of government keeps an eye on the other two. The press, for the people, keeps an eye on all of them. The public keeps an eye on the press. Everyone gets harassed. No one gets away with anything, at least not for very long. That’s the system.

But that doesn’t have to be harassment:

While Democrats show no sign of being cowed by Trump, leaders are trying to walk a deliberate line – wary of being seen as haphazardly tilting at presidential windmills or being too timid in uncovering potential misdeeds.

“We’re going to do our homework first,” said House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), whose panel is scheduled to receive testimony from Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross next month. “What Republicans would do is, they would go out and make headlines a week or two before the hearing and then look for some facts to prove the headlines. We’re not doing that.”

They are, in fact, being careful:

On Thursday, a House Ways and Means subcommittee is set to examine the disclosure of presidential tax returns – a subject clearly aimed at Trump’s failure to disclose his own returns.

While Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard E. Neal (D-Mass.) is empowered under federal law to inspect any federal tax return, he has not yet moved to invoke that authority and request Trump’s returns – citing the need to build a factual record justifying the request in the expectation that Trump will sue to block it.

The hearing, Democratic aides say, is part of the effort to build that record, but it has frustrated some lawmakers and activists who believe Trump will resist the request whether it comes sooner or later.

“If we’re gonna have a legal fight about it, better to start sooner rather than later,” said Rep. Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va.), reflecting a pervasive sentiment among many Democrats.

But Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr. (D-N.J.), another Ways and Means member who has spearheaded the effort to publicize Trump’s taxes, said it was prudent to move deliberately to avoid the perception of a politically tainted process. He said he expected Neal to request the returns “within the next two or three months or sooner.”

“This needs to be done methodically,” he said. “There cannot be an ounce of ‘let’s go get him.'”

But that doesn’t mean they’ll back off:

Other Democratic investigators are adopting more-aggressive tactics. In one sign of potential conflict, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) plans to have his panel preapprove a potential subpoena on Thursday for Whitaker, who is set to voluntarily give testimony Friday.

Nadler said in a statement that the subpoena was being arranged out of an “abundance of caution” to prevent Whitaker from improperly refusing to answer questions at Friday’s hearing, in which Democrats are expected to ask questions about the irregular circumstances that led to Whitaker’s appointment as former attorney general Jeff Sessions’ replacement.

Meanwhile, House Homeland Security Committee Chairman Bennie Thompson (D-Miss.) last week publicly threatened to issue a subpoena for Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen if she did not agree to testify voluntarily. On Monday, Thompson announced that Nielsen would testify on March 6.

There’s a lot of that going around:

The House Intelligence Committee’s new Democratic leadership will scrutinize “credible reports of money laundering and financial compromise” involving the businesses of President Trump and those closest to him, the panel’s chairman said Wednesday, in what will be one of several priorities as lawmakers open a fresh investigation into the president’s alleged Russia ties.

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) outlined a five-point plan for the committee’s investigation, encompassing Russia’s election interference and the question of whether foreign governments have leverage over Trump, his relatives or associates. Schiff indicated the panel uncovered evidence of such vulnerabilities while under Republican leadership but neglected to pursue it.

“For the last two years, the Republican majority has essentially been missing in action when it comes being a coequal branch of government,” Schiff said Wednesday, promising that Democrats are “not going to be intimidated or threatened” by Trump’s warnings against the Democratic-led investigations. “That ended with the midterms. We’re going to do our jobs.”

He’s not messing around:

The panel has previously released select transcripts to the special counsel, including those from interviews with Trump’s longtime friend Roger Stone and Trump’s former attorney and fixer Michael Cohen. Cohen, who is expected to begin a three-year prison sentence next month for lying to Congress and committing financial crimes, was due to appear before the Intelligence Committee for a closed-door interview Friday. But that session has been postponed until Feb. 28, Schiff said Wednesday.

This is the second time Cohen’s planned testimony has been delayed or canceled. Last month, the House Oversight Committee scheduled a public hearing with Cohen for Feb. 7, but Cohen canceled, citing threats Trump had made to his family. Cohen is still expected to appear before the Senate Intelligence Committee for a closed-door interview Tuesday.

Fine, but they’re not waiting:

The Intelligence Committee held its first formal meeting of the year and promptly voted to share with the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, transcripts of witness interviews that it conducted related to Russian election interference. Mr. Mueller has already used two such transcripts to charge associates of the president with lying to Congress, and Democrats believe others could have intentionally misled the committee.

The committee’s chairman, Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, also unveiled the parameters of a new investigation, to be pursued in collaboration with the Financial Services Committee and others, of “any credible allegations of leverage by the Russians, the Saudis, or anyone else” over Mr. Trump or his administration.

“Our job involves making sure the policy of the United States is being driven by the national interest, not by any financial entanglement, financial leverage or other form of compromise,” Mr. Schiff said.

They’ll do that, in spite of what they saw from Trump:

Earlier, in a closed-door meeting with House Democrats, Ms. Pelosi had privately lambasted the president.

“He was a guest in our House chamber, and we treated him with more respect than he treated us,” she said, according to a Democratic aide in the room who was not authorized to discuss the private session publicly.

Ms. Pelosi also took a dig at Mr. Trump’s plan, detailed on Tuesday, to invest $500 million over ten years to developing new cures for childhood cancer, characterizing it as paltry.

“Five hundred million dollars over 10 years – are you kidding me?” she said, according to the aide. “Who gave him that figure? It’s like the cost of his protection of his Mar-a-Lago or something.”

Who knows? Spencer Ackerman offers House Intel Democrats Just Restarted and Supercharged the Trump-Russia Probe:

The House Intelligence Committee’s investigation into President Trump’s ties to Russia is officially back. And under the panel’s new Democratic management, it’s beyond supersized.

In its first official business meeting of the new Congress on Wednesday – facilitated by the House Republican leadership’s somewhat belated announcement of GOP membership on the committee – the much-watched House panel voted to re-establish an inquiry into what now might be called Collusion-Plus.

It’s about as different as possible from the committee’s previous investigative incarnation under Republican management, which last year released a report absolving the president and his campaign of any culpability in Russian manipulation of the 2016 election and turned its ire on those within the Justice Department and FBI investigating Trump.

Things are, in fact, different now:

Democratic committee chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) has made no secret of his emphasis on going after financial ties between Trump and Russia and subpoenaing documents thus far untouched by the panel. And on Wednesday, the committee voted to execute another long-standing priority of Schiff’s: giving Special Counsel Robert Mueller the transcripts of all witnesses before the House probe. Misleading the committee and its Senate counterpart has already led to indictments of former Trump advisers Michael Cohen and Roger Stone—and they may not have been the only ones to give false or incomplete testimony.

But an announcement from Schiff shortly after the Wednesday morning vote underscored the ginormous reach of the 2.0 version of the investigation.

Adam Schiff lowered the boom:

The investigation will examine the “scope” of the Kremlin’s influence campaigns on American politics, both in 2016 and afterwards, and “any links/and or coordination” between anyone in the Trump orbit – the campaign, transition, administration, or, critically, the president’s businesses – and “furtherance of the Russian government’s interests.” It will also look at whether “any foreign actor,” not only Russians, has any “leverage, financial or otherwise” over Trump, “his family, his business, or his associates” -and whether such actors actively “sought to compromise” any of those many, many people.

A related line of inquiry will examine whether Trump, his family, and his advisers “are or were at any time at heightened risk of” being suborned by foreign interests in any way. That includes a vulnerability to foreign “exploitation, inducement, manipulation, pressure or coercion.” All that makes it very likely that the committee examines Trump administration policy – think the Syria pullout, or ex-national security adviser and admitted felon Mike Flynn’s attempts to work with Russia’s military in Syria, or Trump’s infamous Helsinki meeting with Vladimir Putin – through that lens.

But wait, there’s more:

Schiff said that the committee will also probe whether anyone, “foreign or domestic,” currently or formerly sought to “impede, obstruct and/or mislead” the intelligence committee’s investigation or any others, meaning Mueller’s or the Senate intelligence committee’s own inquiries. And that raises the prospect of examining whether the aforementioned witnesses before the panel obstructed it. Fellow Democrats on the committee have told The Daily Beast their desire to get several witnesses back before the panel whose testimony they consider questionable. Illinois Democrat Mike Quigley said last month there were “nine or ten” such witnesses on his radar, including the president’s eldest son, Donald Trump Jr.

And with questions swirling about how heavily Trump attorney general nominee Bill Barr will withhold Mueller’s final investigative report, Schiff indicated that the committee will form a sort of backstop for the public. He also indicated he’ll work with other House committees, likely the oversight and judiciary panels, “on matters of overlapping interest,” Schiff said.

And he’ll be careful:

“The Committee must fulfill its responsibility to provide the American people with a comprehensive accounting of what happened, and what the United States must do to protect itself from future interference and malign influence operations,” Schiff said in Wednesday’s announcement.

And he’ll be mysterious:

And in addition to what the committee voted to give Mueller, Schiff committed to publicly releasing “all investigation transcripts” before the committee—though he didn’t commit to any timetable, in the interests of “continued pursuit of important leads and testimony.” That corresponds with another move Schiff and the committee made on Wednesday: to delay Friday’s scheduled closed-door testimony of Cohen until Feb. 28, something neither the committee nor the Cohen camp has yet explained beyond vague allusions to investigative interests.

That might turn out to be awful for Trump. But he should have seen this coming. No one was hiding anything. And this isn’t harassment. It would only feel that way. And it will feel that way to Donald Trump for the next two years. He will be grumpy. This will be unpleasant.

About Alan

The editor is a former systems manager for a large California-based HMO, and a former senior systems manager for Northrop, Hughes-Raytheon, Computer Sciences Corporation, Perot Systems and other such organizations. One position was managing the financial and payroll systems for a large hospital chain. And somewhere in there was a two-year stint in Canada running the systems shop at a General Motors locomotive factory - in London, Ontario. That explains Canadian matters scattered through these pages. Otherwise, think large-scale HR, payroll, financial and manufacturing systems. A résumé is available if you wish. The editor has a graduate degree in Eighteenth-Century British Literature from Duke University where he was a National Woodrow Wilson Fellow, and taught English and music in upstate New York in the seventies, and then in the early eighties moved to California and left teaching. The editor currently resides in Hollywood California, a block north of the Sunset Strip.
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