Speaking to America

Let’s go way back in time:

United States v. Nixon, 418 U.S. 683 (1974), was a landmark United States Supreme Court case that resulted in a unanimous decision against President Richard Nixon, ordering him to deliver tape recordings and other subpoenaed materials to a federal district court. Issued on July 24, 1974, the decision was important to the late stages of the Watergate scandal, when there was an ongoing impeachment process against Richard Nixon. United States v. Nixon is considered a crucial precedent limiting the power of any U.S. president to claim executive privilege…

The Court held that a claim of Presidential privilege as to materials subpoenaed for use in a criminal trial cannot override the needs of the judicial process if that claim is based, not on the ground that military or diplomatic secrets are implicated, but merely on the ground of a generalized interest in confidentiality. Nixon was then ordered to deliver the subpoenaed materials to the District Court.

Nixon resigned sixteen days later, on August 9, 1974.

Now consider the alternative. Nixon could have kept the tapes. He could have said he didn’t have to release anything. He could have said that no president has to follow any court order, really. What are the courts going to do, sue him, jail him? The Department of Justice reports to the president. His own people aren’t going to jail him, and if it ever came to it, the military reports to him. The United States Supreme Court has no enforcement arm. They cannot make the president do anything. Nixon could have kept the tapes. Much of the evidence of his conspiracy to cover-up his crime(s) would have never been heard by anyone. The whole impeachment thing would have been impossible. He could have kept the job. He could have just said no, he wasn’t going to do what they said. Richard Nixon blew it.

That must be what Donald Trump was thinking. Donald Trump just won’t do it:

A day after pledging that the 2020 census would not ask respondents about their citizenship, Justice Department officials reversed course on Wednesday and said they were hunting for a way to restore the question on orders from President Trump.

He now says no:

The contentious issue of whether next year’s all-important head count would include a citizenship question appeared to be settled – until the president began vowing on Twitter on Wednesday that the administration was “absolutely moving forward” with plans, despite logistical and legal barriers.

But this was the first anyone heard of that:

Mr. Trump’s comments prompted a chaotic chain of events, with senior census planners closeted in emergency meetings and Justice Department representatives summoned to a phone conference with a federal judge in Maryland.

On Wednesday afternoon, Justice Department officials told the judge that their plan had changed in the span of 24 hours: They now believed there could be “a legally available path” to restore the question to the census, and they planned to ask the Supreme Court to help speed the resolution of lawsuits that are blocking their way.

The census is used to determine the distribution of congressional seats and federal dollars – a big deal – the judge was not amused by any of this:

The Supreme Court last week rejected the administration’s stated reason for adding the citizenship question as contrived. But Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr., writing for the majority, left open the chance that the administration could offer an adequate rationale.

Faced with tight printing deadlines, administration officials said on Tuesday that it was time to abandon the effort and begin printing forms this week that do not contain the citizenship question.

Justice Department lawyers told United States District Judge George J. Hazel in a telephone conference that a decision to eliminate the question from census forms had been made “for once and for all.” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, whose department oversees the Census Bureau, issued a separate statement accepting the outcome.

But a day later, an extraordinary scene played out on a conference phone call between Judge Hazel and Justice Department officials, who appeared to be blindsided by the president’s comments online.

Trump had tweeted this:

The News Reports about the Department of Commerce dropping its quest to put the Citizenship Question on the Census is incorrect or, to state it differently, FAKE! We are absolutely moving forward, as we must, because of the importance of the answer to this question.

The conference call went like this:

On Wednesday afternoon, Judge Hazel opened the call by saying that Mr. Trump’s tweet had gotten his attention. “I don’t know how many federal judges have Twitter accounts, but I happen to be one of them, and I follow the president,” he said.

Joshua Gardner, a Justice Department special counsel for executive branch litigation, responded: “The tweet this morning was the first I had heard of the president’s position on this issue, just like the plaintiffs and Your Honor.”

He added: “I do not have a deeper understanding of what that means at this juncture other than what the president has tweeted. But, obviously, as you can imagine, I am doing my absolute best to figure out what’s going on.”

This was the attorney asking the judge to cut him some slack, because he had a fool for a client, and an unpredictable fool at that:

Mr. Gardner said that census forms would continue to be printed without the citizenship question, and that federal court rulings barring its inclusion, upheld in part by the Supreme Court, were still in force. But he added that he could not promise that would remain the case.

In short, his client might do just about anything at any time, but the history here was not promising:

An army of critics, from cities and states to ethnic and civil-rights advocates, have argued that the question is an ill-disguised effort to skew the census’s results to the benefit of the Republican Party. That was only reinforced by the disclosure last month of a 2015 study by a Republican strategist Thomas B. Hofeller that explained how data from a citizenship question could be used to exclude noncitizens from the population bases used in redistricting. The newly drawn districts, he wrote, would tilt toward non-Hispanic whites and Republicans and hobble representation of Hispanics and Democrats.

Mr. Hofeller, who died last year, was the first person to urge Mr. Trump’s transition team in 2016 to add the question to the 2020 head count. Three separate federal courts – in New York, Maryland and California – have ruled that the Commerce Department violated federal procedural law and the Constitution in tacking the question onto the census. They called the department’s rationale – to improve enforcement of the Voting Rights Act – an obvious cover for some other motive.

They called bullshit on Wilbur and so did Judge Hazel, on Trump:

On Wednesday, Judge Hazel ratcheted up the pressure on the administration to make up its mind, ordering the Trump administration either to confirm by Friday afternoon that it was not placing the citizenship question on the census questionnaire, or offer a schedule for continuing the Maryland lawsuit.

“Given that tomorrow is the Fourth of July and the difficulty of assembling people from all over the place, is it possible that we could do this on Monday?” Mr. Gardner asked.

“No,” the judge replied. “I’ve been told different things, and it’s becoming increasingly frustrating.”

So he sent them back to the office to get back to work, fast, on what might be impossible:

On Wednesday afternoon, White House officials were actively working on a way to satisfy Mr. Trump’s demand but had not yet settled on a solution.

They had none, but the Big Guy had lots of ideas:

By Wednesday afternoon, whatever frustration that Mr. Trump had with the commerce secretary had largely dissipated, a second administration official said, and the president was focused on finding a way to add a question to the census. Mr. Trump told aides that might mean tacking on a question after census questionnaires had been printed.

That might work. Who cares what the Supreme Court thinks anyway? Who cares? That would be this guy:

George Conway – husband of White House counselor Kellyanne Conway – lambasted POTUS for this latest round of chaos.

Trump tweeted they’re still pushing to get the citizenship question on the census, despite the DOJ and Commerce Department confirming they’re being printed without the question, but now the DOJ’s possibly reversing in a move that confused his own administration’s officials as much as it confused everyone else.

The DOJ lawyer in that transcript mentioned above told the judge he was surprised by the president’s tweet and said, “I am doing my absolute best to figure out what’s going on.”

As the transcript took off on Twitter, Conway tweeted “This is no way to run any government, let alone the government of the United States.”

Conway also translated what the guy was really saying to the judge:

“Your Honor, as best as we have been able to determine, the executive power is vested in a unstable, dimwitted, sub-literate reality television host who didn’t like what he saw on Fox News Channel this morning. That seems to be what’s going on, Your Honor.”

The Washington Post’s Philip Bump sees that this way:

Imagine being the commerce secretary and being undercut so directly and publicly. It reveals not only tension within the government but also his own relative impotence. If the guy in charge of the census can’t make a decision in concert with other agencies without being kneecapped by Trump, who in the government can have confidence that the same won’t happen to them?

The answer, of course, is: Only Trump, which is how he likes it.

And that is absurd:

An attorney for the Justice Department told the court that the “tweet this morning was the first I had heard of the President’s position on this issue.”

“If you were Facebook and an attorney for Facebook told me one thing,” the judge later replied, “and then I read a press release from Mark Zuckerberg telling me something else, I would be demanding that Mark Zuckerberg appear in court with you the next time because I would be saying I don’t think you speak for your client anymore.”

That had to hurt, but Politico reports that no one knows what’s going on with this man:

The White House and Republican National Committee have spent the past week scrambling to distribute VIP tickets to President Donald Trump’s Fourth of July speech at the Lincoln Memorial.

Now, White House officials and allies are wringing their hands over the risk of the hastily arranged event morphing into Trump’s Inauguration 2.0, in which the size of the crowd and the ensuing media coverage do not meet the president’s own outsized expectations for the event.

In fact, no one might show up, or no one important:

“They started this too late and everyone has plans already,” said Dan Eberhart, a Republican donor and CEO of the drilling services company Canary, LLC. “Everyone will be there in spirit, but in reality, people planned their July 4th activities weeks ago.”

Less than 36 hours before the event, White House aides were crafting Trump’s speech, while administration and RNC officials finalized the guest lists.

It seems that no one told the deep-pocket Republican donors that Trump was having a big party just for them, but the chaos is more general now:

A White House official declined to explain the system for handing out tickets or the various tiers of VIP access, except to say the reserved seating area – extending from the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to the middle the reflecting pool – will feature veterans, Trump family and friends and special guests. The first lady, vice president and second lady, and a number of Cabinet officials are expected to attend, as well as several senior White House officials – though the aide stressed this, too, was still coming together.

“They are creating this thing from scratch, and I do not know if anyone knows how it will go off,” said another White House aide. “There are questions about the ticket distribution and who will show up. The weather might be bad. Heads are spinning.”

And they’re losing the key people:

An informal survey of more than a half-dozen Trump donors and allies showed that none plan to attend. Several Republicans close to the White House returned Politico’s calls from beaches at least one plane ride away from Washington.

While the RNC is trying to use Trump’s speech to woo high-end donors, few, if any, seemed to want the tickets because they’d already escaped D.C.

One Republican close to the White House said he has not heard any chatter among the donor class about attending the speech, even if it meant securing top-notch seats before one of Washington’s most majestic memorials. A Republican political operative called the week of July 4 normally a “dead zone for donors.”

That’s because they won’t feel important:

“It’s not a very tough ticket to get,” said another Republican close to the White House. “They’re not going to give it away to anyone off the street, but if you have any juice at all, you can probably get the tickets.”

The White House allowed staffers to enter a lottery to receive up to 10 tickets per person – a sign of the administration’s rush to fill up that space on the mall, said a third White House aide.

And yes, some people are wary:

The Trump event has caused tension throughout Washington during what is a typically a quiet vacation week. Congress is on recess and many D.C. residents typically use this stretch of time to escape D.C.’s humidity.

Instead, military and Pentagon officials spent the past few days privately decrying the use of tankers and military airplanes as part of the president’s speech, fearing it casts the traditionally nonpartisan U.S. military in a political light.

They fear that Trump may be using them to send a message to his political opponents – don’t mess with him – he has the military on his side – they don’t – and there’s just the crassness of it all:

The president’s critics seized on his “Salute to America” program as Trump trying to use federal taxpayer dollars to fund what ultimately may come across as a political rally, hijacking the usual night of fireworks and classical music on the Mall.

Others disagree:

Many Trump supporters and donors say the uproar over the president’s speech and his desire to throw a July 4 celebration has been overblown. They view it as the president trying to celebrate the military and his pride in America.

Greg Jaffe doesn’t think so:

President Trump has described his Fourth of July extravaganza on the Mall as the “show of a lifetime!” and an unprecedented celebration of American military strength.

The patriotic event, though, is proving to be a problem for the U.S. military’s top brass, who must navigate the intense partisan squabbling the event has generated.

Democrats complain that Trump is using the military to advance his political fortunes at considerable taxpayer expense. Trump, who never served but has sought to build a brand around American strength, says the event is intended to celebrate military sacrifice.

“Both sides are gearing for battle and fighting for the carcass of the U.S. military, which is stuck in the middle,” said Peter Feaver, who helped oversee military policy in the George W. Bush White House.

This could get ugly:

Trump has ignored norms intended to keep the armed forces out of partisan fights. He has dispatched U.S. troops to the southern border and even suggested that it would be acceptable for them to open fire on unarmed migrants – a violation of the laws of war.

He has tweeted orders at top generals in a brazen end run around the traditional chain of command and regularly refers to America’s fighting forces as “my military.” His speeches to military audiences, such as at service academy graduations, have been filled with partisan broadsides and false statements.

“His” military doesn’t mind that, or so he thinks, but he’s wrong:

The military brass has reacted to the partisan squabbling by hiding out and hoping it all blows over. Pentagon officials have declined to provide details about the tanks, planes and other military hardware requested by the administration, referring all questions about the event to the White House.

It seems that they’re hiding:

Some former officials praised the military for its stealth response. “My advice is, don’t comment,” Feaver said. “The less senior military leaders talk about their role, the better.”

Others urged Trump’s top generals to voice their concerns. Senior officers should not disobey legal orders from their commander in chief, said Loren DeJonge Schulman, a former Obama administration official.

“But if the military chiefs judge this a poor use of resources or a drain on readiness they should openly say so to the president,” Schulman said. “They should feel no compunction about respectfully saying so in public or to Congress.”

So far, Trump has spoken for his generals, saying that they are “thrilled” to be taking part in his celebration. Schulman said military leaders should not let Trump “imply that they support this circus. They shouldn’t let the president use and abuse their image politically without any hint of a correction.”

And they can do this with Trump’s big speech:

Some former military officials said that if the speech devolves into an attack on the president’s political enemies, the top brass should quietly step off the stage.

Don’t expect that, but Mother Jones’ Matt Cohen says expect this:

Realizing this will be a controversial event, the Pentagon has distributed instructions to service members participating in the shindig on what to do if approached by a reporter, and the advice is essentially this: Say you love your tank…

Mother Jones obtained a photo of a card that is being distributed to participating service members with instructions from the Pentagon about what to say – and not to say – when speaking with members of the media. The Department of Defense would like service members to be clear that they are “proud” on several levels. Under the overall messages, the guide suggests: “I am proud of my job and my vehicle/tank. I am glad to share my experience with American People.” It also proposes that they say: “I am proud to honor the Nation and the Armed Forces during this Independence Day Celebration.”

That’s followed by “Dos” and “Don’ts” – do “smile and have fun,” don’t “guess, lie, or speculate.” And the card closes with general tips for talking to a reporter. “Relax and speak to America,” it recommends.

That’s easier said than done. No one recognizes the place anymore.

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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