Bringing the Heat

In baseball, bringing the heat is when the pitcher stops throwing curves and sliders and change-ups and just blasts hard fastballs right over the plate, one right after another, so fast that they freeze the batter or he swings long after that super-fastball has gone by. Sometimes brute force and raw power work better than finesse – that is, in baseball, until that batter figures out how to time those pitches. One can adjust to brute force and raw power and hit one out of the park, or bunt. Don’t meet brute force with brute force. Why bother? Lay down the bunt. Give those other guys what they never expected. Grin at them from first base. They’re in trouble now.

That’s exactly how it worked in that movie and of course life is just like baseball. Drop the finesse and bring on the heat. Meet force with force and you’ll win every time, except when you don’t. Someone may step back in awe of your powerful brute force, and then ignore that and bunt their way on base. And maybe that’s how Trump’s presidency will end. He’ll be impeached and then removed from office for a minor phone call with the new president of Ukraine, a television comedian who still may not know what the hell just happened to him. He’s president? Ukraine is a strange place, but Trump is new at this too.

But the game was in Washington – the Nationals versus the Brewers in a one game Wild Card playoff to see who gets to go on – all fastballs and home runs – all brute force. No, wait. There was that other game in town that had played out earlier in the day, the first day of October. That was all brute force too. Everyone was bringing the heat, as the Washington Post reported:

The House impeachment inquiry broke into a full-throated battle between the executive and legislative branches Tuesday, as congressional Democrats and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo traded threats and accusations, President Trump questioned whether a leader of the probe should be arrested, and a senior Democrat said Trump should be imprisoned in “solitary confinement.”

This was not a day for finesse:

In letters to Vice President Pence and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, Sen. Robert Menendez (N.J.), the ranking Democrat on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, demanded answers by Friday to questions about what they knew, when they knew it and their roles in Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine.

But much of the day’s turmoil centered on Pompeo, who said in a letter to the chairmen of the House Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform committees heading the investigation that five State Department officials called to give depositions over the next two weeks would not appear as scheduled.

No one from the State Department would ever testify to these people, because they were big meanies and big bullies and Pompeo was going to be the hero here and stand up for his people who has been treated so badly and must be in tears of despair right about now:

Pompeo characterized the effort to depose the officials as “an attempt to intimidate, bully, and treat improperly, the distinguished professionals of the Department of State.”

Saying Congress had no authority to compel such testimony, Pompeo wrote that he would “not tolerate such tactics, and I will use all means at my disposal to prevent and expose any attempts to intimidate the dedicated professionals whom I am proud to lead and serve alongside at the Department of State.”

That’s the new line now – even lawful requests for testimony by anyone from the administration is bullying, harassment, thuggish intimidation, and someone has to stand up for these people, now made a quivering mess in fetal position under their desks – because Democrats are so mean about everything – and that has to stop. Pompeo throws a mean fastball. No one can hit it.

Well, maybe not:

By the end of the day at least one of the five – Kurt Volker, a former administration envoy to Ukraine – planned to appear anyway before the committees Thursday. A second official, former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch would appear Oct. 11, according to a committee official who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss lawmakers’ deliberations.

Volker quit so he could testify without Pompeo telling him what to say. Trump removed Yovanovitch. She was a career diplomat – she’d had posting all over the world for many decades – so she was obviously a “Deep State” operative out to “get” Trump. Trump had told the Ukrainians that she was a total loser and a total disaster and a total joke. She didn’t believe that Hillary’s missing emails were on a server in Ukraine somewhere, or that Biden and his son where part of a Ukrainian plot to overthrow Trump. She didn’t believe Rudy Giuliani. She had to go. Her testimony should be interesting.

And the Democrats already are interesting:

The committee chairmen responded to Pompeo with their own broadside, saying any attempt to prevent department officials from speaking to them “is illegal and will constitute evidence of obstruction,” according to a statement issued by Rep. Eliot L. Engel (D-N.Y.), who heads the Foreign Affairs panel.

That was their high inside fastball. They wouldn’t take this to the courts; they’d simply add each instance to the Bill of Impeachment as solid evidence of obstruction of justice. Go ahead, Mike, make it a long list. You’ll be sorry, but Pompeo had left himself some wiggle-room:

In his letter to the committees, Pompeo did not outright refuse to allow the officials to testify, but he said that they and the department had been given “a woefully inadequate opportunity” to prepare. They must also consult with, and be accompanied to any deposition by, State Department counsel “regarding the Department’s legitimate interests in safeguarding potentially privileged and classified information,” he wrote.

It was unclear what recourse was available to Pompeo to prevent them from appearing or to discipline those who decided to speak.

The other State Department officials scheduled for depositions are Deputy Assistant Secretary George Kent, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland and Counselor T. Ulrich Brechbuhl. It was unclear whether they would appear.

No one expects those three to show up. Pompeo can claim that would be bullying and these are emotionally fragile men he must protect, or he can claim he needs more time – a few more months, or years. Why can’t “you people” be reasonable? Pompeo has this covered either way, except something just came up:

Meanwhile, the committees were notified that the State Department’s inspector general had requested to speak with them Wednesday “to discuss and provide staff with copies of documents related to the State Department and Ukraine,” according to a letter obtained by the Washington Post.

What? Is this another fastball from Pompeo, or in this case a curveball? Maybe not:

State Department Inspector General Steve Linick, whose office is responsible for investigating abuse and mismanagement in the department and operates largely independently from its control, “obtained the documents from the acting legal advisor of the Department of State,” the letter said.

The inspector general does not have to seek Pompeo’s approval to approach lawmakers with information, especially if the material is not classified.

It is unclear exactly what Linick will provide the committees.

Everyone would have to wait a day for that, but meanwhile, everyone was bringing on the heat:

On Friday, the committees also subpoenaed Pompeo over what they said was his failure to respond to previous requests to produce documents related to the inquiry. Pompeo left the country late Monday on a week-long trip to Europe.

In a morning Twitter barrage, Trump repeated his insistence, despite information in the White House’s rough transcript, that almost everything the whistleblower said about it was “wrong,” and he asked, “Why aren’t we entitled to interview & learn everything about the Whistleblower, and also the person who gave all the false information to him?”

Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, who broadly paraphrased the call during a hearing last week, had “made up” a version of the exchange, Trump said. He questioned why Schiff wasn’t being “brought up on charges.”

And then, down the way, as Max Scherzer was throwing the first fastball for the Nationals, there was this:

Later in the day, others entered the fray. Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who chairs the House Financial Services Committee, said the impeachment inquiry could expand beyond Ukraine. Impeachment, she wrote on Twitter, “is not good enough for Trump. He needs to be imprisoned & placed in solitary confinement.”

Republican National Committee Chair Ronna McDaniel, meanwhile, accused House Democrats of attempting “a legislative coup d’état” to get rid of Trump.

The legislative coup d’état is also called impeachment. It happens now and then, as spelled out in the Constitution, so that was nonsense, or just more heat, one more fastball like this one:

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has an “obvious conflict of interest” in the Ukraine scandal and will likely be a key witness in the congressional impeachment inquiry, House Democrats said Tuesday.

Pompeo may be involved in a “blatant cover-up and a clear abuse of power,” a trio of Democratic chairman wrote in a letter Tuesday night.

Given Pompeo’s potential role, he should “not be making any decisions regarding witness testimony or document production in order to protect himself or the president,” the lawmakers said.

The extraordinary warning – sent to the State Department’s deputy secretary of state, John Sullivan – came after a bitter exchange between Pompeo and House Democrats over the scheduled depositions of five State Department officials involved in communications between Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, and Ukrainian government officials.

Everyone is playing hardball now, and Anne Gearan notes that Trump is throwing the most fastballs:

For President Trump, the impeachment case being built by Democrats over his alleged effort to recruit foreign help for his reelection campaign isn’t just a “WITCH HUNT,” though he calls it that, too; it’s “treason.” It isn’t just “presidential harassment,” though he also makes that charge; it’s an invitation to “Civil War.”

The president is bringing the rhetorical heavy artillery to the most serious challenge to his presidency in nearly three tumultuous, norm-busting, warp-speed years in office.

Expanding on the lexicon of outrage and victimhood honed during the probe into Russian interference in the last election, Trump is invoking the muskets-and-ramparts idioms of the country’s beginnings.

Of course he is:

The ratcheting up of his rhetoric is also indicative of Trump’s tendency to interpret any criticism of him as an attack on the government, worrying critics and scholars who warn of the dangers posed by his “L’état, c’est moi” call to arms.

That is a worry:

“Charging anyone with treason is a most unusual act in American history. It’s an incendiary charge which relates to the ultimate crime: overthrow of the state,” said Michael J. Glennon, an international law professor at the Fletcher School at Tufts University.

In setting out a definition and consequences for treason in the Constitution, including death, the founders were guarding against the “danger that the charge of treason could be made irresponsibly against political opponents,” Glennon said, adding that cavalierly throwing around words like “treason” and “civil war” belies their unique meaning in American history.

“I suppose it has an incendiary effect on some supporters, but we are dealing with dynamite here,” Glennon said.

Well, the Oath Keepers are assembling an actual army for that actual civil war – they don’t think that Trump speaks in metaphors – but others see that:

In his effort to attack the whistleblower and Democrats’ impeachment push, Trump has grasped at the tools he knows: communication and storytelling, said Meena Bose, executive dean at Hofstra University’s Peter S. Kalikow School of Government, Public Policy and International Affairs.

“President Trump understands public communications, and this is an effort to gain the upper hand publicly, to control the narrative,” Bose said.

She doesn’t think he is serious about trying to have Schiff arrested, but “he’s speaking to his most loyal supporters” when he suggests that his – and their – political enemies should be strung up, Bose said.

But he doesn’t mean it, not really:

Trump has questioned the motives and patriotism of the whistleblower and suggested that government employees who provided information to him or her should be investigated or worse. He said he wants to learn the identity of his “accuser,” while members of his administration echo his charge that the whistleblower unfairly retains anonymity while passing along “secondhand” information.

Ned Price, a former CIA analyst and national security spokesman in the Obama White House, said he doubts that Trump thinks he really has the power to order up summary arrests.

“What he’s trying to do, more than anything, is personalize this. He wants a target,” Price said.

That is what is most useful to him, given his base:

The anonymity of the whistleblower works for Trump’s purposes, Price and others said. Faceless – at least for now, and perhaps a dweller of the intestinal “deep state” Trump loathes, the whistleblower can be demonized as the enemy within.

“They are trying to turn what is a question of our democracy, our national security, the sanctity of our elections, into an issue about a single person,” Price said. “And to the extent that he can personify this and remove the broader principles at play, that’s how Trump is going to wage this battle. He’s not going to fight on the same turf. He’s going to create his own turf.”

That means he is going to say that he alone is the state, and maybe he is. That’s what Philip Rucker and Robert Costa argue here:

As the impeachment drama has unfolded over the past week, a series of disclosures has illuminated President Trump’s command over key federal agencies, revealing how he has compelled them to pursue his personal and political goals, investigate his enemies and lend legitimacy to his theories about the 2016 election.

And he has captured the two key agencies:

The Justice Department has prioritized a probe that the president hopes will discredit a finding by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered in the 2016 election to help him win. As part of that effort, Attorney General William P. Barr has met overseas with foreign intelligence officials to enlist their aid in “investigating the investigators,” as the right’s rallying cry goes, and dig into the president’s suspicions.

The State Department, meanwhile, has been investigating the email records of as many as 130 current and former department officials who sent messages to the private email account of Hillary Clinton, the former secretary of state and Trump’s 2016 opponent. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo defied Congress on Tuesday by attempting to block the depositions of five department employees called to testify in the impeachment inquiry.

They dropped all of their other work for this, for him actually, no matter what they say:

In each of these instances, the president or administration officials have strongly defended their conduct as proper and above board.

But taken together, they illustrate the sweeping reach of Trump’s power and the culture he has spawned inside the government. The president’s personal concerns have become priorities of departments that traditionally have operated with some degree of political independence from the White House – and their leaders are engaging their boss’s obsessions.

“Barr and Pompeo are stuck in the fog machine. They seem captives of the president’s perverse worldview,” said Timothy Naftali, a historian and former director of the Richard Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. “Authoritarian regimes have this problem all the time when all government activity is the product of the id of the leader. But in a republic, that’s unusual.”

That’s unusual until it isn’t:

Trump’s moves underscore his transformation as president. He arrived in Washington a neophyte uncertain about how to operate the machinery of government. But now, in his third year in office, Trump has grown confident about exercising power, disposing of aides who acted as guardrails and elevating those who prove their loyalty by following his orders.

As the president said last month after John Bolton’s abrupt exit as national security adviser, “It’s very easy actually to work with me. You know why it’s easy? Because I make all the decisions.”

And the nation shrugs. This is the way things are? Okay, fine, but this really is odd:

Trump was sworn in as the 45th president with less governmental experience than any of his predecessors. His advisers tried to tutor him about the three branches of government and the constitutional balance of powers. The general ethos among Trump’s top aides then was to protect institutions and moderate some of the president’s swings — to resist rather than follow his impulses, as described by one former senior White House official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share a candid assessment.

Since then, Trump has become more emboldened to make decisions and has systematically dispensed with much of his early team, including former defense secretary Jim Mattis, former secretary of state Rex Tillerson, former White House chiefs of staff Reince Priebus and John F. Kelly, former White House counsel Donald McGahn, former national security adviser H.R. McMaster, former economic adviser Gary Cohn and others.

“I’m not sure there are many, if any, left who view as their responsibility trying to help educate, moderate, enlighten and persuade – or even advise in many cases,” the former senior official said. “There’s a new ethos: This is a presidency of one.”

It is? If so, that leads to this:

In Trump’s Washington, many administration officials have calculated that if they do not enthusiastically wade into Trump’s riptide of grievances and personal pursuits, they risk being ridiculed or sidelined by the president, as was the case with Bolton, a hawk whom Trump has mocked since his departure as “Mr. Tough Guy.”

The implicit day-to-day charge for many Trump advisers is simple, according to aides and other officials familiar with the president’s Cabinet and West Wing staff: Figure out how to handle or even polish Trump’s whims and statements, but do not have any illusion that you can temper his relentless personality, heavy consumption of cable news or thirst for political combat.

Acquiescence is central to survival. Trump has bonded with aides who take his running complaints about the “deep state” and “fake news” seriously, along with his embrace of people and positions outside of the mainstream. The leading members of Trump’s inner circle dutifully work to address his concerns, sometimes by directing federal resources.

So do what he says, or maybe not:

The Oval Office meeting this past March began, as so many had, with President Trump fuming about migrants. But this time he had a solution. As White House advisers listened astonished, he ordered them to shut down the entire 2,000-mile border with Mexico – by noon the next day.

The advisers feared the president’s edict would trap American tourists in Mexico, strand children at schools on both sides of the border and create an economic meltdown in two countries. Yet they also knew how much the president’s zeal to stop immigration had sent him lurching for solutions, one more extreme than the next.

They were dealing with this:

Privately, the president had often talked about fortifying a border wall with a water-filled trench, stocked with snakes or alligators, prompting aides to seek a cost estimate. He wanted the wall electrified, with spikes on top that could pierce human flesh. After publicly suggesting that soldiers shoot migrants if they threw rocks, the president backed off when his staff told him that was illegal. But later in a meeting, aides recalled, he suggested that they shoot migrants in the legs to slow them down. That’s not allowed either, they told him.

“The president was frustrated and I think he took that moment to hit the reset button,” said Thomas D. Homan, who had served as Mr. Trump’s acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, recalling that week in March.

Homan says that Trump calmed down a bit after that, but that didn’t matter much:

Mr. Trump’s order to close the border was a decision point that touched off a frenzied week of presidential rages, round-the-clock staff panic and far more White House turmoil than was known at the time. By the end of the week, the seat-of-the-pants president had backed off his threat but had retaliated with the beginning of a purge of the aides who had tried to contain him.

The rest of this New York Times item is about that purge – who was let go and when and why – but this sums it up:

In the Oval Office that March afternoon, a 30-minute meeting extended to more than two hours as Mr. Trump’s team tried desperately to placate him.

“You are making me look like an idiot!” Mr. Trump shouted, adding in a profanity, as multiple officials in the room described it. “I ran on this. It’s my issue.”

 And it’s his presidency, and his government, and his country. He is the state, and he’s bringing the heat. He’s throwing fastballs no one can hit. His brute force and raw power are awesome. But someone is going to lay down that perfect bunt sooner or later. Sometimes the sly win.

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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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