The Inevitable Cascade

Engineers call it a cascading failure – one small component fails and that triggers other failures in the system and it all falls apart. A small rubber O-ring in a booster rocket fails and the Space Shuttle blows up. One transformer blows out and an entire power grid goes down as other transformers can’t take up the slack and blow out too. One bad line of code in a minor software update can take down a massive computer network for days. In finance, the failure of one financial institution may cause other financial institutions – its counterparties – to fail, cascading throughout the system. That’s what happened in the last months of the Bush administration. Lehman Brothers failed and AIG – which had insured everyone against any losses – ran out of money. All hell broke loose. Something had to be done, Institutions that the government decided were “too big to fail” or “too interconnected to fail” were saved with great gobs of taxpayer money. The cascading failure had to be stopped. And it was. The economy was ruined, but the nation still had an economy.

This happens in politics too. The cascading failure has to be stopped. This time Donald Trump is the cascading failure, as Philip Bump explains here:

Allies of President Trump are still trying to get their sea legs in response to the still-expanding scandal involving Trump’s efforts to compel Ukraine to launch investigations helpful to him. Over the past few weeks, their defenses of the president have varied and evolved often, thanks to the emergence of new, unhelpful evidence.

But one defense has been fairly consistent: The impeachment inquiry being run by House Democrats is simply not fair. That House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) is deposing witnesses in a secure hearing room, they argue, locks out Republican input and deprives Trump of due process.

Which is nonsense:

There are a variety of ways in which this complaint is obviously disingenuous, including that the impeachment process will offer an opportunity for Trump to defend himself as it moves forward, including a possible trial in the Senate. But perhaps the most disingenuous aspect of the complaint is that Republicans are actively participating in the ongoing hearings…

Republicans who sit on the committees leading the inquiry are as engaged as Democrats, asking as many questions as they desire. Democrats control who is called in for a deposition, and only members of those three committees can participate, but any implication that Republicans broadly are excluded from the process is inaccurate.

But accuracy doesn’t matter here:

On Wednesday, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), perhaps Trump’s most energetic defender in the House, nonetheless tried to draw attention to complaints that there was insufficient “transparency and inclusion” in the process. Earlier this month, Gaetz tried to attend one of the inquiry hearings — only to be turned away because he was not a member of the relevant committees.

But that didn’t stop him this time:

House Republicans ground the impeachment inquiry to a halt for hours on Wednesday, staging a protest at the Capitol that sowed chaos and delayed a crucial deposition as they sought to deflect the spotlight from the revelations the investigation has unearthed about President Trump.

Chanting “Let us in! Let us in!” about two dozen Republican members of the House pushed past Capitol Police officers to enter the secure rooms of the House Intelligence Committee, where impeachment investigators have been conducting private interviews that have painted a damaging picture of the president’s behavior.

They refused to leave, and the standoff in the normally hushed corridors was marked by shouting matches between Republican and Democratic lawmakers and an appearance by the House sergeant-at-arms, the top law enforcement official in the chamber.

Matt Gaetz led that and it did no good at all:

After waiting about five hours for the protest to break up, Laura K. Cooper, the deputy assistant secretary of defense for Russia, Ukraine and Eurasia, answered questions for more than three hours before the panel wrapped up its work for the day.

But there was more shouting anyway:

“This is a Soviet-style process,” declared Representative Steve Scalise, the No. 2 House Republican. “It should not be allowed in the United States of America. Every member of Congress ought to be allowed in that room. The press ought to be allowed in that room.”

Some of what was discussed was classified. And there will be open hearings later. But either way, the cascade won’t stop:

The protest came a day after the most damning testimony yet about Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign to enlist Ukraine to smear his political rivals, which unfolded even as Mr. Trump met privately at the White House with ultraconservative Republicans who promised aggressive measures to defend him against the impeachment onslaught.

In his testimony on Tuesday, William B. Taylor Jr., the top American diplomat in Kiev, effectively confirmed Democrats’ main accusation against Mr. Trump: that the president withheld military aid from Ukraine in a quid pro quo effort to pressure that country’s leader to incriminate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and smear other Democrats.

No amount of shouting will fix that:

Across the Capitol, leading Republican senators who have become resigned to the prospect of serving as jurors in the impeachment trial of their party’s president were struggling to explain away the revelations about Mr. Trump.

“The picture coming out of it, based on the reporting that we’ve seen, I would say is not a good one,” Senator John Thune of South Dakota, the No. 2 Senate Republican, told CNN. “But I would say also that until we have a process that allows for everybody to see this in full transparency, it’s pretty hard to draw any hard and fast conclusions.”

On Tuesday, Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, denied that he had told Mr. Trump that a telephone call the president had with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine was “perfect” and “innocent.” The call is a crucial focus of the inquiry, and Mr. Trump had said that Mr. McConnell had told him he approved of it. Mr. McConnell said he could recall no such conversation.

This is the cascade:

Republicans are growing increasingly uneasy about the inquiry, and fretting that it could get much, much worse for them. Publicly, they are taking their cues from the president, and Wednesday’s performance appeared intended to please Mr. Trump. The president has fumed publicly and privately that Republicans have not been tough enough in defending him, and has recently tried to undercut the inquiry by suggesting that the whistle-blower whose allegations touched it off is not credible or does not exist.

“Where’s the Whistleblower?” the president tweeted on Wednesday.

Who cares? That was a triggering event but that person hardly matters now. What that person alleged seems to have been true but so much more had been added to the list of no-no actions since then that the original “reveal” seems kind of banal now. Things got much juicier and more difficult too:

Some Republicans concede privately that it is difficult to mount an effective defense of Mr. Trump when much of the testimony and evidence available paints an unfavorable picture of the president, and there are few witnesses they could call who could credibly refute the accounts of a stream of administration officials who have testified.

The result has been a haphazard approach by Republicans defined mostly by public spectacles like Wednesday’s scene, which even some in the party said crossed the lines of propriety.

“This is nuts, they’re making a run on the SCIF,” said Senator Lindsey Graham, Republican of South Carolina, a close ally of Mr. Trump, referring to the Secure Compartmentalized Information Facility where the intelligence panel meets.

And then the president or Sean Hannity must have called him:

Mr. Graham later backtracked on Twitter, saying Republicans had been peaceful in their protest, and adding, “I understand their frustration and they have good reason to be upset.”

But they’re upset at the process. None of them will speak to the facts of the matter. Trump did what he did, and that started a cascade that now cannot be stopped:

The pandemonium unfolding in the Capitol came amid other fast-moving developments in the inquiry. A federal judge ordered the State Department on Wednesday to release records related to Ukraine within 30 days to a government watchdog group.

And impeachment investigators leveled new demands of the State Department, requesting access to a relatively narrow set of communications, notes and memorandums related to Ukraine that could bolster damning witness testimony. Among the documents in question are summaries of key executive branch meetings, and diplomatic cables about Mr. Trump’s decision to freeze $391 million in security assistance for Ukraine.

The House, meanwhile, passed its third piece of legislation – the Shield Act – aimed at preventing foreign interference in American elections. But Mr. McConnell has indicated that he will not bring it up for a vote, and Mr. Trump threatened to veto it.

McConnell not allowing a vote will make things ten times worse, and a Trump veto would make things a hundred times worse, and this one day was bad enough already:

Democrats said the timing of the protest was no coincidence, given Mr. Taylor’s testimony on Tuesday. They characterized the Republican disruption – “sit-in, stand-in, call it whatever you want,” said Representative Harley Rouda, Democrat of California – as a desperate attempt to deflect attention from the damaging testimony.

“They crashed a room where there were a bunch of Republicans getting ready to question a witness,” said Representative Jamie Raskin, Democrat of Maryland,

And they were losing:

For weeks now, lawmakers on the three House committees involved in the inquiry have been conducting private question-and-answer sessions, which have produced a stream of compelling testimony from government witnesses, much of it confirming and expanding on the whistle-blower complaint.

Those sessions are attended by both Democrats and Republicans, and both have an opportunity to question witnesses; more than 100 of the 435 members of the House are eligible to participate.

Democrats have said that they plan to hold open hearings after the committees finish deposing witnesses, and that they intend to make public complete transcripts of witness testimony after they have been reviewed for classified material.

And what happens when the Democrats make complete transcripts of all that devastating witness testimony public? How do the Republicans stop that? The public has no right to see that, no right to know what was said? That’s when things really get out of hand.

But things are already out of hand:

To Democrats who say that President Trump’s decision to freeze $391 million in military aid was intended to bully Ukraine’s leader into carrying out investigations for Mr. Trump’s political benefit, the president and his allies have had a simple response: There was no quid pro quo because the Ukrainians did not know assistance had been blocked.

But then on Tuesday, William B. Taylor Jr., the top United States diplomat in Kiev, told House impeachment investigators that the freeze was directly linked to Mr. Trump’s demand. That did not deter the president, who on Wednesday approvingly tweeted a quote by a congressional Republican saying neither Mr. Taylor nor any other witness had “provided testimony that the Ukrainians were aware that military aid was being withheld.”

Well, forget that:

In fact, word of the aid freeze had gotten to high-level Ukrainian officials by the first week in August, according to interviews and documents obtained by The New York Times.

The problem was not bureaucratic, the Ukrainians were told. To address it, they were advised, they should reach out to Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House chief of staff, according to the interviews and records.

Both parties DID know what was going on:

The timing of the communications, which have not previously been reported, shows that Ukraine was aware the White House was holding up the funds weeks earlier than acknowledged.

It also means that the Ukrainian government was aware of the freeze during most of the period in August when Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani and two American diplomats were pressing President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine to make a public commitment to the investigations.

That closes down Trump’s last line of defense, for now, and there’s this too:

One of the two indicted associates of President Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, on Wednesday tied the case to the president himself, saying that some of the evidence gathered in the campaign-finance investigation could be subject to executive privilege.

The unusual argument was raised by a defense lawyer in federal court in Manhattan as the two associates, Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, pleaded not guilty to federal charges that they had made illegal campaign contributions to political candidates in the United States in exchange for potential influence.

Mr. Parnas and Mr. Fruman have become unexpected figures in the events at the heart of the House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry, having played a role in helping Mr. Giuliani’s efforts on behalf of President Trump to dig up information in Ukraine that could damage former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a prospective Democratic challenger.

But at least one of them cannot speak about this:

Edward B. McMahon Jr., a lawyer for Mr. Parnas, told the judge in the case that the potential for the White House to invoke executive privilege stemmed from the fact that Mr. Parnas had used Mr. Giuliani as his own lawyer at the same time Mr. Giuliani was working as Mr. Trump’s lawyer.

So, is the president involved with these two Soviet-born Florida thugs, who paid Giuliani a half-million dollars they didn’t have for his services, whatever they are? No one knows where these two thugs got that kind of money – but they’re close with the fabulously wealthy pro-Russian Ukrainian leaders tossed out and sent back to Russia a few years ago, the guys Putin supported, the guys Paul Manafort worked for, trying to keep them in power, before Manafort was hired to run Trump’s presidential campaign, before Manafort was sent to prison. One of them won’t say anything. He’s claiming that he was working for Trump. There is executive privilege. This is Trump’s guy.

Trump didn’t need that. Trump didn’t need any of this. But where did this cascade of failures begin? What was the one thing that failed that started all this? The New York Times’ Peter Baker and his team suggest this:

Nameless, faceless and voiceless, the CIA officer who first triggered the greatest threat to President Trump’s tenure in office seemed to be practically the embodiment of the “deep state” that the president has long accused of trying to take him down.

But over the last three weeks, the deep state has emerged from the shadows in the form of real live government officials, past and present, who have defied a White House attempt to block cooperation with House impeachment investigators and provided evidence that largely backs up the still-anonymous whistle-blower.

The parade of witnesses marching to Capitol Hill culminated this week with the dramatic testimony of William B. Taylor Jr., a military officer and diplomat who has served his country for 50 years. Undaunted by White House pressure, he came forward to accuse the same president who sent him to Ukraine a few months ago of abusing his power to advance his own political interests.

Trump did not account for the professionals, because he never imagined that there were such people, which was a miscalculation:

The House impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump’s efforts to force Ukraine to investigate Democrats is the climax of a 33-month scorched-earth struggle between a president with no record of public service and the government he inherited but never trusted. If Mr. Trump is impeached by the House, it will be in part because of some of the same career professionals he has derided as “absolute scum” or compared to Nazis.

“With all the denigration and disparagement and diminishment, I think you are seeing some payback here, not by design but by opportunity,” said Representative Gerald E. Connolly, a Democrat from Washington’s Virginia suburbs who represents many federal employees. “It’s almost karmic justice. All of a sudden, there’s an opportunity for people who know things to speak out, speak up, testify about and against – and they’re doing so.”

But they are not out to “get” Trump at all:

The witnesses heading to Capitol Hill do not consider themselves part of any nefarious deep state, but simply public servants who have loyally worked for administrations of both parties only to be denigrated, sidelined or forced out of jobs by a president who marinates in suspicion and conspiracy theories.

And they’re fed up:

The administration has sought all along to minimize the role of career officials. In the Foreign Service, 45 percent of the 166 ambassadors serving under Mr. Trump are political appointees chosen based on loyalty and campaign contributions, the highest rate in history, according the American Foreign Service Association.

As a result, there has been an exodus from public service. According to the Partnership for Public Service, a nonpartisan organization, the Trump administration lost nearly 1,200 senior career service employees in its first 18 months – roughly 40 percent more than during President Barack Obama’s first 18 months in office.

But now more are speaking out. In a letter to Mr. Pompeo this week, 36 former foreign service officers complained that he had “failed to protect civil servants from political retaliation,” citing in particular Ms. Yovanovitch, who was removed as ambassador to Ukraine after being targeted by Mr. Trump’s allies.

“The politicization of our diplomatic corps and the erosion of the values of our oath of office,” they wrote, “will make us more susceptible to the personal interests of an elite few, at the direct cost of our national security.”

And this is new:

Ronald Reagan regularly derided bureaucrats and they in turn derided him. Bill Clinton fired the White House Travel Office staff fearing it was loyal to his predecessor. George W. Bush grew frustrated that career diplomats disregarded his “freedom agenda” foreign policy. Mr. Obama was convinced that the military leadership tried to box him into decisions he did not want to make.

Still, none of them went to war with the professional staff the way Mr. Trump has, a war fomented in part by far-right media and conspiracy theorists who have gained favor in the Trump era, propelling wild ideas into mainstream conversation. Bookstore shelves are stocked by new volumes with “deep state” in the title.

And now that matters:

Mr. Trump, the first president never to have served a day in public office or the military, did not use the term deep state at first, but his hostility toward government was strong from the start. He blamed the leak of the so-called Steele dossier of unverified allegations against him on intelligence agencies and never trusted their conclusion that Russia intervened in the 2016 election on his behalf. He bristled at the National Park Service when official photos showed his Inauguration Day crowd was smaller than Mr. Obama’s.

He referred to officials detailed to the White House from agencies around the government as “Obama people.” When transcripts of his telephone calls with the leaders of Mexico and Australia were leaked, it convinced him that he could not trust the career staff and so records of subsequent calls were stashed away in a classified database – including the rough transcript of his July 25 telephone call with Ukraine’s president that now has him on the verge of being impeached.

But now he knows the enemy:

In an interview with his former aide Sebastian Gorka, conducted before the impeachment conflict but published in The Daily Caller this month, Mr. Trump described his war with the deep state as fundamental to his presidency.

“If it all works out, I will consider it one of the greatest things I’ve done,” Mr. Trump said. “I think with the destruction of the deep state, certainly I’ve done big damage,” he added. “They’ve come after me in so many different ways; it’s been such a disgrace. But I think it’ll be one of my great achievements.”

Baker, however, puts things this way:

That was then. Now he faces the counteroffensive.

That’s not quite right. He may have lost everything already. He didn’t account for these people. He never understood them. This was the one component that failed. The rest is the inevitable cascade that followed.

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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